IT STARTED AT the age of “about four or five”.
A young Fergal Devitt would spend afternoons watching wrestling with his grandfather.
The Bray native worshipped stars such as The Ultimate Warrior and Shawn Michaels, but he didn’t dare dream that he would be emulating their incredible feats of athleticism some day.
“Growing up in Bray, being 5 foot 11 and 180 pounds, you never really think you’re going to work for WWE,” he tells TheScore.ie.
Indeed, save for the occasional exception, wrestling was scarcely a viable career option for an Irish person until recently.
With no wrestling schools set up in his country at the time, as a youngster Devitt had to make do with competing in sports such as soccer and Gaelic football, before eventually getting the chance to pursue his dream aged 18.
Once he finished school, he travelled to Kent in England and joined the Hammerlock wrestling company, training under the late Andre Baker. His subsequent exploits would later lead him to be considered the school’s most successful graduate.
And after six years spent honing his catch-as-catch-can style of wrestling, Devitt began what would turn out to be an eight-year career in Japan.
He eventually made the move to Asia for what was initially intended to be a three-month apprenticeship, but Devitt took little time to adapt to his surroundings, despite initially feeling somewhat intimidated by this unique experience.
“I was 24 when I arrived in Japan, which I guess is pretty young and it was a huge culture shock,” he recalls. “But at that age, I was willing to welcome any change in my life to pursue this dream. I was a proverbial sponge, willing to soak up the culture and all the different techniques that I’d learn.”
The young Irishman soon made his debut with New Japan Pro Wrestling in October 2006 under the moniker ‘Prince Devitt,’ primarily refraining from using his first name because the locals had such difficulty pronouncing it.
“After six weeks, they chucked me in the ring with El Samurai for my first match in Tokyo,” he adds.
Devitt seldom looked back from there, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship three times and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship six times among other notable achievements.
Consequently, when WWE eventually came calling earlier this year, it was hardly a surprise. Devitt had established himself as a world-renowned star, occasionally delighting crowds on tours of Europe and Mexico as well as in Japan, and garnering acclaim for his acrobatic style.
At the relatively late age of 33 (10 years older than his hero Shawn Michaels was when he began with the company), Devitt officially joined WWE last July and despite its ostensible inevitability, he is in no way blasé about becoming part of the world’s biggest and most famous wrestling promotion.
“It’s kind of like the culmination of 14 years hard work,” he says.
“At the beginning, I just wanted to have a wrestling match, and I did that in England. I just took it step by step and to be here in WWE — it’s a real feeling of achievement. But now that I’m here, I want to achieve more. So this is the beginning of a whole new chapter for me.
“It’s been an incredible experience so far and I’m just looking forward to seeing what happens in the future.
“WWE is the biggest wrestling company in the world, and it is that for a reason.”
Devitt has signed with NXT, WWE’s developmental branch, located in Winter Park, Florida and the Irish athlete has been highly impressed by the company in the short time that he’s spent there.
“The coaches here include Billy Gunn, Matt Bloom, Norman Smiley and Terry Taylor… So there’s just a wealth of experience to learn from.
“It’s really been like the floodgates have opened for me. The amount I’ve learned in the last three or four months here has surpassed what I learned in the past three or four years before that.”