Irish eyes were smiling, indeed, on Sunday night when World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Sheamus cashed in his Money In the Bank contract in the final moments of an entertaining Survivor Series to snatch away the World title from Roman Reigns.
The WWE’s so-called Celtic Warrior, ever the opportunist, delivered two huge Brogue Kicks to unseat the newly-minted Reigns, making his first reign as WWE World Heavyweight champion one of the shortest.
Sheamus, the Irish-born behemoth known for his brute force and red hair, captured his fourth such title, a rare feat in an era where competition is more fierce than ever.
A series of injuries to key stars such as former champion Seth Rollins, Sting and Randy Orton, along with the absence of company megastar John Cena, created opportunity for those remaining on the active roster, including Sheamus, who held the edge with his Money In the Bank contract. Those in possession of that contract can cash it in any place, any time for a chance to win the company’s top prize.
So with Reigns having successfully won his second match of the evening, and his attention being on Triple H, in the smiling eyes of Sheamus, Reigns was the last thing standing between the big Irishman and his proverbial pot of gold, the WWE title.
A day after securing the title, a re-energized Sheamus was reflective about the opportunity that has presented itself to be the company’s top guy.
“This is my fourth world championship,” Sheamus said during a media conference call when asked if he felt any added pressure after being anointed “the guy.”
“I’ve been in this position before. I’ve faced a lot of scrutiny, as everybody has seen over the past couple of years, as a heel and a babyface,” said Sheamus, who at this time last year was on the shelf himself, recovering from a torn labrum.
The chance to get to the top of the wrestling mountain is one Sheamus has been waiting a long time for, he said.
“I’ve been raring to go for such a long time,” he said, referring to his return following WrestleMania earlier this. “I started off with Daniel Bryan and (Dolph) Ziggler. I was raring to come back as a heel.”
Months after returning as a bad guy, Sheamus established himself as a major player once again by winning the Money In The Bank contract, which almost always guarantees a WWE title run. With that responsibility, of course, comes pressure, Sheamus said.
“As far as pressure goes, there’s always pressure,” he said. “I actually look forward to that. The opportunity I have right now is one I’ve been waiting for for a long time.”
The 37-year-old burst onto the scene in 2009 as part of WWE’s ECW brand and 166 days later had his first WWE title. He would scale the mountain again in 2010 and once more, controversially, in 2012, in just 18 seconds at WrestleMania versus fan favourite Daniel Bryan. Never one to dwell on what he’s done, Sheamus says he’s a different person this time around.
“I’m six years in,” he said of his career. “When I first came into WWE, I really was a bit like a deer in a headlights. Everything had happened so quickly, I was in there with Cena and Orton and Triple H and I was just learning on the fly, I was taking it all in and there was a huge amount of pressure back then. Right now, I’m much more comfortable where I’m at, I know what I’m doing, I’ve waited for this opportunity for such a long time and I’m not going to let it pass me by.”
The Cabra, Leinster, Ireland-born wrestling star concedes that a number of injuries have certainly created opportunity, but he remains in control of his own destiny.
“Obviously what happened to Seth Rollins was really unfortunate and I know he’s going to be back stronger and better than ever because that’s the type of person he is. He’s very committed to what he does. He trains hard. He’s a world champ. He’s world champ material, that’s why he has been WWE world champ for such a long time. At the same time, I’m not going to let an opportunity pass me by. I’ve been on the sidelines myself, I know what that’s like, but I’m going to take this and I’m going to run with it as far as I can and I’m going to give it everything I possibly can. To me, this is an opportunity of a lifetime and as I said, I’ve never felt better and more comfortable in my skin.”
Sheamus also addressed the security threat that was reported leading into the event, which linked ISIS threats to the WWE show on Sunday night, information that prompted the WWE to beef up security at the show.
“Obviously, the WWE took the security threat very, very seriously and we were updated on a consistent basis of the measures the WWE itself, the state and the national security, the measures they were taking to make sure that everyone’s safety was taken care of,” Sheamus said. “Obviously, for WWE, the fans, the WWE Universe, are its priority. Their safety is a priority. It was literally out of our hands. I felt most confident in everything WWE was doing to make sure that the situation was under control and taken care of and the safety measures were taken to make sure that the event went ahead.”
Come show time, Sheamus said, it was business as usual, particularly for the man holding that cash-in contract.
“Obviously, being the Money in the Bank contract holder, which I have been for the last five, six months, you just go in there, looking for an opportunity and waiting … I really didn’t treat it anyway different than I have since I won the ladder match back in June or July.”
Winning his fourth WWE title in just six years, Sheamus calls this title his most significant to date.
“Last night was such a surreal moment for me,” he admitted. “I’ve been in that position many times, but this just feels a lot more special.”
In fact, the big Irishman even took some time to reflect on his fourth title following his win.
