Exclusive: Big E on WWE SmackDown Singles Run, Booker T, New Day's Success, More

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2020

Exclusive: Big E on WWE SmackDown Singles Run, Booker T, New Day's Success, More

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    Big E is primed to be WWE SmackDown's next breakout star if he can continue his winning ways.
    Big E is primed to be WWE SmackDown's next breakout star if he can continue his winning ways.Credit: WWE.com

    Big E's return to the singles ranks on WWE SmackDown in light of Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston's injuries has been one of the most refreshing parts of the blue brand in recent weeks.

    It marks the first time that any member of The New Day has truly broken off on their own. Even while Kingston was WWE champion in 2019, Big E and Woods were almost always there by his side, ready to team with him or come to his aid if necessary.

    With no official timetable for the returns of Kingston and Woods to in-ring action, it appears Big E will be flying solo for the foreseeable future. So far, it's been the best thing that could have happened to him.

    As successful and as entertaining as The New Day still are six years on from their debut, the time had come for them to try something new. Big E branching back out into singles competition while his tag partners are out injured could be exactly what was needed to rejuvenate their act.

    Following his win over The Miz last week, it's full steam ahead for the former intercontinental champion on SmackDown. There's no telling what heights he'll reach in the months ahead and how it will affect his status with the rest of The New Day upon their respective returns.

    In an interview conducted over the phone this past Thursday, Big E had plenty to say about his upcoming singles run, if change is paramount for his character, how The New Day saved his career and more.

Has It Been Fun Flying Solo for a Change?

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    Although Big E is no stranger to doing his own thing, it's certainly a strange sight for fans to see him without either Kofi Kingston or Xavier Woods by his side.

    Just last month, Big E and Kofi Kingston were the reigning SmackDown tag team champions. After losing the titles to Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro at Extreme Rules, Kingston revealed he was injured and gave Big E his blessing to branch out into singles competition while he's off recuperating.

    He's already off to a strong start with a win over The Miz last Friday night. There's no telling what he can accomplish if he can maintain his winning ways.

    "It's been a lot of fun, actually," he said. "It's nice to do something different. As much as I love doing tag stuff, it's been a nice change of pace and it challenges you in a different way, creatively. Also, I had more time to think about what I want to do with this run and how I want it to go."

    Fans and fellow wrestlers from all over have praised the move to give Big E more chances to shine as a singles star. There's no set direction for him on the blue brand, but that won't stop him from making the most of whatever he's involved in going forward.

    "I'm excited about it, and it's been really heartwarming to see all the positive feedback from people who have been supportive of it and of the run," he said. "It's unfortunate that it had to do with Kofi being out for a little bit, and hopefully it's something that doesn't last too long, but we'll see. Everything's kind of open right now, so I don't really know exactly what the direction is, but I'm excited to give this my all and to see where it goes."

If He's Been Pushing for a Singles Run Prior to This Point

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    For the last last six years, Big E has been a fixture in WWE's tag team division with The New Day, racking up eight tag team titles between Raw and SmackDown. The team has had its fair share of memorable matches and moments, but there wasn't much left to do following their loss of the SmackDown Tag Team Championships at Extreme Rules.

    Thus, Big E being given the opportunity to break out into singles competition couldn't have come at a better time.

    Both Big E and Xavier Woods have been vocal for years about getting Kofi Kingston to the main event scene, and at WrestleMania 35, they accomplished their goal when Kingston won the WWE Championship. That opened the door for any member of The New Day to earn singles glory while still being a part of the group.

    While he hasn't always had his sights set on flying solo, Big E said it's something he's thought about and that Kingston's 2019 rise served as the ultimate example of timing being everything.

    "It happened unfortunately because [Mustafa] Ali got hurt, but I think in times where you try to force a singles run and there wasn't really an opening and people weren't receptive to it, it can peter out and not go anywhere," he said. "My mentality is to always show up and do the best with what you're given."

    He found that worrying about things he couldn't control wasn't great for him mentally and that making whatever's in front of him as entertaining as possible was the much smarter option.

    "That's always been my focus and knocking it out of the park whenever I can and sometimes it falls short. Sometimes you don't," Big E said. "That's been my goal, and now I have this opportunity in front of me. It's not really clearly defined. It's just, 'Hey, you got some singles.' Obviously, we have some singles titles on our show that would be nice to hold, but everything right now is fair game."

