Watch Ryback rampage his way through multiple opponents at a time with his bald head, hulking physique, and the perceived power to pulverize punks with his pinkie, and it’s no wonder WWE fans immediately started chanting the name of wrestling legend Bill Goldberg upon his debut.
But when I look at Ryback, the 31-year old phenomenon known outside of the squared circle as Ryan Reeves, it’s not Goldberg I see, but another wrestling wrecking machine, “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff.
“It’s funny, CM Punk actually mentioned that to me months ago,” Ryback says. “I’ve watched a lot of Nikita Koloff, and I can’t argue. I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling my entire life, so I’m sure there’s many guys who you can draw comparisons to with me. My mission is to go out and destroy, and I do that in the ways that I know how, and to be compared to legends like this, that is something that I’m very thankful for. They could be comparing me to guys who aren’t so good, so better to be compared to guys who have been successful than guys who weren’t so successful.”
As for those Goldberg chants? Ryback says he’s hearing less and less of them as time goes on.
“It’s a great thing to be compared to somebody like Goldberg,” he said. “So if we see a new guy come in and he reminds you of somebody else, you don’t exactly take him in right away. I knew it was going to be a slow process, and it’s been seven months, so it hasn’t been that long, but we’ve already gotten away from the comparisons. Every once in a while we’ll get some ‘Goldberg’ chants here and there but now they’re drowned out by the ‘feed me more’ chants. I have nothing but respect for Bill Goldberg and what he did. He was the top dog in WCW back then, then came to WWE and had great success, but this is a different time now, and I’m a completely different animal than Bill Goldberg. We have some similarities, but I think as time goes on, people are going to see Ryback as his own man.”
And while Ryback wasn’t included in the initial “WWE 13” roster, fans will now be able to buy a DLC pack of superstars that will add him into the game.
Time for The Big Hungry to go virtual.
ESPN Playbook: You debut as a video game character in “WWE 13.” Where does appearing in a video game rank in the perks that come along with your job?
Ryback: It’s a tremendous honor to be included in the “WWE” video game. I’m available starting Dec. 4 as DLC, and it’s just one of the many goals that I’ve had, but I also see it as a first step, because eventually I want to be on the cover of the WWE franchise video game. But this is a good step, and I’m pretty excited.
What do you think of your character’s look in the game?
He looks pretty sweet. THQ is sending me a copy of the game this week so I can play it a little more. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s the most realistic wrestling game to date. I have all my taunts, feed me more and everything like that is in there, so I’m very happy with it.
“WWE 13” really shines in the Attitude Era story mode where you get to re-live some of the crazier moments from that time period in wrestling. Do you have a favorite moment from the Attitude Era?
I grew up with all that and I love that entire era. Anything involving Stone Cold Steve Austin was gold in my book. There were so many moments with the beer truck and whatnot, and I think that’s the moment that stands out to me, the beer bath incident. But you know what, it was a great time for professional wrestling and WWE.
Is there an Attitude Era star who you’d like to wrestle against, either in “WWE 13” or in real life?
That’s the great thing about this game is fans get to see matchups that they wouldn’t get to see these days. You cannot only re-live these Attitude Era moments, but you can see some new matches, and to me, I’m all about the top of the food chain and wanting to face the best. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the top dog back then, so that’s one guy who I’d love to step into the ring with and see that match-up.
The WWE crowd is absolutely crazy for your character right now. When was the first time you realized how over Ryback was getting with the live audience?
I knew all along that this was going to happen. I’m very confident in myself and I’m very thankful for everything that has happened. It takes time, sometimes, to get things going, but I knew fairly early on that I was on the right track. I remember I was wrestling a fine local talent named Benny Camer, and when I clotheslined him, I flipped him back, and the reaction I heard from the crowd that night just from clotheslining him, I knew right then that we were on to something good here. It took a little bit of time for the people to digest and get with it, but hey, it’s all worked to a T. I’m very thankful for how far I’ve come, and I look forward to being a big part of WWE for years to come.
You were one of the original member of Nexus, but then got injured and had to sit on the sidelines and watch a bunch of the guys you debuted with star on TV. Was it frustrating to watch knowing that you should’ve been one of the breakout stars of the group?
The injury was a horrible thing, but it also had a lot of positives with it. I’m the type of guy who likes to see other people succeed. I tend to focus on myself and see what I need to do to be a success, but it was great to see guys who I came up with and who I know really well go out there and find success, and a lot of them did just that. Wade Barrett went out and did his thing, then Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel won the tag team titles, and I was very, very happy for them. At the same time, it was not easy being stuck in bed with a broken ankle and leg and being out for a year and a half. Sometimes, you feel like you have no control over anything, but I’ve always been happy for others, and especially those guys.
