Late last month, WWE announced a partnership with the Special Olympics to participate in a program called Play Unified, which “fosters friendships, understanding, and inclusive communities among people with and without intellectual disabilities by uniting them through the power and joy of sports.”
We had a chance to talk to one of WWE’s ambassadors for the partnership, the 7-foot tall, 500-pound Big Show, to ask him about WWE’s role in Play Unified. We also took the time to ask him who he likes in WWE’s New Era, why he’s always switching alignments, and what could’ve possibly been going through his mind when he was a participant in the legendary Yeti attack on Hulk Hogan back at Halloween Havoc ’95. We have our priorities.
Here’s what the seven-time World Champion had to say, and we appreciate him not punching us in our faces.
Special Olympics and WWE announced an international partnership, can you tell me a little about that?
The Big Show: Yeah, WWE has a longstanding relationship with the Special Olympics, and we’re helping them spread the word, so to speak, on their Play Unified campaign. It’s a goal of creating change through sports, and WWE and athletes all around the world are jumping on board. In some countries that aren’t quite as up to speed as we are in the U.S., we’re ringing Special Olympics awareness to them with the Play Unified campaign through the WWE brand.
You figure WWE is globally known … I think we’re in like, 170 countries, and I’m pretty sure I’ve wrestled in all of them at some point in my life. [laughter] Some of the countries we’ve been working with, China, Germany, India, Mexico, the United Kingdom … with our global platforms at WWE, with our network, with our website, with our social media, we can help spread the word of this Play Unified campaign and help create a little bit of change. More inclusion and acceptance.
When do you think WWE Superstars became cultural ambassadors? 40 years ago you wouldn’t have seen the Iron Sheik doing this kind of thing, what do you think the connection is and why are pro wrestlers such good spokespeople for really serious causes like the Special Olympics?
The funny thing is, is that it starts at the top, with Vince [McMahon]. WWE’s always had a part in the local communities and starting small and working up. I think the biggest change for us is how our product has changed, and how the perception of our product has changed. You know, there were still a lot of things going on with kids and stuff like that even back when Bruno Sammartino was champion in New York. I know that Bruno was very involved in the New York area with kids in the neighborhoods, families, [telling them about] going to school and staying out of trouble and doing the right thing. WWE’s always had kind of a presence and an influence. Now that we’re this global monster that we are, through social media and stuff like that, I think people are more aware. There’s more awareness as to what WWE does as a whole, and that makes the difference.
The reason that WWE is able to help so much is that we do have that global impact. But in a lot of countries, they aren’t really aware of all the work that the Special Olympics brings to the table. I’ve worked with the USA Games, I’ve worked with the World Games, and it’s not just about the athletes doing well. You’re there to see the athletes compete and it really gives you a good feeling, but what you don’t see behind the scenes is a lot of the volunteers and sponsors with medical care, dental care … a lot of these kids when they’re able to come to these Special Olympics events, there are doctors who are there that are volunteering their time to give these kids checks ups and stuff like that. There’s a real concern in taking care of the Special Olympics athletes as a whole, so I think all-in-all that’s the kind of thing that’s really wonderful about Special Olympics, and why it’s such a good thing to be a part of.
For me, I’m always about giving back to my community, being involved in my community. Growing up, my mom was a cop and my dad was a mechanic, so I was in the community about as big as you can get. Now that I’m older and have a little bit of influence or whatever you wanna call it, it’s good thing to be a part of an organization that’s also so community conscious as WWE. Vince has a saying, “putting smiles on people’s faces,” that turned into a little bit of a slogan on our social media and TV and stuff, but that’s been his philosophy from the get-go. Vince has got a couple of philosophies; “Treat every day at work like your first day at work,” and, “Remember your job is to put smiles on people’s faces.” So, it starts from the top.
When you were in the Dungeon of Doom, did you imagine you’d be working with charities and making millions of kids happy?
