As we begin Royal Rumble weekend, several wrestlers have been spotlighted for the big match. Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton over on SmackDown. Of course, John Cena has thrown his name into the ring on Raw. However, one man has had the spotlight on him for the match more than most, and it's the first man to declare he was entering: Elias.
Elias was called up to the main roster in April, and since then has been involved with some of the top names in the company. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and most recently, Cena are just some of the wrestlers who have climbed in the ring with the man formerly known as The Drifter. The Baltimore Sun had a chance to talk to Elias before he came to Royal Farms Arena for WWE LIVE on Saturday night, and we discussed the Royal Rumble, his first year on Raw, his road to WrestleMania, and more.
We're coming off Raw 25, and you had a big moment where you were able to smash a guitar over John Cena's back. What was that night like for you?
Raw 25 ended up being fantastic for me. John Cena had that coming to him ever since Christmas Day as far as I'm concerned. He finally go what was coming to him.
What was it like to work with Cena?
That's where you want to be in the WWE. John Cena has been the franchise for so long. In the ring across from John, you know you have a lot of eyes on you. As a performer, that's where you want to be as far as I'm concerned.
Are we going to be seeing more guitar swings from you a la Jeff Jarrett or Honky Tonk Man?
Well, I definitely would say not Jarrett-esque. From what I remember, that guy broke a guitar every single week. I definitely cherish the guitar too much for that. But whenever the time is right, and the person is right, then I've got no problem swinging the guitar. There was a time that I was The Drifter in NXT, and I did not want to break my guitar because that was the only guitar I had. Now I've reached this level of superstardom where guitars are provided for me. So, they're a little more expendable, but I still care for it.
You talk about your time in NXT, it's been about nine months since you made the move. What has the transition been like?
As far as I'm concerned, there wasn't much of one. I know in the eyes of the viewing audience there's a huge transition, but as far as I'm concerned there wasn't that big of one. A lot of the things that I'm doing now were things that I was doing for a long time. I have to say, NXT and the whole developmental system and the performance center really prepare you for every aspect of what's to come.
You see some people stumble, or need some adjusting time, when they make the move from NXT to Raw or SmackDown. You, and the Elias character, really didn't need any adjustment time, and hit the ground running. What was the key to that?
I guess throughout my entire time in NXT, I didn't really have any false expectations of what it would be like to reach the main roster. I knew you'd have to work harder. I knew you'd have to bring it every single time. Just having that mindset, and wanting to be in that limelight on Monday Night Raw for such a long time, I just kind of felt that this is where I belong.
It's almost seemed like the crowd has been more responsive to the character once you got on Raw than when you were in NXT. Do you think there was something about the character that was made for Raw?
You know, I've heard that. In fact, I've heard Triple H himself say that in interviews, that Elias is maybe made for Monday Night Raw. But I can remember very clearly times in Full Sail where I'd sing songs and I couldn't hear myself sing because the crowd was so loud for it. So it's definitely an interesting dynamic, that's for sure, being on Raw and hearing the way the crowd interacts with me. So I don't know if that's how I'd describe it, but I'm on Raw now and I'm doing my thing.
The crowd is definitely interacting with you, negatively yes, but as we go on, more people are starting to, as you say, “Walk With Elias.” Is that something you're conscious of, and is it something that you're almost worried about that you're starting to get that reaction?
No, I'm not worried about it. Of course, as I'm out there in the ring, I hear everything that the crowd is giving me. I give it back sometimes, too. As far as I'm concerned, I want people to walk with me. So the way I see it, they're finally starting to get it. They're starting to get my message. They're starting to get what I'm about. And they're saying, “OK, we will walk with you. We will follow you, just lead us.”
Of course, the place you're leading them next is the Royal Rumble this weekend. This will be your first Rumble. How excited are you for it?
I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's a huge opportunity on a huge stage in one of the most honored pay-per-views that WWE has. If you win this thing, you go on to WrestleMania to main event that. I've got a great performance planned for the Rumble. I'm not sure where I'm coming in yet, but I will absolutely do my best to make the most of that. It's an absolutely historic night for many reasons, but especially for myself because it'll be my first Royal Rumble.
While this is your first, do you have any favorite memories of the Rumble over the years?
I have so many memories. I remember when John Cena came in as a surprise at No. 30 and won it. I remember when Shawn Michaels started and finished it. Those are two of my top memories. But the Rumble is filled with so many cool things. Kofi always nearly getting eliminated and getting back in some sort of crazy way. It's always must-see television.
