When Big E Langston made his debut in the WWE, he did so with a resounding impact as he flattened the company’s megastar John Cena on live television. The bar was set extraordinarily high, but Langston has lived up to the hype. His massive frame, exceptional athleticism and penchant for a humorous one liner has turned him into a fan favorite. He’s also been rewarded with the company’s lauded Intercontinental Championship. Obviously, there are big things on the horizon for the former power lifter as he gears up for his first Royal Rumble. Before then, Knockout Nation spoke with Big E and discussed his WWE career, how social media has made him more than the musclebound bodyguard cliche and his affinity for underground hip hop.
Knockout Nation: Before you became a pro wrestler, you played NCAA football for Iowa. However, your career was derailed by injuries. Without those injuries, you likely wouldn’t be in the position you are today. Do you think that your life would have eventually led you to wrestling had it not been for those injuries?
Big E Langston: Honestly, no. After I had those injuries I went to graduate school. I actually wanted to be an athletic director but I was still floating around at Iowa and working out. The WWE thing kind of happened for me out of the blue. But if I didn’t have those injuries, I don’t think I would have had the same path. At the time those injuries were difficult to deal with but I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing today. In a way it was a blessing in disguise.
Knockout Nation: You had a great run in NXT but made a big splash as part of a crew that featured Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee. However, it wasn’t just your in-ring ability as many noticed the natural chemistry you guys had outside of the ring. Did you know Dolph and AJ before you joined them in WWE?
Big E: I knew AJ from developmental a year before she was on NXT. I didn’t know Dolph at all. But when we started working together and traveling to different shows we realized that we shared a similar sense of humor. It didn’t take us long to realize that it was kind of an odd pairing but it worked. We had a lot of fun and it is something that I’ll always remember. I learned a lot from Dolph when I was ringside for all of the Cena matches at house shows. It was a positive way for me to start my career.
Knockout Nation: Some wrestlers debut by squashing the biggest name in wrestling and then fizzle out. You made your debut by destroying the company face in John Cena. Were you ever worried that the bar was set too high?
Big E: I can’t say I was worried. But I did take out the face of the company. That is John Cena. There’s no better way to debut. That is the highest you can go. I work with a chip on my shoulder and I put pressure on myself regardless of the situation. In a way, there is that pressure that I debuted at the top. But I always felt that I would be more than a bodyguard in this business. There’s definitely that anticipation that I’m getting that opportunity and I had to run with it.
Knockout Nation: Once upon a time, wrestlers only could make a name for themselves inside of the ring. But you have used social media to get your personality out there to a broader audience. How much has having a social media presence helped build your popularity as a wrestler?
Big E: Twitter has been a key to my success as far as connecting with people. They get to see different sides of me that they probably wouldn’t expect. With the limited amount of time that we have on Raw and Smackdown, we don’t really get to show that much of our personality. If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t get to show all these sides of me. When people see me, they don’t expect me to have the personality that I do but they realize that I’m both flippant and relatable and that’s been a positive. Like you said, if this had been 20 years ago, people would know me as the big dude in the ring and never see the other side of me.
Knockout Nation: What’s Big E doing when he’s not on the road 300 days out of the year?
Big E: I’m pretty much a homebody when I’m off the road. I get really immersed into TV. I’m a big fan of Homeland and Bored To Death. I’m also always digging through hip hop and trying to find new artists that I can listen to on the road. I’m a gamer as well. I haven’t had a chance to get a PS4 yet but it’s coming.
Knockout Nation: I heard that you were a hip hop head. And not only into what is on the radio and TV. You dig pretty deep when it comes to your favorite artists. How do you find what you like and what about those rappers connect with you?
Big E: I have a lot of people that I’m cool with on the road that are big hip hop heads. Chris Hero, when he was here, was a big hip hop fan. I go through the blogs all the time to see what is released. I follow guys like A$AP Yams on Twitter. I actually had the opportunity to connect with the Flatbush Zombies outside of twitter. One of the cool parts is that a lot of the artists that I’m into were big wrestling fans. Not like only when they were kids but they are dropping references now. I’ve watched some of the Flatbush Zombie interviews where they talk about their favorite wrestlers and that’s cool. Guys like Action Bronson I dig because they are different and have a nice sound and voice. I think that a lot of the up and coming artists are unique and pretty cool. When I first heard Flatbush Zombies I expected them to just be horrorcore and nothing more but they have a great boom bap sound from the 90’s. I really enjoy Eric’s production and it feels fresh. I can’t always say why I like a certain artist but they have to bring something new and refreshing to the music.
Knockout Nation: I’m going to put you on the spot here. Name your top five rappers dead or alive.
Big E: In no particular order: Tupac, Nas, Biggie, Jay Z and…AZ.
Knockout Nation: AZ?
Big E: AZ is really underrated. I don’t know if he fits in a lot of people’s top 5 but I put him in there.
Knockout Nation: Who are you listening to right now?
Big E: Right now I’m listening to Flatbush Zombies, Action Bronson and Ghostface Killah.
Knockout Nation: If you could pick any of the rappers that you just mentioned to walk you out for Wrestlemania, who would it be?
Big E: For me it would be the Flatbush Zombies. That would be perfect fit for me to do when my ring entrance at Wrestlemania.
Knockout Nation: Favorite wrestler?
Big E: Big Van Vader is one of my favorites. When I watched it as a kid, I didn’t realize how great he was. Now I watch his old matches and I appreciate him just as much, if not more, than I did back then. He was down in developmental when I was there and I got to sit down with him. I was really amazed at how technical he was.
Knockout Nation: The WWE merged the world heavyweight title, if the same were to happen with the US and Intercontinental titles, which would you want to take precedence over the other?
Big E: If I had to pick one I’d pick the Intercontinental because it has the most prestige. It’s not just because it is the title I hold. If you look at the list of wrestlers who have held the IC title, the list is ridiculous.
Knockout Nation: The Royal Rumble is around the corner, what’s your favorite moment?
Big E: When you think of Kane’s record for eliminations, that was pretty cool. In the modern era, the stuff that Kofi Kingston has done – from the handstand to the chair – is pretty cool moments. But from a dominant perspective, Kane has the nod with the most eliminations.
Knockout Nation: So I’m assuming that you want to do better than Kane this year?
Big E: Of course! My goal is to break that record. This is my first Royal Rumble and I’m excited but the goal is to do something that people remember. Obviously, winning is the #1 priority but having the most eliminations is definitely on my mind.
Knockout Nation: If you had to choose whether to come in the Royal Rumble at #1 and take the most difficult path or #30 and have the easiest path to victory, which would you choose?
Big E: That’s a good question! Winning either way is the goal. But coming in at #1 and winning is tougher and would be remembered for a long time. 30 is the easier route but the challenge of being #1 and making it all the way through is something I would like to do.