With the WWE set to lay the SmackDown on Phoenix once again this Tuesday, USAirwaysCenter.com caught up with WWE Superstar Ryback for an exclusive interview.
The 6-3, 291-pound heel, who finished second in the 2013 Royal Rumble here at US Airways Center in 2013, shared his memories of the first time he ever attended a live WWE event as a child.
USAC: Where were your favorite wrestlers as a child?
RYBACK: Growing up I was a big fan of Razor Ramon. He was my number one guy for a quite a long time. But I also liked the British Bulldog, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Undertaker… I remember Diesel when he came along.
I liked the good guys. I think most kids kind of gravitate towards that. I remember when Golddust was having his program with Razor Ramon and I remember being really disturbed by Golddust and thinking, this guy is really, really odd. It’s pretty funny now that I get to wrestle him on a nightly basis.
But there really wasn’t anybody that I didn’t like. I was just a fan of the WWE... When I was 13, I went to a WWE live event at the Thomas and Mack in Las Vegas and had front-row seats, and that was the day that I knew I wanted to be a wrestler. So you never know what lifetime decisions might come out of going to one of these shows.
USAC: Do you remember any specifics about that show?
RYBACK: I remember a lot. I was the guest bell ringer for the opening match. It was the Bodydonnas vs. Barry Horowitz and somebody else. Might have been Bob Backlund. But one of the Bodydonnas was Dr. Tom Prichard, who ended up being my trainer in FCW and probably had the most impact on my career in getting me to the main roster. It’s funny looking back at that and how things come full circle.
The main event that night was Bret Hart vs. Diesel in a steel cage. The old blue, heavy, steel cage. I also remember Dr. Isaac Yankem wrestled on it, who some people better know as Kane. Goldust was on the card that night and Razor wrestled. I had front-row seats that night and I ended up winning about 20 tickets on radio contests. I won like five different contests in town.
I actually went once when I was a kid, about 5 years old, and I remember seeing Andre (The Giant) and (Hulk) Hogan, but I don’t remember a whole lot, other than the yellow and red, the colors from Hulk’s outfit. So me being the huge fan that I was around 12 or 13, I had to see it in person. So any contest I heard about, I was on the phone, and at that time, I could answer any question about WWE.
I remember everything about that day, bringing all my childhood friends. It was a great experience. That was the day I made the decision I wanted to be a professional wrestler. It had a huge impact on my life.
USAC: Did you get to be the guest bell ringer by winning a contest, too?
RYBACK: Yeah, I won a local newspaper contest. I wrote a letter which I still have to this day on why I should win the front-row guest tickets and why I loved WWE. I remember the news station telling my parents that it was the most passionate, real letter they had ever seen in any contest. So it’s pretty cool to look back on that. I’ve still got the WWF hammer still to this day. I’ve got it in my house, right there on display. So that was a very, very cool moment.
USAC: When you decided you wanted to be a pro wrestler, did you create a character for yourself?
RYBACK: No, I never did. We would always wrestle on a trampoline out in the back, and it was always me against everybody. Not to toot my own horn, but I was always the fastest kid growing up, the most athletic. I always batted number three or four in baseball. I was the home run hitter. So it was always me vs. everybody, I remember. If we came up with names, I can’t remember them now. But I remember just having a blast and being a big power guy, even as a little guy.
USAC: While attending UNLV in 2004, you were selected to participate in the WWE reality show, Tough Enough. What was that experience like for you?
RYBACK: That was my first taste of the WWE, but it was a stressful period. When I was a kid I was always very outgoing amongst people I knew, but as far as group speaking and speaking out loud, I wasn’t. I didn’t have a lot of experience in that. I wouldn’t say that I was shy, but I just never had to really speak in front of a large group of people.
I wanted to be a wrestler so bad, but I knew that this was going to be hard for me, getting accustomed to being in the middle of center stage with everyone looking at me, (especially on the mic). I took a speech class right before(Tough Enough) just to give me a little experience and thought, “Okay, this isn’t too bad. I can do this. But it’s one thing, being a wrestling fan growing up and watching it, and wanting to do it, to actually physically doing it.
Looking back, it was an incredible experience and I am thankful for all of it. Me and Miz were the last two standing, and they got two great WWE Superstars out of it, so it was worth their time.
USAC: We’ve heard they might bring it back for the WWE Network at some point. Would you like to see that?
RYBACK: Obviously, I don’t make those decisions, but if you look at the (season) with us, they got a former WWE Champion (in The Miz) and the future greatest wrestler of all time, in my mind. So it’s not a bad idea to maybe do another one. You never know who you’re going to get out of it.
