Q&A: WWE Champion Big E on his title run, representation and more

Professional wrestler Big E, pictured after retaining the WWE Championship at the Crown Jewel event. (Photo courtesy: WWE)

When Big E captured the Intercontinental Championship, his first championship within WWE, it seemed as though that would be a starting point of career propelled via a rocket strap. Big E, seemingly, had every tangible and intangible attribute one could want in a WWE Champion.

But the acquisition of the top prize in pro wrestling never materialized. Instead, Big E spent time developing alongside Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods as one of the greatest tag teams in the history of professional wrestling.

All the while, though, there was still that question of, “If not now then when?” Big E finally received his chance in September, defeating Bobby Lashley for the title live on Monday Night Raw on Sportsnet 360.

Big E’s career has since gone from a roller coaster to a non-stop wild ride, filled with salivating outside-of-the-ring opportunities including appearing ahead of the Tyson Fury/Deontay Wilder fight in early October. Sportsnet recently had the chance to sit down with Big E to chat about his title run, representation within WWE and more.

Sportsnet: You’re still a relatively new WWE Champion, having captured the title on September 13. How has it been as WWE Champion since then?

Big E: I’m an established talent, I’ve been around, so I’m not new (and) I didn’t think there would be a vast difference but there really is. I mean, just as far as the amount of people reaching out, the amount of opportunities. I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity to be a part of Fury–Wilder, a small part but a really cool part. Also to go back to Iowa City for one of the biggest home wins in Iowa football history. These are perks that you get with the title and that’s pretty cool.

Yeah things have really, really picked up for me but man, I feel so fortunate to be able to do all these things, especially things that I love. College football was my first love as a kid and getting back to my alma mater (with) the same head coach that I played for 17 years ago is really, really cool. Things have been busy, but things have been very, very good.

SN: It definitely has been a busy stretch for you outside the ring. How do you compartmentalize all that added responsibility?

Big E: For me, I just have to do a better job of managing my time. When I’m home, I’m still working. It’s just a matter of figuring out what needs to stay and what needs to go and making my time a little more efficient. But I mean, you can’t turn down an opportunity to do what I got to do (with Wilder-Fury and at Iowa). Those are things that, I don’t care if I didn’t sleep for a week, that’s something I couldn’t turn down. It’s just a matter of getting a little bit more organized, that’s all.

SN: The crowd erupted when you appeared ahead of the Iowa football game. Could you compare that crowd pop with the one you got when you won the WWE Championship?

Big E: It’s hard to say. It was definitely different. I felt like the title win was pretty special, it’s hard to top that. It was really nice to go back to Iowa City and get that kind of reception. I wasn’t a star there by any means. I had a bunch of injuries, I was only on the field for one season, was never a starter, so you never really know (what the reception would be like) but it was very heartwarming to be received so well. Also, so many of my teammates that I hadn’t seen in over a decade said so many kind things. Life happens and people move on so you kind of lose contact. But there’s a real brotherhood so hearing from so many guys that had been following my career and had been so proud of me, was very heartwarming.

SN: Your college football career almost mirrors that of another former WWE Champion, that being The Rock. Who do you think would have a better chance at cracking a CFL roster in their football prime; Big E or The Rock?

Big E: Oh, I don’t know. So, I was a defensive tackle at under 6-feet tall, only about 275 pounds. The Rock had more of the measurables. So I’ll go with The Rock and I don’t think his injury history was quite as bad as mine, so if I’m being honest I think The Rock had a better opportunity to make a CFL roster than I did.

SN: Representation is more prominent than ever in WWE right now with back-to-back Black WWE Champions in you and Bobby Lashley, along with several other champions and storylines within the company. What has it been like being a part of that history?

Big E: I think it’s really cool. When you look around at the landscape of our industry, in WWE and outside of WWE, it just feels like a really good time to be a Black professional wrestler, whether you’re a man or a woman. I look around and I see so many stars. And what I love, too, is when I look at our roster I don’t see a bunch of people who were given these opportunities and these positions merely because of the colour of their skin, as some kind of a quota system. You look at a Bianca (Belair), you look at a Sasha (Banks) and they’re undeniable to me. They are clearly unique. Same thing with Kofi (Kingston) and (Xavier) Woods, and Bobby Lashley and you can go on and on, there are just so many really, really talented Black wrestlers.

