Ahead of a huge Intercontinental Championship match on SmackDown, Apollo Crews talks to Daily DDT about his ups and downs in WWE, being U.S. Champ and more.
This Friday on WWE SmackDown, Apollo Crews will have the chance to kick off his 2021 on a high note when he takes on Big E for the Intercontinental Championship.
Following a long layoff from WWE TV, Crews resurfaced on SmackDown two weeks ago to help Big E beat Sami Zayn in a Lumberjack match to capture the championship. He then teamed with Big E against Zayn and King Corbin the following week and immediately after their victory over the heels, answered his open challenge for this coming Friday night.
It may feel like any ordinary title defense for some fans, but to Crews, it means absolutely everything. His upcoming encounter with Big E could be what gets him back to being in a prominent position on the show after sitting on the sidelines upon arriving on SmackDown via the 2020 WWE Draft.
Apollo Crews on his recent Raw run and the frustrations he’s felt throughout his WWE career
Crews previously proved he was worthy of holding gold during his time on Raw, where he won the United States Championship in May 2020 and proceeded to reign as champ for over three months. He hasn’t reached those same heights since, but becoming Intercontinental Champion for the first time on Friday’s SmackDown would obviously change that.
“Raw was amazing,” Crews told Daily DDT in an exclusive interview conducted over the phone earlier this week. “Especially over the summer, it was cool for me to be able to show… Not a lot of people knew exactly what I could do or who I was or what I was like, so it’s nice to go out there and kind of show that and be involved in something meaningful and a story for people to gravitate toward me or a better understanding of who I am. If you look at my career so far, there really hasn’t been a moment where I’ve had anything like that or being able to show how I’d act in certain situations.
“It was awesome working with The Hurt Business, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he raved. “You got three legends who I got to work with who are all amazing human beings and very respected and very respectful as well. I definitely do think this will be something that sets the tone for the new year for me, personally. I have to come in with a bang and come in hot. Last week was the beginning of it and it’s got to carry over. New mindset, new goals. I don’t feel like the new year has changed me completely. I don’t want to say I’ve become a whole new person, but this year is definitely going to be better than the last.”
That character development helped him achieve the most success he’s ever had in WWE up to this point, but the key is the continuation of it. That’s what we’re starting to see on SmackDown now and that’s why his championship clash with Big E must mark the beginning of something much bigger for him.
Crews’ main roster run has been nothing short of a whirlwind. He’s been off Raw and SmackDown for long stretches of time, but he’s also been in the title mix on multiple occasions.
Just recently, he went from appearing on Raw every week as the U.S. Champion and feuding with The Hurt Business to showing up once a month on SmackDown. He noted that finding motivation and staying patient can be difficult when nothing is happening, and that everyone in the locker room wants to be a part of something special and not just sit in catering.
“It can be very frustrating at times and for me, personally, I struggled because I bring that home with me at times and that’s not a good thing,” Crews said. “My fiancé would be trying to talk to me or see what the issue was or offer a solution and I’m just getting mad at everything she’s saying and all she’s trying to do is help. Another thing with this whole pandemic is that it helped me grow as a man and as a person. It helped me grow patience. It helped me become very understanding and there was a while there where it seemed like there was no hope because from NXT to the next time I was shown on TV with any kind of backstory, it had been such a long time.
“You do random things here and there at the beginning you’re just happy to have an opportunity,” he added. “I’ve heard the ‘Just happy to be here’ kind of thing, but after a while, that changes and it becomes ‘Okay, the happy-to-be-here phase is over and I deserve this now.’ It isn’t a thing where you become complacent and wait for the next opportunity. It becomes ‘Okay, I have to start taking these opportunities and showing that I can do this or that I’m capable of whatever’s asked of me.’”
For Crews, the ever-changing landscape of WWE and just the wrestling business, in general, is admittedly something he’ll never get used to. You could be on TV killing it every week and wind up in the back for a few months because there isn’t anything there creatively.
It’s a constant process, but he has learned to not take it too personally.
“Sometimes it can catch you by surprise where you think you’re doing so well and all of a sudden… It may not be because of anything that you did,” he clarified. “It’s just how it is. That’s part of the business. You can show up to TV one day and you’re not on. It’s not anything you did. It’s not personal because you’re not good enough or anything like that. For me, what I struggled with at first was thinking it was something I did or something I didn’t do or maybe my skill or lack of skill. I had to understand it wasn’t for any specific reason. It’s just what it is, but it’s still something that’s so hard to get used to.”
Apollo Crews dishes on becoming United States champion
The biggest example of that came when Crews qualified for the men’s Money in the Bank Ladder match last spring, only to be abruptly removed from it. WWE cited an injury as the reason for his removal, but there was zero indication at the time that the injury was legitimate.
Thankfully, he picked up right where he left off upon his return to Raw and won the United States Championship from Andrade within weeks. He revealed that, like most members of the roster, he tends to not find out about what he’s doing on any given day until he arrives at the building. The night he captured the star-spangled prize was one of those instances.
“Qualifying for Money in the Bank was easily one of the highlights of my career and then for it to be taken away so quickly, it just shows you how life is,” he said. “But when one door closes, another one opens. It’s up to us as performers, or just human beings in general, just to stay the course and stay motivated and control what we can control and always make sure we’re ready because it can be any day that you find out this is what’s going to happen.”
Needless to say, becoming a champion in WWE was a dream come true for Crews. He never had that opportunity while in NXT and other singles gold always alluded him. He was given the ball and he ran off with it and had a pretty great title run.
“When I had the opportunity to become United States Champion, I knew I had to embrace the situation,” he said. “This is a dream. The reason I worked so hard is for this moment, so I can’t say no to it. I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know where it was going to go, but I said, ‘I’m ready for this. I’m ready to take this ride and let’s see how it goes.'”
What made his United States Title win extra special was being able to bring the belt home to his kids and seeing their reaction. He made it a point to hang up both belts (the original U.S. Championship strap and a replica of the newer one) above their beds as well.
His next goal is adding another championship to that collection in the form of the Intercontinental Title. He admits that every accolade he’s had in WWE holds a special place in his heart for different reasons and that beating Big E on SmackDown would be no exception.
“There’s something special about each one of those accomplishments,” he said. “Even an Olympian like Michael Phelps, each one of his gold medals means something to him. It’s not ‘Okay, I got another one. I’m just going to put it over here on the side.’ It’s a lot. It means you are the guy. It means you’re the guy everyone is coming after as well. You’re the best at what you do and it’s a good feeling. It comes with a lot of pressure, but that’s what we do. This is the reason why we’re all here, it’s because we’re able to deal with that pressure.”
Apollo Crews shares his excitement for facing Big E and potentially turning heel eventually
Interestingly enough, Crews and Big E have never before gone one-on-one in WWE, despite being in the company together for the last five years. In fact, the only interaction they’ve ever had has been in Royal Rumble matches, so this bout between them is bound to be a barn burner.
Crews is looking forward to the opportunity to showcase his skills against an equally exceptional competitor and ideally come away with the victory.
“It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s going to be exciting,” he said. “It’s something new for the people to see and it’s going to be good. You’ve got two amazing competitors, athletes, and performers that are going to go out there and give everything they have and leave it all out there. It’s going to be one hell of a show. Everybody needs to tune in.”
It will be a battle of babyfaces for one of WWE’s most prestigious prizes on SmackDown. If you’re expecting Crews to resort to underhanded tactics to steal the title, you may not be far off if his own thoughts on turning heel at some point are any indication.
It was heavily rumored at the start of the summer that Crews was headed for a heel turn at one point, but that drastic character shift never came to fruition. Crews shed some light on the situation, explaining that while it was never something that was set in stone, he is excited for the eventual opportunity to try it out.
