Baron Corbin is 33-year-old Tom Pestock. In addition to a run as WWE United States’ champion, the 6'6", 317-pound athlete also had a cup of coffee in the National Football League after a successful collegiate career as an offensive guard for Northwest Missouri State University.
Corbin is a part of Friday’s Greatest Royal Rumble event. Hosted in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the 50-man Greatest Royal Rumble features a star-studded ensemble including Daniel Bryan, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and Kurt Angle.
Corbin, who won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32 in his WWE main-roster debut, plans to re-insert himself in the world title picture by winning the Rumble in Saudi Arabia.
Justin Barrasso: The Baron Corbin character is all about dominance and brutality. I understand why you do not have time on television to discuss this part of your narrative, but is it accurate that some of your tattoos are dedicated to lost family members?
Baron Corbin: Yes, and that does play a role in what I do and who I am. I have a huge portrait of [my father] and my grandfather on my thigh. It helps remind me every day of where I came from, who I am, and what I’m about. Family is very important to me, and I’m honoring the people who created me.
When I go to the ring, I’m providing for my family. There will be a time when I take care of my mom, because my dad is not here anymore. If I’m standing across the ring from Roman Reigns, then he’s trying to take an opportunity away from me.
People like to think the character in the ring is very different than the person out of the ring, but for me, it’s not. I am extremely tough and extremely physical, and that is because my father taught me to be tough, physical, and not to take no for an answer. I learned to get what I wanted through any means necessary, and sometimes that means you have to get your hands dirty.
My dad brought me up not to accept second place. I lost a karate tournament once and got a trophy for fourth place. My dad tossed that trophy out the window on the way home. That played a huge role into who I am and my attitude now. He taught me that life is not fair, and it’s not. He passed away when I was in college.
JB: After watching you perform so long as Baron Corbin, it is certainly difficult to envision you as a kid who struggled in a karate tournament. How old were you? What happened?
BC: Man, I want to say I was 10. That was a taekwondo tournament. My dad put me into taekwondo when I was young, before I got into boxing. He asked to see the trophy on the way home, then he tossed it. He told me, ‘You don’t get trophies for fourth place.’
Even younger, I was in a tournament when I was eight and a kid had kicked me in the nose and I came home crying. My dad asked, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to stand there crying or are you going to do something about it?’ That sparked my whole attitude.
JB: Another integral part of your development into the man you are today is your NFL experience. What do you remember about your time with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals?
BC: I was originally signed as a free agent to Indianapolis and I was there for like six months, which meant I was around Peyton Manning for six months and watched him interact with titans like [center] Jeff Saturday. Peyton was the first one there and last one to leave. There was a team meeting where Peyton came in sweating with his cleats on, and [coach Jim] Caldwell said, ‘Peyton, we’re having a meeting.’ And Peyton said, ‘I was just out there [throwing] 500 balls,’ and he was. I remember how he could run through six or seven plays in 10 seconds, and the offensive linemen got it and were ready to go. It was amazing to see how quickly he could read defenses and be a true leader to the team.
I got released from there and I got signed by Arizona. So in the same year I went from Peyton Manning to Kurt Warner. Now Warner’s story is amazing, going from bagging groceries to the NFL and the Hall of Fame. It was crazy to see those two different types of quarterbacks as people. Kurt was much more serious, Peyton would be super entertaining. Kurt was an assertive team leader, and if you wanted to re-run a play, he would do it 10 times and not say a word about it. It was pretty crazy to play with guys who are two of the top five quarterbacks in history.
JB: Who is the greatest quarterback ever to play the game of football?
BC: I think Joe Montana is the greatest of all-time. What he did was incredible.
JB: On the football field, your performance dictates your playing time, which is not the case in the sports entertainment world of WWE. Does that impact your mindset, especially now considering the recent “Superstar Shakeup” and your move from SmackDown back to Monday nights on Raw?
