Austin Matelson has had quite a varied career and has done many things at age 32. You may know him as Judas Draven, or Austin Draven, or by his NXT name of Judas Devlin, or perhaps you’re aware that he’s a big snake guy in Lucha Underground who goes by the name Vibora. And beyond being a pro wrestler, he’s also been a cast member on the seventeenth season of Big Brother and even took part in an episode of The Price is Right.
Despite all of that, most wrestling fans know Matelson as one of the primary whistle-blowers in the controversy that saw Bill DeMott ousted as the head trainer for NXT. Last week, Matelson took the time to talk to us about a wide range of topics, including the JBL-Mauro Ranallo situation, the transition from wrestling to reality television and back, and what it’s like to be a giant snake.
With Spandex: So our first question for you, probably the obvious question. Given how you left WWE, do you have thoughts on this JBL stuff that’s going on right now?
Austin Matelson: Actually, that’s very interesting. There is stuff in the locker room I get that goes on. There’s the typical the boys doing their thing. And [new] people come in, and you get treated a certain way.
I know that the whole thing with Mauro Ranallo, he has this issue too, though. Who knows what actually was going on there, ’cause I wasn’t there. I’m sure some things were blown out of proportion. But I can see both sides of it, ’cause I went through that part where there was things that weren’t okay going on. So I think mine was different though. I wasn’t on TV like this or anything.
But anyone that has a psychological issue, I definitely can feel for him. Don’t think that’s right. Then again, of course JBL is saying there’s a different side to it. So anytime there’s any kind of bullying going on at all, I think that that’s an issue and needs to be addressed for sure. However, unless I’m there, I don’t really know what was going on. So I’m sure at this point everybody [at WWE is] aware of those kinds of things, and they’ve probably done their own investigation. So if they think things are cool, then who knows. We’ll see what comes out if more comes out down the road.
Given how there’s been a changeover at NXT, do you feel like you would be welcomed back at any point with a new regime? Or do you feel like you might be blackballed a little because of what happened?
You know, I don’t think you’re ever blackballed in this kind of industry. There’s been guys, I mean come on, Bret Hart came back. Ultimate Warrior came back. Guys come back. Sting went over [to WWE]. They’ve opened the door to anyone, guys on the indies,
Chris Hero is a great example. He was told to go away and then they brought him right back. So I’m not on those guys’ level yet, however this is the way I always wanted it. I wanted to make it on my own. I didn’t feel like I was gonna make it down there. I had injury issues, but also I felt stifled creatively. So I know that it would take a lot for me to be able to go back one day. But ultimately, if I can be successful on the indies, if I can do my thing in Lucha Underground, and I can make a name for myself, then maybe they’d call me.
And if they don’t, I’m okay with that because my goal has been always to wrestle. And right now, I have opportunities and I have freedom, so I can wrestle. And that’s what I want to do. And if I can make it as one of the best in the world, which is my goal eventually, then I did it on my own. If not, I didn’t. But I don’t want to be just another guy in the company just happy to be there.
So let’s talk about Lucha Underground. How happy are you there?
Oh Lucha Underground is terrific. The only problem is, it’s difficult for a wrestler to wait six months to film. You want to be out there every day. But when we’re there, it’s great. I mean, the creative freedom that we have is amazing. It’s something I’ve never felt before. I feel like everyone’s there to help you be better too. Everyone wants to work together and have the best possible spot.
I’m really excited about filming the next season, because I’ve been working a lot of new things. The first season you’ve seen a little bit of me on there. And we’re doing a slow build with the character and I’m really trying to stay in the mode of the character and find this character. It’s a new thing for me. It’s like an undertaker that’s a Luchataker, right? So it’s definitely a different kind of style that I haven’t done before. But since the filming of that season, there’s been so much stuff added to the character. So I can’t wait for next season to show people things that they’ve never seen before from a guy my size.
So was it a little bit of a bummer to have your character debut and then have this long hiatus right after?
Uh, yeah. [Laughs] I understand they gotta do what they gotta do. ‘Cause I’m excited, ’cause I’ve got a lot of stuff still to be aired that I want people to see. Which is gonna come in time, and soon. May 31st is around the corner when we return. So I’m excited about what Vibora and the Snake Tribe is gonna do. But until then, yeah. ‘Cause it’s like indie bookings are dependent on more TV exposure. The more I’m on Lucha Underground, I’m gonna be able to be booked more against bigger name opponents and have great matches.
