The Latest Episodes of INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet
Dec. 16, 2021

Fandango On His WWE Release After 15 Years, NWA, Debuting At WrestleMania, Beating Chris Jericho

Fandango On His WWE Release After 15 Years, NWA, Debuting At WrestleMania, Beating Chris Jericho


Curtis Hussey (@dirtydangocurty) is a professional wrestler best known for his time as Fandango in WWE. He talks to Chris Van Vliet to talk about how he went from sitting in catering every week to becoming Fandango, including his debut match against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania and his catchy entrance music. He also talks about what it is like playing a comedic role in WWE, how Drew McIntyre helped him get a foot in the door in NWA, what’s next for him and more!

 

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I’m glad that we delayed this interview, because now we can talk about NWA. I was sat there watching it, you show up and it’s like oh my God! Curtis is on NWA!

“Yeah I was at Drew McIntyre’s wedding a couple of years ago, Drew and I are really close. Billy [Corgan] was there too. When I got released, and when you get released you find out who your real friends are. People who you think you will hear from, you don’t, and the people you don’t expect reach out to you. But understandably it’s weird, when someone gets released that you are not really close with, it’s like you know they are getting a thousand text messages, it’s a weird situation. But Drew reached out to me and he goes ‘If you ever want to try and get in there with Billy, here’s his contact.’ So I gave Billy a call and he said that they are doing some tapings in December. I actually just flew back today, we just did 3 or 4 days in Atlanta. They were long days of filming, but it was like a family reunion down there. All my old buddies, Mike Knox, Sam Adonis, a bunch of guys from Deep South Wrestling. There’s just that cliche saying of you have to be nice to everybody on your way up. I’m not saying that the NWA is on the way down but it is so connected and we all know everybody. If you are a prick to somebody, there’s a good chance that you will run into them again. But if you’re cool and you are nice to people, which I think I did, it’s cool man to see all my friends again.”

How did you decide that you were going to be Dirty Dango?

“Well Vince didn’t own it. I could have just been Dango, but I’m just so goddamn dirty Chris. We were doing NXT season 4, they didn’t micro-manage it or think of our promos that much, it was really loose. I think there was some crazy overseas tv deal, so they had to continue content to provide in the syndicated tv deal. So they would film the NXT Redemption shows, which were after the game show but before Hunter’s vision of it. It was me, EC3, Percy Watson, TJ Wilson, just a bunch of performers that were not in a storyline on SmackDown or Raw. So pretty much they just wrote a bunch of stories, and matches and you could come up with your own character. I was doing a bunch of these weird, creepy things as Creepy Johnny Curtis. So now I am back on the indies, I can play that character I started in 2011, which is kind of cool.”

When you are in WWE for 15 years and you survive so many of these cuts, do you just sort of assume that you might be here forever?

“I started to think like that. When the COVID cuts first came, I’m like we [myself and Tyler Breeze] are f*cking out of here. But then we never got fired, so I’m like well maybe we will just keep being here and I’ll be the next Brooklyn Brawler and retire when I am 60. But when [Nick] Khan came in and he started cleaning house, I think me and Breeze were still on some kind of main roster pay scale, so I think we both kind of knew that it was coming. It sucks, because you are not getting paid as much as you were, but for me it is exciting, because I can go off and do different stuff. You can’t work at that same place forever, I started investing from day 1 of me getting onto the main roster. Any young talent out there, you need to prepare for your exit from when you start. Any athlete should do that, if you don’t, it will be rough later on.”

But you were able to do it for 15 years. Some people only do it for 6 months and they have to figure life out after that.

“Yeah but 7 of those were in developmental. For 3 or 4 of those, you’re making $500 a week. For those 6 or 7 years, you are not on national television, you’re still in the system getting paid, but it’s not like Randy Orton. You know what I’m saying, Randy has been on tv for [15 years plus]. So it’s good in terms of equity in the company where they wanted to bring me in as a coach, but monetarily I was not making decent money up until 2013 when I started doing the Fandango thing.”

Did you have a moment before Fandango where you didn’t know what was going to happen with the Johnny Curtis character?

“Yeah that was right before NXT Redemption. They were going to bring me up as a babyface, and I think I had a bit of an attitude backstage, which Vince came up as crying over spilt milk promos with Johnny Curtis, and just didn’t really do anything with my debut. So I was just there in limbo and anticipating getting released in the near future, which was in like 2011. Then there was a writer called Tom who was writing for the Redemption show, we were filming in Manchester and he was like ‘Hey, we want you to be on the show.’ The idea was I was going to be a love interest for Maxine and do this, this and this. I’m like yeah ok, cool. It’s a lot better than just going there and sitting in catering, you are mentally stimulating yourself instead of trying to think of something. At that point I was just showing up and waiting for the axe to fall. You are one week from a great run, or another from just getting released. It’s a weird spot man.”

