Grizzled Young Veterans speak candidly about WWE run & departure, wanting to make sure their next contract is the right thing

Photo Courtesy: WWE

Details about Gibson and Drake’s departures from WWE. 

The duo of Zack Gibson and James Drake, collectively known as Grizzled Young Veterans transitioned their tag team over to WWE in 2018 as the now-defunct NXT U.K. brand was at its early stages. 

Gibson and Drake became the first-ever NXT U.K. Tag Team Champions in 2019 when they captured the titles at TakeOver: Blackpool. Fast forward to the shift of NXT into NXT 2.0, Gibson and Drake underwent character changes and would soon be known as The Dyad (Jagger Reid & Rip Fowler). They aligned with Joe Gacy to form The Schism which would later add Ava to the mix. 

In April 2023, Gibson and Drake took to social media platforms to share that WWE denied their release request and their contracts expired in October of that year. G.Y.V. were the latest guests to appear on Swerve Strickland and Monteasy’s Swerve City Podcast and opened up about their exit from WWE and their future(s). Gibson explained that they came to the U.S.A. to elevate their stock and that was not happening at WWE for the backend of their run. He felt the company was doing great business-wise but the stock of G.Y.V. was not.

Deciding to leave was a scary venture, but they are seeing positive results and their stock rising again. James Drake chimed in and said one thing he always heard at WWE was to “pay it forward”. He feels the saying is good to go by in general but for their situation, it was not the best thing to hear because he felt they did not have that investment into them in order to pay it forward. Drake added that they were always willing to help others at the Performance Center and thinks at some point, that grabbed someone’s attention and then they were given a bunch of people to help. 

Gibson: There’s a lot of moving parts backstage with a lot of things happening so, just to jump on a point there that J.D. said there… we came out here to elevate our careers and then for maybe the last 12 months or so at WWE, that’s not what was happening with us so one of the things we get asked quite a lot is, ‘How could you guys take this risk? How could you take this gamble to walk away from the WWE? How could you do that thing?’ But ultimately, it’s because we are still in the business of elevating our careers. So WWE’s stock, right now is still going up. It’s crazy. They’re doing great business. Arguably, the best TV they’ve put out in years. The company’s doing great but our personal stock wasn’t. Our personal stock was going down within WWE and ultimately, whilst I try to do business for whoever is employing me at the time, I do have to worry most about our own personal stock. So we made that decision based on us. Now that we’re outside of WWE, it was a gamble. We have to, ‘Oh sh*t. Is this the right thing?’ But we’ve both seen already in the short time that we’re out, we’ve already seen our personal stock going back up. That’s exactly why we left. 

Drake: A lot of people had the best intent over there, but there’s one thing that someone said constantly as sort of like a catchphrase for everyone to kind of motivate people and I will say it is a good thing to say but, in our situation and where we were, it was the worst thing you could say to us. Where they would say, ‘Pay it forward’ and I would say, ‘Pay what forward? Because I’ve not got it. You’re not giving it to me. What am I paying forward?’ 

Gibson: Pay me forward! (He laughed) Pay me first and then I’ll pay it forward. 

Drake: Pay me first. It just got to a point where we’re passionate about wrestling and contrary to what we are on, you know, our characters and stuff, we’re nice people. So if anyone’s struggling, especially at that P.C. or anything, we’re gonna help and I think people kind of figured that out at some point and kind of gave us a lot of people to kind of help and as much as it’s a nice compliment and everything, when it comes down to business, it wasn’t good business for us. 

They went on to explain that it was not one singular thing that led them to leaving WWE, but it was more of a gradual feeling over time that built up. 

Drake: The way my mind was working with it was like, you know the phrase, ‘The writing’s on the wall’? It was gradually getting more and more profound. You’d see a few f*cking letters and then you’re like, uhh, I can kind of figure it out and then next week, there’ll be more letters and it’ll just be more and more to the point you’re like, it is clear as day. 

Gibson: It wasn’t one big thing and obviously, a lot of the time with —

Drake: And that’s worse by the way. It’s worse that it’s not one big thing…

Further diving into making that decision, Drake was ready to leave long before Gibson was. Gibson was of the mindset to see how things played out. 

They gave it a go and still wanted to give it their all. It ultimately came down to if they wanted to try and fight out from where they were position-wise with no guarantee that their situation will change or do they go another route and get back to what they enjoy doing. 

Gibson: J.D. was ready a lot earlier than I was. 

Drake: So the time when we applied for green cards, I was like, ‘I’m done’ (he laughed). 

Gibson: We both spoke about it and I was like, ‘Okay, look, you got to still give X, Y and Z. We got to give this time to see how this plays out.’ He goes, ‘Okay, let’s give it time’ but then, after so long, he keeps coming back to me like, ‘You give it enough time yet?’ I’m like, ‘Alright, fair enough…’ I don’t wanna come across bitter with the company because we’re just not. They have their own business to do, they don’t owe us anything. It’s just similarly, we don’t owe them anything. We signed a contract, we agreed on the wage. They said, perform this, we will pay you this. We said, okay. We perform this, you pay us this. Both parties have fulfilled our contractual duties and just again, business just wasn’t right for us so we had to move on. We saw all of these little things which we don’t have to get into detail about but, we saw where our personal stock was, we saw what the trajectory of our careers were. Should we stay? And we thought, it got to this question of, do we stay here and scratch and claw and try and break through this barrier? Try and climb out of this rut, knowing that it’s not promised that we can get through this. Knowing that there’s so much red tape at WWE to cut. Do we stay here and struggle? Or, do we just sidestep, go and have fun, get back to what we enjoy doing? And then, if we end up circling back, amazing, we did it and if we don’t, we find something else that we like just as much, then let’s just stay there. 