USAC: You first used the name Ryback in Florida Championship Wrestling, tagging with Sheamus. Did you come up with that name originally or did someone suggest that to you?
RYBACK: No, that was me. I was released from WWE (after Tough Enough) and away for almost two years... I was sitting at home one night and there may have been an empty bottle of Vodka by me (laughs), and Terminator 2 may have come on TV. I’ve always been a big Terminator fan and a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Somewhere in that period, I may have told myself that I am a machine, and I may have somehow come up with Ryback in that condition. My real name is Ryan and my nickname as a child was Silverback, so I combined the two somehow that night to come up with Ryback. That’s why Ryback was initially a Terminator-based character with a red eye and cut-off leather jacket. It did very well in Ohio Valley Wrestling at the time and helped me get resigned.
USAC: You were also a cowboy named Skip Sheffield for a while. How did that come about? Did you want to be a cowboy growing up, too?
RYBACK: No. It was kind of funny. I was Ryback and then Dusty Rhodes pulled me aside and wanted me to try something different. He said, “I know you’re a funny guy,” but my heart was set on Ryback. I remember I cut a promo on the Undertaker down in FCW and the writers thought it may have been a bit too ‘80s or ‘90s. I think they just didn’t understand it. It was one of those things where I knew I was going to be Ryback in the WWE, and "you people just don’t realize it."
So I agreed to come up with a different character, and I came up with this whole joke which was Skip Sheffield. But the joke ended up turning back on me, because it got really popular down in FCW. To this day it blows my mind, because it became really, really popular and I became a huge baby face down there. It then got me called up to the WWE roster and I was kind of stuck with it.
I was like, “this sucks," but at the same time I was having fun. But it was not me. It was all a joke. I had never even been to College Station, Texas, where I billed myself from. But it allowed me to open up and do things in the ring that I’d never had the opportunity before, trying to be so serious. And it got me called up.
But I remember (WWE Chairman) Vince McMahon telling me, just two or three weeks into (my call up), “You’re not going to be doing this. You’re going to make me millions and millions of dollars being yourself. I want you to slowly get away from this. Don’t do it overnight, but slowly get away from this.” I’m thinking to myself, “Well, hell, now I kind of like doing this, because it got me up here. Now I’ve got to start all over again.”
So I had to go back to the drawing board and slowly start getting away from it. Thankfully Nexus came about and I was pulled into that and allowed to be myself. The problem was I still had that dopey name Skip Sheffield, which was not a main-event caliber name. But luckily I broke my ankle and leg and was out a year and a half, and got to come back as Ryback. So it all worked out.
USAC: You return as Ryback and really explode onto the scene, beating everyone they put in front of you, even two and three guys at a time. Within a matter of months, you're in the main event of the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view against CM Punk and then finishing second in the Royal Rumble here at US Airways Center in January 2013. Shortly after that, you are main eventing against John Cena. What have these last few years been like for you, as someone who grew up a huge wrestling fan and is now getting to live your dream?
RYBACK: It’s been an unforgettable experience. I'm very thankful for everything, coming back as Ryback and getting put into the main even scene and delivering, and then kind of slowly getting away from that and being in a little bit of a different position right now, being in a tag team (with Curtis Axel) and having fun. I'm working harder than I've ever worked and in-ring wise. I'm at a level I've never been at before, and very confident in myself and what I'm able to do.
But I think people are going to very soon see the rise of Ryback once again. This business goes in cycles, where you can be hot one minute and then you're cold the next, and then you're hot again. The key is to try and stay hot as long as possible. I look forward to getting back in the main event scene again, because I’m the one guy that could change the whole thing. And I'm looking forward to that opportunity again because it's going to come.
I'm just very thankful, though, to be a WWE superstar and be able to live my dream and make people happy doing what I do. It's a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice, but when you see the result at the end of the day, making people happy, I love the job that I have.
USAC: Before we let you go, we have to ask. Why should Phoenix fans buy tickets to come see you and the live taping of SmackDown on Tuesday night?
RYBACK: There’s a simple answer to that. WWE is the greatest value in entertainment for your money. You get to see larger-than-life characters. We’ve got the pyrotechnics, the music and the big stage, and the lights. It’s a great way for families to come out and make lifetime memories. I’ve seen the smiles on kids faces and their parents when they come out here, and they see a WWE show. There’s nothing in the world like it and I’m privileged to be a big part of it.