Interview By: Joseph Hett
WWE Monday Night Raw will be at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC on Monday, December 8 at 7:30pm. It will be for the live worldwide television broadcast of Raw and The Slammy Awards!
Tickets are still available and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena box office or by calling 1 (800) 745-3000.
MRM: You went to the University of Florida. How did you enjoy your time with the Florida Gators football team?
O’Neil: I enjoyed my time with the University of Florida period. Not just with the football team. But also being a student at the University of Florida. I had a lot of great accomplishments on and off the field that I am very proud of. I’m very proud to be a Florida Gator. And I’m a very proud alumnus from the University of Florida.
MRM: What did you study there?
O’Neil: My undergrad was in criminology with a minor in sociology. And my master’s was in administrative education.
MRM: How was Steve Spurrier as the head coach of the Gators?
O’Neil: I loved Coach Spurrier. I still talk to him to this day. He’s definitely one of the greatest influences in my life as far as competition is concerned and how to approach competition. And he unretired his jersey number for me to wear at Florida. So I’m forever grateful to be able to wear the number 11, which was also his number when he was at the University of Florida.
MRM: Could you tell us how WWE Superstar Batista first got you interested in becoming a pro wrestler?
O’Neil: He just used to talk to me about the good and the bad of the business. But he also used to tell me and try to encourage me to get into it because he thought I would be good for the business. And in return, that the business would be good for me. So I did explore the opportunity, and I’m very thankful that I did because it is something that I have an opportunity to have a platform to bless people all around with a positive message. As well as entertain people from all walks of life – all different types of backgrounds, races, sexual orientation, etc. And it exemplifies—it gives me a chance to exemplify what I truly stand for which is really giving everyone an opportunity to not only enjoy entertainment, but also being involved in entertainment. And I think the WWE does a wonderful job of keeping the WWE Universe engaged through our various platforms, whether it be social media or through our WWE Network or through programming on television on a weekly basis.
MRM: How helpful was it coming through WWE’s developmental system FCW and NXT?
O’Neil: They both are a very valuable resource to the WWE. Without FCW or NXT, which is what it is called now, you would have a lot of superstars that are on the main roster right now that would not be present on the roster. With the new and improved NXT down in Orlando, we have a performance center that is state-of-the-art. And if you do not get better and work on your craft, you will not find a place that you can get better with coaching as well as a facility to work on your craft that is greater than the performance center down in Orlando. And that’s where the next wave of WWE Superstars are being bred and born. And I’m glad that I had the opportunity to come up through that developmental system, as well as getting the continued knowledge from that developmental system. Because of those agents and producers and coaches we see on a regular basis – throughout the week on the road. And they continue to try to help anyone that wants to be helped. I definitely want to be helped because I didn’t come into this business to be just another guy; I came into this business to be THE guy.
MRM: What’s the origin of your ‘barking’ in the ring?
O’Neil: The origin of the barking in the ring came from my background with my fraternity. I am a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. It is an international fraternity founded in 1911. It has various members from all walks of life and sports and entertainment including Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Lewis and so many other influential people in sports and entertainment. And I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to pledge and go through the process of becoming a member at the University of Florida. Fortunately for me, I have a brotherhood that is built on manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift. And we try to exemplify those four cardinal principles on a daily basis – and that’s worldwide. So that’s where my barking comes from. In college we were known as Que Dogs, but once you graduate from college, you’re just an Omega Man. You take the responsibilities of being a college graduate and going on to be a family man. We were the wildest on our campus and on most campuses around the country. But we were also the most influential when it came to academic success, as well as athletic success. So we are a very proud fraternity, and we’re a very giving fraternity. And we’re looking to change this world in every way possible.
MRM: Speaking of Rev. Jesse Jackson, and since he is from Greenville, could you tell us about receiving a Rainbow PUSH Trailblazer Award?
O’Neil: I received the Humanitarian Award from the PUSH Coalition on July of this year (2014). And quite honestly it is definitely one the best honors that I’ve ever achieved because it’s an honor based on just being a really good person and a giving person. And it has nothing to do with athletic accomplishments and has nothing to do with social status. It really, truly has to do with me going out and fulfilling my God given purpose, which a lot of people have invested in me at a very young age. And I feel like I would be doing a discredit to them and their hard work and their investment in me if I didn’t go out and do the same for others. So receiving that award from arguably one of the greatest civil rights leaders to ever live, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, they’re a lot of people out there that were and still are responsible or trying to constantly change the world – to be more positive and get people to look at things from a different outlook. I’m very proud to be a recipient of the award. Other people that have received the award are Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Maya Angelou and a lot of other people have received this award. To be able to say that I’m in the same breath as those people is truly an honor.
