Carmelo Hayes Is Ready To Show He’s Built For The Moment At WWE Money In The Bank

“Thank you guys for trusting me.”

Those were the words Carmelo Hayes — the top draft pick for Smackdown and a former NXT Champion — shared with WWE’s Chief Content Officer, Paul Levesque, as he made his way to the back of the Allstate Arena fresh off of beating Randy Orton for the biggest win of his career.

“And they were like, ‘You act like you’re leaving. You’re one of the guys now. You’re here now, of course we’re going to put you in these positions,’” Hayes tells Uproxx Sports.

As much as his time in NXT had prepared him, there are still moments that catch the budding star off guard. Hayes’ arrival in the most recent slew of top stars to the main roster comes under a microscope. Every win, loss, misstep, or success is examined and spit out in the instant reaction environment that wrestling fandom has fallen under. It’s up to Hayes to take every opportunity to show his massive potential.

That win over Orton provided a stepping stone for what could be the first of many heavyweight title shots, qualifying him for Saturday’s Money in the Bank ladder match in Toronto, with the winner earning a guaranteed title shot of their choosing.

“Focus,” Hayes says of his mentality heading into Saturday. “I feel like this is a good opportunity for me to really prove myself. In the Money in the Bank, I’m making myself the focal point. I’ve been in ladder matches before, I’ve been in these type of situations before, and I know exactly what type of game plan I’m coming into this match with. I feel like I’m just as prepared, if not more prepared, than everybody.”

The pressure that comes with this spotlight isn’t anything new. Each time WWE has put him in a position to sink or swim, Hayes has not just survived, he’s thrived.

“You’ve got to kind of throw me out there and just see what happens,” Hayes says.

His first two matches for the brand were an NXT Cruiserweight title match followed by a showdown with the brand’s biggest star, Adam Cole. After claiming the NXT North American crown (twice) and an 182-day run as NXT Champion, Hayes got his feet wet on the main roster by splitting time, jumping between the main roster and NXT.

Hayes admits he’d gotten “comfortable” in NXT, and in order to step out of that comfort zone, he had to test himself on Raw, Smackdown, and Main Event in front of the larger television audiences. “I think that was probably the best thing for me at that time,” Hayes says.

The move to the main roster as a first-round pick just two months ago came with enormous weight. That weight has only continued to stack on his shoulders in the hours, days, and weeks that have passed since he made his move to Smackdown.

His first night on the blue brand came with a matchup against the face of the company, Cody Rhodes, who he’d spent time with a year earlier by helping him get ring-ready in his return from a torn pectoral muscle.

“In the moment, I wasn’t thinking about pressure, I was just thinking this is cool. Cody is so cool, he didn’t make me feel like I was out of my element or out of my league,” Hayes says. “It was one of those things where I knew I was ready and I knew I was capable. The pressure didn’t feel as much because it was kind of like everybody around me knew that I was built for that main event scene, regardless of NXT, Raw, SmackDown, Cody Rhodes, whoever.”

Hayes hasn’t been afforded an opportunity to drop back into the background and gradually climb the ranks as another member of the Smackdown roster. He’s dealt with the ebbs and flows that come with earning your spot, including only one win in his first five matches as a full-time member of the main roster.

“(WWE has) been giving me so many good opportunities, I’ve just had to make the most of it — even in defeat. I have to shine and I have to prove that I am everything that I say I am, and over time, I think just with equity and things like that, people will kind of accept me,” Hayes says.

Statement wins like his over Orton will go a long way in building that equity.

“Pinning Randy Orton and moving forward to get into Money in the Bank, it helped my stock a lot. Believe it or not, people do track wins and losses. And they do matter after a while,” Hayes says. “I think there was a lot of pressure on me to succeed right off the bat. So, pinning Randy was just something that, for my career, I think maybe people look at me a little different. You know, it was definitely something that boosted my stock.”

As he’s mixed it up with veterans like Rhodes, LA Knight, and Orton, Hayes has learned on the job. The expectations and what it takes to get to the next level aren’t something he’s glazed over. The bar is set astronomically high to make it to the upper echelons of WWE, which he admits are a “different level.”

“Working with these guys, it’s learning that it takes years — I talked to Randy about that,” Hayes reveals. “Like, it took him 20 plus years to, he said, just now they started singing this song. So you just got to ride the wave and see where it takes you.”

Hayes is still incredibly early into what his WWE tenure will be. Failing to capture the briefcase won’t have a significant longterm impact. Pulling the briefcase down, however, could make or break his career, and on Saturday, the next step in his career will come into clearer focus.