By: Cameron Hawkins from The Ringer
Published November 22, 2023

Stephen King, the seminal horror writer and book-to-film juggernaut, was an event television mainstay throughout the late 20th century. Novels like Salem’s Lot and It were adapted for the screen, producing big-budget visuals for the King novels that readers had devoured over the years. One of the scariest, in both tone and execution, was The Langoliers. During a cross-country flight, nine passengers and the pilot awake to find that everyone else on the plane has gone missing. They land at a deserted airport and discover they’ve been displaced in space and time. Ultimately, the fear of the unknown coupled with losing their connection to the world would grab hold of these individuals.

While not as deliberately fantastic as The Langoliers, Jey Uso experienced a similar fear while working as a singles superstar for the first time in his WWE career three years ago. “Ain’t nobody on these flights, bro, it’s just me,” Jey remembers thinking. “Just like the song say, dog, it’s just me …” Jey’s twin brother, Jimmy, had just injured his knee in a Triple Threat ladder match at WrestleMania 36. The two had been a tag team for their entire WWE tenure, first appearing on Raw rocking braids and sweater vests. They represented the new generation of Samoan wrestlers: college educated, hip to the business, and ready to take over. Throughout their run, they’d avoided the injury bug better than most. But in April 2020, the Usos would see a twofold separation—between WWE’s crowds from the company’s events, and the split of the longest-tenured team in WWE history. “That was Jimmy’s first real surgery ever,” Jey shares, reflecting on how he was the more injury-prone brother growing up. Jey lost his tag partner and travel partner, flying out to Florida weekly on bare-cabin flights. “I’m the only one catching flights,” Jey explains, with travel restrictions being enforced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s like six people a flight. So it was intense, man. No one knew what was going on, man. All I knew was this, bro. I played my position, and I did what I was told.”

Jey assumed the role of co-pilot to Roman Reigns’s burgeoning dynasty during the latter’s Undisputed WWE Universal Championship run. In September 2020, Jey won a no. 1 contender’s match to challenge his cousin Roman at WWE Clash of Champions. Jimmy would return that night during the match to throw in the towel, pleading with Roman to spare Jey from potential injury. Jey received a second chance against Roman at Hell in a Cell, once again losing in a brutal, emotional, all-around fantastic match. But the real victory was Jey learning to reinvent himself in a foreign environment. “There’s no crowd. You feel me?” Jey explains, describing WWE’s ThunderDome era of pandemic programming. “So now, we done changed the game to where everything was all character-based. It was all emotion. I didn’t need a crowd. We putting on the TV show right now. And once that clicked with me, man, I just caught on at a different level.”

It helped that Jey was under the tutelage of two of the best in the game: his cousin Roman, who had finally combined his talent with his potential as the uber-confident “Tribal Chief,” and Roman’s head advisor, photographer-turned-manager-turned-promoter-turned-advocate to the stars Paul Heyman. Jey was eager to learn a new trade, even if he was working with the same set of tools. He didn’t have Jimmy beside him sharing promo and in-ring duties, but he had two top minds getting him up to speed. “That whole pandemic. I learned how to cut promos,” Jey confesses. “[Roman] taught me a whole lot, and he made me a bigger star than what I appeared.”

That singles run was a test. Jey passed with flying colors, but once Jimmy returned from injury, the Usos reunited, becoming Undisputed WWE Tag Team Champions and joining their cousin to form the Bloodline faction. Jimmy and Jey would flank Roman as his heavies while reestablishing themselves as WWE’s premier tag team. [Jey and Jimmy’s younger brother, Solo Sikoa, would join the Bloodline in September.] In 2022 specifically, the Usos, like Roman, perfected the balance of elevating their division while maintaining their hold on the top prize. But you’d start to see differences in Jey’s appearance: he adopted a mullet hairstyle and cut his shirts to expose his abs, but more importantly, he was more defiant of the Tribal Chief’s direction. Soon, the group would adopt an outsider: the supremely talented, stunningly comedic Sami Zayn. Sami would cause Jey visible migraines, but would often be so opposingly funny in serious moments that the group, known for their timing and balance, would regularly break character. He was marshmallows on the yams; you don’t know how much sweeter a perfect thing can be until you bake it. “[Sami’s] the man,” Jey exclaims. “Bloodline was so dark all the time, you feel me? Like, we was just mad all the time, beating up everybody. When Sami Zayn came in, he elevated that. That acting, that entertainment part came out of all of us. The cool part about that was, man, he had different relationships [with] each character, and you can tell that through the TV screen.” Jey clearly understands what Sami added to the Bloodline at the time, plainly stating, “there’s no Bloodline without Sami Zayn, man. That’s a fact.”

