Austin Theory on John Cena Match, Vince McMahon’s Advice, Failed MITB Cash-In, Stone Cold Stunner At WM38

Austin Theory (@austin_theory) is a professional wrestler signed to WWE. He joins Chris Van Vliet to talk about his upcoming match at WrestleMania 39 against John Cena for the United States Championship, his dream to become a pro wrestler at age 8, looking up to John Cena, what he learned from working closely with Vince McMahon, what happened when he was just known as “Theory” on WWE TV and how he got his first name back, taking an unforgettable Stunner from Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 38, what his diet and workout routine look like, his aspirations to be at the top of the WWE and much more!

The last time we did an interview together was like the start of 2019. And you manifested what’s happening right now you, manifested this match with John Cena.

“Yeah, it’s so funny you bring that up, too, because this is the interview you’re speaking of specifically, that’s the one that’s floating around all over the place right now. Just because of this. Yeah, it was definitely manifested for sure.”

Like, I feel like you weren’t just talking about like, oh yeah, I want to match with Cena because he was the top guy. You want to match with Cena because you feel like you deserve a match with Cena, and I love that about you.

“Yeah. And it’s funny, because all of that is. It’s kind of tying into how I feel now. And that’s feeling inevitable. Because when I really look at the, you know, the timeline of how long I’ve wanted to do this, since I was eight, I said I would be in WWE. And when I did that interview with you, I said I would face John Cena, you know, like I wanted to come after him. That’s the guy I wanted. And here we are at WrestleMania 39 man.”

What made you feel like when you’re eight and you say I want to be in the WWE? A lot of eight year old say that. But what made you feel like it was actually possible for you to do that?

“I think it was just one of those things where I completely, I don’t know if you’ve had an experience where you just completely know you’ve got it. And it just felt that way at eight, like there was no man, but what if I don’t grow up to be tall enough? Or what if I don’t grow up and I’m not strong, or I don’t have this, like it was none of that. I just knew it. And it was like 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 25, it just never changed, and I’m grateful to be able to have that mindset and stay, you know, in that one lane. Especially, you know, since I was eight, but it was a constant drive to just, you know, make sure that it was going to happen.”

So if that’s what you were manifesting when you were 8, what are you manifesting now at 25 for the next 5, 10, 15 years?

“Man, you know, I gotta really think about this, because I know in 5 to 10 years, this interview will come up, and I will be right again. Honestly, I will say, just really being at the top of the WWE. And people really fully understanding that. Because I get it, right now I’m making my climb to stand at the top of that mountain. But I think once you get to the top of that mountain, it’s about staying there. So I would say on manifesting being at the top of that mountain, and making sure that nobody gets up there with me.”

I love it. So when we did that interview the last time, you hadn’t met John Cena yet at that point, he made a very cryptic Instagram post about you, which was so cool to see. But now you have met John Cena. So what was that first conversation with him like?

“Man, the first conversation came about. And it’s funny because I brought up that photo that he posted on his Instagram. It was at the Performance Center one day, and we were all leaving. And we got told, hey, just everybody stay, we’re gonna have a little meeting before everybody leaves, and out comes John Cena. And he took the time out of his day to come down there and talk to you know, everybody that’s aspiring to be on the main roster. And a lot of us weren’t even on NXT TV then. So this was the very beginning for me. And he told us, you know, I’ll answer any questions you guys have, but if there’s anybody that wants to talk to me, you know, personally, I’ll stay here all day I’ll go in this room in the office, and you guys one by one can come in there. And I remember waiting, like three hours to talk to him. And I just went in there. And I remember the first thing I showed him was the picture of me as a kid, where I couldn’t afford the actual, like, the shirt and the wristband, so I made my own kind of off brand stuff. But I was eight years old, and I showed him the picture. I was like, Man, this is probably crazy. But check it out. He’s like, man, that’s not crazy, that’s awesome. And we got to sit there and I kind of just really just asked, you know, everything I could, you know, because this is the source. This is the man that’s, you know, held it down for well over a decade. And it was just, it was a lot for me to take in though at the time, you know, because he was spitting knowledge. But you know, I’m still, you know, whoa, this is John Cena, you know, so I’m, I’m just trying to take everything in, man. But that moment specifically, I’ll never forget. And I just remember like, leaving that room that day like, whoa, like I’m here, like I met the person that inspired me and motivated me, and now it’s on me to build this journey and to actually make it happen. And I know I can do it, because I’m the inevitable Austin Theory.”

I feel like there’s a new attitude since you grew this beard, like what’s changed since having a beard?