I love seeing what Hit Row’s been doing, too, I love seeing them move to SmackDown, it’s exciting. It’s just a great time for us. I was a young Black kid who was a professional wrestling fan and some of my favourites were Goldberg and Scott Steiner but I also loved Ron Simmons, as well. I think when you can see people who look like you or resemble you as a young fan, it makes you think, ‘Oh yeah, this industry speaks to me. It’s not ignoring my fandom.’ If this is something that you might want to do one day, it makes it seem more plausible that ‘Yeah, this is something I can do because look at all look at all the other people who look like me who’ve done this before.’

So I think it’s a beautiful thing and I hope that our company continues to reflect the world around us as far as our roster resembling the world we live in and I think that’s the goal. With Black talent, with Hispanic talent, with the amount of Japanese talent; I hope we continue to move in this direction and let people be themselves, let people be unique. I’m proud to be one of many talented Black wrestlers in WWE and around the world.

"When you look around at the landscape of our industry, in WWE and outside of WWE, it just feels like a really good time to be a Black professional wrestler, whether you’re a man or a woman," WWE Champion Big E, when discussing representation in professional wrestling. (Photo courtesy: WWE)

SN: Have you thought about what sort of programs you’d like to have with other WWE wrestlers while you’re WWE Champion?

Big E: I think the cool thing for me is that there are so many fresh matchups because I have not been in that top role. We’ve been in a top act in many ways (with the New Day) but there are so many singles matchups out there that are fresh for me. I was trying to make some noise for this Goldberg match at Crown Jewel, but that clearly (didn’t happen). It would have been really full circle. He was my childhood hero and idol, and I’ve spoken effusively about that.

But for me, there isn’t necessarily anyone that I’m targeting. I want the best and I love the fact that I’m getting an opportunity to be in the ring with Drew (McIntyre), a two-time WWE Champion. And I think just continuing to add talent like that, guys who were former world champions, that’s what I want. Hopefully, my reign is very long and I’d love to be able to look down that list and see world champion after world champion. I’d also love to see really talented men who haven’t had those same opportunities.

I thought with the Draft, beforehand, a guy like Cesaro, a guy like Kevin Owens, you didn’t really know where guys were headed. But Cesaro has never been a world champion which is kind of hard to fathom, that’s hard to believe. I can’t speak highly enough about how incredible he is in the ring, not to mention an incredible human being. The man, as we all know, anyone who’s paid any attention, you understand how incredible he is, and he’s not slowing down at all. Just guys like that, guys that I think are extremely talented and haven’t had the same opportunities.

Big E was very close friends with Jonathan Huber, also known as former WWE Superstar Luke Harper, but best known in the wrestling universe as Brodie Lee. Huber tragically passed away after a long battle with illness late last year. In the weeks that followed Lee’s death, Big E was very vocal in his love and support for his friend.

SN: It’s well known that Brodie Lee was a massive hockey fan, with a particular affinity for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Did any of Lee’s hockey fandom ever rub off on you?

Big E: I really wanted to go to a game at some point with him, and it was on me for not taking the opportunity. We didn’t live too far from each other, about 15 minutes, and his beautiful family still lives 15 minutes away. I’ve just heard so many incredible things about how fun the game is live, and how fast it is and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do.

For me, not that I’m a snob, but I think just based on time I’ve just decided not to open up any more doors for extra sports. I don’t have the time. I love boxing, I love MMA, I love college football, and honestly, outside of that wheelhouse, there just isn’t a whole lot of time. When I’m a fan of something I like to be invested. I listen to three different college football podcasts, four different MMA podcasts, so I like to be invested. And unfortunately, especially now, I just do not have the time.

But I do really want to go to a game, especially with the Lightning’s success, as well as being a Tampa guy, I do really want to go. Especially playoff hockey, I’ll turn it on if playoff hockey is on, just the energy and the enthusiasm. I don’t entirely know all the nuances, but if I have the time I’ll flip it on and watch. Jon would talk to me about hockey but he didn’t necessarily shove it down my throat or anything. But he definitely pushed me a bit in that direction and I need to go to a game soon at some point.

SN: If you had to pick a Stanley Cup Champion for the 2021/2022, who are you picking?

Big E: Mind you, I am wildly unqualified. I am the most unqualified person. But as I said, I’m from Tampa so let’s make it three (Stanley Cups) in a row with the Lightning.

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