By Adam Testa
7:00 AM EDT, March 28, 2012
This Sunday’s WrestleMania promises to be a memorable one.
The card is stacked from top to bottom with a variety of matches featuring superstars of the past, present and future battling it out on the grandest stage of all.
Amidst the promotion and hype of the two top matches – John Cena vs. The Rock and Triple H vs. The Undertaker in Hell in a Cell with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee – WWE has been building the next generation of stars, the ones who will continue to evolve and represent the WWE for at least the next decade.
One man stands out from the rest. Since his debut on WWE’s ECW program in 2009, Sheamus has quickly established himself as a leader of his generation.
Within months of his debut, the Irishman had done the unthinkable and won the WWE Championship.
At the time, his run was met with mixed reaction from fans. But now, with three years experience on the main roster under his belt, Sheamus is ready to show the world just what he’s capable of, and he plans on doing that at the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania.
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to speak with Sheamus about WrestleMania, his career this far, his influences in wrestling and whom he is supporting in the battle between Cena and The Rock.
Here’s what he had to say:
You're going to be facing Daniel Bryan next weekend for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. On last year's show, you two were in a match together for the United States Championship that was put on the pre-show. How does it feel to be here a year later, redoing the match with one of the company's biggest prizes on the line this time?
I think it's great. Just the fact we're in a main-event match at WrestleMania, regardless what happened last year, is unbelievable. It just shows what a difference a year can make.
You can go from being in a pre-show match to be actually in a main-event match for such a prestigious title at WrestleMania 28, especially when there's so much else going on on the show - the huge main event obviously with The Rock and John Cena, a once-in-a-lifetime match, and Hunter, Triple H, and Undertaker with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee in Hell in a Cell, and of course, Punk and Jericho, along with Randy Orton and, of course, Kane, as well.
There's so much going on on the show that, as I said, I really cannot wait for April 1.
The roles are reversed this year, as well, with you being the fan favorite and Bryan being the villain. What's that transition been like for you, and what do you think it will add to the rematch this year?
It's actually been very, very strange. Obviously again, going back to it, this match is for such a prestigious title, and of course, with the roles reversed, I think that element, Daniel has had a very successful second half of the year, just like myself. Obviously I think he's become a little bit befuddled with the championship, over-obsessed with the championship, as well. He's done everything he can to keep it. Really, his character has changed a lot from this time last year.
I think success has kind of gone to his head a lot, which can happen to certain people. Obviously for me, the opposite happened. I didn't make Mania last year; I was little bit humbled about that. I realized I've got to start again. What I was currently doing wasn't working, so I changed up things about my style. I became more aggressive, more dedicated, more intense -- taking it match by match, night by night -- to literally crawl and scratch my way back to the top.
I think it's proved successful. I got tired of Mark Henry there before SummerSlam just mowing through everybody, and in the back of my head I believed I can easily take him. And obviously me standing off to him, a lot of the crowd actually sided with me, which was a really cool moment and it's stayed with me the whole time. It's been a really, really cool feeling having the crowd cheer me on rather than boo and heckle me for the last six to eight months.
You've mentioned some of the other matches on the card. This is obviously a stacked WrestleMania, and some people are saying that makes the championship matches seem not as important. How do you respond to those people, and does that motivate you even more to put on a show-stealing match?
Absolutely. I think the titles will always be important. The thing is there are four main-event matches -- CM and Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship, myself and Bryan for the World Heavyweight Championship. ... There are two matches there, [and] obviously John Cena and The Rock, which is a once-in-a-lifetime match, and also with Taker and Hunter -- the match they had last year was probably one of the best matches I've ever seen -- going at it again in the Hell in a Cell.
But I think the way the show is, it's a four-hour show, I think each match is definitely as important as the next. You're looking at an end-of-the-era match with Triple H and Undertaker; you're looking at a once-in-a-lifetime match with Cena-Rock and you're also looking at guys who are really pushing to step into the limelight for the future, for the next 10 years or so -- myself, Daniel Bryan, Punk and obviously Jericho has been around for quite a while, but you're looking at three superstars who want to take over those roles of Undertaker and Triple H and everything.
