One of the most compelling moments this summer in WWE occurred earlier this month on SmackDown. As Paul Heyman verbosely critiqued John Cena’s claim to a shot at Roman Reigns’s universal championship, he turned around from his interview with Kayla Braxton and locked eyes with Big E, the man currently in possession of the Money in the Bank contract. The segment, which was set up by Heyman, was perfectly executed, as E laughed maniacally, reminding the wrestling world that the future belongs to him.
Big E, who is emerging star Ettore Ewen, is the future of WWE. He has excelled in every spot of the card, as both a singles and tag team performer, and he kicked off the pre-show for this past weekend’s SummerSlam in style with a fun match and victory against Baron Corbin.
The future is full of possibility for Big E. He could cash in his title shot on WWE champion Bobby Lashley, or even build to a meteoric WrestleMania 38 main event against Roman Reigns. Speaking with Sports Illustrated, E discussed the success of SummerSlam, his Money in the Bank potential and shared pieces of his own personality away from the ring, ones that help shape the character he portrays on WWE programming.
Sports Illustrated: You opened SummerSlam on the kickoff show with a very entertaining match against Baron Corbin. The event was a massive success for WWE, the most-viewed and highest-grossing SummerSlam since its inception in 1988. Throughout your era of WWE, the locker room has been so team-oriented. Are these accomplishments ones that everyone can take pride in?
Big E: I think so. We all put on this show together, from the top of the locker room to the bottom of the locker room. I have friends in the production truck and people that work backstage, and we all put this show on together. There is a sense of pride in making this as good as it can be. So when you hear the numbers from SummerSlam, how well-attended and well-viewed it was, there is a certain sense of pride in that.
It’s an old wrestling adage to set the tone with the first match of the show. It was the kickoff, but Corbin and I had a goal, and that was to start things off the way they should have. SummerSlam was a big one for us, and we all took pride in its success.
SI: SummerSlam felt different from WrestleMania. There were live shows on the road leading up to it and after it, unlike WrestleMania, which was a single fan-attended event amid a season of empty-arena ThunderDome shows. I know we are still in a pandemic, and we still want to be safe, but SummerSlam felt a little more natural.
Big E: You’re right. There is that concern that we’re still in a pandemic and we want to be safe, but it’s nice to go out there and feel free as performers and interact with fans. That’s what we all want, and I hope we get to a point where people are all vaccinated and taking care of each other. Health and safety are two of the most important things in the world. So hopefully these live shows aren’t rare anymore, and we’re able to do them on a regular basis.
SI: Watching so much of your work over the years, along with having the opportunity to cover what you do, I’m always amazed at your humility. You are one of the biggest stars in your profession, yet you have such a genuine willingness to be part of the team, and you are constantly bringing out the best in those around you. There have been times in the past where top stars—Kenny Omega comes to mind in particular—have commented that you were the future of the industry. You have the skill, the charisma, the strength, the determination—and you’re a team player, as evidenced by highlighting your kickoff match at SummerSlam. How do you stay so grounded about your success?
Big E: I’m not the most naturally confident person you’ll ever meet. It took me a while to find my love for self. I just feel very grateful. I am very grateful for my gifts, and I am the first to acknowledge I did not get here alone. I didn’t just stay up and become self-made. My trainers, from Dr. Tom Prichard to Norman Smiley to Joey Mercury, these are people that helped me along the way, not just to become good enough to be on WWE TV, but they also gave me the tools to help differentiate myself. I worked with Michael Tarver in FCW, and he was one of the first to tell me how I should think of myself and how he saw me. He gave me confidence there.
There are so many people who lent a helping hand along the way. I also have to acknowledge I have a certain genetic disposition. I started working out really young, but I also put on muscle quickly. For me, I realize I am very blessed to be in this position. That’s allowed me to have a more appropriate perspective of myself and my position in the world. And I’m still really humbled to hear guys like Kenny and Daniel Bryan, people I have a lot of respect for and who have done tons of things in this industry before I even stepped into it, to have such complimentary comments, it means a lot to me. Obviously, you want to get adoration from fans and people who consume what you do, but also getting that from your peers goes a long way. That’s how I keep my perspective. I feel really fortunate.
SI: I would be remiss not to include the praise from Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods of your work and real-life character traits and values. They know you so incredibly well, so their words about you also carry a tremendous amount of value.
Big E: I can speak glowingly about those guys for hours and hours. Honestly, there is a lot of merit to that old mantra about surrounding yourself with people that are smarter than you. I never want to be the most experienced or the smartest person in the room. Being around Woods and Kof has allowed me to grow a lot. I was able to look at Kofi during his title run and see the way he carried himself, and I learned a lot from him. Seeing the way Woods works and hustles and how creative he is, I am so inspired by him. They’re also two tremendous human beings, and they’ve helped me to grow in and out of the ring.
SI: I’m in awe of the way Woods stands out, especially beside the brilliance of you and Kofi Kingston. He finds ways to make his work so fresh and engaging. I keep thinking back to the way he hit that elbow drop off the ropes in the cage match against Bobby Lashley. We’ve seen plenty of elbow drops over the years in wrestling, so it was remarkable to see the way Woods took an old move and put a renewed meaning to it.
Big E: Woods’s past and trajectory is so interesting to me. He’s the most experienced member of the group. He’s been wrestling longer than any of us, and I feel like he’s going to be a guy—and I hope this isn’t the case—who, when his career his over, we’ll be scratching our heads asking, “Why didn’t he do more? Why wasn’t he King of the Ring? Why didn’t he get world title opportunities?” I just think he’s so, so good, which he showed on Raw against The Miz. He’s so unique, one of one to me, and I’d love to see him do a lot more than he’s done so far.
