NZPWI had the opportunity to speak to New Zealand WWE NXT UK Superstar Travis Banks late last week.
Banks flies the flag for New Zealand as “The Kiwi Buzzsaw” on NXT UK (Fridays, WWE Network) where he has recently been locked in a rivalry with Jordan Devlin over the WWE Cruiserweight Championship.
NZPWI’s David Dunn spoke to Travis Banks about adapting to life under lockdown, working with Triple H and Shawn Michaels, his rivalry with Jordan Devlin, and more in this exclusive interview conducted Thursday, April 30.
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David Dunn: In New Zealand, we’ve just moved to COVID-19 Alert Level 3. What’s the situation for you in the UK right now?
Travis Banks: Everything’s still locked down, man. We can’t do anything. So for me, I’m just working out, trying to keep fit and healthy, and hopefully, I won’t lose my abs for when I get back on TV! [laughs]
That’s the ultimate goal!
It’s largely been business as usual for me – but for you, it must be a significant change to your daily schedule. Has it been hard adjusting to being housebound?
The hardest things are not having a gym, obviously, and because I run the training school for Fight Club Pro as well and we haven’t been training for that… that’s been hard not having those. But I’ve got a bit of gym equipment at my house and I go out for runs, and I go out for walks, so just trying to keep on top of that – keep on top of my diet as well. That’s kind of keeping me sane at the moment.
Do you have any tips for anyone out there who’s perhaps got a lot more free time on their hands now in terms of a home workout? Any ideas for things we can do to keep fit with minimal equipment?
Yeah man, just all the bodyweight stuff. Free squats, push-ups, if you can get a chin-up bar maybe chin-ups, crunches and all that stuff. But the most important thing is: stay consistent. And that is the biggest piece of advice I can give you: stay consistent. Try and do something every day if you can.
I want to talk to you about when you came back to New Zealand last year for the SPW Southern Rumble. You got to go on a media tour then, you were all over the place–
I felt like a rockstar!
I was going to say, right?! Because, coming through the New Zealand wrestling scene, we know it can be a bit of a struggle to get mainstream media coverage and recognition. What was that experience like, coming back home and suddenly people know who you are, what you do, and they’re clamouring to talk to you? What was it like to receive a hero’s welcome when you returned to New Zealand?
It definitely felt full-circle because I left New Zealand for – I would say – fame and fortune sort of thing. I went away to make a name for myself, make some money and stuff like that. I didn’t expect for WWE to come knocking or anything like that, I was kind of just seeing where it would take me, the UK scene. Then, obviously, WWE came around and I got to return to New Zealand so it was a very massive full-circle moment for me.
To have – as you know – the news and radio stations coming and wanting to talk to me about it was quite surreal because for so many years, maybe eight years in New Zealand, I’d been trying to get media attention to the wrestling scene and nobody would have a bar of it and we’d be scratching and clawing for every piece of media coverage. So for it to come full-circle in that respect was very humbling and lovely and it was just awesome. It’s kind of the stuff that I dreamed of when I first started wrestling. This is the stuff that I wanted to do. Obviously the wrestling, but all this is a nice extra to be able to go travel around the country and speak on national radio and TV and stuff like that.
The nicest thing was too, when I did The AM Show, was all my friends and family from Bulls and Marton messaging me afterwards saying, ‘Oh my god, I saw you on there in your suit, you looked so awesome’, and my aunties and my uncles messaging me and stuff. It was really nice to get the recognition for 11 years of hard work and my family and my friends getting to see it as well.
Happy 25th Anniversary @TripleH!
— Travis Banks (@Travis_BanksPW) April 24, 2020
You’ve mentioned 11 years of hard work, but a man who’s just celebrated 25 years of hard work, Triple H, recently had his anniversary in WWE. What’s it been like for you to be in a position where you can look at your career now and say the likes of Triple H and Shawn Michaels have been hands-on with you?
