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Ettore Ewen’s world changed on September 13, 2021.
Ewen, known better as “Big E,” won his first WWE Championship when he pinned Bobby Lashley during an episode of Raw. In a matter of seconds, Ewen, a 12-year veteran, suddenly became a main-event star and one of the standard bearers for WWE.
This Sunday, Ewen gets top billing at WWE’s Survivor Series pay-per-view against Roman Reigns in a champion-versus-champion contest. Ewen spoke with Yahoo Sports ahead of the event to discuss the changes he has gone through personally and professionally as well as his hopes to elevate his status and make Raw WWE’s premier show in the process.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Yahoo Sports: For you, what has changed over the past two months, since you became WWE champion?
Big E: Life in general has changed. I keep waiting for this moment where it settles back down, but it feels like we’ve crossed the rubicon, there’s no going back. I’m not saying that life will always be this hectic, but I feel in many ways that I am a changed person. Some of that, for sure, has to do with my career and the title too, but I also have spent the last year and a half or so working on myself and really getting to a point of finding self love, being more confident, being more open about my past traumas. I feel like I am closer to being a self-actualized person. I feel closer to being the person that I always dreamed of being, internally and externally. I used to have days at home where I would have off time and watch a ton of shows. That seems to be over.
I looked at my calendar and I don’t think I’ll have a true day off until the day before Thanksgiving and who knows if that’ll hold. It’s been a lot of fun, even if it has been busy and hectic. I have been able to do a bunch of things I never even dreamed of doing. I got to do the intros for the Wilder-Fury fight, which ended up being one incredible fight, being able to go back to my alma mater [Iowa] and be part of Big Noon Kickoff. I had dinner with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Rob Stone, so many of these titans of college football which I absolutely love. I have had so many opportunities to do these incredible things. To know that I belong in these spaces, it has been so incredibly rewarding. Life has changed in many ways, even though I have done this job for 12 years now. I’ve been honored to do some incredible things within the company, but this feels different.
Do you think that becoming WWE Champion, getting this opportunity, would have been possible if you hadn’t made these personal changes?
It definitely would have been possible, but I think I am able to enjoy it more now and am more appreciative of it now. If this was a year or two ago, I think I would have spent more time in my own head or worried about living up to it and being good enough. Now, I think a lot of the time, I am able to go out there and just be me. I think that has been very, very helpful for me, to be comfortable just being who I am and giving my best. It doesn’t mean that I am not listening to criticism or that I think I have made it and can rest on my laurels but I think I am just more mentally prepared for what comes with having this much of the limelight.
Did you reach out to any previous champions? Talk with Kofi [Kingston]? Or is it that each reign is its own unique beast?
When Kofi won his title, we were riding together. For me, when I won the title, I didn’t necessarily go out of my way to ask questions. I think along the way, I have been able to watch certain guys and see how they handle things. Kofi’s not the type to sit down and lecture you or give you advice. He’s a lead by example type. I think he did an incredible job and one of the things I learned from him was that after he had won the title, he didn’t sleep at all. He was with his family and then had a whole day of media the next day and was added to ‘Monday Night Raw.’ To see how often he was gone, the amount of media and the amount of shoots, I understood it. We talked all of the time, every day, so I was able to see how much was on him and how many responsibilities he had. I’m glad that I was able to see that and to know that more work was coming. A lot of guys said that too. I talked to Edge about it and he said there was more work coming. It was something I was ready for.
It was such a universally celebrated moment, too. What was it like for you to get all of the well-wishes, get that crowd reaction? How did you feel in the moments after?
I felt incredibly loved. It was so rewarding. Winning the title in and of itself is amazing, but what really made it special for me was the reaction from fans, my peers, the amount of people who reached out to me and said I deserved it, said incredibly kind things, it meant the world to me. As odd as it sounds, I have had times where I have had strangers come up to me in airports and whatnot and they say they are proud of me. I don’t know why that hits me in the feels so much, I don’t know if it would have a year or more ago, but it’s beautiful that the people have witnessed my journey and my growth and they are proud of me. That’s a heartwarming, beautiful thing to hear.
