From his entrance music to his look, heavy metal is imbued in every aspect of what WWE's Damian Priest does. Even his name was designed to evoke a bad boy image, a nod to his love of Judas Priest. In the ring, he oozes with the confidence of a metal frontman, often rocking flamboyant attire that looks like something Ozzy probably would've worn in his Eighties prime. Even when facing dudes twice his size, or veterans who have been at it a lot longer, he never looks too worried.
It wasn't always this way. Born Luis Martinez, Priest grew up moving between Puerto Rico and the Bronx, eventually relocating permanently in the United States to pursue wrestling. After spending time road dogging it out of independent wrestling promotions, he signed in 2018 and three years later has made a huge splash in the company, eventually working his way up from their developmental NXT program to a main roster spot on Raw. This past Wrestlemania, he teamed with reggaeton megastar Bad Bunny in what was a genuine highlight of the show.
This Sunday, WWE is premiering their latest episode of Chronicle focusing on Priest. The docuseries follows different talent through the WWE from a backstage perspective, providing an intimate look at what the person is like when the show is over. Ahead of the premiere, we spoke to him about how metal inspires him, bonding over The Dirt with Triple H, working with Bad Bunny at Wrestlemania and more.
I'VE ALWAYS FELT LIKE WRESTLING AND METAL ARE VERY INTERTWINED. WHICH OF THE TWO FOUND YOU FIRST?
DAMIEN PRIEST I was into wrestling first. Being that I was raised in Puerto Rico and the Bronx, the first music I was accustomed to listening to was hip-hop. I didn't even like rock or metal. [Laughs] Very, very young age. I think I was 13 or 14, a buddy of mine who is a little older, he had a permit and a car that his parents let him drive. So, he'd always drive me around and he was a metalhead. [Laughs] I was like, "Nah, man, turn that off." And then this is how it started: I told him, "At least play some Undertaker-like music." That's how it all started. He played a lot of Metallica for me, then from there I was asking for bands like them and it was Priest, Ozzy and everybody else. That was it for any other type of genre.
I SAW A PICTURE OF YOU AS A KID MEETING THE UNDERTAKER AND NOW YEARS LATER YOU GUYS LINK UP AS PEERS. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
So I met him at an autograph signing. I paid to go meet him. I was a teenager and he was my idol. I remember there was a line and I was doing Undertaker impressions and I had people around me and it was cool. Then when I got up to him, I was so starstruck. I couldn't even speak. And he started laughing, I'll never forget that. It's cool now that I got to pick his brain and get in the ring with him and move around with him. It's the coolest thing. He was the introduction to my love for wrestling and I guess my love for music, which guided me to become a wrestler.
WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO THESE DAYS?
So these days, if I'm putting on music in my garage working out or something, I'll put on something, like, Children of Bodom or In Flames. I don't lose the old-school rock or metal, though — it could be a Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, the Big 4. But I also love Mötley Crüe and Skid Row. I'm all over the place. [Laughs]
DID YOU WANT TO TAKE SOMETHING FROM ONE OF THOSE BANDS SPECIFICALLY FOR WHAT YOU DO? HOW EARLY DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED METAL TO BE SOME ASPECT OF IT?
It all came from the idea of that like "rock-star lifestyle," the idea of it. You see it in movies, guys destroying hotel rooms. Everything that encompasses the rock star, the rebel, I've always just wanted to portray that. It's who I am. When I came to the WWE, one thing Triple H would talk to me nonstop about was: "We need you to be yourself. You've played characters, but that's not what we're looking for." He straight-up told me, "Dude, we talk all the time. We talk music. I want this guy, the cool guy on TV." At first, it's like, Oh OK, I can go out there and be myself, that's easy. Then you realize it's not as easy, because I'm being a version of myself that I think people want to see. But getting to figure out how I was going to portray myself was basically that: It was be you, but let's exaggerate that version of you.
So, I was like, well, I'll be a rock star. It's something I love. We used The Dirt, the Mötley Crüe movie as a template for how I would move, how I would act. The party guy. But it's also not really acting because it's still me! [Laughs] So with Mötley Crüe, I started looking at my clothing, my tights, my pants to kind of mimic a frontman. I'm headbanging when I come to the stage, the lighting is like you're at a concert. So, it's very much musically influenced, as far as that rock-star vibe I'm looking for. Damian Priest, that's who he is. The only difference is I don't have a microphone when I come down. [Laughs]
I FEEL LIKE YOUR MERCH IS VERY ON POINT, TOO. IN NXT, WHEN YOU HAD THAT SHIRT, I WAS LIKE, "FUCK, THAT'S SUCH A BAND TEE HE'S GOT."
