I had a chance to talk to Shawn Spears about making his debut in AEW and what the future holds.
Shawn S. Lealos: I guess I wanted to start off a little bit talking about after you left WWE, you chose to go to AEW, which was brand new had not even started a show yet. What made you decided to choose a new company that was just getting started over the other options at the time?
Shawn Spears: I think the biggest thing for me was being a part of something groundbreaking. You know, in my over 18 years experience, there hasn’t been many firsts, left and for me, especially this was going to be one of those firsts. So, that was a very, very big selling point for me. And I was able to see and kind of feel the excitement that was building around this with no insider information. I had no exact scoop of what was going to take place and how things were going to kind of unfold
But I can see the excitement building in the audience. And that was kind of like one of the biggest selling points. So there was a few things that accumulated into the making that decision to go to AEW.
Lealos: It reminds me a lot of the 90s when ECW started – to have the fans chanting ECW over chanting wrestler’s names – and then when TNA first started with a weekly PPV, it was the same thing. People wanted an alternative; they wanted something different. What do you think is the biggest goal with AEW on giving the fans something that they haven’t seen before, because you mentioned starting something new.
Spears: You mentioned the word that’s been mentioned throughout its birth, which is an alternative. I think the audience has been ready for something since the 90s, since the 80s, and we’re following a beautiful long tradition of professional wrestling.
And we’re modifying things. And we’re upgrading things. And we’re showing the world new talent. And we’re showing the world new ideas. And we’re just kind of throwing everything that we can out there for the audience to consume and decide whether they like it or not. And that’s the beautiful thing about professional wrestling is that it’s subjective.
You know, you have the God-given right to like what you see or not. That’s the beautiful option. And that’s the beautiful thing that we like, in order to kind of test ourselves to our audience is that today in the world of professional wrestling, so we want to stay current, we want to give them the best possible product that we can. And, you know, we’re gonna kill ourselves doing our best to do that.
Lealos: You also mentioned starting something new, and when you went there, you made a drastic change. I mean, it seemed like, for a long time, you had fans behind you, but it seemed like, through creative you were just kind of spinning your wheels. You weren’t making any momentum in WWE.
So you sign with AEW and you immediately made a huge change. By turning heel, the chair shot to Cody when you first showed up. Walk me through turning babyface Tye Dillinger into heel Shawn Spears, when you went to AEW
Spears: I think it was important – it was a chance to refresh. It was kind of a chance to stand back for a minute and hit the reset button. And you know what I was doing for, you know, X amount of years was working, it was great. But I felt like it was an opportunity to kind of have a clean slate. And in the conversations that I had, with, you know, different people in AEW, I realized that a lot of this was on me, Hey, what do you want to do? How do you want to do this? What is the presentation that you want to convey to the world? That was neat to me. That was, “Oh wow. Okay, so I have options? What about this, this, this, and this?”
And, you know, through collaborations and different ideas and input, you know, we were able to kind of hit the ground running hot. And again, that’s one of the very big selling points for me and it was like, “you’ve been doing this for a while you know what you’re doing.”
Here’s a chance to kind of kick it into high gear if you want. But you got to put in the work, you have to, you know, you got to hit the ground running here as well, we’re with you, but you know, what do you have to offer? So it was a good challenge for me. And at this stage of my career, I enjoy being challenged. I think it forces me to step up my game without thinking about it.
Those kinds of things. You know, like I said, that’s what you look for over 18 years. You want to stay current, you want to stay relevant, you want to keep pushing and you want to see what your capabilities are and I get to do that here.
Lealos: You know, you mentioned how long you’ve been wrestling, but you’re still young, especially when you look at a lot of wrestlers out there on the top right now. Who have you looked at when it comes to this heel turn? Whether it’s your contemporaries or people from before when it comes to your mannerisms, your promos?
Spears: Oh, man, like, you mentioned being young. 18 years goes by fast but yeah, but I do feel really good. Like, I’ll be 40 next year. Yeah, but I feel really good. And for that reason, as we kind of touched on it when you talk about guys being on top, I haven’t been in the main event spot. So I haven’t really done, you know, 20-minute 30-minute matches every night for 567 years. So my body feels great. Health-wise, I can do this for I don’t know how long – I feel great. So thank you for reminding me about how my body feels.
In terms of mannerisms, I grew up watching guys like Mr. Perfect, Rick Rude. You know, you’re talking about the 80s and 90s. Some of those guys are just top-notch entertaining heels and I thought they were incredible talents. And, you know, some stuff nowadays can be considered over the top. But at the end of the day, we’re entertainment like I love entertaining an audience. So I get the opportunity to be over the top if I want to draw from those guys, specifically.
