There’s nothing quite like getting a live crowd riled up.
For the first few years of his run with World Wrestling Entertainment, Otis spent time energizing the crowd into a frenzied delight. With his long, straggly hair and equally long beard, dancing and gyrating while slapping his belly and doing The Worm, the tree trunk-like Wisconsin boy has found his stride being the bad guy alongside his real life best friend, Chad Gable.
Otis and Gable, who make up the tag team Alpha Academy, will be part of the WWE’s Saturday Night’s Main Event in the Amarillo Civic Center when they take on The Street Profits, Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins.
After some of the biggest moments of his career came with zero fans in attendance, Otis is thrilled to be back in front of live crowds.
“It’s beautiful, brother,” Otis said. “It’s just like home, and it’s meant to be.”
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When Otis – real name Nikola Bogojević – first arrived at NXT, the WWE’s developmental system in Florida, he was told he’d always been a face, a good guy. That’s how he was brought up in Superior, Wisconsin, so that was fine with him. All he wanted to do was entertain the crowd.
He achieved that by being the loveable big guy with a hearty appetite and dance moves that would make Usher jealous. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc on the world, Otis was receiving a bump in his status in the WWE, placed in a goofy-guy-gets-the-pretty-girl storyline with Mandy Rose.
The payoff of that story came at WrestleMania 36. It was supposed to occur in front of tens-of-thousands of fans. Instead, the first kiss between Otis and Mandy happened in a mostly empty WWE Performance Center in front of a select few members of the company’s staff.
“I always say that with that kiss with me and Mandy,” Otis said, “if that was in a live stadium with 80,000 people, I would probably never forget that. But it had to happen in a closed arena.”
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That was just one small part of the change WWE Superstars endured during the pandemic. They also had to work their shows without the gratification of an audience reaction, something wrestlers rely on to gauge the success of stories, promotions and matches.
“Now you’re just working for the camera the majority of the time,” Otis said, “so that was something where we kind of had to get better at that craft, instead of always looking at the crowd.… It was simply helping us at that point, but then I’d say about six months in, I’m just like, ‘We miss the people, man.’ That roar. “
By the time fans were permitted back into arenas around a year ago, Otis had undergone a dramatic transformation.
Gone was the long hair and beard, his cut up jean vest, the dancing and, sadly, The Worm. Gable recruited Otis to be part of his Alpha Academy, and the pair have since gone from seldom-used talents to a consistent presence on WWE television.
Gable and Otis have a long history together. Both successful amateur wrestlers, Gable was coaching his younger brother around 2009 and Otis was one of his brother’s main competitions. According to Otis, he was the victor frequently in those encounters.
The pair have been friends ever since, reuniting to form their team in the WWE. The turning point for the duo came when they were pitted against the team of RK-Bro, which features the legendary Randy Orton and up-and-comer Riddle.
Otis called that feud “a gift from above.” He and Gable hadn’t gotten much TV time, but they were needed to step in and challenge RK-Bro for the tag titles with injuries hampering the roster. Luckily, they found something that would elevate the team.
“… We’re thinking if we’re going to do this interview promo, what can really piss people off, basically,” Otis said.
Gable took his I’m-smarter-than-you gimmick – touting his 4.0 GPA in receiving his Master’s degree – by shooshing people. Not shushing, but shooshing. That came from the movie “Encino Man.”
“We love Pauly Shore, and the bad guy high school jerk says ‘Shoosh,'” Otis recalled. “So, we were basically like, man, that would really make somebody mad.”
Gable has a way of making people mad, which is a benefit to the team. The duo went on to beat RK-Bro for the Raw Tag Team titles but have since lost the belts.
Currently, Alpha Academy isn’t in line for a shot at the titles. The goal is to get back there, but Otis and Gable are still utilized on television on a weekly basis, not something other teams in the WWE can say.
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That’s a credit to their versatility and growing popularity.
“It basically is like, for me, as long as I’m entertaining people, that’s my goal,” Otis said. “I’m not a guy who’s like ‘I’ve got to be the champion right now.’ I just love entertaining people. I love what I do. “
Otis and Gable still want to become champions again, but they’re fine playing to the crowd until that time comes. Beating The Street Profits, the No. 1 contenders to the Undisputed Tag Team Championships, on Saturday night would be a nice step in that direction.
Other matches set for Saturday night include a triple threat match for the Raw Women’s Championship with Bianca Belair defending her title against Asuka and Becky Lynch, along with Riddle – who Otis said is getting his status up and “puts it all on the line every single night “- facing Seth Rollins in what’s billed as an Amarillo Street Fight.
WWE Saturday Night’s Main Event
When: 7:30 pm Saturday
Where: Amarillo Civic Center
Tickets: Visit amarillociviccenter.com
Amarillo Street Fight: Seth “Freakin” Rollins vs. Riddle
Raw Women’s Championship: Bianca Belair (C) vs. Asuka vs. Becky Lynch
Alpha Academy vs. The Street Profits
Also advertised for the show – Bobby Lashley, United States Champion Theory, Rey & Dominic Mysterio, The Miz, Ezekiel and Damian Priest.