Troy McClain is undoubtedly one of the biggest “what could have been” stories from NXT. Despite having been signed, training at the Performance Center and competing on live events, Troy was unfortunately released by WWE prior to making his debut on NXT television. And it’s a shame too because his motivational speaker persona would have shined brightly on the show! I engaged in an in-depth discussion with Troy about how he got signed to NXT, what he took out of his NXT experience, how he’s been involved with wrestling since, handling rejection, acting and more.
Alex Obert: Prior to getting into wrestling, what was life at USC like for you?
Troy McClain: It was very busy. I was working as a strength and conditioning coach. I was doing about fourteen hour days and I was working with all the teams. Football, tennis, track, women’s crew, pretty much everything.
Alex Obert: Were you doing that while taking classes?
Troy McClain: I was working at USC and getting my Master’s in kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton. I played football in college. To complete my Master’s Degree, I did an internship with the strength coach at Eastern Illinois. I thought, “This is something I could do, I guess.” I knew I wanted to move out of Illinois. So I got into Cal State Fullerton. A couple days after I found out I got in there, I ended up getting an internship at USC. I started there and did that for probably about a year and a half.
Alex Obert: How did you end up running into John Cena during that time then?
Troy McClain: It’s kind of a weird little story. About a year into my time at USC, I started looking into pursuing wrestling. I liked what I did, but I didn’t love it. And it just so happened that a guy who I worked with had talked me into going to the LA Fitness Expo with him at the LA Convention Center. They had a bunch of booths, a bunch of different things from different companies and things like that. We went and checked that out. Knokx Pro is the wrestling school run by Rikishi, Gangrel and Black Pearl up in San Fernando Valley. And I had met them while I was there and I had obviously recognized Rikishi instantly. Then I saw Gangrel and I was like “Oh shit! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” So I talked to them on a Sunday and I was training the next day. I was still working at USC and I was training at Knokx Pro like twice a week. About a week after I started training, I went in to work out at USC on Sunday and Cena came in. I asked him how well he knew Rikishi and Gangrel. He said that Rikishi was a big help to John when he first started. This is when he was just coming up and doing the whole rap thing prior to the whole Word Life gimmick. So I told him that I’d just started training with Rikishi. After that, we kept in contact. A little while later, I got an e-mail from the VP of Talent Relations inviting me to the tryout that was in LA. I went to the tryout, did really well and got signed. All of a sudden, I’m in Florida.
Alex Obert: Who was the tryout in front of?
Troy McClain: Bill DeMott ran it. Scott Armstrong was there, JR was there, Jerry Brisco was there and so was William Regal. Bill and Regal took the reins on what we did and the drills and stuff. JR, Jerry Brisco and Scott Armstrong just watched and gave their input. It was a three day tryout, really cool. It was held in Carson, California.
Alex Obert: Was there anyone else in your tryout session that got signed?
Troy McClain: Yeah. Bayley was actually in my tryout, so we came in together. Me, her and Kendall Skye. She was also in developmental with us for a little while. It was the three of us that came out of that tryout.
Alex Obert: What do you think of Bayley?
Troy McClain: She’s doing great, man. She killed it at the tryout and she was really the only one there who had any prior wrestling experience, as far as the girls were concerned. You have matches on the last day and she led every girl through a routine that they were all learning to do. It was incredible. Obviously her talent speaks for itself. In NXT, she’s killing it. She’s gonna be on the main roster in no time. I can’t say enough about her. She’s such a nice girl. I’m super happy to know that at least out of the three of us that came in at the same time, one of us is doing really well.
Alex Obert: So once you get to Florida, who did you hit it off with right away?
Troy McClain: For a while, I tried to keep to myself and just felt it out. I had no idea what to expect going in there, no idea whatsoever. I didn’t really understand the politics of it at that point in time. I come from mostly team sports prior to going there. Team sports are where everyone’s helping each other. But at the same time, when you’re in college football and competing, you have five guys going for one spot. And there’s only one starting spot. That’s kind of how I felt. I got along with everyone, but I didn’t want to get too close. I was very young and confused and didn’t really understand it. But then after that, once we settled in and made the move to Orlando, I got along real well with Travis Tyler. He was there for a while and was actually my tag team partner for a long time. Bull Dempsey is a great friend of mine and he was also a ton of help to me throughout my time there. CJ Parker, again, just another good brother. Wesley Blake, really good friend of mine. I’m very happy to see that he’s doing super well.
