Dijak details origins of current WWE NXT character, meetings with Vince McMahon, chats RETRIBUTION

Originally published at Dijak details origins of current WWE NXT character, meetings with Vince McMahon, chats RETRIBUTION

Dijak tells all. 

Going into NXT Battleground, several of the talents on the card are making the media rounds to promote the Premium Live Event. One of those talents is Dijak, who’ll be taking on Ilja Dragunov in a Last Man Standing match

Dijak returned to NXT in November 2022 and went after North American Champion Wes Lee. It was his first time back on the brand since being written off of NXT in the summer of 2020

Stick to Wrestling conducted an extensive interview with Dijak and he started out by speaking about the origins of his current character that he displays in NXT. Towards the tail end of his time as T-BAR, he was featured weekly on Main Event which is taped before Monday Night Raw. He said it’s a good spot because he got to wrestle consistently and was happy to have a job but that’s not how he envisioned himself as a WWE talent.

Dijak ended up meeting with Vince McMahon around the time of WrestleMania 38 and said they had a great conversation. Dijak told McMahon about having two degrees in Criminal Justice and being interested in crime movies and McMahon found the ‘criminal mind’ aspect interesting and felt there was something there. Dijak drafted up the first iteration of his current character and gave notes to McMahon and the writers but nothing came of it.

When McMahon resigned as Chairman and CEO of WWE, Dijak began chatting with Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque which led to him speaking to Shawn Michaels, Matt Bloom and NXT head writer Johnny Russo. They liked his presentation but Dijak took it with a grain salt because he did not want to get his hopes up. Several weeks later, the ball got rolling and he was back in NXT. 

It was sometime around WrestleMania last year and we were doing the T-BAR stuff and I was on Main Event every week and it wasn’t what I envisioned for myself as a WWE wrestler. 

And just toward the tail end of that, I was barely ever on TV. I think in 2022, I was on Raw maybe twice and one of ‘em was a Battle Royal, the other was getting squashed by Omos so it wasn’t what I wanted out of the WWE. I was happy to have a job, I was happy that they kept me employed, I was happy to be in the ring every week on Main Event in front of a large crowd, working guys who are great. Like Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander, Shelton Benjamin. There was this rotation of guys on the show Main Event. Unfortunately, there kind of still is. They’re integrating NXT guys a little bit more. It’s a good spot in some aspects but it’s not the spot that anybody covets. Nobody dreams about being on Main Event for the rest of their — you know, it’s a good spot to be on a few times but everybody wants to main event WrestleMania… It’s a tough spot to be in and I wanted to express that to Mr. McMahon so I met with him and we had a great conversation, a 20 minute conversation. He asked me about my background, my life, all that stuff and I told him about my legitimate background in Criminal Justice. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree from Bridgewater State where I played two sports, but I have these graduate degrees in Criminal Justice. I told him my favorite movies are the movies ‘Seven’ and ‘Sin City’. These sort of crime-based, film noir dramas and stuff and he collected all this information in the most kind of feedback I got from him was, ‘There’s something about the criminal mind. I like that. There’s something there’ and I said, ‘Okay. I agree with that. I never really looked at it from that perspective. I think that’s wonderful’ so I drafted this whole character, I gave the notes to the writers, I gave it to him and honestly, not much ever came of it. I don’t know if sat on the backburner, I don’t know if they wanted to get to it, I don’t know if whatever happened and then there was this bit of a paradigm shift and transition in terms of creative leadership and I started having conversations more so with Hunter instead of — because he was running the brand that I was on so I was trying to integrate that and that’s kind of how this NXT transition started to happen and as soon as I found that out, I said, great. I had this meeting with Shawn (Michaels) and Matt (Bloom) and Johnny (Russo). I think those were the three in the room… And as soon as I sat down with them, I had the presentation ready, just because I had already done it for Vince and I even filmed an extra vignette that I just talked about where I lighted it and I did the smoke and they looked at it and they said, ‘This is spectacular’ and when you hear, ‘This is great. We’re gonna run with it’ in WWE, I’ve heard that before and it doesn’t always happen. So I heard them say that and I said, okay. I’ve worked with these guys before. They’ve never done me wrong. That being said, this is still WWE. I’m gonna take everything with a grain of salt and to their credit, three or four weeks later, they started the backstage stuff and we started filming the vignettes and I said, wow, this is pretty much exactly what I pitched and envisioned and they were right on board and we’ve been moving and advancing from that stage ever since and I could not possibly be happier with the presentation. 