So how did Fandango come from all of this?

“So this is a good story. So I was tag team champions with a guy named Tyler Rex, a good friend of mine. We were Florida tag team champions, he came up and was doing some stuff in ECW, and Hunter put Gabe and Curt Hawkins together. He had this idea where each week on SmackDown they would come out dressed as strippers, firefighters, basically Breezango. Gabe didn’t want to do it, asked for his release, we all supported him. Hawkins went to whoever is in charge and said ‘Hey what about Johnny Curtis? He has done dark matches but he is just sat there in catering.’ The next week they came up to me and said ‘We want you to do the gimmick, but don’t tell Hawkins.’ So I went and I told Hawkins [laughs]. I said that they want me to go to dance school and learn how to be a stripper, and he wasn’t in to it, it was not his first choice. So they sent me to a stripper and dance school in Tampa, this is around the time they were filming at Full Sail and I was tagging with Joe Hennig. I would come out pole dancing on the ring post and grinding real weird. We were doing the live events where I’m doing that and he is like what the hell?”

“So it gets to November 2012 and Hunter comes up to me and says ‘Hey we’re not going to do the stripper thing.’ I’m like thank God, I’m going to be in The Shield or something. But then he says ‘Now we are going to send you to a hard dancing school.’ Oh great! So I move out to Houston and I go to a ballroom dancing school there, that’s super hard bro. It’s trying to learn a whole alphabet in a couple of days, but all they can teach you is one letter just so you can fake it. I was getting frustrated, but make me good so I can fake it. I was training for 3 or 4 months, then Vince flew me up to Manhattan where we started filing vignettes. He rented out the Highland Ballroom, and we filmed for a couple of days there. Vince didn’t like the way I said Fandango into the camera, so he cut all the vignettes. One day I am working out and I think Mark Carrano called me 10 times. He’s like Vince has been waiting for you for half an hour. Vince was going to produce the vignettes for me, but no one told me that, so he is just waiting there for half an hour for me. They had this whole room set up and everything, so I ran over and Vince produced the vignettes. He turned the whole thing into an angle where no one could pronounce my name correctly.”

How much do you think your music helped to get you over?

“A lot man. Jim Johnston came up with that catchy beat, and when it hits, you know. Like you know who the character is coming through. To me entrances are so important, if I have time cut, I would rather they cut it from the match than from my entrance. That’s where you make all your money, the camera is all on you so you can get your sh*t in. That entrance and that music, it’s so important. It’s crazy that Jim is not there anymore.”    

Was it the Raw after WrestleMania crowd that really got you over to that next level? They are singing to it, they are dancing to it…

“That was great man. The timing of it was a perfect storm. We did Raw and then we went straight to Europe, it all just worked out perfectly.”

I think a lot of people were questioning the decision for you to go over Chris Jericho in your debut match at WrestleMania. What was your reaction when they told you that you would be going over Chris Jericho?

“I was kind of p*ssed because I knew that he would be p*ssed. I couldn’t care less and I didn;t give a sh*t. I knew he was in a tough spot, because he was supposed to work Ryback. I wasn’t p*ssed, but I was like oh f*ck he [Jericho] is going to be p*ssed about this. But I didn’t sit at this table in Stamford and hatch this scheme with Vince. If there was a list of 100 characters, the evil ballroom dancer would be at the bottom. But if you are given an opportunity straight from the old man, alternatively I could have just sat backstage and got released in a few years. This is probably my one shot, I’m going to have to try and make this as best as I can. It’s tough when you're working a guy who is working somebody else. To his credit, he could have sandbagged me and got his payday. But he wanted to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. I’m not saying Fandango was a chicken sh*t character, but it was hard to make it work in a short amount of time. It was hard to sell a WrestleMania program of a guy who hasn’t wrestled on tv in just 4 weeks.”

Well just like with Tyler Breeze, you went all in with your character.

“You have to bro. People are coming like they are coming to see a magic show. They know it’s not real, but they want to believe it is. If I give them only 92%, it’s like you are letting them behind the curtain a bit. If you throw only one fluff punch, a guy in the front row will be like ‘Oh man.’ You can’t let them behind the curtain, if you let them know that there is trepidation, it looks like sh*t.”

