On Monday night, WWE is welcoming back some of the biggest names in the company’s history as part of a special “Raw Reunion.”
Among the slew of legends appearing during the star-studded event in Tampa, Fla., are Shawn Michaels, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, and Kurt Angle.
Yahoo Sports spoke with WWE superstar Seth Rollins about what it’s like for the current roster to mingle with industry icons, his recent experience at “Extreme Rules,” and his upcoming match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.
YS: With Raw Reunion coming up this Monday, who are you most excited to see backstage?
Seth Rollins: Kelly Kelly. No, I’m just kidding. Kelly Kelly is great, don’t get me wrong.
I grew up watching Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold. It’s always good to have those guys around because they really add a good bit of energy to the locker room, backstage area and with the boys. It eases the tension a little bit. I’m looking forward to having a fun afternoon.
YS: What is it like to have those legends backstage on what would normally be just your standard episode of Raw?
SR: It just lightens the mood and feel fun for a day. Not that work’s not fun, but we do this year-round and you end up in a situation where you get caught up in the rat race. Everybody’s trying to focus on working hard and you forget to have fun sometimes. Having them backstage always seems to make everybody a little lighter on their feet. I’m looking forward to engaging with those guys, picking their brain and having a good time.
YS: Is that something you guys do often, pick these guys’ brains?
SR: Oh yeah. Any time you can have a conversation about wrestling with the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels, you’re not going to pass that up. It’s a good opportunity to talk to these guys and learn. They have years and years of experience and knowledge that they love giving back. It’s cool to sit with them.
YS: What do you view as they biggest change from their era and what you’re doing in WWE now?
SR: I think the microscope is different. With social media, information travels so quickly, so the level of intelligence of our fans is so much different. The level of information that they are privy to with just a simple Google search is so different than what it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. The microscope becomes so tight on all of us.
It’s a different world we’re living in and the adaptation, what we have to deliver all of the time, the expectation is a lot higher than what they were doing. Hogan had “Saturday Night Main Event,” he didn’t have a TV show until Raw and Nitro. There’s a lot more expected of us and we work for a publicly traded company, so we have to be even more buckled down as far as our performances and our personal lives are concerned.
YS: Is that why you think there’s become somewhat of a sentiment online where it’s “cool” to hate WWE?
SR: We’re the New York Yankees. It’s easy to hate the New England Patriots. We’re those teams, we’re the dynasty. It’s easy to hate us, but we’re still the most popular company in the world at what we do. We’re so far beyond being a wrestling company that it’s very easy to point the finger and hate on us. That’s the cool thing to do, it makes perfect sense to me, it’s how it’s always been in sports and entertainment, you always hate the big guy. It’s fine, I’m not upset about it at all.
I just want people to understand and appreciate the things we go through and the fact that we’re always trying to do our best. Nobody is taking it easy, nobody is just getting by. Everybody from top to bottom, every department in the entire company is putting in as much work as they possibly can to make this the best.
YS: Shifting gears to your opponent at SummerSlam, Brock Lesnar, does him having the Universal Championship as a “part-timer” feed make it easier for fans to be critical?
SR: I hope people would appreciate and view it as a good story. I think people have a tendency to read too much into it and if you sit back and look at it simply as a story you’ll appreciate it more. If you look at the totality of the story between myself and Lesnar through the past eight months, from the Royal Rumble to SummerSlam, it’s a pretty cool, long-term story.
What other medium has the opportunity to tell that? You don’t get movies that last eight months, you don’t get shows that have that much worth of television. I think it’s a really good story and people just need to take a chill pill and enjoy it. Cheer the good guys, boo the bad guys. I think sometimes people just read into it too much.
YS: We haven’t really seen a true one-on-one match between you guys, is that what we’ll get at SummerSlam?
SR: My anticipation is that you’re going to get Seth Rollins versus Brock Lesnar in a hotly contested match over the richest title in the industry. I say that because if you look at our past encounters, especially this year, Brock highly underestimated me. I don’t think he thought heading into WrestleMania that I was capable of what I was and I caught him. Then you look at Super Showdown and our interactions after that, we have never really seen the match that people want to see. Now I think he’s going to be more prepared, a little less aggressive out of the gate, a little more careful. I know what to expect and I think you’re going to see the match you’ve wanted to see for a long time.
YS: Extreme Rules was among the best pay-per-views of the year. What was it like capping off that night of wrestling?
SR: It’s a lot of pressure. That card was deep. There were 12 matches and it was a four-hour show, not including the pre-show. You’re looking at nearly five hours of wrestling, which is just crazy, especially when you have Finn Balor versus Shinsuke Nakamura for the Intercontinental Championship on the pre-show. That’s how we started the night.
To have to go after Undertaker and Roman Reigns, Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman, Aleister Black and Cesaro, the surprise of the SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship triple-threat and how awesome that was. To have to cap that night off, it’s a lot of pressure, especially with two chumps that people don’t want to see in Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans. The fact that we went out there and killed it, gave the crowd something they haven’t seen in a long time with the inter-gender wrestling. I was really proud of it. I think it will go down as one of the best pay-per-views of the year.
YS: What was the discussion leading up to the match, particularly with Becky Lynch taking the finisher from Corbin? Is that evidence of creative changes in WWE with Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff coming back into the fold?
SR: I’ll tell you what that’s evidence of for me, the way I see it anyway. It’s the power that the Women’s Evolution has had on our industry and our sport. The fact that they have been able to push the company so far that they believe in the women to stand toe-to-toe with the men like that. That it’s OK, that Becky Lynch is so cool and so tough that she can take Baron Corbin’s finish and be at Raw the next night.
The fact that we’ve gotten there is proof of how hard these women have worked to show that they’re not just eye-candy, not just wrestling in bra-and-panties matches, that they’re not Divas, that they are real athletes who put in as much work as the men do and they deserve the same opportunities. The fact that they worked so hard and they’ve knocked it out of the park every single time. Kudos to the women for that and putting themselves in the position that we now see them as peers. That’s a really awesome thing for them and another step forward in the Women’s Evolution for them.
I don’t give the credit to creative, I don’t give the credit to anybody, not Vince [McMahon], not Paul, not Eric. I give all of the credit to the girls, they did that for themselves and I’m proud of them for it.
WWE’s “Raw Reunion” will take place on Monday, July 22 at 8 p.m. eastern on the USA Network.
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