Former NXT/WWE star opens up on hunger, motivation, standing out and embracing constructive criticism.
The Beast of Belfast is on the way back. Following a successful six year run in NXT/WWE, the wrestler known for his Killian Dain and Big Damo personas is gearing up for the next stage of his wrestling journey.
Speaking to Soundsphere following his recent WWE release, the Northern Irish grappler talks achieving goals, hunger outstripping talent, filling days in positive ways and giving back to the next generation of professional wrestlers. He also touched on his marriage to WWE star Nikki A.S.H., working with Triple H and Shawn Michaels in NXT and how recent tag-team partner Drake Maverick should have a “job for life.”
A product of an ongoing golden era of UK independent wrestling, Damo has been a shining example to young British talent chasing in-ring dreams across the pond. For many, getting over that hump, from talented prospect to top professional, has always been the elusive step, not least for Damo (real name Damian Mackle). Now on the other side, he’s keen to pass on precisely what it takes.
“For a period I felt there was this massive chasm between where I was and where I wanted to be,” the 36-year-old says. “The most important thing to do in those situations and seek out people who can help you.
“A lot of people get bogged down if things don’t go their way, or they get told ‘no’. I got told ‘no’ plenty of times by WWE before I eventually got signed. I’d come to terms with the fact I might never go there.
“In my career, the key was learning from my mistakes. I made every mistake possible, but it’s important you adapt from that and get better than the day before. If you can’t go to wrestling school that day, for example, you can practice promos, film yourself, send it to people you can get feedback from. Whether you play an instrument or game online, if you surround yourself with people who are pushing you, actively trying to help get you to the next level, then you will be a success.”
For Damo that help – which accompanied the otherworldly hunger we observe in droves when we interview next-level wrestling talent – came through a series of mentors. Homegrown wrestling legends Robby Brookside, Fit Finlay, Johnny Moss, Finn Balor and others along the journey, who helped him pinpoint his unique attributes.
“Robby’s thing was asking “What’s your X-Factor?” At the time I looked the same as everyone else. I had short hair and I didn’t really stand out. I started growing my body hair out because everyone else was shaving. I saw there was a little gap in the market and then Billy Kirkwood [the ICW commentator] called me the “Beast of Belfast” and that was it! That’s what I was looking for.”
“Always be open to criticism, it’s incredibly important. Way more talented people than me washed out by not listening. There are people more experienced than you who are genuinely trying to give you a bit of advice. You’d be amazed at the number of times there’s an older wrestler [in the locker room] and no-one’s going to pick their brain. Doug Williams said a few years ago that very few people were coming up to him these days.
“When I started working with Finlay at the Performance Centre, he was the first person who’d criticised me in years. It was the best day of my life. He wasn’t doing it out of spite, he was doing it because he had the ability, talent and experience to explain it in a way that made so much sense in my brain. Being able to take some of his knowledge with me for the rest of my career is brilliant because I can then pass that on to the next group.”
While Damo’s in-ring days are far from done, the next stage of his career will be equally focused on helping “the next group” turn their hunger into wrestling superstardom.
“One of my big goals is identifying who really wants it in the next group and trying to help them,” he added. “A lot of people, in this industry and others, are too quick to ignore advice or too scared to admit they need help. Some of them will take it, some won’t. Some will be a lot better for it. I hope I can identify a few who really want this.”
After his release from WWE, Damo is exploring creative outlets new and old. He’s joined Twitch and has rediscovered a passion for playing drums, with his wife, current RAW Women’s Champion Nikki A.S.H, back out on the road with WWE. However, between the ropes there remains unfinished business, an itch that’ll be scratched when the WWE no-compete clause expires in a couple of months
“What’s driving me the most is that I want to rub it in people’s faces,” he says. “A decision was made that I was to be released from the company and my overall goal is to prove that was a mistake on their part. Even if I don’t get to the point, I’m going to strive for it because I’ll enjoy the journey.
“I’m going to smash it as hard as I can. I want to make sure people are looking at me and saying, ‘why was he let go?’ I want them to come back to me one day, and I can enjoy the conversation. I don’t hold grudges, but I’m trying to force myself to,” he tails off laughing. “I don’t want to look back in anger, I’d rather look forward about what’s next.”
Amid that ultra-positive and hopeful mindset some days remain challenging in the current climate, as they do in all walks of life. Damo says the key is setting goals for each day and at least trying to fulfil them.
He says: “We all have days where you wake up and say “fucking hell!”” he says. No matter what you do, you’re always going to have bad days. Some of the most miserable people I know are the ones doing the best at this. If I’m having a bad day, I like to set goals and that really helps.
“This is the longest Nikki and I have been apart since lockdown, so there’s an anxiety about what I’m going to do with my days. It’s crazy because we’ve spent four months apart at times. You have to think of ways to fill your days in positive ways. My goal is to grow my Twitch following and to roll around the ring to make sure I’m staying relatively healthy. What’s helped me is saying, “I’m going to try and do A, B and C today and if I don’t get to C, fine, I’ll get to it tomorrow, but I’m going to try…””
Elsewhere in Soundsphere’s fascinating hour-long chat is an insight into the inner workings of NXT, working under childhood icons Triple H and Sean Michaels, and how his most recent tag-team partner Drake Maverick enabled him to explore a comedic side of the stoic Killian Dain character. He also touched upon the explosion of the UK wrestling scene in the middle of the last decade and his time with the Sanity faction. It’s well worth a watch so enjoy.