"I'm really passionate about pro wrestling. I love it. When I talk about it with guys that want to learn, it's really rewarding."
Within seconds of first hearing Sha Samuels speak, his love for the world of professional wrestling is clear. The veteran performer, who has competed globally, not just as part of the NXT UK roster and ITV's WOS reboot but also for respected indy promotions such as RevPro, Insane Championship Wrestling and Future Pro Wrestling, exudes energy. His passion for the sport is infectious, and lies at the very heart of his public persona.
"Being loud gives off an energetic vibe," says the grappler on episode three of Wrestling Life with Ben Veal, out now via Spotify, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and more. "I'm a very shy and quiet person when you first meet me. But once I get to know someone, I start to be more energetic, loud and open - and as soon as my [wrestling] ring gear is on, I'm confident, larger-than-life."
The former NXT UK star speaks openly on the #WrestlingLifePod about his experiences as part of that brand, working alongside Noam Dar and the evolution of his character, and returning to the WWE as a coach at the promotion's Performance Center. He also shares his motivations for staying physically fit, how Bret Hart's in-ring style influenced him as a young fan, and why it's always better to play a bad guy in the squared circle.
"I'm going to incorporate that energy into professional wrestling"
"When I started out in the world of wrestling, because I'm half-Iranian, I was told I would have to do an ethnic gimmick; I would have to [emulate] Sabu or The Shiek ... that just wasn't me. That wasn't something that I wanted to do, but I thought, if that's my way in, I'll do it - pro wrestling is full of stereotypes after all. But it got me nowhere."
My trade was a butcher in East London; I worked in that shop from a young age, and because it was near West Ham FC's ground, I would see how groups of football fans would act together - loud, obnoxious, drunk. Now I don't care who you are - a bunch of blokes together, singing football songs, will intimidate you if you're by yourself. So I thought, if I'm going to be a bad guy, I'm going to [incorporate] that energy into professional wrestling, because it's something that I felt uncomfortable with as a kid. After years and years of tweaking the character, it morphed into what it is now, which in reality is just me: a confident version of me. Boots on, gear on, jacket on, lights on, I'm out there, I'm having a laugh, and I'm having a good time."
"NXT UK was really under appreciated"
Sha was a big part of the WWE's NXT UK talent roster, the United Kingdom's very own offshoot of the global sports entertainment giant that arrived to great excitement in 2016 before being quietly discontinued in 2022, with much of its run and success blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed on live events.
In Sha's opinion, the promotion and the talents involved should have made a bigger impact. "NXT UK, and the body of work that we put on [as a roster], was really under appreciated. I think people will realise that in a few years' time. The catalogue of matches that we delivered in BT Sports Studio, from guys like Ilja Dragunov, Walter, Jordan Devlin, Joe Coffey, Noam Dar, Pete Dunne and more. All these guys [were] tremendous."
So, why didn't it work? "This is just my opinion, but I think [WWE] had very good intentions to create a brand over here. The problem was, Covid was a big factor ... before [the pandemic] they had all guns blazing, they were doing big things over in America, they were on live events in the UK, the guys were making headway and I feel like it would have got bigger and bigger. Of course, no-one could have predicted Covid, and it put a stop to a lot of things, not just wrestling. When [NXT UK] was brought back, it was the UK brand in the BT Sports Studio. It's hard to grow from that. The best thing to do? Make it go away, change it, and do what [WWE] intended to do [originally]. I could be wrong, but I think that's where WWE's mindset was to close it .... It could be a great breeding ground for the main roster, once it gets going again."
One of the joys of watching NXT UK was seeing homegrown talents evolve and grow as the episodic programming went on - and perhaps no performer changed more than Sha Samuels during his tenure on the show. Sha, who has since been invited back by WWE to coach new trainees at WWE's Performance Center, recalls: "When I was at NXT UK, I went from being the 'East End Butcher' to being the 'East End Bookie' to turning into a homeless guy. Whatever was asked of me, I did it. So the mindset for me [going into coaching at the WWE PC] was to bring something out of people, character wise, helping people to mould a character. It was a good experience; my strength [is] promos, character, being a showman in the ring."
"The best wrestlers always sell for their opponent"
A big fan of the World Wrestling Federation since the early 1990s, Sha's enjoyment of, and appreciation for, the escapist world of sports entertainment has never wavered. And now, with two decades' of in-ring experience under his belt, he has acute understanding of both the psychology of the squared circle, and of the importance of demonstrating high levels of realism to the audience watching.
"The best wrestlers always sell for their opponent. People always slag off Hulk Hogan; he was one of the biggest sellers of all time. He sold in every match, despite being 6'9", 300 pounds and super tanned. He was always taking a beating from big guys. He sold. He knew that if he wanted to get the fans behind him, he had to take a beating. As people, we care when we see someone else in pain; we get behind them. It's a natural human reaction. If you go in there and you no-sell everything, people will switch off. We're moving to a different pace now. Back in the day, the likes of Hogan and Bret Hart, they sold everything."
"Everything we do in that ring - it hurts. Running the ropes. Taking a roll. Taking a bump. Getting slapped on the back of the head when you lock up. It all stings, it all hurts. So why am I [as a performer] telling the audience that none of this hurts? As a wrestler, you should be in [visible] pain all the time; the pain should be on your face, in your eyes. I feel like, as an industry, we should be [portrayed] as Superman, as superheroes. But it all hurts."
Episode 003 of Wrestling Life with Ben Veal is out now: real talk from real talent.
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