Six questions with WWE champ Big E

Big E is the current WWE champ, who will appear in Atlanta at State Farm Arena on New Year's Day for its first Day One event. WWE

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Big E is the current WWE champ, who will appear in Atlanta at State Farm Arena on New Year's Day for its first Day One event. WWE

The wrestler appears at Day 1 at State Farm Arena New Year’s Day.

Going back 58 years, what is now World Wrestling Entertainment has had 54 male champions. The latest is Big E, a popular wrestler who for many years was better known as part of a tag-team trio New Day.

Now on his own, Tampa resident Big E (real name: Ettore Ewen) has thrived and will appear in a star-studded State Farm Arena event called “Day 1″ on New Year’s Day. “Day 1” will also be available for subscribers of the Peacock streaming service.

Big E will defend his title against three other former champions Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and Bobby Lashley in what is being marketed as “fatal four-way action.”

Others who will be on the bill: Raw women’s champ Becky Lynch will compete against Liv Morgan, Brock Lesnar will hold a rematch versus Universal champion Roman Reigns and former Atlantan Michael “The Miz” Mizanin will face off against Edge.

Here’s an edited version of my recent conversation with Big E:

Q: So was this a long-term plan of yours to become WWE champ?

Big E: Once I started wrestling over 12 years ago, it’s something I wanted. Sometimes it feels far off. It feels like something difficult to grasp at times. It’s great to get to this point. I told myself when I was 23 that I wanted to retire by 35. I didn’t get this opportunity until I was 35. Often times being patient and continuing to work hard allows you to put yourself in positions that weren’t necessarily guaranteed for you.

Q: You had planned to retire now. How long do you want do to this?

Big E: This is not a job you can do into your 70s. I guess you can but I won’t be doing it in my 70s. I think it’s a matter of seeing how I feel. I want to see in a couple of years how my body feels and where I’m at in my life. The thing is we have a ton of guys who are married with kids. I am not one of them. Being WWE champion requires you to be gone a lot. The entire month of November, I had just three off days. Wrestling is a small part of the job. There are so many other facets be it interviews or appearances. Right now I’m single and I’m hustling.

Q: You’re the fourth Black wrestler to be WWE champ. The Rock was the winner more than two decades ago, then there was this big gap but the past few Black champions have been relatively recent. What do you think is happening in the sport right now?

Big E: I think right now it’s just a great time for Black men and women in our industry. We’re in a boom period because there is so much talent who are very good and happen to be Black whether it’s Bianca Belair, Sasha Banks or Bobby Lashley, who I won the title from. A couple of years ago, it was Kofi Kingston, my partner of seven years with New Day. They’re all richly deserving from what I’ve seen. When you talk about inclusion or diversity, I think it’s important you’re not just putting people of color in these positions merely because they’re a person of color. When you look at Bianca, Sasha and Bobby, they’re all talented and unique and they just so happen to be Black.

Q: Given the amount of Black talent, as you mentioned, does that take pressure off you to represent an entire race?

Big E: For sure. When you have a sea of Black talent, gay and lesbian talent, talent from all these different backgrounds, when you’re not the only one, you don’t have to speak for everyone. I’m proud to be a Black man in this industry but I don’t have to be everything for all Black people. I can just be myself.

Q: What are the traits you offer that have enabled you to get you to this point?

Big E: For me, I’m 5′11′'. There are wrestlers who are taller and bigger than me. I try to blend humor and lightheartedness with this intensity. I think any well-rounded character in TV and movies, you want to see more than one note. If I was always serious or always angry, that’d be boring. I’ve tried to find that balance of entertaining people while also knowing when to be serious. That’s enabled me to separate myself from a lot of my peers.

Q: How would you like to leverage this down the road? Do you want to do announcing? Do you want to own teams? Do you want to get into acting?

Big E: I’ve had the opportunity to do some voice work, which I love. I did an Adult Swim show called “Lazor Wulf.” Me and some producers have had a Kickstarter for an animated project about the life of [civil rights activist] Ruby Bridges called ‘Our Heroes Rock.’ We’re hoping to turn that into a series to tell stories about other Black politicians, activists and authors who aren’t represented enough. It’s our goal to use animation and hip-hop. It’s the spiritual successor to “Schoolhouse Rock.” Animation is a great vehicle for young people to learn something.


IF YOU GO

WWE Day 1 Atlanta

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 1. $22-$304. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Drive, Atlanta. www.ticketmaster.com.

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