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AEW Champion Swerve Strickland talks history-making achievement ahead of wrestling promotion’s Forbidden Door event on Long Island

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As Swerve Strickland prepares for his greatest test as AEW champion against Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door inside of the UBS Arena on June 30, he is also in the process of carving out his legacy as the first Black world champion.
Photo by Dean Moses

As Swerve Strickland prepares for his greatest test as AEW champion against Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door inside of the UBS Arena on June 30, he is also in the process of carving out his legacy as the organization’s first Black world champion.

Meeting amNewYork Metro in Midtown for a candid interview while on a trip to the Big Apple, Strickland says he unapologetically speaks his mind regarding his ideas and where he could help take AEW in the future.

For Strickland, a part of that future includes continuing to lead the five-year-old company as the first Black world champ. While he shared that he has received some pushback for promoting this accomplishment, he believes it is important for people to have that representation.

As Swerve Strickland prepares for his greatest test as AEW champion against Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door inside of the UBS Arena on June 30, he is also in the process of carving out his legacy as the first Black world champion.Photo by Dean Moses

“There are a lot of people who want to be seen, there a lot of people who want to see representation and see people like themselves on screen,” Strickland noted. “People are so inside their own bubbles they don’t realize how important representation is.”

Strickland pointed to fellow AEW grappler Nyla Rose, the first openly transgender woman to sign with a major wrestling organization, as another imperative example of inspiration for others. He believes AEW serves as a flagship of representation that can help the company reach even greater heights, such as performing in even more stadium shows in the United States and around the world.

“A lot of wrestling markets haven’t really tapped into Africa, that would be great. South America, too. It’s really difficult. There are a lot of major challenges not just for AEW, for every wrestling promotion, but I think it’s possible,” Strickland said.

Looking up at the sun glinting off the surrounding skyscrapers through dark, gold-rimmed shades during his interview, Strickland reflected on the hardships he overcame through the years.

“I literally think back to being in a warehouse training and sweating like crazy in the summers. I think about the times of not many people seeing much in me, not really seeing me as a world champion… a headliner,” Strickland recalled. “I worked really hard on just trying to just change the perception of me. There’s a lot of drive, there’s a lot of sacrifice. It was a lot that went into just getting the opportunity to get to this and actually making it happen.”

As Swerve Strickland prepares for his greatest test as AEW champion against Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door inside of the UBS Arena on June 30, he is also in the process of carving out his legacy as the first Black world champion.Photo by Dean Moses

The AEW champion paid his dues in a slew of wrestling organizations over the years, including WWE, where many fans felt he was underutilized. After arriving in AEW, he said he noticed his hard work paying off and the fans rallying behind him.

The crowd’s reaction seemed to get louder and louder each week until last year’s All Out event at London’s Wembley Stadium, where fans boisterously got behind his motto, “Swerve’s house.”

Now the official face of AEW, Strickland also hosts the Swerve City podcast and is a musician. Despite having a finger in all these pies and having climbed to the top of the mountain after 15 years, he says he now has to stay at the top.

On June 30, Strickland will head to Forbidden Door at the UBS Arena to square off against Ospraey, one of professional wrestling’s hottest commodities in Will Ospreay.

Ospreay and Strickland have a long history of traveling the road together while making names for themselves all across the world, but now fans are left wondering who will come out on top in the main event.

“This is my first time being on the main card for Forbidden Door and I’m doing that as world champion and headlining it,” Strickland said, also delving into the parallels between him and his opponent. “We both complement each other, the goals we still want to accomplish, we still want something, we still want more — and we push each other to want to be better.”

As Swerve Strickland prepares for his greatest test as AEW champion against Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door inside of the UBS Arena on June 30, he is also in the process of carving out his legacy as the first Black world champion.Photo by Dean Moses

With the bout taking place at the UBS Arena in Long Island, Strickland also commented on what it is like performing in a big wrestling town like New York.

“They’re [the crowd] big on matchups. They want to see big matchups. They’re not going to give that energy to just anybody in the ring, they want to give it to the big matchups like myself and will Osprey,” Strickland said. “People are asking for big fight feels in AEW, we are giving it to you.

Tickets for Forbidden Door on June 30 can be purchased at Ticketmaster.