In the summer of 2020, Dijak formally wrapped up with the NXT brand before being moved to the main roster. He recalled his first time meeting Vince McMahon and felt he made a bad impression. He went into McMahon’s office while a production meeting was taking place. Dijak stated that when he walked in, everyone turned around and then went back to their meeting. 

He described the situation as ‘awkward’. Vince eventually called him over and they had a conversation. He heard that-that first introduction rubbed McMahon the wrong way. 

So then, there’s a couple more months off. We’re kind of sitting in purgatory, still at the P.C., still in whatever. Eventually, I’m like, whatever, I’m gonna go introduce myself to Vince McMahon. I think I made a pretty bad impression the first time… I’m talking to security and I’m like, ‘I just wanna introduce myself to Mr. McMahon,’ whatever. Eventually, I get to the door where I think they’re having a production meeting but I’m not sure. I talk to his security guard who’s a great guy, and he tells me, ‘Yeah, we’re just waiting for them to –’ no one ever knows exactly what’s happening at any point so you’re kind of guessing. So I kind of knock on the door, hoping that he’s just kind of sitting right there by himself. I knock on the door, I come in the room and it’s just a production meeting and everybody kind of looks over at me and then goes back to the meeting and then I’m just kind of standing there in this weird purgatory where I feel awkward, they feel awkward, everyone feels awkward. They’re having a conversation and I’m like, I don’t know what to do. Do I leave? Do I stay? So I’m just standing there awkwardly. Eventually, 15 minutes goes by and then finally, everyone gets sick of me standing there so Vince calls me over and I go over and I’m very cordial and I don’t know if I was too friendly or whatever but we have a conversation. I just introduced myself. I said, ‘I was told I’m a part of Raw. I just wanted to introduce myself. Here’s my name. I just wanted to know if there’s anything I can do.’ Just a normal sort of whatever conversation. I was told through the grapevine that-that kind of rubbed him the wrong way or something. I don’t know. Who knows in pro wrestling?… I don’t know if I did it the wrong way or maybe I was too… You never know, you never know. Sometimes that’s the better approach (keeping it short and simple). Some guys have had great success.

After a month or so went by, Dijak went to speak with McMahon again. By this time, the RETRIBUTION angle already began with the anarchists throwing Molotov cocktails and damaging property around the Performance Center. Dijak stated that he drafted up a concept and pitched names for this concept. The idea behind this new pitch was that he wanted retribution for feeling like WWE ‘abandoned him’ in a character sense, being written off TV by Karrion Kross and wanting to go against the system. 

He pitched that to Vince McMahon along with the names he thought would fit. At some point, Dijak was told he was going to be used as one of the anarchists. Brennan Williams a.k.a. ma.çé was the first of the original RETRIBUTION members to be an ‘anarchist’. Dijak said his first appearance under that new presentation was in the ThunderDome when they ambushed Braun Strowman

He went on to state that what he presented to Vince McMahon and what actually occurred was half-and-half. He felt there were positives but it was always an uphill battle with RETRIBUTION because of ‘forces’ outside of their control. He mentioned getting feedback about there being pressure on the networks. 

So again, a month goes by, I never hear anything. I hear all these rumors, I go in to talk to him (Vince McMahon) again. This time, it’s a much more productive conversation, just one-on-one. So actually, RETRIBUTION angle had already started. The stuff with the people throwing the Molotov cocktails and all that stuff. Wasn’t terribly well received across the board. I don’t think the office was terribly happy with it, I don’t think the fans were terribly happy with it. 

