WWE Raw World Tour. $15-$95, doors 4 p.m., Oct. 21. XL Center, One Civic Center Plaza, Hartford, xlcenter.com
Q: I know only a little bit about your childhood: You grew up in and out of foster homes, and you have a brother, too. Can you take me on a quick narrative through your early life?
A: Well, let's see. My mom was 15 when she had me and my brother a year and a half after that. Dad wasn't around too long, and there's not a whole lot of opportunities for an 18-year-old with two kids, so she had to make some tough decisions and do what's best for her. Me and my brother went and stayed with different families, and at first, it wasn't a good fit. I was an aggressive little dude. [There were] a lot of issues with the fact that me and my brother were biracial so they didn't really know where to put us at a time when everyone was not as sensitive to things as they are today. It was tough going at times — a lot of ups and downs — but the good news is me and my brother always managed to stay together, which was very important to me. Him and I are really close to this day.
Eventually, my mother got a nursing degree, got her stuff together and moved to California. We went out there with her and were there for a while. Around 15, I decided I was going to go out on my own and I did [to] play football, basketball. Got myself through high school, got myself through college. One of the constants that was there, though, was I was always a huge wrestling fan and watched it almost uncomfortably religiously.
Q: You've talked before about Saddle Ranch, a restaurant in Los Angeles, where important stories involving Snoop Dogg and former WWE wrestler Tommy Dreamer took place. Were you working security or just happened to be there?
A: I was a bodyguard for the owner of the establishment. It used to be pretty crazy nights at the Universal location — 13, 1400 people. Girls dance on the stage. Pretty much everybody when they came to LA usually wanted to find out where Saddle Ranch was at — celebrities and stuff.
Snoop's people saw me there and offered me a job. Fortunately, Tommy Dreamer observed me breaking up a fight and doing it very Funkasaurus-like. I'm not gonna tease ya — they weren't big guys so it wasn't like feats of incredible human strength or an awesome karate fight scene from a movie. They were about as big as my leg, and I picked 'em up like suitcases and carried 'em out, but I made jokes while I did it. [Tommy] told me I should do that on TV, which I thought was hilarious. I had already tried a few times to get into wrestling and it didn't really work out. It was kind of funny — I had all but given up. I was bodyguarding. At the same time, I was working with kids during the day. I worked at Five Acres, where I was a recreation therapist during the day. I worked with 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds on motor development, trying to teach 'em how to be kids again.
Q: Your ring name, Brodus Clay, is a take-off on Snoop's real name of Calvin Cordozar Broadus, right?
A: That was one of the deals when I asked if I could go back. He'd always known I wasn't happy bodyguarding, and that's why he always gave me other stuff to do. I coached his youth football team with him, did a lot of stuff with the family. He kept me busy. [Bodyguarding is] a great career, but my head was always in the clouds a little bit. When I asked him if I could go back when [WWE] asked me to come back [after being released once], he was like, 'Yeah.' Before, I was G-Rilla. I was like, 'Well, I'll change my name.' Originally, it was Brodus Pryor. Then, the American Dream told me to pick something else, and I picked Clay after Cassius Clay and Brodus is, y'know, Calvin Broadus. It was kind of a tribute to him.
He gave me a really good speech about 'You've got to follow your path and it doesn't have to do with me or anybody else,' so he was real cool like that. A lot of guys aren't always cool like that, but Snoop was cool. He was like, 'You've got to do what's best for you, not what's best for me.' A lot of employers don't say that.
Q: Where does your interest in wrestling stem from in the first place?
A: Honestly, it was the gear, the presence [of] the Wild Samoans, King Kong Bundy, Big John Studd, André [the Giant]. It was being in the center of the room like gladiators. I just thought that was awesome. Everybody's watching you and cheering and booing, and you're fighting. The wonderful thing about wrestling is they got to come back each week and fight. [With] boxing, you had to wait five or six months 'til you got a fight again. In football, you got to go 16 times a year. But [wrestlers] came back every week and to me, that was just great.
Q: There was a period in late 2011 where they frequently referenced your impending arrival, but it kept getting delayed. Was it a situation where the delay was planned or your future was in possible jeopardy?
A: My future? No, I don't think so.