Even getting back to Gorilla [position] and talking to everyone the night I won the title in Boston, I saw 144 missed texts and all of the DMs and Tweets. It took me three days to get back to everyone. Those were just the people who had my number and hit me up. That’s the kind of thing that I will always remember. Regardless of what happens the rest of my career, the rest of my life, they can’t take that moment away from you. That’s what makes this so special.
For Survivor Series, it’s the brands Raw and Smackdown going against each other. How real is this rivalry? You’re all under the WWE umbrella, but is there a sense of brand loyalty, especially as people jump back and forth a few times a year?
The way I like to think about it, I want to be on the “A” show. I want to be on the best show. Especially as champion, that’s the goal, to put on the best show possible every week. I think Survivor Series is a chance for us to say “Hey, we are the better show.” I think of it in that sense. I do my best to do my part, which means going out there and putting on a banger of a match and representing my brand as best I can. It is a bit odd when someone spends four years on Raw and three weeks on Smackdown but now they bleed blue. I get how that can fall a little flat for a lot of people. I have spent the past three or four years on Smackdown, but my goal now is to help make Raw the “A” show. It’s not something I take lightly, I think we have to continue to work on a regular basis to achieve that.
What has it been like to work this storyline with Roman Reigns and the Bloodline? What are you looking forward to most about Sunday’s match?
I’m looking forward to putting on a memorable match that people talk about for a while. I think what has happened the past couple of weeks has added a different level of vitriol with what they did to Kofi and [Xavier] Woods. We have our history with the Usos, but this version is different. I think those guys are at the very top of the industry, Roman has had an incredible run for over a year, he’s been killing it. The Bloodline in general is just a dominant faction. Paul Heyman may be the best manager of all time, he’s definitely in the conversation. I think when you see what they have been doing, it makes you want to step your game up and it makes you want to be even better. To add another level of intensity and to bring it. That’s what I am excited for, to be a better version of myself. I talked about it before, being in the ring with Drew [McIntyre] made me better than I was when I walked in. That’s what I hope when I am in there with Roman. When it is all over, I hope to have done something to add to my legacy, my resume and to walk out a better pro wrestler than I was beforehand.
Roman has been at the top of the industry for more than a year now. Do you think there is room for this to be a longer program with maybe a WrestleMania showdown? Is this an opportunity to elevate you even further?
One hundred percent. This is a huge opportunity for me to elevate myself. There are some issues with us being on different brands, but we co-mingle at pay-per-views, so I think there are ways to build us up. You want to be in the ring with the very best. I hope it’s not just a one-and-done at Survivor Series. I think that if we can get back to it, I’d absolutely love that. He’s at the top and those are the matches that I want. I want to work with the very best. The beautiful thing also about me being new to the main event scene is now you have all of these fresh opportunities for matches we haven’t seen in the past few years.
What’s it been like for you, Woods and Kofi to experience this level of success separately to a degree? How often do you sit back and think about what the New Day was in its original form, what you were able to transform it into?
I probably spend too much time reflecting on that. I am so grateful. I think back to 2014 and Woods talks about arguably having the worst debut of all time. He was not positioned as a guy who would be around for eight years and win King of the Ring. When he came out as R-Truth’s friend, he didn’t get credited with a name. Where I was, floundering in my career and Kofi wasn’t really doing a whole lot at the time.
We were just three guys who were constantly told “no,” but we turned this thing around. People did not like us at all, they tweeted we were worse than 3MB and they didn’t care for us. In many ways, the gimmick and presentation wasn’t something that people wanted. The fact that we flipped it and made it work is a testament to us and believing in ourselves. I’m so glad that we decided to take that leap and bet on ourselves because there were so many opportunities for us to give up or disband and say it wasn’t worth it. I always believed in our chemistry. I knew as soon as we started riding together, talking that we saw the business in the same way and that we had something there. We thought that no matter what, if people saw that genuine bond and that we were having fun at all times, people would gravitate toward us and we could turn things around.
WWE's Survivor Series airs Sunday, November 21 on Peacock at 7pm ET