Addressing Booker T's Comments That He Needs to Change His Character

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    WWE legend Mick Foley has been incredibly complimentary of Big E's newfound singles success in recent weeks. Booker T has also been high on him for many years but has gone on the record in saying that "trying to be The New Day is not gonna work for him as far as him working at the top of the card."

    A common criticism of Big E from some fans for years has been that his current character isn't world-title material. Kofi Kingston dealt with similar criticisms while WWE champion, but it's important to note that it was the New Day act that led them to become as popular as they are.

    While he has a massive amount of respect for the five-time world champion and agrees that evolution is key, he doesn't think going from being the type of babyface he is at the moment to acting serious overnight makes sense.

    "If I were to come out a week later and you see me for five years pouring cereal on people's heads and log-rolling to the ring and suddenly I'm serious, to me there's a vast disconnect," he said. "Like, what's changed? Because you're no longer doing tags, now you're a different person? That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I think also it's about what makes me different, what makes me unique. We have guys that are taller than me and bigger than me. We have Bobby Lashley, you have your Brock Lesnar. We have these guys that can be serious and play that role well, and I don't want to ever be a lite version of anyone else."

    Big E echoed Xavier Woods' Twitter thoughts on the matter, agreeing that listening to other people's opinions as far as what would work for them at the beginning of their run together didn't get them anywhere. Listening to their own intuition, however, did.

    "This is not a shot at Booker at all. I am so thoroughly entertained by his career, but this man had a world title around his waist as King Booker doing a faux English accent. You know what I mean? Let's put things in perspective here. And it was entertaining and it was great and it worked! For me, I hear some of it because people bring it to my attention and I know Booker is a supporter, so this is not supposed to be a shot at him.

    "We've had conversations too where he's said some really nice things to me to my face, so I'm not here to take shots at him," he said. "I learned a lot from watching him, he's a guy I loved watching as a kid. He meant so much to so many of us as someone who was a great talent and a great entertainer, but for me, it's going to be about telling a story that makes sense. It doesn't make sense to me to suddenly be serious."

    Big E added that he doesn't want to lose what makes him special. He believes he's more than just the comedic aspects of his act but realizes it's a big part of it. He aims to find the right balance.

    "I want to be as entertaining as possible outside the ring and in the ring," he said. "Things have to make sense. It allows me to go somewhere if I'm still myself. If you're always angry, if you're always serious, there's no place to go if someone pushes you. I like where I'm at now."

Overcoming Criticism as Part of New Day and Why Breaking Up Isn't an Option

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    Booker T is far from the only one to be skeptical of Big E and the rest of The New Day's over-the-top antics, especially early on in their run together.

    Even when the act didn't appear to be working when they first came together in late 2014, New Day stuck with it and eventually found their footing. Big E feels the group breaking up back then would have been as big of a mistake as it would be today if it were to happen.

    "I think [Booker T] also mentioned something about us splitting up and breaking off and I don't agree with that at all," he said. "People can have their opinions, but we've done this by believing in ourselves as a trio. We leaned on each other when so many people didn't believe in us in 2014, early 2015."

    The multi-time tag team champion went on to explain how Big Show was among their biggest detractors during that period and how he felt Kofi Kingston was ruining his reputation for the sake of New Day.

    "I'll say this now because he's apologized to us and he's been open about it," he said, "but Big Show went in front of our faces and told Kofi, 'What are you doing with those two? You're wasting your time. You have world champion potential.' We've had so many people in front of faces and behind our backs tell us, 'What are you doing? This is horrible.' They laughed at us and look at us now. Six years in and that's because we believed in ourselves and what we had to offer."

    Tag teams and stables going their separate ways tends to be inevitable in wrestling, but New Day doesn't plan on that being the case with them. Big E is of the mindset that betraying his brothers would be too predictable and that he'll be better off forging his own path to superstardom.

    "The old trope of being serious or turning on your partners has been done to death," he said. "I want to be something new. I want to be something different. I want to stand on my own."

What Would Have Happened Had New Day Not Come Together?

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    There's a decent chance Big E would have been released from WWE long ago had he, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods not joined together as The New Day, and the former championship powerlifter admits as much himself.

    "I was at a point before The New Day that I was pretty sure I was either going to be sent back down to NXT or I was going to be fired," he said. "Things were fizzling out, and I was doing little to nothing."

