How Buddy Murphy has transformed his career in time to break out at WWE King of the Ring 2019

WWE

If there was a turning point in Buddy Murphy's transformation from pedestrian NXT tag team champion to the "best kept secret" on WWE's main roster, it was a period fueled by frustration and discontent. Murphy, the 30-year-old Australian whose real name is Matthew Adams, is currently on the verge of breakout stardom given his spot in the revived King of the Ring tournament and the lengths in which WWE has gone to make his recent SmackDown debut feel special.

Just two years ago, Murphy was as far removed from where he stands today as one could imagine. He joined the CBS Sports "State of Combat" podcast just days removed from going over clean against Daniel Bryan on SmackDown Live in his first main-roster victory.

"I was in NXT for a while and saw some success there, but the majority of the time found myself lost," Murphy said as part of our extensive conversation. "Then it all goes full circle and it has been a crazy ride. That glass ceiling that everyone talks about? Well, I'm smashing it and just doing me, I'm just doing me."

Subscribe to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast -- where we cover WWE and beyond each week -- and be sure to listen our complete interview with Buddy Murphy at the 55:37 timestamp below.

The fact that he repeated "just doing me" seems apropos when you learn Murphy's backstory. If you were left jaw dropped by how different Murphy looked upon his arrival on 205 Live in 2018 compared with the NXT version just one year earlier, that was by design. 

Despite earning early success in NXT alongside Wesley Blake, including a 2015 tag team title reign which lasted 219 days, the wrestler Murphy was allowed to portray on the screen was anything but the real man. Even worse, he felt held down by the established creative constraints as he struggled to find an opportunity to perform at his very best. 

"The [fans] didn't know which one was Blake and which one was Murphy, and that irritated me, so it created this chip on my shoulder," Murphy said.

By 2016, the tag team of Blake and Murphy -- which really began to hit a stride with Alexa Bliss as its manager -- was no longer. One year later, Murphy hit his NXT rock bottom as a singles competitor when he went more than 365 days without appearing on television. 

"That really got me down because what I see today is what I feel like I always had to offer," Murphy said. "But I guess maybe some other people didn't see that at the time. It was a lot of soul searching. I was kind of running through the motions, and to be honest, counting the days left. You can only do so much."

Murphy's career-altering epiphany wouldn't come until the end of 2017. During the final road loop for NXT's live tour, he was paired in a series of matches opposite Aleister Black. Having never worked with Black before, Murphy decided to just let it all hang out and worry about the consequences later. 

"I was like, 'I'm going to die on my sword. I'm going to do what I do, and it's going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but you might as well go out on your own sword,'" Murphy said.

According to Murphy, not only did he steal the show for three consecutive nights, even more importantly, his love for professional wrestling returned. 

"I rubbed people the wrong way because they wanted it a set way, but I felt like I had to do what I loved and I wanted to bring back what I loved," Murphy said. "That was the starting point for what you see today. The love for wrestling is back in me, and I think you can see that by the quality that I want to produce. I want to be the best I can be and be known as one of the best in the world and for people to realize that I was always this from the beginning."

Subscribe to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast -- where we cover WWE and beyond each week -- and be sure to listen our complete interview with Buddy Murphy at the 55:37 timestamp below.

With Murphy's resolve regenerated, it did not take long for it to be put to the test. Having seen the consistent quality put out by WWE's cruiserweight division on "205 Live," Murphy believed the show's work rate was perfect for his skills. Others, unfortunately, weren't so convinced. Murphy persisted, asking relentlessly, literally to the point of derision. 

"They kind of like laughed in my face like, 'No, don't worry about it. That's not happening.' I asked so many times that I decided to just get in a little bit of trouble because I kept asking the same question over and over again and the answer was already, No,'" Murphy said.

Feeling at a bit of a crossroads, Murphy began to focus his free time on transforming his body by slimming down from 230 pounds to the cruiserweight limit. Finally, he sent a message to WWE producer Adam Pearce after "205 Live" announced a tournament to crown a new champion that read, "If you have some open spots, I would love to be part of it. And if weight is an issue, weight is not an issue anymore because I'm down to 205."

Although Murphy didn't win the tournament, which culminated in a match at WrestleMania 34, he certainly became the talk of it. If his physical alterations didn't scream "future main eventer," his new move set quickly announced him among the best workers in the company. 

"It was a crazy, crazy little story, but you just have to take initiative yourself and create your own opportunities," Murphy said.

Murphy took so much pride in helping "205 Live" become a destination for wrestling fans that his work ethic and focus became contagious in the locker room. He was so committed to his character and the storyline of needing to cut weight in order to make the cruiserweight limit that he actually simulated what an MMA fighter goes through before weigh-ins to add to the realism. 

