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WWE's Corey Graves: 'It's Been The Hardest Year Of My Life'

(CBSNY/CBS Local) -- When one door closes, another one opens. Such is the case for WWE announcer Corey Graves, who is no longer pulling double duty as part of both the Monday Night Raw and SmackDown announce crews. He remains part of the SmackDown announce crew that was trimmed from three to two commentators when the show jumped from Tuesday to Friday nights on a new network. However, his days of calling action on the Monday flagship show are over.

To fill the void, he is lending his voice to After The Bell, WWE's first official offering in the increasingly crowded podcast arena. On the surface, it may seem the new venture will afford him a less hectic schedule, but Graves says his calendar is actually growing more chaotic because of the new show, which will be taped on Tuesdays to best coincide with company's broadcast schedule or news cycle, as he calls it.

In the world of WWE, chaos is the norm and nothing new for Graves, who once had a promising future as a wrestler before injuries cut short his in-ring career. This week alone offers a glimpse of how maddening the life of anyone on the WWE payroll can be. The crew is embarking on a schedule so ambitious that it's even testing the limits for a company that prides itself in being the global leader of sports entertainment. Emphasis on global.

The insanity began for Graves last Thursday, and the carousel won't stop spinning for almost another week. The dizzying itinerary includes two round-trip flights halfway across the country, another round-trip flight halfway around the world, a number of hours-long drives, taping the first episode of the podcast, two live episodes of SmackDown and the Crown Jewel pay-per-view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

But the madness won't make him tap out of the wrestling life anytime soon. If anything, he may use After The Bell as an outlet to vent about such lunacies, since he vowed not to shy away from controversy, and the decision to schedule back-to-back live broadcasts 6,600 miles apart certainly raised more than a few eyebrows. When first approached about doing the show, Graves also made clear he would not sign on to the project if the expectation was that it would serve as a fluff piece for the company.

The podcast isn't the only thing new in his life. Following a separation from his longtime wife, the fashionable commentator and father of three began dating former WWE Women's Champion Carmella. Their budding romance was splashed across headlines following accusations from Graves' estranged wife that the popular female Superstar was to blame for the couple's split. The very public turbulence from February of this year is currently playing out on Total Divas, the popular reality show chronicling the lives of the female Superstars on the roster, which features Carmella.

I had an opportunity to catch up with Graves as he prepared to tape the inaugural edition of the podcast, before boarding a 12-hour-plus flight bound for Riyadh ahead of Thursday's Crown Jewel event.

>>READ: Latest from the world of Pro Wrestling

Over the last month, there have just been enormous changes in WWE. SmackDown has moved to a new network, and you and Michael Cole are no longer calling RAW. How has this month been for you?

It certainly is a whirlwind, and it's, in a way, refreshing, just that you get so caught in the grind. No matter what your job is in life, you get into a routine, you get into a schedule, and it's just on to the next. This,, weirdly enough, has kind of thrown my personal life upside down. I am a creature of habit, and I was used to flying out Sunday, working Monday, working Tuesday, flying on Wednesday, and then, X, Y, Z was very, very regimented.

Just this change in schedule, from now I travel on Thursdays, and work Fridays, and I come home Saturdays. Now there's a pay-per-view, and I've got this podcast to launch. I'm not any less busy. It's just really taken a toll on my schedule, but it's fun.

Are these the types of stories that you'll be discussing on the upcoming podcast?

If it's relevant, that's my goal. I'm not going to shy away from hot topics if there's something that is relevant. Am I going to argue about something that has nothing to do with WWE or people's opinions on things? Not unless it's relevant, but if it is and it involves another company or another show, absolutely. You know what I mean?

Seth Rollins has been having himself a time on Twitter recently. It's almost like people have turned on Seth Rollins. He's going to be one of my first guests on October 30th, and I want to be able to give him a platform to really speak his mind. Above all else, I want this podcast to be honest. Whether it be, "Hey, we like this thing, we don't like this thing." Yes, it's under the WWE banner. It's WWE's Flagship podcast. Which, sure, people have preconceived notions and go, "Oh, well, it's going to be sterile. It's going to be WWE fingerprints all over it."

I'm anxious to prove them wrong, because I think this company is behind me in showing, 'Okay. Hey, we have our way that we're going to do things, but we're not going to just stick our head in the dirt.' I really want to get honesty out of my guests. I want to be able to show a different side of myself as well as them, and I'm really excited for the potential of this.

>>READ: 19 Things You Didn't Know About WWE Star Seth Rollins

Sounds to me like you've kind of been given creative license there. Is that accurate?

