Just three days after his 33rd birthday, Fergal Devitt gets one of the best birthday gifts ever. He gets to be the center of attention to the wrestling world today.
World Wrestling Entertainment ended months of speculation and differing "will he or won't he?" reports by officially announcing that Devitt, the former leader of the Bullet Club in New Japan Pro Wrestling, has officially signed with the company and reported to the WWE Performance Center this morning to kick off his tenure with the NXT developmental brand.
Surprisingly for someone who is so brash while inside the squared circle, Devitt sounded humbled, almost demure about signing with WWE during a phone conversation with PWInsider.com. Over the last few months, he played with reports of his status. Just last week, when PWInsider.com reported that the announcement of his signing was imminent, Devitt quicky went on Twitter to announce he was signing...some limited edition lithographs.
On his social media antics, Devitt said, "Yeah, you know, it's..obviously I liked to have a little fun with it. Obviously the Internet likes to create it's own speculation and stories and rumors and what have you, but really, it wasn't much of a story at all. I was just blown away by the amount of the hype and the reaction that the story seemed to be getting and that was humbling. I'm happy that it's all finally set and I'm here at the Performance Center."
With today being his first day, Devitt was upfront about his goals walking in as the newest guy on the NXT roster.
"I want to get to know all the coaches and get familiar with all the wrestlers there. I want to get myself into the training schedule and set myself in for what I am sure is going to be a long, hard road to the top. It's an exciting chance. I've had first days in England and I've had first days in Mexico and I've had first days in Japan, so this is going to be another successful first day. I don't look that far ahead. I take baby steps. Starting out in pro wrestling, I just wanted to have that first match and then the second and the third. Right now, I'm just looking forward to having that first match on NXT and we'll take it from there."
Still, Devitt is quick to admit, there's a lot of excitement on his part now that he's officially landed in The Sunshine State.
"What's crazy is that inside, I still feel the exact same as I did as a kid at 18 walking into the Hammerlock Training school [in Great Britain]. Not much changed in regards to my view on wrestling or my passion for it. I think...my mind would have been blown if you had said that on 14 years' time, you'd be signing with the biggest wrestling company in the world."
Much like the recently signed KENTA, Devitt was a genuine star in Japan, debuting in March 2006 where he was quickly rechristened "Prince Devitt." Devitt quickly rose as a regular on their tours, Devitt became one of the MVP performers of the company's Junior Heavyweight division, twice capturing the prestigious Best of Super Juniors round robin tournament (2010 and 2013) as well three runs with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship and six title runs with the division's Tag Team championships.
With so many classic matches under his belt during his time in NJPW, Devitt is hard pressed to suggest bouts for fans just discovering him via the fanfare of today's WWE signing announcement.
"I've had a lot of different styles of matches through the years, but maybe if you went back to last summer. I had an IWGP Junior Heavyweight match against Gedo. That would be one that I really enjoyed. I'd obviously go back to one with a gentleman named PAC, who is now Adrian Neville in NXT. Those are two similar but different matches that I'm really proud of."
When pressed about reports that the match against Pac is what got Neville, the current NXT champion, signed with WWE and began the company's interest in Devitt as well, Fergal remains coy, commenting, "You'd have to ask the powers-that-be to confirm that" before laughing.
What isn't a laughing matter is the truth. Devitt had it made in New Japan. He was on every tour and was a central figure of the Bullet Club, the coolest clique of bad ass wrestlers to hit the scene since the New World Order attempted to take down World Championship Wrestling a generation ago. So, why leave now for unchartered waters and start anew? Why dive into the deep end of the pool and start from scratch on a grander stage where all the past accomplishments only gets you in the door - and beyond that door, there's no telling what the future may hold?
"You actually answered the question with how you asked it," Devitt said. "That was the reason why I decided to make the jump. I was feeling a little bit comfortable and complacent in Japan. I was craving that new challenge and there's no better place to challenge yourself than in the biggest company in the world. So, that was the answer right there." But with that challenge comes a wide open future, so, does he feel pressure starting anew?
"Absolutely. Everything I've accomplished in the past has been completely wiped clean. I've got a clean slate and I've got a lot to prove and I'm excited to show everyone what I can do."
