For every moment of frustration, letdown, or roadblock in the way, Swerve Strickland is using it as motivation. He talks openly about the challenges that forced him to revamp and take his character, his wrestling, and his physique to a whole different level.
He reached the highest of highs on the WWE roster, winning the North American championship in NXT before being drafted to Smackdown on Night 1 of the WWE Draft alongside his faction, Hit Row. There was an expectation that Hit Row could be big-time players on the show before the group was ultimately dismantled and Strickland, among others, was released.
“That left a big chip on my shoulder to prove it was one of the biggest mistakes you could have made,” Strickland tells Uproxx Sports. “And now, winning the tag titles with Keith Lee and doing a co-main event in pay-per-views with said tag titles, doing all these big arenas and being featured in a lot of different, very unique ways and being able to do the music crossover and show them that was one of the biggest mistakes you made, but you can’t have it back now. You can’t make up for that now and I’m creating something that’s even bigger than what you expected of me over there. I’m really blessed in that department. I want to not just give back to them, but I want to showcase, I want to exceed the expectations of me here at AEW as well.”
Strickland appreciates the opportunities he’s gotten in the year he’s been with AEW, and he thanks his team of people who have helped bring unique ideas to keep his name in the conversation.
With AEW, Strickland has been awarded with creative freedom to blended pop culture with wrestling in ways that made the business boom in throughout the 2000’s. From Fabulous taking part in his entrance at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York to his work with Rick Ross to having Kevin Gates celebrate his tag team championship win in Georgia, Strickland says that’s the beauty of AEW — you never know what’s going to happen on the show.
It’s not just pop culture that’s made Strickland a trending name, but his recent surge heading up Mogul Embassy. He sees the Nick Wayne angle as a turning point for his character, a moment that shocked AEW fans when he and A.R. Fox left the 18-year-old Wayne in a pool of his own blood at the Buddy Wayne Academy in Seattle.
“I knew this is something that hasn’t been done in wrestling in a while, especially to this degree. And with the story we have, the connection we have, it’s a little more powerful. And how young he is, it’s a little more shocking, too,” Strickland continues.
“I want to go in new, unique ways. That’s something I also don’t want to bastardize to the point where you see it so often. Those should be moments that change either my character perception or the perception of the character that is being acted upon. Those need to be key moments (where) we need something big to shift the new story. Those need to be monumental moments that you don’t forget. Because if you do too many of them, then it kind of get lost in the wayside.”
Ultimately, it came down to getting fans invest. And once they were, the hard part of the story was completed.
“How do we get people to really care?” Strickland says. “If you see (Wayne) wrestle, this kid’s going to be something one day. Why should we care? Well, now he’s got a reason to. And then A.R. Fox is being involved. Okay, we like A.R. Fox, he’s athletic and he can wrestle, he’s really good, but why should we care about him in this mix? Well, now we got you a reason to.”
There are callbacks to the independent scene across this rivalry that Strickland says makes it more real, bringing fans closer to the wrestlers, their background, and the moments that brought them to AEW.
“It was more emphasis to bring the realness and authenticity to what we’re trying to tell you and rather than just like, I want to beat you because I think I’m better than you or you want to beat me because you think you’re better than me. No, I want to hurt you because you’ve done something to me in the past that I have not gotten over and now I’m going to do all these things to get back at you on a personal vendetta,” Strickland continues.
“Now it’s like, oh, we’re dealing with dangerous men over there. We got to call in the cavalry, which was Sting.”
Strickland appears to be positioned as AEW’s next big star, with a marquee matchup alongside A.R. Fox against Sting and Darby Allin in a coffin match at All In from Wembley Stadium in London on August 27.
He speaks of manifesting this match, stating in a previous interview that Sting would be a star he’d love to face. It’s a testament to keeping a chip on his shoulder and continuing to churn away.
“Where’s the hole in my game? Where’s something that’s missing? Let’s fix that. Let’s get on that and work on that. And then honestly, timing, timing is huge too. I didn’t know about the stadium thing being announced at all until it was. Now that that’s taking shape, I gotta get myself in a position where I can’t be left off of this card. And here we are,” Strickland says.
With AEW’s loaded roster, being on the card in general is a success in itself, much less wrestling Sting in front of the largest paid attendance of his iconic career. For Strickland, it’s also a significant moment for the culture.
“I always felt like whether I intend to or don’t intend to, the culture is always watching. African American culture, the Black pro wrestling fan base, the hip hop culture, all that has influenced me so heavy. It’s helped create the Swerve character,” Strickland says. “People really have caught onto that, and they’re influenced, and some are even inspired by that. So just the fact that I am the representation on the Wembley card right now at this moment, because there’s still more matches to be announced, that’s big. And to be going against an icon like Sting and, somebody that I’ve gone to wars with for years on the independents with Darby Allin. And somebody that I’ve had one of the greatest matches with A.R. Fox, that’s a really wild crew of people to be around that I never would’ve thought of six, seven years ago.”
More than just a moment for Strickland, or really any individual within AEW, he feels like All In is a turning point that could have trickle effects for years to come across the wrestling industry.
“It makes people see that there’s a possibility. It makes people believe again,” Strickland says. “We know WWE is doing their thing. Their business is higher than it’s ever been and congrats to them. But that made us raise their game. Wembley is going to make them have to make changes. They’re not sitting as comfortable in there anymore. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing, we want them to. If AEW can make the people who run WWE treat my friends and talent better and get them better opportunities and stuff, that’s a win for pro wrestling and that’s all we need.”