Apollo Crews spoke with Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated before his upcoming WWE Intercontinental Championship Match against Big E at next Sunday’s Fastlane PPV. Crews spoke about his recent character change, wanting to get to Roman Reigns’ level, and the difficulty of finding himself on the main roster.

Working the indies for about five years before coming to WWE, Crews recalled how his amazing in-ring abilities were able to carry him a long way in his pro wrestling career. Once getting through NXT, he realized more would be needed if he was going to be a bigger player on the WWE main roster.

“It was so different on the indies,” Crews recalled. “I did these cool, awesome things in the ring, and my work carried me. At the time, I thought that would take me where I wanted. I got to NXT, and I had the chance to be me. Then I struggled to find myself in a new environment [on RAW and SmackDown]. That’s how it’s always been for me. I’m naturally shy and it takes me some time to get familiar with a new situation. That led to me being a generic guy, so people weren’t sure about me. I noticed that when we did live shows. People weren’t connecting with me, so I’ve really worked to build that connection and reaction from the fans.”

Crews is now finding that connection as his new WWE persona taps into his Nigerian heritage, while also turning heel and putting his sights on a title.

“This is the right point in my career for character exploration,” Crews said. “Five years ago, as a performer, I couldn’t have done this, with the character or the accent, or any of it. Now I can. And look at the reactions. People hate it, people love it. That’s pretty cool. I don’t want anyone in the middle.”

The WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns has also been a focus for Crews as he looks to one day get to Reigns’ level in WWE.

“Roman does everything so well,” Crews stated. “I’ve watched and learned from him. He’s the best. Everyone wants to be in the spot he’s in, so watching him has taught me so much. I want to be that person who can captivate an audience, with an undeniable greatness. That’s Roman’s level, and that is what I am working toward.”

WWE Fastlane streams next Sunday on the WWE Network and Peacock at 7 pm ET.