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Keith Lee talks WWE release, Vince McMahon's vision for 'Bearcat' character

Lee was the guest on the latest episode of Talk is Jericho.
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During his appearance on the latest episode of Talk is Jericho, Keith Lee discussed the "Bearcat" character he was given toward the end of his WWE run.

Lee was repackaged as "Bearcat" Keith Lee in September 2021, less than two months before he would be released by WWE. Before he was given the new gimmick, Lee had returned to the ring in July 2021 after being out of action for five months due to a scary battle with the after effects of COVID-19.

Chris Jericho asked Lee on Talk is Jericho if he thought WWE losing faith in him during that five-month absence led to him being released.

"I wish that I had an answer for you. The reality is -- what happened is, when I was about to come back, they kind of hit me with the vision for the Bearcat thing. During that time, I was like, I don’t understand what that is, I’m not sure if I’m feeling that. And they brought me back just as myself. And then, I don’t know, my second match, I think, yeah. So first match, lost to [Bobby] Lashley. Second match, lost to [Karrion] Kross. In the middle of the show, Vince [McMahon] pulls me to a room and wants to sit down and have a talk," Lee said.

“Yeah, in the middle of Raw, like, he’s got like the semi and the main event coming up. He’s just like, ‘Let's go chat.’ Dude, you’re the guy on the headphones. What are you doing? But it was in that conversation he basically was like, ‘Listen, I need you to do this. I need you to be this.’ And I was like, 'I mean, listen, I work for you. So, if that’s what you want, that’s what we’re gonna do.'”

Jericho asked Lee what McMahon's vision for the Bearcat character was.

“So, the weird thing, and this is something I’ve also discussed recently is, obviously, you mentioned the way that I speak, my cadence, the way that I seem very thoughtful about how I deliver things, my choice of diction, all of those things, is something that Vince was not a fan of. To the point where he literally told me, he’s like, ‘You sound too smart for your own good.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t understand what that means. Like, what is that?' He wanted something more grimy. I don't know, I don't think I delivered that for him," Lee said.

“He wanted some intense guy. And I think that I can be intense, but I need a reason to be intense. It’s easy for me to flip a switch, but if it doesn’t make sense, it’s hard for me to do that. So I can’t be just -- and I say can’t, I tried, I don’t think I’m very good at it. And I think that that’s something that kind of facilitated that. But I’m just not a big, angry, grunty, yelly guy. I’m not that until someone makes me that. And it’s usually a match that causes that or a story that causes that. But when there’s no competitive match that pushes me or when there’s no story that gives me reason for a character to be that, it’s something -- and maybe that’s what he means when he says I’m too smart. To me, it’s illogical. I like to do my best to make sense of what we’re doing.”

When asked if there was any connection between the Bearcat character and legendary wrestler Bearcat Wright, Lee said he initially thought that it might be an homage, but he was told not to reference Wright. Lee said the only direction he was given was to be intense and angry.

"Realistically, that's the first thing I thought. I'm very big on being myself as opposed to trying to be someone else. So, it didn't make sense to me, but this is what I was asked to do. That's what I thought, like, 'Oh, maybe this is an homage to this guy that was making waves back in his day.' I feel I've made waves, but if he wants me to make more, hell, let's go for it. And then I asked about it one day because people were asking me, 'Where did this name come from?' I'm like, 'Hell, I don't know, I was told to be it.' I couldn't make a story for this. It just -- it didn't resonate," Lee said.

"The reality is, the direction was, 'Be intense. Be angry.' And that's it. And so that's what I tried to facilitate. But then they would want me to cut promos similar to the way that I did before. And I'm like, 'But you guys have a problem with the way that I speak. How would you like this promo delivered?' This is where I would like something written for me. I don't normally care for that, I prefer to go off the cuff and just kind of feel it. But if this character is so far removed from what I've been doing, I would like something to tell me who and what this character is, why it exists, like where did it come from. And as much as I tried to make things in terms of story for it, either it wasn't what was asked for or I was asked to not use it anymore. And Bearcat Wright is one of those things. Like, 'Don't reference him.' And I'm like, 'Okay, so be it.'"

After his WWE non-compete clause expired, Lee signed with AEW and debuted on the February 9 episode of Dynamite. He'll be one of the participants in the Face of the Revolution ladder match at this Sunday's Revolution pay-per-view. The winner of the match will become the number one contender to the TNT Championship.