Recently on E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness, professional wrestling greats Edge and Christian caught up with former WWE Superstar Tye Dillinger, also known as Shawn Spears. Among many other things, Spears talked about how he came up with the Perfect 10 gimmick. Additionally, Spears spoke candidly about his February 2019 WWE departure.
On the subject of Spears's wildly popular Perfect 10 gimmick, the Canadian wrestler recalled that WWE developmental would evaluate talent on a scale up to 10. When Spears was not getting high scores on these evaluations, he realized he was being held down on purpose by the then head coach.
"[WWE developmental] did their reports on talent all the time, every month. They did these monthly reports, and these reports would be three or four pages long, and all the coaches would give their breakdown, and there were all these numbers. The different categories would be psychology, promo, attitude, all those little things, and then, they would rank them how they thought, one to 10. And then, the head coach would give his final opinion at the end and rate you with that. I ended up seeing some of these on myself specifically and across the board I'm getting 9, 9.5, 9, 9, and I think, 'okay, cool. I'm doing alright,' but when it came to that final, head coach department, I would get 5s, 6s, 5.5, things like that. And the written part wasn't anymore flattering."
"The thing of 10 just kept rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling. And then, 'how can I make it into something?' And I was formulating the concept of the Perfect 10. That's where that all stemmed from, from pieces of paper that I should never have seen."
When Spears pitched the Perfect 10 concept to the coaches, the late great Dusty Rhodes told Spears there were no plans for him to move up to the main roster and this motivated him more.
"Yeah, and so, even when I went in to pitch it, I got all the coaches together in the conference room," Spears recalled. "And Dusty Rhodes, who I love more than anything in this world, who was always straight up with me, I miss him every day, he looked at me and he said, 'before you pitch whatever you're going to pitch, there is not even a whisper of you going to the main roster. I need you to know that right now.' I went, 'oh s--t! I got this idea…' But that's what I needed and he was never going to let me get way out here and get my hopes all the way up. He was going to give me, 'this is the situation that you're in right now. You have a chance to change that, but this is how you're viewed.' So I pitched the Perfect 10 thing and then a few months later, I was actually allowed to start doing it."
According to Spears, he only got to WWE's main roster because the fans rallied behind his Perfect 10 gimmick. Spears went on to argue that WWE left a lot of money on the table by not using the character to its fullest potential.
"I don't believe in working for an audience of one. I believe we are supposed to be working for the audience and you give them what they want because they are telling you what they want. Kofi Kingston is a beautiful example. Becky Lynch is a beautiful example of wonderful stories fulfilled that people could not wait to see the end of. It doesn't always happen like that. But once it caught momentum, yeah, I don't want to say they didn't have a choice because they could have done whatever they wanted, but the momentum was just 100%, the people is what propelled me onward and upward every single time, so that's not to pander to the audience, but they really did take it all the way there." Spears added, "I'm curious how much they could have got out of the Perfect 10 character, just with the momentum and popularity when something like that kind of catches, on the business side of things, you want to milk it for all it's worth. And then, it moves aside and the next thing comes up. I don't feel we, the best word is 'capitalized'. I don't feel we capitalized on the entire thing and I thought of being there, being gone, coming back, transforming into this, finally having something that people can grab onto, and then, paying it off in one grand, spectacle of a moment would have been a fine way to do it."
With respect to Spears's decision to leave WWE, the Laura Secord Secondary School graduate revealed that it was a six-month process. While getting injured gave Spears more time to think about his options, he decided to change his look and gear for his return, and he even met with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, hoping things would change. They never did.
