Killer Kross (@realkillerkross) is a wrestler FKA Karrion Kross in WWE. He joins Chris Van Vliet to talk about what lead him to sign with NXT over AEW and NJPW. They also talk about winning the NXT Championship with a separated shoulder, his fiancee Scarlett Bordeaux, advice from Jon Moxley, his infamous main roster run in WWE, inspiration from director Christopher Nolan films and more!
It’s so good to see you. I think now more than anything people are surprised to see that you actually have hair.
“Oh my God, it’s non-stop!”
Is it because people just thought that you didn’t have hair?
“I think that it’s a mixed bag based on perceptions and opinions of the subject. You know this about me, I have become very committed to character work. I thought that the character would be best presented as being bald, because there are a lot of character patterns and behavioural personalities associated with people that shave their head. You can’t style it and you can’t put product in it. For someone who is tactical and doesn’t want to participate in society in levels of social dynamics, they would shave their head. It’s like they are going into war or going into combat, something like that. I felt that the character presentation would not be concerned with having hair, I would go that deep into it. I went to a lot of acting workshops and learned about how actors would approach their craft. I also love wrestling and I want to be the best version of myself, so I would apply that to what I was doing.”
You look at wrestling as an artform, as opposed to it being a sport. You are really into the character work.
“Yeah totally. To me it’s all of that. Some people put themselves into really specific lanes in what this is to them or what it should be. I think that it is comprised of many lanes, that’s the place where I come from with this. I think a person can become frustrated with themselves either in this industry or out of it if they try to over define exactly what this is. It just encompasses so much.”
So the last time we talked was September 2019 at All Out weekend. I feel like a lot of people thought that you might be going to AEW, was that ever an option?
“Yes. Yes it was. So at that time, I was trying to swerve people as to where I was going to go, because when I put the post out on Twitter I already knew. I was trying to do my best to protect that as much as I could and protect my work. So I put out the post saying ‘Hey, where would you like to see me go next?’ And it was an overwhelming amount of people saying that they wanted to see me go to AEW. I was like [groans]. I had that Peter Griffin moment [with the knee]. I know that there’s a lot of different ways to look at that, but one way I looked at it was that it kind of p*ssed me off. This is my own doing and I know it wasn’t meant to be this way, but at the time, when I saw the amount of people that wanted me to go to AEW instead of WWE or New Japan, I was like well why are people so convinced that I would find more success in AEW? Do they think I can’t become successful in WWE? So I was going to show them that I can and I will. It was pretty much a done deal at that time. I understand that as time went on, they were not saying it in a resentful way, they probably thought that I would find the best version of myself [in AEW].”
So what made you decide that WWE, or specifically NXT is the place where you can go and succeed?
“I feel like there’s a lot of people out there who are going to relate with this, and a lot of people who will not. But I want to be honest with you. I knew since I was a little kid and watching this on TV that I could be there [WWE], do this, and perform on the highest level. I knew it since I was a little kid, and little kids know everything. So it’s hard for your parents and your friends to get behind these statements that you have as a child, because they want to steer you in the right direction, but don’t want to burst your bubble. No one in my family has ever done anything like this, they live in a practical world and are very realistic. This seemed like [them saying] ‘These people are on tv, what are you going to do, climb in there?’ It just seemed like such a foreign idea to them, but it felt like something that I could do as a kid. And as a kid, I watched WWF/WWE. Part of me always wanted to be there, I initially went to wrestling school so I could do this at the highest level and eventually go there. Over the years, I would meet people that would discourage me, and I wondered if I could hang with these people? But you find places that you love working with people, and finally I made the decision to pursue it.”
You mentioned on Renee Paquette’s podcast that it was Jon Moxley who said ‘You can go to WWE and you can do this.’
“Yeah and I really needed to hear that. That feeling that I had since I was a little kid, I let people subconsciously chip away at it. I feel like that happens to all of us in life. For some reason, validation or confidence, we ask our friends and family ‘Hey. Do you think I would be good at this?’ And that isn’t always the best thing. Sure we need our support system, but I let the wrong people, not maliciously, take that feeling away, and I got really far away from something that I was certain of. When he [Moxley] said that to me, and he could absolutely not care, he is telling me that because he thinks that. This is a message from the universe and I need to pay attention to this.”
So after that, did you send a text message to Triple H? Did Jon Moxley give you his number and say reach out?