Especially on the Raw side, you have been a real focal point of the build toward the Rumble, being one of the first to announce you were in it, and talk about it week in and week out. What does that mean to you to be one of the people they focused on?
It was very cool to be the very first person to announce that I am in the Royal Rumble, because that's basically letting everyone know that you need to watch me in the Royal Rumble. Lots of guys will get thrown in at the last minute and you're not really sure what kind of role that they'll play. But you can be sure that I'll have some sort of significant role in the Royal Rumble, just based on the fact that I'm putting it out in the universe that I am the first one in.
Of course, this is the first year with a women's Royal Rumble. While obviously you won't be involved with that, how much excitement is there in the whole locker room for that match, not just amongst the women?
I have to believe that everyone is pretty excited for that match. Of course the women are excited, because what an opportunity it is for them. If you've been following the trend, the trend is that the women can do anything the men can do and they can be pretty great at it. This is just another step in that direction as far as I'm concerned. I know all the girls involved are excited. It's history just by having the match. And so literally everything that goes on in the match is a first. So it's something you're going to have to see.
While you're not in the match, your tag partner for the Mixed Match Challenge, Bayley, is. I know you guys haven't wrestled your match yet, but how much fun have you had making the videos and everything else around that?
Bayley is a great girl, and I've known her for a long time, all through my time at NXT. Right now we're just trying to get on the same page. As far as the Mixed Match Challenge goes, ’cause we've got a match with Rusev and Lana in a few weeks, so we're really going to have to buckle down and figure it out. I'm trying to get her to buckle down and see things my way, but she's got her own plans as far as trying to play guitar and look like me, but we've got to get on the same page.
What's the best part of the Mixed Match Challenge for you?
One thing you don't get to see too often on regular WWE television is the men and women interacting. The women have their storylines and the men have theirs and there's not to much overlap. That's why the Mixed Match Challenge is a really cool thing to check out. As far as all the little things that get put out on social media and things like that, it's just great to see different wrestlers in different lights like that.
Do you think we should see more intertwining of storylines, and more mixed tag matches on Raw and SmackDown?
That'd be great. That's real life. Men and women interact in real life, so why not portray that on one of our television shows?
You're coming to Baltimore on Saturday for WWE LIVE. I know you haven't wrestled here often, but you were here for Extreme Rules. What are your memories of the Baltimore area, and the crowd here?
So that's my most prominent one. I can remember the crowd being extremely loud during my songs, to the point where I can't remember if I had to start over, but for sure they are one of the more vocal crowds that I've been in front of.
How do you analyze your first year looking back on it?
I'll leave that to other people to make the grade. I'm not one of those people who look back and reflect on things. I'm in the moment right now and try to make the most of every opportunity I get and every situation I'm in. I'm looking forward and as soon as Monday Night Raw 25 was done, I looked forward to the Rumble, and as soon as the Rumble is done, I'll look ahead to the next night. So, I'm not big on looking back on reflecting or grading myself. I'm always just looking forward and staying in the moment.
So let's look forward. You've been in the ring with a lot of greats this year. John Cena obviously, Finn Balor, Dean Ambrose. Who do you want to step into the ring with that you haven't had a chance to yet?
Well, I gotta say that the guy who really annoyed me on Monday Night Raw, Chris Jericho. He shows up, he wants to make some sort of claim that scarves are gimmick infringement. Though if you go back and look, I was wearing it long before him … but that's OK. But then he pulls out a guitar and tries to play a song. So I'd definitely like to get in the ring with him. Something about the way that interaction went down on Monday rubbed me the wrong way.
As we head on the Road to WrestleMania, would that be your ideal match? You and Chris Jericho?
Yeah, right now I'd have to say that Chris Jericho is leading the way. But when it comes to WrestleMania, there are so many potential big-match situations that could occur. If I could pick anybody, I'd probably pick The Undertaker at WrestleMania. I don't know if the guy is done or not. I threw a little shot at him on Monday Night Raw. So if he's not done, I'd love to be the guy to make sure he is done.
So finally, as we've just started 2018, what are your goals for this year?
I just want to continue on the path that I'm at. As the year goes on, I want to have bigger and better performances. I want to grow the following of Elias. By the year's end, everyone needs to understand that WWE stands for Walk With Elias. When I ask “Who wants to walk with Elias,” everyone will be in.
WWE LIVE is at Royal Farms Arena on Saturday night at 7:30. Tickets are still available online and at the Royal Farms Arena box office.
Questions? Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section here, email me, or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster. You can also hear my podcast, Jobbing Out, at https://soundcloud.com/jobbingout