Kofi Kingston reveals who makes The New Day's pancakes, Roman Reigns talks about The Undertaker, Charlotte Flair discusses her dad's penmanship, and we look ahead to Sunday's Wrestlemania.
[Updated] I’ve been writing about Wrestlemania 34 this week for The New Orleans Advocate, and you can see my preview of Sunday’s show at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as well as its subplots sidebar there, along with my stories on Wrestlemania’s economic impact, Fan Axxess, and video interviews with Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss. In the process of working on those pieces, I spoke to Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, and Charlotte Flair. Here are the highlights of those interviews that didn’t make the stories.
How long did it take to get used to being called “Roman”?
A couple of years. The weirdest part is when people who know me as my real name—Joe—call me Roman. Or people that I’m really close to. If my mom or my wife or my sisters call me Roman, I’m wondering, What the heck is going on here? I’ve known certain wrestlers since our beginning down here in Tampa in FCW, and I didn’t have a name at that point so they called me Joe. If a guy I’ve known for a really long time calls me Roman, it still seems weird, especially if we’re nowhere near the building.
What did you think when you learned that you were going to wrestle The Undertaker?
I was happy to say that I shared the ring with him at Wrestlemania, whether we were on the main event or the pre-show. It wouldn’t matter to me. I’m one of the last younger guys who’s ever going to say that, y’know? One of the last guys to sit under the learning tree. One of the last guys to have access to the library. That sucks, but that’s the gravity of the situation. It’s how good Undertaker was and how much he meant to this company.
That match seemed to set the tone for the year for you.
Not only for me. I thought we used it as a vehicle very well. Who did I wrestle right after The Undertaker? I went straight to Braun Strowman, and Braun Strowman is a whole different situation than he was a year and a half ago when he was with the Wyatts. We took all the energy they had put into me and were able to build another star. It was very strategic and very smart business on behalf of the creative team and the bosses that we all know. But it was really cool to take that energy [fans] had for me and the hatred for doing the thing that should never have been done, and now they wanted that big monster to get revenge for them. We did some really cool television and some crazy things and built a big star for ourselves.
It’s a circle. Sometimes more equity’s going to have to be put into me; sometimes more equity’s going to have to be put into him as well. That’s how you build stars. It’s like a flower. You have to constantly water it or that star won’t rise how you want it to. But it’s a team effort. We needed that teamwork out of The Undertaker to do that solid for us, and when I see someone do that for me, it’s no problem helping out the next man.
After last year’s Wrestlemania, you announced that you weren’t a good guy or a bad guy, but the guy. What are the challenges in working as neither a pure heel or face like that?
Are there challenges? Sure, but they’re good challenges. I love my dynamic. There’s always noise. There’s always something to work off of.
As a performer, you have to understand that the crowd paid money to see something. There’s something that they want to cheer for, something that they want to come alive for, and it’s our job to figure it out. With my dynamic, I can go either way, and if 100 percent of the arena is reacting to you, it’s not going to be quiet. I had to speed up my learning curve because every single night I was dealing with a hostile crowd or a crowd that really didn’t want to make up their mind. Are they loud and into it? Yeah, but you have to direct them, and you have to learn these steps of leading a crowd. I love it.
Are there places that are more pro-Roman or anti-Roman?
Absolutely. When you get down to the South, it’s a little bit easier. In Texas, they’re traditional and they like their good guys. They keep that traditional structure of good vs. evil, and they take the side of good. You start working your way up the Northeast—we’ve been to Toronto, and they love to boo me up there. Phlly, New York, Boston and through that region, your bigger cities, they’re going to be rowdy.
A lot of this is due to the breakdown of demographics. What’s the number of kids? What’s the number of women? How many men are in here? These are things as a performer that you have to listen to, and not just when it’s you. I try to take a performer—I used to use Ryback—and the smarter fans, I saw how they were treating him earlier in the night and had a general idea how they were going to react towards me. So you come in with a game plan. Maybe I have to be a little more feisty. Maybe I have to be a little more pissed off. Maybe I have to be beat up.
I thought your promos with John Cena were one of the high points of the year for you. What was your takeaway from that experience?
I thank John. If I didn’t have those promos, then I’d have had a little more trouble connecting to the promos I’ve had with Brock, breaking down that fourth wall.
It was a great learning lesson, not only what it takes ultimately to replace John Cena or be the guy who steps in and take over the reins, but I feel like he made me better. At this level, you should never step into the ring without making someone step up to you. I should never go down. I should always make another performer work up to me. That’s what John did to me, and he made me get better. The only thing I can say to that is Thank you. He gets as much crap as I do if not more. For someone to have everything go on for him right now in Hollywood and still come back here and leave things better than he found it, and that’s what it takes. We need more John Cenas out there.
You’ve spent much of the last year in a program with The Usos. What are the challenges for having a long program like that?
We’re always trying to outdo ourselves and it’s easy because we all have the same mindset. They always want to steal the show as do we, and they want to do it in a unique way. We’re always thinking about ways to keep the rivalry going, including something like the rap battle. It wasn’t stereotypical WWE. They’ve done rap things n the WWE before, but never a rap battle like we did. We’re of the same mentality in that we want to get out there and do something different and entertain the people by bringing pop culture in and doing more than just wrestle.
That rap battle might be the first time that hip-hop didn’t sound embarrassing on WWE programming.