Sami would prove to be the catalyst for the “Main Event” run Jey is currently on. Sami’s excommunication from the Bloodline for protecting his longtime friend Kevin Owens at the Royal Rumble in January 2023 saw Jey conflicted, as Sami had proved his loyalty time and time again. Sami and Kevin would ultimately end the Usos’s record-breaking tag title streak during the first night of WrestleMania 39, which soon led to the Bloodline’s implosion. The inner turmoil led to Jey receiving his first world title shot in front of a live crowd, challenging Reigns at this year’s SummerSlam. With everything Jey learned over the last three years, it wasn’t until he walked out for that match that he realized he could be accepted as a solo act. “It was my first time in my gear, like my merch shirt,” Jey remembers, explaining that he felt it when he started rocking with the crowd to his theme. “That’s when I knew. I think that’s the first time I was kind of like, ‘Yo, I think they with me.’” Jey lost the match due to interference from his brother Jimmy, a move that ended with Jey leaving the Bloodline and taking his talents to Raw. Jey now has all the momentum of a new star, almost 15 years into a career he never imagined without Jimmy by his side. Entering his second consecutive WarGames match at Survivor Series, he’ll once again be alongside Sami, but he’ll also have World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, Raw frontman Cody Rhodes, and a returning Randy Orton versus the Judgment Day and Drew McIntyre. “I might lean on Sami more than anything in there,” Jey says. “I feel like we kind of know we’re the closest in there right now.”

With the tires kicked and fires lit on his singles path, Jey is still very much invested in what he, his twin brother, and their entire family have built. He watched his father, WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi, reinvent himself multiple times over his career, and that arc and his advice have made Jey’s transition easier. “My dad was the smartest man on the business side,” Jey declares. “He’s the one who always said ‘adapt.’ He’s the one who said, ‘change the game if you run it back, Uce.’” Jey breaks down his father’s evolution over the years, from the Headshrinkers to the more street-savvy Fatu character to working as the Sultan in a four-year time span. It’s easy to see where Jey got his adaptability from. “I got that from my dad, right. He says, enjoy it. Enjoy this ride. ‘Enjoy this ride, son, because it’s going to come to a stop one day,’ and I just make sure. Bruh, I used to be tired sometimes.”

Rikishi instilled his grind mentality in the Usos, who moved like no one before them. That grind, those miles, that desire is why, even while they’re apart, Jey feels it won’t be the last time they show the world why they’re at the top of so many all-time lists. And if there’s any doubt on who Jey would like to see the Usos battle to maintain that position, it would appear that Jey may be keeping a list. “FTR is top tier,” Jey says of the AEW pair, before mentioning the Guerillas of Destiny in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and “missing the boat” on a Hardy Boyz bout on SmackDown. That said, Jey wants to make one thing clear for any tag team wanting to make it happen. “If you all want these dream matches, you all going to have to bring your ass to WWE, dog, to the top tier. You all going to have to come. Where we at ain’t dropping down,” Jey states. “Young Bucks, everybody, like, bring it, dog. Run it. We the ones for a reason, and I mean that. I stand on that, bro. We the best tag team in the world. And if you want to get detailed with it, I’m talking about on the microphone, the way we dress, the way the gear look, the way we carry ourselves, the swag, the ink, everything. The hair, the grills, the earrings, the chain. All that’s real, Uce. All that is real.”

As the Thanksgiving travel season trudges on, those once-empty airports are populated once more. The fear that used to occupy Jey’s mind, that fear of being alone, is replaced by crowds chanting his name and dancing with him. Where he once wasn’t sure what part he’d play in the grand scheme of WWE, Jey’s now more focused on stealing the whole show, and his eyes are on the prize. “I want my first one. It ain’t even the big one. I want that IC title,” Jey says, calling it no. 1 on his to-do list while calling out the brute currently holding the Intercontinental championship. “My dad held it, Umaga held it. Shawn Michaels and all the greats, man. I want that. Gunther gonna have to damn run that.”

Jey is ensuring that being the deserving recipient of an impossible promotion 15 years in his career won’t go to his head while keeping those Air Force 1-protected feet on the ground. “I would have bad thoughts,” Jey shares. “I just turned 38. I still feel prime-time, Uce. I still feel young in my brain, my body. I’m still good. I’m ready to go, but I’m on the end of the career. Fifteen years is a good little stretch, man. I never thought we’d be running it like this, never in a million years, and let alone with my brothers and my cousin. Sometimes, it don’t even feel like work.”

Original Post has been credited to @CeeHawk of The Ringer
The Ringer