Interviews

Interview With . . . Shawn Spears

Shawn Spears

Shawn Spears has opened up about how Blood & Guts will “change” him, why it shouldn’t be compared to WarGames, and his journey to the AEW main event!

Speaking with Inside The RopesKenny McIntosh, The Pinnacle’s Shawn Spears previewed one of the most hotly-anticipated matches in recent years in AEW’s Blood & Guts, opened up about the magnitude of the occasion, and just what it means for him, his career and The Pinnacle.

Tonight is a big night. It feels like Blood And Guts and something that we’ve wanted to see for ages and we’re going to get to see it. I mean, for you, how important is this? Where does this rank for you in terms of important next in your career?

Tonight’s going to be huge, and I know that we were supposed to kind of do it a little bit before, so we apologise to New Jersey. We know that’s where it was set to kind of take place the first time but for me, selfishly, kind of a blessing in disguise – because I get to be a part of this very first type of match here in AEW. Where does it rank? I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of some pretty cool moments in professional wrestling in my career for almost 20 years now so this is right up there with anything else and for a variety of reasons. One, you know, I’m standing across the ring from guys like Chris Jericho, from guys that I grew up kind of watching and, being another Canadian, he kind of set the path for guys like me and many others. So that’s huge.

Also being a part of arguably the hottest angle right now in professional wrestling. So from kind of coming out of nowhere into this big, you know, The Pinnacle versus The Inner Circle, and it’s been as heated as it possibly can get. And now you’re going to stick these ten guys inside of two rings engulfed by a giant massive cage where, you know, the underlining theme is going to be violence. It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. There’s a million things going on. And as time clicks down, I’m watching the clock. Time is ticking down to showtime, those nerves, that excitement that, you know, it’s only going to build. It’s only going to build through a match like this.

Is there any is there any pressure for you guys with, obviously, those comparisons to WarGames that’s happened in the past? This is the first-ever Blood And Guts. What kind of pressure comes with that when you’re doing something that like people haven’t seen in the incarnation before that you’re doing?

Yeah, so I’m not even sure and I was thinking about this the other day, I’m not sure how many people nowadays, our general audience nowadays, has even seen some of the original WarGames matches. I don’t know if they’ve gone back that far. I think what they’re then most accustomed to is what they’ve seen in recent times with the two cages and the open cages, and there’s tables and there’s all this, trash cans, and there’s all these extra things coming into play. What we love about what we’re doing in AEW is we are tipping our hat to history. We are going the old school cage. There’s going to be a top on it. There’s not going to be a lot of room for tables, and a lot of room for trashcans and a lot of room for all this. We’re going back to the original style of the original WarGames-type scenario, which is brutally exciting, but it’s also brutally violent.

In terms of pressure, I’ve been in some pretty high pressure situations throughout my career, this is probably the first high pressure situation that I’ve been in, in AEW. I work best under pressure. That’s not very well known because I haven’t been in a pressure situation in AEW until now. But I always perform the best when the rope is pulled to its tightest point, so to speak. So I’m not exactly feeling a great deal of pressure because I have absolute faith in not only my ability, but the ability of my teammates. When you’re talking about a guy like MJF and Wardlow, when you’re talking about one of the greatest tag teams of all time, in my opinion, FTR, you know, whatever I’m worried about, I know they’re going to cover it so and vice versa. So going into this, I think it’s more of an excitement thing in terms of what we’re going to deliver on.

Let’s talk about The Pinnacle. How long’s it been in the works? Obviously, on TV, it came out of nowhere. I’m sure it’s been in the plans and talk about being a part of it because it’s almost your journey has been leading to this in a way.

So I get asked this a lot, and I think it’s because people are still have a hard time believing it – but it is absolutely true. These conversations for The Pinnacle finally coming together started at the beginning of the pandemic when MJF and myself were sitting ringside betting on matches and having some fun, and eating and drinking wine, and all that kind of stuff. That’s when those conversations legitimately started to form. It was just a matter of… And it wasn’t a passing, “Hey, it’d be great to put a group together.” It was like, “No, let’s… Let’s think about this for a minute. What if…? What if we kind of piece this together?” The main thing was who we were going to bring on board. If you look at AEW’s roster, they are stacked. But it’s not just about talent. It’s about who you can trust. It’s about guys that are just as like-minded as you are in terms of passion, in terms of hungry, chips on their shoulder, guys that are pissed off. If you have a collective group of guys that have all the talent in the world like The Pinnacle does and they’re pissed off at the same time – woo, those guys are going to be hard to stop. So it was a matter of who we were going to get into The Pinnacle once those conversations started. But that’s when they started, legitimately, at ringside over a year ago.