Rick Martel is another big, big inspiration of mine nowadays. I kind of lean more towards Tully [Blacnhard]’s teachings. He’s been very instrumental on how to go about doing things in the ring, how to present yourself outside of the ring. You know, Randy Orton is another guy that I worked with, and I admired the way he’s kind of carried himself and changed different small mannerisms, but that made a huge difference in his work.
Those are probably the main guys I draw from nowadays – probably mainly being Tully. As you know, he’s in my ear 24-seven. So, when you have a guy like that on your side, you can’t really do wrong.
Lealos: You know, when I was started watching wrestling when I was a teenager, I was a Four Horsemen guy. It was Crockett promotions. So yeah, Tully seemed to be the guy that I could never see as a babyface. He was just, oh my God, he was a perfect heel. He had a manager with JJ Dillon, but he was still someone who could cut promos and talk. What have you gotten from Tully since you started working with him? What kind of advice has he given you when it comes to getting yourself over and making the fans want to see you get your butt kicked every week.
Spears: A lot of that is patience. Patience is one thing. Timing is another thing. I guess they kind of go hand in hand a little bit and making the most out of opportunities; making the most of your minutes, so to speak. So when you are out there, it’s an opportunity for the audience to either engage with you – to believe in you or not believe in you. And all those things we’re very cautious of when we go out and present our pairing to the world.
There’s been some good advice behind the scenes that he’s given me that I’m not going to share with you only because I don’t want other talents to know it. Because I’m still using it to this day, but maybe a little more, you know, down the road, I can kind of share that wisdom with you. But he’s been very instrumental in trying to build this new Shawn Spears persona and how it’s being presented in AEW, how it’s being presented to the world. If you look at what I do and how I work in the ring, it’s methodical. It’s a little old school, it kind of pulls from Tully.
If I was out there, flipping all over the place and doing 450s and springboards and all that kind of stuff, which is incredibly athletic, which a lot of our talent can do very, very well, it wouldn’t fit, it wouldn’t make sense. So the style that I have is kind of pulled from a lot of those old-school guys. So there’s little mannerisms. I’m glad you picked up on it. That is really kind of hone in on the work and kind of look into how I go about doing things. A lot of that is Tully-based.
Lealos: You know, you mentioned making the minutes coun. We’re in a really weird period in the world right now. And you guys are trying to have to make these empty arena shows work. And you know, I watch everything, I watch all wrestling, and I’ve noticed AEW is honestly putting on a more entertaining show that just seems to fly by every week. What is it that you guys are doing that you think is making your show work so well, without the fans there to give their part?
Spears: Yeah, you mentioned earlier that, you know, we’re doing your best to have to put on a good show, we obviously want to put on an empty arena show because we still want to be able to perform in some capacity to our audience watching from home. I think once this kind of all passes, I think we as professional wrestlers are going to have brand new respect, a brand new appreciation for our live audience. And in turn, I believe they’re going to enjoy themselves in a live atmosphere, even more so than they have before.
But that dynamic of professional wrestling, it goes hand in hand. There’s nothing like a live show. You’ve been studying and watching it and like you said, You watch everything. So I assume you’ve been to many live shows. And I think you can agree when the show is off the hook. There’s nothing like live. It’s incredible. Yeah.
Having said that, now in the situation that the world is in. I personally love being out there. As an audience member, I have such a good time. If you’ve seen any of the stuff that I’ve done with MJF and Tully gambling at ringside, and holding up signs and doing all that kind of stuff, like, as a performer that is just as important for me as being in the ring, as having a microphone in my hand standing in the center of the ring. All that goes hand in hand because it’s performing.
And again, it gives the audience a little bit of something different. Like, why are these guys? Why are these wrestlers sitting in the audience? And why are they heckling at this guy and that guy? I think it just brings a different little, you know, addition to the overall show, you know, and then all of a sudden, you know, you’re watching a wrestling match and it cuts to a trailer and there’s Jericho and Spears and a few other guys yelling at a TV screen watching from behind the scenes. It’s just, it’s unexpected, and it gives our audience something that they might not have seen in 20, 30, 40 years that, you know, we pulled the curtain.
That’s just a little bit to bring them in. And that’s all we want to do is bring our audience in. So I personally am going to steal every little bit of camera time that I can. So if I have to sit in the audience to do that, you damn right, I’m going to go – it’s a blast. And, you know, Hell, I might even be doing it tomorrow night on Dynamite.
Lealos: I noticed that you, MJF, Britt Baker, you guys have taken every opportunity in the audience. I mean, I see the camera flipping to you guys all the time. You’re out there cheering on whoever Cody’s fighting, you know, telling them to go and everything and it just, it seems to add something that we would have never gotten if it wasn’t for the empty audience shows because it gives you more screen time than you would have gotten if it was the audience that we were expecting to see in the front rows.
