Keith Lee had an amazing run in NXT as he was both the NXT and North American Champion. Fans had high hopes for him on the main roster in WWE but it turned out to be a massive disappointment. It seems Lee didn’t originally want to go to WWE at all.

After being given the Bearcat Lee gimmick which failed to get over with fans for good reason, Keith Lee was released by WWE last year. This certainly came as a shock to fans and pro wrestlers alike.

Keith Lee signed with WWE back in 2018 after making a name for himself in the independent circuit. While speaking on Talk Is Jericho, Keith Lee revealed that he first got discovered by NJPW and wanted to go there before he ultimately signed with WWE.

“Out of Ring of Honor, and the reason I left there, I signed with EVOLVE and signed a couple year. It was a good little spot. My very first match there was against Chris Hero. We utterly destroyed the ring. The first thing we tried to do, the top rope broke. I was like, ‘I’m going to do this moonsault still.’ Second rope breaks. ‘Okay, we should change this whole thing.’ I do EVOLVE for an amount of time, with the traveling and doing the beyond and going international, led to me getting the attention of New Japan.


That [NJPW] was originally where I wanted to go. That means I need to get out of this EVOLVE contract. I’ll buy my way out if I have to.’ I called Gabe [Sapolsky] because I just talked to Tiger [Hattori] and I’m like, ‘New Japan is offering a thing. It would be pretty soon from now and I’m very interested in this. What can we do?’ We have this long conversation and he’s like, ‘I don’t know if you need to do that.’ Obviously, he’s trying to get in with WWE at that time. He goes, ‘Let me call you back.’ I’m looking at my contract ‘how much is this going to cost me?’ New Japan had a plan an that’s something very important, they laid it out exactly what they want to do. Two hours later, Canyon Ceman calls me. I’m like, ‘Gabe, you sneaky son of a bitch.’

We have this conversation and he’s like, ‘I heard you want to go here, but we really like it if you didn’t go there.’ ‘Why? I’ve never talked to you.’ We have this long conversation and he’s like pitching, ‘You might take a little bit of a pay-cut to start in NXT but I think you could make this amount of money.’ I’m like, ‘Brother, I grew up in business, don’t talk to me like that. I’m a grown man.’ He lays it all out there and I’m like, ‘I’ll talk to you later. I have to think this stuff over.’ I called my father and was like, ‘I have a thing going on and I’m not sure what to think. There is this place I’ve always wanted to go for years and years and then there’s this place that has told me no for years and years.’ When I started, WWE was the only place, it was like the NFL.

Then you get told ‘no’ three times, despite what you’re capable of and everyone around you is like, ‘you deserve to be there.’ We had the talk and he’s like, ‘Listen, son, I understand your thoughts but if there’s any time to make a move there, it’s now after you’ve failed this amount of times to find success and prove yourself. Not only that, but your reach could be wider because they are a global entity.’ I’m like, ‘I see the business side, that’s why I called.’ I took a little bit of a pay-cut because at that time, the people in the Indies on top then, were doing quite well in terms of Indie money.

It was easy to break six figures if you were a top guy and being in control is something special. Doing that was like, ‘I’m a baller now.’ So very far from it, but from that mindset, ‘I’m doing alright. I don’t want to take this pay-cut and lose X amount of money.’ Eventually, I did and with the belief in myself that I would exceed that fairly quickly. To be honest and fair, I did exceed what I was making on the Indies, even in NXT, but the transition to main roster was like, ‘Oh, that’s what means to be on the main roster (financially). Okay.'”

Keith Lee had a tremendous showing during the Face Of The Revolution Ladder match at AEW Revolution on March 6th but was not able to win it in the end. We will have to wait and see what the company has in store for the Limitless One.

h/t to Fightful for the quotes

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Subhojeet Mukherjee

Subhojeet is a professional wrestling fan for over 22 years. He got captivated by the sport during the Monday Night Wars and has a passion for it ever since. He also enjoys TV shows, movies, anime, novels and music, which broadens his perspective and appreciation for wrestling. He is a knowledgeable and respected voice in the industry.

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