You bring up MJF… Talk about the MJF because, you know, he’s so young, but he’s so good. I mean, what’s he been like with you just kind of getting to work with him? Because you just constantly see people kind of going, “How is he so good at 25, whatever age he is, and what has it been like kind of working closely with him?

Well, Max has no ceiling. Anybody that’s worked with him or anybody that has watched him perform… It’s a confidence and that’s what it all boils down to. He’s very confident in his abilities. He’s very confident in the way he speaks and how he presents himself. Max, if you watch any of the interviews or you see him at any signings back in the day or anything like that, he stays true to who he is. What you see from MJF is what you get. Obviously, he treats the average person just like the same way. The Pinnacle is more of a tight-knit group. Max could possibly be the face of AEW. We believe in building towards the future and guys like MJF and Jungle Boy, Darby Allin – they’re going to be the guys that lead AEW for the next 10, 15, 20 years. Long after guys like me who have already had their 20 years in are gone.

When you can take a guy like MJF, who’s already very good, the only thing he lacks is experience. That’s it. And that’s not his fault. He’s just, he’s only got X amount of years in. As time goes on, he’ll develop his own experience. But when you surround him with guys like myself that have 19-plus years and FTR that got there 15, 16, 17 years in. Tully Blanchard, who’s a genius who has 30 years in this industry, you’re only going to help groom MJF’s mentality, you combine that with his already sharp tongue, his in-ring ability, his athleticism. The guy is a dynamo in the making. So that’s interesting for me to see because I can kind of see where he’s going. Eventually it’s just going to be up to Max in terms of how much he wants to do and how hard he wants to work.

You mentioned Tully. It’s so weird now in 2021 because it felt like wrestling had almost put Tully out to pasture and then AEW starts and then you get paired with him and he was wrestling recently on Dynamite, which was phenomenal. It seems mad that he wasn’t being utilised before. How did it come around that you and him became sort of intertwined and how crucial was he being with The Pinnacle and being with you guys?

Well, that all came about when I was having my issues with Cody, nobody knew Dusty, Cody’s father, better than Tully, so he had an inside track to how the Rhodes mind works. And I’ve known Cody for 15-plus years. That’s been well documented. But in terms of competition, in terms of how far that guy has come along, and I mean Cody, on his own, his mindset’s changed. So bringing Tully in and on board gave me a little bit of insight to how the Rhodes operate.

But you said something interesting. You said how wrestling nowadays almost put, or would like to put Tully out to pasture just because what’s old doesn’t work and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

That’s an interesting point and I think I brought it up in a recent interview where wrestling has evolved in terms of speed and in terms of high-risk maneuvers, that’s it. When people say, “Oh, wrestling has evolved. You either need to keep up…” Yes, it does change and you have to change with the times. But the very basic fundamental of professional wrestling always remains the same. It will always work. It is the basis of everything that we do. So there’s nobody that understands that better than Tully Blanchard or an Arn Anderson, or a Sting, or guys like that that are part of AEW right now. It just depends if talent, young and up and coming talent, want to give them the time of day to go, “Hey, what do you know?” “What do you say?” Or, “What did you go through?” Or, “Explain this to me.”

A lot of talent nowadays are dismissive, the same with fans – are dismissive of guys that have so much experience in the industry because they think, “Well, wrestling’s evolved.” Well, it hasn’t really. The fundamentals stay the same. The only thing that’s evolved are the spots and the moves, but like you said, you saw Tully in the ring in the six-man tag with FTR. How good did he look? He’s over 65 years old, man, and he’s still in there killing it. Do you know what I mean? The fundamentals still work to this day. So having Tully onboard and seeing what his capabilities are, and he’s still surprising us to this day. He’s the one who’s coming up with the strategy for tonight’s match. He’s got it all, we’re going to go by his playbook. He’s got his troops in line, he’s got the strategy that’s going to lead us to victory. So having Tully a part of us, a part of The Pinnacle and, you know, heading the way it’s going to make us near unbeatable.

