In a three-part series, Viktor of The Ascension shares his memories of working to get signed by WWE, his time in NXT, on the main roster, and what lies ahead for the man born Eric Thompson. In part one, he shares part of the journey to getting signed by WWE and the early days of The Ascension on NXT.
Alberta-born Eric Thompson is an example of a wrestler who worked hard, achieved the dream of signing with WWE, and saw the reality that so many talents have experienced. Known as Apocalypse across Canada, The Shadow on a 2003 New Japan tour, and APOC in Ohio Valley Wrestling, he is best known as Viktor, one half of The Ascension.
SlamWrestling.net recently connected with the former WWE entertainer at his home in Tampa, Florida, for an in-depth look at his career.
It often seemed like Thompson wouldn’t get the break he had worked for. He spent three years in OVW, winning the OVW Southern Tag Titles and OVW heavyweight championship. He had a WWE tryout before returning to Canada, wrestling regularly for Alberta’s PWA and working as an arborist.
“It was quite a day when I got signed. I had just come back from OVW and I’d been down there for three years. When I first got there WWE was still there, it was about a year in they pulled out and left. I was there for a couple more years basically trying to keep the doors open for OVW, which thankfully they still are because it’s still one of my favorite places I’ve ever been blessed to work at. I was kind of getting to the end of my rope there. I had a tryout and then I got turned down and I wasn’t making any money. Life situations just meant I had to come home,” Thompson recalled.
He returned to Canada, turned 30, and turned his attention to looking after trees. He was asked to move to Saskatchewan indefinitely. “There were WWE TV tapings coming up, so I declined. I was just booked as an extra for Raw and SmackDown. I’d had a surprisingly nice conversation with Ty Bailey [of Talent Relations] when I called and asked if I could get on that. I spent two days saying hello to everybody I’d met while I was at OVW and I was a lot more comfortable backstage, which is hard when you’re an extra and you don’t know people.”
It was his old friend from Calgary, Natalya, that kept pushing him during the tapings to go talk to John Laurinaitis, who was head of talent relations at the time. Thompson eventually knocked on Laurinaitis’ office door. His experience in the meeting would, in retrospect, be a precursor to how his WWE career would go.
“They brought me in, and Ty sat me down and said to me, ‘Here’s your five minutes with Johnny. Tell him why you deserve a job.’ It was weird. I thanked them for having me and getting an opportunity, typical political talk. Johnny replied, ‘Why should I give you a job, kid? We turned you down once. I know you can work.’ I stated my case as to why I believed I should be hired by WWE. And then he spent a good five minutes telling me why I shouldn’t be. The whole situation suddenly was like a boxing match where you’re just getting peppered in the face over and over again, all it was really doing was pissing me off. All I could think of at that time was, man, I’m so sick of assholes like this. At that time, every interaction I’d had with Johnny Ace was not a good one. He was always very arrogant and full of himself, rightfully so — he was Vince’s right-hand man at the time. But I was just really sick of it at that point in time. As he kept telling me why I shouldn’t be hired, I just kind of started to say to myself, I’m so done with this. I’m going to go home and I’m probably never going to wrestle again. I’m just so sick of this. I kind of tuned out from the last minute of dumping on me when he said to me, ‘So after all this, what are you going to say that will make me hire you, kid?’”
In a move that would surprise no one, the future signee was brutally honest.
“I replied, ‘Nothing. You don’t want to hire me, you just gave me a million reasons why you don’t want to and you shouldn’t. There’s nothing I’m going to do say at this moment in time or a picture that I’m going to give you, or a piece of videotape that I’m going to give you, that’s going to do that. So, I don’t know. Thanks? And then we sat there in uncomfortable silence for what seemed like a very long time. just doing my best, not to be fuming. He finally looked back and forth between Ty and me and then said, ‘Give this kid a job. Welcome to WWE.’ I stood up, we shook hands, and he walked out. I was left standing there with Ty Bailey, just staring at each other. And he said. ‘Wow, you got lucky. You caught him on a good day.’ That was a good day? That was the moment I really couldn’t believe it. I was really at the point where I was going to go home and never wrestle again. And I was wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life and then the rest of my life happened.”
Thompson was assigned the name Rick Victor, and everything that made his previous character successful in OVW disappeared. Fans looking at the FCW website and seeing pictures of the former Apoc saw a nearly unrecognizable person — he had cut his hair, and shaved his beard and chest.
To Thompson, it was WWE’s “process,” to strip away “everything that you were comfortable with.” A familiar line from Laurinaitis was, ‘What you were doing when you got hired isn’t necessarily why we hired you.’”
In FCW, Dr. Tom Prichard was supportive and a sounding board, and Thompson appreciated the work of all the staff there. “All of the coaches knew that I could go. They really were for the most part, trying to help me out and just keep me from getting fired because it was such a weird landscape at that time within FCW.”
