When WWE’s NXT makes a special visit to Miami on Friday, Feb. 24, it will elicit fond memories for NXT Superstar Roderick Strong.
Strong, 33, may be new to NXT, but traveling the highways and byways of Florida is recognizable terrain.
NXT delivers shows throughout Florida, and the Florida indies are where Strong got his start 17 years ago.
“A lot of the towns are very similar,” he said. “Some I haven’t wrestled in seven years, and I go there, and I’m like. ‘Oh my God.’ Dejavu. It’s awesome to see that the crowds are thriving, and they’re getting an opportunity to see a lot of these younger [NXT Superstars], who are eventually going to make their way to NXT TV and possibly the WWE main roster. So it’s awesome to be a part of that.”
Never miss a local story.
Strong is looking forward to NXT in Miami.
“I wrestled in Miami quite a few times,” Strong said. “I was doing shows there before I really got my break, before going to the Northeast quite a bit. I wrestled a lot in Davie. It makes me just think of that and how much of a good time that was. The crowds down there are always fun; so I’m excited to go to Miami with the WWE NXT brand.”
Actually, his father, Billy, wrestled the Florida indies first as Elvis Wesley, a wrestling Elvis Presley impersonator.
“His dad used to wrestle on my IPW Hardcore Wrestling shows,” said Ron Niemi, who ran IPW Hardcore and NWA Florida, based in Tampa. “His father makes a good living to this day as an Elvis impersonator and was always entertaining as #^** when performing in the ring.”
Take note Booker T, Jerry Lawler, Chris Pallies to this King.
Where dad facilitated the entertainment aspect in the ring and abroad, Strong took to the athletic side of the business, becoming an outstanding professional wrestler.
Niemi said: “I first became aware of Roderick Strong when he was a teenager working smaller shows in the Tampa area under a hood as he was still too young to work in the ring. When Roderick turned 18, I gave him a tryout and realized this kid was already damn good, and we put him together with another young talent named Sedrick Strong, and they immediately stood out from the rest of the younger guys on the roster.
“When I programmed the team with veterans Scoot Andrews and Mike Sullivan, the feud was magic in the ring culminating in a cage match that was a bloodbath and saw a double turn...and the Strongs were off and running as a babyface tag team. After the team ran its course and split, I pushed Roderick hard and The Master of the Backbreaker was born.”
Niemi continued: “I contacted Zandig, Fat Frank and Blue Meanie, and soon Roderick was making a huge splash in the Northeast with CZW, JAPW and 3PW, and from that point the buzz was really picking up some steam. ROH eventually brought Roderick in, and the rest is history. I’m extremely proud of everything Roddy has accomplished and am really excited to see what he does in NXT and then WWE as this guy is one of the best in the world.”
Niemi shared some archived video footage of Strong working for Blue Meanie’s 3PW at the ECW Arena/Viking Hall in Philadelphia. Niemi managed Strong that night in a match against Mikey Batts.
In South Florida several years ago, Strong wrestled The Sean Allen with Chuck Aurin for the FOW title at a D1PW show.
Strong’s extensive work on the Florida indies also included FIP, MLW and I Believe in Wrestling.
“Roderick Strong showed up as a surprise at BELIEVE VII in 2009,” said indie wrestler/head trainer Chasyn Rance, who runs the Team Vision Dojo, home of I Believe in Wrestling shows in Orlando. “[Strong] beat Austin Amadeus, and after the event, he challenged the Florida Heavyweight Champion for BELIEVE XI. I beat Sean Davis, a 400-pound wrestler at BELIEVE XIII to set-up a match with Roderick the following month. We had the largest paid attendance at a BELIEVE event with more than 300, and we had a 15-plus minute match that still gets brought up to me often, even just three nights ago.
“Roderick also showed up for BELIEVE 81 in 2014 to defeat current Florida Heavyweight Champ Rhett Giddins. [Yoshitatsu Yamamoto was the Florida champ during that time].
“Roderick was always a professional and a top wrestler. He was great to work with on the smaller independents and up to FIP, ROH and TNA. Also, he ran a seminar at the Team Vision Dojo for the students. Very happy he’s finally signed to WWE and look for more great things to come from Roddy.”
