Will Ryback rule at WWE’s annual Royal Rumble event this Sunday? He certainly thinks so, but he’ll have to get through 29 other WWE Superstars to find out. DIRECTV spoke to the “Big Guy” to get his thoughts on the Rumble match, his favorite opponents, how he really feels about Batista’s return, the letter he wrote as a kid that started him on the road to the WWE, and much more!
Catch WWE Royal Rumble on DIRECTV Pay Per View LIVE Sunday, January 26th!
What makes the Royal Rumble a special event in your eyes?
Going back to when I was a kid, the Royal Rumble has always been one of the biggest WWE events. It’s the first big pay per view of the year, you got 30 men in the ring, and it’s always exciting from a fan’s perspective because you never know who is going to show up.
This year we have Batista, a name everyone knows, but there’s always a good surprise entrant or two. For that reason alone, it’s worth watching. But in the end, it’s 30 guys gunning for that final spot to headline WrestleMania. It all starts at the Royal Rumble.
Any surprise entrants you’d like to see come back so you could take a crack at them? Or even just from a fan perspective?
I’m sure a lot of people would love to see Goldberg show up and spear me right over the top rope. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. But I also heard Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts mention that he wanted to be in the Royal Rumble. Obviously, from watching him as a kid, it would be pretty cool to be in the ring and hear that music hit. Or someone like Hulk Hogan would be pretty surreal. But I wouldn’t hesitate to throw either one of them over the top rope. My main thing is going out there and winning it.
This will be your second Royal Rumble. Anything you learned last year that you think can help you succeed this year?
Last year I came in at number 30, and I believe I tied Sheamus for the most eliminations. It came down to me and John Cena, but like a lot of 2013, I came up on the losing end, which hurt. But I’m going to take that experience and use it as motivation to win it this year.
You mentioned Batista. What are your thoughts on his return at the Rumble?
I’m offended that he’s back. I’m the one and only “Big Guy” in the WWE. I go out there each and every night. I work the full schedule. I do all the cool power moves that you don’t see anybody doing anymore. I go out there and wrestle for 30 minutes, which you don’t see a lot of 295 lb. guys doing. I take a lot of pride in being big and having a lot of endurance and doing things that not everyone can do. So Batista is back, and it’s cool from a fan’s point of view, and I know he has some lofty goals, but this is my time now. I’m not taking a backseat to anyone. So if we end up in the ring together, it would give me great pleasure to throw him right over the top rope.
Any favorite Royal Rumble memories from years past?
I just remember being a kid and the sheer excitement of not knowing who was going to be coming out next made it unique. A few years back when I was injured, I remember shooting down to a restaurant that was showing the Rumble and seeing guys like Booker T and Diesel come back and everyone in the restaurant going crazy. This was after I was already in the WWE and even I was excited. It’s moments like that that make it one of a kind.
How did you decide you wanted to become a WWE Superstar?
I fell in love with the WWE at a very young age. One of my first memories was from around five years old when I saw Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant at a live event. I really just remember the yellow trunks of Hogan and the black singlet of Andre. But then when I was about 12 or 13, I had won front row tickets to a WWE event by writing a letter to the local news station about why I loved wrestling. They said my letter blew everyone away because they knew mine was real. My mom still has that letter, which I need to get back from her just so I can go back and read through the thing. But yeah, then I won all the local radio station contests, knew the answer to every question. I ended up winning like 30 tickets. I literally couldn’t even use them all so I gave them out to all my friends and their family members. I just remember sitting in the front row with my friends and knowing that day “I want to do this,” even though I didn’t know how it was going to happen or what I had to do. So later I ended up going to UNLV for fitness management when WWE Tough Enough came along. I sent in a video and I was so confident that I was going to get picked that I dropped all my classes and adopted another dog for the dog that I already had so she wouldn’t be lonely while I was gone. So I got into Tough Enough at age 22, reported to WWE Developmental at 23, and started my quest to become a WWE Superstar. I haven’t looked back since. There have been a lot of ups and downs but I’m very fortunate in everything I’ve gone through. Thank God it all worked out, otherwise my dad would have been pretty pissed.
What can you tell us about your experience on NXT?
It was a great time. I still firmly believe that Season 1 of NXT, later we went on to become The Nexus, had some of the best talent come from that and it was a great way to be introduced into the WWE. I came in as Skip Sheffield, a character I didn’t necessarily want to do. It was fun, but it wasn’t me. Luckily, I broke my leg and had some complications from surgeries and was out a year and a half, allowing me to come back as myself. It turned out to be the best thing ever.
Did you have any wrestling idols coming up?
No. I’ve liked people, but I’ve never had a guy that I considered a “hero.” When I was younger I liked guys like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and the British Bulldog. As I got older it was guys like Triple H, Stone Cold and The Rock. But I never tried to pattern myself after any one guy.
