Bully Ray’s reinvention and transformation has shot him to the top of TNA Impact Wrestling as the current world champion.
This outspoken president of the Aces & Eights looks to further solidify his meteoric rise in his title defense against Sting 8 p.m. ET Sunday, June 2 at the Slammiversary pay-per-view in Boston.
The New York native built a tag team dynasty over the recent decades in pro wrestling with his brother from another mother Devon. Recently he has made the successful transition in the singles ranks.
Ray told media during a conference call leading up to his marquee match that he channels all the pressure he feels into the performance.
“I have been in the tag team world in extremely high profile matches all over the world,” Ray said. “So being in a high-profile singles match, you kind of understand the pressure and are able to channel the pressure into the performance. The only difference now is it’s all on me. It’s all on my soldiers from a total performance point-of-view. In a tag team match if something goes wrong or you need a break or breather you can always look to your partner to tag out. I’m up against, obviously, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time in Sting.
“This is probably the biggest match of my singles career, and I think one of the biggest matches in my career to this point. Looking forward to it a lot and proud of the fact that I’m main eventing TNA’s second largest pay-per-view of the year.”
Ask the dedicated veteran a few years ago if he would be in this position today, and he would probably say no. Ray was always focused almost purely on tag team wrestling. Growing up he recalled being a tag team wrestling fan first.
“That is my earliest memories of pro wrestling,” Ray said. “I always loved tag team wrestling. I always thought a wrestling match could be so much more exciting with four guys as opposed to two. Before I got into the business I knew I wanted to be a part of a tag team. I wanted to have a successful, legendary tag team that people were going to talk about forever in the likes of the Road Warriors, the Rock ‘n’ Express and the Midnight Express and Arn [Anderson] and Tully [Blanchard] and the Freebirds and the Funks.
“[To be up there] with all of those legendary tag teams, that was my goal. I believe me and Devon accomplished that goal. I will never say that me and Devon are the greatest tag team in the business that ever lived or the best tag team that ever lived…However, I can tell you that we are the most successful tag team that ever lived. When you sit back and analyze tag team wrestling history and the best or greatest of all-time, you are going to have to mention me and Devon. The Dudley Boys slash Team 3D has done what no other tag team has been able to accomplish…”
Even though the passionate world champion competes on his own, it doesn’t mean he rides alone. He leads the group known as Aces & Eights, a faction that has run roughshod over TNA since its inception last year. The gang has been compared to a trio dominating WWE these days. For Ray, the two are unique in their own ways.
“I’m not quite sure the Shield is a copycat of the Aces & Eights,” Ray said. “They have their product, and we have ours. I’m proud of our product because when I sit back and look at the landscape of professional wrestling I can honestly say TNA offers the best brand of sports entertainment slash pro wrestling. There is a lot of bit of everything for everybody in this promotion. I really don’t even worry what they’re doing. They offer a different brand of entertainment as opposed to ours, which is a little edgier…”
Among other things, Ray is happy with what he and the Aces & Eights have been able to accomplish.
“I’m proud of where I’ve come and how I’ve been able to do it and do it the old fashion way,” Ray said. “I went out there and I made everybody open their eyes, the same way I’ve been making everybody open their eyes for the last 20 years. Whether you loved me and Devon or whether you hated me and Devon, you always had to respect the fact that we went out there and made sure we found the spotlight and commanding the spotlight. That’s exactly what I’m doing on my own as the TNA world heavyweight champion.”
When Ray fully immersed himself as a singles wrestler his goal was to see how close he could get to the original version of himself. He reflected back to his time in the original ECW, where the controversial star was a heat magnet and would elicit near-riots on a nightly basis with his work on the microphone.