After a promo class, Thompson was told by a production assistant to shave away. “As dumb as it is, that was a turning point,” said Thompson. WWE finally saw someone it could use, and the opportunities began. He had fantastic matches with Seth Rollins, including defeating him for the FCW championship, which he immediately lost to Bo Dallas. Thompson regained the belt but only held it for a week before dropping it to Richie Steamboat. He also teamed with Brad Maddox to win the FCW Tag Team Championship. “The amount of time I got to work with Seth and those guys was always awesome. I showed them that I was there to go and that I could go,” said Thompson.
Everyone had their ideas for him. Dusty Rhodes had his, Bill DeMott had other thoughts. Terry Taylor was another, and he saw a serial killer in Thompson. “He wanted me to be like Dexter. I hadn’t watched the show but said okay,” recalled Thompson. Taylor wanted him to focus on the quirks, not the killing. “I went and watched Dexter and was trying to like figure out how to implement it and Terry would have me doing things that were completely unrelated to anything Dexter. None of it was quite working. And then I got hurt in a triple-threat with Seth and Leo Krueger, my knee just blew out. I was hurt for three months.”
Thompson was considered for the Wyatt Family. “Bray [Wyatt] was gone to the main roster and they were kind of trying to figure out what they’re going to do family-wise like who they were going to used in it. I would usually cut promos with [Erick] Rowan and [Luke] Harper, that was a lot of fun. I can kind of remember, probably the week before I think I was cleared to come back. I basically got told they’re going to the main roster, you’re not, you need to find something right now. So I was back at square one again.”
After a month of floating around, he was approached by Chris Chambers (currently WWE’s VP of TV strategy) with the idea that would change the direction of Thompson’s career.
The Ascension had been a faction in FCW, beginning in August 2011, its membership in flux. Chambers passed on word that Hunter Hearst-Helmsley, overseeing developmental in WWE, wanted to see what Thompson looked like beside Ryan Parmeter — wrestling as Konnor — in The Ascension.
“It was news to me. Ryan and I were already friends, but I had already been through the ringer with Ascension as it was. I knew he was kind of at his wits end and he believed he was going up to the main roster. He had no idea either. It just kind of fell into place” said Thompson. Rhodes had come around to the idea of Thompson in The Ascension. “We were doing a promo and Dream came out and was pinching his tobacco and said to me, ‘I don’t know what it is because I never thought, but whatever you’re doing, you keep doing it because it’s working, baby. You just keep doing this because I don’t know. The Ascension has been 12 different things so far. And I thought all of them were what it was. And none of them were it. But now, apparently this is the one that’s it. So, you just keep doing it, ’cause I got nothing else that I can do.” The American Dream then walked back into his office.
The work started in putting Rick Viktor and Conor O’Brian in the rear-view mirror, and making Viktor and Konnor a team.
“Bill DeMott and Byron Saxton spent so much time working with us on ring stuff or entrances, all that sort of stuff. It was such a big production, and it was such a big difference and change from everything that I’d kind of been going through within FCW,” said Thompson. The duo gained in confidence and turned heads. “We were always fighting for more because whatever they were planning with us, they never told us. They probably didn’t actually have a plan. I think they expected us to fail at first. When we first won the tag team titles, it wasn’t a good day. It wasn’t a nice conversation. I remember being super pissed off with what had happened.”
At this point, Thompson paused in the conversation. It’s hard to translate into written word, but recalling some of the memories brought negative things back to the surface.
“When I get stuck in these places, again, it just comes all back,” admitted Thompson. “It’s so weird because I have a hard time remembering it now. Thinking back to being the longest reigning champions in NXT, it doesn’t mean anything to me because they kind of took it away by telling us it didn’t mean anything — and because of how they treated us once we were on the main roster. During that time, we were always asking to do more.”
The rise of The Ascension focused mostly on old-school squash matches, destroying makeshift teams in minutes.
“Some of these kids could barely tie their boots, which in itself was a challenge. How do we look good against people that don’t? You can’t kind of make anything look good and that was quite a struggle for a while,” said Thompson. “Finally, we got Too Cool, which was pretty awesome, Scotty [Too Hotty] and Brian [Christopher] were both great. It was funny because Scotty had been brought in as a guest coach a couple of times. He got the system and everything, and he knew of how things were done. Brian was still just doing his thing out in the world of wrestling. When all got brought together to put the match together, DeMott and Matt Bloom had to sit there and tell Brian a lot of his ideas weren’t allowed because of the rules that only WWE producers and management and talent know that they don’t share with the rest of the world. That was funny, but those guys were awesome.”
Another highlight of their title run was a match with Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards, who were at the Performance Center for a one week tryout. Dubbed the “American Pitbulls” of Derek Billington (Richards) and John Cahill (Edwards), the six-minute match in December of 2013 was an indication of what could have been.
“That was a really big deal. Those guys were such a hot team and they’re awesome. When they came in, we were really hoping that they were going to be around because those two guys were exactly what we needed. We could have feuded with them for a while. We were super excited about that and it just didn’t pan out. I still liked the match. I know there was a point where me and Davey miscommunicated, and he got dropped on his head which I still feel terrible about. I remember asking him repeatedly if he was okay. We were getting different directions from the back as to what to do, to go home. I was like, no, these guys can still go, we’re doing this, we’re doing it. We finished that and it was awesome,” raved Thompson. Richards and Edwards didn’t sign with the company.
