One major goal of an NXT superstar is to attract attention.
During “NXT Takover: Fatal 4 Way,” Steve Cutler did just that by just standing at attention.
Cutler, dressed in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform, proudly stood still, representing the Marines, his country and NXT, while former “Total Divas” star JoJo sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem to open the show on Sept. 11 (the 13th anniversary of 9-11), broadcast live on WWE Network.
Cutler said: “Just standing there and listening to the USA chants [from the crowd], it was goosebumps and chills, and it meant so much.”
Serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan (May-November 2009; January-August 2011), Cutler and the American flag flanked JoJo atop the ramp before a sold-out crowd at Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.
Cutler joined the Marine Corps in November 2007. He completed basic training in Parris Island, S.C.
WWE Hall of Famer Sgt. Slaughter, also a former U.S. Marine, was billed from Parris Island, S.C.
Cutler continued his military instruction in infantry (SOI) at Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, N.C. He was then stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. Four years he dedicated to the U.S. Marine Corps.
“My MOS [Military Occupational Specialty], which was my job title, was 03 Infantry, 31 Machine Gunner; so I was Specialist 03 31.”
Cutler’s father, Walter, also served in the military.
“It was my dream as a little kid,” Cutler said. “I was brought up on it; my father was in the Army, and I always wanted to do it.
“I rolled around as a kid with sports and playing with toy guns, everyone playing army, and growing up watching [military] movies.”
Cutler did not follow totally in his father’s boots.
“The Marine Corps stood out to me more [than the Army] -- the respect, how clean cut everything looked, the overall camaraderie -- and it is the toughest,” he said. “Everybody does their part, but marines are the best, and the marines are the higher standard. That’s just my opinion.”
Cutler then chuckled: “I always wanted to out-do my dad; so I kind of did.”
Unfortunately, Cutler’s father died before he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, but proud his dad would have been.
Cutler said: “It was humbling and respectful as well to do it.”
Prior, Cutler played football four years and wrestled for Rutherford High School in Rutherford, N.J. His athleticism and military background helped him transition into becoming a pro wrestler/sports entertainer.
“I was home on leave after my first tour of Afghanistan, and WWE superstar Darren Young was in town, because he’s friends with one of my good friends,” Cutler recalled. “My friend said, ‘Come over. One of the guys from WWE is here.’ I said, ‘Cool.’ We sat down, myself and Darren Young, and we had a conversation about [pro wrestling/sports entertainment]. I told him when I got out, I would try it, see how it is. He said it would be a good thing.
“As soon as I got out of the Marine Corps, that November 2011, I found a wrestling school in New Jersey. Once I stepped foot in that ring, I never left.”
‘A’ wrestling school in New Jersey was ‘the’ wrestling school in New Jersey.
Cutler trained under former wrestler Pretty Boy Larry Sharpe at the famous Monster Factory in Paulsboro, N.J.
“I loved it there. It was good training. Everyday, kind of the same routine,” he said. “I was taught the ins and outs of what to do and what not to do -- keep your mouth shut and your ears open.”
Quite the pedigree. Sharpe’s factory produced talent like Big Show, Bam Bam Bigelow, D-Lo Brown, King Kong Bundy, Chris Candido, Sonjay Dutt, The Godfather, The Headbangers, Raven, Sheamus, Tatanka, Virgil and Mr. USA Tony Atlas.
“I thought I was going to look bad at first when I started there,” Cutler admitted. “I knew I was in shape, but I thought I was going to be a small, skinny, scrawny guy compared to what wrestlers were supposed to be.”
That was not it, and he adapted quickly.
The Marine Corps taught him life lessons which he uses on his journey to become a WWE superstar.
“From what I got out of the Marine Corps, it’s the discipline and just being able to keep your mouth shut, take things with a grain of salt, being able to take criticism,” he said. “You can take criticism and not get upset about it but improve from it.
“So making yourself better is also what I took from the Marine Corps and being a leader and taking care of others. I was a team leader, and I was a section leader as well. I always had that role of taking care of others, before taking care of myself. Here [in NXT] we all work together as a whole to make ths company better, and I love it.”
Like WWE superstars and divas do, talent from NXT -- home of WWE’s top prospects -- is giving back. NXT divas champ Charlotte along with NXT superstars Colin Cassady, Enzo Amore, Corey Graves, Mojo Rawley and Cutler visited James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 9 in Tampa.
