“At that time, I was on another level,” said Lee. “Everything in my body hurt, but it was then that I was struck by the realization that it was set in stone, that I did it. “Standing in the center of the ring for the celebration, Lee reveled in all his glory. To make the moment even sweeter was to know that a celebration of the NXT championship was never inevitable.Cole won the title of Johnny Gargano at TakeOver XXV in June 2019, a night when Lee fought against Kona Reeves. This match was not on the show, but rather for a future recording of the weekly broadcast of NXT. At the time, Lee was just another guy in a sea of talent that includes NXT, struggling to find himself despite a spectacular combination of intelligence and athleticism.
“The start was difficult,” admitted Lee. “I thought the company wanted something else from me. All the while, they wanted me to be myself. The only person who really helped me through it was [WWE trainer] Terry Taylor.
“I thought I was doing something wrong, but Terry Taylor was the one who kept reminding me of who I was.” When I was filled with doubt, he kept me united. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened to me in this business. ”
Professional wrestling has long struggled with diverse representation, and Lee is grateful for the chance to lead NXT as the best performer. He is extremely passionate about issues outside of wrestling, and even raised awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement with his crown at the most recent TakeOver. This new opportunity, placed among the iconic faces of WWE, is one he plans to embrace with a balance of hard work, humility and a charisma that few other wrestlers around the world can match.
“I want to be the representation of the African American people, have someone who looks like them and represents them on the top stage and has high caliber matches,” said Lee. “But I also want the world to understand that if you work hard, you can make your way to this position.” It is a position that nobody saw me a year ago.
“I also want to be the representation that bridges the gap. I don’t want people to think that I’m special because I’m African-American. I want to be a guy, globally, that people can look at and say, “He’s our limitless champion.” ”
Lee was introduced to professional wrestling by his grandmother, memories he still cherishes two decades after his death.
“In fact, I dreamed of her before the match against Cole,” said Lee. “In my dream, she was in the crowd smiling and cheering for me, saying that she was proud of me. It is in my soul every time I step on this ring. ”
Lee still remembers how he felt when he watched the fight sitting next to her, filled with a sense of security, excitement and love.
“It wasn’t the fight, it was watching it with her,” said Lee. “She liked it so much, so much that it was contagious. This is what I fell in love with, the way professional wrestling made it feel. This is what I want to give people. This is what I strive to do whenever I am in the ring. ”
The history of the Lee-Cole match saw Cole exhaust all options in his attempt to defeat Lee, but the hungry challenger was too much for the champion. Lee is notoriously critical of his own games, but felt that what he created with Cole was a tribute to the memory of “Killer” Tim Brooks, the man who trained Lee and died at the end of last month.
“This match was a battle worthy of him,” said Lee, who noted that apparently no one else thought he had a wrestling future, Brooks had self-confidence that never wavered. “I am so proud to agree with him. He told me that I would be something special. I ground for 15 and a half years to prove him right. “
The projectors fixed the Great American Bash, but Lee refused to accept the credit alone. He distinguished Roman Reigns for helping him advance his career, creating an incredibly powerful moment in November in Survivor series when they clashed together in the ring.
“Roman doesn’t get enough credit for what he means for the sport,” said Lee. “And he went above and beyond to create this moment. The simple gesture of our fist, he transformed it into magic. It was the start of something very special for me. He’s such a superstar that he made this moment overshadow everything that happened in this game, and I won’t forget it. ”
After the broadcast of the game on Wednesday evening, Lee spent the rest of the evening on video chats and phone calls with family and friends. He now eagerly awaits the chance to create a new legacy as an NXT champion, appearing every Wednesday to see on television.
“I need to breathe and absorb everything, and then I’ll start formulating my next shot,” said Lee. ” We’ll see what happens. If they want me to start defending the two championships, damn it, you know I’m ready for this. “