Well, sometimes I have to pinch myself, don’t I? I think I had a match with Jordan Devlin – I was taken off that first [NXT UK] TakeOver I was supposed to do, it was supposed to be me versus Jordan and I got taken off it for the Finn Balor match. The very next night, me and Jordan did the match and I remember ’cause I was so fired up that I hadn’t been on the night before that I was like, ‘I’m gonna really show them that they missed a trick with me not being on TakeOver‘. I remember we did the match and it went so well and I got back and Shawn Michaels was there, he was waiting for us as we came to the back, and he just came up and just hugged us and said we did such an awesome job, we were phenomenal, and all this stuff just showering us with praise. I remember looking at Jordan and I was kind of shocked, and I was thinking in my head, ‘Man, you know you wrestled Undertaker at WrestleMania 25, you’re the greatest of all time, you’re saying we’re good?!’ Y’know what I mean? It was a very surreal and humbling moment for my career.
Shawn Michaels especially has been very hands-on with me with advice and stuff like that. I remember I was in the PC in America once and we had a class where we were watching matches from tape and he was taking it and he was just giving advice here and there and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t think there’s a better place on this planet to learn about professional wrestling than in this room right now, watching these matches with Shawn Michaels giving us the advice’. You know where I’m from – you’ve pretty much been on the journey with me as well – from where I started in Petone, to be in the presence of wrestling greatness, pretty much…
Not just him – there’s guys like, obviously, Triple H as well, he’s been very hands-on. William Regal, Robbie Brookside, the list continues. There’s so many guys that are around me now that are so positive and so enthusiastic about teaching wrestling that I can’t help but feel like I’m such a more complete wrestler now that I’ve been around these guys and soaking in the knowledge and learning from them. It’s been great. And, again, it’s all very surreal sometimes, especially when I’m talking to Shawn, just have a casual conversation like, ‘Hey, what’s up, man?’ Just a little chit-chat, then I’ll walk off down the hallway like, ‘What am I doing?!’ Do you know what I mean? It’s cool, man, it’s great.
You talked about working with Jordan Devlin who, from my perspective, has been your career-defining rival in terms of NXT UK. You’ve both come up through that system together, to a degree. You’ve both been working with each other – you had that first TakeOver, now you’re wrestling for the Cruiserweight Championship. What’s it been like to move through the ranks at a similar pace?
The good thing about me and Jordan, we actually trained at Zero1 together – we had the same trainer, Ikuto Hidaka – and our careers have always been very similar. However it’s gone, it always seems to be mirroring each other in a weird way. I don’t know, man, I can’t even remember where the first one was – it might have been in PROGRESS we had the first match – but every time we’ve had a match, I think, if I had to pick an opponent he’s probably the easiest wrestler that I’ve ever wrestled, y’know what I mean? We just click, we have chemistry.
I think it’s probably down to our training but also we share the same mentality about wrestling. We just want to go out there and bust our arse and make it the best we can possibly make it. So with those mindsets in mind, we go out there and we do it every single time. Like, how do we top the match that we had before? Do I throw myself off a balcony onto him or whatever it is? How can we give the crowd something different? And what I like about our matches as well, we’re not afraid to experiment with what we do and change it up instead of kind of going back to the same things that we always do.
Behind the scenes, me and him, we really get along as well. It’s good to have that kind of a person, it’s good to have a guy like him. Also, we keep each other in check as well, we have a bit of competition with each other – who can do more and do the crazy things and stuff like that. So it’s good to have somebody like that around because you’re always trying to compete against each other but in the best way possible to make it better.
The evidence is there every time you get in the ring – great matches.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed from your social media over the past few weeks is you’ve been digging into the archives, some wonderful little reels put together by our friend Luke Farmer. Our readership would likely know you from New Zealand, and have watched NXT UK, but they might not be as familiar with your career between then and now. What matches that you’ve had in that time period would you recommend people go back and check out?
