Top tier WWE stars nowadays tend to wind up in one of two camps. In camp one there are beloved, smaller talents with incredible in-ring skills that they more often than not cultivated on the indie circuit or in Japan. These are the talents who are super over with the hardcore fanbase, but that WWE is often as not reluctant to push on account that they don’t look the part of a mainstream star, or they don’t work the style that Vince McMahon favors. These are the Daniel Bryans, the CM Punks, and the Sami Zayns of the wrestling world. On the flip side there are the chosen ones that WWE pushes to the fullest extent on account of some combination of size, charisma, ability to toe the company line, and arbitrary choice. These are the faces that hardcore fans nonetheless boo, and the heels who tend to get a lot of Internet hate. That’s John Cena, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton—you might add Jinder Mahal to that list now.
Ryback falls in an interesting in between space. His hulking physique and early pushes seem to situate him in the latter camp of tailor made WWE stars. The guy did get pretty over in his initial push, though, only to get cut off and yo-yoed up and down the card over the years to follow.
Ryback garnered some extra intrigue when he opted not to re-sign with WWE. Afterward, he became an outspoken critic of much of what he had experienced with the company and a number of his former colleagues. By the same token, for some fans he became more interesting and worth listening to for his honest talk and, at times, off-beat thinking.
A lot has come out about Ryback over the last year or so. This article looks at 15 things about The Big Guy that you might not have known.
15 He Legally Changed His Name To Ryback
While it’s not without precedent, it is an extreme measure for a sports entertainer to choose to legally change his name to match that of his best known stage name. Ryback followed in the footsteps of guys like The Ultimate Warrior who chose this path. Maybe it related to the individual’s deep-seated connection to the character, but all the more so it’s a matter of intellectual property.
WWE tends to own the names of its performers. It’s why an act like The Dudley Boyz had to go by Team 3-D and call their finisher the Deadly Death Drop in TNA. WWE can’t claim ownership over someone’s legal name, though, and so a legal name change puts the name back in the performer’s hands to use for wrestling purposes in other promotions and for merchandising and other ventures. Thus, Ryan Reeves legally became Ryback Reeves.
14 He’s Friends With Bray Wyatt
In terms of their on screen personas, Ryback and Bray Wyatt couldn’t have been much different. Ryback was an old school gym rat with bulging muscles and straightforward butt kicking character whose greatest degree of nuance came in when he became a heel bully. Wyatt doesn’t have the defined musculature of a prototypical WWE wrestler, and is fully entrenched in his character work—an elaborate and often unclear mystical mythology around which he’s built a cult of characters.
It makes sense, however, that Ryback and Wyatt would be real life friends. The two had overlapping time in the WWE developmental system, were each rising stars on the main roster at similar times, and even worked a short program together. When news broke of Wyatt’s alleged affair, Ryback was quick to speak up on his friend’s behalf, saying they always got along and reminded fans that no one knows the full truth of a situation.
13 Ryback Was Under Contract For Over Five Years Before Hitting The Main Roster
In 2004, Ryback was a fan, training in hopes of a career in wrestling, when he sent WWE a video tape to audition for Tough Enough. Lo and behold, he was selected and did well enough on the show to be offered a developmental contract.
Ryback had to be patient, though, reporting to Ohio Valley Wrestling and then Deep South Wrestling to work in the WWE system for roughly five years before getting summoned to the first season of WWE’s nationally televised NXT series, which featured rookies paired with kayfabe pros. As Skip Sheffield, a cowboy. he had a respectable run, during which he stood out if for no other reason than his impressive physique. He was part of the original Nexus stable and got pushed via a series of eliminations in the SummerSlam 2010 main event. He went down to injury shortly thereafter, but it may have been the best thing for him as he didn’t absorb any stigma from the way The Nexus angle largely floundered from there, and was ready to re-debut in a big way the following spring as Ryback.
12 He May Have Worked In Front Of The Smallest Live Audience At WrestleMania Ever
While the actual attendance figures remain somewhat up for debate, there’s little question that WrestleMania 32 from Dallas had one of, if not the single largest live audience in WWE history. It’s truly an impressive sight to see how many folks are packed into AT&T Stadium during the main card.