BC: I had no idea I was headed to Raw until my vignette aired, and I said, ‘It looks like I have a new home.’ Immediately, it lit my fire of competition. It’s a new locker room to impress and challenge. I want to challenge them so they’ll challenge me. I want to step in the ring with Roman Reigns and have him realize, ‘This guy thinks he’s better than me.’ The competitive nature that all true, successful athletes have gives you the drive to be the best. When someone out-performs you, it just makes me push further.
Coming to Raw, you see Roman on the cover of magazines and he’s the guy who’s headlined WrestleMania four years in a row. Plus, there’s Brock Lesnar, who was a UFC world champion and is our Universal champion, and Braun Strowman, who’s made a name for himself, and Seth Rollins, who is a former world champion. Those guys are in that locker room, and I’m going to shake things up. I’m going to cause some mayhem and become Universal champion. That’s the only goal. If Seth Rollins gets in my way, I’ll take his IC championship, as well. I’m there to be number one.
I want to be the guy that Vince can go, ‘I can put the company on this guy’s back and we will be just fine.’ That’s that attitude I’ve carried since I was little. People look at Raw like it’s the flagship show, and I want to be the top superstar on the flagship show. That may ruffle a few feathers, and that’s just fine.
JB: The Greatest Royal Rumble show is such an incredible opportunity to impress a worldwide audience. You have the chance to create a historic moment by winning the 50-man Rumble.
BC: The Greatest Royal Rumble is a chance to make history. Making history is what Hall of Fame careers are built on. I’ve already done it once, on my NXT debut to the main roster at WrestleMania in front of a record-breaking crowd as the first NXT superstar to win a WrestleMania match in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That is a mark in history, and I want that feeling and achievement again. Going to Jeddah for the Greatest Royal Rumble is my chance to do that. It’s a different crowd and different atmosphere, but the story of good versus evil, amplified by lights and fireworks, stands the test of time. The energy is going to push every superstar on that show to a different level, and people are going to take risks.
I know that I’m walking into that 50-man battle royal and I plan on walking out as winner. I want to be the guy who did it the first time. You’ll never be able to take that away from me. This is putting my mark on history and that event. I know we signed a 10-year deal [with the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia], but I want my name in the record books as the first.
JB: The concept of losing is no different in pro football than it is in pro wrestling. Your failure to cash-in the “Money in the Bank” contract for a world title is still discussed among wrestling fans for reasons that connect to on-screen and backstage storylines. Failure, as you mentioned earlier, can fuel a competitor. What did you learn from the disappointment?
BC: Life is not fair, and so many people now want everything to be fair. It’s just not that way. You make a decision to better yourself or worsen yourself every day. I don’t believe you ever stay the same. You either get better or you get worse. The day that I lost the Money in the Bank contract was not a day when I bettered myself. So what can I do to get to the next level?
Three weeks later, I won the United States championship. So, if you dwell on mistakes, you’ll continue to fall. For me, I learned from playing football to have a short-term memory. Every play is a new play. That’s the same in WWE. John Cena cost me that Money in the Bank briefcase, so I took AJ Styles’ United States championship. Every time you get stuck behind a wall, there is another opportunity to find. That’s why I will end up Universal champion, WWE champion, and a grand slam champion winner like Seth just did. You can’t let failure get in the way of your ultimate goals. Failure happens, it happens to everybody. What are you going to do to show them they’re wrong? I’m going out in front of millions of people proving myself every day. John Cena does it better than anyone, he overcomes adversity. That’s what I pride myself on. When I lost that briefcase, it just fueled a fire to accomplish something else.
JB: The field of the 50 competitors in the Greatest Royal Rumble is loaded, and even includes returning legends in Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio. Why should people keep their eyes on you?
BC: Everyone’s eyes are going to be on the stars. So if AJ Styles is dealing with The Undertaker, I’m going to dump both of them out. I wasn’t the number one pick, which gives me the opportunity to do the unexpected. When you look at the list of names on this show, there are going to be a lot of eyes on certain people. I can fly under the radar for a little, until they see me tossing out 14 people in a row. There is a lot of opportunity to eliminate a lot of great names, and I take the most of every opportunity I get. It’s all eyes on the Greatest Rumble Royal.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.