Q&A: MVP on Signing a New Contract With WWE, Mentoring Young Stars and More

By Justin Barrasso ,

MVP will be staying with WWE for the foreseeable future. The leader of The Hurt Business has signed a new contract with WWE, and the longtime veteran now has a worldwide platform to fulfill his wrestling legacy.

The 46-year-old Hassan Hamin Assad, who is best known in wrestling as MVP, is in the midst of a career renaissance, both in the ring and as the advocate for Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin. MVP challenges Apollo Crews for the United States Championship at SummerSlam, and he is also part of an integral storyline with Lashley and Benjamin.

MVP spoke with Sports Illustrated, discussing his decision to re-sign with WWE, the benefit of imparting knowledge to younger stars like Crews, and the untapped potential of Lashley and Benjamin.

Justin Barrasso: Congratulations on the extension. Why was Yamazaki 18 your beverage of choice to celebrate? And how long will you be with WWE?

MVP: Yamazaki 18 is one of the finest whiskeys in the world, and people that know MVP know that I have a love for Japanese whiskey. It was the best possible spirit to celebrate this new chapter.

In terms of how long my deal is, that’s my business. But let’s just say I’ll be around for a little while. We were able to come to terms, which was pretty cool.

JB: When you returned to WWE in January for the Royal Rumble, and then had the match on Raw against Rey Mysterio, you posted on social media that you thought that was your final match in WWE.

MVP: That was supposed to be it.

JB: Thankfully, you were wrong. What changed?

MVP: That’s professional wrestling, the card is always subject to change. I was offered a position as a producer, and I was prepared to retire this year, so the timing was perfect. Then I was asked to do a VIP Lounge, then another. I was asked to do a match, then another. The momentum began to build.

I think there were certain people that forgot what I was capable of doing. Then they were reminded, and they said, ‘Hey, let’s use him.’ Instead of being used here and there, the next thing you know, I was being used here, there, there, and there.

[WWE backstage producer] Adam Pearce made a great joke that resonated in our locker room. He said, ‘Hey, didn’t they just do a ‘Where are they now?’ on you a year ago?’ I said, ‘Yeah, they did.’ And he said, ‘Well, I can tell you where MVP is now. He’s going to be on segment four, segment seven, segment eight and nine, and segment 12.’ So it’s pretty amazing.

JB: Your career over the past two decades has been so successful, and your work in Japan instilled even more confidence in you as a performer. What do you bring to WWE that otherwise would not exist without you?

MVP: I bring entertainment that is connected to the old way of doing things. I’m fortunate that I learned my craft at a different time. If we’re on live TV and something changes, and they say, ‘MVP, here’s the mic for the next seven minutes,’ I learned how to do that a long time ago and I’ve only gotten better over the years. You have a lot of younger talent now that are tremendously talented, but they haven’t sharpened those skills yet. To be able to grab the mic and talk on live TV, that’s a skill that takes time.

I bring entertainment and mic skills that come with 20 years of experience, and I’m a WWE alum. That’s where I was able to perfect those skills.

MVP

Courtesy WWE

JB: You are one of the veterans of the locker room, and it’s remarkable that your WWE debut on SmackDown took place 14 years ago in August of 2006.

MVP: Tell me about it. I’ve been sitting around locker rooms over the years, and I realized, ‘I’m the OG now. I’m literally the OG in here.’ I remember being the young jacked-up kid, and all the grizzled old vets would ask, ‘Does that kid know how to work? Is he safe?’ Now I’m the grizzled vet sitting in the corner that’s seen it all.

JB: Your work remains fresh, which is visible every time you’re on-screen. Your experience gives you such confidence in the ring, and you have developed a relationship over the years with Vince McMahon. How has Vince influenced your work?

MVP: That’s an interesting question. Vince is very demanding. I’ve always said this about Vince–he’s hard, but he’s fair, with me, for sure. I remember when I first got called up to WWE and I was doing segments with Matt Hardy in our feud, Vince pulled us to the side and said, very specifically, ‘When we’re doing these segments, I want you guys to be very involved. I want you to participate.’ Up until then, I thought my role was as talent, so I didn’t know I was allowed to do that. But Vince was the one that opened that door for me, so I took a more hands-on approach. WWE is the NFL of pro wrestling. It’s the biggest, strongest platform in the industry, so to be able to learn from Vince McMahon, I was able to take those skills to other places and continue to grow.

Coming back now, I understand what Vince wants and how he wants it. And Vince is a perfectionist. Good enough is not good enough for Vince. His influence has been huge. I’m a go-getter, and I want to be involved with the segments I’m in, and I want to make sure that I’m on the same page with the other talent so that your viewing experience on Monday Night Raw is the best that it can possibly can. Those are things I learned from Vince.

JB: In addition to spotlighting the work of Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin, this run has allowed you to extend your in-ring career. You know how to recognize a special talent. Is Apollo Crews destined for stardom? What makes his work so special?