Alex Obert: Who would you say was the easiest work in the ring with on the live events?
Troy McClain: Well my first match was actually against Viktor. He did that match by himself, I was just there. He’s so good, man. It’s ridiculous. There were times when all of a sudden, without even realizing it, I was in control of the match and had no idea what was going on. He was just that good, man. Adam Rose was really easy to work with on house shows as well. I did a lot with him, especially when that character first started. Again, just another ring general who goes in there and takes control of the ring. We did some practice matches and stuff and I had a really good experience with Bull Dempsey. He was just in there making me look good. I was just kind of hanging out. There’s a lot of great talent down there, man. And it shows, once NXT guys get to the main roster, you can see that they know their shit.
Alex Obert: What did you take out of being involved in the promo classes?
Troy McClain: Honestly, it’s night and day from where I was there to where I am now. And I see it in other aspects of my life. First day I went in there, I didn’t know what to do for a promo. I’d never cut a promo before. But then after almost two years of working with Dusty, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves, I became the character that was doing so well. I became that character and then all of a sudden, people were looking at me like I’m this really good promo guy. It’s funny because now as I’m out here in LA doing auditions and trying my hand at acting, I’m able to go in and be so relaxed and so confident with what I’m doing. And it’s because of the time that I spent in WWE. I would never have been able to do that stuff before. I would have never been able to sit in front of a room with a camera on me in front of five strangers and be able to do that. I’m able to become someone else and show emotions of whatever the character is. You sit in front of a casting director, producer, whoever it is while a camera is on you, that’s nothing compared to sitting in front of the promo class. You’re in front of Dusty Rhodes, William Regal and the entire seventy person NXT roster staring at you while being on camera. Going through that, it’s just helped me tremendously.
Alex Obert: In the development of your gimmick, who gave you the name Troy McClain?
Troy McClain: That name just kind of came from them. I pitched a bunch of names, then I got a list back from them of three names. It was like Troy McClain, Aaron Spencer and something else that I don’t even remember. But I remember that we went with Troy McClain. The name actually came before the character.
Alex Obert: What was it like cutting promos at live events?
Troy McClain: With that character, I did everything on live events from hosting a show to ring announcing to segments where we just threw t-shirts out to the crowd to wrestling matches to just straight up promo segments. For a while, I had my own little storyline at the shows we were having in Tampa towards the end of my first year there. It’s something you hadn’t seen because most of the storylines for NXT live events had come from TV. And we were doing one every week at Tampa live events with me and Travis Tyler. Other people fit in there as well. The fans got behind it and enjoyed it. I thought it worked out really well. So I spent a lot of time on the mic at live events, for sure.
Alex Obert: How much of what you said was scripted versus improv?
Troy McClain: Basically what it came down to was that most of the time, Byron Saxton and Ryan Katz were involved in this. Byron gave me a rough outline. He would typically produce them. “This is how I want this to go, just do your gimmick.” And so that’s what I did. At that point in time, I understood the character very well. I didn’t need a script, I knew where I wanted to go. It was easy to just go out there, throw my headset on and get there.
Alex Obert: And speaking of headsets, you had said that you’re doing commentary for Championship Wrestling. In doing that, does it give you a bigger and better appreciation for what commentators do on WWE programming?
Troy McClain: It’s funny cause I just said that to someone, I think it was my roommate. Yeah, it really does. My first taping was the Red Carpet Rumble and that’s their big show of the year. Everything that William Regal had ever said to us about slowing down and giving commentary the time and the spots to put you over on TV, it all made sense. Now I’m watching these guys and when it’s all action, I don’t get to put anybody over. You just have to call the action. You’d always hear in wrestling that you have to slow down. Give commentary the time and the spots to get you and your character over to the TV audience. All of that clicked the first time I went out there and tried to do commentary. I’m excited to do commentary because I know it’s gonna help me in the ring a lot as well. It’s something that I’d never done before. It’s a challenge and I’m really excited for it.
Alex Obert: What have you been taking out of putting more time into acting and looking for roles?
