Baron Corbin is having a fantastic year so far.
During the first half of 2017, the WWE superstar known as “The Lone Wolf” participated in his first Royal Rumble match (in which he eliminated fellow hoss Brawn Strowman) and his first Elimination Chamber match (which took place right here in Phoenix). And he’s been kicking a lot of ass on a weekly basis on SmackDown Live.
Earlier this month, Corbin topped it all off by beating five other superstars to win a Money in the Bank ladder match, earning himself a future title shot for one of the WWE’s two world championships in the process.
Not bad for a dude who was once cut by the Arizona Cardinals back at the beginning of the decade. (Although it wasn’t for a lack of toughness or chutzpah.)
Corbin has come a long way from the days when he was known as Thomas Pestock and was trying to make it in the NFL. Over the last seven years, he’s become one of the WWE’s biggest villains and breakout characters. And, as his victory in the Money in the Bank ladder match indicates, a potential future WWE world champion.
As a result of his Money in the Bank win, Corbin now carries a bright blue briefcase containing the contract for his title shot (which can be cashed in at a time and place of his choosing for up to a year) everywhere he goes.
That includes the airport when he’s travelling to and from WWE events. According to Corbin, who spoke with New Times via telephone recently, it’s led to some amusing interactions with people.
“The thing is bright blue and says ‘Money in the Bank’ in giant letters,” he says. “So walking through the airport, everybody's staring at you [or] looking at what it is.”
Corbin will definitely have the briefcase with him on Tuesday, July 4, when SmackDown Live will be broadcast from Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown. And it might come in handy, either to nab an impromptu title shot against current WWE champion Jinder Mahal or as a weapon against his fellow WWE superstars.
Corbin told us about what he might be doing during SmackDown Live in Phoenix during our chat, as well as what it’s like to be “Mr. Money in the Bank,” why he takes shots at people giving him grief on Twitter, and how much he enjoys the taste of certain wrestling fans’ tears.
New Times: Was the Money in the Bank ladder match the toughest match of your career?
Baron Corbin: It most definitely was, for a couple of reasons. It was my first experiences with ladders and that kind of magnitude of a prize on the line. Elimination Chamber was crazy, some kind of thing where it was for the WWE championship and there's five other guys in there. But this one was a different level, I think, when you're climbing a 10-, 12, 14-, 16-foot ladders to try and take that briefcase off of the chain from the ceiling and it's an experience where you're 6'7, 6'8 and climbing those ladders and you're a long way from the ground. That was pretty crazy in itself. And the guys in that match are on a different level, so I think it was a pretty exciting thing to be a part of.
How much did you hurt the next day?
Uh...I'm still recovering. I'm sore. I mean, that's rough. There's no ifs, ands, or buts when it comes to falling off ladders and getting hit with ladders. It's very physical and very taxing on your body. I was elated after, so I felt good that night, you know. No pain, nothing like that. Then the next day you're like, "Aww!" Every time you move, you feel a new bruise.
Did you do anything big that night to celebrate?
When you get a win like that – and now I have an opportunity to cash in and become WWE champion, if it all works out as planned – that's exciting. But then I still got to go and perform the next night and every night is another opportunity. So, it's just the first step in doing what I want to do. So it was the grindstone. We had Smackdown two days later. So I'm seeing what kind of opportunities are ahead and just always trying to go forward. I'll find time to celebrate when I'm holding that WWE championship.
So is it hard to carry around the briefcase all the time?
It is. It actually is very hard. The thing is bright blue and says "Money in the Bank" in giant letters. So walking through the airport, everybody's staring at you, looking at what it is, or there's a lot of people at the airport that want to take pictures now. And you're carrying this bright blue briefcase and it's not light. I've got my contract in there, too. It's a carry-on, so it's with me 24/7.
So there's actually a contract in there?
Yeah. It's got an actual contract.
How much of your stuff can you get in there?
I mean, I've got my iPad and a couple of other electronic [devices] and stuff for music and all the lithium batteries you can't check. So that all gets stuffed in a briefcase, so that sucker's heavy.
Previous Money in the Bank winners have occasionally used the briefcase as a weapon. Do you see yourself doing the same?
Oh, without a doubt. [Laughs] I was talking to Seth Rollins when he had his briefcase and he said it was so dented up that it wouldn't open up or close. So, I'm using it as I am now to carry stuff, but I'm sure in a couple weeks [it will have] all the big dents in it. That'll be good for stories in the airport when people are like, "What do you do? Why do you have a briefcase with giant, head-shaped dents in it?" [Laughs] So it's going to be a fun process to see what that briefcase goes through.
So it's pretty safe to say that no one's going to mistake it for their bag at the airport, right?
No. I would hope not. [laughs]
Is it intimidating or exciting to know that the WWE has, in a sense, given you the ball or the briefcase, as it were, and you're a possible world champion in waiting?
Yeah, it most definitely is. When you're a given an opportunity to have something like this, they believe in you, they believe in what you're doing. It feels good because we put in countless hours, nights away from home, nights on the road, airports, hotels, days in the gym when you're sore and tired... all of those things that you put into being successful and being the biggest superstar that you could be when you're given something like this. It's a vote of confidence. It's something where they're saying, "Hey, we're recognizing the hard work, we're recognizing the talent, we're recognizing you as a superstar."
They want to give you an opportunity, and this, to me, is an opportunity. When you're the Money in the Bank winner, everybody thinks, "He's in line to be the next guy." So it adds that good pressure, that good motivation to keep doing what you're doing, keep always pushing to the next level. Because if you don't, I mean, you might turn out to be the guy who cashes in and doesn't win, you know. There's all kinds of things that can happen. They're putting their belief in you and you have to continue to make them believe you're the best.
