Killing it.

That’s how many would describe Cody Deaner’s performance in Impact Wrestling in the past few years, and particularly since his most recent character development. But nobody thought he would take that literally. Yet that’s what happened when Deaner killed his former friend and mentor Eric Young, to take over as the head of the faction that Deaner renamed The Design.

In an interview with, Deaner shared his thoughts about Young, picking up the leadership mantle, and what plans are in store for The Design moving forward – perhaps as early as this Friday at Impact’s Hard To Kill pay-per-view event.

Talking about the vignette in which he killed off Young, Deaner (real name Chris Gray) was happy with the creative direction to take the storyline back to the beginning. The scene was filmed in the same prison cell in which Deaner was selected by Young to join the Violent By Design faction a year ago.

“That was the cool thing about it,” he said. “It wasn’t just a really cool, unique and creative segment – it was so much more than that. It was a full-circle moment, coming back to the beginning. Literally, it was coming back to the very chair that I was sitting in when I made this decision to follow Eric Young and join Violent By Design to start the journey that we had over the last few years.”

“You don’t see a lot of storylines that have that kind of two-year arc,” he observed. “But to be able to do such a creative segment on the best wrestling show on TV, to be able to share that moment with a close personal friend and mentor in Eric Young, and to get passed the torch in such a unique way, that was pretty special.”

Deaner was effectively the last member of the old VBD –Young was killed off (as a way to write him off TV to coincide with Young leaving the company), Rhino had parted ways with the faction earlier, and Joe Doering had to be taken off TV as he continues his real-life fight against cancer. When he took over leadership, new members had to come in, and now the faction is comprised of Deaner, Kon (formerly WWE’s Konnor), and Angels (formerly AEW’s Alan Angels). Deaner is happy to be sharing the ring with the new members, and is glad that they bring a fresh new identity to the faction along with the new name.

“I knew that we had to move forward, we had to evolve pretty drastically,” Deaner said about the new additions. “We had to have new guys, because otherwise (people would only focus on) comparing us to what it was before. And none of us in The Design wanted to just be the second version, because the second version of anything is never as good as the first, no matter what it is. You know, no offence to Leif Cassidy and Marty Jannetty, but the New Rockers were not The Rockers, you know?”

As much as the faction itself has transformed, Deaner sees the faction as an opportunity for each of the new members to take their own careers to new heights.

“All three of us have a chip on our shoulder,” he explained, “feeling that we have something to prove. If you look at each of our career trajectories – for me, it’s taken a long time for me to be given the ball and the spotlight put on me; the same can be said for Kon and Angels.”

“Angels,” he noted, “hasn’t taken as long, but he has been in factions and things before but was never really given the spotlight – for example, from a creative standpoint, he’s never really had the opportunity to talk on the microphone. Now he’s going to be given that spotlight. Kon is one of the best big men in wrestling, and he’s been that for a very long time. But he hasn’t been given the opportunity to show that, and now he’s going to have it. And that common history, that’s going to make us all work that much harder. Because we have something to prove to the world.”

For Deaner, he relishes that his new position as head of The Design will give him the chance to finally prove to others what he’s known all along: that he’s ready to take a more prominent role in the company.

“I’ve known for years that I’m ready to be handed the ball,” he said confidently. “To contribute in a major way to a major wrestling company and be a major part of their television. But anybody can say that they’re ready. But unless you’re given that opportunity, then it’s just words.”

“So this (step) is very special to me,” he continued. “I’ve been wrestling for 23 years. And I’ve had to scratch and claw and put in the work and prove myself. And over the years, any time I’ve been given the opportunity, I’ve knocked it out of the park, and that gets noticed. So then they say, ‘Let’s give this guy a little bit more,’ and I knock that out of the park, too. And then you get more responsibility, and so on, and slowly and surely you gain the trust of the powers that be, and you get a little bit more, and a little bit more.”

“And now I’m the leader of the faction that has a prominent role on our television show, and is going to continue to have a prominent role, hopefully for years to come. So I’m not taking that lightly. I’m very proud and excited about what I can show the Impact Wrestling roster, and every Impact Wrestling fan around the world. And if I can help (Kon and Angels) in their journeys, that’s something I don’t take lightly.”

Fortunately, Deaner is a fan of them both – not only for their in-ring talents, but also backstage.

