‘No means not yet’: Why getting turned down four times by the WWE didn't stop Elias

Despite his hulking looks and talent in the ring, WWE passed on the wrestler not once, but four times, before he signed a contract

Elias’s guitar playing and in-ring skills have made him a fan favourite. Courtesy WWE 
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It is hard to miss EliasThe World Wrestling Entertainment star looks exactly as you'd expect him to. He strolls up in a snug, rose-patterned shirt with bracelets lining his arms, his hair tied up into a bun, his long, scruffy beard taking attention away from his face. At first glance, it's difficult to know where the line is that divides the man from the character he portrays in the ring. After all, if it weren't for his hulking muscles, Jeffrey Sciullo (his real name) could probably be confused for a rock musician.

Yet despite his looks and talent, WWE passed on the wrestler not once, but four times, before he signed a contract. 

The National met Elias in Dubai as part of the WWE 2K20 videogame launch and we were curious to find out how much of his in-ring persona matches who he is out of the ring. "I'm a very sarcastic kind of person," he says, straight off the bat. "I don't go around screaming my catchphrases or anything like that, but, yeah, who you see is very much me. I would say for the most part, the character you see on television is who I am in real life."

Elias, 32, signed with WWE in 2014 after four failed tryouts. Inspired by WWE Hall of Fame wrestlers such as Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret Hart and the Macho Man Randy Savage, Elias knew early on that he wanted to be a professional wrestler – so he was never going to let a failed tryout stand in his way.

"I made my mind up a long time ago that this is where I wanted to be," he says. "I wanted to be at the top of this, being the main guy. I've still got a way to go but, yes, once I started training independently, I said, 'how do I get to WWE?'."

The path to glory has been tough. He was told "no" at his first paid tryout and another rejection came shortly afterwards. While competing on the independent wrestling circuit, he took part in an untelevised match with Dean Ambrose (who also became a WWE star) and hoped his luck would change. "William Regal [WWE's director of talent development and head of global recruiting] saw me, Pat Patterson [WWE creative consultant] saw me," Elias says. "They said 'we'd like you to come down for a tryout, we'll take care of everything'. So I did that tryout and they still said 'no', so I just went back to the indies and kept on working on it."

While most people would feel discouraged by the rejection, he says he remembered wise words he received from one of his wrestling heroes: Michaels. During the tryout, Michaels told him: "Just remember, a lot of times, 'no' means 'not yet'." 

Elias realised he needed to focus on finding the right formula to get noticed. It worked, and soon enough he got a call about a developmental contract to wrestle at NXT, one of WWE's brands.

He has spent the past five years with the company, becoming a household name for wrestling fans. His signature guitar performances, quick wit and in-ring skills have made him a firm fan favourite.

But did he believe he would win over the crowd as much as he has? "Before I went on stage, I had to perform for [WWE chairman] Vince McMahon in his office and there's nothing that's going to be more nerve-racking than Vince sitting right there," Elias says with a laugh. "He had never seen me before, or had at least never seen what I was going to do, so I had to totally introduce it from there. So once you knock that out of the way, going out in front of a crowd is no problem."

Now, while Elias is commended for his athletic prowess, his talent shines brightest when he's performing and riling up an audience. Despite that, he is still left out of the title chase for the WWE Championship. He has the charisma to hold his own through his musical performances, but he says that sometimes he feels he's still being under­utilised in the ring. "Performing as much as I did really just gave me so much exposure and I gained a lot of popularity, obviously, and people can relate to or connect to me – whether they hate me or love me – so I wouldn't change any of the performances. But I wish I was put into more matches," he admits. 

"I almost think because I performed so much, and it was a hit and fun to watch and see, it was almost like 'hey, we don't need to have him in matches because we know he can do that'. That's fine, but from a personal standpoint, I always want the main match at WrestleMania. I want the title match at Summerslam or whatever it may be."

One thing that's never far from his mind is that wrestling characters can become stagnant and audiences grow bored. He says that if he were "totally in control" creatively, he would continue to develop his rock-star persona. "I've got a lot of ideas as to where to take Elias, so, really, it's about being able to evolve my character," he says.

Regardless of where he stands in the wrestling ranks and how hard he's had to work to get here, he's still certain he made the right choice. "My whole life was to be here doing this," he says.

No doubt, his ever-growing fan base would agree.