Well when you look at it, wrestling is you dancing around in your underwear.

“I remember I was due to do some dancing in a dark match, I think I was dancing with Naomi. Hunter comes up to me and says ‘Vince knows that you’ve been going to dance school and he is going to see this dark match. If you do well, you’ll get a good run. If you don’t, then sorry.’ I’m like well f*ck. I think I worked Sami Callahan, so I thought it’s either dive into it or sit in catering for years. So I went out, gave it 100% and faked it as best I could. Vince was like ‘Kid’s got balls, I like it!’

So at what point did the Fandango character kind of start to fizzle out?

“So they were going to put the Intercontinental Title on me, but I got concussed working The Great Khali. I think it got to a week or 2 before and I didn’t tell them that I was concussed. I worked Khali a couple of weeks before the pay-per-view, then I worked the week before I think. If you get concussed and you get hit again, it’s easier to get concussed again. I was concussed and I kept performing, but I didn’t tell anybody. I took a shoulder tackle from Zack Ryder and I was out. When I got back, I thought I had just wrestled The Great Khali, it goes back to where you originally got f*cked up. Then I said it, stooged myself off, and to the company's protocol, I was wrong. But if they put the IC title on you, you don’t want to say. But they took me off for 3 to 4 weeks, and Curtis Axel won the title instead.”

Do you feel like you are in the twilight of your wrestling career?

“Dude I thought a year ago when they were making cuts and everything you really start to think. When all of your friends start getting fired, 30 or 40 of them, it starts to become more of a reality of what do I do next? I started in 1999 and thought I never would wrestle again [after the release]. But there’s 2 different directions you go when you get released. There’s either being fed up with the business, or you get motivated that you can do some sh*t you couldn’t before, Matt Cardona is a great example of that. The dude is an inspiration, there’s so many different platforms now. I thought I would retire, but I have been busier in the last 3 to 4 months than I was in NXT for the 2 years prior to that. But it reminds me why I got into this business, it’s really cool. It’s not just work for me, it’s why I got into it.”

So the passion has come back?

“Yeah and I’m not trying to talk sh*t about WWE, but it’s just that grind bro. That schedule is tough when you are making $2 million a year. But then there’s someone like Heath Slater, who shows up to tv every week, probably lose, and that’s your job. You’re the guy who may get a little push now and again, but the grind is tough. Also the equity is sh*tty, and you are on like Main Event every few weeks.”

Now that your passion has been reignited, how much longer do you want to do it?

“I want to have like 7 retirement tours bro! I guess at about 40, I’m 38 now. I thought I was going to retire when I left WWE, but who knows? Maybe I do something cool in 6 months, maybe I don’t. But right now I am having fun and seeing my old friends. But 42 is younger now than it was in the 90’s. Look at AJ Styles, he is like a 30 year old guy now. I don’t know if it’s the evolution of nutrition, but guys don’t look as old as they used to.”

Was wrestling always the goal for you?

“I grew up in a really rough trailer park man. I think I was just trying something to lean on. Two or three kids I started wrestling with were from the trailer park. I was the skinniest, most unathletic and timid, I was the worst out of the whole class of 15. I thought it was my ticket out of there. It’s not like it was the ghetto, but it was a tough place. As I tell the kids at the seminars, it’s not always who is the best, but it’s about who stuck with it the longest. Morgan Freeman didn’t get his break until he was like 50. Any young guy or girl, if you are not the best just stick with it and you will get better.”

Did you feel like going back to NXT was sort of like a rebirth for you?

“The most emotional thing in my whole career was winning those tag team straps with Breeze. All we ever wanted was respect from our peers and Vince. We just wanted that respect from the people we respected. When you grow up as a wrestling fan and you see guys like Hunter, you are almost intimidated by them. When the younger guys and girls are backstage, they are more comfortable because it’s like ‘Oh here’s my boss Paul.’ But to go back to NXT and get the tag straps, it meant a lot to me. It showed that we are not just a comedy act, we can go out and we can work. The last couple of years on SmackDown, all we did was skits, which was cool because it showed our personality. But it’s hard to shake that, you get typecast. Santino did his job so well, but if he came back as a badass, it’s so hard. But he was so good at it. But you can do 10 years of comedy with a good pay cheque, or you can do 3 years and be a world champion.”

What are 3 things in your life you are grateful for?

“My sobriety, my girlfriend and God.”

Image credits: Instagram