(CBSNewYork/CBS Local) — Pete Dunne is one of the most revered Superstars in NXT with a list of accolades that can stretch for miles. Long before he became the longest reigning NXT UK Champion in history or captured the NXT tag team championship with Matt Riddle, Dunne was stockpiling gold that he amassed around the world. Title after title found its way around his waist as the BruiserWeight created a name for himself by busting skulls on a global level. He is one of the toughest competitors to step foot in a wrestling ring today. He epitomizes everything that a “real man” is supposed to be. Everything, that is, except for eating massive amounts of meat.
Dunne is fueled exclusively by a plant-based diet.
The 26-year-old from Birmingham, England hasn’t had a bite of steak, hamburger or chicken in roughly four years. He’s also ditched dairy as part of a strict vegan diet that includes no animal products whatsoever.
The restrictions don’t end there, however. Dunne advocates for a “full-blown” vegan diet that minimizes the consumption of processed foods, including items such as Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and the much-hyped Beyond Burger, while emphasizing a plate filled abundantly with whole foods — unrefined fruits and vegetables.
Many athletes who adopt a vegan diet tout improved recovery time due to anti-inflammatory properties found in plant-based foods. Dunne too noticed a difference when he made the switch and now has become accustomed to feeling better physically.
His dietary choices are a far cry from those of most fans who cram into Full Sail University on Wednesday nights to blow the roof off the arena for live broadcasts of the show. He’s not the only vegan on the NXT roster, but you wouldn’t need to set more than a few places at the table for the non-carnivores. That’s in line with a 2018 Gallup poll that found only three percent of Americans identify as vegan. However, there are a number of others in NXT who are becoming “vegan curious” due to a blitz of health documentaries in recent years as well as the loud voices of plant-based devotees in cyberspace.
His diet makes him stand out from the crowd, but so too do his in-ring abilities, which somehow blend masterfully with his unlikely tag partner. On paper, Dunne and Riddle are wrestling’s version of the Odd Couple. Yet, in the ring, they’re the next big thing, and their time is now.
Fans have rallied around the BroserWeights since the two were seemingly put together just to fill an empty spot in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament earlier this year. Was it luck that the unique duo panned out, or did the NXT creative team know they had gold on their hands? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Regardless, fan support shows no signs of slowing, nor does their status in the tag division.
Dunne and Riddle are set to defend their hardware against former champions Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, of the Undisputed ERA Wednesday night at the WWE Performance Center. Typically the facility serves only as the training hub for the next generation of Superstars to perfect their craft. State-of-the-art though it may be, it wasn’t meant to be the venue for a live nationally televised show. However, a scheduling conflict at Full Sail University, where the shows are typically held, is forcing the change. Aside from a halftime special during the Super Bowl, which also was held at the PC, this marks the first time the show will be broadcast from someplace other than its usual Wednesday night home.
Eventually, Dunne would like to reach new groups of fans with additional broadcasts done on the road. However, unlike Raw and SmackDown, his ideal scenario would be for the majority of shows to still be held at Full Sail with remote broadcasts only sprinkled in every now and again. The brand already tours nationwide regularly with non-televised events.
I had an opportunity to catch up with Dunne before Wednesday’s special broadcast to dish on his diet, the uniqueness of the “BroserWeights,” the whereabouts of their ultra-popular golf cart (it’s a thing), and his ambitions in WWE.
How’s that [plant-based diet] going for you? Can you share some tips for maintaining it on the road? That’s one of the hardest things, especially for new vegans.
I think when it’s supposed to be hard on the road to be a vegan, I think the key to that is it’s hard to be healthy on the road. That’s the overriding thing, as opposed to it’s hard to be plant-based on the road. So the good thing about it is that it keeps you healthier, because those temptations generally aren’t there. If you’re in an airport and you’re hungry, sometimes, obviously, I have to go without, but eventually I’ll find a healthier, more nutrient-dense meal. So it really has opened my eyes to nutrition from a different perspective. I think a lot of wrestling revolves around the bodybuilding-type perspective on nutrition, whereas I have a different approach; I’m way more focused on longevity and making sure I get those micronutrients in and eating a bunch of organic good as often as I can. The main tip I would give people is do your best to meal prep, because you don’t know when you’re going to get, or where you’re going to get a healthier meal from. But generally, it’s okay.
In the documentary The Game Changers, they talk a lot about the anti-inflammatory properties of a plant-based diet and how that aids in a quicker recovery for athletes. Have you found that to be the case where the day after a particularly physical match, you’re not quite as sore as you once were?
I’ve been vegan about, I think it’s like three or four years now. So when I first went vegan, I remember saying it’s a lot better and feeling like it. I’ve been vegan for so long, though, that I can’t really remember how much of a difference it would make. I’m an advocate for being full-blown vegan. That’s my ideal way that I would love people to live, but the key to it is eating as little processed foods and a more whole foods-type diet as possible. I think that’s where you’ll see the benefits, and just get there gradually. But definitely, at the time when I first went vegan, I remember feeling a lot better. Now it’s been so long that it’s just become my normal.
Are you the only person who is vegan in locker room right now?
No, no, there’s a few. In England, there’s quite a lot. Trent [Seven] is, Tyler [Bate] and a whole bunch of others. I believe Velveteen Dream is vegan now. Scotty Too Hotty, who helps work backstage, is trying his best to be plant-based now. And there’s one or two others. So it’s spreading.