SI: Prior to SummerSlam, I spoke with Bobby Lashley, who had a really good run working with Kofi and Woods this summer. Lashley mentioned that he believes The New Day are top guys for life, which was a high compliment, and he also touched on the potential between the two of you moving forward. Naturally, he added that you aren’t as strong as him, but given the history with The New Day, a Big E–Lashley story could be special.
Big E: I think so, as well. There is history with the story with Bobby, Kofi and Woods, so it’s all there. That would be our chance for retribution, and it just feels right. I loved The Hurt Business. I loved seeing what they were able to do, and the fact that their whole Hurt Business era wasn’t in front of fans, it was in front of the ThunderDome, that’s incredible. Maybe there is a possibility they can put aside whatever squabbles they have and get back together again, then you’d have so many options and possibilities with The New Day and Hurt Business, even six-mans.
Bobby is on his best run yet. He carries himself like a champion; he looks like a champion. When I first got signed by WWE in 2009, I remember watching a match with him and Cena over and over again. He was someone I wanted to work like someday, so it’s an honor to have Bobby speak of us like that. He’s on an incredible run, and there is definitely a lot of meat there to chew on.
SI: Decades ago, I loved the excitement and tension when there were battles among the Hart Foundation, Nation of Domination and DX. It would be captivating if we saw three different groups—The New Day, Hurt Business, and Roman Reigns’s Bloodline with The Usos—do that in the modern day. Those are some of the best in the world, and it would be so engaging for the WWE audience.
Big E: I think that’s a no-brainer. We’ve said this ad nauseum, but The Usos are our greatest rivals. They are an all-time great tag team, very top tier, and I have so much respect for them and what they do. Roman has added a new wrinkle. And even though we ran with them years ago, Roman and Paul Heyman have added a whole new dynamic.
I love that idea of faction vs. faction vs. faction, all trying to solidify our place in this industry. Looking at Raw and SmackDown, with the draft coming up soon, there are so many ways we can go as a trio. If we’re working with The Bloodline, we could have an all-time great feud.
SI: You and Paul are magic every time you’re on camera together. There was the captivating interview on Talking Smack, which has left a massive void since it stopped being produced in its most popular format. There was also the recent moment on SmackDown as Heyman articulately expressed his overwhelming frustration over John Cena’s return and somehow walking into a title shot. Then he turned, only to see you—the rightful owner of a title shot—laughing to the point that he hurried away, foreshadowing what is to come. That was so well done. How did it come together?
Big E: That was Paul. He’s the architect. He’s like John Stockton dishing out dimes left and right. Give him a minute, and he can set up these stories out of nowhere. Even if something is completely cold, all you need is one little moment with Paul Heyman. I could go on and on about the genius of Paul, and all I can say is he’s the man.
SI: I know it’s a different era with far more pay-per-views, but your ascent shares some connective tissue to Bret Hart hungrily climbing his way through every other title—which in his time were the tag and intercontinental titles—en route to the world title, erasing any and every doubt along the way and making himself indispensable to the company. It is so much fun to feel the anticipation and build to your climb toward the world title.
Big E: I’m not sure I can go along with your Bret comparison. I get where you’re going, but that’s the GOAT. I definitely do think that so many of the guys in the title picture are guys we’ve seen there before. And you’re right, there is a certain hunger when it’s your first time. For me, it’s not nerves knowing what I’m on the precipice of, but I know it’s been a long time coming and this might be the one window I have. So I have a different perspective than a Brock [Lesnar] or a Cena, who’s trying to become 17-time world champion. I’m trying to get one.
It has a different feel, and I’m not saying those guys don’t want it, too, but this might be my only opportunity. So I’ll show up ready and make some noise. I don’t feel like I need another year to grow. The time is now.
SI: Carrying WWE is such a massive responsibility. I think you’re ready. Do you think you’re ready to be the face of WWE?
Big E: It’s a tall task, but I’m ready. I’ve been beating the drum of meditation over the past year, and it’s helped so much by focusing on the present moment. That’s all that it is for me. So I’m not worried about this gargantuan task of being the face of the company because I’m too focused on doing my very best to be entertaining with whatever I’m given. I’m all about handling what’s right in front of me, and I feel like I can handle whatever is in front of me. I’m ready, and I’ve been ready.
SI: I appreciate the chance to learn from your perspective. Moving away from wrestling, we are living during a pandemic in a world that is full of injustice and inequities. I know you have a really cool project with Our Heroes Rock in development, which will allow people to listen and learn. What is a message you would like to share with the world at large?
Big E: For me, the focus is on growth. I think we should all focus on growing, and I think a big part of that is being empathetic and listening and realizing we don’t have all the answers and we don’t know everything. I think we all essentially want the same thing—we want comfort, we want safety, we want to have the ability to live our lives in a way that is pleasing, and we want to be around our loved ones. I think it’s important for all of us to want to grow, to want to learn, be open and understand that there are people out there suffering and that need our protection and a helping hand. I feel extremely fortunate to be in the position I’m in. One of the things I remember learning in church when I was a kid is that to whom much is given, much is required. I’ve been fortunate to have so much and be given so much, and there are people who haven’t had the same opportunities in life. We should look around at our neighbors and remember that people might just need a kind word. If we continue growing and connecting with those around us, I think so many good things will happen from there.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.