Carmelo Hayes is finally on the verge of achieving his goals, and the only things standing in his way are four other contestants and an unprecedented match.
The two-time NXT North American champion may earn hit first chance at the NXT belt by winning the inaugural Iron Survivor Challenge match at NXT Deadline on Saturday (8 p.m., Peacock) (8 p.m., Peacock). The 25-minute match with start with two wrestlers and a new one will enter every five minutes. The winner will be the participant who scores the most falls within 25 minutes, however those who lose a fall will be placed in the penalty box for a minute and a half.
Hayes, 28 years old, sat down for an interview with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski prior to the match.
When you initially heard about the match’s specifics, what were your initial thoughts?
A: It took me some time to wrap my head around it, just with the 25 minute time limit, but I think the thing I got out of it is if you don’t get pinned you don’t lose time to collect pins. Therefore, I believe the objective is to avoid the penalty box, as you will lose one minute and thirty seconds to someone else. I continue to believe that this will be a matter of trial and error when we get out there, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to it tremendously. I’m looking forward to the responsibility to be the first to be part of a match that’s never been done and I anticipate we’re gonna set the standard pretty high.
The NBA player Carmelo Hayes
Given the potential for drama and the timing of this bout, do you believe it has the potential to be a Royal Rumble or Elimination Chamber-style contest that determines the next NXT championship contender heading into the new year?
A: I do. And I believe, based on the panorama of talent in this event, that this will be the contest in which the top in-ring performers compete for the NXT title. You look at the men in it, Joey Gacy, Grayson, Waller, JD McDonagh, Axiom and myself, truly all good standout in-ring performers on NXT. I believe that should be the standard going forward, based on your in-ring performance.
What would it mean for you to win, continue your ascent in NXT, and get a crack at the NXT title?
A: I believe my journey was already guiding me there. I know that Apollo vs. Bron Breakker is gonna be on the same show for the NXT championship and I told a few of times I am rooting for Bron Breaker because I think the big money match is Bron vs. Melo for the NXT championship. If I’m going to defeat anyone for that championship, I hope it’s Bron Breaker.
Do you feel that you and Bron are on a collision course because, as you stated, when you consider the most significant matches you can make, it is likely that one? Do you two have any fun, personal rivalry just growing up in the Performance Center together?
A: Prior to my arrival, he and I were quite close. Obviously, we are both champions, and we have a fierce rivalry because you don’t call yourself “The A champion,” and the NXT champion isn’t going to sit back and say “no.” I am cheering for Bron despite the fact that it is somewhat competitive. I want Bron to be successful. He’s killing it at the moment. Nevertheless, he will eventually have to see me.
When did you and Trick Williams realize that your on-screen connection was so natural? I’m aware that Road Dogg sort of pushed you guys together, and you had to figure out how this would appear.
A: Extremely early. Due to the fact that Trick is more personable and engaging than I am, it took some time for us to find our groove. He nearly had to retreat somewhat to meet me in the center. I’m pretty chill, I’m pretty cool. He is enormous and larger than life in this regard, so we meet in the center to ensure that everything works flawlessly. Because you must also remember that, as the victor, a great deal of responsibility rested on my shoulders. Consequently, he recognized his role, and he has been excellent at playing it. I’m thrilled for him to start doing things on his own and exposing his talents, because the man is really gifted and I don’t believe you’ve seen even half of what Trick Williams is truly capable of.
Was it first challenging for him to take a step back?
A: Probably, because he’s a character who is also very large. It is difficult to sit in the background and let me do my thing. And I had a vision of what I wanted to become and what I envisioned for us. I didn’t want to be a comedian when I looked at the current environment of wrestling, especially the black wrestlers. I desired to be viewed a bit more seriously because we could have easily followed the way of comedy. I simply believed that it was overused for men that resemble us. So, I wanted it to be somewhat more serious, but we found a great balance.
You express a desire to be taken seriously. There is a rumor that Shawn Michaels originally wanted to place you on 205 Live, but you spoke up and said, “I want to be viewed as a top man, not a cruiserweight.” Looking back on how events transpired, what impact do you believe that moment had on you?
A: This was my very first interaction with Shawn Michaels. I recently wrestled Kushida for the (cruiserweight) title in my debut bout, and as I was leaving the building, he was exiting the bathroom. I came up to him, thanked him for everything, and then fired my gun. I’ve never been scared to express my opinion. I’ve never been scared to demonstrate that I believe in myself; you should do the same. It was the best decision I could have made. It was truly, truly, truly the case. I was ecstatic that he received it as he did and remembered it. He continues to say that to me today. He says, “Hey, you instructed me to give you the ball, so I did.” Similar to a “prove me correct” challenge. I was the greatest thing I could have done. That day, I was filled with confidence. It was the opportune time. It was a matter of fate.
How do you reflect on your time as North American champion, and do you believe that the match you had with Wes Lee, given all that transpired, was a sort of torch-passing to him? That he’s the man to beat for the North American title?
A: I am quite pleased with my performance in that championship. I had quite high expectations for myself. I don’t believe they had as great of an anticipation as I did. I sincerely desired to win the ‘A’ championship, and I believe I was able to do so in some capacity.
For me, the match against Wes Lee was the conclusion of a chapter or a novel. Because of what I did with that title, I indicated on Twitter that a book was ending. Wes Lee is an extraordinary talent. Who better to hold the title of North American champion than Wes Lee?
During their NXT North American championship match, Carmelo Hayes flies towards Wes Lee.
You recently participated in a Main Event taping and a SmackDown dark bout. What do you believe you acquired from that experience, and did it provide you with a taste of the main roster?
A: It was merely a sample. It served to motivate me. Coming back down to NXT, you realize that this is our glimmer of hope. Occasionally, we practice so intensely and get into such a routine that we miss our Tuesday television appearances because we are in Orlando. Therefore, departing, boarding a plane, experiencing that crowd, and being backstage with the entire roster of top talent. Okay, this is what we’re working towards. This is exactly what we are working toward.
Did they merely grab you or did they pull you aside?
A: I spoke with everyone. I had brief conversations with Seth (Rollins), A.J. (Styles), Finn (Balor), and Roman (Reigns). MVP always seeks me out. No one could be much cooler. Everyone exclaimed, “Hey, we need you up here!” Continue doing what you are doing.
Do you have an ideal opponent on your main roster?
The answer is Seth Rollins. What I’m doing in NXT and what he’s doing on Raw feel to be our respective paths at the moment. I simply believe it would be a cool contrast. However, I’ll wait until I can ascend there. He’s going to see me.