Did I? No. I was just a kid then that was so out of my friggin’ mind doing what I was doing, I couldn’t think much of anything. I just remember … [laughter] the Dungeon of Doom days, seeing all these heroes I grew up watching as a kid; Jim Duggan, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson. I remember Hacksaw Jim Duggan taught me how to play Gin, which is a big card game in the locker room with the guys. He says, “Hey kid, wanna learn how to play Gin?” I’m like, “Sure,” and 150 bucks later I learned how to play gin. [laughter]
Yeah, it’s been an amazing career for me. I’m a small-town kid from South Carolina, you know? I’ve been able to put my hands on the Great Pyramids in Egypt. I’ve been to China and Japan, and Australia, South Africa … I’m able to go visit the troops, I’ve gone almost every year since 2003 to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to visit the troops. So for me, this is a blessing and a dream job, because I get a chance to do something I love, to be a part of a sport I love, and a the same time, I’ve been given a vehicle to make a positive change for the people around me. I can’t complain. I’m lucky, that’s for sure.
What was it like being on stage with the Special Olympics athletes on Raw?
That was amazing. You know, one of the people told me the little girl that was next to me, they said she never smiles, here thing is she doesn’t smile. So at the end there, I was trying to [make her smile]. She did a smile during rehearsal when we walked out there in the afternoon, so I was trying to get her to smile again and wave. And she waved, and smiled, and it was awesome. You figure they’ve never been in front of that many people, and all of a sudden they walk out and there’s ten-thousand people sitting there looking at them, cheering and stuff like that. They’ve got nerves of steel. I love those kids so much.
We got to the back and I signed all their balls for them, footballs and volleyballs, basketballs and stuff, and they’re just so excited. They’re all giving me lessons on who I need to tag team with, and what title I need to go get. I mean, it was … it’s really fun being around those kids, because the energy is so infectious and happy. I tell my daughter all the time; it’s funny if ever music breaks out, those kids stop what they’re doing and just start dancing right there. They’re just so innocent and free. I call it Chicken Soup for the Soul, that’s my thing I say when I work with Special Olympics. Every time I work with those kids and am around those kids I’m glowing, because I just have so much fun with them.
Speaking of you being a good dude, one of the things that keeps coming up about you is that you can’t decide if you wanna be good or evil. Is this partnership the final statement? Are you a good guy? Are you gonna stay that way?
Well, I think the thing that fans have to understand, this is not me deciding whether or not I’m a good guy or a bad guy.
[laughing] Well, sure.
It’s not like I wake up one day and I flip the switch and I’m schizophrenic, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, I have to be a bad guy.” It’s not like I’m on medication.
What usually happens in my career, and Arn Anderson told me a long time ago, is that the worst thing I ever did was learn how to work. When I didn’t know how to work, I was just a giant that, you know, knocked everybody down and didn’t fall down. But then I learned how to work and help guys out, so usually what would happen with me is we’d have a run and we’d need an imposing heel that could tell a story and be reliable, and work five nights a week, and put up with the rigors of the travel, and handle the promos the people gave me, and I got heat and put guys over. So I guess that’s what happens, and then sometimes when they run out of steam on my heat, people start liking me again, because I’m a pretty big, likeable fella. Not your average bear. So people start cheering for me. It does seem like a lot of flip-flopping. I’m okay with it. It gave me 21 years of job security, that’s the way I look at it.
You know, if I can help younger guys out and get them over, help them with their character, [I want to]. I always run into the same situations all the time where, let’s say I’m a heel, and I see a new face come along, and I’m like, “Aw, I wish I was a heel right now, I could help them!” It’s easy for me to play a heel role because I’m so much bigger, and we can tell that story of David vs. Goliath in almost any situation, and it’s easy to root for the underdog. But after time, you stay in this business long enough, people actually do respect you a little bit. It was getting harder for a little while to get heat, because it wasn’t they were getting heat on me, the heat was that [fans] didn’t like the programs I was stuck in.
So I think now WWE is gonna lead me into a nice ambassador role, an attraction role, but who knows? Vince could change his mind next week. I could go out and smash the entire locker room and I’m a bad guy again. That’s the thing about working here, nothing really stays the same. You gotta be prepared to jump on board and sail the seven seas if you’re asked to do it.
Bret Hart recently mentioned that he’s wondering where all the big guys in pro wrestling went, with you and Mark Henry and a few others named as sort of the last of a dying breed. As the biggest guy, where are all the big guys?
