After 16 years in and around the world of professional wrestling, Bobby Lashley finally reached the highest point, winning the WWE Championship earlier this year.
Debuting in 2005, Lashley spent three years in WWE before pursuing a career in mixed martial arts. After returning to WWE in 2018, Lashley won several secondary championships and flirted with the top of the card. It wasn’t until he teamed up with Shelton Benjamin, Cedric Alexander and MVP to form the Hurt Business stable that he was able to finally realize his full potential as a performer.
Yahoo Sports spoke with Lashley about his recent success, upcoming trilogy match against Drew McIntyre, the importance of elevating Black talent in pro wrestling and the return of fans ahead of WWE’s upcoming slate of live events.
(Note: This interview has been edited for clarity)
Yahoo Sports: What was it like to finally, after all these years, get to win the WWE Championship a few months back?
Bobby Lashley: It was an amazing feeling. It was one of those things where, from the start of my career, people said I was going to be a world champion one day. It was a combination of my size, my look, my athletic ability. I knew that I had it, so I just focused my training on getting better every day. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, but it was going to happen eventually if I was able to keep myself together long enough. I’m patient. I knew that in this business you can always get better, so if there was something that wasn’t happening, the idea was to just get better.
When I did win, you can’t ever really predict or write out what is going to happen or what you’re going to feel. It’s a whole different experience and then seeing the people who called me, my peers who reached out. A lot of people showed a lot of love. It was an amazing experience.
YS: Was there one message or comment that stood out?
Lashley: There was an interview right after I won, and it was with a team that went back and forth. One of them liked me and the other one hated me. When she said she read the headline that I had won the championship, she audibly groaned. But by the end of the interview, she said I deserved it. That’s the thing. With this title, I think there are a lot of different reasons why people get to this point, but across the board people can recognize that I have put in the work. This isn’t something that was given to me. Everybody that knows me knows that I am religious with the things that I do. The biggest thing is to know that I deserved it.
YS: In you most recent run with the company, there have been some feuds that weren’t as close to the top or the WWE Championship like you are now. Was there ever a time where you doubted coming back or if you’d get that opportunity?
Lashley: Hell no. Hell no. This is the WWE. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s the pinnacle of this business. It always has been. Just to have the opportunity to be in the WWE is an accomplishment in itself. That’s what people don’t understand. It’s really an enormous thing. There are people in other organizations that wish they could be in WWE, wish they could be in any place here.
With that being said, I was always just grateful to have an opportunity to come back after being away for 10 or 11 years. I still had that idea in the back of my mind and heart that I wanted to be champion. I didn’t let that cloud my thoughts though. A lot of people when they come in, they start getting doubtful or complacent, they start going a bunch of different routes where they either give up or don’t care anymore. Those are the most dangerous positions to be in. I never got to that point. I always just felt that I would keep working and WWE would give me an opportunity to be on TV. When I get seen by a lot of people, my time will come. I had to look as good as I possible could, perform as best as I could, because it was all I could control. At the end of the day, it works or it doesn’t and that is where the it factor of the entertainment comes in. We can all put in the work and show our skills, but the crowd either takes you or they don’t. I felt like they wanted something out of me and I keep trying to give it to them.
YS: And we’ve seen something of a character evolution. It’d be easy to just say ‘Here’s Bobby Lashley, he’s going to run through the entire roster,’ but you’ve been adding wrinkles to your persona. What’s that development been like and the reasoning behind it?
Lashley: That’s me. Ultimately, we all play characters in WWE, but the best character for everyone is themselves — even if they have a different name. I am the character you see on TV. Yes, I can kick everyone’s ass and I can fight anyone in the ring, but at the same time I graduated with honors, put myself through school, run several businesses. There are layers to me. I wanted to be able to show that on TV a little bit more instead of just being this athlete that works out all of the time. It’s funny because I was in my closet the other day and was thinking how crazy it is that all I have in there are workout clothes and suits. There’s nothing in between. That’s my life.
YS: What was the relationship like with you and the rest of the Hurt Business, specifically MVP?
