It took a while, but Bobby Lashley has finally reached the pinnacle.
Upon capturing his first WWE Championship on March 21, Lashley bookended one of the more unusual ascents to the top of the pro wrestling mountain.
When the Colorado native first stepped foot in front of the WWE Universe in 2005, it appeared as though it was a matter of when, not if, Lashley would hold major championship gold in WWE.
However, his championship pursuit never materialized.
Now after a journey that included leaving WWE, working in other pro wrestling promotions, and even competing in 17 mixed martial arts fights, Lashley has finally captured the top prize in the game — a possession many thought he should have attained long ago, including Lashley.
“In 2005, I thought I was going to win (the WWE Championship) in 2006, and in 2006 I thought I was going to win in 2007,” Lashley says, recalling his original run with WWE.
However, when Lashley returned to WWE in 2018, even with the benefit of broadened horizons, there were still intangibles to be learned.
“When I came back, there was one thing that I was told: ‘Loosen up, and have fun,’” Lashley tells Sportsnet.
The source of those instructions, meanwhile, came from the highest order on the chain of command, WWE Chairman of the Board Vince McMahon.
“And this is one thing that Vince told me,” recalls Lashley.
“Vince said; ‘Man, just have fun.’ He said, ‘If you’re having fun, they know you’re having fun. If they’re having fun, you’re having fun, then everybody’s having fun. And that’s what we need. So I’m going to put you in some things that are uncomfortable for you, because I need you to break out of this mold of (being) rigid.’”
And so Lashley, who was used to only hearing, “Let Bobby just go and start smashing people,” was indeed thrown into some very out-of-the-ordinary storylines, including one in which Lashley played somewhat of a homewrecker, breaking up a marriage between WWE Superstar Lana and former WWE Superstar Rusev.
“A lot of times people came to me, and when I (first came back), there was certain things that I had done, certain storylines that I was in, people were like, ‘What? That’s not Bobby, come on!”
But Lashley kept working, pushing through the “cringy things,” as he calls it, before finally reaching a point where he was entrusted as flagbearer of the company.
More important than representing the company, though, Lashley now holds the prestigious distinction of being just the third Black wrestler to hold the WWE Championship, joining Kofi Kingston and The Rock, even receiving a congratulatory message from the latter.
“When I first got (the championship), I didn’t sleep for the first two days,” remembers Lashley. “I don’t think it’s ever really going to just sink in because when you get yourself in that history book, it’s forever.”
Furthering the significance of his title win, Lashley tells Sportsnet he was ecstatic to share the news of his victory with his son.
“It’s cool for me to see, to have my son see, one of my favourite quotes: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ And he sees that,” said Lashley. “I hope that I can instil that in him so he can be great at whatever he plans to do.”
Lashley’s legacy as champion is still being written, and the 44-year-old has plans to carry the title well into the future.
In fact, Lashley says he’d love to carry the title for another calendar year before taking on one of two dream opponents at WrestleMania 38 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“There’s two guys that would be really cool and their names rhyme with ‘tock”’ laughs Lashley, referring to The Rock and Brock Lesnar.
Lashley admits that a dream matchup with The Rock may be a little farfetched, but a matchup against former WWE and UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar is a distinct possibility.
“That would be something that eventually needs to happen,” Lashley says, saying he’d love for a matchup at either WrestleMania 38 or WrestleMania 39 in 2023 in Los Angeles.
“You know, it would be cool because from the minute that I came to professional wrestling people have been comparing us.”
Lashley and Lesnar have both found success in MMA after wrestling, with both also enjoying a former life as successful amateur wrestlers.
Lashley continued: “Ultimately, I think we need to give the fans what they want. Dallas, and then the next year is Los Angeles. So either one of those WrestleManias. If we’re trying to put on some big, big matches, he needs to shine those boots back up. Let’s do it.”
If one of his dream matches doesn’t materialize, Lashley believes that the current WWE roster is stacked with potential WrestleMania main event talent.
“You have The Fiend, you have Randy (Orton), you have AJ (Styles), you have Drew (McIntyre), you have Sheamus, and then you have Elias, you have Braun (Strowman), and you could just keep going down the list, Keith Lee, and that’s just eight guys off the top of my head,” he said.
“I apologize if I forgot anybody, but there’s just so many other guys that are ready.
“It’s very competitive and I like it like that, because right now I got eight feuds that I could possibly have over the next year. Either one of those matches, depending on what this year (or) next year creates or what happens this next year, any one of those guys could be ready to main event WrestleMania, and hopefully I’m the guy that they main event WrestleMania against.”