Keith Lee on Joining AEW, 'Bearcat' Nickname Reaction, COVID and More

The Doctor Chris Mueller@@BR_DoctorFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2022

Keith Lee on Joining AEW, 'Bearcat' Nickname Reaction, COVID and More

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    Keith Lee debuted with All Elite Wrestling on the February 9 episode of Dynamite and immediately became one of the biggest free-agent signings of 2022 in all of pro wrestling. 

    In his debut match against Isiah Kassidy of Private Party, Lee created another trending moment on social media when he threw his opponent clear across the ring. The spot was immediately captured and shared across all platforms, giving him another memorable GIF fans can use for comedic purposes.

    When Lee was released by WWE on November 4, speculation on where he would end up became a hot topic. AEW was always a top contender, but there was obviously interest from other promotions.

    Before AEW's newest acquisitio steps into the ring for the Face of the Revolution Ladder match at this weekend's Revolution pay-per-view, we had a chance to speak with The Limitless One about his AEW debut, dealing with COVID-19, getting married, the Bearcat nickname, the strongest men in wrestling and much more.

Why He Chose AEW

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    While many fans always expected Lee to end up in AEW, many other companies would have jumped at the chance to sign him if given the opportunity. 

    Impact, New Japan and even smaller companies like GCW would have opened their wallets, but for Lee, the decision to join AEW was an easy one.

    "I think that it was quite a simple decision," Lee said. "Not only for business' sake, but there's a lot of people there that I know. And I have a lot of friends and associates that I'm just comfortable with. But more important than any of that was that I had a couple of very laid-back, chill meetings with Tony [Khan].

    "We just kind of hung out and shot the breeze. I like him as a person and so to me, a relationship built that way kind of helps me trust a little better. And it helped me in that decision as well."

Potential AEW Opponents

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    Whenever a new person shows up in any company, fans begin fantasy-booking feuds they want to see. Lee spent almost four years with WWE, so there were quite a few people who came up in this business that he hasn't had a chance to work with yet.

    "This might be cliche, but [I want to face] everybody," Lee said with a laugh. "There are people [in AEW] that I don't know, and there are people there I've never met. Not only that, but there are people there that I know and have never fought before. So literally anyone and everyone at this point, but I think some of the clear, obvious choices would be people like Kenny Omega.

    "I'd absolutely have another throwdown with Adam Cole. And then, you know, I got tweets even before I ever joined while I was still at the other place in which they want to see Keith Lee versus Wardlow or Will Hobbs. And, you know, I have a longtime Texas associate in Ricky Starks.

    "So there's a lot of people that I would absolutely love to just jump in the ring and have some fun with. But I guess, at the end of the day, it's going to come down to my personal goals as well, and just how the lines cross."

Goals in and out of the Ring

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    A lot of pro wrestlers have multiple revenue streams these days. Whether it be making money on YouTube with vlogs, gaming on Twitch, acting or something completely unrelated to the entertainment industry, there are a lot of people who have side gigs. 

    Lee, for example, is laser-focused on his AEW career, but he still maintains other interests outside the ring. 

    "There's some very talented people here, and there are some very important and large names here," Lee said. "So doing battle with them is clearly a goal. And I think that it would create some very special moments and matches and violence for people to enjoy.

    "Then there's my own personal wish to go somewhere and not be chosen as the guy and always earn my way and prove that I am world championship-worthy. And I intend to do the same thing here.

    "Obviously, I'm trying to give all of my attention to AEW at the moment. I've done a film that's on Netflix, and I have an interest in doing more film-related things, whether it be just feature-length films in terms of physical form, or even something as simple as voice acting,

    "I have a lot of interest in that other realm and potentially furthering what I do in terms of music. And at some point, I have an interest in entering the fitness realm in terms of like gear and things of that sort. So there are a few things, but the last one’s gonna take some time, and I have some rather vivid thoughts on that. So hopefully, it'll all come to fruition."

Keith Lee Outside the Ring

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    Pro wrestling isn't just a job, it's a way of life. But even the most dedicated performers need interests outside the ring to occupy their free time.

