Just a few weeks after the biggest victory of his career at WrestleMania 33, Mojo Rawley spoke to Fox Sports about Zack Ryder's heartbreaking injury and recovery, his best friend Rob Gronkowski's WWE potential, and SmackDown's new roster.
You can watch Mojo Rawley on SmackDown every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network.
Fox Sports: It's been a crazy few months for you. Back in December, the Hype Bros became No. 1 contenders, but Zack Ryder suffered an injury at the end of the match that derailed your run. Do you remember what you were thinking and feeling that night?
Mojo Rawley: “That was a big night for us, because Zack and I had kind of had an unconventional route to the main roster. a lot of teams, they either get called up together or they’re formed when they’re already on Raw or SmackDown, but not often has there been a team where one guy was currently in NXT and one guy was up on the main roster. So right away, we kind of had a disadvantage from the start - never really getting to see each other, being booked separately and whatnot.
You fast forward through a year or so of hard work, of trying to make this team work, but never having it be easy or convenient for us to. We’re stringing together a bunch of wins, but there hadn’t been any really career-defining wins. And now we come to Washington D.C., my hometown, where I was born and raised five minutes from the arena. And we have this No. 1 contender’s battle royal. It was a pretty crazy match, in the end we ended up winning - and I didn’t know that Zack got hurt on the last move of the match."
Mojo Rawley on Zack Ryder’s injury:
"I came flying out to celebrate with him, and I kind of like bear-hugged him and dove on him, and I saw the look on his face afterwards and I was like ‘man, I think something bad just happened. Something’s off here.’
He was in a tremendous amount of pain, and I don’t want to get graphic or anything, but sitting there with him… he was a mess.And the docs come out and they pulled his kneepad down, his knee cover, and his kneecap was off to the side of his leg. The second I saw that I was just like ‘oh no.’ I didn’t think anything about the future at that moment, I was just hoping my buddy would be alright. We carried him to the back and he sat there in the trainer’s room and he was just in so much pain. He had a patella rupture. I know a lot about knee injuries, but I don’t know much about the patella, so there’s so much doubt and uncertainty associated with it.
It was crazy, man. Yeah, we just became No. 1 contenders and yeah I knew he was probably going to be out for a while, but I just wanted to focus on making sure my friend was going to be alright. Because he had been so good to me, coming back to NXT to try and make this team work. Spending his off days on the road coming back. The guy was… he had no life the entire time as a team. He had to take care of both his Raw and SmackDown commitments in addition to NXT. Absolutely brutal.
So to kind of get chopped down right at the height of our tag team, the biggest moment of our team’s career was just really unfortunate."
Fox Sports: You tweeted that you worked out with Zack recently? How much have you been able to keep in touch and how is he doing?
Mojo Rawley: “Well Zack and I live in the same city, now, so I get to see him a lot more than I normally would have. When guys are injured, they have the option to go rehab wherever they really want to. Being in Orlando is convenient because the WWE Performance Center’s there. I’ve seen Zack in rehab before, you know, we were just kind of joking around and having a little fun with the fact that we were both in the weight room at the same time.
Granted, we’re doing completely different workouts, and he was still focusing on his rehab as opposed to me going through one of my typical workouts. It was just good to see him in there and kind of be back on the grind and get in the gym together, one way or another. It’s good to see the progress he’s made, and he’s getting close to coming back. I can’t wait for that to happen.”
Fox Sports: Just a few months later, you won at WrestleMania 33. You’ve seen what Baron Corbin has gone on to do on SmackDown after winning in 2016, so what is the Andre going to mean for Mojo Rawley?
Mojo Rawley: “I look at it as a springboard. I look at it as a jump-start. I plan on having a really good year. I’ve been working really hard in this business for a very long time and I’ve had my share of ups and downs - and to be honest, most of them have been downs.
It’s a motivation point. I don’t want to focus on one big win, you’ve got to use that as a springboard to the next thing. And, you know, the pressure’s on now. I had that awesome opportunity and I had that big win, so it’s going to be one of those situations where all eyes are on me now, and it’s going to be my moment to either seize or let slip through my fingers. And I plan on working as hard as I possibly can to make the most out of this opportunity and do my part in adding to the prestige of that trophy, of that honor.”
Fox Sports: Now that you’ve had a couple weeks for it to sink in, when you think back to WrestleMania weekend now, what is the first image that pops in your mind?
