Hi Daniel, lovely to meet you and welcome to Abu Dhabi…
Thanks. I’ve been here a few times before – we did some matches with WWE at the Tennis Stadium. I’d by no means consider myself a veteran, but I’ve been here befor. This time, I’m here with WWE as an observer, a partner, and a supporter of the Special Olympics.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the partnership between WWE and Special Olympics?
Well, WWE has been a partner with the Special Olympics worldwide for a while now and I’m just looking to deepen that partnership and also support the work that Special Olympics do in as far as supporting inclusion, and inclusion of all people.
Why is that something that’s important to you?
Well, I don’t want to get too deep, but I’m a big believer that as far as problems worldwide go, one of the big issues is division amongst people. We really need to unify people and I think the Special Olympics do a great job of that.
I think WWE’s done a very good job of that too, in terms of trying to include women’s empowerment within its programming and broadcasting that message throughout the world, and I think these messages are very important.
Why do you think the Special Olympics are a good platform for that?
It’s one of the things that’s really awesome about the Special Olympics to somebody who is an athlete. For me, I’ve moved around a lot in my life and whenever I moved to a new city and wanted to make friends, I’d go and do some jiu-jitsu because there’s nothing that brings you closer to people than participating in a sport together.
One of the groomsmen in my wedding was my jiu-jitsu coach because we spent hours on the mat, just together. And I think that sort of inclusion – coming and playing sports together – just makes people feel more a part of things. Especially when people of determination can sometimes feel outside the loop in some places, it really brings everybody together.
You’ve been at ADNEC today at the Unified Basketball event.
What’s that been like?
Well, I didn’t just watch, I played! If you were to touch my back right now you would feel the sweat of me having definitely played basketball!
“It’s incredible first the sporting aspect and then that these guys are working really hard and they’re all playing together.”
One of the things that fits with basketball, and all team sports, is the ‘Play Unified’ aspect. That’s a really important part of it: people working together and playing together. There’s really no difference between you and me.
What else did you take away from the event?
Well that’s one side of it, but one of the other things that’s really touched my heart is finding out about things like the health screenings. I didn’t know about that before but it’s so important.
I heard an incredible story about an Egyptian kid who didn’t realise he had only 50 percent of his vision until he went for his health screening. And then when they put glasses on him, he was able to see properly for the first time. That’s like ‘Oh my Gosh’. As a new father, a thing like that literally just gives me chills.
Talking of fatherhood, how are you managing to balance all your work and life and travel commitments at the moment?
Sometimes my wife [WWE star Brie Bella] says that we each feel like single parents. She also travels with work so maybe she’s got to go to Paris to do this thing, so I’m at home alone with the baby. And then I’m coming over here, so she’s at home alone with the baby. And then I’ve gotta go to SmackDown. And then she’s gotta go here and there. But, we make it work. Technology has really helped, I can imagine it would have been really hard even just ten years ago, but now you have a lot better access to see each other and keep in touch.
So you get to see your daughter Birdie even when you’re on the road…
Yes, the hard thing now is that at ten months old, she doesn’t really understand that I’m on FaceTime and not actually there, but at least I get to see her. She’s teething now, and yesterday my wife gave her a pear – a full pear – and she puts her whole mouth around it and goes ‘nom nom nom’. It was just the cutest thing to watch.
Let’s talk WWE…any chance we’ll see you in a ring again?
Well, there’s a chance.
How big of a chance?
I don’t know.
I used to say that I thought it was going to be very unlikely that WWE would clear me but I’ve been working with the doctors there and told them, ‘Send me to any doctor in the country that you want.’ At this point, I’ve been cleared by so many doctors so send me to the best people and see what their opinions are on my condition. Everybody they’ve sent me to has cleared me.
“And so, it’s one of those things
where, now I might have a better chance.
I used to say 15-20% chance, but now
I think it’s more like 50/50.”
I’m of the opinion that if they don’t clear me before WrestleMania, they probably won’t clear me. And then I’ll have to decide what my future is from there.
We’ve been talking about young athletes at the Special Olympics today, looking at young talent in WWE – any names you think we should look out for?
Some of the best wrestling in WWE has happened in what used to be called our developmental program, but it’s taken on a life of its own and is now NXT. One of the guys is Johnny Gargano, he wrestled Cien Almas at the last NXT TakeOver and it was an incredible match. He’s one of those guys who’s undersized – he’s smaller than I am so you wouldn’t look at him and say ‘that guy should be in WWE’. But he connects with the fans in a way that’s just very real and makes you feel something. And that’s what you look for.
That’s something you’ve always done well yourself. How do you connect with people so easily, what’s the secret?
Here’s the thing. Some people in our industry who’ve been successful say people need to do this or that but I think if there was an answer, we’d give it to everybody and it would be better for all of us. But I don’t think there is an answer.
It’s not all me – sometimes its circumstances within the world, or within the wrestling community that draws people to a certain type of person. Like when Steve Austin was the biggest name in wrestling, it was the whole anti-authority push that drew people into him.
What drew fans to you?
Well, I think it was something about me being a very real underdog and also that I am very much of the mind that it’s not me – it’s we.
I’m a big believer that we’re all in this together – in sports, politically, and my general thoughts on the world. And because the world has become so small we really don’t need all this division. And when I wrestle, I very much feel that we’re in this together. So when WWE were pushing the guys that looked like they could be on the cover of Muscle and Fitness, it was the fans who were like, ‘No, actually we like this guy because he’s entertaining.’ Then it became no longer just me, but ‘we’. The fans were pushing for me, sometimes more than I was pushing for myself. I was going out there and working as hard as I could, but part of the connection was that they had to push for me.
“And now, yes, I’m on TV and I’m kind of popular –
but really I’m just a big wrestling nerd
who loves wrestling. And I think people
can relate to that because I’m just one of them.”
Which fits well with the Special Olympics’
message of unity…
And that’s why I think this is such an important partnership. It’s just a really cool thing and when you’re looking at everything globally, and then you shrink it down into smaller things, you see that the bigger problems in the bigger picture are the same things as the problems in the smaller pictures. And we need to work on each of them, everyone and altogether. And I think they’re doing a great job with that at the Special Olympics.