Outside of Florida, it’s another impressive listing for Strong. As mentioned Ring of Honor and TNA as well as New Japan, NWA, Dragon Gate USA, NOAH, Combat Zone Wrestling, IWA-MS, Progress, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and more. He even wrestled Kurt Angle at a WWE SmackDown taping in 2005 at the Amalie Arena in his backyard, Tampa.
Quite the resume.
“I had been wrestling all over the world for 15 years, and I had been a mainstay in Ring of Honor for almost 13 years,” Strong said. “I had a tryout with WWE before in 2014. I’ve communicated with [William] Regal. Just the timing of everything. I got a phone call from them. They were interested, and obviously I was interested, and here I am today [chuckles].”
Strong signed with WWE in October.
“[Sigh] It left me speechless for a second but also very excited. I had already planned to end my chapter in Ring of Honor. [Strong is a Ring of Honor Triple Crown Champion]. I was going to go back to doing the indies more often and possibly working more of a full-time schedule in Japan. If I didn’t get the chance to go to WWE, that would have been a bummer to me, but I was just going to continue to do the best I could and continue my legacy.
“To actually get the call [from WWE]..I was leaving the gym, and I was just talking about it that day. I’m going to go do my thing, but if the opportunity comes, I’m going to jump on it, and if it doesn’t, I’m very happy with the career I’ve had.”
He jumped quickly on it.
“It was perfect,” he said. “It left me speechless that it was finally here, the opportunity was finally here, and now I got to do my best to take advantage of it.”
And he is.
For his debut, NXT paired him with a familiar face, Austin Aries, in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Aries and Strong are former Ring of Honor tag team champs.
“Teaming with Aries was big to me,” Strong said. “We have a long storied history from our time in Ring of Honor and TNA. We’re good buddies outside the ring. So that was awesome.”
The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic resonated further with Strong.
He explained: “I had a buddy who passed away in April who battled with PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. He was named after Dusty Rhodes. [Dustin Yates]. His mother and his grandfather were big wrestling fans. They would go to the [Tampa] Armory and watch [Dusty Rhodes].
“So for me to be debuting in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic meant more than words can really say. It was an honor to do that for my fallen friend, who I loved very much and who was close to me.”
An emotional time on many different levels for Strong, his fiancee, family and friends, the journey continued, and it didn’t take long for Strong to appear on an NXT TakeOver special on the WWE Network.
At NXT TakeOver: San Antonio in January, Strong wrestled Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas.
“That’s a really good feeling,” Strong said. “I’ve always prided myself in being someone a company can count on. They’re giving me opportunities to prove myself, and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
“It’s a lifestyle,’ he said. “It was something when I was younger; obviously I liked to get out more, enjoy myself, living life, going out with buddies, but also making sure you wake up every morning and go to the gym and train your butt off and prepare yourself for battle every single day.”
He added: “It’s somewhere people can go to enjoy themselves in every facet of life but also wake up every day and work very, very hard and get ready for the most important thing, and that is stepping into that professional wrestling ring and doing your thing.”
Strong took some courses at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He didn’t finish college.
“At the time, I just didn’t have the patience,” he said. “I was very tunnel visioned, and wrestling was the only thing on my mind. That was the only thing I could really pay attention to. I went [to college] for a year and a half, and it was a good experience, but it just wasn’t the right time for me.”
Strong and his fiancee are interested in opening a coffee shop someday, and WWE does offer a program to pay for college courses. Xavier Woods is one WWE Superstar who took advantage of that.
“Obviously taking some business courses and getting a degree would be very helpful in having the most successful business possible,” Strong said. “So it’s something I would look into, for sure.”
Born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Strong only spent eight months there. Florida is his main stomping grounds, especially the St.Pete/Tampa area where he’s been residing.
Were you a wrestling fan growing up?
“I was,” he said. “I went through a phase, typical kid. I was a big fan of Hulk Hogan. As I got older, I kind of disengaged from wrestling a little bit...just because I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life with my parents. We moved a lot..just a lot of stuff that took me away from wrestling, but I thank God that wrestling got brought back into my life, and I actually started to be around it and trained in it a little bit at 12-years-old. So it came back in a big way to me.”
How at 12-years-old?
“My dad was actually trained by Jim The Anvil Neidhart,” Strong said. “My dad did it part-time back in the day.”