Certainly to an extent, absolutely, I have. I remember when I first had the initial meetings, when they had pitched the idea of me hosting this podcast. The first thing I said was, "I'm not going to do a fluff piece. I don't want this to be, 'Oh hey, wasn't RAW great? Aren't you excited to see what happens with this story?'" No, we're beyond that. It's 2019, and the people that will listen to this podcast are educated enough. They're the hardcore of the hardcores. They're smart to a lot of the goings-on within the business.

But the thing is, they're not smart to all of the goings-on within the business, and I have access to kind of let them know things that they might not know. Rumors are rampant at all times about all aspects of the business, and people love and exist. Journalists, as they like to call themselves, oftentimes, just live off of rumors. To be able to say, "Hey, that's not true," or "Hey, yeah, you know what? That is what happened, but you didn't know this detail about it." To kind of really open up the eyes, because people want news, and it's inherent into this business, which has always been secretive to an extent.

I've heard in the past people don't have access to certain things, but that's by design. This is a tradition-based sort... a lot of secrecy within the business, and you have to earn your way into certain access. So I'm not necessarily going to blow the lid off the business. I'm not going to pull back the curtains and show everybody the inner workings of the machine. But I'm going to be able to give access to the Superstars and the talent that wants to. If they have something to speak on, or want to clear the air about something, or just have a chat about something that people might have a preconceived notion about them and prove that to be wrong.

You have quite a challenging schedule this week with a pay-per-view Thursday halfway around the world, then you have to be back in the States on Friday for SmackDown. How quick is that turnaround from the time Crown Jewel ends until you get on the flight back to the U.S.?

Saying it's a little bit daunting would be an understatement. We travel like nobody else on the planet, but I'm excited for it just to be able to tell the tale. I've told a few people what the schedule looks like already, people outside the business, and they go, "Oh my God, that's insane."

So, my personal schedule is as such: [last Saturday I flew] back from Kansas City to go home for about a day and a half. Monday, head to Stanford. We actually shoot the podcast on Monday this week, simply because of the pay-per-view and the travel schedule. So I do the podcast on Monday, get a car down to New York City, fly to St. Louis, spend about three hours in St. Louis, jump on the charter that then flies us all the way over to Riyadh, do the show, and then hop back and fly from Riyadh to Buffalo to do Friday SmackDown. I'm sure there will be ancillary things in between, but that's the best I can recall at the moment without looking at my itinerary.

We've seen a lot of you this year also on Total Divas, with Carmella being featured on there. How difficult has it been for you to emotionally relive everything that went down when you two first started seeing each other? It doesn't look like it would be been the easiest thing in the world.

No, it's been the hardest year of my life, I mean, on all aspects, just personally speaking. To be totally blunt, I have not watched a minute of it as it aired, just because I don't want to reopen old wounds and delve back into that. I know she watches it every week, and she interacts on social media during the episodes. She's told me there's been a few times where it's pretty hard. It's rough.

But, it's funny, in that I see a lot of the clips online on Twitter or Instagram or whatever, I get tagged in a lot of stuff, and it's funny to us now too. We were talking about it last night, just about how far we've come, and how it feels like a different lifetime ago. That was literally the beginning of our relationship that you're seeing there. I mean, that first date was legitimately the first date that I ever had to take her on.

So add into the fact that you're doing it with cameras in front of you, and it's already kind of a tumultuous situation to begin with, there's inaccuracies and assumptions running rampant all over the Internet. It was a hell of a time. Not something I want to relive, but we made it.

We saw a photographer crash that first date for you and somebody else off-camera yell, "Homewrecker." Were you still experiencing that negativity when cameras weren't around?

I'm telling you, man, it was awful. It was absolutely awful. Again, just based on a rumor and the less said about that whole thing, the better, but that was a real issue. I remember it was one of the first times that I came out during a live event and got booed vociferously before the show. I make my entrance usually, ordinarily -- not saying I would get like a huge, huge cheering reaction -- but I walked out there, and it was like I just canceled Christmas, man. I walked out... and the vitriol of the crowd was just raining down on me. It was unfamiliar.

But yeah, I think, if nothing else, it made us both stronger people individually and together. So, I'm happy it's in the past. So, hopefully, there's another season of Total Divas, and we actually get to see fun and show people what our life is actually like, which has been an absolute blast through the last couple months.


Tickets to next year's WrestleMania in Tampa go on sale November 15 at 10 am ET, with travel packages becoming available beginning November 5. The event is scheduled for April 5, 2020 at Raymond James Stadium.

The WWE Hall of Fame ceremony has been moved to the Thursday before WrestleMania due to SmackDown moving to Friday nights. So the schedule next year will be the Hall of Fame on Thursday, SmackDown on Friday, NXT Takeover on Saturday, WrestleMania on Sunday, and RAW on Monday.

All of the shows, with the exception of WrestleMania, will be held at Amalie Arena, while the fan-centric convention WrestleMania Axxess is being held at the Tampa Convention Center.

Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.

Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.

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