Are there any moments with you and Tully where you saw him really kind of almost be like, “It’s great to be back, it’s great to be doing this again,” because you can tell he is just in his element. This is what he should be doing. It’s crazy to think that he wasn’t doing this a couple of years ago because it just fits so well.

I see the same thing you guys get to see, so whenever he has a microphone and he gets talking, you believe it, and that’s why you see the internet go crazy and social media blow up because they’re going, “Oh, my God, there he is. Tully’s the greatest. Tully’s the best.” Yeah. Because he believes everything he’s doing and that’s what he tries to instill in young talent, in guys like me, guys like FTR and Max. We sit there and we watch him, we just go, “Man, this guy is so good.” And if you believe it, everybody else will believe it. It’s only when people try to play wrestler or try to avoid the truth, or try to avoid telling people what they’re obviously seeing. That’s when you get in that… “Ah, I don’t believe that. Guys like Tully, you believe through and through.” So any time he gets a chance to speak or any time he gets one of his ideas and we say, “Tully, what do you think?” And he starts going, “Well, what about this, this and this?” You go… “Didn’t even think about that, didn’t even see that.” That’s the beauty that he has. He has that eye. And if you think about it, this is crazy, too. His in-ring career was only 13 years. That was it. He only had a 13-year in-ring career, I’ve had a 19-plus year in-ring career and his legendary status has carried him for over 30. That is a testament to what that guy knows. So, I mean, how could you argue with greatness? You can’t.

One of your big moments in AEW. was the infamous chairshot to Cody at FyterFest in 2019. I know Cody had said in interviews that after that, like, Moxley was really angry with you and Tony Khan, all these things were going on behind the scenes. Can you take us back to that situation, what happened? Because it is just this huge moment that people controversially remember, no matter what you think of it.

So I don’t remember Mox being mad at me. I went to Tony. I don’t… I don’t think I talked to Mox that night. He might have been mad or Cody might have overheard him talking about it somewhere else. But he never said that to me, doesn’t… I just don’t remember talking to him. Tony was upset. So Tony was kind of pissed off. Obviously, because when things go awry and they don’t go according to plan, you know, things happen. It was a big moment, it was supposed to be a big moment. It generated a lot of buzz, positive and negative. The idea behind it was to… You have this guy that was flashing his hands around and had arenas chanting for an extended period of time. He up and leaves and goes to a new place. Let’s turn it 360. Let’s get people talking in a different way. Let’s kind of get away from the schtick bit and let’s see if we can actually combat one of the biggest babyfaces in wrestling today in Cody Rhodes. So that was the idea behind it. Obviously, some things don’t go to plan. If you ask Cody now, he’ll probably say it was the best case scenario because it was so violent and it was so brutal and it, for a time where we didn’t have TV, this was before, this is pre-AEW Dynamite, it created a lot of buzz for the match that we eventually had. So, you know, my intention is never to hurt my opponent in any way, shape or form to that degree. But in terms of generating buzz, creating the scenario, the good versus evil that I talked about, it was the best case scenario. You know, I’m just happy everybody tuned in for that match, I’ll put it that way.

And that match with Cody, was there kind of vindication for you when you had that match with Cody? Obviously, before you had not been used previously in WWE and whatever, you come to and you’ve got this big match with Cody and it was kind of your chance to be on this big stage of like, “Here’s what I can do.” Was there a validation in having that big match with Cody on pay-per-view?

In a way, it was. The match that we had, I think, fit our story. I mean, it’s not like we could have went in there and started having a grappling match or exchanging some holds, or you can’t have your traditional wrestling match because things have gotten so heated to that point. We kind of had to kind of go with the flow of the story. So do I think it was the best spot to come in? Sure. It didn’t get the outcome that I was looking for, or maybe the outcome that would have propelled me in a different trajectory.