Troy McClain: It’s good. We’re going to be shooting a short trailer for the film that we’re trying to get funding for. There’s a script for it and my character that I really enjoy and I’m excited about. It’s just completely different. I’ve been doing the motivational speaker thing or wrestling thing for so long and this is a totally different challenge, but I guess also very similar. This is something that I really enjoy. I’ve been doing a lot of auditions for small spots in commercials and stuff just to keep my feet wet. I can get on camera and get some footage so I can get a reel going. The promo classes that we did weekly in NXT was kind of like an acting class, I guess. I also got to work with Howard Fine, he’s one of the top acting coaches here in LA. Once I get a little more settled in with roles, I’m definitely gonna go back to him and start working with him again as well.
Alex Obert: So this all means that you’ll be doing many auditions now and into the future. On that topic, what did getting released from the WWE teach you about how to handle rejection?
Troy McClain: Well if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, as far as acting’s concerned, you spend most of your time unemployed. I’m a big fan of the Kevin Pollak Chat Show, he’s from Usual Suspects and A Few Good Men. A really great character actor. He does his own podcast and a show on YouTube and stuff, I watch that all the time. He’s had some really great guests on there. That’s the one constant that they talk about, constantly having to deal with rejection. And not looking at it as I didn’t get this part because I suck. When you go into something like that, the casting director has someone in mind. If you go in there and don’t fit what they envision, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad, it just means you’re not right for that part. After a while, I started to look at NXT like that. It wasn’t because I was bad or whatever, it just wasn’t my time. The guys who have been called up recently are the guys who were having the most success on NXT. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville and The Ascension getting called up. All these guys that have been in the business for ten years. I’ve been doing this for two and a half. Don’t take that rejection personally, keep moving forward and you never know what the future might bring. I never expected to walk into USC and see John Cena and then be in NXT eight months later. Every day, who knows what it can bring. I’ve learned pretty quickly cannot sit around and mope about it because you never know what’s gonna happen next.
Alex Obert: Shortly after you got your release, who from NXT made it a point to check up on you and see how you were doing?
Troy McClain: I would say most of them, the ones that I was close with. I got a phone call a few weeks afterwards from Byron Saxton and he was checking in. I really appreciated that. That always stuck out to me. He’s a good guy in that company for sure. It all comes down to my friends, the Bull Dempseys, the Wesley Blakes. I remember having a great conversation with Robbie Brookside after the fact. Same thing with Norman Smiley. You never want to see one of the guys go because when you’re in the trenches together and you lose a guy, it sucks. It’s you and however many other guys every day together. You spend ninety percent of your time with the guys on that roster. When you lose one of them, whether you like them or not, it always sucks to see someone go. Everyone was really cool when it came down to how I left.
Alex Obert: How you feel about NXT blowing up massively over the past year? It’s pretty much the hottest thing in wrestling right now, let’s face it.
Troy McClain: Yeah, man. We’ve seen that coming. I’ve seen that coming when I was there. Especially once NXT got on the Network. I was at the Wrestlemania 30 Axxess and it was one of those events where you saw all that would be in store for the future. Triple H said that it’s gonna replace Smackdown as the number two brand. And it eventually will get to that just because they put on such a great show and the guys there work their asses off. And it shows every Wednesday with the hard work that those guys put in. They deserve every bit of it. It’s awesome as I watch guys that I was really close with. I watch Wesley Blake with the NXT Tag Team Championship. Watching Bull Dempsey do what he does. Watching my friends succeed.
Alex Obert: I’m glad you mentioned Triple H because I have to ask, how were you selected to appear on his workout DVD?
Troy McClain: I don’t know. (laughs) We just took a bunch of pictures one day and they didn’t really tell us what it was for. Two days later, I got an e-mail giving me the schedule for the week and I didn’t really find out what it was until I got there. “Triple H is doing a workout DVD. You guys are gonna be in it.” Okay, cool. And that’s realistically how it happened.
Alex Obert: Outside of wrestling and acting, what are some of your passions, hobbies and interests?
Troy McClain: I’m a big comic book guy. But I’m pretty straightforward with the fact that it’s work, wrestling, auditioning. That’s where I’m at right now. Working out, just trying to stay in shape. I’m trying to get something going, as far as setting up my own boot camp in the park. I remember right before we moved to Orlando, we would do these workouts in the park with our strength coach, Matt Wichlinski. We didn’t have an open facility yet. I want to set something up like that and get it going. I think it’d be a good way to spend my time and make some extra money as well, especially here in LA where people are looking for stuff like that. And the weather’s always nice, even though it’s raining right now. Doing stuff outside like that would be a big draw. It’s a cool way to spend my time, I guess.
