WWE Hall of Famer Steve Austin has long said that the key to the success of his "Stone Cold" character was that he took his real-life personality and simply turned it up a notch, allowing him to retain the authenticity of who he really was.
It's likely no coincidence that Austin has been so outspoken in his support of two-time NXT tag team champions The Revival, who bring a stripped down, old school, smash-mouth style to the current WWE product.
Like Austin before them, both Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder wrestle with a chip on their shoulders that comes from a very real part of their personalities, and it's been a major part of their character's identity and success.
"It's not a character, Jack," Dawson interrupted, in an ESPN.com interview before the start of NXT TakeOver: San Antonio.
"I don't know if chip is a big enough word," Wilder added.
Spending just a few minutes with Dawson, 32, and Wilder, 29, allows one to realize quite quickly that The Revival is living the gimmick of the image its team portrays. Or maybe, to put it another way, there is no gimmick at all.
"I know what you're saying, the chip is part of my character, but that's not part of my character," Dawson said. "There is a huge chip on my shoulder, and I don't hold a grudge against anybody else, but I know how good The Revival is and I know what we can do and what we can accomplish. So I want to stop you there and say I can 100 percent fully guarantee it's not a character."
Dawson, real name David Harwood, believes The Revival's disgruntled persona helps bring out the best of them both in the ring and on the microphone. Raised in North Carolina just over 100 miles from where Wilder, real name Daniel Wheeler, was born, the duo has relied on a blue-collar mentality to fight for opportunities within the company the same way it does in the ring as a tag team.
"It comes from childhood, I think we have always been like that," Wilder said. "Obviously we are not 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, so it has always been an uphill battle. No matter how talented we felt we are in the ring coming up, there was a little bit of doubt or, 'Oh, maybe you need to put on a little bit more size. Maybe if you were a little taller.'"
For Dawson, the perceived slights regarding his size only built up his willingness to fight.
"That don't mean that we are not tough and that don't mean that we can't hurt somebody," Dawson said. "There have been a lot of times where I have taken a guy twice my size down and that's OK, because I'll be doing it for the rest of my life, even outside of wrestling. There is nothing off limits."
Wilder hasn't forgotten the lack of fanfare that The Revival debuted with three years ago in NXT. Elaborate vignettes to announce their arrival? Forget about it. Originally billed as The Mechanics, and then simply Dash and Dawson, it took The Revival exactly one year from their NXT debut to record their first televised victory.
"There was never any red carpet debut," Wilder said. "There was never a big fuss, it was just, 'You will go out there and have a match and it might be three minutes and then bye, bye.' I don't think anybody expected us to become champions."
When Dawson made mention to how low the expectations for the team was coming in, Wilder was quick to correct him, saying they were non-existent. But both wrestlers admit the struggle for attention helped fuel their resolve, developing an attitude where even though they weren't in the last match on the card, they performed each night as if they were in the main event.
The process of climbing the ladder also allowed their chemistry the time to gel. Today, the duo regularly draws praise for its commitment to a classic tag team style of old that is often missing in today's product, filled with quick tags, continuity and hard-nosed heel toughness.
Dawson, however, isn't such a fan of the "old school" label that the team has acquired. To him, it's cliché and overused.
"It's not that we are old school, it's just that's what we grew up watching and love watching," Dawson said. "Those are the guys that we idolized, so it's not so much like we are trying to be different or bring something back that was once popular, it's just that this is what we grew up with and enjoy and this is how it translates in the ring for us."
The Revival has often been compared to Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, which both members consider an honor, having grown up in NWA country watching Mid-South Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions. But Dawson was just as quick to mention the influences of other teams, including the Midnight Express, Rock 'n' Roll Express, Minnesota Wrecking Crew, Hart Foundation, The Rockers and the duo of Austin and Brian Pillman.
"I feel like wrestling has gotten away from that to an extent, and it has evolved like everything does, but there is no reason why we can't bring that back," Wilder said. "I always felt like wrestling then was a contest of everybody trying to win, make the most money, hold championships and be the best. I feel like that's the way it should be, and that's the way we want it to be now."
The Revival's T-shirt design, with the slogan of "No flips, just fists," is an apt way to describe not just their presentation, but their mindset on the business.
"We want to win. We don't care about being the flashiest or the fanciest or having the biggest oohs and aahs or biggest tricks, we want to win and be the best," Wilder said. "We want to go down in history."
The team's straight-forward presentation is an understanding of where the two came from, according to Dawson.
"We know we are just regular-looking guys, average looking Joe's wearing trunks and boots and putting our knee pads on," he said. "We have no sparkles, we have no frills. We don't do any flips and there's no face paint or sparkling dust. But if you put us in the ring, we will produce and make everybody believe it's the truth. We are the truth. We are The Revival and there is nobody that does it any better than we do."
Dawson's confidence and unwillingness to mince words has gotten him into hot water from time to time on social media -- most notably in December when, after Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens teamed up on Raw for a pop-up Codebreaker, Dawson posted a video of him and Wilder doing the same move from one year earlier in NXT.
Jericho quickly fired back:
- Chris Jericho (@IAmJericho) December 14, 2016
Dawson playfully admits he has gone a bit too far at times on social media, to which Wilder agreed, saying, "We have had to pull back on the Twitter feed." Dawson now refers to his teammate as "my Twitter filter."
Regardless, it's difficult to deny The Revival's impact and success inside the ring. To that end, the past year has been a major success for the team, including a memorable title-match trilogy to close out 2016 and open 2017 with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa of #DIY. The quartet produced two match-of-the-year contenders at NXT TakeOver events that were hailed for their pace and storytelling.
While The Revival acknowledges the importance of the #DIY feud in terms of their maturation, both members believe their program with American Alpha to open 2016 too often gets forgotten. The Revival lost thier titles to Chad Gable and Jason Jordan during WrestleMania weekend at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, before regaining them in June at NXT TakeOver: The End.
"You can't overlook the stuff we did with American Alpha," Dawson said. "At the time, I don't want to say [it was] revolutionary, but it was just going back to the basics and reintroducing it to a new audience. That's where I believe we started to shine. I think that's where the evolution of Dash and Dawson actually began."
While Wilder believes the American Alpha trilogy proved there was "no doubt that we were as good as we say we are," he also credited the importance of the match the team had with Enzo Amore and Big Cass last March, where it made something of a main roster debut at the Roadblock WWE Network special in Toronto.
What hasn't been lost on The Revival was the fact that both Enzo and Cass and American Alpha soon made full-time moves to Raw and SmackDown Live, respectively, after facing the duo. While Dawson says staying within NXT for so long has helped the team build equity and grow as a brand, both members admitted there's a balancing act between being happy for your co-workers and fighting off the natural competitive jealousy.
The Revival enters 2017 knowing their time is likely soon. Whenever they do eventually leave NXT, however, it will be bittersweet.
"Championship belts may not be looked as much of a prized possession as they were in the '70s, '80s or even the '90s, but we were very proud to be NXT tag team champions," Dawson said. "I'm being serious, and I may sound like a fanboy, but we were super proud to carry that division and just turn it completely around. We are not the reason it has been turned around, but we are part of the guys who have had their hands in it."
Wilder says that no matter where the duo finds itself during 2017, the team is focused on putting forth its best year yet.
"Our goal is to be the No. 1 tag team in whatever division we are in," Wilder said. "And make a ton of money."
"A ton of money," Dawson added. "We work as a unit and we win as a unit. We are one."