But at the end of the day, what a massive spot to come in at on that kind of a card – which was stacked from top to bottom and having Tully Blanchard at my side and going against arguably one of the biggest babyfaces in professional wrestling today. So it was a great opportunity to show what I could do, and I think, going forward, the possibilities are kind of endless. It’s just, for me, a guy like me whose career has always been about fighting forward, those opportunities may come few and far between.

There was that with Cody Rhodes. There’s tonight – Blood And Guts. And, you know, hopefully going forward there’s going to be a few. But that battle with Cody Rhodes took place, what, almost two years ago? Maybe, something like that? So, you know, patience is a virtue and no one’s better at that than me.

I also want to ask you, I know you said in an interview recently that Covid kind of scuppered some plans because Tully couldn’t come in and stuff but before Covid, you and Tully were doing the storyline of you guys were searching for a partner. I just wondered, was there a plan at that point of who that partner was going to be, and what was going to happen? Do we know where it was going to go?

So that was legitimate. That’s when we were traveling town to town and they actually had certain guys, like the video thing was a legitimate submission. It wasn’t just an act or anything like that. They would actually video in, they would pick guys from certain towns that we were traveling to and it was a way to get young talent, or independent talent, a look – like tryouts, essentially. They were going to be thrown on TV, a little bit of exposure. It would allow me to be dramatic and joke around, and treat guys a certain way. At the same time while building other people’s records. So it was kind of a win-win for everybody and it gave me something to do on TV. So obviously when Covid hit, that put a stop to all the traveling, we couldn’t get to all these shows. And then when Tully couldn’t travel, it almost essentially just cut the legs out from that whole idea, so we kind of had to scrap that and go in a completely different direction, which in turn turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I think, a week or two later, I’m sitting ringside with MJF and he goes, “What do you think if we threw a crew together?” So had I actually found a partner in the Search for Spears, I might not have been a part of The Pinnacle. So I count that as a blessing in disguise. But that was originally the idea was that it was to get young talent an opportunity. Where they were going, I’m not sure. There wasn’t exactly a person in mind, at least that I wasn’t aware of, but I thought it was a wonderful way to get unexposed talent a chance to be seen, because I’ve been in that situation before. So I understood it. And it was entertaining and at least fun for while it lasted.

I do want to ask you a quick question. It’s the most obvious question I could ask you. I know the answer, probably, but I need to ask you anyway. Your wife, Cassie Lee, obviously she’s going to be a free agent at some point so would you like to see her in AEW? I know it’s an obvious question, but people are going to want me to at least ask it.

Yeah, yeah. So I think, obviously, they would assume that that would be the plan that because I work there, her husband works there, that it’s just, naturally she’s going to… Those questions are above my pay grade. I don’t have anything to do with the hiring process.

Selfishly, of course! Why would I not want my wife working there? Not only do I feel it’d be great to see her on a weekly basis with me, but what her and Jess can offer our women’s division and the entertainment world as a whole is just second to none. You’ve seen how entertaining they are. I don’t need to explain to you what they bring to the table, and I don’t think I would need to explain to Tony Khan what they bring to the table either. That guy knows everything about every talent. He’s just… He’s a numbers guy. He’s got everything down to a science and he’s got the memory of like… I’ve never seen anything like it, it blows my mind. But selfishly, of course, I would love to see them both in AEW.

I think, at some point, somebody’s going to put them both on TV so selfishly, I’d like us to get a grab of them first, because wherever they land, they’re going to stand out, they’re going to make a splash. They’re going to make headlines. I want those headlines right alongside AEW, so for the business sense of things, yes, I want them with us. For the selfish personal aspect of things – Yes, I want them with us. But again, those conversations are for talent relations and they’re for EVPs and they’re for CEOs.

You made a brave decision when you sort of asked for your release from WWE, you went out on your own and came to AEW. I mean, that’s a big decision to bet on yourself and go, “I think there’s something else out there for me.” Can you talk a little bit about having that faith in yourself and that believability to sort of take that bold step? Because it is a brave move.