“[There was] that edgy character, that in-your-face guy who I knew could be the most hated guy around and is,” Ray said. “I’ll put Bully Ray up against anybody when it comes to being the most hated. Nobody spits venom like I can on the microphone. That’s not me just saying it, that’s fact. So the whole evolution has been very interesting. I just wanted to see how far I could go when we first split up and how many people I could piss off. Was my goal to be world heavyweight champion? Not necessarily at first, but when I saw how everything was going and saw how some of the fans were reacting and getting into everything.
“My last man standing match with AJ Styles and any other matches I had with the great wrestlers in TNA. People were really getting into it and the character has really grown. I say the word ‘character’ it’s really weird. It’s not a character. I just turn the volume up on who I really am.”
The head of the “Bully Nation” is grateful to his employer for the freedom he enjoys with what he does in front of the camera and in the ring. He attributes this trust from the company as a reason his persona’s evolution has been so successful.
“TNA allows guys to be who they think they should be,” Ray said. “I think that is why we have such great talent and great characters. That is why I think the fans are able to emotionally invest in our characters than any others out there. Being able to go out there and say the things I want to say and how I want to say them allows me to be as successful as I am.”
Ray knew when he and Devon went their separate ways there would need to be a drastic reinvention and quickly. From the timing standpoint to getting into the best physical shape of his career, the performer had all the right ingredients of a new chapter in his storied career.
“I knew which direction I wanted to go ‘character-wise’,” Ray said. “I always knew what I was and what makes me successful as a character. I knew my athletic ability was always there. So now I had to do something from a visual point-of-view. I thought now was the time to get in the physical condition that I always truly wanted to be in and knew I could be. Whether I was 400 pounds or where I am now at 275, I always considered myself a really good athlete.
“If you go back and watch any of the matches you can see that there was nobody me or Devon couldn’t hang with. I always try to compare it to KISS. KISS wore the make-up and when they needed to reinvent themselves, they took the make-up off. Then when they needed to reinvent themselves again, they put the makeup back on. I think that the physical reinvention got people to sit up and take notice.
“I think that is when they realized how dedicated I was to making this whole singles transition work. I’m feeling better out there and looking better out there. It all blended at the same time. That was really my motivation of my overnight reinvention.”
Ray takes great pride in being the face of TNA and representing the company by holding their most prestigious title.
“Being the guy of Impact Wrestling is definitely cool,” Ray said. “I never really sat back and thought about being ‘the guy’. I just knew if I busted my a%^ and do what I did, it would happen. You can’t stand in the way of success. You can’t stop rock n’ roll, and you can’t stop me…It’s great being ‘the guy’, but at the end of the day this is a wrestling company composed of a lot of different wrestlers. Not only one guy could carry a wrestling promotion in my opinion in this day and age. This is a great locker room and a cross-section of great wrestlers. We give you the best bang for your buck. If pro wrestling was a buffet, we offer the best buffet in pro wrestling. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
Ray, who owns the Team 3D Academy with Devon in Kissimmee, likes to see up-and-coming and emerging talent do well. He believes Magnus has all the tools to become a world champion in the future and says United Kingdom’s Rockstar Spud has ‘it’. Even with all the experience he has under his belt, Ray himself continues to learn new aspects of the ever-changing business and remember the lessons he was taught under the learning tree of some of wrestling’s best visionaries.
“I’ve learned more about the professional wrestling business from Paul [Heyman] and Vince [McMahon] because those are pure wrestling minds,” Ray said. “Those are two of the greatest minds you could possibly learn from. Imagine being a young wrestler coming up and having Paul Heyman mold you in a gimmick he created in the Dudleys. Being able to work side-by-side with one of the greatest speakers in the history of the business and has a great mind for psychology. So coming up under Paul was awesome. I learned so much.
“Then it’s like going from Darth Vader to the Emperor going from Paul Heyman to Vince McMahon. Now you see things on an even bigger scale. I’ve learned so many things form Vince and individual lessons. He told me to put things together for what the people want to see. There are also other lessons I’ve learned from him. He taught me so much because I had a really good relationship with him on a business and personal level. Learning from those guys was incredible.
