"WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010" will place an emphasis on character. And as far as the WWE Universe goes, no character seems to be coming into his or her own more than Smackdown performer John Hennigan, AKA John Morrison.
From flashy fur coats to even flashier moves in the ring, Morrison draws comparisons to some of wrestling's greatest stars, including Shawn Michaels.
"Character is everything," Morrison explains as we meet in LA during the E3 video game convention. "The reason people watch sports entertainment is to see people who are larger than life, but at the same time, there's something real about them. The split between who you are in real life and your character is almost non-existent. Who you are in real life with the volume turned all the way up is interesting, and if you're acting and trying to pretend to be something that you're not, that's obvious and it's not interesting. John Morrison is emphatically John Morrison, and that's why that's interesting to people. If you're yourself and you're drawing from different personality traits that you have, that's when people take notice. Like me, I'm a film maker, I wrote poetry, I just accentuate all of these things that make me who I am in real life when I get to the ring.
"It's like when you walk through the airport and someone asks you to sign up for their stupid United Airlines credit card. You feel like saying, "Dude, United Airlines sucks," but in real life you just don't say that because then you're rude. But John Morrison, he says that because he can."
Here's what else John Morrison has to say about everything from getting himself over in the ring to why he's happy to make the switch to Smackdown.
Now if only I could come up with my own character, I might finally walk through the airport in peace.
ESPN: What do you think helped make the John Morrison character more successful than your Johnny Nitro persona?
John Morrison: It's one of those things where people still recognize me as Johnny Nitro, but John Morrison is truer to who I am than Johnny Nitro ever was, and I think that's why it resonates a lot better with people. Johnny Nitro was like Johnny Hollywood, Johnny Danger, Johnny Blaze ... it's just an obvious stage, Hollywood name. But John Morrison is more like a real person.
ESPN: When was the first moment you realized that the John Morrison character was finally getting over?
John Morrison: There's a promo I cut around the time of the number one contender's match that involved Miz, CM Punk, Big Daddy V, and Boogeyman, and I cut around a ten minute promo in the ring on all of them, and it was one of those things where I was really feeling it. I was feeling the character, I was feeling my personality, and it was one of the first times where I felt how they really interwove. That's when it really felt easy for me and the crowd really responded.
ESPN: Where do you get the inspiration for some of your moves? It's like Electric Boogaloo meets Enter the Dragon out there sometimes.
John Morrison: I watch other wrestlers, I watch movies with Jackie Chan and Jet Li and Tony Jaa, then there's breakdancing and Capoeira. Just anything I see that looks awesome that I think I could adapt in the ring. Just your typical Kung Fu, breakdancing, Capoeira moves. [laughs]
ESPN: Who were some of your favorite wrestling characters to watch when you were growing up?
John Morrison: HBK (Shawn Michaels), loved him. Rick Rude, Ricky Steamboat, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man ... all those guys. I can go on and on.
ESPN: Did Rick Rude inspire the trademark abs?
John Morrison: Rick Rude is the reason I even got abs in the first place. [laughs] I was just a fan of the way he did things. He was the kind of guy who would walk into a room and automatically take control. He'd tell them to cut the music so he could show them what a real man looked like, and I just thought that was freakin' hilarious. If you looked at what he said and how he said it and how he looked, that's what an awesome, entertaining character is all about. That's why I liked him.
ESPN: Was it fun when you played the heel to watch kids yell at the ref when you're cheating? It's like they know it's fake, but still can't help but try to get involved?
John Morrison: Oh yeah, that's why it's so fun to watch. It's fun to have a crowd of people so wrapped up in the drama that they're yelling at the ref. When you take a step back and you take a look at the whole picture, from the performance to the crowd to the interaction, the whole spectacle of it is awesome.
ESPN: Did you used to be that kid, yelling at the refs?
John Morrison: I used to yell at the TV, too. [laughs] I watched wrestling every weekend with my buddies, then when it was over we used to go beat each other up in the driveway ... which is discouraged. But it's one of those things where growing up, I was a huge fan, and everybody who is in WWE now is a huge fan because you have to really love wrestling to put up with all of the travel and hard work.
ESPN: You recently made the move to the Smackdown roster. It seems like they stacked that show with all of the best athletes. Are you glad you're on a show that matches more of your style?
John Morrison: Absolutely. I think Smackdown is the cooler show in a lot of ways. Like you said, it's the more athletic show, it's faster paced. And then when you look at Raw, they have a lot of the established guys. They have Batista, John Cena, Triple H, The Big Show, HBK when he comes back. Look at the Smackdown side. We have all of the up-and-comers, but we also have Jericho and Edge who are established, but they haven't been around as long as guys like Triple H and the stuff that they have to say is generally fresher. There are more opportunities for match-ups people haven't seen yet on Smackdown.
John Morrison in 'Smackdown vs. Raw 2009' totally lived up to all the hype of real life. I can't wait to see how I look in the 2010 game. I am a little upset sometimes, though, because I think they make some of the other characters look a little too good. I don't think The Miz is that in shape and neither is Chris Jericho. But I think my character is almost a mirror image of myself, which is great because I love to watch myself.
”-- John Morrison
ESPN: Being here at E3, there's no better place to ask about the WWE video game. Are you happy with how they portray your character in polygons?
John Morrison: John Morrison in "Smackdown vs. Raw 2009" totally lived up to all the hype of real life. I can't wait to see how I look in the 2010 game. I am a little upset sometimes, though, because I think they make some of the other characters look a little too good. I don't think The Miz is that in shape and neither is Chris Jericho. They don't have abs running across like they do in the game, but that's good for them. It might boost their egos, and that's important. But I think my character is almost a mirror image of myself, which is great because I love to watch myself.
I'm not much of a gamer, but I play the WWE game a lot because we have a Superstar Challenge every year, and winning that has become pretty big bragging rights in our locker room. When Shelton would win all the time, he was pretty outspoken about it. But Kofi (Kingston) won this year, and he's a lot more humble, but I'd still love to beat him and take that trophy.
ESPN: Were you a gamer growing up?
John Morrison: I used to love "Street Fighter II" and games like "F-Zero" and "Zelda." Then I moved on to the N64 and "Mario Kart." That's what I played the most.
ESPN: Getting back to wrestling, I was wondering who you currently enjoy watching when you sit back and view the show from a fan's perspective.
John Morrison: I love the athleticism of Rey Mysterio and Evan Bourne. I love watching HBK and I've been a fan of him my whole life. Watching him is like watching Rembrandt paint a masterpiece.
ESPN: Have you had the opportunity to sit down with Shawn Michaels and pick his brain about your career?
John Morrison: Yeah, Shawn is really good about talking to anyone who asks him for advice. And if you don't ask Shawn for advice, you're an idiot.
ESPN: What's the best piece of advice he gave you that has stuck in your mind?
John Morrison: Something that Randy Savage told him back in the 90s, and that advice was (in his best Savage impersonation), "Don't take yourself out of the game kid." Which means, don't get frustrated. Wrestling is a lot about timing, and as long as you're in the game of sports entertainment and the wrestling industry, then your time is going to come around at some point. But if you're not in the game, if you take yourself out of the industry, then it never will.