WWE superstar Sheamus says he is aiming to become the first ever Irish Grand Slam Champion.
The 42-year-old is back on SmackDown, where he looks to re-establish himself after the best part of 12 months recovering from injury.
And with WrestleMania 36 on the horizon, he has set his sights firmly on winning Sami Zayn's Intercontinental Championship, which would allow him to enter an exclusive club.
The Grand Slam is an accomplishment given to a wrestler able to win a combination of four specific titles, last revised by WWE in 2015.
Under the current format, this means winning either the WWE Championship or Universal Championship, either Raw or SmackDown's tag team titles, and both the Intercontinental and United States belts.
The Celtic Warrior, real name Stephen Farrelly, is a three-time WWE Champion, five-time tag team champion, and two-time U.S. Champion.
That means capturing the famous IC title is all that stands between him cementing his place in history alongside 21 other men, and joining an elite group including the likes of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and Daniel Bryan.
Opening up to Mirror Sport's Matty Paddock, the Dublin-born star also discussed how he feared his career might be over, why his tag team with Cesaro reached the end of the line, and the opponents he would love to face, including a longtime friend in his dream WrestleMania main event.
We have to start with your health and fitness after your injury and absence – how is everything in that respect and how are you feeling being back in the groove of things?
Personally, and physically, I feel great. I've never felt better, man. I'm training as often as I can, although this week has been a bit of a sidestep in training with so much media and travel, but it's probably good for my body to get a bit of a break. I feel great. In regard to WWE, since I got back, I don't feel as though I've really got going, but I am always ready to go. Always ready.
The enforced absence has kind of allowed you to re-establish yourself and, in the minds of some fans, maybe start from scratch a little, hasn't it?
Yeah, listen, I enjoyed doing the backstage promos, they were kind of edgy, but the only problem was that they were a bit vague in terms of what they were trying to describe, but I had fun doing them and trying to get a bit of intensity out of the character, because that was what got me here in the first place. When I was in The Bar I joked around a lot, you know? Me and Cesaro were always taking the p***! There's definitely a different mindset for Sheamus now, and the only thing he's focusing on is the Intercontinental Championship. That's his one motivation. The only thing I wish WWE would do is give me back my old music! Everyone has been asking for it, but the men in charge are telling me they don't ever remember hearing it!
Going back to your recovery; obviously it was difficult, but how did you cope in terms of a mindset? Because it was such a long absence, the better part of a year since you've been in the ring on television…
All I could do was to take it one day at a time and see where I was at. I had an idea on how I wanted to look physically, and to get in shape and stay in shape. The hardest part was getting back into the ring. I got back in with Dr Tom Prichard, who has a school in Knoxville, and was the one who originally trained me when I was in FCW. It was tough, man. That ring is stiff, but it's a good stiff because people come in and need to learn that it's not an easy business, it's very physical. They used to do this thing called Man in the Middle where you stand in the middle of the ring and there are guys in each corner, they come at you and you have to move with each one of them. It's kind of a ring cardio session that lasts 25 minutes and we used to do it all the time. So [in recovery] I said 'Doc, let's do Man in the Middle', and he'd look at me like I was insane! It was tough, but you have got to get your confidence back in the ring. You still get nervous going in the ring and get butterflies in the stomach, but now it’s business as usual.
Because you had to work so long and so hard, as positive as you were, was there ever a point when you questioned whether you wanted to come back?
Just before I got the concussion and went out, me and Cesaro were definitely trying to keep it together because The Bar had kind of run into a cul-de-sac, and it was frustrating. We'd lost at WrestleMania – and that was fine, you don't care about [losing] because it's about putting on the best possible show, but what was really frustrating was the Monday at Raw. They announced a champion versus champion match, and we were supposed to be off. Then we got this text saying we had to come to television. We'd both made plans to do stuff and had to go in, and were told that we'd be interrupting the match, and would be having a tag match.
The crowd just s*** all over it. It was the post-Mania crowd, they were amped up and wanted to see the champion versus champion match, and they felt cheated. We were fighting a losing battle with that all the way. It was tough. I felt at that point that we were swimming upstream and that everything we'd worked hard to create was being undone. SmackDown was the next night and I ended up getting a bad concussion.
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