Ryback: 'I always knew I was going to make it'
JAN MURPHY - Kingston Whig-Standard
|Ryback's intense entrance has been one of his calling cards. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea
Like so many in his generation, Ryan Reeves, better known simply as Ryback, fell in love with professional wrestling as a boy, watching it, he says, from around the time he was five years old.
"I really, really got into it around the age of 11," Reeves said in a telephone interview this week. "That's when it really hooked me."
But it's probably a safe bet that not many in his generation were physically preparing to become a pro wrestler before they reached their teens.
By age 12, Reeves, now 32, was a fitness junkie.
"It wasn't so much weight(lifting then)," Reeves said. "It was more pushups, crunches ... body weight stuff. I had all the fitness gadgets growing up -- hand grips and things like that. Freshmen year in high school is when weights were introduced to me and I fell in love with that."
Given his lifelong love affair with fitness, it should come as no surprise that today Reeves stands six-foot-three and a shade under the 300-pound mark.
"The neighbourhood I grew up in, we had a lot of kids ... and we'd get together and whatever season it was sports-wise -- basketball, football, baseball, hockey -- we'd be out in the streets playing all day long. But when I was home at night, I would do my (workout) stuff at night. I remember working out hours on end. I didn't know what I was doing, but I just enjoyed the physical aspect of it."
Reeves's entrance to pro wrestling came via WWE Inc.'s $1,000,000 Tough Enough reality show. Reeves and 49 others -- including another current WWE superstar, The Miz -- competed for a $1,000,000 professional wrestling contract split evenly over four years, with only the first year guaranteed. Reeves eventually became one of the eight finalists to appear on Tough Enough Season 4, which was aired as part of WWE Smackdown in late 2004, and was the last to be voted off. While he didn't win the contract, he impressed enough to earn a developmental deal with the company.
The Tough Enough experience was one Reeves said he'll never forget.
"Obviously, being a fan and coming in ... you know it's not going to be easy, and you don't know what to expect. It's very physical and it's mentally very frustrating at times when you first start out," he said. "You're told you suck. It's just one of those things where you've just gotta keep going."
For Reeves, quitting was not an option.
"I never gave up ... and things worked out very well."
Skip Sheffield, Justin Gabriel and David Otunga at SummerSlam Fan Axxess in August 2010. Photo by R.P. Strickland, firstname.lastname@example.org
Reeves eventually crossed paths with former WWE superstar and current head trainer for WWE's NXT program Bill DeMott
. While Reeves had a handful of trainers during in development, including Al Snow
, Reeves heaps a lot of credit onto the broad shoulders of DeMott.
"Bill DeMott was by far the hardest trainer I've ever had," Reeves said, matter of factly. "It was very physical ... bootcamp-style training. When we started, I ended up having to a lot of double classes -- eight-hour days. It was a lot of bumping and a lot of Hindu squats, a lot pushups, a lot of crunches and a lot of blow-up drills. It mentally made me much tougher."
That mental toughness would come in awful handy, as Reeves would toil in the WWE's developmental territories for the better part of six years, before landing on WWE television, competing as Skip Sheffield first on WWE's NXT program, then as a member of the stable known as the Nexus.
"I always knew deep down I was going to make it," Reeves said. "I saw a lot of guys come in after me and get called up well before me and I never took that as a negative. I knew deep down that when the time was right for me, the time would be right. I wouldn't change a thing. Mentally, and physically, everything that I had to go through, the injuries and the setbacks and the struggles, it made me who I am today."
Skip Sheffield, third from the right, in the Nexus at SummerSlam, August 2010. Photo by R.P. Strickland, email@example.com
It was during his run with the Nexus that Reeves suffered a serious ankle injury.
It changed the course of career.
"I was with Nexus and things were going well with that, and (when) I had that big injury ... that was the best thing that ever happened to me," Reeves said. "It allowed me to really, really buckle down, just to come back from the injury itself, but (also) to mentally prepare for what I wanted out of all of this. The timing worked out just perfect. I'm very, very thankful for that."
Reeves attributes credit to former WWE Superstar Diamond Dallas Page's DDP Yoga for helping him during his recovery.
"When I came back from the big injury -- I was in bed from the injury for the better part of six months; I'd lost a lot of my core strength and flexibility and things of that nature -- I started doing (DDP Yoga) religiously. It helped me," Reeves said. "I just started feeling younger again." A lot of the movements from DDP Yoga are a part of Reeves's daily stretching routine now.
