It was one year ago this month that Karrion Kross, formerly known as Killer Kross in other promotions, was officially announced as signing with WWE NXT, and his journey been nothing short of a whirlwind for him since then.
Within months of arriving to the black-and-gold brand, he knocked off the likes of Tommaso Ciampa, Dominik Dijakovic, and even Keith Lee to become NXT champion. In that same match, he, unfortunately, suffered a separated shoulder and was forced to relinquish the NXT Championship days later.
Now back and better than ever, Kross has his sights set on eventually regaining the title he was never defeated for. Before then, though, he’ll be taking on NXT Cruiserweight champion Santos Escobar in a non-title No Disqualification match on this Wednesday’s edition of NXT at 8/7c on USA Network.
Ahead of his anticipated encounter with the leader of Legado del Fantasma, Kross took the time to talk to Daily DDT about the bout, what his biggest inspirations were during his road to recovery, Randy Orton wanting to work with him, his NXT stint so far, and more.
Karrion Kross feels he’s only scratched the surface of what he can do in WWE NXT
Kross has been fortunate to face a variety of opponents since arriving in NXT, everyone from Ciampa and Bronson Reed to Dijakovic and Damian Priest. Each match has been different from the others, and his upcoming clash with Escobar should prove to be no exception.
“This is going to be a completely different setting for WWE fans to see me in, which is obviously going to be No Disqualification,” he said. “I’ve found very creative ways to get around the rules in previous matches. Now, I won’t have to worry about possibly getting the match thrown out because I can do anything that I want. Also, there’s the situation with the rest of Legado [del Fantasma] hypothetically or possibly being involved, which is something I have to take into consideration. Fans obviously know what’s going to be coming with the No DQ setting, but also I think there’s a wild card in this match as well. There’s a very strong likelihood that Scarlett, if they felt the need to get involved, she possibly could.”
Escobar and Kross are no strangers to one another. The two have waged war in countless matches all over Mexico during their time spent in AAA together, so Kross knows exactly what he’s in for on Wednesday night.
As a man of many styles inside the squared circle, Kross has consciously tried to differentiate himself from everyone else on the roster to ensure he always stands out. It’s worked well for him up to this point and fans are only going to be seeing more of that from him going forward.
“I’ve gone above and beyond out of my way to make my style very different from what people are typically going to see in such a rich genre-based era of professional wrestling and sports-entertainment,” he said. “You have hybrid lucha libre style of wrestling, you have old-fashioned shooter-hooker style like Timothy Thatcher, you’ve got your modern powerhouse pro wrestling styles. I try to marry different elements of what I’ve been inspired by throughout wrestling. UWFI was a certain type of wrestling that I was highly inspired by, but also I was very much a WWE kid growing up.”
Despite having faced (and beaten) so many top talents in his time in NXT, Kross doesn’t think he’s had his best bout yet on the brand. That said, he’s hoping to break out some things in his No Disqualification affair with Escobar that NXT fans haven’t seen from him before.
He also mysteriously hinted at one opponent who he believes will bring the best out of him when the time is right, and that time could be coming sooner rather than later.
“There is a very specific person that I have in mind as to who’s going to bring that match out of me, and I have the feeling that’s going to be in the immediate future, that’s all I say about that. But I am very proud of the match I had with Ciampa, Dijakovic was another one, Bronson [Reed] although it was short. People have gotten to see my best work out of those types of matches with those types of guys, but there are things I have been holding back on doing and showing people for the right time and the right place. I’ve got a lot of tricks up my sleeve and I’ll leave it at that.”
Karrion Kross names his biggest inspirations during his road to recovery
Kross’s separated shoulder, which he suffered during his NXT Championship main event against Keith Lee at TakeOver XXX, put him on the shelf for three-and-a-half months. It was originally unknown how long he’d be out for, leading to NXT stripping him of the title four days after winning it.
Although he could have been out longer than he was, even the resilient Kross admits that it was incredibly difficult rehabbing the shoulder and getting it back to where it needed to be.