When I was on the UK indie scene?
Yeah, something that’s maybe flown a little bit under the radar compared to the rest of your career.
There’s been quite a lot that you could potentially check out. Ones off the top of my head… a lot of my Fight Club work is probably some of my best work ’cause that was the brand that really got me noticed. There was a particular match, it’s a show called Rage Against the Death Machine, and it’s me versus Zack Sabre Jr. We’re in the opening match and I think we go like 38 minutes. That was the match that put me on the map. I got a standing ovation afterwards and after that, I was kind of off to the races with my career.
And then there are various matches with Tyler Bate from PROGRESS and Fight Club. Maybe the Super Strong Style 16 2017 PROGRESS final with Tyler Bate, that was probably up there. And then my matches with Keith Lee or Matt Riddle, if you want to check those out, that’s from PROGRESS. My matches with Will Ospreay from Fight Club or PROGRESS. Those are probably my top matches. There’ve been so many crazy matches I’ve had in a short period of time you could potentially check out.
And if you don’t like serious wrestling there’s a lot of comedy wrestling you can probably check out as well. Anything to do with Attack Pro Wrestling – me as Sgt Banks of the Anti-Fun Police or ‘Stupid Sexy Travis Banks’ with me in a string vest you may have remembered from New Zealand.
Plenty of people have got a lot of time on their hands these days with the lockdown so I’m sure they can dig into the archives and have a look at some of those.
I saw a tweet the other day from WWE, wishing John Cena a happy birthday and asking who his dream opponent might be. You tweeted out those eye emojis there – he’s a 16-time world champion, Travis, what makes you think you can go toe-to-toe with John Cena?
Well, first and foremost I’m a two-time New Zealand champion, let’s get that straight for a minute! Everybody who ever asks me, ‘Who’s your dream opponent?’ I always say John Cena because he was the best, he was the top wrestler of an era, wasn’t he? I always like to test myself against the top guys. That would be the one, him or Brock Lesnar. If you can set that up, David, be my guest…
I’ll make some calls, I’ll see what I can do! [laughs]
I want to talk a little more about NXT UK. Could you talk a bit about the changes you’ve seen NXT UK go through since the day you first signed your contract to the modern-day product?
I was actually out for the first two months ’cause I was injured [laughs] so I can’t have an opinion on the early days – I was there sitting in the back! No, it’s been a very fun process, watching a TV product come to fruition. I know Triple H and a lot of WWE guys have been wanting to do this UK show for a while, ever since the first tournament, so to see their vision unfold and be part of it – this is the ground floor of something much bigger and to be a part of, I would hope, history, is quite exciting, y’know what I mean?
In terms of the actual product itself, I dont think you can fault anything in the ring. Every single wrestler there is accomplished. And that’s why I initially moved to the UK, because the wrestlers were so sick over here and I just wanted to get better and learn and stuff like that. Now we’re on this end of it where it’s getting a platform, it’s good that the world gets to see just how good the UK scene is.
Last one from me for this interview: NXT UK TakeOver: Dublin has been postponed. I think it’s October that we’re looking at now, hopefully, when things come back. Whenever that card does eventuate, is there anyone you’ve got your eye on to lock-up with on a TakeOver stage?
Walter! Walter for the title! No, I don’t know… if we’re going off the John Cena theory, I’ve gotta go to the top, don’t I?
That makes sense, call out the top guy.
I don’t know, man, I just hope it happens. I was really looking forward to that card anyway so now we’ve got to wait a little bit longer.
Whenever it does, we’re all very eager to see it and we’re all very eager to see you out there flying that New Zealand flag as the Kiwi Buzzsaw. It’s great to see what you’re doing over there, and I’m sure I’m not alone as a New Zealander saying we really appreciate it, we’re big fans, and we can’t wait to see what you do next!
See Travis Banks in action on NXT UK, streaming Fridays from 7am (NZST) on WWE Network