We do have some big guys who are out there who are coming along. [Baron] Corbin’s coming along, he’s a big guy, he’s so nice in the ring. I like watching him.
Big Cass is doing good, he’s coming along real good. I don’t want Cass and Enzo to split up any time soon. You wanna try to keep them together and let that magic develop its full course before you try to shove Cass into a singles career of his own, you know what I mean? Give those guys a few times to really fit themselves into the industry, build that relationship, and then Cass will be fine.
I’ll tell you another guy who’s really turned it around working in the ring too is Erick Rowan. I think Rowan, if you give him an opportunity, he’ll surprise a lot of people. He’s really, really gotten his act together in the ring. Wrestling, psychology, you know, a-to-z, he’s on top of it. And Braun Strowman’s coming along. It’s tougher for Braun because they’re trying to build Braun like the next Big Show, the next giant. They’re trying to bring him along solo, but he’ll get some reps in and start getting some work done.
There’s so much new talent there now that they’re trying to get the newer, younger, small guys, I think they’re trying to develop them and get them over. But it’s always easier to ring in a big guy and crunch them, and establish that big guy. But I was lucky on getting established, because I was working with guys who were already established. I was working with Hogan and Savage and Sting and Luger and Arn and Flair, and all these guys who were already established. Jim Duggan. So when I was working with these guys, it made sense. It was like, “Oh, here’s this big monster.” Sometimes you have to get guys established and then create the monsters, you know what I mean?
I’m glad to hear you say you’re a big Baron Corbin fan, sometimes I feel like I’m the only one.
Me too, man, I love the way he moves in the ring. He moves … you can look at a guy in 30 seconds and tell whether or not he can work. Just the way the feet, the way he strides, the way he sells, everything, he’s on it, I’m telling you. He reminds me — and not to jinx him or put any pressure on him — but he reminds me of a baby Undertaker, when Taker’s moving in the ring, you know what I mean? They’ve got the same kind of stride and strikes, and stuff like that. So if Baron keeps his head on straight and keeps working hard, I see a lot of things for that kid in the future, I really do. That’d be my pick out of the new crop, you know. I would look at Baron Corbin and see him really tearing the place down in the future.
Aside form Corbin, is there anyone else standing out in the New Era? We recently saw you pop up on Raw to give Apollo Crews advice.
Yeah, there’s a lot of guys standing out. There’s a lot of guys in NXT that I’m liking, too. Mojo [Rawley]’s standing out for me. Not that Finn Bálor’s a new guy, but I think he’ll be new to WWE TV. Finn Bálor I absolutely love. That guy has just got character personified when he does the full Demon getup and makeup. It’s star stuff. And his approach in the ring is very good, too. He’s a smaller guy, but he’s very gutsy and very exciting to watch.
Up on our roster, of course you’ve gotta talk about Enzo and Cass, New Day is doing fantastic, and Seth [Rollins] is back, which is good. Dean [Ambrose]’s got a heavy load on his plate, but Dean’s gonna handle it like the boss he is. I love Dean, man. Dean’s awesome. Man, that dude doesn’t stress about anything. He could be in the middle of a forest fire and I swear, he’d stop to cook marshmallows.
The women’s division is getting pretty strong. They’re really happy with what Charlotte’s doing, and Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch. Becky is becoming one of my favorite Divas to watch, too, because she’s got good aggression and good instincts and two or three gears of hustle, you know? Most everybody has one or two gears, but it seems like Becky, you’ll see her during the match trying to win and she’s kicking up the hustle every time trying to get a pinfall. And Bayley hasn’t really hit the scene yet either, you know what I mean? She’s gonna do well.
It’s just gonna take time. The problem is, it’s all different now, because there were so many years of the world being invested with talent that had been around for so long, and now there’s an influx. So it’s gonna take time. There’s gonna be people that make it, there’s gonna be people that don’t make it, that’s just the way of the game. Some people that don’t make it, it doesn’t mean they’re gone forever, they may have to go away to come back. That’s the good thing about this place, Vince always gives you an opportunity. He really does. You may have to go and come back. He’ll give you an opportunity.
