A Rich Swann match is a non-stop party. Whether it’s transforming his ring entrance into a karaoke performance, busting out some dance moves in the middle of a fight, or dazzling audiences with his endless arsenal of high-flying maneuvers, the WWE cruiserweight champion’s bouts are celebrations from start to finish.
Since making his debut with the company in fall 2015 — and even before — Swann has used his wrestling career as an outlet for unbridled joy to drown out painful reminders of his tragic upbringing.
Swann’s father was murdered and his mother succumbed to complications of lupus just a few years apart when he was a teenager, sending his life into a downward spiral. His saving grace? Wrestling.
Having endured a past full of pain, the Baltimore native does his part to make sure that his present and future are flooded with happiness.
Swann will showcase his dynamic style at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, at WWE’s Royal Rumble this Sunday night when he puts his cruiserweight title on the line against Neville.
Here, Swann, 25, speaks with BET.com about the “biggest match” of his career, enduring the loss of his parents, the controversial #BlackExcellence tweet from The New Day’s Big E and his dream bout. Rich also weighs in on the Chris Brown-Soulja Boy celebrity boxing match … if it ever happens. When it comes to Rich Swann, Can You Handle This?
Let's get right into it — Royal Rumble and your match against Neville. What are your thoughts about defending your WWE cruiserweight championship against Neville?
It's going to be, obviously, the biggest match of my career and it's going to be in the Alamodome — 60,000 people, maybe even more. To go out there and to defend the cruiserweight championship against a guy that I knew for years, a guy that I've traveled up and down the roads with, shared hotel rooms with, learned languages ... and everything ... we're going to be in a featured match on Royal Rumble and we're going to bring the heat. You can expect nothing but fireworks in that match.
What's it like to be the face of the new cruiserweight division, which is a breath of fresh air for WWE?
When you set a goal in your mind of what you want to be and you actually achieve that, it's a feeling that's very hard to describe. To actually be able to live out my dream and be in the WWE, be in the cruiserweight division, have the opportunity bring it to the forefront and show the WWE universe what we're about, there's no better feeling in the world.
Growing up, did you have a favorite Royal Rumble moment?
I got a couple. One would definitely be — and it's kind of messed up because I love Taka Michinoku — but I can't remember who threw him over the top rope, but he hit the floor, his feet totally missed the floor and he 450'd and hit his face on the floor. And Jerry 'The King' Lawler — maybe even 30 minutes after his elimination — Jerry being the guy that he is says, 'Wait a minute, I know this is off subject, but can we talk about that Taka Michinoku elimination?' And then they played it in slow-mo, with him hitting his face. And Jerry's going off, laughing and thinking it's the most hilarious thing ever.
You're from Baltimore. What was it like growing up there?
You get in where you fit in. But I love Baltimore to death. That's my city. It's diverse and growing up there, it was just fun. Personally, I had trials and tribulations with my parents and everything like that, but that's nothing on the city. But on the city, Baltimore is amazing.
You suffered quite a bit of tragedy early on in your life, losing your mom and dad when you were a teenager. How were you able to get through such a tough period of time?
It's just something that happens. My father was murdered when I was 12 years old. It was just me and my mother and my brother at the time. My brother was a little bit older than me and he left, so it was just me and my mom for a bit in Baltimore. She started getting sick, so I had moved to York, Pennsylvania, with her sister, my aunt. My mother had lupus. She called me one day and I picked up and talked to her and I knew she wasn't sounding very good. I called her again the next day and there was no answer, there was no answer, there was no answer. I drove back down to Baltimore to discover my mother had passed away.
At that point, not having a mother or father, I was very rebellious. For a kid at 15 to go through something like that, I was sitting there very mixed up. So, I got into things that I shouldn't have. But the one thing that really helped me out was that there was a professional wrestling school in York down the street from where I was staying at. I went in there and talked to the guy. His name was "Dirty Deeds" Darren Wyse. He took me in and him and Ray Alexander and Adam Flash, Ruckus. Ruckus was one of the sickest wrestlers of all time.
But they took me under their wing, they helped me out and a couple of years later, I was in all these different promotions on the independent scene and I was going to Japan, Germany, Mexico and all over the world. Being in this business opened up my eyes that there's a big world out there. You take every single opportunity that you have and you make it the best opportunity. That's what this profession has done for me. Professional wrestling ... that's why I'll always be down to entertain because this is the business that changed my life.
When Big E used #BlackExcellence in a tweet showing a pic of The New Day, Sasha Banks and yourself last month, he was criticized by people online, and his teammate Kofi Kingston gave a great explanation why the term was used. It captured a unique moment in WWE history, showing all the African-American champions at that time. What did the phrase #BlackExcellence accompanied by that picture mean to you?
That picture to me, it was good, man. It was definitely something to show Black youth that whatever your situation is, you could always pick yourself up and be whatever you want to be. That's what that picture expresses to me. Not only is there #BlackExcellence [in WWE], but there's white excellence, hispanic excellence and there's everything excellent. I feel like there should not be a label on the color. It should be excellence for the world. I think if people would just look at the take on what we're trying to do — and that's become one.
The way Big E used #BlackExcellence, it wasn't mean to discredit any other Superstars' excellence, yet some people online took it like that. Were you surprised by that?
Exactly. To me it's not just excellence for Black [Superstars], but it's also excellent for the world because it just shows that it doesn't matter what race you are, what creed you are, what sex you are, you can be anything. That's what that shows.
WWE is on the road most of the year. Who's your main road dog backstage? Give us a funny story about that person.
I love Enzo Amore, man. He's been one of my road dogs. I have a funny [story]. One time, we went to this gas station and Enzo Amore is Enzo Amore, you know what I'm saying? We step out the car, I'm pumping gas, we get inside ... and my man sees this big cross. It looks like the cross that's on Sheamus's tights. I'm like, 'What are you doing with that cross, man?' He's like, 'I'm going to bring it to Sheamus, bring him a little gift.'
I'm like, 'This dude is random, but hey, whatever floats your boat.' He buys the cross, we drive to Monday Night Raw, and the cross is sitting in the dang car. He doesn't mention it, doesn't say a word. I come back, he comes back down and we're all finished. I drop him off at his hotel and then he looks and he realizes, 'Hey, when are you going to give him the cross?' I'm like, 'I didn't buy the cross, that wasn't my idea.' He's like, 'You should just have reminded me! Why couldn't you give me the cross?' [Laughs]. That's the best I got [Laughs].
You're concentrated on Neville this Sunday night, but do you have a dream match out there?
I definitely would love a match with Seth Rollins. Definitely, I would like a rematch with Finn Balor and really anybody on the WWE roster today is amazing. This is the best roster that the WWE has had with Raw, SmackDown and NXT in years. There's Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho is still going killing it, Roman Reigns killing it ... all these guys are all amazing. I would love to wrestle any one of them.
What advice would you give a young African-American kid or any kid interested in following in your footsteps about how to become a WWE superstar?
What I'd tell them is keep their education in check. Definitely try hard in school, finish school, always find what you want to do and get a college education. But while you're doing that, if you're really serious about professional wrestling or being a sports entertainer, research, research and research places to train. There are lists on Wikipedia that you could find all the training schools all over the world. Always research what you're getting into. That'd be my advice.
It's boxing and not wrestling, but if this Chris Brown-Soulja Boy match does happen, who do you got?
Maaan! I got Chris Brown, dude! He's going to Run It on him! I got Chris Brown. He's too crazy with it. No offense to Soulja Boy, but Chris Brown got more hits, anyway.
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(Photos: WWE, Inc.)