That's exactly what we were going for. [Laughs] When I talked to Triple H about my merch, too, I was like, "I don't want it to be a wrestling shirt, I want it to be a band shirt. Something you'd get at a show. That's what the shirts should look like." And he was like, "Yeah," so they ended up hooking up with a dude who actually works with bands to design the shirt. So, my shirts have that little bit of differentiation. It's cool to be metal, like, I don't think anyone ever hates on my presentation. [Laughs] It's kind of evil, like bad guy stuff, you know?
I THINK IT'S COOL, TOO, BECAUSE YOUR TAKE ON METAL IS STILL ITS OWN THING, AND DIFFERENT THAN RHEA RIPLEY'S TAKE OR ALEISTER BLACK's. THERE'S A LOT YOU CAN DO WITH JUST "ROCK-STAR" ATTITUDE.
Exactly. And I try to make sure there's continuously that feel to it. When I won the NXT North American Title, I jumped in that hot tub. When they got that hot tub for me, they asked, "Oh, should we get you a change of clothes or anything?" Before I even answered, Triple H was like, "If you're a rock star and you just got off the stage, would you change to get in the water?" And I was like, "No, I'd jump in with my clothes on." And it hit me right there, I saw how it was. We shot it right away, there's no retakes and it was just one of those "let's get crazy," it was real. It was cool. He gave me that incentive. It's things like that I keep looking for in order to incorporate that vibe. Like you said, I mean when we were doing live shows I'd wear mesh shirts just to see if it would work, but now I think we're at a place that makes sense.
I THOUGHT THE MATCH AT WRESTLEMANIA WITH BAD BUNNY STOLE THE SHOW. IN THE PAST WHEN CELEBRITIES SHOW UP TO WWE, THEY'LL DO A QUICK THING, BUT HE WENT SO HARD AND YOU COULD TELL HE WAS ABOUT THIS AND WANTED TO DO IT RIGHT.
Oh absolutely. He did not come out here to promote something or because he had nothing else to do. He came in because wrestling was one of his dreams. And then when the opportunity presented itself, he was like, "Oh absolutely." But he didn't want to just come and do it and leave — he moved from Puerto Rico to Orlando so he could train for months. Man, I'm telling you, he took his licks. He got bruised and bloodied in training every single week. And I watched him every single week get right back up and ask to do it again. I was extremely impressed and then we ended up becoming really good friends in this whole process. Again, it's that rock-star mindset — he wasn't even supposed to be as successful as he is in his genre and industry. He was told, "You gotta change, you have to dress like this or speak like this," and he just wouldn't do it. He was like, "Well, that's not making it." He fought to do everything his way, and that's that metal attitude to me. A lot of people thought it was odd 'cause I'm a metal guy and he's clearly not, but we have that same mentality in common that unites us.
DID YOU AT ANY POINT TRY TO TURN HIM ONTO ANY METAL?
[Laughs] Nah, but he did tell me he was a big fan of my theme song, so that's cool. [Laughs] Whenever I'd go to his locker room, it's funny he'd be playing his music, and then when he'd come to an area where I had a little speaker or something it would be metal. He never made a face or anything, so he was cool with it.
I THINK FROM THE OUTSIDE, SEEING WWE CHOOSE YOU TO BE HIS PARTNER REALLY SHOWED THEY TRUST YOU A LOT AS SOMEONE WHO IS EASY TO WORK WITH AND GET ALONG WITH. IT'S A HUGE STAMP OF APPROVAL TO BE THE TAG TEAM PARTNER OF THIS HUGE STAR. IT MUST HAVE FELT REALLY GOOD.
For multiple reasons, it felt good, but knowing the company trusts me, that I earned their trust. They always say everything is a test, and this is one I got thrown into the deep end right from the get-go, and it could've gone the other way easily. But luckily, we were able to knock every opportunity out of the park that was presented to us. Whenever we did something in a positive way, we'd come to the back and they'd be like, "That was better than we thought it'd be — you're doing everything right." So, from that, I feel like they fully have trust in me, which is good to know. Without the company having your back, you're just here, you're another guy going for a paycheck and I never want to be that.
WHAT ARE YOUR EYES ON NEXT IN WRESTLING AND BEYOND?
Man, I can't think of anything except the moments. That's what we do, we create moments. I say it all the time where I want my name Damian Priest to live forever. To do that, you have to achieve a lot of things. You can't just get the job — you have to special and for your name to stand the test of time. I'm on the right track having Wrestlemania moments, but now it's like I need another moment to top it, I need special attraction matches, I need main events. Of course, I need to win some championships, and that's what's coming forward. After that, the coolest thing I can think of is having a sweet metal band play me to the ring. [Laughs] That's definitely a goal.
WHAT'S THE DREAM BAND TO DO IT?
Ah, well, Metallica obviously. [Laughs] Probably not going to happen, though, but you never know. That, and I always joke Tim Capello from the Lost Boys playing "I Still Believe," just jacked and covered in baby oil. [Laughs]