That was a very common feeling (the masked individuals ransacking the areas did resonate well with people). I saw it as an opportunity for me and others to integrate what we were trying to do into the product. Because it was me, it was a few other of us who were kind of in this weird limbo space. So I drafted up this whole concept. I still have the pitch somewhere but I think ultimately, I end up pitching maybe seven names. Maybe three or four of them which ended up actually getting used. But I drafted up the whole thing. I made a video just like I had told you about the new character. Similar sort of video. I had this sort of quasi-Bane, Darth Vader mask on but I took it off. I had these eye things in. I kind of wanted it to be an entrance mask sort of thing. Just a mysterious, angry at the company, wanted to get retribution, wanted to take down the system sort of thing. But within the context of what had happened to me. I was Dominik Dijakovic, I felt I was — this is in character now — I felt I was misused, I was killed off by Karrion Kross, I feel like the company abandoned me. I have this gripe with the company, I wanna destroy it, whatever. That was my vision. That’s kind of what I presented and then I picked out three or four people who kind of fit into that sort of thing. I drafted the whole thing, I pitched it straight to Mr. McMahon himself, I showed him the video, he watched all of it, he absorbed all of it. We had a five minute conversation after that about professionalism and stuff like that so in hindsight, I think he liked this approach better than my first approach. A few weeks later, we start getting a little bit of these hints that, ‘Hey, we’re gonna start using you as the people in the masks.’ The people doing the anarchist stuff or whatever. Brennan Williams, who’s now ma.çé on Raw, he was the first to appear under a mask. They had started using some wrestlers, hit or miss, whatever in a couple spots then it started to be more consistent over time. My first appearance (in) that role I think was the first ThunderDome episode where we all jumped Braun Strowman after Vince himself was in the ring. We were all hiding under the ring for that so it started to kind of whittle its way down to a more core group of people. Ultimately, it ended up being the people that you saw on television. Myself, Brennan, Shane (Haste), Mia (Yim), Mercedes (Martinez) I think are the five that — did I miss anyone there? I think that’s everyone. So, and presentation-wise, we found out that day that we were getting these new names and that we were going to be wearing these masks and that the masks, we were gonna wear them all the time. They weren’t just gonna be entrance masks and that we’re gonna have face paint on underneath it. So I’d say from my initial presentation to what ended up actually happening, I think I’d say it was about half-and-half in terms of what actually happened and what was presented to happen. That being said, I think we all agreed that if done properly, it could have worked. I think the talent involved, especially once they added on (Mustafa) Ali in his capacity and his role… It was a great opportunity. We got good time, we opened up Raw, we closed Raw. There was lots of positives. It always just ended up being an uphill battle because of forces that were kind of outside of the control of what we were doing internally in WWE. I know there was a lot of pressure, we’ll call it ‘politically’, on the networks and I got some feedback about a lot of that and I know that-that played a role into some of the presentation, which I get and I don’t hold a ton of grudges over this stuff because I really think it was people just doing their best in a real-time scenario, trying to adjust on the fly and make what you could out of, ‘You can’t do this anymore, you can’t do that anymore’ and I’m not insinuating that this is someone in WWE because it’s not. It was outside forces that I’m not gonna talk about because I just heard them as rumors. I believe them to be true but I don’t know that they’re true so I’m not gonna speak of them like they are true but, I just heard that there are a lot of outside mitigating factors that were affecting how we were booking creatively and it just ended up being too much of an uphill battle and we all kind of slid backwards (he laughed).

Later in the interview, Dijak clarified that RETRIBUTION was not his idea. A part of the physical presentation came from his concept but the characters were shaped by the powers that be. 

Part of it (RETRIBUTION) was my presentation but ultimately, the whole thing ended up being WWE’s brainchild. It wasn’t my character, it was their characters. It was Vince (McMahon), Bruce (Prichard), whoever was in that meeting and came up with these characters, it was their characters. So I thought for sure that, you know, they’d love their own sort of idea and I was like, great, I love it too.

With playing the role of T-BAR, Dijak shared that he took something away from that. He said he can never go back to just being a guy that can wrestle. He now feels there always has to be something else that comes along with the package other than being talented in the ring. 

What I took from that (T-BAR character) is I’m never gonna go back to being just a guy. I’m never gonna survive amongst the wolves if I’m not something much more interesting and that’s how we got to where we are today kind of in a sense.

The match at Battleground is going to be Dijak and Dragunov’s second. They first clashed on an episode of NXT on May 9th and Dragunov won via disqualification. 

If the quotes in this article are used, please credit Stick to Wrestling with an H/T to POST Wrestling for the transcriptions.