You're looking at a complete mixture of, I don't want to say old because old is such an offensive word, but more experienced against younger guys, younger superstars. There's a great mix there, and I think every match really is as important as the next.
Your first world title reign came very early in your tenure on Raw. Did you feel that added a lot of pressure to the situation? And how does it compare to being back in the world title picture now with more experience and the audience behind you?
It's completely different. When I first won my WWE Championship, I just got to TV -- I believe I was there five months. Everything just happened so fast; it was like a whirlwind. I was still trying to find my feet and such. My back was against the wall. I'm more relaxed now than I've ever been.
I've been here three years; I've done quite a bit in a short time. I still believe two and a half, maybe three years, is a short time in WWE. I've definitely come out a little bit of my shell; I was in a little bit more of a shell. I just feel right now is a different time for me. When I was WWE champion back then, there was so much happening, everything happened so fast. Mania happened so fast with Triple H at 26. I really didn't get a chance to take a breath and find out what's going on.
Now I feel I'm in a different place, a better place. I feel I've proved myself a lot more, showed my ability, showed what I can do. I continue to push to get better, have better matches. Right now I'm in a great spot. I'm literally on the crest of a wave.
Winning the Royal Rumble is an honor very few people have had through the years that it's been around. How did it feel to win this year's event and to have the great ending with Chris Jericho?
It was incredible; it was absolutely incredible. You took the words out of my mouth there where you said winning the WWE and World Heavyweight championships is a very prestigious thing. There's not many people who have done it over the course of its history, but there's even fewer superstars who have won the Royal Rumble.
They say it's the toughest match to win. They say it's based on the number you draw and everything, but to me it was an incredible feeling winning the Royal Rumble, especially being in with Chris there for such a long time. That really doesn't happen either, you know. Normally you don't see two guys slug it out for such a period of time trying to win the match. The crowd went along with that; they didn't know who was going to win.
There were a couple hairy times there when I was hanging over the top rope and hanging on for my life, to be honest with you. But when I finally broke Chris off the apron, fella, it was just, to me, it topped off a great seven months, such a turnaround from being in the pre-match at Mania to knowing I was going to be in the main-event match at WrestleMania 28.
Unlike a lot of superstars today, you come from Europe obviously and were raised, as I understand it, watching World of Sport and drew a lot of influence from that program. Sadly, that's a dying artform in today's professional wrestling environment. Do you think that there's room for that to stick around in wrestling and particularly in WWE?
I think that style was great for its era, and I'll be honest, it captivated me as a kid. But I think it's definitely evolved a lot, even WWE has evolved in a huge way. The wrestling side of it never stays the same; it's always changing and growing.
Obviously Regal brought a lot of it with him, but he obviously improved and he basically married the World of Sport style with the WWE style. I think for its time, it was great. I think there's certain aspects still, like Daniel Bryan who has been in England quite a lot. Obviously he's my opponent at WrestleMania. He can definitely do a lot of that style, too, but he's a perfect example of the different styles meshed together, including Japan, UK and the American styles.
As I said, I don't know if there's a place for it right now, but I definitely think that certain aspects of that sport, that technical side, will always be relevant.
When it comes to next weekend, are you on Team Cena or Team Rock?
I'm going to go Team Cena, man. There's a lot of rumors going around, people with animosity for The Rock. That's not the case with me at all. The Rock has come back; he's been cool with me and I have nothing against him at all. He's achieved everything in WWE, and of course, he's achieved everything in Hollywood. It's a huge success story.
Cena, as well, he’s been on top of WWE for years now, and it's drawn in interest from everybody. It's one of the reasons WrestleMania will be one of the biggest ever. I just think Team Cena because Cena has been here all the day, and Cena has obviously been here week in and week out. I know it's probably the story you've heard all the time, but that really is the truth of it all. I'm really looking forward to this match because it's going to literally be a once-in-a-lifetime match, but I think I have to tip my hat to Cena. I think Cena's going to do it.
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