“He did. I waited for the appropriate time to contact him. I was on the subway at the time and I spoke to him, and it was a super pleasant conversation. I did have a correspondence over the years with WWE with try-outs and background stuff. But that was the conversation that really cemented a lot of different things, and just having the ability to get to know him and understand exactly what he is looking for. I had the feeling from the conversation that he [Triple H] was looking for guys that were 110% in, and then some. I’m not going to wait to be told, I am going to be committed and bring everything into this and embrace the process. I was very protective about being signed there, I didn’t want people to be stooging this off. When I first arrived in NXT, I put on a luchador mask. I’m in a 3 piece suit with a lucha mask, which I used to use when travelling to Mexico. Fans and media would be at the airport. If there’s a car outside, you can only mess around with so many people in the airport. So I was walking around NXT in the mask, and I wondered if anyone would recognize me? I thought I would have to get this close [puts hand in front of face] before he would recognize me.”
Did you have to take the mask off?
“I think he just knew. But he started laughing and I started laughing. I walked up to him and shook his hand and said ‘I’m sorry, I just wanted to protect this. I didn’t want anyone stooging this off.’ Then he just started laughing and said ‘I appreciate your commitment.’ But I thought it would be a funny ice breaker.”
I feel like you endeared yourself to Triple H or someone in NXT, because you moved up the ranks lightning fast.
“I had such an awesome experience there, I don’t know how else to put it. I was introduced to the entire chain of command that I had to answer to, asked a lot of questions and wanted to understand the operation at every level. If ever there was any time to go into the truck and look at the production and the camera angles, I really wanted to learn as much about all this as I possibly could. I even recreationally would research what the company was doing outside of what we were directly involved in. I wasn’t waiting to be told exactly what I needed to do, I just thought to myself that I bet the people at the top of the food chain probably did this, or someone smartened them up to it. I’m going to get ahead of this and I really want to know this. I don’t want to be somebody here who is in a privileged position, I want to learn every step from the beginning. If I am asked a question, I don’t want to say I don’t know, I want to know.”
As an in-ring performer, what would you say are the differences between NXT and IMPACT?
“Respectfully, it just feels like a completely different operation. Respectfully, it feels like there are more hands on deck in NXT. There are more moving parts and the days are much longer, not in a bad way, but you arrive early and there are a lot of things to do. There are pre-tapes, scripts will switch and you have to improv. God forbid that someone gets hurt and you have to go on early or they switch something. I had never encountered anything like that prior to working there. Before I was even working on the roster, I would show up for tv, hang back, mind my own business and just watch things on ground level. You see the speed that everyone is working at, and not to eavesdrop, but you politely listen in on how people are communicating, what sort of verbiage they are using and just trying to learn the lingo. So when they call your number, the transition makes sense, and you are a pleasure to work with.”
I feel like your entrance with Scarlett was just lightning in a bottle. It was set up to succeed from the start.
“Yeah it was amazing, and I had the best possible people to work with. I’m grateful for it all, but I wish we had full attendance and that we could have some NXT house shows. I wish that I got a little bit more time with people, some people were so fun to work with. When you get out of the ring, these equations start going off in your head of a dozen different ways to do things. Aside from Finn Balor, I didn’t get the chance to re-work with many people.”
I want to talk about the NXT Championship match. At what point did you realize that you were really hurt?
“I was in denial about it. It was a simple bump, I can’t tell you to this day what happened. Our rhythm was off that night, it can happen to anybody. As soon as I began passing the middle of the ring, I knew something was going to go wrong, and it did, it was hard to explain. But as soon as I landed, my whole mind went into slow motion. My body made a strange noise, I can’t really describe it, it was like a crunch. But when that adrenaline is running you can run through a wall. So it made a crunch, and I felt something move and shift, and I’m like ‘No, they are not seeing that in the truck.’ So I grab it and push it back in, because my fear right now is that something is wrong and they will stop the match. So I’m like no way, I am shoving this back in. So many years to get to this one night and this happens! So I try to shove it in and it won’t go in, I roll my shoulder a little bit to see if it comes out, and sure enough it is sticking out and I’m like [grunts]. The referee asks if I am alright and I’m like ‘Yep! I’m doing great!’ I could tell you all the things that happened in that moment, but ultimately, the main thing was to persevere through this. It immediately came to me that this is an opportunity to show people that you can tell people how tough you are every single week, some might believe it. But this is an opportunity to show your peers and all the people that have put equity in you. This is sincere as sh*t, so you’ve really got to prove it. I took it as an opportunity to do that.”
So when you get to the back are you like ‘Well I’m not going to defend this.’ Or do you think you can work through it?
“It was slowly creeping in to me, and I was getting so upset. After the match, Hunter, Road Dogg and Johnny Russo walked up to me in the middle of the stage before I could get back there. They just walked up to me and I could see the look on their faces, and it’s worse than I think. I was just becoming perpetually devastated. They had to walk by me, because it was Keith Lee’s last night. I’m trying to play it down, and they are not overly concerned. They were also doing Keith’s farewell speech, and I didn’t want to be rude. So I stood there with my shoulder broken for as long as I could through Keith’s ceremony. I switched the belt from one hand to another, then I just saw it [shoulder] just shift forward. I waited until that was done, and then I went to medical, then they gave me the news. I just thought about all the years I put in, and it just sucked.”
Did you think that all the momentum had just gone at that point?
“Absolutely. I didn’t think there was any reason for them to revisit that at all. It’s business, and business is business. You take one cog out and put another one in. I have nothing against them for that, it is what it is. But I was totally blown away with what happened. They had every single right and reason to do something like that, and it wouldn’t be their fault. But they gave me a second chance, and I have privately thanked them for that. I was very grateful for that.”
Then you go to the main roster, and talk about momentum going away. Were you as shocked as everybody else was?
“[Laughs] I don’t know. But I think everyone else was really shocked. But I felt that coming too. I don’t know what else I can really say about it. All of us are watching the same thing and going ‘What is going on here?’ My thought process was that there would be some master plan behind it. From my point of view, look at the guys that I have been working with, they were all incredible. I was just used to some type of premeditated energy, so I assumed that it would be there tenfold, because it’s their flagship show. I had my reservations, but in the beginning, I was trying to be optimistic and there are some wheels on this thing.”
Do they assume that when you go to the main roster that fans are unaware of your previous work?
“I can’t say what the overall consensus is, because I feel like it is different with every person. I feel like every person has a different conceptualisation as to what happens when a person transitions from NXT to Raw. But I feel some people feel that way.”
So it’s meant to be against Jeff Hardy, which is awesome. And it’s 10 minutes, again that’s awesome. But it gets cut to 90 seconds in the ring?
“Pretty much. Just unusual. It’s easy work, but most of us would rather have the 10 minute match, easy work is available anywhere. But that happens, and unfortunately it happened to me. I was hoping that me and Jeff were going to get into a longform program. We worked a lot of house shows actually, and we got our time. Man, being able to maestro the audience, especially in the Carolinas, I wish we got that time on television. I wish more people got to see it, but if we got to Extreme Rules with our TLC match, it would have been something that you haven’t seen in a long time.”
When you texted me about the release, you said it was the most bizarre 4 months of your life. What was the most bizarre part?
“The most bizarre part was the transition of the outfit [laughs] and the lack of explanation we were able to provide to the audience. Continuity is extremely important, especially in storytelling. We are conditioning the audience that they are expected to have things explained. If they are not explained immediately, they have to be at some point. That patience only lasts for so long.”
When you were called up to the main roster, did they say who your first program would be with and it would lead to x y and z down the road?
“No, but I did have several people tell me that there were conversations of me working with Randy, Bobby, Drew, Bray and maybe Roman. But nothing was concrete, it was just mentioned as possible matchups, which I was thrilled for, who wouldn’t be? You want to work with these people, they are the best of the best. But when I got there, it was showing up and doing what they want you to do.”
Did you start to think that they might release you?
“For sure I knew that I was getting released. I knew that the segments weren’t getting over, it was obvious to me. A smart fan knew what was happening, it was only a matter of time. The snap reaction of the debut on the main show without any vignette or notice, it was out of nowhere. There was no ‘Next week…’ I thought that was weird and intuitively a red flag. I thought that was a sign of things to come.”
So what now?
“A lot of things. I realized that I like to create things. I create music, paint, I love to wrestle and create short films. It’s just something I like to do, anything in that field is an interest to me. Being bound to a script or the ideas of others, then being released from that, it’s made me hungry to create more. I am very inspired to create more, so wherever the opportunities arise, I am going to be there.”
Who came up with the name Karrion?
And was this one of many names that you came up with?
“I don’t remember, but that was the top one in a series of names. I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology. Chiron was a centaur and Charon was the ferryman that took the souls from the land of the living to the land of the dead. I was trying to guess between those 2 names, but sometimes something translates into a different language as something different. Karrion means dead flesh, and I felt it was close to those 2 characters. It rolls off the tongue and is a nice expansion of Killer Kross. You were never going to sell Killer Kross to that market.”
I end every interview talking about gratitude. What are 3 things in your life that you are grateful for?
“To be alive, that my family is in good health and I get to marry Scarlett in January or February.”
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Featured image credit: F4WOnline