A lifelong fan, Devitt can trace his love of the genre to his earliest memories, noting that he can recall "sitting with my Granddad" watching World of Sport, a British anthology series that regularly featured professional wrestlers during it's two decade run. While the series went off the air from ITV when he was only four, Devitt vividly remembers watching the likes of Robbie Brookside and Steve (William) Regal.
As he grew older and followed WWE during its explosion in popularity in Europe in the 1990s, led by the British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, Fergal noted his enjoyment of then-WWE Intercontinental champion Shawn Michaels "who I really looked up to" during that era as Devitt, "started to realize what was really going on in wrestling."
Chances are that even if you haven't yet seen Devitt compete, you've heard of him as one of those names who at one point or another, was all over the world internationally. He's one of the cool names that get tossed around on social media pages by fans to show they are aware of who the next cool, cutting edge act is, one of the reasons that his WWE signing received such great fanfare amongst the online fans.
Now a 14 year veteran, Devitt began training at the age of 20 for the late Andre Baker's UK Hammerlock. Following a path similar to the likes of Daniel Bryan and Eddie Guerrero, Devitt began trailblazing around the world. Beyond competing all over Europe with occasional jaunts to the United States, Devitt was a regular with CMLL in Mexico before settling into New Japan. Devitt has had the chance to absorb all the different styles, which he admits should help him as he embarks on his WWE tenure.
"I've tried to pick up little bits [of knowledge] from everyone as opposed to just honing in one just one person. I had a lot of experience as I was growing up and I tried to take little bits from everyone. [The international experience] is absolutely crucial. Your mind gets opened...to different styles. There's no one way. No one way is right. No one way is wrong. Everyone just has different ways of doing things. If you can travel the world and learn as many different ways of doing everything, then you find out what suits you best or what you're most comfortable doing and then it'll make you a more confortable performer in the ring. I've been really look, being exposed to Japanese wrestling, the so-called "Strong Style" and my basic training was in British "Catch as Catch Can" wrestling. Then, I've spent some time in Mexico and in the States, so I've kind of tried to get a little bit of everything and not get pigeon-holed into one way."
Whenever there are new talents who come in to WWE with a following from elsewhere, the discussion of dream matches begin. Whether it was the Radicalz jumping from WCW or Daniel Bryan debuted on the first season of NXT, new talent coming in always breed discussion and hope for the next great classic rivalry. With similar talents who have followed similar paths to the company including Sami Zayn, KENTA, Cesaro and former foe Adrian Neville, there is a lot to be excited for with Devitt being added to the WWE mix.
While acknowledging the obvious, immediate matches that fans will hope to see, Devitt also candidly noted that he's set his eyes on those names, as well as larger, more unique individuals that would certainly allow him to bring a different dimension to both their work in the ring as well as his own
"I've had a lot of dealings with Adrian Neville in the past. I'd love to get in there with Cesaro, but for me personally, I'm a big fan of the storylines. For me, I'd really like to get in there with Big Show and with Kane and with some of the bigger guys and mix it up with those guys."
As Fergal steps onto the WWE landscape for the first time, it's not surprising to take a look back and reflect on what he's accomplished. He's the warrior taking a deep breath after one massive victory before forging himself ever forward in pursuit of the great battle. He's about to gain an entirely new following internationally amongst the WWE audience, but what does Devitt say to those who have been with him all along?
"I'd like to thank them personally for their support over the last 14 years. It's been a little humbling. They've always Tweeted me and messaged me and came to shows. That means a lot and hopefully they will stick with me with the new company, WWE and hopefully we can have some more good times."
The good times are yet to come. Today, Fergal Devitt begins the hard part, setting his roots within WWE and getting to work at the Performance Center. With all the hype and talk that will come out today's announcement, what isn't hype is that for Fergal Devitt, Monday July 28th is the beginning of a new era in his life.
"I'm excited. Excited to get started. Excited to see where the journey goes and I'm looking forward to getting in the ring for WWE."http://pwinsider.com/article/87211/pwinsider-exclusive-fergal-devitt-reflects-on-past-looks-to-the-future-as-he-steps-onto-the-wwe-stage.html?p=1