At WrestleMania, you and Shaquille O’Neal had a showdown, and that’s gone back and forth a bit to the point it looks like you guys are gonna go one-on-one in the future. Everybody’s always asking you when you’re gonna fight Shaq, so hey, when are you gonna fight Shaq?
[laughter] I don’t know.
Why are those guys guys always picking on you? Akebono, Floyd Mayweather …
I don’t know. I’m the biggest white dude in spandex walking. I’m not hard to find at all. Whatever Shaq wants to do. It could be SummerSlam, it could be WrestleMania, it could be Monday Night Raw, it doesn’t matter. I’m not the one with the busy schedule. I’m not the one doing commercials and being a sports anchor. I’d love to have Shaq come out and compete with us. I’d love to have Charles Barkley in my corner when it happens. Because I love Charles Barkley, I’d love to have Barkley in my corner, but who knows? We’ll see what happens.
A lot of it comes with negotiations with people over my pay-grade. I’m just a soldier. That’s up there with the generals and the president. If it happens, I think it’d be a fantastic treat for the WWE Universe. I know Shaq is a huge fan, he’s a committed athlete, and I know Shaq is the type of guy who’d definitely jump in with both feet. Just a matter of his scheduling and his time, and working things out with WWE. It’s tough for me, because everywhere I go people hit me up like, “Oh, when are you gonna fight Shaq, when are you gonna fight Shaq,” but it ain’t up to me. What do you want from me, you want me to go to his house and knock on his door? It’s not my fault. I’m here.
So we’ll see what happens. I’d like to wrestle Shaq, too. We’re all Shaq fans in our house. We’re all big fans of him. So we’ll see what happens.
I only get so many chances to talk to you in my life, so as a die-hard WCW fan, I have to ask: What was going through your mind when you were bearhugging Hulk Hogan and looking over his head at a 7-foot tall ice mummy bearhugging him on the other side?
Ooooh boy, you’re talking about the most embarrassing …
You’ve gotta understand, Brandon, that was my first match. Okay? That was my first match. I was green as grass. At one point I looked over at Hogan in the corner, he was standing in the corner and I was just eating him up or had just cut him off or something, and I didn’t have any corner offense yet! I really didn’t. I didn’t throw elbows, I didn’t throw knees, I didn’t throw anything. I remember Hogan grabbed my hand and started choking himself, and he goes, [Hulk Hogan voice] “Oh no, brother, don’t choke me!” I was like, “Oh yeah, I can do that.” Because I didn’t remember. It was my first match. Everything was fine, Hogan was just … Hogan was absolutely insane to take that chance with me, on that big of a pay-per-view, as big and young as I was, as strong as I was. If I’d have freaked out or panicked, I could’ve really hurt him. I mean, for real. For him to have that faith in me shows the vision and the character that he had.
And then when The Yeti came out, I remember Luger came out and said, “DEAR GOD, STOP HUMPING HIM, LET HIM GO.” It was Savage and Luger. There’s a story I heard later in the back that Ron Reis — he’s a great guy, by the way, a 7-foot guy from California, the nicest guy on the planet. Sometimes you can’t really be a nice guy in this business, you’ve got to be a little bit of a jerk in this business to sick up for yourself. So in the back, one of the old rules was that you never bother Randy Savage before his match, because Randy was one of the most intense dudes backstage. Randy wouldn’t talk to anybody before his match. He was very intense. He looked like he was in a rage all the time backstage, that’s just how he was with his focus. You know, nobody said Randy was sane. That’s part of why you love the guy, because he was passionate and his intensity. And Ron Reis walks up in that mummy outfit and says, “Hey Randy, should I walk out with my arms out straight, or my arms to the side?” And Randy looks up at him and says, [Macho Man voice] “Brother, do whatever the hell you think is right and piss off.”
I asked Ron about it, and he said, “Yeah, he was like, so mean.” And I was like, “Randy’s not the guy to bother, you know what I mean.” And I said, “Why would you ask him that anyway? You’re a Yeti, not a zombie.” He goes, “I don’t know.” I said, “I don’t think anybody knows around here.”