He’s got ‘It.’
When NXT’s Apollo Crews appears from the curtain, the crowd immediately reacts.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
He has ‘It.’
Evolve Vice President of Talent Relations Gabe Sapolsky thinks so as do hip hop artist Wale and some avid NXT followers from South Florida, who describe in one word what ‘It’ represents for Crews.
Christian Abbate: “Charisma”
Victor Baloy: “Freakish (Ability)”
Larry Conatser: “Starpower”
Thomas Estes: “Ineffability”
Scott Fishman: “Athleticism”
Alexa Glazier: “Breathtaking”
Neil Glazier: “Illustrious”
Jeremy Ivans: “Eyes (on him)”
Brett Kaplan: “Athleticism”
Dennis Long: “Presence”
Jamil Mailk: “Determination”
Steve Mesa: “Athleticism”
Angelo Oliva: “Talent”
Jorge E. Portuondo: “Future”
Rick Reyes: “Power”
Rodolfo Roman: “Athleticism”
Justin Shelton: “Skills”
Chris Van Vliet: “Everything”
The well-built 6-1, 240-pound Crews will bring all of ‘It’ to South Florida on Thursday, March 17 in Miami-Dade County and Friday, March 18 in Palm Beach County when NXT returns for two big back-to-back shows.
“South Florida is one of the nicest places; the weather is amazing, and we get a great reception from the fans,” Crews said. “Just for me to be a part of it and say, ‘Hey, I was there when NXT went to Miami.’ It’s so cool.”
Crews is cool.
From Sapolsky to Wale and our SoFlo contingent above, they believe Crews has ‘It’ -- the ability, the charisma, the look, the skill, the talent -- which makes him one of the top superstars in NXT.
Debuting on the indies in 2009 in Georgia, Crews signed with WWE in 2015. An excited talent, he reported to the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando in April.
“I had been working a lot on the the indies, traveling a lot to Japan, England, trying to make a name for myself,” he said.
Social media helped Crews make a name for himself, leading to his big break.
“A hip hop artist by the name of Wale, very well known, found me on Twitter,” Crews said. “I was like, ‘This can’t be the real Wale following me.’ It was, and after I followed him, he sent me a direct message saying, ‘How can we get you in WWE?’ I said, ‘I honestly don’t even know if they have a clue of who I am...I don’t even know if I’m on their radar.’”
That’s when Wale decided to assist.
“It was cool because Wale got in contact with [WWE superstar] Mark Henry, who got me into one of WWE’s camps/tryouts in October 2014,” Crews noted. “Once I had that opportunity, I wasn’t going to let it pass me by, and then the rest just kind of fell into place.”
When asked via Twitter if he could comment on Crews and his talent, since he helped Crews get his big break, Wale responded:
“Well @jimmyv3 I wonder if @wwe and @TripleH know that.”
If they didn’t know the back story, they do now.
And they believe Crews has ‘It,’ too.
Crews continued: “Now I’m a member of NXT, which is pretty amazing.”
NXT, an amazing brand, is at The Fieldhouse at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami on Thursday, March 17 in Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County. Then NXT travels to West Palm Beach on Friday, March 18 for a show at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
NXT has come a long way as has Crews.
During his ‘way,’ Crews gained valuable experience with Dragon Gate USA and Evolve, two companies under the same banner.
Sapolsky said: “He had a great attitude, and he is a phenomenal athlete. For his size to do the aerial maneuvers, gymnastics, he is unique.
“He has the work ethic and drive and determination, and he had a big advantage because of his natural charisma and size, which are things you can’t learn. He had that ‘It factor and a very high ceiling of potential.”
Sapolsky met Crews, when the young wrestler appeared for a seminar/tryout before a Dragon Gate USA show in Indianapolis.
“He came to us as a complete unknown..we didn’t know who he was,” Sapolsky said.
Crews wrestled in Alabama, Georgia and Texas, before trying out with Dragon Gate USA.
Sapolsky continued: “We were so impressed with what he did at the tryout that we put him on the show [Chasing the Dragon] that night, and we immediately put him on every show after.”
From that experience, Crews also landed a job with Dragon Gate in Japan.
“[Wrestling for Dragon Gate and Dragon Gate USA] helped me build that name for myself,” he said. “If I wanted to get to the next level, I knew I was going to have to take a step in that direction, instead of just being complacent or being comfortable wrestling local shows around Georgia. I knew I had to dive into the deep end.
“The best decision I made was going there because it helped me become not just a completely different athlete, sports entertainer but a completely different person in general.”
So Crews entered the WWE Performance Center, knowing the ropes.
“I do definitely think I had an advantage especially coming into the Performance Center with a wrestling background,” he said. “I had to break some of the old habits that I had, but it was an easier transition than for most people who don’t have a wrestling background.
