Byron Saxton is the embodiment of the saying "persistence pays off." He spent years – many years – in developmental, honing his craft both as a wrestler and as a commentator before joining the WWE main roster where he currently does color commentary for Raw.
Saxton talked about his long journey and his many years spent down in FCW when he joined New Day's Feel the Power podcast.
"[I started in 2007, but] I didn't go on the road full time until 2015. So, it was a minute. During my time there, of course, I had a couple of stints on the road. Two years in, I went on the road and I did ECW for a couple of months," said Saxton. "I never left developmental. I came back and it was NXT, the old NXT, when it was the reality show kind of deal."
Saxton competed in two seasons of NXT – first in 2010 when Chris Masters and Dolph Ziggler were his pros and then in a Redemption Season in 2011 where Yoshi Tatsu was his pro. He never made it past the final four in either season, but he cites the experience as one that helped prepare him for life in WWE.
Saxton talked more about being an NXT rookie and how that prepared him for being in front of a camera.
"I pride myself on keeping my stress level low, but if there was ever an anxiety-inducing time in my career, it was NXT because you literally showed up having no idea what they were going to do," revealed Saxton. "It could be a trivia contest one week, karaoke the next, carrying a beer keg, capture the flag, and guys legit got hurt because here you are all these years, training in developmental to wrestle, and now you're sprinting against other guys to test your speed and wheel around Hornswoggle in a wheelbarrow!
"The funny part is-- so after I was part of season 4, I remember talking to one of the guys, and we were like, 'Man, thank God that's over.' And not even five minutes later, John Laurinaitis approaches us as we're walking out of the locker room, and he goes, 'Hey guys, great news for you! We're doing another season, NXT: Redemption. See you next week!' I'm in that dreadful moment, 'No, not again', and I'll tell you what, there's always a silver lining. There's always a positive, and as unpredictable as that time frame was, it taught me how to roll with the punches because you couldn't prepare. They wouldn't let you prepare and it just was hard because you were new on the road. You're trying to fit in the locker room as it is like the new guy and everyone judging what you're doing, but I was able to survive it somehow. Knock on wood."
While fans today know Saxton as a commentator, just like most people in the wrestling industry, he got his start as a pro wrestler. He competed for five years in FCW, and recalled making his debut in 2007.
"I credit Dusty [Rhodes] a lot, Dr. Tom [Prichard], Steve Keirn for allowing me to doing so many different things. When I came in, I came in strictly as a wrestler. My first match, believe it or not, was against Sheamus at that little club called Bourbon Street," said Saxton. "But then we started doing FCW TV. So, Dusty's like, 'Hey, I want you to be a commentator.' Next thing you know, he's like, 'Hey, I want you to be a manager.' So, I had my stable of guys in FCW called The Conglomerate, and then, next thing you know, I'm ring announcing on NXT when it became the NXT as we know today.
"So, I think-- don't get me wrong, I got frustrated at times. And you question yourself because you're human. But at the same time, I always knew, 'Alright, I'm going to have a chance to get bored because I got to apply myself mentally towards different jobs every single time. So, I think I was blessed in that form and I just kept rolling in my career. Even though I was in developmental, I felt like I was always evolving. So, it made it a little bit easier for me to adjust that way."
Saxton was on the call for Kofi Kingston's historic WWE Championship win at WrestleMania 35. That win resonated with him not only because he had seen Kofi get overlooked for a World Title run for years, but also because of what it meant to so many fans who could now identify with seeing a black World Champion.
"I think, for me, it was just speaking from the heart. It was seeing a guy like Kofi, who had worked as long as he's worked, a guy who's been so ultra-talented, but a guy who, for a long time, has been seen as, 'Okay, he's good, but he's not going to be there.' And you think he should be there and you believe he should be there, but for whatever reason, it just hasn't happened. And to get to a point where not only you see him climbing that ladder but then you see the people were with him and were with him on that journey every step of the way, and culminating at WrestleMania? I'll never forget it," stated Saxton.
"Towards the final few minutes of that matchup, I was feeling it so much to the point that my eyes started getting watery, because I'm thinking back. I'll give you one comparison here - if you think to when Ron Simmons won the WCW World Title, I think it was '92ish against Vader. And when he won that World Title, you all probably remember that kid in the front row. He is going hysterical. He was losing his mind, and when Kofi won the title, it meant so much to me, but I also started thinking that there's a kid - well, probably thousands of kids - who were reacting the same way because someone that looked like them achieved the greatest honor you could in our industry. And that moment was overwhelming with so much emotion."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The New Day: Feel the Power with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.