WWE wrestler Big E.

WWE wrestler Big E. Credit: WWE

It’s been a big year for Big E, culminating with him winning the WWE world championship in September. But 2021 isn’t over yet, and the 285-pound Tampa native is looking forward to several more career firsts in New York.

Big E will headline WWE’s 35th annual Survivor Series event Sunday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, facing Universal champion Roman Reigns for the first time in the main event. He’ll be back in the building the next night for Monday Night Raw.

On Nov. 29, Big E returns to New York for the first WWE event inside the new UBS Arena in Elmont — another televised Raw.

Ahead of his swing through the Empire State, the founding member of The New Day spoke to Newsday about the Survivor Series main event, being a Black world champion, and maybe one day laying the smack down on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

This Sunday’s Survivor Series is going to be your first major pay-per-view that you go into as WWE champion, and it’s in New York. Is this going to be a particularly special night in your career?

Oh, completely. I'm pretty sure this is my first singles main event on a pay-per-view. And I’m going to be in the ring with Roman Reigns, who’s had this incredible run — over a year as champion — and who has just been killing it. It’s the run of his career, and one of the best runs of all time, if you ask me, just as far as dominance and the way he carries himself. So there's a lot on the line here, even though there's no titles on the line. Beating Roman in the main event in New York — that’s something that I can put on my resume that no one can ever take from me. And also, now we have a personal twist, with what he did to Kofi [Kingston, Big E's partner]. So I'm excited to go out there and to represent for my squad and to beat the "Head of the Table." That’s huge. That's about as big as a title.

What, if anything, did you learn from Kingston’s experience as WWE champion that helps you in your run now?

We all hated the way it ended, of course, but I think what I learned from Kofi is that he’s such a great leader by example. He’s not going to do a lot of grandstanding and pulpit pounding. But seeing the way he carried himself, not complaining about media or not sleeping, or just the amount he was gone. He was just a consummate professional. And he was also a guy, too, who didn't get his opportunity because he politicked for it or because he beat down doors, because he complained. He just kept doing the work. He kept going out there and giving it his all.

Is it kind of bittersweet that — whether it’s you and the world title or Xavier Woods as the King of the Ring — that you guys have not been able to fully enjoy your recent accomplishments together, as a unit, all the time? [Big E is on WWE’s Raw brand. Kingston and Woods are on SmackDown.]

It’s not ideal. It's not something that we love, obviously. We want to be on the same show together. And I always felt like we can be on the same show and still have our own individual goals. But I will say, I think I did benefit and grow from this last year on SmackDown alone. I'm just a big believer in trying to find that silver lining in every facet of life. We have to deal with the fact that we're not on the same show. We can't change that. So what do you do with that? I think I got more comfortable over the last year going out on my own, cutting promos on my own, wrestling on my own. We don't love it, obviously. But I see those guys on live events, and I'm grateful that we talk all the time. So it doesn't feel like this massive division between us. But, of course, I wish we were all together on the same show. I think that would just make things a bit sweeter.

I know you and the other New Day guys have been very vocal on racial justice issues, certainly over the last year. It's not lost on me that, over the last three years, there have been three Black world champions. And then you add in there Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks. There have been a lot of acts of color featured prominently at the top. What kind of grade do you give WWE as far as representation over the last year or so?

I don’t know if I’m qualified to put a grade on it, but I will say I think this is the best time for Black wrestlers in our industry as a whole . . . I see so many Black talents doing incredible things. And, and I think we're at a really good spot. You know, it was just what last week, we had a live event in London. And the main event was me versus Bobby Lashley in a street fight. And our referee was Derrick Moore — a Black man. The ring announcer was Byron Saxton —a Black man. And I didn't really think about that. And that's pretty incredible. It doesn't feel like a quota system. It doesn't feel like, "Hey, we need to put a bunch of Black [people] who might not be there as far as ability, or as far as fan reception. But hey, let's put them in this position just to say we did." It was kind of cool that there was no article written about it. It wasn't a big deal. It was just, "Oh, these are just the people that we put in this in this match, because they're the right guys."

The Survivor Series marks the 25th anniversary of The Rock’s debut at Madison Square Garden. There’s always some talk about him coming back. Obviously, the match people want to see is him against his cousin Roman Reigns. But how about you? If Dwayne Johnson has got a few more matches in him, would you lobby to have one of them?

I would love that. If the opportunity comes along, of course I’m snatching it up. I don’t know if I’d lobby for it. The one that I've been lobbying for is the Goldberg match, because he was my idol as a kid. But, you don't get any better than the Rock. As far as I know, he’s still the biggest box office draw in Hollywood, and he’s from WWE. That, in and of itself, is incredible. What he did in this company — just being absurdly charismatic and entertaining — he is the blueprint. He broke the mold. You know, when people ask me about my proudest career accomplishment, I often will cite our promo segment with the Rock. It wasn't even a match. We just had a promo segment with the Rock a few years ago. Going out there and taking a Rock Bottom, that was pretty wild, pretty cool. So I would absolutely love that match, for sure.

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