“Man, I guess, just growing up man, just not being a kid anymore. And just really, you know. And it’s funny, too, that you mentioned attitude because the attitude has certainly changed when it comes to, you know, you’re the next John Cena. That’s something that, I used to hear and maybe when you interviewed me, that would have been really cool to hear. But now it’s something that I don’t want. Because when I realized as a kid, every day, I went to the gym and worked on this dream. And every little thing in between that I did to work on this dream, John Cena was never next to me. He was never standing there, inspiring me, it was me, I did it all. And then getting here now, and being away from home, doing all these shows, being away from media, you know, appearances, and I love it all, that’s why I do it all. And I show up with a smile on my face. But it’s me putting in that work, and it’s me putting in that grind. And that’s why everything I do is my own way and my own unique way. And that’s why I want to be the first Austin Theory and not remembered as Oh, that’s the kid that’s the next John Cena. It’s like, no, that’s Austin Theory.”

You did such great work when you were on camera every week with Vince McMahon. And I’m curious to know how much of that fast track you to become a better performer working with Vince, week in week out?

“I will say the first thing that hits me when you say that is really just, you know, the first thing he ever said to me was before I went out and I did my first ever thing on Raw, he goes, you’re confident, so go out there and be confident like I know you are. And I noticed in my situations with him, there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare, because these segments would come together so fast. And you know, you’d have your promos so last second. So it taught me how to just be, you know, in the uncomfortable. So, you know, expect the unexpected. This is really how it was. And I was just in a situation where it’s like, oh, man, I really got to figure out like, what do I want to say? Like, how can I make this really genuine? How do I know what’s really going on here? And in those situations, it just prepared me to be ready for anything last minute, and just be out of that comfort zone. Because honestly, in the WWE, there’s not really a comfort zone. And if you find yourself in one, you’re probably not doing what you should be doing.”

That moment you had at WrestleMania 38 last year. So you’re in the ring, Vince, Stone Cold. And I think that your sell of the Stone Cold Stunner is right up there with the best to ever do it.

“I think it is the best. I don’t think it’s right up there. I think it’s right past [the others].”

The Rock, Scott Hall, they take pretty great Stunners

“I mean, you know, we didn’t say they didn’t. But you know, if we’re, what are we going based off of height here? You know, cuz your boy was a rocket ship.”

What went into that? Because like, there’s a bunch of ways you could take the Stunner. 

“Yeah, so when I was on the independent scene, I would wrestle in Evolve. And sometimes on other shows, if somebody hit me with a Stunner, I remember one time, I just jumped as high as I could, and just with the roar of the crowd, you know, you want to bring that energy. So I remember being really high in the air and landing on my back. And then I’m flipping and I’m on my feet again and then I’m flying into the ropes. And I was like, man, and I knew at WrestleMania, the day of, Austin is there’s there’s the little, you know, golf cart pulling up. And it’s right out front front of the locker room and Stone Cold has his back to me. And I go up to him, and I’m like, Hey, how’s it going? I just want to introduce myself. I’m Austin. And he’s like, very nice to meet you, I’ll be seeing you later, and then that was it. And I was like, what? So that’s how that day went? And then I find out you know, no, I’m gonna get Stunned. And sure enough, and I knew the entire time that that is how I was going to do it. And I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want anybody [saying] no, don’t do that. Because that’ll make this look, you know, like this or it’s like, Nah, I’m gonna take my moment and that’s gonna be it.”

That whole gimmick with like taking the selfie in the ring, like you legitimately did take some pretty great photos and I’m wondering if there’s one that you’re most proud of?

“Man, there’s so many I think one of the funniest ones was when Brock Lesnar put the cowboy hat on my head in the corner, you know, trying to downgrade me and I just took a selfie with it on you know, I thought that was a great one. A funny quick story about those selfies though, is, I guess the phone that I was using is tied to like the company tablet, which I guess like certain people have the tablet and Wade Barrett it specifically has the tablet. So at NXT every Tuesday after all, even from the live events he would see every selfie that I took, he can see them all. Yeah, so it’s cool but I mean, in some matches man I probably took 30, like it would be a lot of photos. Like I was just clicking away man you know you want to try to get that perfect one and you’re sweating and you just you know beat somebody up it’s a lot of work.”

The thing is you’re just looking for one right, you just need one good one.

“That’s all you need, man. Just one”

I love that you’re wearing the hat right now representing when you first heard A Town Down when you first heard your theme song What did you think?

“Well, the song was actually my idea. I had the idea of some like ring, like you know everybody knows once you hear, ‘You think you know me’ everybody’s pulled in. When you hear the glass break when you hear, you know, ‘If you smell what The Rock is cooking’ sounds like what can I use? And you know having Atlanta and being you know from Atlanta and going to a wrestling school in Atlanta and starting Austin Theory there. You know Usher says it best in the Yeah song with Lil John, peace up, a town down. And that was it. I was like, yeah, that’s perfect. So I was looking for something that could really engage the audience. So A Town Down, get everybody, and then here comes the song. But it was cool. I got to specifically go through. And if you listen to the lyrics, a lot of them are what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to say I am, you know. Like going straight to the top, you know, all day this, all day that, that’s it, that’s true. So I had a lot of input on the song for sure.”