“Building a name for myself on the indies and becoming like a star, it helped with getting recognition and being on the map. It definitely was a big advantage and played to my favor.”
Leaving Japan, a second home to Crews, was tough, but the bigger picture was always WWE.
Crews, 28, started in the business at age 21 at the World Wrestling Alliance 4 promotion’s training school in Atlanta where he was trained by Mr. Hughes.
“Mr. Hughes is a great guy. He taught me a lot,” he said. “Two years straight, I didn’t skip a day of training.”
Crews continues to work hard, following his dream.
“I took a liking to it at a very young age,” he said. “When I got to about 10th grade, I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m actually going to try and do it for a living.’ I was influenced by Kurt Angle, The Rock, Stone Cold, Triple H. I grew up in the Attitude Era. Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho. I grew up watching those guys. So I was going to do it, and I found some schools, but I couldn’t go too far. I didn’t want to leave Atlanta, because I had no money.”
Crews, who left Auburn University to pursue pro wrestling, worked for Delta Airlines at the airport in Atlanta, making about $10 an hour part-time.
“I had to save up enough money to join,” he said. “I did some research on the Internet and found WWA4 with Mr. Hughes, and I went to visit it one day. When I had enough money, I joined, and I never looked back.”
Crews began paying his dues.
“It was tough at the beginning, because I was taking trips, 14 hour drives, making 50 bucks -- driving from Atlanta to Houston, Atlanta to Ohio, Indiana -- I wasn’t seeing any profit or anything like that, but I knew -- if I stuck with it, paying me dues, pushing through it, working my butt off -- I knew one day I’d be where I want to be.”
Crews is now learning the WWE way.
“There are so many things, and I’m still learning,” he said. “The biggest thing is we’re superstars.
“On the indies, I always considered myself a professional wrestler. Here we’re NXT superstars. We’re worldwide, getting recognized everywhere. It’s a completely different world than wrestling on the independents. There, you go to shows, and you want to have a great match and have fun. You want to do the same thing here, but there’s a lot more that goes into it as far as building up your brand and just carrying yourself as a superstar and becoming a star rather than just a professional wrestler.”
Training at the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando is a nice change of pace.
“It really felt like a dream, when I got there,” Crews said. “Top of the line facility, top of the line coaches, strength & conditioning coach, it’s an amazing experience. Compared to where I’d come from, training in a warehouse in the roughest part of town, it’s amazing to be able to step into the Performance Center everyday and to say I’m part of NXT in WWE.”
Born in Sacramento, Calif., Crews grew up in Atlanta. He attended Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga.
“My dad [Iyorlumun] likes the private school system,” Crews said. “He’s big on education first. It helped me become the man I am today, developing character and being a better man in general. I wasn’t a bad kid or anything like that, but he just wanted to make sure we went down that straight path.”
Though, military anything can be tough. Crews, a B average student, turned to sports as an outlet to the military directives. A good athlete, he competed in football, soccer and track & field. After graduating, Crews enrolled at Auburn University with plans of trying out for the football team.
“I got there, but I never tried out,” he said. “A lot of things changed when I went to college, but I wouldn’t change anything. It was a great experience. I met some great people there. I think it’s very necessary for a person to experience college -- not just academically or to help you get through life but to meet people who you have connections with the rest of your life.”
Crews did not finish college, opting to begin his journey in professional wrestling.
“My dad comes from a place where you go to school and become a doctor, a lawyer,” Crews said. “For me to be the first in my family to step outside that and try to do something so incredible or big, he was kind of like, ‘What are you thinking?’ I don’t think he thought I’d get as far as I have.”
His mom, Miriam, and dad are proud.
“It’s the best decision I’ve made in my life,” Crews said. “Wrestling has done so many things for me, going to so many places. I’m wrestling in Columbus. We’re [NXT] at the Arnold [Schwarzenegger Classic]. That’s something I never would have thought I could say eight years ago. The fact that I’ve wrestled in England [for NXT] in front of 10,000 people. I debuted [for WWE NXT] in Brooklyn in front of 16,000 people.
“I’m part of NXT which is making history.”
With someone like Crews on the roster, ‘It’ doesn’t surprise me.
- NXT in Miami
WWE NXT will be returning to the Fieldhouse at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami on Thursday, March 17 in Coral Gables.
Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady, Carmella, Bayley, and more.
Tickets are on sale.
- NXT in West Palm Beach
WWE NXT will travel to West Palm Beach on Friday, March 18 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Tickets are on sale.
- NXT on WWE Network
WWE NXT is 8 p.m. Wednesdays on WWE Network.
- NXT TakeOver: Dallas
NXT TakeOver: Dallas is Friday, April 1 live on WWE Network from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas during WWE WrestleMania 32 Weekend.
- NXT abroad
To see NXT in a city near you, check
- Pro Wrestling On The Web
YouTube jim varsallone (jimmyv3 channel)