“Dixie [Carter] has been an phenomenal boss. Dixie runs a wrestling company from a more personal point-of-view. I’ve learned things from her in the wrestling business that I would never learned from Paul or Vince because those guys are such diehard pro wrestling guys. They take a different approach with things. So in one way, shape or form I have learned from all of them. I don’t have anything negative to say about any of them because they have all been great to work for.”
He believed he had done it all with Devon when he decided to try his hand in singles competition. For Ray, tag team wrestling was a lost art.
“Tag team wrestling is unfortunately extinct,” Ray said. “I’m happy for guys like Bad Influence, Daniels and Kazarian and [Bobby] Roode and [Austin] Aries were together for a while and Chavo [Guerrero] and Hernandez, but it just doesn’t feel the same. As great as Frankie and Chris Daniels are together, I don’t think you can build an entire tag team division around that because there is such a lack of other teams.
“Unfortunately, tag team wrestling is almost extinct. I wish I could tell you there was a light at the end of the tunnel in any division, but until WWE or TNA really puts the focus on trying to rebuild it, I don’t think it’s going to happen…”
Now the consummate professional’s focus is on retaining the gold against “the Icon” Sting. The stipulation that the challenger would never go for the world championship again if he loses has proved added motivation for Ray. He is not taking his opponent lightly and prepared to be at the top of his game on Sunday.
“I’ve heard rumblings that Sting doesn’t deserve to be in this position or Sting is maybe too much of a veteran to be in this position,” Ray said. “Do you know what I say to those people? I say, ‘Go to hell.’ They’ve never laced up a pair of boots and don’t know what it’s like. Sting can still go. I’m in the ring with him. I’m the one who trades punches with him.
“The guy has it one thousand percent. He is one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been in there with. When he comes out there, the people love him. Does he deserve to be standing across the ring from me wrestling for the world heavyweight title? Absolutely, and we are going to deliver at Slammiversary. At least I know I’m going to deliver and kick his a%^…”
After Sting, Ray makes no bones about wanting to face one and only Hulk Hogan. It’s a match TNA has seemingly been working towards for several months.
“That’s who I want,” Ray said. “I want Hulk Hogan in the ring. I want that match. I want to look across from him and know that his fate is going to be the same as Sting. Let me tell you something. Hulk Hogan versus Bully Ray will get the whole wrestling world talking. For one reason or the other, people will be talking about it. I don’t care who sits back and goes says Hulk Hogan says this or that or he doesn’t belong there. At the end of the day people will be interested. They will be interested and want to see what happens.”
• Follow Bully Ray on Twitter: @RealBully5150.
• Slammiversary, celebrating the 11th anniversary of TNA Wrestling, is 8 p.m. EST live on pay-per-view on Sunday, June 2 from the Agganis Arena on the campus of Boston University.
No Holds Barred: TNA champ Bully Ray vs. Sting. (If Sting loses, he can no longer wrestle for the TNA title.)
Kurt Angle vs. AJ Styles.
TNA Tag Team Elimination Title Match: Chavo Guerrero & Hernandez (champs) vs. Bad Influence (Christopher Daniels & Kazarian) vs. Austin Aries & Bobby Roode vs. James Storm & Gunner.
TNA TV champ Devon vs. Joseph Park.
Ultimate X champ Kenny King vs. Suicide vs. Chris Sabin.
Samoa Joe, Magnus and Jeff Hardy vs. Aces & Eights (D.O.C., Garrett Bischoff and Wes Brisco)
Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell.
Gutcheck Tournament Final: Jay Bradley vs. Sam Shaw.
• TNA Impact Wrestling is 9 p.m. EST Thursdays on Spike TV.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN, http://twitter.com/#!/smFISHMAN, where I post links and information. Opinions expressed reflect no other entity. I can also be found tweeting incessantly during wrestling shows weekly.