Malakai Black Talks AEW, Creative Control, Picking His Name and More
His first major feud led to a match with Rhodes at Dynamite: Homecoming on Aug. 4. The Dutchman made quick work of his opponent and made good on the promises he made before the show.
The American Nightmare has been absent since that night, but his Nightmare Family teammates are not done with Black yet. Arn Anderson's own son will attempt to get retribution on Rhodes' behalf on next week's Dynamite.
Bleacher Report had a chance to speak with Black this week before Rampage about making the move from WWE to AEW, who got him into pro wrestling, his cryptic teaser video and much more.
The Derivation of Malakai Black
When Black debuted in AEW, the crowd immediately began chanting "Tommy End." This was his name prior to joining WWE, but we soon found out his new moniker was Malakai Black.
When a wrestler leaves WWE, they usually don't get to keep the copyrighted name they were using, especially if it was created during their time with the company. The former Aleister Black could have just gone back to being called Tommy End, but he had something else in mind.
"When I made the transition from point A to point B, I wanted to commit myself to something that was different but, at the same time, had enough recognizable traits that it was still in the same wheelhouse of what I have done before," he said.
"I have always portrayed darker characters and my previous name was very 'old testimony.' I wanted to look at a name that was also referencing that but had different meanings. Malachi means messenger. He was a lesser prophet known in Hebrew.
"A lot of that character is based on European tribalism and paganism from around the time of Julius Caesar. There were a lot of Celtics in the lowlands who worshipped a deity called Cernunnos, and I based the mask and a lot of the dressing off of that symbolism. I find it fascinating. I had to do some digging and research to find something that would work in a similar fashion but still be something new."
As a kid growing up in the Netherlands, Black wasn't exposed to mainstream wrestling the way U.S. fans were. That led to his love of the business beginning with other international promotions.
So, instead of being influenced by the likes of Shawn Michaels or Hulk Hogan, he found inspiration in a lot of Japanese wrestlers.
"Hayabusa was definitely one of [my favorites]," Black said. "I was always infatuated with his move set and his unique look. He had a Japanese luchador look, but he did it differently. He just had a way to make it his own. His moves were very high-flying and martial arts-based, and that's a lot of what I do.
"Another one would be Yuji Nagata. I was a big fan of New Japan growing up. I did not grow up watching WWF back in the day because it wasn't accessible to me in the Netherlands. Eurosport got New Japan and that's where I got to know guys like [Jushin] Liger and Nagata."
As U.S. promotions began to expand with international TV deals, promotions such as WCW became more readily available to European fans.
"Throughout the years, you come in contact with so much more," Black said. "I watched guys like Eddie Guerrero, Robbie Brookside and Johnny Saint. When I first saw Chris Jericho, he was new and he was refreshing. One of the first times I saw him was in a feud with Dean Malenko in WCW, and he was just so charismatic with his words.
"It’s no secret that I have been doing martial arts since I was a kid. When I saw Kenta for the first time, it really made me think on how to approach pro wrestling."
As a 21-year veteran of pro wrestling, Black is well established both in the U.S. and internationally. He had his pick of promotions to work for after leaving WWE, but AEW seemed like the most natural fit.
"I had a plan, and I think the only place in my head where this plan would come to fulfillment is AEW," Black said. "The company is young, fresh and exciting. It brings an edge that professional wrestling has sorely needed. This character that I have clearly has a kind of edge to it that I could only portray in AEW.
"My agent communicated my thoughts to [AEW President] Tony Khan and he loved it. We had a quick conversation and then a long two- or three-day period where we were communicating a lot. The rest is history, and the impact has been seen."
Having Creative Control
Whenever you read an interview with someone who has gone from WWE to AEW, one of the things they always mention is having a greater degree of creative control over their character.
While some big stars may be able to provide input, Vince McMahon has to give the final approval for almost anything in his promotion.
For Black, having that kind of creative control was a big selling point for AEW, but he also noted how the locker room environment is also a positive experience.
"My creative input is almost 100 percent," he said. "I will send my ideas to Tony [Khan], and he will either give his thoughts on it or sign off on it. The locker room itself is absolutely great. It's a group of people who will fight tooth and nail to get things done.
"There is a huge amount of talent in that locker room. I feel that after 21 years of being in this business, I can help that new generation and younger kids who will inherit this business and help them discover themselves. I can ask them the questions that will allow them to start the thinking process to make themselves better."
Facing Cody Rhodes
When Black first arrived on the scene in AEW, he made a huge impact by going after one of the faces of the company on his first night: Cody Rhodes.
This led to a match between the two on the Aug. 4 episode of Dynamite. The whole thing was over in less than 10 minutes, with the Dutchman standing over his fallen opponent.
"It went exactly the way I thought it was going to do," Black said. "Cody is a very talented individual with a similar mindset. He has accomplished many great things in this business. I don't know if this is the end of our dance or what will happen, but I gave him a send-off that is probably still deeply rooted in his head.
"It's one of the most memorable things I have done. I made a statement with that match and in the segments leading up to it. I did everything I said I was going to do."
That Cryptic Video
Before he made his official AEW debut, Black released a video teasing what the future had in store for him.
The clip showed him in what appeared to be a mental health facility speaking with doctors who were trying to convince him his name was Tom.
"That was all me," Black said. "Back in the day, I was in a tag team called The Sumerian Death Squad. We used to do cinematic promos. I didn't want to just talk into a camera; I wanted to make a presentation. When the opportunity arose to create something new, I wanted to go back to that. I wanted to create something that added a different layer and dimension to what I have done before."
The video ended with Black slicing the throat of one of his doctors before escaping. It's a gruesome scene that illustrated his character's direction.
"The funny thing is you can go on YouTube and still find those old videos," he said. "There was some pretty graphic stuff. I am a big fan of theatrics. Some people think I just started doing that now, but I was doing it a decade ago. I just brought it to 2021 and gave it a better production."
AEW Movie Reviews
During our last interview with Eddie Kingston, he reviewed Black Widow for us. We thought it would be fun to keep this trend going, so Black gave his take on a horror movie from 2015 he had just seen.
"I just watched a movie called Howl," he said. "It's a British horror movie. It was done by the director of Dog Soldiers. I think British horror movies are very sophisticated. I am a big fan of practical effects and original concepts. The movie is about a group of individuals who are on a train, and halfway through the trip, it comes to a halt. An animal got caught by the train, and it turns out to be a werewolf.
"It was really well acted with a lot of jump scares. It was a great build toward revealing what these beings are. There are a lot of things to learn about the way they build good movies and the way matches are constructed.
"A good movie will teach you a lot about how to develop a good storyline and good suspense. If you let Howl surprise you and don't go in with preconceived notions, you're going to be really surprised because it's an original take on a concept people are familiar with. It was really well done."
Black can be seen taking on Brock Anderson on next Wednesday's episode of Dynamite.