MRM: Changing gears, whose idea was it for you to come out as Rufus “Pancake” Patterson?
O’Neil: [Laughs] That was my idea. My whole reasoning behind that is that some of the most charismatic and influential people that I’ve ever seen in entertainment always played multiple characters – Martin Lawrence, Richard Pryor and most recently Tyler Perry all had great success playing multiple characters in movies and in film. And I just figured it was another way to add a layer to my resume in WWE as being someone that could be entertaining when I need to be entertaining. I pride myself on being the roughest, toughest and most entertaining man in the WWE. And you can’t go by that moniker if you don’t try to back it up on a daily basis. So I was inspired by me just wanting to be different – wanting to show something different to the WWE Universe. And who knows, that character may come back down the line.
MRM: A year ago on Smackdown’s Thanksgiving Special, you appeared to vomit ringside after winning the Thanksgiving meal eating contest. Did you throw up for real?
O’Neil: I actually threw up…for real. Actually a couple were upset at the beginning because they thought I was going to fake it. And then they realized that this guy is really throwing up. I guess I needed to show that I had talent in the acting department to do so. And part of being an entertainer is that you have to show a wide range of emotions and skills set. I’m glad on worldwide television I was able to exhibit my skill set of regurgitation a Thanksgiving meal.
MRM: You have been in the tag team Prime Time Players, and you’re and currently in the tag team Slater Gator. Is your future in tag or solo competition?
O’Neil: I see myself as a solo performer. As I’ve said in many interviews before – whatever avenue that I have to go about to be the greatest that I can be in this industry, I’ll go that avenue. But everything is temporary. And Slater Gator is the same thing. My ultimate goal is to be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. And I can’t do that in a tag team. I can only do that as a solo competitor. And so in due time, I do feel confident that being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion will be accomplished by me, and I look forward to that journey.
MRM: Do you prefer being a good guy or a bad guy?
O’Neil: I really just prefer going out and being me. And however people perceive me depending on the situation. You know, you could be a good guy or a bad guy from one night to the next. For me, the ultimate gratitude that I get as a performer is as long as I get a response. I don’t care what they view me as – a good guy or a bad guy. I think at the end of the day, we have to tell stories. And as long as I’m telling stories that can get emotion out of the crowd and a reaction out of the crowd, I’m doing my job. So if that just happens to get an emotion of anger, then I’m doing my job. And if it just happens to get an emotion of happiness, I’m doing my job too. But either way, I’m very cognitive of the fact that as long as I can try to stay true to who I am, eventually people will develop their own feeling and decide – they’ll help the company decide which way the company should go with me. They did it with Stone Cold Steve Austin, the WWE Universe did it with The Rock, the WWE Universe did it with The Undertaker. They have done it with so many other performers in the past. So I feel like if I just stay consistent and continue to grow as a performer the WWE Universe will determine at the end of the day what happens with me.
MRM: Could you tell us about the new WWE Network?
O’Neil: The WWE Network is available, obviously now, on a subscription basis of $9.99 (a month). There is no long term commitment, you can cancel at anytime. It’s got thousands and thousands of hours of content on it as well as original series and shows. And if people want to tune into WWE Main Event, they can watch that. If they want to see clips from their favorite WWE Superstars, past and present, they can go on there and type the WWE Superstar’s name in the search box and it will pull up every single thing that WWE Superstar has ever been involved in with the WWE. It’s a great, great tool for people that enjoy subscription based television. There are other companies that have been successful in providing great content with subscription based platforms. WWE is looking to do the same, and they will do the same.
MRM: What can fans expect when WWE Monday Night Raw and The Slammy Awards come to Greenville, SC this Monday night?
O’Neil: Well, they can expect to see some of their favorite WWE Superstars and Divas that have worked their behind off the entire year for moments like the Slammys. It’s hosted by Seth Green, who is arguably one of the best performers, producers, actors out there in certain realms. And it’s going to be a very fun night. You will see Superstar of the Year, Diva of the Year, The Moment of the Year, Match of the Year – all these different categories that are up for Slammys are available to see and vote on the WWE App, which is free for anyone to go out there and download. So they can go and download the WWE App and vote on – I can’t even name all of them. It’s going to be a great night in Greenville, SC. I’m looking forward to coming down there and seeing what’s in store for not only me but in store for other WWE Superstars that are coming there.
MRM: Thanks for calling Mr. O’Neil. See you this Monday!
O’Neil: Yes sir. Thank you!