“I was very humbled by the experience,” Cutler said. “Being a veteran myself and letting the patients know that made a connection with them.”
Cutler and his NXT associates posed for photos, signed autographs and spoke with the veterans -- men and women of all ages.
“When I went to the Philadelphia VA, it was a process,” Cutler said. “At the James A. Haley [Veterans’ Hospital] in Tampa, it was really cool to see how nice the hospital was and how well they take care of everyone.”
Community outreach is one of the core principles of a WWE superstar.
Cutler is working hard to achieve WWE superstar status. He’s closer than most, but it’s still a difficult task. With that said, Plan B exists.
“I took the New Jersey Civil Service Test to be a police officer because it’s a good job, good civil service,” he said. “It seems fitting for me to do that, being from the military and transferring back into civilization.
“If I can get a Plan B from being here [NXT], I’d love to find something from this company that I can take away, most likely working with the charities, giving back to the military, help them transition into civilization because I have a lot of friends who’ve been in the Marine Corps and still don’t have jobs.”
Cutler keeps in contact regularly with friends.
Serving their country, protecting our freedom, putting their life on the line overseas, it’s one of the biggest challenges and sacrifices in anyone’s life. Honored to do it, Cutler and his friends made those sacrifices.
“It took me about a year to transition back to civilian life,” Cutler said. “It took time to get used to how the real world works. Nothing ever stops here. When you go overseas, you leave, but when you come back, nothing ever stopped…Everything just kept going and going and going. It was tough, but I got through it.”
Cutler not only trained in pro wrestling at the Monster Factory, but he also attended Rowan University in South Jersey.
“That kept me busy which helped me,” he said. “Finding wrestling helped me as well. It let me get out that energy I needed to get out each day like I did in the Marine Corps – with that same routine of waking up, going straight to a workout, going to train and then doing it all over again the next day.”
One day, though, was a little different.
WWE Hall of Famer Gerald Brisco, a WWE scout, attended the Monster Factory in July 2013.
“I sat down with him for a few hours; we talked,” Cutler said. “I got to wrestle in front of him a few times, and then he asked me if I’d be willing to move to Florida, and [without hesitation] I said, ‘Yes.’
“My fiancee [Sarah] and I just planned our wedding at a venue and put a down payment on it, and I looked at her and said, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to afford this; I don’t know what we’re going to do, but something’s going to work out.’
“After we left the venue and got home, I checked my email, and there was the NXT camp invite. I looked at her, and I just smiled, and then she read it. I couldn’t relax that night. It was one of the coolest moments, and even cooler was coming down here to NXT at the [WWE] Performance Center [in Orlando].”
The state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center recently celebrated its first anniversary. The facility features a Dream Team of coaches, staff, trainers and personnel.
“I don’t even feel like I go to work everyday,” Cutler said. “When my friends ask me, ‘What did you do today?’ I tell them, “I woke up. I went in the ring and then I lifted weights, and I ate a lot.’ I’m very lucky. I’m very Blessed to be where I am today. That’s something else I took from the Marine Corps. I appreciate what I have.”
At “NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way,” Cutler stood next to NXT superstar James Jensen, another military vet who dressed in his U.S. Army blues.
“I looked at him before we went out on [the rampway] and said, ‘Did you ever think we’d ever stand in our uniforms in a WWE ring?’”
Cutler added: “I want to be the best. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of heartache, but I’m willing to put in the effort.
“I feel great. I’m getting better day in and day out. I’m working hard. Tired at the end of the day from the grind, but knowing what the end goal is, and the end goal here at NXT is to be the champion and then move on [to WWE].”
Robert (Epstein) Hegyes from “Welcome Back Kotter,” Stink Fisher from “Invincible” and “The Longest Yard” and Shaun T from the “Insanity” workout are Rowan University alum.
NXT returning to Fort Pierce
WWE’s NXT will be at the Havert L. Fenn Center, 2000 Virginia Ave., Fort Pierce at 7:30 p.m. EST Saturday, Oct. 4. See the next generation of WWE superstars and divas along with a pre-show meet-n-greet included in the price of admission -- $20 ringside, $10 general admission.