This ride you’ve been on is so amazing to watch, especially from like the outside looking in for me, like I knew you before you were signed, who do you think’s helped you the most during this journey?

“Man, I always like to say AR Fox. I like to start with him just because, and people that don’t know who that is, that’s somebody that you know, he’s an independent wrestler as well. But that’s the guy that trained me from the beginning and really took me under his wing and and you know, sped up the process for me and I was doing you know, shows in front of nobody to doing really good shows like with Evolve and WrestleMania weekend independent shows, and then getting noticed by the WWE. But he’s definitely somebody I owe a lot to just because of the the time he put into me and you know, the limits he was willing to break to go that extra mile for me.”

I’m so happy that as we sit here right now, you’re back to being Austin Theory. Like what was the conversation like when you lost your first name? And then you got it back?

“Yeah, so I remember walking into, this is the time you know, Mr. McMahon was head of creative. And I remember the writer bringing my promo and the promo said, you know, don’t call me Austin, it’s just Theory. And I was like, what, like, the names gone? And, you know, I was wondering why. And I spoke with Mr. McMahon about it, and he felt that, you know, Theory could be a name that stood alone, he felt it had enough power behind it. And also, I think he just wanted to get away from that comparison of Stone Cold because we just did the WrestleMania stuff. So I think maybe out of circumstance, that’s maybe why it happened. But the funny story about Austin Theory coming back, is I just got a text one day, or like that just pretty much said, like your Austin Theory. And then I show up to the show and the, you know, the matches are on the wall, and there was my full name again. And I’m like, I guess I’m Austin Theory again, you know, so I thought it was kind of funny. Like, that’s how I find out, you know what I mean? But, uh, I never, I never felt like, I guess like negative about it. Because Theory just meant the most to me, because I’ll always have my first name, people are always going to know me as Austin. But Theory was just that name I came up with as a kid. And even as a kid I was searching for, you know, besides it being a cool name that I came up with, and nobody had it like how can I give it meaning. For the longest [time], Theory was supposed to mean, you know, a Theory is unproven. But to me when you’re unproven, that means you’re not proven so you can always get better. If you’re somebody that’s proven, that’s it for you. So me being a Theory always being able to change to adapt to evolve. That’s what it’s all about. And I still feel like to this day, it still works for that.”

One of my favorite stories of spending time with you is after that show, we all went out to eat. We were having chicken wings, fries, whatever. You demolish it, and then you’re like, Dude, I got to see the dessert menu. And I’m like, but you get to look like that by eating dessert? And you got the biggest piece of chocolate cake and you destroyed it.

“Man, it’s so funny. You bring up chocolate cake, because that’s still my thing, brother. That’s still my thing.”

So is that the secret to look like Austin Theory? All we got to do is eat chocolate cake?

“You know what? To all my haters, absolutely.” 

What does the workout split look like right now?

“So it’s, it’s kind of the same as it’s always been one thing that I have changed maybe in the last few years is the legs have changed. I don’t do legs together anymore, I like to do quads separate from hamstrings. So I have an extra leg day now, but uh, the routine is pretty much the same. I’ll go two days of upper body parts that I train, and then I’ll go a day of lower body and then two days of upper, and it’s just simple stuff like chest day back day, then quad day, then arm day, shoulder day, then hamstring day, and then it’s just the rotation just keeps going.”

And then a whole chocolate cake day?

“Every day, probably six times a day for all my haters, make sure you write that part down.”

I’m gonna write that down for you.

“Just write it on the wall behind you. Just real big.”

You talk about being inevitable. I feel like when you won the Money in the Bank, it was inevitable you were going to become WWE Champion. Why was the decision to cash-in for the US title?

“Well, I think you know, I was in a situation where every time I did try to cash in, yeah, it wasn’t even The Bloodline that was stopping me. You know, and that’s already its own, you know, fence to try to get around that [Tyson Fury stopped you]. That’s what I’m saying, Man, how ridiculous you know. And, and even that same night, you got to, you know, like, Tyson Fury did that, and then that’s when we seen the debut of Solo [Sikoa]. So it’s one of those things where I was like, man, what can I do? Because I’m kind of stuck. I know that, you know, we’re gonna be around to the next Money in the Bank coming up. So what can I do? And I looked at Seth Rollins, the guy that had the United States Championship, and I realised like that championship is the championship of Monday Night Raw, it is. And it’s on its way of, of getting to the top. So how can I make that much better? I decided to cash-in. And once again, because that’s just how my life went when I was Mister Money in the Bank, Bobby Lashley ruins my moment, and I had enough. I had enough. And I did what I needed to do. And the vision I had for the United States Championship, I am seeing it clear as day now. I’m making it happen. Nobody’s stopping me. And if John Cena thinks he is he’s out of his damn mind, because after WrestleMania 39 I’m gonna go to my show Monday Night Raw, and John Cena is gonna go back to his little set, put on a skirt, put on his heels and go about his day.”

