For the first time in more than two years, World Wrestling Entertainment is bringing the RAW brand of sports entertainment to Tampa. On Monday, the Amalie Arena is in for an epic night of bodyslams and pageantry.
Along with the usual cast of superstars, legends from the past such as Ric Flair, Steve Austin and Tampa’s Hulk Hogan will be appearing.
The headliner is former WWE Universal Champion Seth “Freaking” Rollins. Born Colby Lopez, Rollins is no stranger to the Tampa area. The Iowa native spent two years here training in WWE’s developmental territory of Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), which has since re-branded to NXT and moved to Orlando.
We spoke to Rollins about his upcoming match in Tampa, his relationship with the WWE Women’s Champion and his time in the bay area.
You’re slated to battle Baron Corbin in Tampa. What’s your opinion about working with him?
I win a lot when I wrestle Corbin, so that usually sways my opinion in a positive manner.
You know what, he’s come a long way. For a guy who came into the developmental system with no clout, he wasn’t from the indies and he never wrestled a match before, he stepped into the doors in Tampa and he learned very quickly from some of the best guys we have in our industry.
But he’s also a guy who wasn’t given much of a chance by even people like me. He comes from a different world and sometimes you can be ostracized for that. He’s a guy who took a bit of the hazing, but he pushed through, persevered and he grew really love the industry and he has dedicated the last four years of his life to being on the road nonstop.
And say what you will about him, from an audience member perspective, he works just as hard as anybody else and is huge contributor to our roster and the product we put out every week.
You’ve been teaming up in the ring with your on-and-off-screen partner, WWE Women’s Champion Becky Lynch. How is it working with someone that you’re in a relationship with?
It’s great. We spend all of our time together anyway. So might as well add the on screen stuff to it as well.
She’s awesome, she’s super talented, one of the first women to main event WrestleMania beating Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair this past year. I learn a lot from her being in the ring and watching her cut promos, she’s very inspiring as far as that’s concerned. Just from a performer’s perspective, I get a lot out being near her on screen and off screen I get a lot as well, so it works out in both places.
Would you care to address the critics that say you don’t have good on screen chemistry with Becky?
I think those critics might be a little jealous. I think that’s where a lot of that stems from. I mean, if I’m a dude and I’m watching television, and I have a crush on Becky Lynch, I’m probably not going to be to fond of the guy who’s dating her either so I get that. We have such great chemistry I think it’s funny that people think we don’t. Either way it amuses me.
Is there anything you miss about the Tampa area?
Oh man, Daily Eats! Wright’s deli on Dale Mabry and Daily Eats. Great stuff. I miss Tampa. I liked it a lot. The few years living here I really enjoyed the time I spent there. The camaraderie, the friendships that I built during my time at FCW are still ones that I hold pretty dearly today. Even just the time I spent at that little sweaty, crappy warehouse with guys like Steve Keirn, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat and Norman Smiley, that really shaped the performer and person I am right now. I learned a lot from my time there. I definitely miss the city and I’m looking forward to coming back for WrestleMania next April.
In just about eight months, you’ll be walking down the aisle at Raymond James Stadium in front of 70,000-plus fans for WrestleMania 36. That has to be a crazy trip.
That’s pretty special when you think about it. When I started in developmental, you’re looking at nine years ago, FCW was nothing. We had a local little television show on Brighthouse on Sunday nights that no one watched, No one came to the shows, TV tapings were sometimes 20, 30, 40 people packed into that little, tiny, sweaty arena. And to be able to have played a part in expanding the developmental system to what its become now, where NXT has become basically a third brand of WWE (along with RAW and Smackdown) with its own touring schedule and a major player for the last 6 years. To come from that, to hopefully main eventing at WrestleMania this coming year in front of 60, 70, 80 thousand people at Raymond James Stadium, it’s going to be very much a full circle moment for me knowing where it started for me with my WWE career down there in Tampa.
If you go
WWE RAW LIVE
$25 and up. 7:30 p.m. Monday. Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 301-6500. amaliearena.com.
Universal Championship Match
Seth Rollins vs. Baron Corbin
RAW Women’s Championship Match
Becky Lynch vs. Lacey Evans
Special Attraction – 2-on-1 Handicap Match
Roman Reigns vs. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre
Also Scheduled to Appear
AJ Styles; Braun Strowman; Bobby Lashley; United States Champion Samoa Joe; The Miz; Rey Mysterio Alexa Bliss; Sasha Banks; Ricochet; The Usos; The Revival Robert Roode; EC3 and more.
Card is Subject to Change