SmackDown Live star Luke Harper seems to have a new lease on life since the Wyatt Family imploded weeks ago, and in back-to-back weeks he barely missed out on earning a shot at Bray Wyatt's WWE World Championship at WrestleMania.
One year ago, circumstances couldn't have been worse for Harper. Weeks before the biggest WrestleMania of all time, Harper suffered a devastating knee injury that knocked him out of action for six months, which robbed him of the chance to share the ring with The Rock and John Cena in Dallas.
With just a few weeks left until WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Harper talked to Fox Sports about breaking away from the Wyatt Family, his mysterious Twitter account, and the last time he was clean-shaven.
Fox Sports: What was your reaction to Randy Orton defeating AJ Styles to earn a spot in the WrestleMania main event?
Luke Harper: “Obviously it makes me bitter. Very, very bitter. I feel like I have a right to that spot also. I feel like Randy Orton gave up that spot - and he won it fair and square, but I don’t know if AJ Styles won it fair and square. Personally I’m very, very, very bitter about the situation.”
Fox Sports: What’s in store for Luke Harper at WrestleMania 33?
Luke Harper: “That I don’t know. I have a feeling I’m going to have to create my own opportunity again, like I just did the last six weeks, and take it into my own hands.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s a big plan for me, so I guess I’ll have to make one.”
Fox Sports: You’re in an exciting position now on SmackDown since breaking free of Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family. Is it frustrating being a part of a group, where you might not be able to show off your own personality or individual skill as much as you’d like?
Luke Harper: “It’s incredibly frustrating. There were times in my career when I felt like I was serving several different masters, and for me that wasn’t beneficial. It was to a point, but then I didn’t really realize what was out there until these last couple weeks.
The 2014 run was a bit of a tease. I was still… I guess not fully developed as a WWE superstar at that point, and I feel like I’m completely developed now. The last six or seven weeks away from the Family have been very eye-opening.
It was frustrating. Even to this day I’ll go to an airport and someone will say ‘hey Bray Wyatt!’ or ‘hey Erick Rowan!’ They don’t know who I am. And that’s very frustrating, because I’m part of a group.”
Fox Sports: A year ago, just a few weeks before WrestleMania 32, you suffered a knee injury that forced you out of action for months. What were you thinking and feeling at the time, so close to WrestleMania?
Luke Harper: “I’ll never forget the night. Late March, we were in Philadelphia of all places, one of the worst places on the planet Earth. A dark match after Monday Night Raw, the Wyatt Family - all four of us - versus… I don’t know who, I just know I was in the ring with Roman Reigns. I tagged in, threw one punch, my knee exploded, I tagged out and said ‘my leg is broke,’ and got very, very angry on the floor to the point where the doctor would not look me in the eye because he was afraid I was going to hit him.
From there, it was kind of a process of taking it all in and realizing ‘hey, everything is messed up, but you’ve really got to get back on track rather quickly.’
So I missed WrestleMania, and that was a killer to me, but the six months of home time and being with my family and rehab and recovery were really, I think, beneficial in making me who I am today.”
Fox Sports: When you’re rehabbing from an injury like that, is more of a physical challenge or a mental one, just dealing with not being where you want to be?
Luke Harper: “You know for me it was way more mental just because I’ve done the same injury to the other knee in 2011. I kind of knew what the recovery physically was - the pain, the work - all that I kind of knew what was coming.
The mental part of being in the position I was in now when it happened, as opposed to 2011 when I was just an independent wrestler… the position I was in now was staggeringly taken away from me. It was a smash to me. It took me a long time to recover from and figure out how to not be bitter and not be sad for myself and just keep moving forward.”
Fox Sports: There are a handful of other WWE stars who are out right now dealing with their own injuries - Zack Ryder from SmackDown, Seth Rollins. Is there any lesson that you learned from your own recovery or advice you’d give to those guys?
Luke Harper: “The one thing I realized when I was hurt was that not every person in the company gets one of those 24/7 documentaries. When I was down, I didn’t get one.
Zack Ryder’s probably not going to get one, so he should be prepared for that.”
Fox Sports: Where you find yourself now on SmackDown is kind of similar to the opportunity Braun Strowman had on Raw after breaking away from the Wyatts. What has been your reaction to what Strowman’s done on Raw?
Luke Harper: “Braun is the biggest human I’ve ever been in the ring with. I know Big Show will say otherwise, but I don’t know. The way he’s figured it out and the way he’s started moving a bit more and utilized his tools - which are size and strength - he’s been on his way and he’s done tremendously.
And that really hurts me to say, because I don’t really like him. So hopefully at some point down the line I’ll get back near him and have a few words with him."
Fox Sports: The SmackDown roster is usually working at a Live Event each Monday opposite Raw, but do you still try to catch up and keep tabs on what’s going on with the other brand?
Luke Harper: “It depends. If something big happens, we’ll all hear about it. Usually, like you said, we’re working. We do Monday house shows that start at 7:30 and don’t end until around 10:30, and then we have to drive, you know, 200 miles to the next town to make TV for Tuesday. So it’s difficult, and I have so much on my plate as it is with SmackDown, worrying about more people would put stress on us. And we’re doing so well, I think they should probably worry about us more than we should worry about them.”
Fox Sports: “Yeah, how much of a sense of rivalry is there in the locker room to be the better brand?”
Luke Harper: “I’m honestly worried about myself first. But it is kind of nice to see the ratings come up and know that we’re the B-show in their eyes, yet we’re killing it from top to bottom of the card. Everyone’s working hard, everyone’s on the same page - for the most part. And SmackDown’s putting on a hell of a product right now.”
Fox Sports: I have to ask you about your Twitter account, because you tweet the same thing each and every day: ‘You know what that means.’ What’s going on there and how did that start?
Luke Harper: “So today is Thursday, and if I was to say to you ‘you know what that means,’ what would you say?"
Fox Sports: “I’m not sure… that there’s 24 days until WrestleMania?”
Luke Harper: “OK, well there’s your answer. It means something very specific to me that people may never know, but when I write that and you say what you just said, you get yourself your answer. That’s what it means to you.”
Fox Sports: How tuned in are you to what fans are saying on Twitter? Do you try to tune it out?
Luke Harper: “I adore Twitter, mainly for hockey coverage, but also for some instant feedback when you do something cool. Basically, Twitter can be your best friend or your worst enemy, and I try to make it my best friend and take it for what it is. And like I said, it’s a wealth of knowledge and information, especially for hockey, so I adore Twitter.
I’ve had people say to me ‘how dare you have a Twitter,’ you know with my gimmick, I guess, and I just say ‘it’s 2017. It’d be hard to find someone in America who doesn’t have a phone that has Twitter capabilities. So as a WWE Superstar, I think it’s OK that I have a Twitter, people.”
Fox Sports: When was the last time you were clean-shaven?
Luke Harper: “That’s a great question. Ahh… I’m sure after you put this up some people will be quick to send you some very flattering pictures of myself from that era. I don’t know, man, probably… clean-shaven? Probably high school. I went to a Jesuit high school and had to wear a suit and tie everyday and shave. Good ‘ol McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester, New York. So I guess maybe 2000-ish?"
Fox Sports: Who do you think has the edge in the WrestleMania main event between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt?
Luke Harper: “I’m going to refuse to answer that question because I don’t really care, and I’m still very mad that they’re having that match. So I’ll decline to answer that.”