Thursday, July 25, 2024

Carmelo Hayes welcomes pressure to be WWE’s next John Cena or Cody Rhodes: ‘I’m worth the opportunities’

Shawn Michaels and Triple H told fans exactly how highly they thought of Carmelo Hayes in just his second match in 2021. Hayes channeled John Cena’s iconic 2002 WWE debut, touting “ruthless aggression” and slapping former NXT champion Adam Cole in the face.

“I remember they hated it when I first did it…” Hayes told CBS Sports. “I was a little hesitant to do something that’s already been exactly done. It’s such an iconic moment.

“I remember Shawn tweeting something like, ‘It worked out for the last guy.'”

Tethering a new signee to a superstar of Cena’s ilk is a gamble, but WWE brass continue to put their chips behind Hayes. He was chosen No. 3 overall in the 2024 WWE Draft and will compete against main event attractions like Drew McIntyre and Jey Uso in the Money in the Bank ladder match on July 6. He previously advanced to the quarterfinals of the King of the Ring Tournament and is involved in a high-profile United States title rivalry between Logan Paul and LA Knight — all in nine weeks.

“I’d be lying if I said it felt new because I feel like they did the same thing when I got to NXT,” Hayes said. “They immediately put me up against Kushida for the cruiserweight championship, put me against Adam Cole, and put me in the Breakout Tournament. 

“I’ve been put in these high-pressure and sink-or-swim situations for as long as I can remember. I’ve proven every time that I’m a swimmer and I’m worth the opportunities.”

The Ruthless Aggression redux wasn’t the only time WWE would draw an immediate link between Hayes and a top performer. Hayes’ first match as a main roster superstar took place on April 26, the night of the draft, against undisputed WWE champion Cody Rhodes in the main event of SmackDown. It didn’t signify an immediate main event run but was a serious vote of confidence.

“To put me in the mix with the WWE champion Cody Rhodes coming off the high of dethroning Roman Reigns [at WrestleMania 40] and me being the first person he’s in the ring with is a huge trust,” Hayes said. “I wanted to prove I was of that caliber and I was the right guy. I was going to get in there and put on a quality match with the WWE champion and even in defeat look good.”

Hayes is good, a top-notch athlete with enough confidence to fill a Brink’s truck full of Money in the Bank briefcases. But he’s not perfect. It’s not unusual for talent to slip up on the microphone or in the ring during live television. Others involved in a match or segment often try to mask the error. That was not the case during a backstage promo between Hayes and Knight. Hayes harmlessly mixed up Paul and Knight’s names. “Why would LA want to face you?” Hayes told Knight. “Well if I faced myself, I’d be looking in the mirror,” Knight retorted. “You’re talking about Logan, right? Let’s get it right!”

“People were roasting me,” Hayes told CBS Sports.

“He’s quick. He’s watching for things. It’s what it was. I’m not perfect bro… We were laughing about it. It was what it was.”

Check out the full interview with Carmelo Hayes below.

It was a smaller reminder of how fierce the main roster competition is. Hayes is swimming with the sharks now. He’s already had a pair of matches against surefire Hall of Famer Randy Orton, most recently defeating Orton and Tama Tonga to qualify for Saturday’s pay-per-view. The NXT Breakout Tournament winner is no longer a big fish in the smaller NXT pond. It’s a challenge he welcomes.

“Reintroducing myself to a new audience is something you have to accept,” Hayes said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to go to Scotland, France and Saudi Arabia. Even in Chicago, you’re going to new places where people don’t know who you are. They’re not familiar with NXT in a lot of places. There are a lot of casual fans so when you come out, the reaction is mixed. 

“At one point you’re the top guy in NXT and everyone knows who you are. They know your story and they know everything about you. They know your highs and lows. They’re connected. Now going into all these new venues and situations, you’re going up against their favorites. They’re thinking, ‘Who is this guy? They’re going to make quick work of this guy. He’s a nobody.’ Little do they know, I’ve accomplished a lot to get to this point.”

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