Wrestling fans have had fun over the years ragging on Baron Corbin. But most of us admit that while we may not love the storylines WWE uses Corbin in, he’s a solid (and safe) performer whose made the most of gimmicks ranging from Lone Wolf to Bum Ass.
Last fall, after his run as Happy Corbin ended with a SummerSlam loss to his former NFL teammate Pat McAfee, WWE gave him a character he couldn’t make work. On paper, pairing Corbin with John Bradshaw Layfield after the Hall of Famer proclaimed him a fellow “Wrestling God” doesn’t sound any worse than anything else creative’s given given him before. In practice, the act never clicked and crowds were never interested.
It didn’t make for good television, and it was even worse for Corbin, As he told his friend Corey Graves on the latest After The Bell podcast:
“There was a sense of panic there for me, because everything I had done up until then had worked. I’d made things work. But I had one promo in my career, where I was in the ring, in the middle of it going, ‘There is nothing that is going to make this good. We’re not saving this.’ It was a segment with multiple people, and I felt the crowd just going, ‘Dude.’ Like, this is not good. And you feel it in your gut.
“Then, when we got to the end of the JBL stuff — we were trying to make it work. I just think there were a few things that went against us: opportunity, timing, a few other things. And you could feel it. I felt like I was in a movie, where they’re stuck out in the ocean just waiting to get eaten by sharks. I was drowning, in a sense. And that’s when we had the conversation, and it was like, ‘Okay, what do we do?’”
What they ended up doing was ending the partnership, taking both men off TV, and having Corbin head back to his roots in NXT. To hear Baron tell it, that move rescued him from that drowning feeling:
“That’s when this NXT opportunity came up and I was like ‘Hell yes! Let’s go, let’s go down there, and let’s do this.’ And it’s been a lot of fun because I got to come in the door and run with [NXT champion] Carmelo [Hayes] for a little bit. And we had that ‘Lone Wolf’ entrance, and that was special, man. You could feel the energy in the building when that music hit, and had the jean vest on, and it was a little nostalgia. Social media numbers were off the charts on that — it was just an entrance.
“Then we had one hell of a match. I mean, Melo’s a special competitor, and I think he’s going to have a bright career. But that was a match where I think it had been a while since I’ve gotten to just go. [Seth] Rollins & I have had some amazing matches, Roman [Reigns] & I, Braun [Strowman], Kurt [Angle] — I’ve had these long matches with guys who are extremely talented, Kevin Owens, Sami [Zayn].
“It had been a minute since I had that opportunity, and I think we tore it down. And I reignited a little fire in my gut that says, ‘I’m going to shove this down everybody’s face that doubted me over the last year’, or who said negative things in a sense — inside our world and outside our world. It’s an opportunity to go out there and go, ‘I can hang with the best there is. I can go with anybody. I can run 30 minutes with Seth, I can run 30 minutes Roman, I can run 30 minutes Melo down in NXT — it doesn’t matter. When that bell rings, I can go in the ring.’ So now it was getting that attitude to match the in-ring ability and the emotion. Because the emotion is back full throttle right now. It reignited something in my gut to ‘burn the ships.’ Let’s take this mother down.”
After losing to Hayes in the NXT Title match at Gold Rush, Corbin’s spent Tuesday nights on a quest to find his true self. We’ll see what’s next for him in NXT — and someday, we assume, back on the roster.
You can listed to Graves & Kevin Patrick’s entire chat with Corbin on After The Bell here.