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.