Bill Morrissey grew up watching WrestleMania, and it slammed an impression into his malleable young mind.
How much so?
After graduating from New York University in 2009, he dropped his plan to go to medical school and instead enrolled in a wrestling academy. He trained first in his native New York, then in Florida, eventually adopting the name by which he is famous: Big Cass.
After successfully rising through the WWE’s developmental circuit, NXT, Cass and his tag team partner, Enzo Amore, are now at wrestling’s highest level. They’re part of WWE Raw and will be wresting here March 10 in the "Road to WrestleMania" event at KeyBank Center.
Cass, 30, spoke by phone from Allstate Arena in Illinois before a "Monday Night Raw" event. He spoke about his preparations for WrestleMania 33, which takes place April 2 in Orlando, and about his training, how he measures success, the characteristics of Buffalo crowds and – he struggled with this one – his insecurities.
[RELATED: What makes pro wrestling so popular?]
Question: What WrestleMania moment sticks out to you as a fan?
Answer: WrestleMania 13, when Bret Hart had the Sharpshooter on Stone Cold Steve Austin, and he was bleeding and passed out while in the Sharpshooter and didn’t give up. That’s something I always remember.
Q: Will you go about preparing for WrestleMania any differently than other matches?
A: I don’t think you prepare any different, but I think the nerves definitely are going to be different. There will be a lot more nerves. A lot more excitement, too.
Q: Do you feel nerves much?
A: Every time before you go through the curtain there are definitely nerves. Those are good nerves — an excitement, a nervous energy you can harness and use. The second you walk through the curtain, they’re gone. It’s just energy, man. You can see it on my face when I walk out there, pound my chest and step on the ramp.
Q: What are the criteria you use to measure your success? Obviously wins and titles are tangible. What else?
A: The reaction you get when you walk out in front of the fans. That’s how you can tell if you’re doing a good job. If people are cheering you, reacting to the things you’re doing, reacting to the things you’re saying, I’d say you’re doing a good job.
As far as titles, yeah, me and Enzo for sure would love to win the Raw Tag Team Championship. That’s definitely a goal of ours, and it would definitely validate our journey through NXT to WWE.
Q: I know you trained with Dusty Rhodes in Florida. What did you learn from him about working a crowd?
A: Man, he taught me so many lessons. I was under his tutelage for three to four years. A big thing is knowing your audience. Knowing who’s out there, what your audience is, what they’re going to react to. Specific towns; what kind of crowds you’re going to get in different towns. Crowds are different from Philadelphia to New York, then you go to Chicago and then Buffalo or somewhere in California. The crowds are always going to be different…
And just being yourself. You turn the dial up on who you are, but people are going to see through you if you’re not giving them an organic performance. You just have to be you, and you have to turn the dial up. You can’t be somebody else. You can’t play a part.
Q: What’s a Buffalo crowd like?
A: Buffalo crowds are very similar to a New York-New Jersey crowd. They’re very passionate, very loud. They definitely let you know how they feel. They’re honest.
Q: What did you not realize about WWE until you were in it?
A: That’s a good question. I think the travel. You definitely know about it, but it’s hard to prepare for it until you’re actually doing it.
Q: You come across as tough and heroic and strong — a lot of great qualities. But beneath that, do you have insecurities?
A: That’s a very tough question. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say so. (Pause.) Nothing comes to mind, man. That’s a really tough question. I’d have to say no. Maybe just the nerves I talked about… That’s the only thing that comes to mind right now.
WWE Live: Road to WrestleMania
When: 7:30 p.m. March 10 at KeyBank Center, 1 Seymour H Knox III Plaza
Matches (subject to change):
Six-man tag team event of Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and Finn Balor vs. Triple H, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe
Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Rusev and Jinder Mahal
RAW Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match: New Day vs. Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Gallows and Anderson
WWE Raw Women’s Championship Match of Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
Info: 888-223-6000, or tickets.com