This led to a conversation about humility. The former NXT U.K. Tag Team Champions joked that being too humble led to them becoming Rip Fowler and Jagger Reid. 

Gibson: Too much humility gets you wearing a contact lens for six months. 

Drake: Too much humility gets Rip Fowler and Jagger Reid. 

There was a point in the conversation when Drake told the story of when he’d work NXT Level Up shows to help talents who were still learning how to wrestle. He said there was a ‘certain someone’ going around NXT and firing a lot of people but he liked the specific look of a talent who is no longer with WWE. 

James said that talent did not know the basic structure of a match or what a back suplex was but he has nothing against said individual and hopes he’s doing well. Drake remembers guiding the talent through their match and when they got to the backstage area, all the attention was focused on the other talent. James said the aforementioned authority figure has been “fired” and “shunned”. That person told Drake after the match, “Good hand kid” and Drake was not too happy with that comment. It was that moment when he decided he was ready to leave WWE. 

Drake: There was a few people that I ended up wrestling on (NXT) Level Up or whatever and it was pretty much because they just didn’t know how to wrestle. At the time, a certain someone was running wild around NXT and firing everyone and all that and he really liked someone, who isn’t even there now. He’s not even there anymore but he really liked the look of him and he wanted to see him on Level Up that night. The fella didn’t know — and bless him and it’s not against him, because he’s just so new and he was such a cool guy and I think he’s still wrestling and if he is, I hope he just cracks on and he ends up going back there and he makes a load of money… But like, the fella didn’t know the basic structure of a match, he didn’t know what a back suplex was and I’m wrestling him that night on Level Up. They put me with him because I know I can guide people through matches, so I get them ready and whatever else and we do the match… The match is fine. If you watch him, you know he doesn’t know what’s next. But as long as he’s coming to me, I’m picking up back where he left off and I remember coming backstage and they were all around him, giving him like, ‘Oh, you can do this or maybe do that.’ Not negative but they were like, really enthusiastically putting effort. Like you were saying before, all this attention and effort and time into him and I’m just getting my tape off and I turn around and I lock eyes with the fella but I just don’t really want to say his name anymore. He’s been shunned, he’s been fired, whatever else, right? And he turns around and he just goes like, ‘Hell of a hand kid,’ and then I’m like, f*ck you. At that time, I’ve spent 16 years of my life, moved across the world, closed a business, said goodbye to my mom and dad, said goodbye to my brother, my family, friends, everything like that, for that? Do you know what I mean? By the way, that was my — that was me going, I’m done… It’s just business but you clearly don’t see whatever. I can’t grow any taller. I’m a 5’10 guy for life, so I can’t get taller and I can’t get 10 years younger. 

Gibson: And that is the only criteria you’re basing business on then, I’m in the wrong place. 

Present day, Grizzled Young Veterans are working with TNA in addition to their work on the independent scene in the U.S.A. and UK. Drake touched on their time in TNA and said they have creative freedom to essentially do what they want within the confines of helping the overall program. 

Gibson added that they are not exclusive, although they love working at TNA. Wherever their next contract is, he wants to make sure it is the right thing. 

Drake: I think sometimes, people forget we all have the same goal. I think anyway, most people have the same goal where it’s like, we want to do what’s best for the show and best for the product. We all have different opinions but ultimately, we all have that so like, once you trust someone, for example, TNA are trusting me and Zack to push forward. They’re just letting us pretty much do what we want, because they’re just going, yeah, we trust you, we’ve watched you. We know you guys are good so, if you think that’s best, do it. 

Gibson: What also kind of helps is having being somewhat burned. Again, not trying to blame anyone for it but having being somewhat burned in what we wanted to achieve, we’re also not super eager to jump straight into potentially being burned again. So we’re still operating independently right now, even with our work that we’re doing at TNA. We’re still non-exclusive, we still have the freedom to do what we want. So, that next deal whether it be TNA, because we love working at TNA. I can’t stress that enough. The company is great, backstage is great. It’s just because we wanna make sure it’s 100 percent, the next contract for however long that is-is the right one for that time period so whether it is TNA, AEW, New Japan, whatever it is next, it’s gonna be the right thing for us going forward.

On TNA programming, Gibson and Drake wrapped up a best-of-three series with ABC (Chris Bey & Ace Austin) over the TNA World Tag Team Championships.

The duo formed an alliance with X Division Champion Mustafa Ali and the trio tagged together at Sacrifice. On 3/31, Gibson and Drake are going to be challenging Subculture (Mark Andrews & Flash Morgan Webster) for the RevPro Undisputed British Tag Team Titles. 

If the quotes in this article are used, please credit Swerve City Podcast with an H/T to POST Wrestling for the transcriptions.

About Andrew Thompson 8594 Articles
A Washington D.C. native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.