WWE NXT: Leon Ruff reflects on North American championship win

Leon Ruff surprised the NXT world last week, defeating Johnny Gargano to become the new North American champion.

The 24-year-old Dartanyon Ruffin has been wrestling since 2016, but he is new to WWE. Up until the Gargano upset, one of his top WWE highlights was his performance in a squash match against Aleister Black in March. Ruff’s enthusiasm for the craft of pro wrestling was evident in that one-sided loss, and he impressed backstage executives with his ability to make the most of that moment.

Originally from Detroit, Ruff has long dreamed of a full-time career in pro wrestling. His dedication was on display over the years with constant sacrifices throughout the indie scene, particularly in EVOLVE, where he was known for making long car rides just to help at shows when he wasn’t even on the card. But Ruff will certainly be on the NXT card on Wednesday night, as he begins his unexpected reign as North American champ in a rematch against Gargano.

Ruff spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss the sudden title victory, his journey in wrestling and his dream opponents for a prolonged storyline with the belt.

How did you find out you were winning the North American championship last Wednesday? What was your initial reaction?

I found out that morning from one of the producers, and my initial reaction was that somebody was playing a prank on me. When I found it was really happening, there was a lot of excitement.

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