So, of course, I want to wrestle every weekend. And continue to get better. So yeah, I’m counting down the days for sure.
So Lucha Underground is more of a television show. People say it’s more of a television show than a wrestling program, but there’s still a lot of wrestling on it.
You’ve now been on reality TV and you’ve been on a TV show in Lucha Underground. But you also have been in WWE developmental where they train you to be on TV.
What was the Big Brother experience like coming between those two things, and how did it prepare you for Lucha Underground and everything else?
Well, that’s a great question and the Big Brother experience … It was a time where I was unsure of my future in wrestling, number one. But coming out of the developmental system and then going right on TV like that was kind of interesting. ‘Cause I was still kind of in developmental mode, where I’m thinking character creations. And being on the show, I wanted to go in there and be this Judas character ,and then I realized after a while, you can’t really fake something 24 hours a day. ‘Cause they’ve got the cameras on you all the time.
So I started to kind of feel more of who I am and what I want to be. And that’s really what it is. In wrestling, it’s like you can’t be a character. You have to be yourself. And that character needs to be a manifestation of who you are. Otherwise, it looks like you’re faking it. It looks like you’re trying too hard. And sometimes you can see that with people in the ring. It’s like they’ve got all the moves down but they just don’t have the grasp of being in the moment. And that’s something that I was always struggling with.
And I feel like after being through some kind of experience like Big Brother, it’s actually allowed me to kind of be more of me in front of the cameras, if that makes sense? To kind of find that. And even in the crazy character like this Vibora snake monster, I know that I can kind of just settle into that character more than try to play the character. So it’s really helped me on that regard.
And also just kind of having a better understanding of what I want in my life and who I am. Coming out of that, I was sure what I want. I wanted to get back into wrestling, I wanted to be the best I could possibly be at wrestling and nothing else. And I didn’t want anything to stop me. And that kind of helped me see that.
You were talking about being on reality TV and trying to find the middle ground between yourself and the character you’re trying to portray. I have always personally said that Total Divas and Total Bellas is like the pinnacle of what reality TV should be. Because of wrestling. Because of kayfabe. And because the wrestlers have given so much of their lives to being themselves as a character. So what are your thoughts on that? Of using that medium to further what wrestlers have already learned and studied and trained?
And that’s something that I was trying to do in Big Brother, for sure. And the funny thing is is that people that don’t watch wrestling kind of didn’t get it. And they looked at me as like, oh this guy’s out of his mind. He’s a jerk. And people that watch wrestling, they were like oh this is great, this is funny. But I think you’re absolutely right. “Cause reality TV really is … it’s never going to be real. Nothing you see on TV’s ever doing to be real, real. It’s just not exciting. You’ve gotta spice it up.
And also people that are on the reality shows are trying to play a role that they’ve seen on reality shows, like they’re trying to be the bad boy, or they’re trying to be the jerk.
But wrestlers already know how to be a heel and how to be a babyface.
Exactly, and there was nuances that I wanted to do on Big Brother. The thing with Big Brother is that you can get voted off any time. So you’ve got to be careful how far you push it. ‘Cause you’ve gotta make sure people still know, hey I’m just fuckin’ around. But that was always something that was hard to do.
But I could tell when you’d go in the interview rooms on Big Brother, it’s like they kinda gear you a certain way. And it was kind of natural for me to just go with it. And not resist it or care. I know other people would go in the room and like, “oh, I’m not gonna say that, I don’t want to do that.” I’m like, I don’t care. This is fun. This is wrestling. It’s like they ask you to kiss a grown man’s ass on TV. They ask you to dress up like a girl. In wrestling, this is normal. Like, I’ll do anything. I don’t care.
It’s a performance. And I feel like a lot of things are performative. And anytime you’re in front of the cameras, something’s gonna be a little different. If you know you’re being watched, you just don’t act the same as if you’re not being watched. After a few months, yeah you get used to being watched, but you’re still not yourself. So it is a performative thing and that’s what’s exciting for me about wrestling and that’s why I wanted to do that on that show. It’s like it’s all for me, it’s all art. And it’s all kind of imitating life. And having fun with it.