[Chris] Jericho's imminent return was coming, Kane's return was coming, The Rock was coming. There were so many other things going on. In the meantime, there were these two personas that I have that are very much who I am. I'm literally split down the middle. I can either be the funniest guy in the room and life of the party, but I also can be the most uncomfortable-looking dude in the room at the same time. [With] the two personas I have, [the creative team] were really just trying to figure out, 'Which one should he show the world?' I'm glad [for] the wisdom that I didn't necessarily understand at the time. Looking back, it was the right decision.
Q: Did you come up with the Funkasaurus idea or did somebody else pitch it to you?
A: Actually, the original nickname that I was told — it scared me to death — was Heavy G. I think the last thing you want to be known as is Heavy anything. No offense to Heavy D — rest his soul. Worked for him, wasn't really my bag. Rob MacIntyre, who I trained with, was a big reason behind me dropping me a hundred and 50 pounds. Him and I were lifting weights and making jokes, trying to figure out better names. First it was the Funk Monster and then Funk Nasty. Then, he looked at me and [said], 'Funkasaurus' and started laughing, and he pitched it.
The writer was like, 'I'll get ready [your] debut. What are we going to call you?' I was like, 'I don't want to be Heavy G.' He was like, 'Look, man, I've got like 12 other things to do. Just call yourself whatever you want to call yourself' so I told the announcer to call me the Funkasaurus. He looked at me like I was crazy. I'm like, 'I don't know why I want to be the Funkasaurus.' So I got lucky that the swamped writer had other things going on. Luckily, it stuck.
Q: What about your outfit? You have the funk idea going on, but when I see you, I think about '80s hip-hop. You really look like the fourth member of Run-D.M.C. Where did the look come from?
A: The look came from my days as a little kid. I never got that outfit, I never could afford that stuff. When I thought of hip-hop or whatever, I wanted something that had been done and I wanted to bring back something that people would [make people say], 'Aw, man, I remember that' because when that look was out, most people couldn't afford it or their parents wouldn't let 'em dress that way. I always wear hats. If you see me without a hat on, I'm either asleep or in the shower.
I wanted to be different, but at the same time, I'm still traditional, so I stay in — like the guys before me — the old-school singlet. There was talk of wearing shorts and a cut-off sleeve shirt or something like that, but it was important to me to represent the guys before me: André the Giant, King Kong Bundy, Big John Studd, One Man Gang, Bam Bam Bigelow. I thought it was important to still be cool, new and hip, but at the same time, when the bell rang, be what I wanted to be — what brought me to the dance. I'm like an onion with a lot of layers.
Q: Take me back to the night that you debuted the Funkasaurus in January. What was your mindset like? How much of it was laid out?
A: The week before I was gonna debut, Road Dogg, who has been a huge help and influence, said to me 'cause we were in Memphis, 'We've got to debut tonight. It's gotta be tonight. We can't do this in Corpus Christi. They're gonna boo you out of the building. They're gonna hate it.' Time constraints, whatever [happened so] it got cut. [Later,] he comes up to me and he's like, 'Corpus Christi is exactly where this needs to happen.' I had that going in my mindset and started thinking, 'Nah, it's not going to happen again.' Then, I saw a vignette with my name with a disco ball on the door, and my brother texted me and said, 'Why is there a disco ball with your name on it?' I didn't return his text 'til afterwards.
I was in Gorilla [position by the entrance ramp] and I was like, 'Finally, finally' since I was chomping at the bit. Got a chance to go out there and could have dropped a pin. Fans were kind of shocked. There was one fan in particular who was dressed up like evil Brodus Clay, and he yelled at me, 'You suck, Brodus Clay' [with] a really sad face. I yelled back at him, 'My bad.' It wasn't for him, I wouldn't have gotten 'My bad.' Everybody laughed and killed the tension, so it was cool.
Q: How do you think the chances were that you could sink or swim in that role? Was it 50-50 or do you think you would have made good with it no matter what?
A: Honestly, as much as I thought the Funksaurus was great, to bring the interactive part was a huge risk. [The fans] could have been like 'No.' When The Rock first came out when he was Rocky Maivia and babyface, the fans didn't buy it that way, which was good because maybe that [made] his real personality come out. When you look at it, I didn't know [the outcome], but I knew that I was going to give a hundred percent and own it, and it's a part of my personality. When you're true to yourself, fans tend to see what's truly somebody and what truly isn't.
Q: How far do you think you can move up the card? For guys who have real characters as opposed to being guys who go out there and do a few moves, sometimes it really works out. The Undertaker is a good example, building his character for 20 years. But there are many guys on the lower end of the card — Flash Funk, for example — who never had a chance to go up to some degree because of their characters. Is that ever a concern in your mind?