When you re-debut, you show up with a new name. Who came up with Ryback? Does it have any special meaning to you?
I was Ryback before when I was re-hired by WWE years ago. My real name is Ryan, and growing up, my friends always said I looked like a silver back gorilla. I remember when I was released by WWE years ago and “Terminator 2” came on TV. I just said to myself, “I’m a machine. Anything I do, I do non-stop. I just never stop.” The name Ryback just clicked into my head and I never looked back.
How about the “Feed me more!” line? Where did that come from?
That just happened. What can I say, I’m just a psycho for success. More is never enough, and I just always want people to give me more because I like to succeed. So I was out there facing one of the local athletes one week, and I always like to scream something after my matches. I just remember I didn’t have anything to say, but I was wanting more than the local athletes, so I just screamed at the hard camera, “Feed me more!” I was talking to Vince McMahon and to Triple H and to everyone in the back and to everyone in the world. I wanted everyone to know that I wanted more. The saying just caught on and took a life of its own. It was nothing that was planned. I never said to myself that I was going to go out there and make it work. It just happened, and that’s how the best things usually come, and I’m very thankful for that.
Funny how the best WWE moments seem to be the ones that aren’t scripted since they tend to be the most honest.
They are, they are. It’s great because that’s who I am as a person. It’s not some character, it’s who I am, so it’s great for that to take on a life of its own and have that as an identity for myself.
You were recently in the main event in Hell in a Cell where the referee cheated for your opponent by hitting you in the crotch. If you know beforehand that you’re going to take a shot to the groin like that, do you get to wear a cup, or do you just have to chalk it up to one of the hazards of the job?
It’s WWE, and anything can happen. [laughs] You kind of just have to deal with things as the come up, but there’s no preparing for something like that. I’ve been put through three tables in two days, and you can’t practice that. You just have to deal with it as it comes along. It sucks, but it is what it is. Hopefully people enjoy seeing it.
How about the fan reaction outside of the arena? Do kids come up and talk to you, or are they intimidated by this huge guy?
I do meet and greets from time to time, and at first, I think people were a bit intimidated. I’m very intense inside the ring, and I’m intense outside the ring as well, but there are different elements to Ryback outside the ring. When I’m fighting, I’m in fight mode, and it’s a different mentality. When I’m meeting people outside the ring, I’m a little more laid back. I think when they see me, they realize that I’m not going to eat them alive. It makes for a little friendlier situation. People have been unbelievable after our shows chanting “Feed me more!” and I’ve gotten the chance to meet a lot of great WWE fans. I’m very thankful for everything.
Have any of the older WWE stars taken you under their wings or given you advice on how to stay on top of the food chain?
Everyone has advice, it’s up to me to cipher out the good from the bad and to take what can work for me. I keep a pretty close-knit crew of guys I take advice from, guys like Triple H, Arn Anderson, Michael Hayes, and William Regal are the top four guys who I deal with on a regular basis and who I have open ears for at all times. Traveling and whatnot, Daniel Bryan is a guy who I like to travel with when I travel with others, but I also like to travel alone. I like to have my own time in order to gather my thoughts, but when I travel with somebody, it’s Daniel Bryan.
The Internet blew up a few months back talking about a backstage altercation between yourself and Brock Lesnar. Any truth to those rumors?
Somebody told me about that, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t know where that came from. Paul Heyman is all about making money, he’s a business man, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he started the entire thing just to get people talking and see if there was any interest in it. It’s definitely a match that I would love to happen. I don’t know how long Brock is going to be around for with the WWE, but if the opportunity for us to square-off in the ring presents itself, I welcome it with open arms.
All of the storylines are about to kick in for the road to Wrestlemania. Do you have a dream opponent for the event?
That’s easy. One of my goals, and I don’t know how many more he has in him, so we need this to happen soon, and that’s Undertaker. He’s the one man who is undefeated at Wrestlemania, and he’s somebody who I’ve had in my mind for a long, long time. I would love to be able to step into the ring The Dead Man and to be able to scream “Feed me more!” in his face would be quite the honor.
Until then, we can always simulate the match in “WWE 13.”
Yeah, in “WWE 13” people can live-out all of these match-ups. It’s great to have my character in the game, and for this generation of fans to be able to play as Ryback is pretty cool.