    "I like to watch anime, I love music and I love reading, whether it be fictional or scientific, it really just kind of depends on my mood," Lee said. "But those three things between music, anime, and books, kind of are the things that tend to occupy my time the most. And if I do game, it's usually like Final Fantasy 14, or maybe in Star Wars: The Old Republic, some [massively multiplayer online game] of some sort. I can just kind of dabble around them."

    In addition to joining a new promotion, Lee also had another big life change take place recently. He and Mia Yim tied the knot in February. 

    "I can say that the event was certainly that, an event," Lee said. "It was very over the top [laughs]. It was a Disney wedding. Which was something Mia wanted, and I was the one that could provide that for her. And it was a blast. People had a lot of fun.

    "I really took a lot of pride in just standing back and watching people enjoy the event. So we had a good time and some good food and some great music. We all sweated while we danced and took a lot of pictures, and I'm pretty sure everyone's feet hurt. So it was effective, to say the least."

Will He Go Through the Forbidden Door?

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    For many years, wrestlers crossing over into different promotions only happened on the indie scene. We have seen that change in recent years with Impact, New Japan, Ring of Honor and AEW allowing talent to work for other companies from time to time.

    The term "Forbidden Door" has become synonymous with wrestlers showing up in other promotions, especially when it comes to AEW. While there is a chance Lee may show up somewhere else, it sounds like his deal with AEW will keep him focused solely on that company for the time being. 

    "It's hard to say because my deal is very exclusive to AEW, and for good reason," Lee said about the possibility of working for other promotions. "But, you know, if something came up, that was beneficial for both myself and the company, and also for the potential collaborative companies, maybe I will consider it.

    "The only thing that really comes to mind as a place that I would just want to go, and this is where I was originally going to go before I ever went to the other company, and that's Japan. But even then, it really comes down to what's beneficial, because the exclusivity of what I signed is pretty tight."

Being a Popular Source for GIFs

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    One thing wrestling fans love to do on social media is share GIFs, and few people have provided as many memorable ones in recent years as Lee.

    "I'm not really a social media guy much. I think that in the grand scheme of things, I'm really happy that people are enjoying themselves with it," Lee said. "And they are entertained and they're having a blast, you know, shooting these things across."

    One of his most memorable moments from NXT was when he appeared out of nowhere and sent Cole flying into the crowd with a vicious pounce.

    "I've heard how Cole got flooded [with the GIF] when I first announced that I got signed. And it's just people shooting him messages like, 'This is your future.' I'm like, 'I'm sorry, man.' [laughs] I am never aware that this stuff is going on, but when someone a friend or whoever will shoot me a thread, it puts a smile on my face that so many people are enjoying it."

    Upon his arrival in AEW, Lee's first match was against Isiah Kassidy. Within seconds, Lee tossed him across the ring and created another shareable moment that will live forever on social media. Fans have even taken to editing in clips from other franchises to make the moment funnier.

    One that made the rounds on Twitter from user @shovel_brothers saw a moment with Aragorn and Gimli from The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers used to great comedic effect. 

    "That one I saw," Lee said. "I think yesterday or maybe the day before, that one got me because I'm a big Lord of the Rings guy. And it made me think of Dakota Kai because she loves Lord of the Rings. I'm like, 'I hope that she loves this as much as I do.' Yeah, some of these people should be getting paid to be honest, because they're absolutely hilarious."

Keith Lee's Reaction to the Bearcat Nickname

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    When Lee made his way from NXT to the main roster, he ran into a few bumps along the way. Not only was he out for several months because of complications from COVID-19, but he was given a new nickname when he returned.

    WWE dubbed him The Bearcat, a reference to Bearcat Wright, who was a popular wrestler from the '50s and '60s. Lee spoke about his reaction to the nickname and how he would handle a similar situation if it came up today.

    "I don't really think I had [a reaction]," Lee said. "At the end of the day, it was something that was brought up while I was out doing the dance with lady death situation. And I didn't think much of it, obviously.

    "And then when I came back, it was something that [WWE management] really wanted, and they pulled me into an office and asked me to do it. And that was my job. So I said 'OK,' and that was kind of it. Was I fond of it? No. But you got to do what you're asked to do at the end of the day.

