The newest WWE 24 episode debuts Sunday, and it's an in-depth look at the evolution of Ettore “Big E” Ewen.
Airing on the WWE Network, the 53-minute special covers parts of Ewen’s entire life, from childhood in Tampa, Florida, to the peaks and valleys of his athletic career in amateur wrestling and football, as well as the impact of George Floyd’s murder, which was the direct result of police brutality. Ewen offers honesty, insight, and humor throughout the documentary, as well as a brave sensitivity and compassion for the world around him.
The son of a preacher, Ewen was raised in a home where the importance of religion was highly valued. Naturally, over time, he absorbed the parts of a preacher’s delivery, a feature that remains evident in his WWE presentation. Ewen also shared Vince McMahon’s original idea for The New Day, which was for himself, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods to play the role of preachers.
The bond between the members of The New Day is visible throughout the entire special. Even though Big E is the focal point, Kingston and Woods also play pivotal roles. That is part of the beauty of their friendship and work, creating a story as The New Day that stands in stark juxtaposition to the established narrative of groups forming and then splitting over the course of time.
Nicknamed “Big E” by a high school classmate during wrestling practice, Ewen built himself into a force on the mat. He won a state wrestling championship in 2003 while celebrating his seventeenth birthday, and while he certainly had a future in the sport, his heart was focused on football. Ewen ultimately transferred from his prep school, which did not have a team, to a school where he could play football. This chain of events brought him to the University of Iowa, playing football for the Hawkeyes. Yet as soon as he even began contemplating a future in the NFL, a series of injuries prevented that from ever materializing. During his collegiate career, Ewen suffered two separate ACL tears, a tear of his left pectoral muscle, and, finally, broke his patella. The continued damage shattered the football aspirations of an athlete who had dedicated his life to the game.
The documentary also details Ewen’s journey into WWE. This was help put into motion by Mike Doughty, who is the director of development at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame (and a supporter of the Iowa Hawkeyes), as well as legendary broadcaster/talent scout Jim Ross. Pro wrestling immediately served as a forum for Ewen to continue his career as an athlete, as well as showcase his ebullient personality. But an endearing personality does not always transfer on-screen, and a key part of the documentary is Ewen’s journey to find that unreadable connection with viewers.
There is some phenomenal footage throughout the doc, including video of Ewen hitting the ropes in FCW and learning to bump. Viewers are also treated to some unbelievable early promos, including Ewen playing the Wendell character, a self-proclaimed nerd that could suddenly transform an Incredible Hulk-type character. Other compelling parts of his early WWE journey include some decade-old scenes with John Cena (where Woods also plays a role), and discussing how Dusty Rhodes advised him to use the old-school King Kong Bundy five-count to defeat opponents.
Ewen reveals there was talk of plans to put him into a main-roster faction with Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose, who were later partnered together as The Shield. He was ultimately paired with Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee, attacking Cena during his debut. There was even a stretch during his initial main roster run where he was NXT Champion as babyface while teaming with Ziggler and Lee as a heel.
In addition to seeing Ewen’s progression as an all-around performer, WWE 24 also provides a platform for him to discuss social injustice. Ewen detailed the manner in which George Floyd’s murder impacted him. He reflected on the time he was in a car that was pulled over by police. Officers believed there was a gun in the vehicle, which was not true, yet it did not stop an officer from drawing a gun only a foot away from Ewen’s face.
Ewen shared how the Floyd tragedy compelled him to use his platform to stand up against social injustice, immortalized in WWE when he and Kingston took a knee in the middle of the ring on SmackDown this past June. Ewen also went into detail about creating new Schoolhouse Rock-inspired gear with artist and designer Jonathan Davenport, using his wrestling attire to inform and educate about Black culture. And although it was not discussed in the documentary, Ewen is also part of the groundbreaking Our Heroes Rock! project, teaming with Davenport and journalist Andreas Hale to create a 3D animated family series that will shine a spotlight on the heroes of Black history.
Another integral part of the documentary was Ewen’s friendship with Jon Huber, who starred in WWE as Luke Harper and, more recently, as Mr. Brodie Lee in AEW. Huber passed away unexpectedly this past December at the age of 41, and Ewen opened up about the depth of the friendship and vowed to keep the memory of his friend alive.
Palpable energy exists in Big E’s work, which was on display right from the start in this special. Ewen has grown into a consummate entertainer, having found the perfect way to connect with the crowd through his in-ring work and personality, and it was impossible not to wonder if WWE made a major mistake by not having Big E win this last January’s Royal Rumble match. Big E’s current run with the Intercontinental title has been compelling, but this year was the right time to seize the momentum as a singles performer and win the Rumble, main-eventing this year’s WrestleMania against Roman Reigns. Edge, who is 13 years older than Ewen, would still have still been a draw in a different program, while a story pitting Big E against Reigns would have been entertaining, tense, and had the potential to define WWE’s future, far different than what will be seen this April with the 48-year-old Edge.
Overall, WWE 24 did an outstanding job capturing the brilliance of Big E. Even more meaningful was the way it highlighted Ettore Ewen, who is creating his own distinct, fun, and powerful persona as a WWE star, combining personality and strength like no other performer in the industry.