Exclusive interview: New signee Richard Swann on how wrestling changed his life
On the final day of a WWE tryout in September 2014, Richard Swann stood before several of the WWE Performance Center’s key talent evaluators with the objective of delivering a 60-second speech to showcase his personality. What followed was a lively, polished sampling of Swann’s varied skillset in which he spoke fluent Japanese and beatboxed nimbly.
One year later, the Maryland native returned to Orlando, Fla., this time as one of the Performance Center’s newest signees.
At 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Swann is not a typical recruit — and for reasons other than size alone. Few athletes can execute standing 450° splashes, and even fewer can pair such athleticism with Swann’s penchant for showboating. (On the indie scene, the musically inclined Swann became famous for turning his ring entrance into Lionel Richie sing-alongs.)
As the independent standout prepares to make a name for himself in NXT, Swann spoke with WWE.com about how his mother’s support of his pursuit of wrestling helped him overcome a troubled past, how one rapper’s endorsement on Twitter led to his tryout with WWE, and what it means to compete for a roster spot in the land of giants.
WWE.COM: One month in, how’s it going at the WWE Performance Center?
RICHARD SWANN: It’s going really well. There are some tough days, but every day I learn something new. It’s the best facility ever. Anybody who wants to be a wrestler, this is the place to be. You’ve got the best coaches. You can’t go wrong.
WWE.COM: At age 24, you already have eight years of experience. What led to you starting at such a young age?
SWANN: I’ve always been a fan of wrestling. By the time I was five, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’ll never forget: I was watching the “Power Rangers,” which my mom recorded for me, and my brother came in from basketball practice and said, “We’re not watching this, we’re watching Monday Night Raw.” He turned it on and Bret Hart came out. I’d never seen wrestling before that, and I remember him coming out to all these crazy lights, holding the WWE Championship, and I was like, “Wow, this is really amazing.”
WWE.COM: What was your childhood like growing up in Baltimore?
SWANN: It was pretty rough. My father was an alcoholic and my mother had lupus. We were living in an apartment a little outside Baltimore, a county called Rosedale. I witnessed a lot of abuse between the two. My father was, like I said, a real bad alcoholic and there was a lot of domestic violence; my mother kicked him out, and it was just me and my brother for the time being. My brother got older and he decided to move out and get married, and then it was just me and my mom.
WWE.COM: Did she encourage your interest in wrestling?
SWANN: She and I would just watch wrestling all the time — that’s what kept me afloat. At the time, being 10, 11, 12 in school, and living in low-income places and not good areas, it kind of took me down the wrong path. But my mom kept me afloat by saying, “Hey, this is your dream. You need to do this. You need to stay in school. If you’re not going to pay attention, you’re not going to be able to watch Raw.”
When I was 14, my father was murdered, and that took a real toll on my life. Then, my mother had a breakdown, so I went to Arizona to live with her friends. They were very religious and they didn’t like any violence, so I couldn’t watch wrestling for a whole year until I came back to Baltimore. Me and my mom were getting really close, and I remember her telling me that there was a wrestling school in York, Pa., where my aunt lived, and she wanted me to go there and try to pursue my dream.
So I saved up the money and got training, and exactly when I started, my mom passed away, so that was very hard. After that, I just committed myself to getting here and staying on the right path, because for a while I started going down the wrong path. But after I finished school and started wrestling, started taking off really well, wrestling just changed me. It made me realize that you can’t be living in the past. You have to embrace what has changed you in your life and what you have been blessed with, and now I’m here.
WWE.COM: Do your memories of your mother’s support serve as motivation in this profession, which is fiercely competitive?
SWANN: Oh yeah, totally. It’s totally my motivation. My passion and my drive haven’t stopped just because I’ve gotten here. Like you said, it’s a very competitive world and there are wrestlers in the Performance Center, NXT and on the main roster that work hard every day. I just have to work that much harder, especially because of my size, because of my background. That motivation keeps me afloat.
WWE.COM: You attended a tryout at the Performance Center in September 2014. Do you know what led to that opportunity?
SWANN: Yeah, I’ll never forget it. I just got done at an EVOLVE Wrestling show, and I wake up one morning and see a tweet to me from a famous rapper named Wale. He tweeted out that Apollo Crews and I are the future of the business and we need to be in WWE. I guess that caught the attention of Mark Henry, and I got linked up with the tryout from there.
WWE.COM: You’ve trained and lived in the dojos of Japan. How does training at the Performance Center compare to that experience?
SWANN: It’s very similar [as far as] the training regimen and the schedule, but WWE’s facility is just a bit nicer. [Laughs.] The dojo’s grimy; in the winter it’s cold and in the summer it’s hot. No air conditioning. It’s crazy. Plus, you’re in a country where you barely speak the language in the beginning, it definitely takes a toll. In Japan, you gotta get it, you’ve gotta go after it. You have to prove yourself and wrestle what they call the “young boys.” They don’t teach them the art of wrestling until they feel they deserve it, so when you’re in there with them, you’re getting beat up and bruised and smacked and thrown around and you’re having to prove yourself.
WWE.COM: Any other major differences?
SWANN: In Japan, everybody was more my size. But here, it’s the land of the giants. There are guys in my class now who are like 7-feet tall, 300 pounds, and the only comparison is you just have to work hard. And that’s what I’m going to keep doing.
WWE.COM: You’ve worn wings on your trunks, so we know you love to fly. Who were you influenced by?
SWANN: Wrestlers like Psicosis, Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, RVD, Jerry Lynnn, Super Crazy, like that. Once I found out what ECW was when I was in middle school — boom — that turned me. WCW, too. I love these bigger guys, but I knew I was never going to be that big. The cruiserweights, however, look at these guys move, flipping around, doing crazy things and being daredevils. Guys like The Hardys. I was drawn to them because that’s what I wanted to do.
WWE.COM: What do you think of the state of cruiserweight wrestling?
SWANN: I really hope that one day there can be a cruiserweight division comeback. I feel like the state of cruiserweight wrestling in WWE — it’s not lacking because you’ve still got smaller guys who can move, like Kalisto, Sin Cara, Dolph Ziggler, Neville, guys like that that are just ridiculous. If there’s ever a cruiserweight division comeback, I’d like to be the face of it, like Rey Mysterio back in the day. That’s one of my goals.
WWE.COM: Do you have specific goals for yourself in NXT?
SWANN: Definitely. If you’re in wrestling, you want to be the top guy and you want to be the champion. But my goal right now is to make it onto NXT Live Events, make it onto NXT at Full Sail and TakeOvers, and I want to take it one step at a time. And as the time comes, I just want to have killer matches and do things that have never been done before.