Ryan Reeves remembers ignoring the shooting pain running down his back and into his legs. It was simply business. There were matches to promote and matches to win.
Years of throwing guys over the top rope, backpack stunners and feats of strength had taken their toll on the man billed at 6-foot-3, 291 pounds. Pain pills were out of the question, so Reeves simply carried on. “Surviving week to week,” as he put it, was common place for his final two years with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
“It really brings you down and can be depressing at times,” said Reeves, who is better known by his stage name, Ryback. “When you can’t get off the couch or play with your dogs on the floor, and can’t get up off the floor when you get there, and you’re 35 years old, something isn’t right. It sucks. But I’ve been given a second chance.”
With his health improving every day, Ryback is ready to put himself back on the national stage.
“I’ve been telling people in my circle that 2019 is probably the year I’m going to be coming back to TV because that’s when I’m going to be the Ryback of old - and even better,” he said.
But before the television comeback, area fans will get to see Ryback up close and personal at Northeast Wrestling’s Wrestling Under the Stars event at Muzzy Field in Bristol Saturday night, which is set to feature Mark Henry, Jack Swagger, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Corey Graves, among others.
The venue might be smaller than those during his heyday with WWE, but Ryback enjoys the independent circuits. It gives him the freedom to pick and choose what shows he wants to attend without having to put his body through five grueling days a week of physical work, as can be the life in WWE.
“I like doing the independent shows because it’s great for meet and greets with the fans and not being in a rushed setting to get through thousands of people,” Ryback said. “It’s just more laid back where you can actually spend time with your fans and create a more memorable moment between the two of you or group of them.”
Ryback wasn’t sure he would be making appearances such as the one in Bristol at all, let alone thinking about a television comeback. The toll the injuries took on him, he said, could have forced him out of wrestling.
When he initially went to the doctor following his acrimonious split from the WWE, Ryback learned five of the discs in his back had been virtually worn away and a shoulder replacement was likely.
Had he continued on with the WWE, he said, he would have only been able to wrestle another six months.
“I needed four of my discs fused in my back and both of those [injuries] would have ended my career,” Ryback said. “But through stem cell technology and through my chiropractor, who turned me on to it, he did three [procedures] on my back and six on my shoulder.”
Ryback said he’s 85 percent healthy now and hopes that number increases greatly after two more procedures are completed.
His love for professional wrestling, which began at an early age, has kept him going. Ryback was around five when his parents took him and his sister to a WWF show in his hometown of Las Vegas. Headlining the event were two legends, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. Fast forward to when he was 10 and watching Bret Hart and the Undertaker on television with his friends and Ryback was completely hooked.
It became the starting point in a long journey to reach that same level.
“I fell in love with it at an early age and have always been drawn to the entertainment aspect as well as the physicality of it,” Ryback said. “It was something that just stuck with me for the rest of my life.”
After graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Ryback spent two years training to become a professional wrestler. His first break came as a contestant on “Tough Enough,” a competition created by WWE with a $1 million prize. Although he didn’t win, he caught the attention of WWE, which signed him to a developmental contract in 2005.
Ryback spent the next four years going from Deep South Wrestling (DSW) to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW). It was in the FCW where the Ryback character came to be.
“I decided to be who I wanted to be,” Ryback said. “I was watching “Terminator,” and there was some alcohol involved. I was watching Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and here was this terminator who set goals and set missions and completed them or died trying, and I was like, ‘that’s who I am.’ So I start saying my name, ‘Ryan, Ryan, Ryan,’ and a silverback [gorilla] kept popping up in my head. I combined the two names - Ryback - and literally right then and there, that changed everything in my career and I took control then and started having a say in what I wanted to do.”
Then, in February 2010, Ryback competed in NXT as Skip Sheffield before breaking his ankle in August, which required three surgeries and forced him to have to wait until April 2012 to make another televised appearance.
The height of his time in the WWE came in 2015 when he defeated Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, King Barrett and Mark Henry in an elimination chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship. Ryback’s reign lasted 112 days.
By 2016, he and the WWE parted ways on less than ideal terms. The company said Ryback did not participate in a battle royal match he was promoted for, while Ryback said he wanted to take time off to heal from his back and should injuries.
Despite how things ended with the WWE, Ryback has no regrets. If there was one thing, it would have been the WWE appearing in Las Vegas more. Performing in front of hometown fans, he said, would have been special. But as he usually has, he just took the good with the bad.
“It’s a miserable existence and anybody that does it knows it,” Ryback said. “You’re gone all of the time and sleeping in hotel rooms, living out of rental cars and airports. But there are highs and lows to everything. Now, I can sleep in my own bed now and be around my dogs. I just wish the schedule was more family friendly at times. I’m thankful for a lot of the cool things that happened [at the WWE] and allowed me to have a world-wide audience and following and was able to take my brand with me.”
That brand has let him to places like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Abu Dabi, Iraq, Qatar and Australia, where he is Rock & Roll Wrestling’s World Heavyweight Champion.
There are of course things the 36-year-old Ryback still wants to accomplish during in his time in the sport while he still can. But other than wanting to finish out his career as a “good guy,” exactly what he wants to do - he’s keeping those goals close.
“Little bit different mindset for me than in the past,” Ryback said. “I’ve learned from past situations that they’re only for me to know.”
As for the fans in Bristol, they can expect a show. It may not be pay-per-view or an arena with 75,000 screaming fans. For Ryback, that’s just fine at the moment.
“They’re fun events for me all the way around,” Ryback said. “Northeast Wrestling does a great job. They’re fun and stress free. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org