BOSTON–More than a week has passed since Day 1, providing Big E time to reflect on his first run as WWE champion.
“I wanted it to be a five-course meal, and it was more of an appetizer,” Ettore “Big E” Ewen says. “I’m overly critical of my work to begin with, so I wouldn’t say I was happy with it. My hope was to knock it out of the park, and I fell a bit short. So it’s motivating to start that climb back.”
Only a month ago, Big E’s reign as WWE champion had just begun to take shape.
Embroiled in a feud with Seth Rollins, Big E had found the right opponent, one he could build a signature moment with as champion. The story built to a match at last week’s Day 1 pay-per-view, which was soon turned into a triple threat with Kevin Owens—who also shared real chemistry with Big E—and then changed to a four-way with the addition of Bobby Lashley. Although there is no better setting than one-on-one, this suddenly became a chance for Big E to show resilience and perseverance against three elite opponents, providing him an opportunity to reach the next step in his ascent as champion.
“Initially, it was supposed to be me and Seth,” Ewen said. “Seth was named the No. 1 contender early, so we had some time, and that’s when I wrestled Kevin. That worked out really well, so he got added to the match, and then so did Bobby. So what it became was much different than what it was supposed to be.”
Roman Reigns tested positive for COVID-19, removing any possibility he would wrestle Brock Lesnar on the show. But Lesnar found a match quickly.
“I got to the building thinking we were going to have our four-way,” Ewen said. “I didn’t know about Roman being unavailable until that afternoon, a few hours before the show. That threw a wrench into our match, as well as ripple effects to Raw and SmackDown.”
Lesnar was moved into the WWE title match, making it a winner-take-all five-way. Presented as a conquering hero, he pinned Big E to crown himself new champion. Amid the celebration, Lesnar quickly began a new feud with Lashley. A long-awaited Lesnar-Lashley program, as well as the verbal sparring between Paul Heyman and MVP, gives ample reason for excitement. But for the large portion of the fan base that relished every moment of Big E as champion, there is a mammoth question mark as to what will happen next.
Speaking at WWE’s live event in Boston on Sunday, Ewen sat backstage before the start of the show. Hours before teaming up with the Viking Raiders in the main event against Reigns and The Usos, he had already worked out before slipping into a Nike sweatsuit and his Iowa Hawkeyes winter cap. He was asked about his future—will he emerge as a challenger for Lesnar? Or be cast in a new role, distanced from the world title?
“I’m not comfortable being just a guy on the roster,” Ewen said. “I’m not good with going back to the way it was before.”
If Big E’s current situation sounds familiar, it is because a similar scenario occurred to his close friend and New Day partner Kofi Kingston.
After a six-month WWE title run, Kingston dropped the belt unceremoniously to Lesnar on SmackDown in October 2019. Instead of a rematch against Lesnar, Kingston was immediately transitioned back into the tag-team scene. He eventually made a push for the title in July 2021, where he lost to Lashley at Money in the Bank. Despite his talent, charisma and brilliance in the ring, Kingston has never again been WWE champion.
Could that also become the fate of Big E?
“I don’t want to position it as learning from Kofi’s missteps,” Ewen says. “I know what his intentions were, and mine would have been the same. He didn’t do anything wrong. But I have learned that losing this title hurts.
“I love being myself and being entertaining, but you can’t go from dropping a world championship to saying everything is golden. This title meant a lot to me, and it meant to a lot of people, too. My focus is clawing back to that spot.”
Since winning the title in Boston in September, Big E has become a face of the WWE brand. As champion, he highlighted WWE on a number of different platforms, including MLB Network’s Film Room, popular syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club, the “Just One Question” segment on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. He also played a role in the seminal Tyson Fury–Deontay Wilder boxing bout with his introductions, as well as made an appearance on Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff during college football season.
Getting a taste of representing WWE as its champion has only made Ewen hungrier for another opportunity to redefine those roles and responsibilities.
“There is a lot that comes with being WWE champion, and I took a lot of pride in that,” Ewen said. “Going on Breakfast Club and doing media throughout the country, I know all the good that came with this and everything we were able to do outside the ring. And there is so much more to accomplish.”
One of the more enduring moments from Day 1 was Big E sitting outside the ring, wearing a real look of pain and devastation on his face. Pro wrestling is often mocked as fake, but that moment—a dejected champion who had just lost his title—felt real.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to see it end that way,” Ewen said. “And it’s not anything against Brock. Brock is a very special athlete, human and performer. There is no shame in losing to Brock Lesnar.
“I took a moment to soak in the sadness. The highs of winning, like at Money in the Bank or cashing in, those are incredible. But the lows suck, too. And that’s motivation to fuel me.”
It is now merely a hypothetical, but had Lesnar not been inserted into the match, it is possible Big E would still be champion.
“I never heard a finish [for the four-way],” Ewen said. “When it became a four-way, especially one so loaded, anything was a possibility. But I hadn’t heard anything about a finish.”
The only certainty for a champion is that the belt will eventually be dropped. In a roundabout manner, losing the title to Lesnar could be the best possible scenario for Big E. Already established as a world champion, he can now unveil an edge and intensity in his work. And with the Royal Rumble only a few weeks away, the timing is opportune. If Big E can generate a groundswell of support over the next few weeks, there is every reason to believe he could be the last man standing in the famed Royal Rumble match.
“Winning the Rumble would be incredible,” Ewen said. “That’s in St. Louis at a great venue in The Dome, and it would be a real moment.
“This is my chance to show another side of me. It’s time to turn up the intensity. My role with The New Day is so often comedic relief, but I don’t want to be one-dimensional. I want to be as well-rounded and as whole a performer as possible.”
Big E’s possibilities are limitless, especially as champion. There was no pageantry or pyro during Big E’s title run—but a second run, with The New Day beside him, would be a different and dynamic presentation. Yet, in order to rewrite history, he is going to need to generate significant momentum to thrust himself back into the thick of the title picture.
“I am very grateful for my title run, but I still have a lot more to prove,” Ewen said. “I want to establish myself as one of the guys of this era, so my goal is to build multiple reigns.
“There is so much more I need to do with that title. We’re just getting started, and this is my chance to start my climb back.”
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