Billy Gunn returns to the AEW ring later on this week’s Rampage in a match against rising star Darby Allin.
Once a top performer in the industry, Gunn’s list of accolades is extraordinary. He teamed with the “Road Dogg” Jesse James as The New Age Outlaws and was a pivotal member of D-Generation X, spearheading the WWE product during the height of the Attitude Era. His career spans decades, from tagging in The Smoking Gunns to then having his own singles run, including winning the King of the Ring tournament in 1999. Now at the age of 58, Gunn (who worked under his real name, Monty Sopp, in TNA) is writing a new chapter in AEW with sons Austin and Colten.
As the patriarch of The Gunn Club, Gunn now has the opportunity to work closely with his sons. The WWE Hall of Famer is also still active in the ring, and every time he steps through the ring is a reminder of his brilliance.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Gunn discussed his role in AEW, the opportunity to work with his sons and even touched on memories of working with DX.
Sports Illustrated: Your career trajectory is remarkable. You wrestled the late Owen Hart and Yokozuna at WrestleMania XI in 1995, and now 26 years later, you are wrestling a featured match in AEW against emerging star Darby Allin.
Billy Gunn: I’ve had a great career, and now I’m working for a company that makes me feel young. As long as I can still do this at a level that I’m happy with, I’ll keep doing it. It takes a lot of work to stay in the right condition, but it’s all worth it. I owe a lot of it to my kids, too—they keep me young. I still enjoy what I do.
SI: Beyond wrestling, what other roles do you have in AEW?
Gunn: I’m the head coach. I watch all the matches and critique them. When I teach, it’s important that I follow through on everything I say and stand by what I do.
SI: How has wrestling evolved over the past three decades?
Gunn: Wrestling continues to evolve. If I were stuck with the mindset I had in the ’90s, then I’d lose what’s happening now. You have to evolve with wrestling. My background and experience are important, too. This isn’t just about doing moves. It’s putting some psychology behind it and letting the people follow around. You can’t just go out there and do stuff just for yourself. People have to be invested in you if they’re going to care about the things you do in the ring.
SI: What impresses you most about Darby Allin?
Gunn: Darby’s willing to lay it all on the line. There are no reservations to him. You get everything he has every single time. He said on Dynamite he wants the biggest and baddest, and he’s going to get every bit of that against me on Rampage. He’s never met a trainwreck like me before. I’m not built for flipping and diving—I am built to beat people up.
SI: Darby Allin is aligned with Sting, who you tangled with during Triple H’s match at WrestleMania 31. What memories do you have of that night?
Gunn: That night was super special. It was a collaboration of what people really wanted to see. So much of the Attitude Era was the NWO and DX. It was cool to see Triple H and Sting in there together, and now I get to be side by side with Sting and his protégé, Darby Allin. He’s done a great job helping Darby, and Sting still brings a lot to everything he does. He’s a true legend. So it’s a cool dynamic, getting to see an era of what Sting was and what Billy Gunn was, and people can now experience that while also enjoying new talent like Jungle Boy and Darby Allin.
SI: There is certainly healthy competition between AEW and WWE; nothing seems to quite compare to the height of WWE against WCW. Will AEW vs. WWE ever reach that level of rivalry WCW had with WWE?
Gunn: You’re putting me on the spot here [laughs]. It has a little bit of that same feeling. WCW was absolutely drowning us. That’s what led to the creation of the Attitude Era. They were beating us in the ratings; they were beating us in every aspect. When that happens, you either tuck your tail and run or you turn up the heat. We turned up the heat, and we all did what we did best.
Now [in AEW], what we’re doing is waking them up to realize there is competition. And everyone thrives on competition. That’s why WCW and WWE were doing so well; we were thriving off the competition. I feel that’s where we’re at now. AEW is competition. Whether [WWE] wants to acknowledge that or not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are competition, and that’s what we thrive on. I love it, I think it’s great—and it’s fun to watch. It makes great programming.
SI: Can a group like DX ever be re-created? Or was it just the perfect place at the right time?
Gunn: I don’t want to say it can’t happen, because anything can happen in the wrestling business, but it would take a special dynamic. There were only five of us, and we never washed it down. NWO ruined themselves by letting everyone join. I think there were something like 350 members, right? There were five members of DX, and we all clicked and we all knew our positioning. We all worked together to make something special, and we knew how to feed off each other to make it work.
It was almost too good to be true. Look at the way it happened. Shawn [Michaels] dropped out. Hunter needed some other guys. Me and Road Dogg were never supposed to be together, but then we were put together and we clicked. Then you have Chyna, who is in a league by herself, and Kid [Sean Waltman] added a special dynamic that no one else could. Everybody gelled, everything came together. And let’s look at the landscape. You had [Steve] Austin and [Vince] McMahon, who were red hot. You had The Rock, Undertaker. It was a time that was so special.
SI: You will forever be known as part of DX and The New Age Outlaws, but you now have very special tag partners in your sons. What do Austin and Colten need to do in order to reach that elusive next level?
Gunn: Me and Road Dogg were so different in terms of personalities, but our dynamic was unbelievable when we were together. Colten and Austin feed off each other, too, and they’re brothers. They love to be in competition, and they have a great relationship. We all work really good together.
They need experience. They need to work with guys that are better than they are. They’re around Shawn Spears and Tyler Breeze’s school all the time, and they work very hard at what they do. So for them to reach the next level, they have to work with people better than them. And they’ll do that soon, it’s just a process. You don’t want it all to happen super fast, because then nothing sinks in. It takes time, and that’s how it happened with me, too. It takes experience and time.
SI: What should fans expect when they see you back in the ring on Rampage?
Gunn: They’ll see the old Billy Gunn. I try to keep him under wraps, but Rampage is going to be out of control. I’m going to turn loose and show people that I haven’t lost a step. Darby Allin is a good kid and has a bright future, but it’s not going through me. I’m excited for people to see the old Billy Gunn back.
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.