The WWE main roster never quite worked out for Tye Dillinger (aka Shawn Spears). After years in NXT, he got over big with fans with his “Perfect Ten” gimmick, which led to a surprise (but expecting) appearance in the 2017 Royal Rumble and an official debut on Smackdown following WrestleMania 33. Then he never really went anywhere on Smackdown, and there were reports that WWE was keeping him off TV because they didn’t like fans doing his “ten” chant. Then this February he publicly requested his release, and was granted it.
Now he’s opened up about his rocky path through the WWE machine, on the latest episode of Edge and Christian’s podcast. First, he talked about when he first pitched the Perfect Ten gimmick, and how brutally honest Dusty Rhodes was with him in that moment:
Yeah, and so, even when I went in to pitch it, I got all the coaches together in the conference room. And Dusty Rhodes, who I love more than anything in this world, who was always straight up with me, I miss him every day, he looked at me and he said, “Before you pitch whatever you’re going to pitch, there is not even a whisper of you going to the main roster. I need you to know that right now.” I went, “Oh shitt! I got this idea…” But that’s what I needed and he was never going to let me get way out here and get my hopes all the way up. He was going to give me, “This is the situation that you’re in right now. You have a chance to change that, but this is how you’re viewed.” So I pitched the Perfect 10 thing and then a few months later, I was actually allowed to start doing it.
He went on to describe how even as he got over with fans, he never won over the people in charge, and manages to still seem pretty humble while openly admitting that WWE never capitalized on his potential.
I don’t believe in working for an audience of one. I believe we are supposed to be working for the audience and you give them what they want because they are telling you what they want. Kofi Kingston is a beautiful example. Becky Lynch is a beautiful example of wonderful stories fulfilled that people could not wait to see the end of. It doesn’t always happen like that. But once it caught momentum, yeah, I don’t want to say they didn’t have a choice because they could have done whatever they wanted, but the momentum was just 100%, the people is what propelled me onward and upward every single time, so that’s not to pander to the audience, but they really did take it all the way there. I’m curious how much they could have got out of the Perfect 10 character, just with the momentum and popularity when something like that kind of catches, on the business side of things, you want to milk it for all it’s worth. And then, it moves aside and the next thing comes up. I don’t feel we, the best word is ‘capitalized’. I don’t feel we capitalized on the entire thing and I thought of being there, being gone, coming back, transforming into this, finally having something that people can grab onto, and then, paying it off in one grand, spectacle of a moment would have been a fine way to do it.
As things dragged on and WWE never pushed him, he began to feel his love of wrestling slipping away, which is pretty easy to understand in that situation.
I wasn’t excited anymore. I would be behind the curtain and instead of being anxious, and excited, and nervous, that feeling you get where your legs are really heavy, and your heart’s pounding, and you’re like, “Oh man, oh man, oh man,” it wasn’t like that anymore. I was dreading it. I was back there going, “Please respond; please make noise; please cheer.” I was pleading, not to the audience, but whoever would hear me. I was praying, essentially, that they would still acknowledge that I existed. I was spiralling. And when your performance is suffering, and when you’re not giving it your all, they see it and they can feel it. And it’s not fair to them. So I couldn’t place myself in that position anymore. I would take it home with me. Instead of enjoying the two days I had off, I was dreading the third day when I’d have to leave already. It was time to go. I was probably late in leaving, actually.
But when he eventually decided to quit, Talent Relations offered him more money to stay.
It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I didn’t really ask too many people because I didn’t want to be influenced either way. I wanted it to be all on me. My family had no idea. My mother had no idea. My wife knew. She knew what I was going to do, but she didn’t know I was going to do it on that particular day. I just said to Talent Relations at the time that I needed to go and they said, “Well, we’re about to offer you a pretty substantial raise.” Now, I am by no means a millionaire. I’m not even close. I’ve been very lucky. I have everything I could possibly need and I wouldn’t have that without WWE. But for me, personally, it wasn’t about the money, so I didn’t even let him get the offer out of his mouth. Later I found out what it was, a couple of weeks later, but I just said, “It wouldn’t change anything tomorrow morning when I wake up – I’m still going to feel the same way that I do right now and the way I’ve felt for the last six months.”
On the internet when WWE Superstars complain about their booking or request a release, you often see people saying “Why would they give up the money?” but Tye makes a strong case that when you’re a performer, money often isn’t what it’s about at all.