When you were in Phoenix earlier this year, you did your first Elimination Chamber match. Now you've done your first Money in the Bank match. Are you going to someday look back fondly on 2017 as a year of firsts?
Yeah. For sure. It's a lot of new experiences. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing. I want to be the best in WWE. And you have to kind of climb the ladder, per se, but you have to go step by step. I had my first [Royal] Rumble, my first ladder match, my first [Elimination Chamber] match. All of those things are essentially making me the best I can be, so that in any situation I know what to do, how to do it, how to carry myself, and how to prepare myself to be WWE champion.
That's why I want to be here and I think you need to go through all those things and not only do them well but appreciate them. The fact I got to be a part of the brand new [Elimination Chamber] match. I mean, that's something that no one can take from me. The fact that I won Money in the Bank, no one can take that from me. My list of accomplishments and things I want to do, I'm slowly checking that list off. It's exciting.
Based off some of your Tweets these days, is it wise not to get into a Twitter war with you?
[Laughs] Well, you know, it's funny, because especially in the Twitter world, people are safe. They know that whatever they say, there's no repercussions for anything. So every once in awhile, I'll fire one back if I have something clever or witty to put somebody in their place. And it's really funny, too, because you get one of two responses: they either block you and they're mad because a thousand other people are saying something to them or they realize, "Aw, I shouldn't have said that because he is actually a real person and he replies." Or they try to make it funny, like "Oh, you made my day [because] I riled you up." But it entertains me at times.
I mean, people are insane when it comes to social media. They can just say and do whatever they want on it. And it's a forum for people to complain about everything, so every once in awhile I like to entertain myself by putting them in their place.
How much of that is you and how much of that is your character?
Um, my WWE persona is a big part of who I am. I've always kind of had the same attitude and I'm just amplifying it for people to understand. So my replies on Twitter or my snarky remarks or if I come off as being a jerk to somebody, it's usually pretty authentic in a sense of who I am or what I would love to say. It's just amplified to another level. So it's a good portion of me as well as who I am in WWE.
Not for nothing, man, but some of those responses are funny and are more savage than Macho Man.
[Chuckles] Yeah. If some guys say things to you that you're just like, "Really dude? That's really what you want to say?' Like I got some guy the other day, he said something to me that was just totally [unnecessary]. And when it's unnecessary, sometimes I fire back a little rougher than I should be, like when I told a guy that his kids would want to be like me [and] not their own father. That's a little harsh, I'm sure, but I mean, whatever.
So you're getting pretty spicy with fans on Twitter. And at Money in the Bank, you took out Shinsuke Nakamura during his crowd-pleasing entrance. Both of these things lead me to ask the following question: How good do the fans' tears taste?
Oh, I like to say that I fill my pool with them. It's good for the skin. It's amazing to watch people be so angry and upset with you. It really, really gives me a good day. [Chuckles] I don't lose sleep over it. So they taste wonderful.
Do you see yourself becoming more an anti-hero character, like Stone Cold Steve Austin?
Um, no. Because when I go out there I just kind of do me, and, right now, people just hate that. And they hate me and they hate my arrogance and my attitude. And it works. It really makes people emotionally involved in what I'm doing. That's why I'm just going to keep that line and I'm going to let myself naturally evolve into whatever I may. I feel like that's the key to longevity. If you look at a guy like John Cena, who's been doing this and he's won 16 [world] championships, he's never just completely changed who he was or done something different. He just naturally evolves. And that's what gives who he is the reality of John Cena. Nothing is forced with him and he's amazing and he is who he truly is. So that's what I want to do with myself. I want to allow myself to just naturally evolve. And it may go there, it may go somewhere else. I have no idea, but it's day by day.
So is there any chance you're going to cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase during the SmackDown Live here in Phoenix?
Every night is an opportunity. If I see it and it's a chance that I know that I can walk away successful, then I'm definitely going for it. I know Randy [Orton] is fired up right now with [WWE champion Jinder Mahal], so if he goes in there and puts down Jinder, it might be a great opportunity to go and cash it in, because we've seen what Randy can do when he puts the RKO to people and they stay down. And if I can follow that up with an End of Days and walk out of Phoenix as champion, that would be nice, because Phoenix is a second home to me. So it'd be good to do it.
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You got some training here in the Valley with Johnny Stamboli, right?
So when I finished playing for the Cardinals, I’d met a guy and told him I’d gotten a tryout with [Florida Championship Wrestling]. And he was like, ‘I know somebody.’ And at that time, Johnny Stamboli ran a school there in Scottsdale, so I went there a couple times to kind of learn to move around a little bit. So he was the guy that kind of first put me in a ring and showed me how to hit the ropes, take a bump, that kind of thing, so that I wasn't walking into my tryout blind. And he was someone I kind of stayed in touch with a little while who helped me with adapting to the culture of wrestling.
Anything you're going to check out while you're back in the Valley?
My family lives in Scottsdale, so I'm going to spend a little time with family and see my little cousins and enjoy that a little bit. I was going to stay for a few days but it is too hot there right now. What is it? Over 110 now?
Sort of. Last week it was really insane, up around 120 degrees. It's only like 106 or 107 these days.
[Laughs] That's insane. I lived in Fountain Hills and they lived right on the other side of Fountain Hills, which is technically Scottsdale. So I'm going to go up there. And there's a convenience store that sells the world's best hot dogs, so I might hit that up. But other than that, it's going to be all work. I'll get back there for a few days when it cools down.
WWE Raw and WWE SmackDown Live will take place on Monday, July 3, and Tuesday, July 4, (respectively) at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Tickets are $20-$115.