A: I think the sky's the limit. A good measuring stick was the interactions I had with Big Show, who is arguably the greatest big man left in wrestling. The first time I knocked him down, that crowd went nuts, or when I was with Alberto Del Rio and I got a chance to do battle with Edge. There's been opportunities where I've had measuring sticks to feel it, so I think with the Funkasaurus, when the time is right and the right opponent and right place, I think it can definitely happen. It's the work. You can't be satisfied, you can't think you've made it. You've gotta reinvent yourself, you've gotta go back to where you started. When I'm not on the road, I go see Bill DeMott and train. I still live in Tampa, where I'm close to the training facility.
You can't ever stop working. I understood that you just can't have a day off. If you start taking days off, you start losing steps or you'll get to a certain point and you won't just go any further. Some of it's luck, but I believe my life has dictated that hard work always pays off. When I do the work, then I should be able to get there. If I don't do the work, then I won't get there, but it'll be nobody's fault but my own.
Q: We've discussed your childhood and career, but I don't know your hobbies and interests nowadays. What are your tastes like?
A: I'm a huge movie buff — more the older stuff. I'm a Star Wars geek. If it's sci-fi, I'm all over it. Huge Aliens fan, love Prometheus. I love my Xbox. I like to work out. I love my fish tank and hanging out. As far as music goes, I guess West Coast rap would have to be my main thing, but I listen to everything from country to '80s. Love to work out to the Rocky soundtrack — most of the Clubber Lang songs. My favorite bad guy of all time was Clubber Lang because he never turned. Even when he was coming to [after being knocked out], he was angry, and he stayed humble. This guy is the number one contender for the heavyweight boxing championship and he's still living in an apartment. He stayed committed to being the bad guy when he offered Stallone's wife an evening at his apartment.
Q: I'm always curious about who travels together. I spoke to Daniel Bryan a few months ago, and he told me that he travels with Cody Rhodes and Ryback and told me good stories about them crushing apples together.
A: [Do you know who is connected to] the crushing apples story?
A: Me! Because Ryback couldn't crush the apple at first. He was trying to figure it out and Big Show was trying to figure it out. I walked by and I was like, 'What are you guys doing?' They were explaining to me how crushing apples is some kind of strength thing, so I was like 'Let me see if I can do it' and I destroyed it. Ryback ran up to me later on and he goes, 'How dare you hide that power from me?' It was like something out of Star Wars. I just went, 'I'm sorry. I didn't know apples was a big deal,' and then Ryback being Ryback, he's one of those guys that when he's on somethin', he's insane [with] his workouts. He is crushing two apples at a time now, and he's just vicious.
I travel with Santino [Marella] and Alex Riley.
Q: What kind of mischief do you get up to together? Do you have any particularly good stories?
A: [With] just driving with Santino and the comments that he makes and just who he is, it's never dull. Alex Riley is a huge movie buff. He's always quoting movies, which is good for me because I'm the same way. We were dead tired in Europe one time and I could barely stand up. I was waiting for my bags and I was so irritated because I was in a coach flight for, like, 14 hours. I'm just standing there and it's so quiet. You can just feel the tension. A-Ry's staring at me and my bag's not coming, my bag's not coming. The baggage guy didn't speak any English and looked at me and kind of walked away. I was getting upset. A-Ry looks at me and goes, 'Brodus, if somebody asks you if you're a god, you say yes.' I looked at him and I just started laughing because I was like, 'Ghostbusters.' After that, it didn't matter what was going wrong; it can't be as bad as a demi-god blowing you out of a building for failure to tell her that you're actually a god.
Santino's always saying the weirdest things. Instead of saying 'Excellent,' he says 'Excrement.' He's a hilarious guy. He's an old man, too. He always wants the AC turned down. 'Turn the radio down please a little bit.' It's like driving with your grandmother. 'We're going to train from 12 o'clock to 1:45, and then from 1:45, we'll drive to the building. We'll arrive at the building at 5:15 and we'll stretch and get changed.' I'm just like, 'OK, grandpa.' If you miss one thing, he'll remind you.
A schedule is very important to him. If he opens up his wallet, it's the most organized thing you've ever seen in your life. Color-coordinated credit cards, bank cards, everything matches. It's ridiculous.