Dave Mastiff On WWE’s UK Championship Tournament, NXT UK, Kevin Owens
Just picture the idea of WWE hosting WrestleMania, the biggest pay-per-view in the company, at Wembley Stadium with The Rock in the main event. It's a mouthwatering scenario, no? There are plenty of superstars who could be pitted against The People's Champion, including The Undertaker, Triple H, Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles. But forget about those names, though, as this is the dream match for one man: Dave Mastiff.
Mastiff, real name David Minton, is a veteran wrestler with 15-plus years of experience under his belt, building his career -- and popularity -- at promotions like International Pro Wrestling: United Kingdom, Preston City Wrestling, 4 Front Wrestling and New Generation Wrestling.
SPORTbible recently had the privilege to catch up with the wrestler, speaking to him about his rise to fame and, of course, his humble beginnings.
"When I was a lot younger -- when I was around six or seven -- it was probably the first time that I saw it on television and saw it live in the British halls on the holiday camp," he said. "But it wasn't really until I was about 15 when I actually seriously thought about pushing into it."
It's been a long road for the 34-year-old, who is from Black Country in the West Midlands, to reach this point in his career. Despite being tipped as a rising star in the UK branch of NXT, Mastiff never had it easy. Most of us, if not all of us, know that all-too-familiar experience of trying to break into a career path that your parents might not agree with -- and Mastiff is no different when it came to proving his dad wrong.
"I wouldn't say it was difficult, but it was always something that was in the back of my mind," he explained. "It was one of the driving factors that I knew I had to succeed at this because there was no way I was going to look back and also face up to my old man without being a success.
"I took a lot of risks... with choosing this career path that other people wouldn't have taken. Also my older brothers, they didn't undertake such risky career options and they were very successful in what they did. I've had to really, really work hard to prove it was worth it to my dad."
The wrestler has picked up nicknames along his career that include 'B*****d,' 'Big Bad' and the 'Human Hate Machine.' With that being said, it's not surprising that Mastiff described his wrestling persona as an "extension of who I really am."
Standing in at 5ft 10in and over 300lbs, the British star is a heavyweight not to be messed with. Unlike others in his weight division, however, Mastiff takes pride in his agility and ability to pull off moves cruiserweight wrestlers have in their arsenal.
"That was something that came from my childhood," he recalled. "I represented the county up until I was 12 in gymnastics and I was always a member of the gymnastics team at school.
"So, I've kind of had that athletic and agile basis. When I started wrestling, I obviously started more strength training. But I've always made sure that I've kept that agility."
This December will mark the two-year anniversary since WWE's executive vice president of Talent, Live Events and Creative, Paul 'Triple H' Levesque, took to London's O2 Arena to make a monumental announcement: the first-ever United Kingdom Championship Tournament to be held in 2017.
It sparked a promising opportunity for the world's biggest wrestling company to collaborate with British promotions. Fast forward one year after the first competition and Mastiff found himself landing a coveted spot in the second tournament, which was held back in June.
"It was fantastic [to be in the competition]," he said. "It was the start and birth of what is NXT UK. It's what most of my career has been building towards, if I'm honest. To be working with a lot of the people that, you know, I grew up watching and being able to learn from them has been absolutely fantastic.
"Starting off at Download Festival where we wrestled the first-round matches in the United Kingdom Tournament and then have a little bit of downtime and get to see one of my favourite bands of all time, Guns N' Roses, on a Saturday night. You don't get many better weekends than that, do you?"
During the announcement of the inaugural Championship Tournament, WWE was keen to emphasise that it wasn't simply a promotional tool for creating a bigger foothold in the UK. At the time, WWE superstar Finn Bálor said that the Championship Tournament would "supercharge the United Kingdom and Irish wrestling scene." For Mastiff, he shared in the Irish wrestler's remark.
"British wrestling is hotter than it's been in the last 30 years," he said. "And I think with the arrival of WWE UK and NXT UK now, it gives a huge platform for the talent we've got in this country and in Ireland to really show the rest of the world what we're all about.
"As Finn Bálor said, it's going to be a supercharged version of British wrestling: it's going to be an absolute explosion of the UK scene and showing the rest of the world what we can do."
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Let's rewind for a moment, though.
Mastiff might have spent time on the UK indie scene, but it doesn't mean that he didn't have a close connection with the WWE before he was picked up for the second Championship Tournament and for NXT UK. In fact, he found himself in the PCW ring with Kevin Steen, who is now better known under his WWE name of Kevin Owens.
The two share the same signature move in the Cannonball, so we thought it would be the best time to settle this debate once and for all: who does it better between Mastiff and Owens?
"Bloody hell, man, a serious question surely? Dave Mastiff!" he quipped.
It's a rivalry that Mastiff hasn't brushed aside, so when we asked him if it could happen in the WWE ring, he was as straightforward as possible: "Well, why not?"
"That's something I want to do," he explained. "Whether he wants to do it [is something else]. I think it would be fantastic to see in a WWE ring and we can show all [of] the WWE universe just what Dave Mastiff is about."
Of course, it's an open invitation from someone who shared a similar experience as the Canadian on the indie scene. It raises a big question, though: should Owens be watching his back? According to Mastiff, the answer was no (sort of).
"I'm never going to hit him from behind," he said. "I'll turn him around before I punch him in the face."
Owens might be one of the many names on Mastiff's checklist, but the Brit is already putting his full, undivided attention to NXT UK. Speaking of names, there's only one man who he has his sights set on in the promotion: WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne.
According to the Brit, he's the main person for him if "you want to get to the top."
It's a long uphill battle to be at the top of NXT UK, but it's one that the wrestler was quick to explain the best way to approach it.
"I think there's enormous pressure on you as a professional wrestler, no matter whether you're working for WWE in NXT UK or whether you're just starting out in a small independent promotion," he said. "There's always some form of pressure because you should want to improve, you should want to better yourself and you should want to be the absolute best.
"How you deal with that pressure is a different thing, man. I personally don't feel the pressure because it's an expectation I have of myself to show myself in the absolute best light that I can. So it's another day at the office for me to go and show what I can do."
Mastiff looks like the type of fighter who is hungry for competition like Braun Strowman is, but what if, say, he had the opportunity to have a manager in his corner?
In WWE's history, it's easy to understand how a manager has changed the complexion of a superstar's persona, from Paul Bearer with The Undertaker to the more recent example of the silver-tongued Paul Heyman with Brock Lesnar.
Considering Mastiff could choose from the aforementioned managers and also the likes of Mr Fuji, Paul Ellering and Jim Cornette (not the ice cream, non-wrestling fans), he didn't even hesitate to pick one name the moment the question was fired his way.
"Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan," he said, before adding: "because he's undoubtedly the greatest manager of all time."
It's a choice that's hard to argue against, especially when he managed the likes of André the Giant and Big John Studd. However, Mastiff's response raised another question in understanding what Heenan would specifically add to his character.
"Well, he would add even more brains, wouldn't he?" he said.
You can watch Dave Mastiff and the rest of the WWE NXT UK roster live at Plymouth Pavilions on 13 & 14 October, tickets still available on www.livenation.co.uk
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