On TV, The Ascension continued to dominate, but lobbied to do more.
“I wanted to show people that we could work. In-between where little things with people didn’t see unless you were watching our live shows. On our live events we were working with guys like Jason Jordan and Juice Robinson doing main event tag matches for half an hour in some of these places and just going all out and just working. We were having fun doing that and then we’d get to TV and it was a different story. We were trying to help out these guys too who we’re working with because they weren’t being given a fair shot fairly for what they could do. It was a very up and down time. One week I’d feel great because we had a good match and I felt like we were moving forward. Then it would be very Groundhog Day. Every day in developmental is pretty much exactly the same no matter how much you’re trying to move forward. We used to have to go into this sound room and were commanded to make sure you’re cutting a promo every day. I didn’t have anything to talk about after time. We were not moving forward. If our characters aren’t advancing, I could say a million things, but it doesn’t matter. It’s hard to feel it when you’re just dipping in and dipping back out again all the time.”
Looking back as a fan, it would seem that the NXT run was the best part of Thompson’s WWE career. The team was successful and over with fans. Looking back in from being in the middle of it, he was reflective and honest.
“It’s all funny to me just how in the dark we were with how we were presented was being perceived by the fans. We did not see it at all. I remember when we got to WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans and we were at Axxess, and we did our walkthrough, there’s us, huge on these banners. I was like, Whoa, they think we’re like the rest, the other people that they like. Our signing was near the entrance to the hall, and there was all the theme music playing. We kept hearing our entrance music repeatedly. The fans had a great response to us. At that time, we were like, Holy cow, this is crazy. Like people like us. We couldn’t believe that people were there to get our autographs because of how we felt about ourselves at the time, because of how (the company) made us feel about ourselves. We tried to go out on Bourbon Street that night and we just kept getting swamped. It was very shocking. I didn’t get into wrestling to be rich and famous. I got into it because I loved wrestling. I wouldn’t have been in the business and still be doing it to this day otherwise.”
He’s still surprised with the support that the former Ascension, now known as The Awakening, receives.
“Our fans and still to this day are pretty awesome. I’m really surprised by the positivity that we always get from people since wrestling fans can be kind of understandably bitter. I’ve been a bit of bitter wrestling fan. It’s easy when you really love wrestling you know what you want and it’s not often that fans really get what they want, especially with a company like WWE. It’s just not how they do it.”
Eventually, the time came to head to the main roster, losing the tag titles to the Lucha Dragons (Sin Cara and Kalisto) just one day short of a year as champions. A feud with Finn Balor and Hideo Itami would wrap up their NXT run.
“After we’d finished our last match with Finn and Hideo, we were wondering what we were going to do next, what’s going to happen. Like, what are we, what are we doing now? We’d lost the title. The funny thing was we were given more TV time working with Itami and Finn than we had ever been given when we were tag team champions for anything. The same night Aiden English and Simon Gotch had a tag title match against the Lucha Dragons. I asked Aiden how much time they had, and it was next to none. I said yeah, ‘That’s what I thought.’ I told him they really don’t give a shit about tag teams because we used to see it all the time. They’d put a tag team match together with four singles people at the end of an NXT show and those guys would get twice the amount of time that we had. I was lost in that moment of not knowing what’s going to happen next.”
Then came The Call. They were in the main boardroom at the Performance Center for a conference call. “We are sitting there with the coaches and Hunter comes on. I honestly thought we were getting fired. Konnor still always thought this was funny that I thought we were getting fired. He knew we were going up, but I totally thought we were getting fired.”
Triple H said, “Well guys, you did it. Vince finally gets it. You are coming up.”
It was pretty magical, said Thompson. “Everybody cheered and I literally sat there in a moment having my whole career flash before my eyes.”
Lost in the moment, Triple H noted that everyone looked happy, except for Viktor. “I was still kind of lost in everything was floating by me and that snapped me out. I replied, ‘No, no, dude, me, I’m happy. I am excited. That’s awesome. Thank you.’ I was just spaced out.”
That happiness would quickly come crashing down.
TOP PHOTO: Viktor of The Ascension in NXT. Photo by Bill Otten, B&B Productions.
Check out part two, as Viktor reflects on The Ascension’s main roster run, release, and the team’s future in wrestling.
APOCALYPSE / VIKTOR / VIK THE SPACELORD LINKS
PAST STORIES ON APOCALYPSE / VIKTOR
- Apr. 21, 2021: The Ascension and Awaking of Viktor Part 2: Misery and laughs on the main roster
- Feb. 26, 2004: Apocalypse on his first NJPW tour
- Nov. 26, 2003: From an Apocalypse, a Shadow descends upon New Japan
- Aug. 8, 2003: Jason’s Saskatoon Diary Day 3: Apocalypse marks out