Mojo Rawley: “Honestly, man, the first thing that pops into my mind is just coming down that ramp. I’m the hype guy, I’m the high-energy guy. I’m flying around, I’m running, I’m screaming, I’m hootin’ and hollering… it’s very easy, as that guy, to kind of let the moment pass you by. There’s no time in my matches where I can just kind of stop, set my two feet in the ground and just look around and take it all in. It’s not really my style.
But you know, when we’re coming out at WrestleMania and we have an 80-yard ramp coming out of the sky, essentially. The ramp came out of like the upper concourse, it was insane. And we all came out together, all 33 of us, walking down the ramp. It was so long that you really did have that moment to just look around and appreciate what you were about to get yourself into, appreciate the magnitude of the spectacle, take it all in.
Seeing people from all over the world, with every country represented, and [to] see the size of the stadium and the ring looking like a dot on the horizon somewhere was just unreal. It motivates you and inspires you even more. Gives you that extra energy boost, that extra hype to go out there and really do your thing. That’s probably, when I think back to it, that was it - because once that bell rang, it was chaos. There were bodies everywhere, punches and kicks flying. And especially with the way the match ended, I was kind of in shock. You can’t believe it, you’re so excited but you’re also so grateful. There’s so many emotions running into your mind, and then couple that with the fact that I have my friends and my family there. My best friend Rob Gronk is now in the ring with me. It all just happened so fast.”
Fox Sports: How long did you allow yourself to celebrate before you got back to the grind of the normal WWE lifestyle?
Mojo Rawley: “I probably watched that Battle Royal a dozen times that night. Afterwards we’re filming videos and doing interviews. The grind never stops for me. That night, late at night, I had an opportunity for a few hours to go out with friends and family and get something to eat and dance the night away a little bit. Have a little bit of fun. I didn’t sleep that night. I was in bed, couldn’t sleep. I think after an hour I just gave up on it and I worked out, and I did what I normally do.
I think it’s important when you have opportunities, when you have achievements like that, that you don’t want it to get the best of you, [to] take too much time off…. For me, the grind never stops. That’s always been my thing That’s what Stay Hyped is all about, is ‘I can go when others can’t, I won’t tap out when others will.’ It’s kind of just living my mantra.”
Fox Sports: The other big story from the Battle Royal was Rob Gronkowski laying out Jinder Mahal. If you put yourself in Triple H’s shoes for a second, how would you evaluate Gronk’s potential as a WWE star?
Mojo Rawley: “Well let’s call him a blue chipper, baby. The guy’s done his homework. That’s my best friend and he’s been supporting me, coming to the shows since we were down in FCW in Tampa and there were seven people in the arena and my buddies were like five of them.
He’s done his homework, he’s been to these matches. He’s progressed through the ranks, he’s very familiar with the process works. He’s very familiar with the lifestyle because he’s been there every step of the way with me as a fan.
And to have him be able to get in the ring and deliver a big shoulder tackle and be front row at a lot of these shows… the guys all cued up. Not to mention all the fun that we have outside of both of our jobs. Practicing moves on each other and watching it together and having a blast. The guy’s cued up for a career, man. You look at everything he’s done with his life outside of the gridiron, he’s got WWE superstar written all over him.”
Fox Sports: The SmackDown roster just went through some big changes, and you tweeted at the time that you lost a few close friends to Raw. What was your reaction to the shakeup and has the vibe in the SmackDown locker room changed since WrestleMania?
Mojo Rawley: “Well, number one, it’s a completely different locker room. We didn’t know what was going to happen with the superstar shakeup. We didn’t have a clue. For some reason - I don’t know why I got this impression - but I just thought it was going to be like a few trades. Two, three, four, maybe five. But I want to say it was like 11.
So I’m sitting there and I’m watching Raw and I’m flipping out. ‘Oh crap I just lost another friend, oh man there goes my riding partner, there goes my gym buddy, there goes my spotter. This is a nightmare! This is brutal right now.’
We also got some great guys from Raw as well. Things kind of smoothed out a little bit and came back to reality, but yeah, it’s a completely different locker room now.
All it takes is one guy to change a locker room. To change the complexity or nature of an atmosphere. They said it the best, it was a shakeup. So only time will tell to see if it’s better, if it’s worse, if it’s more enjoyable, if it’s more difficult. Only time will tell, but it’s definitely exciting.”