Roderick Strong is a longtime veteran of the sport and a featured star every week in NXT as the reigning North American Champion. But Strong first popped up on WWE television in 2005, working as an extra in a SmackDown segment against Kurt Angle.
Strong was quickly defeated by Angle in the "3-Minute Hometown Hero Challenge," but the memory has stuck with him 15 years later.
"It’s weird—I had this nervous energy working with someone I was such a big fan of in Kurt. I honestly went to that SmackDown to see some friends, I didn’t expect to do anything. When the opportunity came about, it was a big deal for me, especially to have a chance to work against Kurt for something that was longer than 20 seconds," Strong told Sports Illustrated. "It’s something that I’ll remember forever. It also bums me out knowing that Kurt is retired. I would have loved the opportunity to have more of a competitive matchup with him. As time went on, that match would have been exceptional. It’s one of the most memorable moments of my entire career."
Angle retired at WrestleMania 35, working his last match against Baron Corbin.
Strong was put into the spotlight at WWE Survivor Series, wrestling against AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura in a champion vs. champion vs. champion bout. Strong picked up the victory in the match and found himself emotional once the bell rang.
"That was a great opportunity to give the WWE universe just a taste, but not everything. Those are two guys that I have the utmost respect for, and obviously I’ve wrestled AJ quite a few times before and Nakamura quite a few times prior to coming to WWE. It was very, very special for me," he said. "After the match, I was celebrating on the ground, and I got emotional. I take a lot of pride in what I do, and that was a big moment. I was very, very happy that I had the chance to do that with guys that I have so much respect for, and ones I feel that have the same respect for me. I’m just excited to continue, until the day I stop doing this, to show the world how good I am at this job."
Strong will defend his NXT North American Championship against Keith Lee on Wednesday's episode of NXT. Fightful will have live coverage of NXT beginning at 8 p.m. ET.