When Iowa defensive lineman Ettore Ewen retired from the football team after the 2006 season, it caused little more than a murmur outside of local media. Ewen was a third-string tackle, plagued by knee injuries, and he was remaining at the school (graduating in '08) to finish his academic career.
Luckily, as the NCAA says, he went pro in something other than sports.
Ewen, now widely known as the wrestler "Big E," won the WWE's World Heavyweight Championship on September 13's episode of Monday Night Raw, capturing the belt over fellow extremely large human being Bobby Lashley.
This is Big E's first stint with the venerated title, having previously captured the WWE's Intercontinental Championship* twice and eight tag-team belts with his longtime team The New Day.
*For those curious, the Intercontinental belt is the most prestigious of the non-heavyweight belts, most analogous to a Big 12 football championship.
If you don't like professional wrestling, I don't think that video above is going to change your mind. In fact I'm a little surprised you've even made it this far. Hi, keep going, this is fun.
But something very worth watching for everyone (and somehow not televised) is Big E's post-match interview/celebration, so please take about five minutes from your day to watch him celebrate with his tag team partners and, as you'll see, real-life best friends Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods.
Now, okay, yes. Pro wrestling is scripted, and as such not a "sport." That's been widely accepted as fact, even by diehard fans, for about a quarter-century now, so you might as well spend the same breath arguing that CDs are better than tapes. We've got it, thank you.
But watch that video above again. That's all real emotion. They may be actors, but they're not that good. Indeed, it's not Nile Kinnick's untouchable Heisman address, but it's a tremendous display of selflessness and reverence all the same. Plus it gives us the term "meat shelf," and who can begrudge that, y'know?
Professional wrestling is undeniably physically demanding AND popular, a sort of combat ballet*. Staged allegories of conflict are as old as theater itself, and few dramatic roles in any field or genre are the subject of such intense competition as a WWE world heavyweight champion. To that end, Big E has become only the fourth Black person ever to hold the title, which dates back to 1963 and counts among its holders Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, John Cena and Hulk Hogan. This sort of thing matters.
*Ballet is absolutely not a term of derision here; if you know, you know.
You won't ever see a Tigerhawk on Big E's attire, just like Miami never got the U on The Rock, who gave up his starting role for a guy named Warren Sapp — wonder what happened with him — during his own college career as a defensive tackle. Collegiate licensing is what it is. But rest assured that Ewen remembers his days in Iowa City fondly, putting his charisma on full display in this wonderfully weird video that Panchero's assuredly did not ask him to make.
The title win is long overdue for Big E, and we're not just saying that because this is an Iowa Hawkeyes website (although we would absolutely say that). As mentioned earlier, the New Day is indisputably one of the best WWE tag teams ever: eight-time champions, the current holders of the longest Tag Team title reign in promotion history and thus mortal locks for the WWE Hall of Fame.
Moreover, Big E has the size, energy and charisma that exemplifies a heavyweight champion in the WWE, and since he's currently booked as a hero ("face") he's likely to successfully defend that title early and often on television. He has earned it.
The New Day tag team was not supposed to be good; if anything, it was a cynical life vest thrown to three stars with dimming statures in the company. The initial gospel gimmick the group was given only seemed to confirm worst fears that the WWE had nothing better to offer its trio of Black wrestlers but a dated racial trope that not even sponsors can make hay of. Championships make exaggerators of us all, but when Big E mentions in the clip above that his team struggled to get on television, if anything he's (graciously) underselling the situation.
They weren't booked "strong" or "weak" for viewers; they often weren't booked at all. It seems hard to believe now, but for months WWE struggled to use them until they embraced their inner Bugs Bunnies (Bugses Bunny?) and acted as highly personable semi-villains -- "heels," in wrestling terms. Once their genuine chemistry and physical gifts were on display, fans couldn't get enough, and the New Day — anchored by the sole heavyweight Big E — have been television gold as friends and teammates since 2014 as a result.
If you're not a pro wrestling fan, I'm not going to ask you to start watching wrestling television programming. It's weird, and it's usually bad. You kind of have to be indoctrinated in it as a child to still enjoy it today. Like Burger King, but television.
What I will ask you to do is just search for "Big E" or "New Day" on YouTube someday. Enjoy how entertaining and engaging they are for the fans -- even as they're channeling Frank Sinatra to (successfully) get a Brooklyn crowd riled up. Enjoy the fact that there's even a tangential relationship between Iowa football and this silly combat ballet.
Don't be surprised if Big E's connection to Iowa doesn't come up during one of Fox's numerous WWE promos during its Big Ten football broadcasts, though, despite the obvious crossover appeal. He rassles on the WWE program televised by an NBC Universal channel, while Fox owns the other main program, which has its own main title, and there's some acrimony about which side gets what there. I told you it was weird and usually bad.
But I do expect the University of Iowa to capitalize on this moment somehow, because this is a massive crossover success story to sell. To the best of our knowledge, Ewen is the first-ever former Hawkeye athlete of any sport to hoist the prized belt, and there would be few more welcome guest faces in the Hawkeye football locker room today than his. Heck, he can bring his good friend Mike Daniels with him.
Indeed, both Daniels and Ewen are banner representatives for the Kirk Ferentz school of success, where good things come to those who wait and work. He's done plenty of both, and today is a day worth celebrating for him and the program.