It’s a different story for the pre-show, however. With so many matches and with WWE still experimenting within the bounds of having its own Network to air ‘Mania, and thus not needing to conform to PPV providers’ schedules, the event dragged. The result was a two-hour pre-show, followed by a main card that lasted roughly five hours. Ryback worked the very first match of the afternoon opposite Kalisto. Despite the huge arena, and the huge audience that would ultimately fill it, the pair wrestled before some fans even knew the show had started, besides thousands of fans who complained about disorganized entry procedures.
The result was that Ryback and Kalisto worked in front of an overwhelmingly empty stadium in an awkward spectacle of a match that, for some, set the tone for a lackluster WrestleMania.
11 He’s An Activist For Equal Pay
In the late stages of his tenure with WWE and particularly after he had left, Ryback was very outspoken about how the pay structure in WWE needed to be changed. He explained that, in an entertainment form for which the outcomes are predetermined, the winners and losers are largely subject to the whims of management. He said that’s fine, but it becomes a problem when there’s also more money for champions and the winners of matches. The basic logic was that he was happy to lose matches, but not if it meant that he’d have less money coming in.
It's a fair enough logical point that a number of wrestling personalities came to publicly support. Unfortunately for Ryback, WWE generally doesn’t respond well to internal criticism, and particularly so about payment matters. While it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, some speculate it was Ryback speaking up that led to him losing more before he ultimately left the company.
10 He’s Not A Fan Of John Cena
In a number of shoot interviews, Ryback has been quite open in his disdain for John Cena. His beef seems to boil down to two items. First of all, he felt Cena was protective of his spot to the point of being a jerk to others, including singling Ryback out after he emerged as a steady second place behind Cena in terms of moving merchandise.
Ryback has also been critical of how Cena wields his power. He’s discussed Alex Riley in a number of cases. Riley’s fall from grace has been the subject of an array of rumors because he looked as though he was headed for upper card status before dipping to the lower ranks, and ultimately being relegated to NXT, and mostly in a commentary role.
Ryback has spoken more openly about the incident than anyone, alluding to Cena ribbing Riley backstage, Riley not taking it well, and that being Cena’s petty reason to politick against the younger star and ultimately cost him his spot.
9 CM Punk Said He Was Unsafe To Work With
On two separate occasions, CM Punk engaged in high profile feuds with Ryback. The first time, Punk was the reigning WWE Champion and Ryback was abruptly thrust into the challenger role after John Cena got hurt, and as The Big Guy’s character was still gathering steam on an undefeated streak. The second time, Punk played a face and Ryback was allied with Paul Heyman against him almost exactly a year later.
In neither case were the matches particularly good, and it’s generally accepted that Ryback’s lesser skills and not entirely compatible style were to blame. It wasn’t until after Punk left WWE, however, that he spoke out about how much he hated working with The Big Guy. In an expansive tell-all podcast with Colt Cabana, Punk suggested Ryback was unsafe to work with and took years off his career via his combination of raw strength and recklessness.
8 He Claims CM Punk Never Said Anything Negative To His Face
For all of Punk’s claims against Ryback, Ryback has spoken in several shoot interviews—most notably Chris Jericho’s podcast—about the fact that Punk never said a negative word to his face. He did indicate that Punk worked closely with Paul Heyman, and that the two kept to themselves and wouldn’t let him into their conversations.
Interestingly, while Jericho purports himself to be a friend of Punk’s as well, he indicated that he never thought of Ryback as unsafe, and said he enjoyed working with him. It’s tough to tell for sure if this is a matter of Punk being hyper-critical, or Jericho trying to help The Big Guy save face while he was visiting his show. Regardless, it seems that if there wasn’t bad blood between Ryback and Punk before, there most certainly is now.
7 He Thinks Female Wrestlers Should Play Up Their Sexuality
Ryback now hosts his own podcast called Conversations With The Big Guy. He’s been known to speak openly about his opinions. This summer, he got a number of fans upset with him based on his comments about WWE’s female performers.
Highlights of Ryback’s comments included that he thinks women should play up their sexuality more because, because that’s what makes them appealing to the average wrestling fan. He particularly cited Melina doing a split and dropping beneath the ropes as an example of something unique a female performer could bring to the party that male counterparts could not. He joked that women couldn’t climb ladders and generally suggested they couldn’t wrestle as well as men, before proceeding to suggest that respected wrestling critic Dave Meltzer was um... not the master of his domain... when he gave high star ratings to today’s women’s matches.
