For much of his WWE career, Big E has expressed himself through his wrestling gear. Beginning in 2015, he partnered with Jonathon Davenport on the design elements of his and New Day brethren Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods’ in-ring attire. Since then, the group has continued to blend the worlds of professional wrestling and their real lives with gear highlighting everything from nerd culture moments to the Black Lives Matter movement.
That was how Big E planned to express his pain after George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, when a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. This situation, however, compelled Big E into even more action — efforts bigger than taking a knee in a WWE ring and later selling merchandise to support the NAACP legal defense fund. Like many Americans, the fallout from Floyd’s death sparked a passion to find a more long-term path to inspire the country and educate the next generation.
“This was the first time that a death of someone that I had never met, had never known, really affected me,” Big E told Uproxx Sports. “I kept thinking, ‘How do we solve systematic racism and these very big, weighty systematic issues?’ I think one of the things that’s important is education (around Black History).”
Black History, Big E explained, is more than just learning about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and slavery during the month of February. It’s a source of pride that can, and should, be celebrated year-round. That knowledge applies to children of every race and can help everyone better empathize with the plight of Black people in this country by gaining a better understanding of what they’ve endured and how strong they are.
To achieve that, Big E has teamed up with Davenport and close friend Andreas Hale to create a crowdfunded, Schoolhouse Rock-inspired animated series that’s designed to be fun and educational: Our Heroes Rock.
— Ettore “Big E” Ewen (@WWEBigE) February 22, 2021
“For us, this is a labor of love,” Big E says. “It’s about telling a story that we think needs to be told. And Kickstarter was a way to demonstrate that people really want to see this get made. Right now, we have 1,100 backers. Our hope is that that it becomes a series and that we get to tell more of these stories.”
Should the group fulfill their aspirations to produce a full series, Big E already has a slew of ideas in mind.
“I really love the story of Ruby Bridges. It’s a 6-year-old girl, who in 1960 integrated an all-white school in New Orleans. The fact that she was born the same year as Brown v. Board of Education, I just love her story. And to think, she’s still alive. She’s 66. That’s younger than my parents,” Big E says. “And there are so many more stories. There’s Ida B. Wells, there’s James Farmer, there’s Madam C.J. Walker. There’s so many of these influential Black figures, whether they’re politicians or business people. We also think about the ability to tell stories from people of so many marginalized communities, whether it be LGBTQ, indigenous people. That’s why we titled it, ‘Our Heroes Rock,’ because we want these stories of marginalized people to not feel sectioned off in a corner, where we spend one month a year talking about them and then move on to normal history. We want to tell people this is normal history, this is American history.”
The opportunities for Our Heroes Rock are endless, and that hasn’t been lost on Big E, Davenport, and Hales. Whether the final product is attached to a streaming service, shown in schools, coloring books, children’s books, or interactive games, the sky is the limit for their blossoming idea. And for Big E, leaving that kind of a legacy is significant.
“I’ve spent almost 12 years in WWE and I don’t know if I have another 12 years in the ring,” Big E says. “So it’s been important for me now to give back to so many people who have blessed me and given me opportunities and I hope to do the same for others. I don’t worry too much about legacy in the idea of people praising me for what I did, I think that’s unimportant. But I know I want to leave a footprint that is positive and impactful and helps people. If I can do something, that when I leave the industry, when I leave this Earth, that has had a positive impact, that’s the goal.”
While Big E is focused on achieving his goals outside of the ring, the current Intercontinental champion is blazing his own trail inside the squared circle. After picking up the win on Sunday at Fastlane, Big E appears destined to continue his heated rivalry with another transformed superstar in Apollo Crews.
“As much as we butt heads lately, I have to give him a ton of credit because he stepped his game up and he’s a guy who always could get it done in the ring,” Big E says. “He’s an incredible performer and has been for quite some time. He just needed that opportunity. And it’s good to see him step out and show a different side. Too often guys like that, people will say when it’s all said and done, ‘Ah, what could have been with that really talented guy, who was a good in-ring performer.’ But now, I feel like you’re seeing some of the promise of that potential with Apollo Crews.”
Their rivalry has been elevated by the inclusion of the Intercontinental title, which in years past has been seen as a stepping stone to a World Heavyweight title run. That perspective has changed and Big E is relishing his time as champion in the build to WrestleMania.
“Some really tremendous performers have held the title,” Big E says. “As much flack as I would give Sami Zayn, he’s a guy who has had an incredible career. He’s had some ups and downs of course, but to see again, he’s a guy who reinvented himself and the stuff he was doing with he IC title, being really crafty, I thought really worked and was so unique. You’re seeing so many guys who were former world champions or future world champions hold the Intercontinental championship.
“And I love that it’s become a bit of the premiere title in many ways,” he continues. “In the past, we might’ve had some performers who were not full-time performers with the world championship and you don’t see them every week. So the Intercontinental championship is the only male singles title, at times, that you’d see on a weekly basis. The title, as we all know, has such an incredible history and it deserves to have that lineage carried on in the proper way. So that’s my goal, is to do my best, to make sure that title remains elevated and continues to be even more elevated than it is.”
Continuing to elevate the title has involved Big E’s continued transformation from New Day member Big E, to Paul Heyman’s vision of the ruthless champion. For the champ, toeing that line has been all about adding layers to his character.
“Every interesting character has layers,” Big E says. “I’m still the Big E that enjoys making people laugh. I enjoy entertaining you. But I’m not going to just lay down. When someone crosses the line with me, I want to show an intensity and in the same vein, I want to be the funniest person on the roster. In back-to-back weeks, you might laugh watching me more than you laugh watching anyone else. And then the next week, I want you to say, ‘Oh, that’s a man who is terrifying.’ I want to show layers and depth. And I feel like every performer should strive to do the same. I think being one way or the other, eventually gets old. Everyone wants to show those complex layers and I’m glad I’m getting those opportunities to show what I can do.”
That evolution and building the layers to make the Big E character unlike anything you see on WWE television has allowed him to live out a lifelong dream of approaching WrestleMania in his hometown with singles gold.
“I’m born and raised in Tampa. I played my high school all-star game when I was 17 at Raymond James. We had a bowl game when I was at the University of Iowa. I tore my ACL, but I was on the sideline when we played Florida. The city means a lot to me. It’s home and I’ve lived here my whole life besides college,” Big E says. “So to be home, with fans, and moving in the right direction when people are getting vaccinated, which is of course, something that I’d encourage anyone to do, it’s a dream come true to have WrestleMania at home as I walk in as a champion. There’s so many incredible cities that deserve to host WrestleMania. For me, selfishly, this is the one. This is number one. If I could pick any city in the world, it would be Tampa. And I’m ready for it.”
As for Big E’s WrestleMania-worthy entrance, he wouldn’t offer any hints. We’ll just have to wait until the two-night event, on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11 to see what he’s got planned for the grand event, which will air live both nights on Peacock.