Spears: And that was a Tony Kahn idea. The night before I went out there in the audience for the very first time, he called the night before. We talked about it. He said go out there and have some fun. I go, I’m in, sounds fantastic. So I was a Tony Khan idea and it’s been a staple in our shows ever since. But as a talent, and if any young talents are listening to this right now, that’s a huge opportunity. That’s camera time. And if you’re on Dynamite on TNT, that’s live camera time. You can get a character over more so in the audience than you might be able to in a ring.
So I see that as an opportunity. And clearly, like you said, If myself and MJF and Britt Baker are your standouts, the camera keeps coming to us. There’s a reason for that. So I am well aware of that, I’m sure Britt is and I know MJF is, so you know, those are opportunities in themselves for young talent.
Lealos: What do you see the future with this pandemic with people I guess, you know, they’re saying people might be scared to go back into the live settings and everything. What do you see the future looking like for professional wrestling thanks to what’s happening right now in the world?
Spears: I think it’s going to get back to what it was, I really believe that once things pass and when things get back to normal, maybe the rest of it might even kick in better. And that goes back to what I mentioned before about us having a brand new appreciation for having an audience there for us because when they’re not there, you know, you feel the bumps a little bit more, you feel yourself getting a little more tired, because the adrenaline, even though it’s still pumping, it’s not pumping, you know, probably as much as it would be if there was a live audience in attendance.
But on the flip side of that, I think, you know, if you piled in a car and you go to an AEW show with all your buddies there, and I mean, you had a beer or two and you get to yell at whoever you want, you get the chair for wherever you want, you get to chant, like those moments are, you know, friend-making moments, they’re, you know, they’re what you’re talking about the next day at the watercooler. They’re family moments where you guys can talk about it for weeks, months, and years afterward. I think people are going to get back to that.
Obviously, first and foremost, for AEW – safety, safety is key. So we want our audience and anybody who ever plans on attending an AEW show to feel more than comfortable and safe when attending. So, I believe that once things kick back in, it’s going to be slow. It’s going to be slow in terms of when everybody gets comfortable, and everybody kind of eases back into things, which is completely understandable and completely logical, in my opinion, personally. But yeah, I think we’re going to get right back to where we kind of left off, it just might take some time. But professional wrestling is not going anywhere anytime soon. And, you know, I said this before all this kind of kicked in. This is a hell of a time for the industry. It’s a wonderful time for the industry. And it’s a time that I’m not going to see again in my entering career, so I’m just enjoying this process.
I’m enjoying having the opportunity to perform. And I cannot wait to see our audience again.
Lealos: One last thing I wanted to ask you, I noticed yesterday you took to Twitter and you were giving Cody a hard time you know you were making fun of Star Wars fans, you were making fun of May the Fourth be with you and all that. How, how fun is it to get onto social media? And I mean MJF, he’s like the master, but How fun is it to just get onto social media and just have fun and mess with fans and play around in that because that never existed 20 years ago, How How fun is that for you as a performer to get on there and just interact in those situations.
Spears: Social media kind of changed the game for everything across the board. Especially in you know, the sporting world because you know, things can be spoilers and all that kind of stuff, but it’s kind of like that for television shows and everything across the board In terms of being able to connect with an audience, it is second to none. For certain guys that might not get the microphone time or the television time, like it’s still a way to engage with an audience is still a way to, you know, kind of build a platform as to who you are in this industry, build a persona or get your persona out there more.
I personally have a great time kicking out on social media, I do give certain people a hard time. And when you say MJF is the master – come on Shawn. He’s cut and dry. What you see is what you get. You know, when you look at that guy, he’s a little pompous. He’s over the top. He’s young. He’s a kid. He’s got time. All right. When I give people a hard time and kick around it, half the time when I get, you know, rebuttals, or when people say a lot of negative things or what can be taken as negative things, you know, they’re just fans of professional wrestling.
If you do check out their profiles, it’s like, Oh, I love AEW and I’m a huge gamer, and you know, they just want to engage, and especially during this time, I am more than happy to do so. So, as much as it can be, you know, spoilers are leaked out ahead of time. And you’re kind of like, I wish I hadn’t read that. On the flip side of it, there’s no better way to engage with an audience than there is on social media. So that’s why we at AEW are just all over that all the time. You know, just reminding everybody of the wonderful product that we get.
Lealos: Excellent. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I’m really I’m enjoying your new character. I think it’s a huge refresh after watching you for so many years, you know, in WWE, like once every couple of months. I mean, with this heel persona, it just seems like you’re – I don’t want to say happier, but it just seems like you’re more. I’m seeing that in your performance and I’m really enjoying it.
Spears: I appreciate that. I signed a three-plus-year deal that you ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait, we’re just getting on the ground running. Don’t you worry. Patience. Patience.