Is there still a stigma among the others where you get ribbed about it, or do they ask you legitimate questions?
It’s more legitimate questions now. When I first went vegan, back when I was on the independents, there was a lot of people confused by it, whereas now I feel like people are a lot more educated, probably because movies like The Game Changers. Also, it’s just way more available, every restaurant you see now will have a plant-based option. So people definitely are just way more interested in it now.
If I could just share one last tip with it: I think another key to it is remember the reason that you’re going plant-based is for those more nutrient-dense meals. It’s good that they exist in a way, the Beyond (Burger) and Impossible type meats and stuff, but that’s not really what you should be aiming for. You want as nutrient-dense foods, as many micro-nutrients as possible, to aid with recovery and to stop inflammation, et cetera. Don’t get caught into the marketing behind certain different meat-replacement products.
Interesting show coming up with you guys at the Performance Center as opposed to Full Sail. How do you think being at the PC will affect the show’s overall feel?
I think it’ll be great to change the environment, change the scenery a little bit. It’s always great, as a performance, even though it’s the same city, might be a lot of the same fans, but it’s definitely nice to change the environment and give the show a bit of a different feel, especially being allowed to invite fans into the Performance Center where we go to work every single day. And I know that’s a place of interest to most wrestling fans, so being able to invite them in and they can see a little bit of where we are and what we do, what we’re about, is great. Hopefully there’s a great atmosphere, I’m sure there will be.
Triple H has talked about the importance of NXT‘s relationship with Full Sail, but at what point do you think the show should be taken to other venues live on Wednesday nights?
So there’s two sides to that, right? When we travel every weekend and we’re out in these different towns, seeing the numbers that show up and how into the shows they are, I love the fact that we get to travel around and bring NXT to these fans in different towns that love what we do. But, at the same time, Full Sail has always been the home of NXT, so many great moments and memories have happened there, it would be a shame to see that go. I think, for me personally, a middle ground would be nice, where we still run out of Full Sail fairly often, but then, every now and again, like we’re doing tomorrow at the Performance Center, we change the scenery, the environment a little bit. But definitely, there’s positives to both sides.
What about the creative process at NXT gives it such a unique flavor, compared to Raw and SmackDown? It really is night and day, and you’ve been on Raw, obviously, so how different do you see that creative philosophy from a talent standpoint?
The great thing about NXT is the fact that we get to really be ourselves. The reason that myself and Matt have connected so much with the audience lately doing this tag stuff is because I really am being me, that’s the way that I am, and Matt is definitely being himself. That has that comedic side to it, right? So all I can say, I think the reason that NXT does so well with the audience and feels the way it does is because we’re being ourselves and we’re going out there and putting on the matches that we want to put on and wrestling in the way that we want to. There’s a lot of freedom here, and that’s a real positive.
Matt is such an interesting guy. What were your first impressions of him?
I would’ve met Matt years ago on the independents … I remember being a big fan of what he does, obviously his style of wrestling matches nicely with the way I do, and we’ve had some good, fun matches on the opposite sides of each other. But I never saw myself being a tag team with him. Obviously, we’re a completely unlikely duo, so I never really saw that being something that I would do, and Matt said exactly the same. But now it has happened, I’m really glad it has, because it’s a fresh start in my career, it’s something new to focus on that isn’t based around the U.K. title, which has been the bulk of my run in WWE. And I really feel like we’re creating new moments and memories for the audience that are going to last a long time.
Do you foresee the “BroserWeights” lasting a long time, or is this a temporary thing that’ll maybe get you through WrestleMania season or up to SummerSlam?
I guess the idea with these kind of tag teams that seem a little bit thrown together, there’s always the expectation of, when is this all going to fall apart? But honestly, it’s worked out so well, and it’s connected so well with an audience, I don’t want it to end, and Matt’s the same. It feels like we could keep pushing this, we can keep going with this, and we can help to build this whole tag division based around us. Obviously the Undisputed ERA has done a great job with that tag division for so long, but now it feels like it’s a fresh start, and we can push forward and really build a solid tag division behind us.
We hear a lot about the NXT roster now just absolutely loving where they’re at, and not necessarily being in this big hurry to get to Raw or SmackDown, as was once the case. Are you content staying right now at NXT and really blossoming there, or is the ultimate goal to get to Monday or to Friday nights as quickly as possible?
No, it’s always been the case for me that I want to stick around in NXT, at least for now. Not saying I never want to move to a different brand, but I feel like there’s still so much to do in NXT, it’s still fresh, it’s still new. Even though I’ve been a part of it for the past three years, it’s changed and stuff so many times, especially just going weekly on TV recently and NXT U.K. being so early in its beginning. I feel like there’s just still so much more to do here. And then as for my personal life aspect, I have a one-year-old baby and stuff now, so for that reason, with me being able to spend a little bit more time with them helps. It really is the perfect balance for me right now. I’m in love with it all.
Really important question here: can you give us an update on the golf cart? Where do things stand, will we see it again?
Well, when is the 30-day suspension up? I don’t know. I hope we get to see it again, it’s been great fun, to be honest, filming those vignettes and all those shenanigans based around the cart and the trophy. I think that’s part of, you know, the matches were only 50% of why me and Matt stuck so well, and the other part of that is the shenanigans with the golf cart and stuff like that. So if I have it my way, we’ll definitely be doing a lot more with it.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.