In a revealing interview released Wednesday, former WWE NXT talent Jake Atlas opened up to Denise Salcedo about his mental state during his time at NXT, what led to him to ask WWE for his release before he was cut, failing to get a meeting with Paul "Triple H" Levesque for six months, and getting conflicting messages on how to present himself as the only openly gay wrestler on the roster.
Atlas said he was at dinner when he got the call from John Laurinaitis who he had never talked to before. It was a twenty second conversation where the executive told him they were giving him his 30-day non-compete release.
He said the news didn't come as a surprise as two months prior, he was offered a contract extension by Canyon Ceman and turned it down. He wanted to revisit it in six months and offered a counterproposal which he didn't go into detail about. Even though he wanted to stay, he later asked Ceman for his release because he didn't feel like his voice was being heard and "my mental health comes first and I (was) suffering."
He asked to talk to Levesque as his conversations with Ceman were at a standstill and got the runaround for six months despite being told it would happen. That delay started to make him worried as he didn't know how he was seen or valued on the brand.
Even after being signed, it took Atlas five months to have his first conversation with Levesque which happened before the 2020 Cruiserweight Classic. He said they had a conversation about his sexuality that was positive, but showed "a limited kind of perspective and viewpoint on his end on what he feels (the character) should be. It wasn't homophobic. It was just a limited version of what I was expected to be and do at NXT as the openly gay wrestler that got signed to the brand."
He said the conversation startled him for many reasons because it was Levesque delivering the message and Atlas wanted to get in line. He said it was hard because in 2019, he was both finding his footing as a character and being more comfortable with his sexuality. He then had to rewind back and try to figure out something that fit the description they were looking for.
He admitted he could have done more for himself in speaking up and "joining the conversation and leading (WWE NXT) to create something that could have been more for the brand." When he realized it, it was too late. He said he was too closed off early on and wanted to focus on doing everything right.
"I am not pointing fingers and I am not saying anything negative...everything is a two way street. When they came this way, I should have fought back and said, 'Well, I think this.’ I do think they would have been completely receptive about it because, I will say, WWE is more than ready for LGBTQ+ representation on their shows, and it’s just gonna take the right person to be able to do it," he said.
"They wanted me to just be a wrestler (with his sexuality) not mentioned or highlighted. I took that and spun it as being a different person. Being the way that I am with working through my inner demons and trying to be perfect, I took that to an extreme of being a different person," he said, adding they asked him to lose his sparkly jacket and gave him conflicting messages about smiling being perceived as "gay" while later asking why he didn't smile more.
He said they were overthinking his sexuality and wished there was someone else in NXT that was openly gay that could help understand what he was trying to figure out.
He later said People Magazine reached out to WWE and Atlas about highlighting him and he wasn't sure how to approach it given the previous conversation with Levesque.
"My mental health was probably the worst it's ever been in the last two years that I was with WWE," he said, earlier explaining being signed was a dream come true as he loved the glamour and extravaganza of WWE growing up.
He said that for a year starting in March 2020, he had a mental breakdown nearly every day.
"There are days when I would just cry. It was just an immense amount of pressure again that I would put on myself. I just didn’t feel like I was breaking out or being myself or getting people to get behind me. I didn’t feel like I was offering anything authentic. I remember watching my matches back, and I would see this Jake Atlas on the screen and I remember just being so disconnected from what I was watching on TV," he explained.
"It was really rough and tough but I am glad I got the help that I got," he said, complimenting Roderick Strong, who he trained with for six months, for helping him find avenues to improve his state of being.
He complimented WWE on providing and encouraging therapy and counseling which he took advantage of. While he understands he may draw criticism for seeming ungrateful for having a job, his mental health, sanity and being alive had to come first.
He revealed that in June, he contracted COVID-19 and missed almost six weeks which added to his bad mental state as he got very sick. He still feels like it affects him as he feels "different." He complimented the company on their protocols and that they took great care of talents during the pandemic.
After giving himself a night to be sad about the release, Atlas got back to work the next day. He will return to Ring of Honor this weekend and is starting to fill up his indie calendar.
Atlas said he has not spoken to Tony Khan about going to AEW, but is interested and appreciates the kind words Jungle Boy (his best friend) has said about him. He admitted he went incognito to Jacksonville while in NXT to watch Jungle Boy wrestle Kenny Omega for the AEW World title.