I didn’t have it at first. I think that was about as close to a six-month process of just everyday thinking about it. Every week, going to work. It took a lot because obviously, I think she was my fiancee at the time, still worked there. I had all my friends that worked there. I got along great with a lot of NXT management. It was just… It was a tough situation, but I knew… And I don’t know how, I don’t know how I knew, but I just felt, I guess that’s probably the better way to say it, that if I didn’t leave and take a shot on myself and see what I was at least capable of, in 30-40 years down the road, I was going to say I should have. I knew that that’s what I was going to do. I was going to look back on this time and go, “Damn it, I should have took a shot on myself.” And I’m a big believer in – the worst feeling in the world is probably regret. And there’s nothing… At a time where you can’t do anything about it.

I’m a big believer in you know, you’ve heard the saying before, “The first step is always the scariest” – and it is. It’s petrifying, but that first step turns into a second step, a third step, a fourth step, and now all you’re doing is you’re just walking.

All it depends on is are you walking in the direction of your happiness? That’s it. That’s all boiled down to. It didn’t boil down to money. It didn’t boil down to being in the main event of anywhere. It didn’t boil down to being a world champion anywhere. It boiled down to being able to wake up every day, be excited to go to work and get to wrestle. And every time I’ve gone to AEW, I’ve wrestled – whether it be on Dark, Dark Elevation or AEW Dynamite, I get to wrestle and I get to wrestle the way I want. So to me, and I’ve said this before, I’m much closer to the end of my career than I am with the beginning. So I can barely remember what I did the first five years of my career. So hopefully, by the time I wrap things up, tack on 20-30 years when I’m 70, I’m going to be able to remember the last three to five years of my career, hopefully.

So how do I want to remember those? Do I want remember them like, “Yeah, man, I wrestled the way I wanted to. I had a damn good time. I kind of went out on my own shield,” or do I want to think like, “Man, I made a lot of money, but I sat around a lot”? I could always make money, I can make money doing something else, anything else, there’s always a way to make money, but there’s not always a beautiful memory that you can keep with you going forward. And that’s what it all boils down to.

The last thing I want to ask you about, which might seem like a strange kind of comparison, but I remember in January watching one of the Royal Rumble clips of you coming out in 2017 at number 10, the stadium going crazy, and it’s funny that that was a moment in 2017 which you’re very remembered for. But then tonight you’re the centre stage of a main event for Blood And Guts. Do you look at kind of, you know, previous moments like that where there were a big deal for you, where it was kind of one thing, which is this is like… This feels like this is your run. You’re in The Pinnacle, Blood And Guts match main event. Does it feel full circle for you? In a way?

That moment at 2017 at the Rumble, I’m going to carry that for the rest of my life, not because it was just a cool moment for me to come out in front of 50,000-plus people and have them all, you know, having a great time. It’s because it was about the collective feeling that everybody was in on it, you know what I mean? Like, I haven’t talked about it too much but, as the clock was counting down backstage and I was about to go through the curtain, there was a lot of talent in gorilla at that night at the Royal Rumble and as [the clock ticked] ten, nine… They all started clapping because a lot of them had knew my story and they knew what I’d been through up until that moment. Things like that, I’m going to carry with me forever. Do you know what I mean? So it was just a beautiful moment and a memory that I’m going to hopefully remember when I’m 70.

We fast forward to AEW, we fast forward to tonight, this is going to be a completely different kind of match in terms of brutality, in terms of – oh, God – just the the fight for survival that and a whole different kind of feeling, I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life, because this is going to affect me one way or the other. I’m not going to come out the same way I’m going in. I’m going to lose a part of myself, as I assume everybody in that match is going to lose a part of themselves tonight. So, you know, hopefully I’m in… Or at least have the time afterwards to recoup and get back to one piece.

Hopefully I’ll be in a position to, again, create another memory that’s going to stick with me and hopefully the audience for years to come. So full circle, not necessarily, but I believe we’re still we’re still moving, man. Like, that’s all I do. I keep moving forward. Luckily, I’m in this position tonight at the pinnacle to make history. We will make history. We’re going to win tonight’s Blood & Guts Match. Moving forward, I only see great things for The Pinnacle.

AEW Blood And Guts is available to watch tonight via TNT in the US and via Fite TV around the globe.