    "But I think that in my time there, what I learned is sometimes loyalty just doesn't really do that much for you [laughs]. So while I was OK then, I think that if I was asked to do something that I didn't agree with, from here on, it would not just be an 'OK,' but more of a 'hell-to-the-no.'"

Experience with COVID

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    Lee was sidelined for several months while dealing with the effects of COVID-19. Not only did it prevent him from competing, but it also brought some other things to light when his bloodwork came back.

    "I mean, there's not really that much to talk about," Lee said. "Aside from the fact that you know, I came back from having COVID and the next day they told me my blood was weird. And by weird, I mean there was inflammation of the proteins and that led to that whole thing spiraling out of control.

    "I believe February 8 was my last match [in WWE] before I had to go away for that time, and that match was against Riddle. And then literally that Tuesday, I got home and had a lot of emails and calls. And that was what I found out then I wasn't allowed to do anything. No training, no working out, nothing for that time.

    "I had several MRIs for it. It was just a time-consuming deal that was very scary. I was prepared to have to change professions [laughs]. So while I fought, I was also thinking of other things that I could or would do. It turns out that my fight wasn't over. I just kept going until I was OK'd.

    "Then the process after that was trying to get myself into a more agreeable situation, because returning to training, after doing nothing, plus all the effects that COVID had levied at me, was not an easy battle, either."

    Thankfully, Lee has recovered and is back to doing what he does best. 

    "I feel great," Lee said. "I mean, I don't feel like I'm at 120 percent capacity, but I'm nowhere near where I was when I first started to try and come back, obviously. We're coming up on a year from that. And the reality is, based on doctors, that full recovery could take up to 18 months and sometimes longer.

    "For some people that I know, it has taken longer. But yeah, I'm in a fortunate place, based on what I experienced. So the idea is to just keep grinding."

The Strongest Men He Has Faced

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    Lee is known far and wide as one of the strongest competitors in the business today. He makes most feats of strength look easy, but when asked who he thinks are some of the strongest men in the industry, he singled out two people.

    "Oh, that's easy, Erik from The Viking Raiders," Lee said. "That goes back all the way to the indies. It's funny because, you know, yes, I'm big, I'm strong and there are other people that are big and strong. You got your Big Es, you got your Bobby Lashleys, you got your Brock Lesnars, you got your Wardlows, you got your Will Hobbses.

    "But when you look at the Viking Raiders, you see a very big guy in Ivar, right? And he's not the strong one. He's the agile one. And you look at Erik, and that guy is a monster. I remember the first time I ever fought that guy.

    "I was coming back off of an injury. I was looking to make a splash because there was potential for an opportunity with ROH. That match helped me acquire that. But [Erik] caught me trying to do a crossbody and just threw me [laughs].

    "Pound-for-pound, one of the strongest men I've ever seen in a wrestling ring is Ricochet. Really, without question, zero hesitation. He's another guy that caught me in a crossbody one time and then had the nerve to fallaway slam me into a turnbuckle [laughs].

    "He's obviously muscular. I've seen him deadlift suplex Drew McIntyre. He was sitting on the ground and [Ricochet] just picked him up and vertical suplexed him. I was like what 'What?' So those are the two names that come to mind immediately when you ask about just outrageous strength."

Movie Review

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    We always wrap up our AEW interviews with a movie review. When asked what he wanted to talk about, Lee did not hesitate for a second. 

    "Alright. This is an easy one. So the most recent movie that I watched, I actually watched it for a second time, was the Demon Slayer movie. And for those that aren't aware, Keith Lee is not only big, strong, fast, intelligent, and an eloquent speaker, but he's also an enormous nerd," Lee said.

    "Demon Slayer is an anime, and they had a movie come out. That's some of the best art and graphics fight scenes that exist in the realm of animation. So if you have an interest in anime, or you like martial arts or Japanese culture in general, Demon Slayer is something very worth watching. And that movie was pretty intense. Pretty intense."


    All quotes were given directly to the author by the subject and edited for length. You can see Lee compete in the Face of the Revolution ladder match on Sunday at AEW Revolution. Follow Lee on Twitter @RealKeithLee. Follow me on Twitter @BR_Doctor.