WWE’s Corey Graves on Dropping Megadeth / Pantera Puns, Tool Fandom + His Eclectic iPod
For the past few years, WWE’s Corey Graves has been giving metalheads a voice on pro wrestling’s grandest stage. Forced to retire early from his in-ring career due to concussion issues, Graves was given an opportunity to become a color commentator for WWE’s cult developmental brand, NXT. In no time, he became the only active announcer to call not only Monday Night Raw, but Tuesday’s Smackdown Live as well.
Having landed on his feet in the most spectacular fashion, Graves is now a new kind of fan favorite. Not only is he WWE’s most popular color guy, but he’s a lifelong rock and metal fan, which he’s made clear by sneaking Pantera and Megadeth references into his commentary. He notably dropped half a dozen Megadeth references during a single match on the March 5 edition of Monday Night Raw, so we finally had to give WWE’s ‘Savior of Misbehavior’ a call to delve deeper into his fandom of heavy music.
I remember watching you commentate on NXT, it seemed like every week you'd have a new Pantera reference. When you heard about the Symphony of Destruction match how quick did you decide that Megadeth references needed to happen?
Well it was funny because the week prior I think Braun Strowman said something about Symphony of Destruction kind of off-hand or in a backstage segment or something. I don't know if anyone in the company realized it was a Megadeth reference. I'm sure somebody did, but I just had fun with it. Three hours is a lot of time to fill talking about sports entertainment, so I just try to keep myself entertained as much as possible. So when I saw there was a ‘Symphony of Destruction’ match and Braun referenced ‘Sweating Bullets’ with his promo, I was like, ‘I’ve got carte blanche, man.’
Michael Cole, at one point, perfectly and unintentionally set me up when he said something about a runaway train. I just jumped on ‘Train of Consequences’ and everything was flowing. It started like an inside joke, initially, with me and Braun with the Pantera references, because I just offhandedly referred to something he did as a ‘vulgar display of power’ one night and my Twitter blew up. So then it became a little game, like what could I sneak in this week? It's more or less just to keep myself occupied and the Twitter feedback has actually been really hilarious. A lot more people picked up on it than I realized.
I thought it was hilarious. I was wondering if Michael Cole was setting you up purposefully for that ‘Train of Consequences’ line.
No, he knew nothing about it. There were like two or three times where I'm just going, ‘Oh my god, I couldn't do this again if I tried.’ It just kind of worked itself out.
You have a very long history of connecting yourself to the rock and metal world, even during your in-ring days when you were calling yourself Sterling James Keenan. Can you tell me about Maynard Keenan's role in your life and why you chose to name your original persona after him?
Quite simply, I needed a last name for ‘Sterling’ and Tool is one of my favorite bands of all time and I just thought it sounded cool. I thought the whole theme sounded rock and roll, but it was also subtle enough that if you didn't know, it didn't jump right out at you. Little did I know that people thought Sterling was a moniker and my name was James Keenan. Those in the know, they knew what I was doing. I've actually become friendly with Adam Jones over the years. He's a big-time WWE fan and big wrestling fan and I actually told him that story and he said, ‘Yeah man, I actually heard about that years ago.’ It's kind of bizarre that 14-year-old me… not only am I working for WWE, I'm friendly with a lot of my favorite rock stars and bands that I grew up with.
Adam actually hooked us up in Orlando, probably about a little over a year ago when Tool did their abbreviated tour. It was a handful of dates around the country and Adam took great care of us. We basically an entire row of WWE onscreen and offscreen people. They rolled out the red carpet for us, man. We were so grateful. It was unbelievable.
Who else was there at the Tool show?
Off the top of my head I know that it was me, Braun, I think Lita was there, I think Triple H's bus driver was there, who is actually really good friends with Adam. It's weird when you realize how small the world really is. We are all bound by our love of Tool. [laughs]
During a Summerslam red carpet event, Braun was telling me how much he's looking forward to the new Tool album. Does much of the WWE roster go crazy about bands like Tool?
Those who dig it, dig it just as hard as anybody, but it's smaller pockets. One thing that I don't relate to a lot of the people we work with [in WWE] is music. There's a handful of people, we can talk about it, but everyone is into their own thing. We’ve got guys that like country, guys that like anything and everything. I know Braun is a guy I can relate to on music and Seth Rollins is another one, we travel together and have become big fans.
Is it important for you to act as wrestling's conduit to metal in a certain way?
I would be happy to accept that role if it was bestowed upon me. [laughs] It's one thing that I’ve always been into since I was 13, 14 years old. Rock and metal was always super important for me. I worked in a record store for a long time, so it’s one of the other worlds that I was always fascinated with other than sports entertainment. So to be able to mesh them together in any way, whether it be in a semi silly manner like I did last week or hook up some guys and become friendly with them. I've become really good friends with Corey Taylor, same thing, he’s a big WWE fan so we sit and talk wrestling. I'm happy to act as a conduit if that is, in fact, my role.
Corey slapping Baron Corbin was a great moment.
That was big news, it was really funny. Corbin is another one, I'd be remiss if I didn't name him because musically he and I are pretty similar. He's always checking out new stuff, playing me stuff and vice versa.
We appreciate WWE really putting rock and metal music out there. With NXT Takeover theme songs like Power Trip or Babymetal. NXT even had Code Orange perform live.
Triple H is a big of a metalhead as anybody. As if it wasn't obvious by Motorhead making multiple theme songs for him, he's a big fan so he likes to open the door and give some guys some opportunities to be heard and our music department is great. They're always looking for the next big thing. NXT kind of has that different vibe, it’s a little more edgy, a little more rock and roll than WWE's main shows. The metal vibe fits a little better down there, not to say that I wouldn't be happy to have a lot more of it on the big shows.
Back when we were doing NXT and it was still kind of growing and you had all the original guys down there — Rollins, Ambrose, Bray and all those guys — it was our little punk rock universe down there. It was that vibe, that DIY vibe of no one is going to let us have it so we just have to take it ourselves. That permeated the entire brand and that’s responsible for taking NXT where it is today.
What kind of music have you've been into lately?
I have one of the most eclectic iPods, probably on earth. I've got all sorts of metal, I’ve got old-school country. I'm into everything, whatever sounds good at the moment. In the last few weeks I’ve been digging Pantera. I kind of go down these holes, usually through YouTube, where I just click and ‘Oh man, I haven't heard this in a while!’ I've been on Hellyeah a lot these last few weeks, I don’t particularly know why. Old Mudvayne [laughs] which, at the time, I wasn't even a huge fan of but I'm kind of feeling it right now.
You can see Graves every Monday and Tuesday night on the USA network along with every Raw and Smackdown pay-per-view on the WWE Network.
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