When I was in NXT we’d have WWE greats come in, guys like Ricky Steamboat, and I would take what they would say and I’d find a way to make it work for me. I’m not necessarily the kind of guy to go and ask for advice. I like to figure things out on my own. You could call that being “hard-headed” but I think that’s what makes a talent unique. I consider myself pretty creative and am able to come up with a lot of my own things. If someone is telling me something to do then I’m doing what they want me to do and not coming up with it on my own or creating anything. I believe in living and learning. Making your own mistakes and learning from them.
But if there is anyone I would compare myself to physically and attribute-wise, it would be Brock Lesnar. He set a whole new standard for big guys back in the day and now he’s back in the WWE and it’s great. I’d like to carry that on so that in 10, 15, 20 years from now guys will watch Ryback matches and go “this is what a big guy is supposed to be.”
Who have been your favorite Superstars to go up against? Who has been the toughest?
I enjoy wrestling so much of the roster, but Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler come to mind. I absolutely love wrestling those guys. We’ve had some real good battles at live events. Me and Ziggler have been going 20-25 minutes as of late and those are some of the most fun matches I’ve ever been a part of. Same with Kofi.
As far as the two toughest, easily CM Punk and John Cena.
Do you have a dream opponent?
Undertaker at WrestleMania is one of my goals. I have it on my vision board at home. That is one thing I am dead set on happening at one point in my career – being in that ring at WrestleMania and hearing Undertaker’s music hit and pushing him to his limits. A lot of people say it, but I actually mean it. I believe I can deliver on it.
You’ve been teaming with Curtis Axel lately. What can you tell us about the dynamic you two have in and out of the ring?
I love Curtis Axel, man. He’s a great guy and, for me, it’s pretty surreal that my tag team partner is Mr. Perfect’s son. I came up through WWE Developmental with Curtis and he’s legitimately one of my favorite people to be around backstage. He doesn’t take things too seriously and he’s just great to be around. He’s never in a bad mood and has a great outlook on things. All we do is joke around and rib each other. He’s amazing in the ring and if there’s anyone I’m going to tag with at this phase of my career, I’m glad it’s him.
Axel aside, do you have any dream tag partners?
There’s so many, but I’d love to be able to tag with Triple H, and not just because he’s my boss. Just from the conversations we’ve had, he’s on a whole other level. We don’t have too many guys like that left – guys like Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart. Or a guy like Christian, who I’m looking forward to coming back. There’s so much knowledge in his brain. He’s wrestled all the greats – Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, guys like that. And I really wish Edge were still here. It killed me when I was out injured and he ended up having that final match with Alberto Del Rio. He was there while I was with the Nexus and he was just such a joy to be around. He’s a good human being and just knew so much. He was always helping. Its guys like that that I wish were around still. But yeah, off the top of my head, Triple H would be pretty cool.
How do you pass the time on the road?
Ha! I wish there was more time. We’re so busy. Today is my day off and I’m moving into my new place as we speak from morning to night, then have to fly to a live event tomorrow. But when we do live events I usually wake up, get myself together, pack all my stuff, go find a place to eat – I always love going to Applebee’s or IHOP – and just sitting down and having a good breakfast with coffee. From there I’ll find a gym, get a great workout – I’m usually in there for about 3 hours most days – shower, get food and head to the building. From there, I get ready for show, do the show, then drive to the next one, which is usually about two hours, but every once in a while we have a 5 hour drive. Then by the time you get to the hotel, it’s late at night. I try to have a routine every night where I read a chapter of whatever book I’m reading, and if time permits, watch one or two matches before I go to bed. I’m constantly watching tape in trying to master this whole thing. Then start all over the next day. But ultimately the gym is where I spend most of my free time or stretching, getting ready for a match because if you’re not healthy then you’re not able to do what you love. I don’t want that.
Cena or Orton – which guy would you rather see win on Sunday simply so you could Shell Shock them for a title win down the road?
I’d say Cena. I’ve got a lot of unfinished business with him. He has gotten the better of me the times that we have met. So the revenge I’d get on him would be pretty sweet.
You’ve had a hell of a couple years in WWE. What’s next for Ryback?
22 months to be exact, if we’re counting, but they have been amazing. You can’t always be in the main spotlight so the chase to get back there is very exciting to me and I’m working harder than ever. I rose really quickly and I remember Arn Anderson pulling me aside and telling me “Kid, I want you to realize that you rose really, really fast and usually every time this happens you’re going to hit eventually and you’re gonna go down. But I fully expect you to get back up and be back on top.” That was a very serious, very real conversation and at the time I thought “I’m not going anywhere.” But he’s been around long enough that he knows how things work. And, of course, he was right. So I appreciate my time in WWE and I admire guys like John Cena, guys like CM Punk , Randy Orton, The Big Show – guys who have been on the top for so long. I respect them and I admire them for all their hard work, but I am here to be #1. I’m not like a lot of these new guys who come in and bow down to them. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, it’s all the past to me and I know what I’m capable of and what I want to do. I am there to be the best. Obviously, winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship would prove that. That’s my goal in 2014.
Any parting words for the WWE Universe going into the Royal Rumble?
Tune into to the Royal Rumble on Sunday to see why Ryback rules!
Catch WWE Royal Rumble on DIRECTV Pay Per View LIVE Sunday, January 26th!