    Following a six-month reign as intercontinental champion, Big E dropped the belt to Bad News Barrett at Extreme Rules 2014 before settling for midcard mediocrity in the remainder of the year. He was told by the office that he was well-liked but that they had nothing for him.

    It was then that he realized he had to do something, and The New Day came to fruition soon after. It ended up being the best thing that could have happened to him as it allowed him to showcase his personality for a change and be someone other than the serious big man he was told to portray previously.

    "I couldn't tell you how many times on house shows and tapings and live TV where I'm giggling and looking at Kofi and Woods saying, 'This is our job. We're men in our 30s and this is what we were paid to do.' It's incredible."

    Big E credits his New Day brethren for bringing out his entertaining self and allowing him to find real fulfillment and be creative. None of that happens without New Day, he feels.

    "It changed my career, it changed my life in so many ways," he said. "I'm very, very grateful for it because if New Day never came around, I'd like to think I would've found something somewhere, but you never really know. I don't think there's a very good chance that my career gets to the heights it's at now. I'm eternally grateful for the day Woods came up to me and said, 'Hey, do you want to start a faction?' I'm eternally grateful for the day we went up to Kofi and he said, 'Yes and work on something' because it changed my career in so many ways."

Re-Entering the Intercontinental Championship Picture and Facing AJ Styles

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    There are plenty of people on SmackDown right now that would make for excellent opponents for Big E, with AJ Styles being chief among them.

    The two have never squared off one-on-one, but that day is surely coming. Since June, Styles has defended his Intercontinental Championship against the likes of Matt Riddle, Drew Gulak and Gran Metalik, so it seems to be more a matter of when than if Big E will get his shot at the strap.

    Speaking on a potential match with Styles at some point, Big E said: "AJ's a generational talent. He's a guy, and this is not a shot at him, but he's a guy that's in his 40s now and this window of having matches with him may not be open for long. Who knows how much longer AJ decides to wrestle."

    The Intercontinental Championship, a title he once held earlier in his career, isn't the only piece of hardware in his sights, as SmackDown also has the Universal Championship for him to vie for. Big E vs. Braun Strowman could be intriguing, but Styles leads the list of Superstars he wants to step in the ring with right now.

    "That would be a phenomenal, no pun intended, opportunity to work one of the best there is, but who doesn't want to be a world champion? There's also that as well," he said. "As far as a guy that makes sense and is on the radar, AJ's one of the best to ever lace up boots. He's one of the greatest to do ever do this. I wouldn't take that opportunity lightly. We'll see where this goes, but he's one of the best."

Is a Return of the Five Count Imminent?

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    Before he was hiding pancakes in his singlet and drenching members of the WWE Universe in Booty-Os cereal, Big E was keeping his opponents down for a five count in NXT.

    As even he admits, it was a gimmick ripped straight from King Kong Bundy. However, it was originally intended to get him over as a heel, and when it endeared him to the audience instead, he ran with it and became one of the biggest breakout stars the black-and-gold brand had seen up to that point.

    Oddly enough, he wasn't allowed to do the five-count gimmick on the main roster after turning face in the summer of 2013. Despite the lyrics of his entrance theme saying "Three ain't enough, man, I need five," he remained a bland babyface and wasn't given the green light to bring back what worked for him in NXT.

    That NXT tenure holds a special place in Big E's heart as it set the stage for the successful main roster career he went on to have.

    "NXT didn't have the same amount of eyes on it, but that was also huge for my career," he said. "I don't get to the main roster if it wasn't for the five count and the way people connected with it, but it was so much fun. It allowed me to show some personality in a different way."

    The Big E we already see every week on TV is entertaining as is, but he'd love to resurrect the five-count gimmick more than anyone. He isn't hopeful WWE will let him use it again, and even if he did, he realizes it wouldn't be the same without fans in attendance.

    "If it was up to me, of course, I'd love the five count again and bring it back. That would be a lot of fun," he said. "It would definitely be different without a crowd. If I were you, I would keep my hopes low. I haven't had any conversations, it's out of my hands. I would love to do it, but don't hold your breath."

    In the meantime, there's nothing holding him back from reaching the apex of WWE with the talent he possesses and the WWE Universe in his corner.

    Catch Big E in action Friday nights on WWE SmackDown at 8/7c, only on Fox.


    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.