"We prided ourselves a lot, all the boys, that if we held that standard than the overall product was going to be that much better," Murphy said. "The weigh-ins were real, and I was actually getting down to 205. And to keep it in a real realistic manner, the day before of TV when I had to do a weigh-in, I would hit the sauna for like 30 minutes and really take all the water out of me and look sunken in for the dehydration of these weigh-ins. 

"It wouldn't be fair to the other guys for me just to come in and not be 205. It was a pride thing, and I think that me coming into 205 a little bit bigger, I think that helped us all. All the boys were like, 'Well this guy looks like this, I'm going to have to pick up my game.' You look at Lince Dorado, Ali and even Cedric [Alexander], they have all transformed their bodies because we kept a standard and wanted to be the most athletic looking division."

On Oct. 6, 2018, Murphy defeated Alexander to win the cruiserweight championship in front of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground at WWE Super Show-Down. While the setting of winning his first major championship in front of his hometown fans in Australia was enough to create "my WrestleMania of WrestleMania moments" for Murphy, it more importantly gave him a chance to show his family first-hand why he is so passionate about professional wrestling. 

"My family had never seen me wrestle before, and the first match they saw me was winning the cruiserweight championship in front of 80,000 people cheering my name," Murphy said. "My family weren't really supportive of this whole wrestling career and trying to get to WWE because we were so far away in Australia and it wasn't really heard of. All the stars and planets aligned. It's a moment I will never forget. It's crazy, I've got goosebumps right now even trying to think about it."

Despite being announced as a main roster call-up to "SmackDown Live" in April, Murphy strategically took some time off TV in order to bulk up. It wasn't until earlier this month that Murphy began regularly showing up on screen, and his impact was immediate.

Thrown in the middle of a whodunnit storyline involving Bryan and Roman Reigns, Murphy enjoyed featured matches against both men in consecutive weeks that stamped him as a legitimate future star.  Although Murphy lost to Reigns via pinfall, the instant classic match saw Reigns go above and beyond to put Murphy over just as Bryan did the following week in a Murphy win with Bryan eating the 1-2-3.

"Just being in there with Roman, it's crazy. He's the Hulk Hogan and John Cena of today, he's the [Steve] Austin and The Rock," Murphy said. "To just stand in the ring with him, when his music went off, it gave me goosebumps. I got a little bit nervous but then I just said, 'I belong here. This is all happening for a reason.' For him to want to step into the ring with me is awesome, and it's an honor. It felt like magic happening. And Bryan truly loves wrestling. To do what he did for me and has done for others, it just tells you what kind of person he is in real life, and I can't thank him enough."

Murphy knows full well that there's a massive opportunity in front of him as the King of the Ring tournament continues this week. His first-round match against Ali is set for Tuesday's episode of "SmackDown Live" (8 p.m. ET, USA Network).

As much as he wants to win the tournament, Murphy is just as equally focused on getting better in every aspect of being a performer. While he claims to have a strong relationship with Vince McMahon and had heard noting by positives from the WWE chairman, he would just as well prefer to hear negatives. 

"I need to hear the little critiques because they are going to make me better," Murphy said. "I'm all about being the best I can be, and I'm my own biggest critic, so if I do watch some of my stuff back, I'm not looking at what I did good. I'm looking at what I did wrong because that is going to make me better. 

"I don't want to sound like I have an ego or anything, but I know what I'm capable of and I know I can do that every single night. I just hope that the people can see the passion that I have and get behind me when it comes to that. Whether it's one minute or 15 minutes or 30 minutes, I'm going out there to steal the show and everyone can get behind me."

Asked whether fans have yet to experience Murphy's true character on the main roster, he said he's on his way to going full circle as both a person and performer. Unlike his days in NXT, Murphy is finally portraying himself on the screen -- his real self -- and that has made all of the difference in his success.

"I've got one big chip on my shoulder to prove to the world. It's not just to prove to the people of the world, it's to prove to the people of NXT. It's to prove to the people in the back when I wasn't being used what you were sitting on," Murphy said.

"Everyone is jumping on the Buddy Murphy train now even though it was just, 'This guy still works here? I thought he was released.' It's a big chip, and I'm out to prove to everyone that I'm real and I'm here to stay. The character of Buddy Murphy is me but with a huge chip on my shoulder, and I think over the next couple of months you are going to see what I'm truly about."

Subscribe to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast -- where we cover WWE and beyond each week -- and be sure to listen our complete interview with Buddy Murphy at the 55:37 timestamp below.

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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