Neidhart, who resides in the Tampa area, was one half of the legendary Hart Foundation with Bret The Hitman Hart and manager Jimmy Hart in the WWF (now WWE).
Strong continued: “My parents were separated at the time, and my dad couldn’t afford a baby-sitter, so he said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna come watch.’ That’s when I really fell in love with it...It was something that I watched when I was younger and then seeing it done in front of me, I became infatuated with it...When they let me in the ring, I was hooked.”
Neidhart also trained Strong in Florida. The Warlord and Prince Iaukeau also assisted in the development process of Strong as he ventured into the world of professional wrestling. He appreciates and respects them all.
“I had a chance to wrestle Hector Guerrero, when I was younger,” he said. “I was around a lot of talented guys and took a little bit from everybody.”
What do you think of the WWE Performance Center and its coaching staff?
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Every single day that I go there, I learn something new. From the position I came from, you didn’t get advice or constructive criticism as often as probably necessary to help you grow as a performer. The guys and the girls who are here are so lucky to have a staff that just wants you to be good. They want everybody in here to eventually make it to the main roster and be as successful as possible. Just to be in that environment is infectious to push me everyday to be better.”
Did you attend any WWE shows when you were younger?
“I did every once in a while. I also watched on closed circuit at the [University of South Florida] Sun Dome [in Tampa] for WrestleMania  when Hulk Hogan wrestled The Ultimate Warrior. When I was older and I was around it more, I would go to any WWE or WCW events that were in town.”
How did you get your big break with WWE?
“I had been wrestling all over the world for 15 years, and I had been a mainstay in Ring of Honor for almost 13 years. I had a tryout with WWE before in 2014. I’ve communicated with [William] Regal. Just the timing of everything. I got a phone call from them. They were interested, and obviously I was interested, and here I am today [chuckles].
“The timing couldn’t have been better for both I believe.”
Roderick set new goals, which includes winning the NXT Championship, a title currently held by the Glorious Bobby Roode.
“That is the first one on my list,” he said. “Then after that, making the main roster and becoming world champion. Cement my legacy in professional wrestling. Show a lot of people that hard work and perseverance and dedication really pays off.”
And a WrestleMania?
“Of course. Multiple WrestleManias. Not just one.”
- NXT in Orlando
WWE’s NXT returns for TV tapings at University of Central Florida in Orlando at The Venue at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22.
The Venue is just behind the CFE Arena.
“I love the fact that Orlando is pretty close to Tampa,” said Strong, a longtime Tampa area resident. “So being able to have my fiancee and my family come over and watch the event means a lot to me.”
Featured superstars at The Venue also include NXT champ Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura and NXT women’s champ Asuka.
For tickets click NXTUCFTickets or visit the CFE Arena box office.
- NXT in Miami
WWE’s NXT makes its third visit to Miami on Friday, Feb. 24 at the Fieldhouse at the Watsco Center (formerly Bank United Center) at the the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
Bell time is 7:30 p.m.
See some of the newer faces on the NXT roster as well as progressing talent who are continuing to build a hot NXT brand and working toward joining the ranks of the main roster in WWE. That includes Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura, Asuka, #DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa), Authors of Pain (Rezar and Akam) and more.
Tickets are on sale online and at the Watsco Center box office.
- NXT in Fort Pierce
WWE’s NXT is Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Havert L. Fenn Center in (South Florida) Fort Pierce.
There will be a pre-show meet-n-greet around ringside included in the price of admission. WWE NXT superstars Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford participated in the January meet-n-greet at the Havert L. Fenn Center.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Bell time is 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: General Admission $10; Gold Circle (Ringside) $20.
- NXT on WWE Network
WWE NXT is 8 p.m. Wednesdays on WWE Network.
- NXT abroad
To see NXT in a city near you, check
- NXT/WrestleMania 33 Orlando
WWE WrestleMania 33 is Sunday, April 2, 2017 at Camping World Stadium, formerly Citrus Bowl Stadium, in Orlando.
During WrestleMania Week, NXT TakeOver: Orlando is Saturday, April 1 at the Amway Center, home of the NBA Orlando Magic.
- Pro Wrestling On The Web
YouTube jim varsallone (jimmyv3 channel)