‘Swerve’ Strickland speaks about the formation and end of Hit Row in WWE.
For six months, the group known in WWE as ‘Hit Row’ were paired together on-screen. A.J. Francis, Shane ‘Swerve’ Strickland, Briana Brandy and Tehuti Miles made up the group and their run in NXT included Strickland winning the North American Title and in October of 2021, they were moved to the SmackDown brand as a part of the 2021 WWE Draft.
Strickland signed with WWE in 2019 after wrapping up his contractual agreements with MLW. He told The Wrestling Classic during their conversation that initially, he was supposed to be brought into WWE for a tryout but Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque questioned why were they waiting to sign Strickland, so the contract was sent to him while he was on vacation with his family.
So the process going in [to WWE], it was like, my Lucha Underground contract just ended. My last — the contract took shape after — or just ended after my last episode aired and my final episode aired in December so my contract was null and void at the time. Boom, so that was in December. January, I left MLW and then MLW wrote a note in the email saying that, ‘Swerve Shane Strickland is released from his MLW contract’ and all like that so they let me go and sent that to Canyon Ceman and Canyon was like, ‘Oh, okay. We’re gonna try to fit you into a February tryout’ or whatever. I was like, ‘Okay, cool.’ So I went on vacation at the time with my ex-fiancé. We went to Hawaii with her family and while over there, I got an email saying, ‘Triple H said why wait? Let’s sign you’ and I was like, ‘Oh! Okay.’ So I got a contract sent to me while in Hawaii and I had to do all that, the whole process over there and came home to Orlando, got my physical and I was reporting by April.
In NXT, Francis, Briana Brandy and Tehuti Miles were a trio called ‘The Hitmakers’. They worked untelevised events at the Performance Center and it was Paul Levesque who approached Strickland about joining the group.
Strickland admitted that initially, he was hesitant because he did not want to babysit any talents. Levesque assured him that opposed to Brandy, Francis and Miles being his lackeys, they were going to be his equals.
They [A.J. Francis, Briana Brandy & Tehuti Miles] had a group already. They were The Hitmakers and they were doing Performance Center shows so they weren’t on TV yet. Yeah, they were already doing that so it was untelevised, they were The Hitmakers and they said, like, they needed an extra oomph [to] the group, you know? And Triple H knew that I was doing the music thing. He was like, ‘I want you to really come with these guys and definitely build something with them.’ We didn’t have a name for it. So he was like, ‘I want you to guide them, help them out. You’ve been doing this for a while, guide them.’ But I won’t — and I was like, ‘I don’t wanna –’ I literally told him this. I was like, ‘Yeah, but I don’t wanna babysit,’ you know what I mean? ‘I don’t wanna be that guy’ and he’s like, ‘Oh no, no, no. It’s nothing like that. All these guys are gonna be like — they’re not going to be your lackeys. They’re gonna be a group,’ you know? ‘They’re gonna be a real, actual group with you and they’re going to –’ it’s going to be like Evolution type of thing. Each person plays a role and they’re setting — one sets up the next and the other sets up the other then the other person instead of an ‘Edgeheads’ type thing who are guys just bumping around and they’re never really seen. Like each individual seemed like a threat. So I was like, ‘Okay, cool.’
A.J. Francis contacted WWE to inquire about the travel situation for Brandy, but they told the group that it had to do with her not being needed for that upcoming show. When they were able to get Wi-Fi on their flight, they saw the news about the releases.
As far as what happened with Briana [Brandy], we were on a flight and her flight got canceled. So we were like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So, Top Dolla ended up calling and saying, ‘Hey, is everything okay?’ Yada, yada, checking in with them and they’re like, ‘Oh no. It’s just… she’s not needed at the time.’ We’re like, ‘Okay.’ So we got on the flight. We see our Wi-Fi on the plane, we’re seeing the internet just blowing up, all these releases are happening and they saw Briana’s name. We’re like, ‘Woah, what?’ So they didn’t even tell us that. It just happened and then so, I guess like us asking about, inquiring about what was going on was like an issue for them in the office so we were like, ‘Oh wow.’ So that was one of the things. Just, I feel like they got frustrated with the group because they wanted — you had The New Day, you had Hurt Business and all that so, it was just they didn’t know what to do with us and they ended up just letting us go.
‘Swerve’ went on to state that after Brandy was released, he lost interest in the main roster run. He felt like it showed that the company was not 100 percent invested so in turn, he could not give his full 100 percent. As far as the changes to the NXT product, Strickland is not big on it but said WWE can do what they want because it’s their product.
Truth be told, after Briana [Brandy] got let go, it kind of, for me, I kind of lost the interest anyway. I’m a person that’s 100 percent go or not so they’re not 100 percent behind me, it’s like, okay, I can’t be 100 percent behind this project. So it’s cool. Y’all gonna do — WWE is gonna WWE. They’re gonna do what they do, they have what they want and they’re happy with what they got. I’m not necessarily happy with what I’m noticing with the product change but they’re happy with it. It’s their money, it’s their product, it’s their investors so, give them what they wanna give them and if I don’t fit in that, cool. I’ll go do some other sh*t anyway because honestly, the schedule moved too slow for me. I’m on a busy schedule, I’m like flying here to here. I’m not gonna be home for like 12 days, I’m in the studio with — working on music with one of Kanye [West’s] producers, so, like I said, y’all move too slow. I need to move, so, and like, it’s good to be on my own with this kind of stuff too.
He appeared at DEFY Wrestling’s 2/12 show and came face-to-face with AEW’s Darby Allin and new AEW signee Nick Wayne. Strickland did not know what to expect in terms of crowd reaction, but when his music hit and he got back in front of the crowd, he felt like he had returned to one of his home bases.
Dude, my lips were quivering. I wanted to — as I went out there man [DEFY Wrestling return], it was insane. I didn’t know how the reception was going to be, especially this, like Darby [Allin] just came out there. I’m following Darby who also hasn’t been there in years so I’m like oh snap. Like okay. ‘Will they still receive me the same way?’ It felt like — literally walking out there felt like — it just felt like Batman finally returned to Gotham.
I wanted to make sure you’re all seeing an adult version of me. This is like, ‘Okay, this isn’t the same guy,’ you know what I mean? This is somebody, this is something different, something new, you know?
Hit Row will be reuniting at Maryland Championship Wrestling’s ‘Spring Fever’ show on March 19th. Strickland was in action at the NJPW STRONG ‘Rivals’ taping in Los Angeles and he went one-on-one with Jay White.
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