After rehabbing, Reeves reinvented himself as the man-beast known as Ryback, who would merely rack up a 38-match winning streak to open the new chapter in his career. The streak, almost from the get-go, drew comparisons to that by the legendary Bill Goldberg.
For his part, Reeves was flattered.
"Obviously to be compared to a guy that was at the top of WCW and WWE, that's always a good thing," he said. "I always say people are loyal to those who come before us. Bill Goldberg has a lot of loyal followers. I never took it as a negative."
Ryback puts on a show at the Royal Rumble Fan Axxess in Phoenix in January 2013. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea
That's not to say, however, that Reeves wasn't intent on carving out his own legacy.
"I knew, though, it would just take a little bit of time for people to become loyal to me and to realize that I am different than him. There are a few similar things -- the intensity, the bald head, the big traps and all that -- but I knew that in time, I would set myself apart from him and we've done a good job of that thus far."
Yes. Yes they have.
Reeves' winning streak ended at the hands of another streaking superstar, former WWE champ CM Punk, whose championship run lasted a remarkable 434 days.
Working with the champ, even in defeat, was an unforgettable experience, Reeves said.
"You've definitely got to raise your game going up against a guy like that," he explained. "He is truly one of the best in the world. He goes out there every night (and) he wants to go out there and give it everything he's got. You know when you're going against a guy like that, you have to at least match that. Me, I want to outdo that. It's definitely done nothing but help me, being in there with a guy like Punk.
"Obviously, I would have loved to have won the WWE Championship early on, but I know when the time is right, the time will be right. He brings it when he's in there. He gets the best out of me when I'm in there with him."
Jinder Mahal is knocked silly by Ryback in Bakersfield, Calif., in August 2012. Photo by Devin Chen, www.chdevinphotos.com
Ryback will be in Kingston on March 2 as the WWE brings its Road to WrestleMania Tour to the K-Rock Centre. Ah, WrestleMania. That word is music to a professional wrestler's ears. Ryback is no exception.
"It's a dream come true," Reeves said of the prospect of headlining a match at WrestleMania, which will take place at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on April 7. "One of my goals for this year is to be in a big matchup for WrestleMania and hopefully that all works out.
"When we're in Ontario, it's me, [John] Cena and Sheamus versus The Shield," Reeves said. "I've had my issues with them over the last few months. But come WrestleMania, I'm looking forward to whoever they put in front of me, and going out there and just delivering ... raising my intensity level to an all-time high and coming out of there victorious."
Fans and those who cover the WWE have floated the idea -- some might even say fantasized -- of the powerful Ryback facing the Phenom, The Undertaker, with the Undertaker's perfect 20-0 record on the line in a past-versus-future matchup.
For his part, Reeves would lunge at the opportunity.
"I would love to be able to wrestle him, especially on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania," he said.
His alter ego, Ryback, would relish the opportunity to end the winning ways of the legendary Deadman.
"I would love to be the one that ends (his streak). It would a career-defining moment," he said. "A lot of guys have tried and they've failed. I believe I am the right one to end that."
Reeves pauses, before adding: "No offence, but if the Deadman wants a piece of Ryback, he's going to get introduced to the Meat Hook clothesline and the Shell Shock and 1-2-3.
"I can only hope."
SATURDAY MARCH 2 - Meet WWE Superstar RYBACK.
Walmart Brampton, ON (Queen Street East and Airport Road).
10am – 12pm ET
For now, though, Reeves said, it's about the present.
"I look at it one day at a time," he said, mentioning the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on Sunday, and the Monday Night Raw show that night in in Nashville. "WrestleMania is going to be a big, big career moment for me."
The Kingston show, Reeves said, like all non-televised WWE events, will be a lot of fun for fans.
"These live events are great because the fans get to see a lot of great matchups -- there's no commercials," he said. "It's a lot of wrestling and it's fun. It's great to be able to interact with the fans and to be able to put on a great show for them. We actually get to meet a lot of them; we do meet-and-greets before (and) after the shows, we usually go out there and sign some autographs. It's a good way to meet the fans and get up close with them. People coming out, they get their money's worth for sure."
Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter: @Jan_Murphy.