“I must’ve sat in the locker room on my own after everyone was gone for about an hour afterward just taking the moment in,” Sheamus admitted, reminding those on the call of why he does what he does. “I’ve been a fan my entire life, ever since I was a kid. I watched the first Survivor Series and to be part of that 25th anniversary last night of The Undertaker … it’s hard … being there and involved in such a moment is unbelievable. So for me, I just sat there in the locker room with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and I just took it all in.”
Scaling that mountain for the fourth time did not come without its challenges, both physical with injuries, and mental.
“I knew when I came back from my last injury that I needed to change things up, and that’s exactly what I did,” Sheamus said, referring to both his look and his heel turn. “Coming back, it was such a great start. I loved the matches with Ziggler and Daniel Bryan and then somewhere along the way, after becoming Money in the Bank champion, it just stagnated a little bit. I’ve been waiting to go for a long time, a couple of months, and that opportunity came along last night and I’m not going to let It pass me by.”
Sheamus’s win came at a cost for the man he took the title from, Roman Reigns. A proud wrestler with an oak-sized family tree in wrestling, Reigns briefly tasted the top of the food chain, only to see it slip from his grasp, mere seconds later.
Sheamus sympathizes with the man he took the title from. Reigns’ rise has been swift, but filled with lots of doubt from fans on social media, who are not shy when it comes to expressing that criticism, even directing at the man himself. With social media playing such a prominent role in pro wrestling now, Sheamus says it can be hard to block that out, but believes Reigns is doing everything right.
“I think Roman’s been dealing with it pretty well, to be honest.,” Sheamus said. “I think he still goes out there and he works his arse off and he leaves it all in the ring. He’s very passionate about what he does and I think he’s a great athlete and he’s a great superstar. I think he’s a great poster boy too for the WWE.”
Sheamus has experienced that social media criticism first hand, he said.
“I know what this crack is,” he said. “I’ve been there. I became World Heavyweight Champion after 18 seconds. I went out there with a smile on my face and cracked the jokes, the Irish jokes, Uncle Finbar and his Bull and all of that sort of stuff, trying to endear the crowd. And the harder I tried, the more they turned on me and I realized I was just fighting a losing battle. No matter how much I went out there, no matter how much I beat myself up, no matter how many crazy falls I took, the WWE Universe had made up its mind.”
Now, with his fourth WWE title in hand, he’s the example Reigns can look to when it comes to overcoming adversity.
“The most important thing for Roman is to stick to who he is and not try to be somebody else,” Sheamus said. “He believes in himself, he believes in what he’s doing (and) as long as he sticks it out, I think he’ll be fine.”
Believing in one’s self is one of the most important qualities a pro wrestler can have, Sheamus said. The big Irishman admits he still battles doubt from time to time, including worrying about becoming one of the few to hold the Money in the Bank contract and fail to cash it in to win the title.
“I’d probably by lying if I said that didn’t go through my mind,” he answered when asked if that thought ever crossed his mind. “We’re all human beings at the end of the day and sometimes when things aren’t going your way, you can have doubt in what you’re doing.”
It is then, Sheamus said, that a wrestler needs to lean on his faith and battle through doubt.
“You have to believe in yourself. I’ve always believed in myself and I always believed I’d walk away WWE World Heavyweight champion. It was just a matter of when that opportunity would come and I had to be ready when it came. And I believe I was and I walked out with the greatest prize in our industry.”
Becoming the WWE champ at this point in the year certainly opens up a lot of possibilities, with the two biggest events of the wrestling year on the horizon in the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 32, which happens in Texas and which could draw more than 100,000 fans. Heading into those events as the champ could setup a dream matchup for the nearly 270-pound Irishman.
Brock Lesnar. The words alone make the hairs stand up on the neck of anyone who is familiar with the so-called Beast Incarnate. Anyone, that is, but the fiery Irishman, whose eyes can practically be heard lighting up the suggestion of a match between the two.
“That would be a dream for me, mate,” Sheamus said, hunger evident in his voice. “That would be a dream match for me against Brock Lesnar.”
In fact, it’s long been on Sheamus’s bucket list.
“I’d love a match with Brock, I’ve said that for the last couple of years. It was just a matter of getting into that mix. And now that I’m WWE World Heavyweight champion … ,” he said, pausing. “I’d love to take on the Beast.”
Asked which of his WWE titles run meant most to him, Sheamus again refuses to dwell on what he’s done, but rather what he’s doing and what he plans to do.
“I think this has been the biggest triumph of my career,” he reiterated.
“I always look to the present and the future. I don’t really look too much into the past. The past is gone, it’s in the books, there’s nothing more you can do about it. You’ve got to focus on what your next step is and what you plan to do with the future because that’s really all that matters. When I retire, I can obviously look back and go, ‘Well, that was great, I achieved this, I achieved that,’ but right now, this is the most important achievement of my career. This is the highlight of my career. I’ve never been prouder to become WWE World Heavyweight champion and I plan to hold this championship for a long, long time. Roman Reigns, (Dean) Ambrose … they can give it their best shot, but they’re not taking this away from me. This is my moment, this is my championship and this is my time. The fact that I have the greatest prize in what we do in our industry, there’s nothing that means to me.”