What did you think about him saying if you win, you lose. If you lose, you lose.

“Yeah, I get it. I get it. Because he wants everybody to believe that I don’t have it, that I am screwed. But that is a man that says that because he knows when he looks in my eyes, he knows that I have everything, I do. And he has a legacy, he has so much, everybody knows John Cena, he’s the top of the top. But I think when he looks at me, and he sees that I’m 25, and he sees that the level that I’m on, and the things that I’m doing and the growth that I’m going at, it can’t be touched. It really can’t be, so you have to look me in my eyes and tell me that if I beat you that I lose everything. But we all know that’s wrong John, because why? Why? If it means nothing, why does he even want to have this match? He wants to have this match because I’m the most important thing in the WWE. I am, and it’s clear as day. And there’s a lot of people that want to sit there and you know, they want to go like this and go no, like I don’t I don’t want it to I don’t want to but then they’re gonna have to go okay, Theory is the guy. They’re gonna have to, it’s just where we are man. So him saying me winning me [losing] is going to mean I lose everything. Okay. I can’t wait to lose everything when I show up on Monday Night Raw, my show holding my title because that’s the inevitable. And all those people that he says don’t believe in me, I could care less. Guess how many people believed in me when I was 8 when I told him I wanted to be a WWE superstar? Guess how many people laughed at me when I was 12 sitting at the table in school when I told them I wanted to be a WWE superstar. I don’t need people to believe in me, that’s a proven fact that I don’t. And I’ve always shown that and if I believe that, I don’t think at 25 I would be where I am today. So it is what it is, WrestleMania 39, it’s my night, it’s my show. And I’m going to own that and I’m going to show that and that is all day that is the inevitable.”

So after this match with Cena you look at the entire WWE roster, who’s someone there that you want to work with but haven’t had a chance to work with yet?

“Roman Reigns. The Big Dog, The Tribal Chief, whatever you want to call him. That’s it. And you know, maybe Cody Rhodes puts down The Tribal Chief, that’s something that I’m very interested in. Because when I’ve been asked about that match, that is, I’m a little caught up there, because I don’t know man, I have, something tells me Cody might have it man. I think with enough fire and his dad being brought into this, that is his wheelhouse. That’s what the American Nightmare’s you know, named after Dusty Rhodes. And I think Roman Reigns bringing that in and saying, hey, you know, your dad taught me and he never talked about you, and he didn’t teach you anything. Man, that’s got to really take you know, a man to a deep place when that’s his route, his fire, his why.”

That’s two Atlanta guys too, you know, so make sense. What do you think is the best piece of advice in this journey that you’ve been given, and then you’ve taken and ran with it?

“You know, something that kind of pops up that, uh, it’s like the one thing that Mr. McMahon said to me before I ever did anything on Monday Night Raw, and it was the thing about, you know, I know you’re confident, so go out there and be confident. And I think that’s something that always sticks in my mind, because it’s like, remember that, remember how confident that kid was the eight, that was eight and really didn’t have anything, you know, and didn’t, you know, have a connection to WWE, didn’t know how he was going to get there, was skinny was small, didn’t look like a WWE Superstar, didn’t look like I had the genetics. And it’s just that confidence that I had of just knowing and manifesting that. And I think that’s something to this day, every time I go out there, remember that confidence. Remember that. Because that confidence has that, you know, those years of work built in. All the times you went to the gym, all the parties you missed, all the opportunities of you know, just I guess having fun you missed but really just being on that grind and making this happen at 25 and going to the biggest show there is, the grandest stage WrestleMania 39, against the guy that you idolised, and that’s John Cena. It’s confidence. And that’s, that’s it, you know, go out there with the confidence that you know you have.”

Looking forward to seeing it, Austin Theory, John Cena, WrestleMania 39 for the United States Championship before we wrap this up, gratitude is a big part of my life. So I end every conversation with this, what are three things in your life, Austin, that you’re grateful for right now?

“Man, I’d have to say, the position I’m in just with my work. My body being being healthy and being able to do what I can do. And definitely my family, being able to inspire them, especially my little brothers seeing me what I do, getting little text messages from them after something I did on TV, that means the world to me and just knowing that I’ve created that picture for them. If that confidence isn’t there for them right now, it has to be, you know, because I’m showing them their own brother they hang around and joke around with is doing it every single week and the world is talking about him.”

Featured image: USA Network

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