Welcome to Gorilla Fighters, a new feature where I profile some of the lesser-known entities of WWE and NXT. Not so much lesser-known as in terribly obscure or superstars who barely wrestle, but people that though we see them on tv and have become a little familiar with them, we really don’t know that much about. We pretty much know the life stories of guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, Kane, Undertaker, Triple H… they’ve been around for decades and have been profiled and had their stories told to us by JR, King, JBL, Michael Cole, and countless backstage interviewers. In this feature, I’ll try to research the same information about wrestlers that I find highly interesting and want to know more about, and I’ll definitely take suggestions on who to feature in these posts. I’ll also discuss each wrestler’s potential, where they are now, and where I hope they’ll end up. Since this is all about WWE, we might as well start with what WWE stands for: Walk With Elias.
Who is Elias?
Jeffrey Sciullo, known to the WWE Universe first as Elias Samson and later just Elias, started teaching himself Eric Clapton songs on guitar at age 15. The natural gift of music (he also knows how to play the piano, drums, and harmonica) has led to him finding his niche with WWE audiences. He says he’s been a fan of WWE for as long as he can remember, and attended his first wrestling show in 2005 at age 18. That first wrestling show led to an introduction to trainers who ran the Iron City Wrestling Academy, a school in Pittsburgh that offers the first step to those who aspire to be professional wrestlers. The school, owned by the International Wrestling Cartel, helped Sciullo work his way into the WWE’s developmental system. He won both the IWC Super Indy Championship and the IWC World Heavyweight Championship. Though he was called “Heavy Metal Jesus” Logan Shulo, playing guitar was never a part of his character’s run on the independent circuit from 2008-13.
Throughout Shulo’s time on the independent circuit, he had four tryouts with WWE, and was sent away each time, spending thousands of dollars in the process. His first tryout match was at a sold-out show in Hershey against Dean Ambrose. He would work as a per-show extra on NXT at times until finally, in 2014, chief WWE scout and NXT’s on-screen general manager William Regal helped him get a developmental deal. He was given the name Elias Samson and debuted on April 24, 2014. He and Buddy Murphy, a current top contender for the Cruiserweight Championship, wrestled as jobbers against current Raw superstars The Ascension, still the most dominant tag team in NXT history (seriously, though you wouldn’t know it from their main rosters usage).
Samson would wrestle sporadically on TV as a jobber over the next year and change, until he was given the gimmick of “The Drifter” in mid-2015. At first he was simply seen strumming his guitar and being played up as mysterious as well as cool, but it did not go over as well as hoped with the NXT fans. WWE trainer Terry Taylor asked Elias to start singing to the audience at NXT live events, but those performances were very different than what we see on Raw today. In Elias’ own words:
“Triple H has told me specifically from the very first time when he saw me, he said that it would be a better main roster character than NXT. It never really clicked with the NXT audience the way it has, (and) the way I see it, I took my live event act in NXT and brought it to the main roster.”
“They saw the live event act and said let’s put that on TV. On NXT, I would sing songs, but wouldn’t even do that, plus it was very dark and cryptic, but this is the kind of stuff I was doing on live events in NXT before being called up.”
That’s not to say he didn’t win over fans in NXT, it just led the character in a different direction than originally intended. Instead of being a cool and mysterious drifter the fans were enamored with and intrigued by, he became a purposeful annoyance at whom the fans would chant “drift away.” Without that change in direction for the character, we may not be seeing him on Raw today, because it’s what brought out his truly entertaining side. There’s no better example than on the April 5, 2017 episode of NXT. One week prior, Samson had lost a “Loser Leaves NXT” match to Kassius Ohno. By this point the decision had been made to bring Elias from NXT to Raw. The following week, Samson showed up with in a luchador mask under the name “El Vagabundo” (Spanish for “The Drifter”) to face Oney Lorcan. He lost after being unmasked, and the whole segment still stands out as my favorite ever in NXT.
Where is he now?
The 30-year-old Pittsburgh native, his name now shortened to Elias, has brought that musical talent and charisma to Raw and uses it to entertain us on a weekly basis. It says a lot about what the company thinks of him when they send him out to troll WWE audiences week after week, and especially at Wrestlemania when they are expecting The Undertaker. This week on Raw he even attempted a concert mid-match. He has certainly been getting opportunities to show his growth as a wrestler as well as a character and entertainer. His matches are usually against top talent, mid-card champions, or title contenders, and he was even involved in the 2018 Elimination Chamber match which determined the next #1 contender to the Universal Championship. He won a triple threat match against John Cena and Braun Strowman to enter the match last. I can’t imagine many NXT fans at the time of The Drifter’s debut would think he’d ever win a triple threat match against John Cena and Braun Strowman. His feud with Strowman was one of the most entertaining of the past year.
How far will he go?
I think Elias is one small step away from being a mid-card title contender, and I wouldn’t be surprised if as soon as next week we see him answer Seth Rollins’ Intercontinental Title challenge. I don’t know if I could see Elias as WWE or Universal Champion in the character’s current incarnation. I don’t think it has a lot of mainstream appeal. That’s certainly not to say that WWE and Jeff Sciullo couldn’t come up with some tweaks or a totally different character that could lead the man to becoming a top draw. We know he has the charisma, and he wouldn’t be in the matches he is if he didn’t have the wrestling ability. Personally, I enjoy the character pretty much as is and I think he would be suited just fine to a modern-day Honky Tonk Man role as an agitator and mid-card champion. Here’s hoping he does it with more tact and decorum backstage than Honky did.