“It was really hard,” he said about his road to recovery. “Even saying that, words elude me having to express how difficult that was. Psychologically more than anything because people may observe the short amount of time I’ve been here in WWE as like, ‘Wow, he rose to the top very quickly and got that title shot and won.’ What they don’t realize is if they’re not familiar with my history, I’ve been doing this for many years, so for me, as a human being, it wasn’t just a few months in the company. It was many, many years.
“Every single day, every single week training, studying tape, getting on the flights, missing weddings, inadvertently missing funerals, inadvertently missing the birth of my friends’ kids,” he continued. “I put everything into this. I am very proud to say in my soul, I am a professional wrestler and a sports-entertainer. It was psychologically and emotionally really devastating to have a freak accident injury like that in the most important match of my life. Just having to accept that’s what happened and there was nothing I could do about it and just moving forward through that was the most difficult thing.”
Interestingly enough, arguably the greatest of all-time Muhammad Ali was a huge motivating factor for Kross while he was out injured. Following some of the same regimens that Ali did helped him get back within a matter of months.
“I rehabbed [my shoulder] probably three to four times a day every single day,” he said. “Muhammad Ali was a really big inspiration for me in a weird way through the recovery process. There was a famous picture of him boxing underwater. I started doing that to get my shoulder stronger. I would go into a pool, and I would get neck level at first before I could tread water and I would box underwater. Then, I would go into a deeper end with smaller weights like anywhere from one to five pounds and I would start boxing underwater with that. I just worked up to the heavy bag and obviously WWE medical put through a really rigorous program that helped with that.”
He added that in reteaching all of his shoulder muscles during the recovery process, he felt his confidence level rise every day. Nearly three months removed from his return, he’s experiencing zero issues with the shoulder.
That doesn’t change how heartbreaking of a moment it was for him to suffer the injury in the first place, however. He knew the second he crashed onto the mat that something was wrong and that it could cost him the biggest opportunity of his life.
“I was really [full of adrenaline] at that time and as soon as I hit the canvas, I heard and felt a crunch,” Kross recalled. “Immediately when it happened, I went to grab it instinctively and I felt something was out of place. If you go back and watch it, I tried to shove it back in. I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want them to see that; they’re going to stop the match. Whatever this is sticking out, I’m going to try to shove it back in, and hopefully, it stays in.’ My first reaction [was] I was so mad. I was like, ‘This is happening right now? Are you kidding me?’ I tried shoving it back in and of course, it didn’t shove back in. There’s no way I’m quitting, there’s no way I’m stopping. This is the top of the pay-per-view. We had a Ladder Match and people flying through the air. We’re finishing this. This is what I do for a living.”
Kross went on to mention that thinking of his late grandfather’s battle with cancer motivated him to keep moving forward and to stay positive no matter what happened.
“A big inspiration for me, personally, has always been my grandfather,” he said. “He passed away from lung cancer, so in a very weird way, I was talking to him at the curtain before I went out there. When I have big things going on in my life, I’ll talk to him. I was thinking, involuntarily it was in my head, my grandfather went through a lot. I can go through this. This is nothing compared to what he went through. I kind of draw strength from that throughout different things in my life and he was in my head and on my mind as that was happening.”
Current NXT champion Finn Balor suffered an eerily similar injury almost exactly four years earlier at SummerSlam 2016, He, too, got his first taste of gold and was forced to give it up because of his shoulder on the next night’s Raw.
Kross revealed that Balor offered some advice at the subsequent TV taping and warned him of possible setbacks while recovering. He was assured that he’d be back in the ring at some point and that more opportunities would present themselves in the future.
“I showed up to TV the following Wednesday and we ran right into each other and we had a chat about it,” he said. “We were blown away that it was such a close parallel to what happened and he was talking to me about what he went through physically, psychologically and some of the things to be wary of and mindful of in terms of recovering and certain types of changes, involuntarily, my body might be going through when I get back in the ring. He was super helpful and talking to other people in general that had the injury or something similar to it. I was like, ‘They’re still doing this, so this isn’t going to be something that’s going to alter my body in such a way where I can’t do this anymore.’”
