When Bobby Lashley first entered WWE in 2005, he was viewed by many as the type of can't-miss star who would spend years -- if not decades -- dominating weekly television while holding multiple world championships. Instead, Lashley peaked at reigning as ECW champion and taking part in the WrestleMania 23 angle involving Donald Trump and Vince McMahon before an injury in 2007 and a release in early 2008.
Lashley would spend a decade building himself back up, finally striking the right chords with fans during a well-received stint with Impact Wrestling before returning to WWE in 2018. In what felt like a rehash of issues from his first run, Lashley's second chance in WWE started with some storyline stumbles. After those early issues, however, Lashley started to piece things together in 2020 and now is on the verge of capturing his first world championship as he faces The Miz for the WWE championship in the main event of Raw on Monday night.
The recent run of success, Lashley told CBS Sports, comes down to finding his confidence more than a decade and a half after debuting in WWE.
"Confidence is everything," Lashley said. "Everyone sees the confidence when I step in the ring. That's one thing as a performer in WWE that you kind of battle with. When you first come in, you want to make your presence known and you want to get the acceptance. There's all kinds of mind battles that you go through. But since I've been back, I've got to the point where everything I do, I enjoy. The bad storylines I enjoy as much as the good storylines. Right now, though? I feel more confident than ever. I feel like nothing can stop me, and I feel that I'm in the greatest position in the greatest point in my life. Physically, mentally and with the team that I have with MVP, Cedric and Shelton, I feel like everything is rocking in the right direction. Everything is in line for me, and this is just a great point in life for me."
Lashley's early stumbles in his return largely came from odd storyline and character choices. From being paired with Lio Rush, who served as Lashley's hype man, to an angle surrounding him stealing Lana from Rusev. The Lana angle culminated in a wedding ceremony on Raw that completely missed the mark in its attempts at humor and was arguably the straw that broke the camel's back on a storyline that had largely been seen as a failure from the jump.
Part of Lashley's development as a performer, he said, came from learning to not care about the bad moments, blocking out criticism and finding a way to laugh at himself when appropriate.
"I think at the beginning when I came back, there were a lot of things I had to go through," Lashley said. "There was that time when people would have broken and walked off and bitched and complained. But I stood in there. Once you had those ups and downs -- and I had a real low down for a point in my career -- you know you're going to bounce back. The confidence part is that I don't care. I stopped caring. A lot of times people care about every little thing. They sit there and read Twitter and want to fight everybody on Twitter and fight people who put negative comments under their stuff, and they always want to battle these battles that they don't need to. For me, I don't fight them. I don't care.
"How I look at it is if I do something that is totally embarrassing on TV and people are joking and laughing, I'm going to joke and laugh too. There's things I've done on TV where I sit back, and if people are clowning me because of it, I would clown me too. That's what it is. I don't care. It's entertainment. If you can't have fun with this, you're in the wrong business. If you can't not take yourself seriously? You're in the wrong business. I don't care about anything right now. I'm in a good point in my life where I am happy, I am healthy and I'm going to have a big smile on my face and keep moving forward."
The Miz captured the WWE championship at Elimination Chamber, cashing in his Money in the Bank contract on Drew McIntyre after the former champion defended his title inside the Chamber -- and after a post-match attack by Lashley. In return for the attack to finish softening up McIntyre, Miz had promised Lashley a shot at the title. After trying to avoid following through on the bargain, Miz has been forced into making the defense.
While Lashley is ready to smash Miz in their storyline, the reality is both men are very similar, having had to push through fan rejection, character missteps and other challenges to forge a path to success in the wrestling business.
"You cannot deny the guy," Lashley said. "If you have criticism of The Miz? You're jealous. I remember talking to Miz 16 years ago, and he was having to be in broom closets, having his stuff kicked out of locker rooms and stuff like that. A lot of people would have walked away then. But he didn't. I don't know how many years he's been in the business, but all this time later and he's still on top? That's perseverance. That's stronger than anything else. If anybody has any criticism against Miz? That's jealousy."
With WrestleMania around the corner, Lashley has the opportunity to grab the world championship and head into the most high-profile event in wrestling as world champion. After entering WWE in 2008 with the hype of being "the next Brock Lesnar," it's a chance to finally live up to the potential from all those years ago.
"It means everything. Everything," Lashley said. "That's the top of the food chain. Everybody wants that validation and to know that the work they're putting in is justified. That world title is the biggest indicator of that. From the time that I came into the business, people were like, 'Holy cow. That guy has something.' It was like I had myself right there at the top to where I was almost ready to grab it. There were always those times. I had Cena 15 years ago where I was ready to get that title. Last year with Drew, I was right there about to get that title. I think this time ... I think there's nothing that can hold me back. Getting that title is something 17 years in the making. I've been busting my ass and training my ass off to show legitimacy and fight for that title. To get that title means the world to me."