Lashley: If you think about the time when we came into the WWE, it was a time where you protected yourself and you protected the business. You had to stay strong. That’s how the business was, it was a little tougher. We talk about things all of the time — Where do we want the character to go, what’s our vision. Then and now are two different times. The locker room was different, people were different, the style was different. I think it’s good to have the mix that we have today.
MVP is a good friend of mine. It’s real and I think that people enjoyed the realness of the Hurt Business. What was so real about it was that we all have potential to do great things. People could look at Shelton Benjamin and say he’s awesome, Cedric is incredible, Bobby isn’t even champion yet. Everybody was thinking these different things about us, but when we got together we started to get to those places. People gravitated to it because it made sense.
I always bring it back to MVP and use one of my favorite quotes: ‘Sometimes you have to believe in someone else’s belief in you.’ That’s what he was for us. He was our advocate, he believed in all of the things that we could do. People were able to see it on TV and believe it or see it in themselves and want to reach their full potential. We were doing bad things as a group, but we weren’t bad guys. We were fed up and it’s something everyone can relate to.
YS: And it was a moment where you guys are elevating each other as Black talent. How important was that for you all to do?
Lashley: It’s very important and I really liked the dynamic of bringing Cedric along. I tell this story all the time, but there was one day where we arrived at the building, MVP and I in our suits, and we see Cedric and he didn’t have it. MVP stopped and asked him where it was. Cedric had left it inside, and MVP told him that it wasn’t what we were about. We aren’t just characters on the inside, this is how we carry ourselves.
That’s the big thing I think when you talk about the culture and Black athletes. I’m thinking about a kid looking at us and they can say ‘Wow’ because we are fitting an entirely different image. We’re Black athletes, but we carry ourselves with a high standard. We’re not thugs, we’re not pimps, we’re not any of that. We’re just athletes that keep things very professional.
YS: This match with Drew McIntyre on Sunday is in Hell in a Cell and is the third one on a pay-per-view with him. How do you guys keep it fresh with a drawn out storyline? What’s it like to work on something like this for a quarter of a year?
Lashley: I think it’s perfect for us because those matches tend to make history and show what people are willing to do to win. We’ve had several different matches so we need to see what the next level or wrinkle is. One thing I try and tell people is that in the real world, Drew is the No. 2 guy. How are you going to give other people a chance if they can’t beat the No. 2 guy? Look, part of this is the show, but there’s a lesson for people to step up to seize an opportunity.
I think we’re looking for that next person, and if you look at the roster for Raw, it’s a very exciting time. There are probably about eight guys who are right there at that level — Randy Orton, A.J. Styles, Keith Lee, Miz, Morrison, Elias, Ryker, Priest. There are guys who are ready to step up and it’s exciting for me. I’m looking forward to it.
YS: One name you didn’t mention was Kofi Kingston. There have been some hints of a story between Hurt Business and New Day. Does a potential match with him start to get the creative wheels turning?
Lashley: Hell yeah. Someone like me stepping up in a fight against Kofi, it should be a layup and that’s not how people think it will go down. That’s what excites me about Kofi. I like Kofi and what he’s done for the business, and to have a fight with him, I would love to have that opportunity. He was a world champion and the one opportunity that he didn’t get was to have another shot at the title.
YS: If you win Sunday, the next major WWE event is SummerSlam and it’s in Las Vegas, the fight capital of the country. What are your thoughts on getting the crowd back, in a football stadium, potentially defending as WWE champion?
Lashley: It’s going to be incredible. When WrestleMania came around, with the crowd back, and we had that little bit of a delay, I was so amped up to go out there. It was so intense and I can only imagine it in Vegas. It’s where everyone goes to let loose. It’s going to be amazing that whole entire week because we also have WWE tryouts. You’ll have people in the business around the city buzzing and then you have one of our marquee events with huge matchups. I’m excited for the crowd to be fully back because we miss them. They miss us and it’s a love-hate relationship, but we need them just as much as they need us.
'Hell in a Cell' takes place this Sunday and can be streamed on Peacock starting at 7 p.m. ET.
More on Yahoo Sports: