The Road to WrestleMania stops in Syracuse Friday, March 17, just a little more than two weeks away from the 33rd edition of WWE's biggest show of the year.
Featured on the card will be former cruiserweight champion and dance enthusiast Rich Swann. Swann, 26, joined WWE in 2015, wrestling for its NXT developmental brand before making it to the quarterfinals of the company's first Cruiserweight Classic tournament on the WWE Network last July. He then moved to WWE's main roster with the establishment of its cruiserweight championship on Monday Night Raw. He won the title on the premiere of the cruiserweight-exclusive WWE Network show 205 Live in November, only to lose it to Neville at the Royal Rumble in January.
I had a chance to speak to Swann about his first WrestleMania season with WWE, his role on the show, building 205 Live as a brand and more:
Q. So you're a few weeks out from WrestleMania, and this is your first WrestleMania season with the company. What's the mood like in the locker room and at the shows as you're heading into this biggest show of the year?
A. Everybody's on edge, everybody's ready to go, everybody's ready to kick it and rock 'n' roll — everybody's ready to explode for Orlando. Everybody's ready to make this year's WrestleMania just as good as the WrestleManias previous, if not better. And to experience this is a dream come true. To be around some of the most legendary wrestlers, some of the most legendary performers and entertainers in the world, like The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, Steve Austin, The Rock — the list goes on and on. It doesn't get any better than WWE, let's be real.
Q. That energy of this time of year, does that translate to the live shows, like in Syracuse?
A. Oh yeah, oh yeah. Syracuse is gonna be rocking and we are going to give it 100 percent. I tell you what, guys like Roman Reigns, guys like Kevin Owens despite their attitude, guys like Sami Zayn and Chris Jericho, they all go out and give it 100 percent no matter where they're at, no matter whether the cameras are on or off. Syracuse is going to be rocking.
Q. Do you know much about your role at WrestleMania? You had that match with (WWE Cruiserweight Champion) Neville last week and they were setting that up as whoever wins that will be carrying the belt in, but unfortunately you came up short. So do you know what your role's gonna be at the show?
A. I don't have any direction right now, but you know, things change. And if anything happens for WrestleMania, if I get an opportunity, it's just like I've taken anything before: I'll take that opportunity to the fullest and watch that thing explode like TNT. But you know, if not, then that's OK. This is my first year and I'm very happy learning about every single thing that goes on, and how WrestleMania is going to change lives. If Austin Aries does end up challenging Neville at WrestleMania that's one thing that I'm definitely going to keep my eye on. You got a guy like Austin Aries, his stature — look at his accomplishments in the industry and what he's done. The guy is definitely a very great opponent for someone like Neville. And you got a guy like Neville, whose attitude has switched, a full 180-turn, and he has not really cared about what the people have to say about him. And he's really taking the role as the king of the cruiserweights. You can say what you want about the guy, his tactics and his attitude, but he is one of the best, if not the best performer in the WWE today. One of the best athletes I've ever seen in my life. I've spent the better part of six years of my life with that man, all over the world, and I know him like the back of my hand. He's at the top of his game right now and I feel like this is his WrestleMania.
Q. With guys like Neville and Austin Aries, guys you've wrestled in Dragon Gate USA and Evolve and so forth, there's so many of you guys now who are in not just the cruiserweight division but in WWE as a whole. And a lot of those guys, like you, have basically come in as yourselves. You're using the names you used in those other places. Does it feel surreal for you guys? What does it feel like to all be together on the big stage?
A. It's crazy. It's crazy. I can give you an example: This past Sunday at Fastlane, on the kickoff show, for the first time in my whole career, ever, I tagged up with a good friend of mine, Akira Tozawa. To have that moment in WWE — there was about 16,000, a packed arena, just screaming and going nuts. To share that moment with somebody you basically grew up with in this industry and to have special moments like that, that's what makes WWE so great. That's what makes WWE so special. And it translates, you know.
Q. With the 205 Live show, which a lot of you guys are on, since that show just launched and the cruiserweight division just launched, do you feel like there's added pressure not just to perform well, but basically to build a new brand?
A. There's definitely a lot of pressure. You got about eight to 12 guys that are now thrown into the mix and sometimes it's hard for the WWE Universe to really get to know or pick out these guys. Sometimes they get lost in the shuffle. But I really think that the cruiserweights as a brand are coming into their own. We've done things that have really caught the WWE Universe's eye and we have been shaking things up not only on Monday Night Raw but 205 Live. We go out there after some of the most amazing matches, because we are on the WWE Network after Smackdown and sometimes it's tough because the people are just starting to get to know us. But we make sure they will never forget, and that is the key.
Q. It's kind of different being a cruiserweight today because you have a lot of guys wrestling in the heavyweight division, if you will, who are wrestling similar styles to you. Guys like Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins. Do you think that makes it more challenging for you guys to separate yourselves?
A. I don't think it makes it hard at all. I don't think there's a challenge at all. Why even separate? We're all professional wrestlers doing the same thing, you know? We're all entertainers, coming out and killing it night in and night out. No matter what. If Conor McGregor with the UFC — he could probably fight a heavyweight, why not? But he's in the lightweight division, you know what I'm saying? He's doing the same thing as a heavyweight.
Q. You've only been in WWE for a little while now, so I imagine there are a lot of guys you have yet to mix it up with who you want to. Who are your biggest dream opponents on the roster?
A. That's a tough one, because there are so many guys. I'd love to one day have a match with Shinsuke Nakamura. Man, you know what, I take that back. As much as I love Shinsuke, the biggest dream match of mine is Chris Jericho.
If you go
WHAT: WWE's Road to WrestleMania
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 17
WHERE: Oncenter War Memorial Arena, 760 S. State St., Syracuse
COST: Tickets $15 and up
INFO: Visit ticketmaster.com