Whether you’ve started your daily vocal warm-ups in preparation to boo Roman Reigns out of the building or are simply confused by your old mate from school banging on about ‘justice for AJ’ on Facebook, chances are, you know it’s Wrestlemania this Sunday. WWE’s annual hallmark pay-per-view isn’t just by a distance the biggest event in professional wrestling (or ‘sports entertainment’, as they’ve attempted to rebrand it); it’s one of the single biggest media extravaganzas in the world.
Wrestling has long had a strong relationship with rock and metal culture, from heavy bands through the years soundtracking many of WWE’s flagship shows (Ghost, Baroness and Bring Me The Horizon are just a few names to offer songs for their NXT division in the past year), to UK company Progress branding themselves as ‘punk rock pro wrestling’ and featuring a predominantly metal-savvy crowd at their monthly events.
Plus, whichever way you cut it, wrestling has been stacked with metal-as-hell characters over the years, be it the likes of The Undertaker, Kane and Sting, who could all have walked straight out of a Behemoth video, or Hall Of Fame-level names like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chris Jericho and Triple H regularly repping rock and metal bands outside of the ring.
This crossover appeal reached its zenith in June last year when Metal Hammer awarded Triple H – a current force behind the scenes at WWE as well as in the ring – with the one-off Spirit Of Lemmy Award as a part of our Golden God celebrations. Presented by Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine live on stage at Download, with the NXT superstars watching from the wings, it felt like a natural peak to a connection between cultures that has run for decades.
Watching from sidestage with his NXT colleagues that day was a man who has since not only moved on to become a major force on WWE’s main roster, but has arguably become metal culture’s most faithful rep on the big stage.
“Going out to Download, that show was insane!” beams Baron Corbin of the whole experience today. “From top to bottom; the mud, the rain, NXT being a part of it all, it was one heck of an experience, that’s for sure.”
While many NXT stars onsite that day were experiencing rock culture close up for the first time, Baron is an old hand at our game. He spent his teenagers years watching the likes of Slipknot, Marilyn Manson and White Zombie at Ozzfest, and when he’s not bigging up bands like Korn, Nothing More and Zeal & Ardor on Twitter, he’s donning the threads of metal clothing mega-label Black Craft to the ring. He even has a signature move – Deep Six – in tribute to the Marilyn Manson song of the same, and last year he made international headlines for an ‘altercation’ with Corey Taylor at a festival in the US. With the Smackdown heavyweight repping metalheads around the world at Wrestlemania this Sunday, we caught up with Baron to talk wrasslin’, festivals and heavy freakin’ metal.
How did you get into metal?
“My dad was a rock ‘n’ roll guy; it’s what he loved, and he got me into that world. He got me into being a part of shows and wanting to go and experience them.”
You got your first taste of festival culture at Ozzfest. What was that like?
“When you go to shows like that, and you get to see bands like Ozzy and Manson and White Zombie and Slipknot and System Of A Down, it just tailors your lifestyle. That rock ‘n’ roll music, the emotion of it, it just moulds you. Watching those stacked lineups, those shows were insane. And a lot of those guys are still putting out great stuff! You see the evolution of those guys, and it continues to tailor me as a person.”
What are you listening to at the moment?
“I continue to love my old stuff – Manson and Slipknot and stuff like that – but right now, I think Ghost are unbelievable. Also, Gojira’s newest album is insane, the best stuff they’ve done. I’m loving that record. Also, Sevendust, Highly Suspect and Nothing More, all those dudes are killing it right now.”
Have you caught up with Corey Taylor recently?
“Haha! Yeah, we still throw stuff back and forth at each other. We’re both competitors in our world. I tease him about being old and that I grew up watching Slipknot at Ozzfest, and we argue about who does better at selling tickets in arenas. That’s great competition for me and him. He’s doing well; I talked to him the other day and they’re working on new stuff for Stone Sour, and that’s gonna be sick. He’s always on the move and doing great stuff.”
The fallout from that whole thing really opened people’s eyes to the crossover between metal and wrestling. Did you realise how big that story was gonna get?
“I had no idea how much that was gonna blow up. I grew up going to rock shows, and the lines of rock ‘n’ roll cross over with wrestling so much. Wrestling is an opportunity to go to a show, be a part of it and feel the emotions, from anger to frustration to sadness to pain – everything that music can make you feel.
So the crossover between audiences is unbelievable, and when the two industries collide, and you have one of their biggest guys in Corey, crashing into one of our biggest superstars, and he hits me in the teeth, it’s cool to see! And maybe it opens a few eyes for people that didn’t look at wrestling or didn’t look at that kind of music, and it helps us both.”
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Are you ready for Wrestlemania this Sunday?
“I’m ready to rock! I’m facing Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship, and hopefully I’m gonna win and start my own little Wrestlemania streak. The lead-up to Wrestlemania is always crazy, because you have all these guys fighting for an opportunity to be a part of the show, and get an opportunity to cement themselves in the Wrestlemania history books. It’s the culmination of your year, the biggest show for us. Last year, my Mania debut was my debut on the main roster, so it was unexpected. I didn’t have time to build up to it or anything like that. It was just, ‘Hey, here’s the fire, jump in’. But I went out, I won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale, and that launched me on the main roster and did a lot of great things for me. So Mania is a really good chance to go and show everyone who you are.”
You mentioned making a big impact in your Mania debut last year by winning one of the show’s biggest matches – how hard was it keeping that momentum going?
“I just knew it was an opportunity to project me to where I wanted to go. And it puts pressure on you to perform. I genuinely believe that every single day, you can either get better or you can get worse, and that was one hell of a place to have to get better from. Plus, performing under pressure is when I’m at my best. It’s what I do. I played football [Baron played at college level and was drafted in the NFL], I’m a professional wrestler, I like it when all eyes are on me. I love to be able to rub someone’s face in my own success when they tell me I can’t do something. That’s a little vindictive if you will, but I guess that’s why I’m good at what I do – pissing people off and beating up heroes, haha!”
Wrestlemania takes place this Sunday at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. You can stream it live on the WWE Network.