Karrion Kross shares his thoughts on challenging for the NXT Championship at WrestleMania, facing Randy Orton and his rookie year in NXT
On the subject of Balor, Kross acknowledged that he’s heard the rumblings of fans wanting to see him challenge for the NXT Championship at WrestleMania 37. As a self-admitted people-pleaser, he hopes to make that match happen, and if it goes down on The Grandest Stage of Them All, even better.
“That would be an amazing experience and I have heard about it,” he said. “For the record, I am very much a people-pleaser in terms of what they want to see and that’s what I want to do. If they think that compliments the show, then I’m on board. It’s obviously something I’m working back toward is getting a shot at that title and I don’t think there would be a better way of doing that than stepping on stage and competing against him.”
Kross’s epic entrance was made for a stage such as WrestleMania and it isn’t a stretch to say he and his devilish companion Scarlett will find themselves on either Raw or SmackDown before long. It would have been easy for WWE to pluck him out of NXT while he was out hurt and bring him to the main roster upon his return, but thankfully, that was not the case.
Drew McIntyre, for example, never went back to NXT after suffering an injury and losing the top title. Kross didn’t mind where he winded up when he was cleared to compete and feels like he’ll be ready if and when the call-up comes.
“The end goal for me was just to come back and be just as good as I was before the injury happened,” he said. “I’m very, very happy in NXT. I love the environment. The crew there is awesome, from producers to writers to the boys in the locker room. Everything is awesome there. I have zero complaints about it. However, when it’s time to go up, I’ll be ready to do that. In my opinion, it should be done at the demand of the people. Admittedly, I am a people-pleaser, so I guess we’ll have to see how that all plays out. I’m interested in being a part of all of it. I want to do everything while I’m here.”
Once Kross does inevitably arrive on Raw or SmackDown, one marquee match that has to happen is him against Randy Orton. “The Legend Killer” recently called out the former NXT Champion on Twitter, playfully inviting him to join him on Monday nights so they can make some money together.
He was surprised as anyone to see the tweet and appreciates the future WWE Hall of Famer taking the time to shoot him a shout-out.
“I got up and I did my cardio and I came back into the house and I turned my phone on and I saw that tweet,” Kross said. “I just laughed and was like, ‘What time was it that he sent this? Clearly, I missed a good time last night.’ If I’m being honest with you, I was very flattered. This is a guy who is a self-made millionaire. He’s one of the best professional wrestlers and sports-entertainers we’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to acknowledge anybody, but the fact he did, I thought that was very cool. He likes to have fun on Twitter, anyway. I don’t take social media very seriously. I think more people should try to have fun on social media. That’s what he was doing and it was a flattering compliment. I’m very much looking forward to competing against him in the future.”
Kross is one of the few NXT Superstars to have never competed in front the Full Sail University crowd, having debuted on TV after the COVID-19 pandemic started. He looks forward to the fans returning eventually and hearing those “Kross is gonna kill you” chants again directed at his opponents.
Despite his injury and the current circumstances, Kross is happy to have had such a great first year in NXT and knows that bigger and better things are on the horizon. As a star of his caliber, that’s less of a prediction and more of a guarantee.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “In a strange way, I don’t know how to explain it, but I wouldn’t change anything. I really wouldn’t because, even through the injury, I’ve developed in ways that I wouldn’t do a good job expressing right now but I feel stronger mentally and physically than I did a year ago through his whole entire experience. I learn something new every single week from work and I like that. I’m someone that is seeking knowledge all the time. That’s just part of how I am. I need to be stimulated from learning new things and I get that from NXT. I get that from working with this company and the experience of working here has been amazing. It’s completely surpassed all of my expectations of what I thought this was going to be like since I was a little kid.”