We had that same chip on our shoulder because a lot of things that have happened in terms of rap are okay. We wanted to make sure that when we did our stuff, it was better than okay. We wanted it to be the best stuff you’ve seen when it comes to hip-hop, and we wanted it to tie in the culture and bring everybody in on that. Having Wale there and Mega Ran as well lent us credibility—Wale judging, and Mega Ran with our crew. It was something we definitely wanted to represent and come correct with because yeah, as you said, it could have gone very, very poorly given the history.
Is the WWE’s history of dubious representations of African Americans in the back of your mind when you think about how you present yourself?
Yeah. We don’t focus on the past, but we want to make sure that in the present, things that we are doing are being ourselves. Not playing into any stereotypes. We want to be us. The whole New Day aura consists of being yourself. It’s okay to be yourself. You go out there as an African American and you have to be put into a box—no. We reside outside the box.
I love that The New Day is one of the few times when WWE programming seems almost dada, with Big E walking out and throwing pancakes from out of his singlet.
And people eat those pancakes!
Who makes your pancakes?
Mr Bootyworth! He’s the chef who makes the pancakes. We haven’t introduced him to the free world yet. This might be the first interview where we’ve mentioned who our pancake artiste is. It is Mr. Bootyworth, and he makes our pancakes for us on the daily. He makes sure everyone in the WWE Universe gets their pancakes hot.
A week or so ago, you missed Smackdown Live and there were reports that you were injured. How’s your health?
I had to get a root canal. I’m cleared. Everyone was like, Charlotte’s injured! but no, just a swollen mouth. Couldn’t be on TV. It just happened at a wrong time.
Is preparing for Wrestlemania different from preparing for other pay-per-views?
For me, this one’s a lot different, not having Asuka on the road with me, not having worked her before, and not having matches to go back and look at. Also, for this one I’m putting extra pressure on myself because I want everyone to walk out of Wrestlemania saying that Asuka and Charlotte stole the show. I want people to feel something from this match. I keep hearing from people that this is a dream match, so I’ve got to make it a dream match.
Both of you are faces right now. Are their challenges in a face vs. face match?
No. Face vs. face is hard, but I think people are just looking for a match they can get behind and sink their teeth in.
My character’s a babyface by default. We both have shades of heel in us, so I think it will be fun to go back and forth.
Has it been a challenge to be a face after years of being a heel?
Definitely. I have to work on my promos from a different perspective. Even the Mixed Match Challenge has helped me, having the opportunity to be out there with Bobby Roode. He brings out a softer side in me since I’m always so serious.
You’ll be at Fan Axxess this weekend. Have you simplified your autograph so that you can do it easily and quickly?
No, because I saw my dad’s penmanship and it was beautiful. And it was the same every time.
Wrestlemania 34 finally takes place Sunday, and while I can tell you who I think will win (Cena will absolutely job to The Undertaker, for instance), picking the winners isn’t like picking the best horse or teams. Because the ending is decided backstage, picking winners is more about anticipating storylines and reading crowd reactions. I seem to be one of the few who think Rusev will beat Randy Orton, Bobby Roode and Jinder Mahal because Mahal was a brick of a champion, Roode is unloved after his “Glorious” entrance, and Orton’s old news, while Rusev has made Rusev Day one of the hottest parts of Smackdown Live. Still, I have a blind spot where Orton is concerned because I have always found him uninteresting and don’t see the fresh storylines emerge naturally from him holding the U.S. Title. He has already wrestled one generation of consequential wrestlers; is seeing him work through the next really that exciting? Rusev opens the door to a whole new avenues of matches, and he’s the unusual combination of an agile, charismatic strong man. Usually the WWE gets two those three traits at most. But that’s a writer’s room question, not a gym on in-ring one.
The real question is which matches are going to be entertaining, and the answer to that is the reason to be excited by Wrestlemania 34. Out of the 14 matches (including the pre-show battle royals and Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali), 10 promise to be really good matches. I’m not optimistic about Sulky Ronda Rousey’s performance based on what little we’ve seen so far, and the prospect of Triple H and Kurt Angle carrying the bulk of the match doesn’t do much for me either. The only drama in the The Bar’s match against Braun Strowman and his mystery partner is who that partner will be and how long The Bar will make it a match. I don’t love battle royals, which promise far more than they deliver, but the women’s battle royal will almost certainly advance the Bayley/Sasha Banks feud, and the entertainment value of that match will rely a lot on that story.
Otherwise, the WWE has put its top talent in matches that are genuinely promising on an athletic level, emotional level, or both. The Undertaker won’t enter the ring if he can’t go, but even if he’s working at 85 percent, it will be an involving match because we can feel pretty certain that this will be the last. Daniel Bryan’s return to the ring will be huge and compensate for the presence of Shane McMahon as his tag partner, and he’ll be great against two guys as top notch as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Nia Jax is going to beat up Alexa Bliss and I expect her to take the title, but I won’t be surprised if Mickie James’ involvement somehow saves the belt, even as Bliss takes a beating.
Fans love to hate Roman Reigns, but I expect his match with Brock Lesnar to be gruelingly physical and really engaging. Paul Heyman said no one gets up from an F5 on Raw Monday, so I expect Reigns will, and when he wins, it will feel earned.
Updated 3:25 p.m.
The Alexa Bliss video link was added after the story was first published.