“I hadn’t discussed it with anybody,” he said. “I think a lot of people were just speculating because of the way the story was going and MVP trying to recruit me at that time. But it’s something I’d love to dip my feet into. I’ve always been the happy, smiley guy who is just having a good time and going out there and doing the right thing, but sometimes you have to cut corners (laughs). I haven’t worked heel since I used to go over to Japan, so at least six or seven years ago.
“It would be nice because I think everybody should evolve in some kind of way because if I look at myself from the moment I’ve been here, and this is just me being honest, I’ve been the exact same for the last five years,” he continued. “I think change is always good. Evolution is good, too, so it’d be nice to try something different, and who knows, it could be what takes me to that next level as well.”
Did Apollo Crews contemplate returning to NXT full-time?
Crews spent a little less than a year in NXT before being called up to Raw the night after WrestleMania 32. As well-received as he was by the audience early on, fans couldn’t help but think that his sudden departure from the black-and-gold brand was premature.
After all, he was just starting to build momentum in feuds with Tyler Breeze, Baron Corbin, and Finn Balor prior to the call-up. He even came close to clinching the NXT Championship, but the main roster came calling and fans were left with the feeling that he had unfinished business on the brand.
From Finn Balor to Killian Dain, it’s become commonplace for former NXT talent to return to their old stomping grounds when things aren’t working out for them on Raw or SmackDown. Crews went back for a one-off against Kushida in July 2019 and also considered following in their footsteps.
“I’ve thought about it plenty of times, especially when… I don’t want to say at my lowest because I was never depressed or wanted to quit, but it was always something I definitely thought about because things didn’t always go the way I hoped they would go on Raw or SmackDown,” he revealed. “It’d be like ‘Okay, I’m on SmackDown this time,’ nothing happens, the Draft comes, and I go to Raw. Then it’s like ‘I didn’t do anything on SmackDown, so hopefully something can happen on Raw.’ Then Raw comes and it’s like there’s a little bit of something but not really anything. Then we have Titus Worldwide with Titus O’Neil and Dana Brooke and a little bit with Akira Tozawa in there. I go back to SmackDown and I’m thinking ‘What’s going to happen now?’
“Of course, I’m thinking ‘Maybe I should go back to NXT’ because at that time, when I look back, I could’ve done a lot more in NXT,” he said. “I didn’t win any titles or anything. I was just getting started having some matches with guys like Finn Balor, Baron Corbin, and Samoa Joe. Overnight, it was like ‘Hey, you’re debuting on Monday Night Raw.’ Of course, this is a dream come true, it’s time, let’s go. You don’t really think about at the time about how maybe I could’ve stayed a little longer to develop my character or figure out something that may work a little better than me being this guy who smiles and does cool moves. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason and I believe I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I have a lot of career left and a long way to go.”
Crews is focused on making the most of right now and is looking forward to the future, including his Intercontinental Championship clash with Big E. Beyond becoming champion again on Friday night, he hopes to continue working on himself in 2021 and being the best father, partner, and person he can be.
“I’ve got two kids, and when the pandemic first started, it was a little difficult because, for everybody, it was a 180,” Crews admitted. “I’m on the road four days a week, and then next thing I know, I’m home six days a week. When we were here in Orlando, we were only 12 minutes away. It was so different. For me, getting that patience and sitting back and thinking I need to become a better man and a better father and embrace the situation we’re in right now. That was one of my earlier goals and I’ve worked very hard on that and I feel like I’ve mastered that. I just want to continue with that patience into the new year and being the great father I love being.
“As far as wrestling goes,” Crews continued, “it starts this week. Being involved in those high-profile matches and showing that I can compete at that level. Not just in the ring, but with the promos as well. Another thing I’ve been working extremely hard on is making sure… I want to be entertaining. I don’t want to be just another guy out here doing cool things. I want to be involved on a regular basis and be a household name in 2021, so that’s definitely one of my overall goals in 2021.”
Don’t miss Apollo Crews challenge Big E for the Intercontinental Championship this Friday on WWE SmackDown at 8/7c, only on FOX.