“I crossed paths with Kon about a year ago,” he recalled, “and we did a number of independent shows. (One time) I had the pleasure of wrestling him, and (we had) an amazing match. Even before we stepped in the ring, we had immediate chemistry. So when his name got brought up to be part of The Design, I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’”

“I hadn’t met Angels before his Impact run, but I was a big fan anytime I got to see him wrestle. He can do anything in the ring, he’s super-athletic. But sitting down with him, I’ve got to know him as a really good human being – him and Kon, both. And that’s what you want when you’re going to be working with someone,” he noted. “The good chemistry leads to a synergy that you need to have.”

The Design. (l-r) Kon, Deaner, Angels. Photo courtesy Impact Wrestling

As they continue to build the chemistry, Deaner is fine with The Design remaining a trio for the time being. Although he wouldn’t necessarily rule anything out.

Indeed, in an ongoing storyline, Sami Callihan has made overtures to join the faction. As a test of his commitment, he is scheduled to go through a ritual head-shaving on this Thursday’s episode of Impact. It’s possible – and some might speculate it’s probable – that this could lead to a match of some sort involving The Design and Callihan on Friday, though neither party has been announced as being on the show as of press time.

Still, Deaner’s comments on the possibility of new members joining point to this story playing out over some time.

“There may be other people who want to jump on board and join The Design,” he teased, “and I’m not opposed to making this group bigger and more powerful than it already is. But it’s going to take the right person. And it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a process, and that process is going to be long, difficult, and potentially painful.”

If he’s not in action on Friday, a couple of future shows that Deaner is particularly looking forward to being a part of are the Sacrifice event on March 24, and the next day’s TV tapings, both of which will be taking place in Windsor, Ontario, marking the promotion’s first events north of the border since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Yeah, it’s been years, maybe even over three years,” he said with anticipation. “Actually, we were supposed to have a pay-per-view in Windsor right at the beginning of the pandemic, but then it had to be cancelled. Since then, I’ve had so many fans message me or talk to me when I’ve done independent shows in the area about how excited they are that we’re finally coming back.”

“I know that tickets are flying off the shelves, which isn’t surprising, since Canadian Impact Wrestling fans are some of the most dedicated wrestling fans in the world. And rightly so – if you look at our roster, we have so many talented Canadian wrestlers on our roster, like Josh Alexander, Rosemary, Crazzy Steve. And we have some that they haven’t really seen yet – Windsor hasn’t seen ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey in an Impact Wrestling ring yet, and they’re going to be pumped when they finally do. I’m super-excited about it. It’s a very meaningful city for me and my career, so I think I’m just as excited as the fans are.”

Talking about Canada, and his national pride, the differences between Deaner the character and Chris Gray the man couldn’t be more clear. The positivity he exudes when talking about the fans is the polar opposite of the type of vitriol that he espouses to and with his Design cultists.

It’s the shinier side of that coin that he displays when he conducts his outside speaking engagements. Indeed, Gray’s motivational speaking business continues to be a big part of his life. He’s very proud to be able to share his life experiences to kids and pass on the lessons he’s learned about determination, positivity, and dreaming big.

“I believe that every person in the world has multiple facets to them,” he reflected. “Their personality, they character. In life, everyone has different parts of themselves, some that they show and some that they hide. So, what you see on the TV screen is made up of some of those elements of what I’ve experienced in my life. But (through my public speaking engagements), I get the opportunity to project outward feelings that maybe I’ve held in for a long time. And I get to tap into that. And then there are other parts of my life that maybe aren’t as menacing (as I am on TV). But I get to tap into those as I as I share my personal story and journey with the kids across the country.”

He noted that sometimes kids can be confused by the juxtaposition of the dark and violent messages he spouts on TV and the empowering messages he delivers in his talks. But is proud that, by the time his talks are finished, people know exactly who he is and understands the message he’s trying to convey.

“Sometimes seeing that different side throws people for a loop. But I also see it as a testament, personally to myself, as a wrestler, as a performer, that I’m able to do all those things and do them well despite how different they are. If people can see this guy do all these crazy things on TV, but then, after they come see me, they see how I’m making a difference with young kids at school and say, ‘Boy, I would love him to come into my school and speak to the kids like that,’ I’d love that.”

“Rest assured,” he laughed, “I will not be talking about how to shiv somebody in prison. It’s all positive, it’s all positive. It’s all about the story of my dream of wanting to be a wrestler – and I’m living that dream right now.”

Impact Wrestling’s Hard To Kill PPV airs this Friday at 8pm EST on Pay-Per-View and FiteTV.

TOP PHOTO: Cody Deaner. Courtesy Impact Wrestling