"The decision had been in my mind, it was probably about a six-month process. I got injured in October, I believe I got injured on a Monday night, but at the next day at TV, I was going to ask for a couple of weeks off, just to kind of clear my mind, clear my thoughts, and step back for a second, and figure out what I really, truly wanted to do. And then, at a live event, I ended up smashing my thumb to a point where I had to have pins put in my hand, so that gave me three months to think about everything I wanted to do! So be careful what you wish for, kiddies! But I was granted the extra time to really sit back and I go, 'okay, this is a moment to not just make impulse decisions - I can take a lot of time to think about what I want.' So I changed my look. I changed my gear. I pitched half a dozen ideas." Spears continued, "I might have put my foot in my mouth while [meeting with McMahon], but I feel like I needed to say what I needed to say and I still stand by what I said to this day. But I checked the boxes while I was out, my own personal boxes, and I was just a stepping stone along the way to make sure I was going to make the right call. And I did feel that when I came back things would be different. They were not. I had a conversation. I was told to wait, just give them a few weeks to where things slow down a little bit. A couple of weeks passed and it put my in a bad place because my performance was suffering.
During the interview, Spears shared that he started to lose his passion for pro wrestling and his work started to suffer. This is when Spears finally asked for his release.
"I wasn't excited anymore," Spears admitted. "I would be behind the curtain and instead of being anxious, and excited, and nervous, that feeling you get where your legs are really heavy, and your heart's pounding, and you're like, 'oh man, oh man, oh man,' it wasn't like that anymore. I was dreading it. I was back there going, 'please respond; please make noise; please cheer.' I was pleading, not to the audience, but whoever would hear me. I was praying, essentially, that they would still acknowledge that I existed. I was spiralling. And when your performance is suffering, and when you're not giving it your all, they see it and they can feel it. And it's not fair to them. So I couldn't place myself in that position anymore. I would take it home with me. Instead of enjoying the two days I had off, I was dreading the third day when I'd have to leave already. It was time to go. I was probably late in leaving, actually."
Apparently, when Spears asked for his release, WWE Talent Relations said WWE was preparing to offer him a big raise, but he did not even bother hearing the dollar amount because the decision to leave was never about the money.
"It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I didn't really ask too many people because I didn't want to be influenced either way. I wanted it to be all on me. My family had no idea. My mother had no idea. My wife knew. She knew what I was going to do, but she didn't know I was going to do it on that particular day." Spears remembered, "I just said to Talent Relations at the time that I needed to go and they said, 'well, we're about to offer you a pretty substantial raise.' Now, I am by no means a millionaire. I'm not even close. I've been very lucky. I have everything I could possibly need and I wouldn't have that without WWE. But for me, personally, it wasn't about the money, so I didn't even let him get the offer out of his mouth. Later I found out what it was, a couple of weeks later, but I just said, 'it wouldn't change anything tomorrow morning when I wake up - I'm still going to feel the same way that I do right now and the way I've felt for the last six months.'"
Spears explained quite simply that he just wants to look back at the last few years of his pro wrestling career fondly.
"One thing that just kept going through my head was I couldn't let them fire me twice. I needed to leave on my own terms, so that's why I put out that statement. I believe it was midnight later that evening." Spears said, "it sounds stupid to a lot of people listening, but I walked away from a lot of money. And maybe it is, but I know me and I know that I can barely remember what I did in my first five years of wrestling. I've been doing it 17 and a half, but I can barely remember anything in my first five years. That means when I am 70, 75, if I can make it that far, I'm not going to remember jack s--t and if I can, I'm going to remember maybe the last three years of my in-ring career. So when I'm lying there and my body is giving out on me, it ain't going to matter the cars or the money, the toys. All I'm going to have is a half functional brain and be able to think. And that's probably going to be able to think about three things: whether or not I was a good father; whether or not I was a good person; and whether what I did was worthwhile. I'm pretty sure the first two I'll nail. But this last part, I want to be able to remember those last two or three years of my in-ring career and I want to remember them as being fun, that I enjoyed them, that I didn't sellout for a dollar, that I didn't stay to be content for a bunch of money, that inevitably, I'm not going to take when I leave. So I want to make sure that I don't regret something that I can't change at the time, so I'm willing to take a shot."
Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below. If you use any of the quotes from this article, please credit E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.