Alex Obert: On the topic of music, what was the last concert you went to?
Troy McClain: Last concert I went to was Usher when he was in Orlando. It’s weird because I don’t have a genre that I really like. I was told once “If you don’t have a favorite genre of music, you don’t actually have a soul.” (laughs) I like what I like. There’s certain things I enjoy. There’s certain types of rap I enjoy, there’s certain types that I don’t. There’s certain types of country music that I enjoy and there’s certain types I don’t. I like Usher. I like Garth Brooks. I like Frank Sinatra. Every once in a while, if I’m going out on a weekend, I’m gonna get down to some old school Backstreet Boys. You sing that stuff at a bar, man, everyone loves it. Stupid crap like that. But when I’m working out or I’m in my car, there’s always something going on. I grew up with a lot of classic rock. I’d always listen to Q106.5 Quad Cities in the car with my dad. That was the classic rock station and what I grew up on. From there, I developed my own little weird enjoyment of randomness.
Alex Obert: What were some of your favorite classic rock songs that you discovered?
Troy McClain: Takin’ Care of Business by BTO was my favorite song for some reason. I was a big fan of REO Speedwagon as well. Throughout my childhood, I think I owned three CDs. It was like Bachman–Turner Overdrive Greatest Hits, Queen and one of REO Speedwagon’s. I’ve really only owned about three CDs throughout my whole life and it was probably those three. (laughs) Once I got into high school, everything went on the iPod. As far as CDs are concerned, those are probably the only three I’ve ever owned.
Alex Obert: If you could pick any song as your entrance theme now, which would you want it to be?
Troy McClain: Well right now I’ve been using Get Ready For This, the old Chicago Bulls theme song from the nineties. That has been my entrance music for a while now. And honestly, that’s probably where it’s gonna stay for as long as I have a say. No one’s heard that in forever, at least since Michael Jordan was playing. I like the music to be different. I was at a wrestling show and someone came down to the Uptown Funk song. It’s huge and I enjoy it. I think it’s a good song, it’s fun. But it’s simple, be more creative with your entrance music than that.
Alex Obert: And of course, many of them use Disturbed or something like that.
Troy McClain: Yeah! Oh yeah, that’s the worst too! The same six songs. Down with the Sickness or something like that, everyone has the same one. Final Countdown, Bryan Danielson’s theme song. I’ve heard that a bunch of times. Be creative people, there’s so much out there.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, what are your plans towards 2016? Should readers keep an eye on your Twitter?
Troy McClain: My Twitter actually blew up recently. If you look at my Twitter, @TroyMcClainWWE, the name on it is Han Solo. Why it’s Han Solo, I don’t know. I made it Han Solo one day and it’s been like that for nine months. And that makes me the only verified Han Solo on Twitter. They recently announced that they’re doing the Star Wars movie, a Han Solo prequel film. So I remember I was at the gym and I kept getting notifications that all these verified people were following me. I thought that was really weird and I looked at my Twitter account and it had jumped like six hundred. I’m like, “What is going on?” I read that they just announced that and for some reason, everybody discovered the verified Han Solo. They thought maybe I was him or something, I don’t know what the thought process was. But it was pretty cool. As far as 2016, I’m gonna have some stuff that I’ll post on social media. And when I say social media, I really just mean Twitter. I have Instagram, but I don’t really use it. I’m pretty much mainly a Twitter guy. But for sure, I’m gonna post all that shit all over my Twitter. Like wrestling appearances. There’s an assumption that indy wrestling is just a bunch of big moves, fast-paced, whatever it is. I pride myself on going to a lot of these shows and wrestling a different style. I’m a character, man. You’re gonna watch a match of mine and see a shitton of awesome moves. I’m gonna throw that out there right now. I’m gonna try to tell a story and have fun. I’m gonna get the crowd involved because that’s what my character does. At the end of the day, I think fans just want to be involved in the show. And that’s why tried to do. I’m excited about my wrestling future. So like I said, your whole life can change at any moment, man. So who knows where I’ll be in 2016, we’ll see.
Alex Obert: It’s all about how you react to it and take charge.
Troy McClain: That’s right.
Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much for your time and a great interview. I wish the best for you ahead.
Troy McClain: Thank you, man.