6 Ryback Has Gotten Into the Fitness Industry
It’s no secret that phenomenal was in incredible physical shape, just based on his sheer appearance as a WWE Superstar. It may not be so surprising, then, that he decided to enter the fitness industry in follow up to his WWE career. In particular, he’s invested in supplements. The products he’s working with are endorsed under his signature Feed Me More Nutrition brand. He also has an endorsement deal with Fuel Meals, a company geared toward pre-prepared meals for fitness enthusiasts.
Say what you will about Ryback, but he seems to have business savvy and, in particular, seemed to have a keen sense of staying busy and capitalizing on his name value for pursuing all of these projects within a year of his departure from WWE.
5 He Disagreed With His Booking In WWE
Ryback’s response to WWE and management since leaving the company has been uneven. There are ways in which he sounds positive about his experience, quite a few of the performers he worked with, and the tools he took from his experience as a WWE Superstar. There are also select personalities in wrestling he’s been quite vocal in criticizing, and one of the key areas he takes issue with is his creative direction.
In particular, Ryback has expressed frustration about yo-yo booking. He was baffled about being given a ton of momentum only to be transitioned to a lower mid card role, not to mention that his heel turns derailed all of the momentum he built for himself as a face, as well as his ability to generate revenue through merchandise.
4 He Pitched An Elaborate Program With Brock Lesnar
One tidbit of Ryback’s dissatisfaction with WWE booking came up in multiple shoot interviews, when he’s talked about his ideas for an angle between himself and Ryback. According to The Big Guy, he pitched being taken off TV and spending time training local MMA schools in Las Vegas. The combination of developing his shoot credentials and WWE capturing footage of it, paired with his physical size and the name he’d already made for himself in WWE would all make him a dream opponent for Lesnar.
WWE never took him up on the idea.
As outsiders, we may never know if the idea was taken seriously at all, and without the benefit of a crystal ball, there’s no knowing if Ryback would have been right and such a program would have been huge. Nonetheless, the degree of detail Ryback has gone into explaining the ideas shows that he spent a lot of time and energy thinking about it, and WWE’s refusal seems to have been a major sticking point in Ryback ultimately walking from the company.
3 His Value On The Independent Scene
While it may be understandable given how recent his WWE run was, and the fact that he was sometimes booked as a main eventer, Ryback has reportedly placed his booking fee on the independents between $4,500 and $5,000 per appearance. This is the same ball park as Alberto Del Rio after his first departure from WWE, and well over double what a lot of upper tier indie stars ask for.
It's hard to say if Ryback is valuing himself appropriately and going to make up for quantity of booking in quality of them. Regardless, it’s not just wrestling appearances that some feel is too a high a price for Ryback. Bellator President Steve Coker also commented that they tried to work out a deal for Ryback to fight MMA, but his asking price was just too high.
2 Ryback Holds A Grudge Against The Shield
Ryback seems to have an axe to grind with The Shield—Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose. It’s reasonable to speculate he might feel a twinge of jealousy toward these three guys who came in and perhaps usurped his spot. All of them rose to the upper card and even the main event at different points in the last two and a half years in pushes that may have contributed to the Big Guy getting planted in the mid-card before he left WWE.
Ryback has made claims that he actually came up with the idea for the group’s signature triple powerbomb, which does seem feasible given he was the first one to take the move so many times. He’s also commented on his frustration with creative around the group. That he got pummeled by them time and again without ever really getting a receipt, and he’s spoken in interviews about that being hard to explain to young fans—why the bad guys always won out.
1 Claims A Match With Ultimate Warrior Was Pitched For WrestleMania XXX
Recently, Ryback drew some attention when he came out and said that there were plans in place for him to face The Ultimate Warrior back at WrestleMania XXX, the same weekend Warrior was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ryback said on his Conversations With The Big Guy podcast that Mark Carrano showed him an early card the WWE had in mind and they had pencilled him in to face Warrior:
"I thought it would be really cool. I didn’t think I would necessarily be the right guy for that, because I didn’t know anything about him. I didn’t know what kind of shape he was in, if he could wrestle or not, but I 100 percent would have done it, because I did everything that they asked me there."
Warrior's widow Dana came out and said the claims weren't true, tweeting that "Not true. It always saddens me when people tell untruths on a man's grave to promote their own lives. Do your OWN work."
Ryback in turn responded that he had no reason to make it up and was indeed telling the truth.