MVP: Apollo Crews is a gifted athlete. Every time I’m in the ring with him, I’m just impressed at the things he’s capable of doing. I met him years ago on the independent scene in the U.K., so I’ve seen his work mature. He and I have had opportunities to talk where I’ve been able to impart some of my experiences on him. One of the biggest things that’s going to work in the favor of Apollo Crews future is he’s coachable. It’s his aptitude. Some guys will only ask you for advice because it’s the thing to do, but they don’t necessarily apply it. If Apollo Crews asks you for feedback, he genuinely wants it to get better. And if you do point something out to him, you only have to do it once, because, by the next time, the adjustment has been made.

Apollo Crews has all the tools to be the next big star. Time will tell, but I’m in his corner and I believe he will be. Firsthand, I see how coachable he is, how humble he is, and how hungry he is, three qualities you need to be a star in this industry.

JB: Are there two more underrated, explosive, or dynamic talents in wrestling than Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin?

MVP: No, no, no, no. No, there are not. That’s it. I’ve had the pleasure and honor of tagging and working with those guys, and I’ve had the pleasure, and I dare say misfortune, of standing against them at times. I know both sides of that coin. I think Shelton Benjamin is, without question, one of the most explosive, dynamic, exciting individuals ever to grace a WWE ring. And underrated applies to him very well.

Lashley’s accolades speak for themselves, and right now, we’re in a situation where everything is coming together at the right time in the right way. Timing is everything. The whole COVID era has been difficult without having arenas with the fans, but everyone has put their nose to the grindstone to still put out a product that makes fans smile.

When you have Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin standing in the ring, and I’m there with the microphone, it feels fresh, it feels good. Those guys are really in a position now to show what, maybe, some people forgot they were capable of doing.

JB: Lashley’s program with Drew McIntyre has been the highlight so far of his title run. I know the timing wasn’t right for a WWE Championship change, but Lashley should certainly be world champion. With the creation of Raw Underground and WWE becoming more lenient of talent appearing on Raw and SmackDown since all talent film out of the Performance Center in Florida, would you like to see Lashley shift to SmackDown and challenge Braun Strowman for the Universal Championship? I know titles aren’t everything, but when you look at a guy like Bobby, I just don’t know what more you can want out of a pro wrestler than someone like him.

MVP: Bobby is the prototype. Let’s be realistic, when you go down the list of WWE wrestlers, how many guys in real life look better than their action figure? Lashley is probably the only one. And to that point, I like what The Hurt Business is doing and yes, Lashley and Shelton should both have titles, no question.

I don’t know what the creative direction is, but I would love it if The Hurt Business would show up on NXT and I would love it if we showed up on SmackDown and broadened the horizons of our brand. Whether it’s the WWE title, whether it’s the Universal title, both of those titles would look great on Lashley, whether it’s a temporary crossover on SmackDown or if it’s an invasion where The Hurt Business just shows up and takes it.

MVP

Courtesy WWE

JB: Like Lashley, Shelton Benjamin also has the presence, charisma, experience, and ability to represent the company as its top champion. Knowing him so well, what excites you most about advocating for Benjamin?

MVP: I can tell you right now, Shelton’s last year or two have been less than exciting. He’s had lots of great matches, he’s had some dynamic matches with Cedric Alexander on Main Event, but people haven’t really seen them. I know personally that Shelton Benjamin has a lot to prove. He feels that maybe some people have forgotten how explosive and dynamic and special an athlete he is. To know the fire that is burning in his belly, and what he needs to accomplish to make people remember, ‘Hey, Shelton Benjamin is that dude.’

Shelton Benjamin is more than a guy flying off a ladder at WrestleMania. Shelton Benjamin is one of the greatest athletes ever to pass through the gates of the WWE, and I know that he wants everybody to remember why he is so great. I look forward to being with him every step of the way as he makes everybody remember who and what Shelton Benjamin is all about.

JB: If done correctly, there is endless potential for Raw Underground, which you, Lashley, and Benjamin dominated last week. Raw would have an unforgettable moment, even without a crowd, amidst the pandemic, if Brock Lesnar showed up on Raw Underground for a face-off with Lashley. You’ve been around this business your entire adult life and wrestling is embedded in your soul. What needs to be done for Raw Underground to be a successful part of the show every week?

MVP: It’s all about the fighting. The raw aggression and the zero pro wrestling aspect of it, guys getting in there and fighting, that’s a nice twist and a contrast to the pro wrestling matches that we have. I think people will enjoy that. It’s sleek, it’s cool, it has a different vibe to it.

I’ve actually been in night clubs where they have MMA in the ring, so I know that vibe, I know the feel. It will time take time for people to get used to it in the setting of Monday Night Raw, but I think it provides a pretty cool contrast. It’s new, so I’m sure adjustments will be made, but I look forward to me and The Hurt Business showing up again and applying our trade, if you will.

JB: What comes next for you? What does The Hurt Business have in store for tonight’s Raw?

MVP: Monday Night Raw is our platform. I can promise that, as you tune in, along with the other tremendously talented stars, The Hurt Business will provide you with the entertainment you seek. As long you enjoy watching people getting hurt, then we’ll be there and we’ll make sure we give that to you week in and week out.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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