South Florida means so much to founding members of Nexus.
Nexus, the original, birthed Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, Justin Gabriel, David Otunga, Heath Slater, Michael Tarver, Darren Young, and the powerhouse Skip Sheffield into eventual WWE superstars.
“We all pretty much wanted to be up here in WWE, and we all had a confidence about us,” said Sheffield, now known as WWE superstar Ryback.
The surprise debut of Nexus (with its members) occurred at the end of Monday Night Raw on June 7, 2010 from the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
“We were pretty much told that if we don’t nail this thing, we’re probably going to be fired or definitely not going to be given the opportunity they were going to give us,” he said. “So we were all on the same page that night...We all knew we had to work together that night, and we were all in position to do that, because if we were going to make this thing work, we had to work together.”
Opportunity knocked in a very big way for eight developmental talent to morph into one young, dominant sports entertainment unit.
“When you’re out there with seven other guys, working together, it kind of makes it a little bit easier,” he said. “It wasn’t solely just on one of us. So that definitely helped, but to say nerves didn’t exist would be crazy. We definitely were all nervous before we went out there.”
The eight newcomers immediately made an impact, jumping the barricade and destroying everything and everyone in their sight including WWE’s top man John Cena.
“That was the first night of the beginning of my WWE career, so to speak, as far as being in the big leagues,” he said. “That night in Miami we were given a huge opportunity to sink or swim, and a group of us went out there, and we tore everything up.”
They not only swam, but they swam extremely well with the company’s biggest fish.
“If you look around at the audience that night in Miami and the shock not only on children’s faces but adults’ faces, you’ll definitely see we swam that night,” he said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
Skip Sheffield with Nexus and later Ryback on his own worked with Cena.
“Working with John has been a great experience,” Ryback said. “He’s been on top in WWE for a very long time, and he’s done extremely well for himself. He has set the bar very high. John’s been able to [be on top] for an extended period of time, which is a rarity in this business.
“So being in the ring with John was a great learning tool for me to see where I had to be, what areas I had to improve for me to go where I wanted to go with Ryback.”
How does Ryback describe Ryback?
“WWE superstar Ryback is a big guy who is always hungry, who always wants more, who is in the ring screaming to feed me more because more is never enough. I have an insatiable appetite to be my best.”
Fans love chanting, “Feed Me More,” when Ryback is in the ring, especially after he devours opponents.
To grow in WWE, you need a catch phrase.
Not only does Ryback devour the opposition, but The Big Guy has a big appetite.
He can eat and eat and eat.
“Feed Me More” suits Ryback, literally and figuratively, and with that catch phrase, a star -- a top WWE superstar -- was born.
“I had just come back [to WWE] from a career threatening injury,” he recalled.
As Skip Sheffield in Nexus, he broke his his ankle on Aug. 18, 2010 during a live event in Honolulu in a tag match with Nexus member David Otunga against The Hart Dynasty (Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith, the son of one of Ryback’s idols growing up, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith).
After three surgeries, he returned to WWE at a house show in December 2011. Sporting a new look, he then made his first appearance as Ryback for WWE TV on April 6, 2012 on SmackDown.
The 6-3, 290-pound strongman said: “I was being fed local talents who were half my size, and one of those nights [on SmackDown] I ripped through one of these guys, Benny Camer.
Ryback continued: “I just looked at the camera. It wasn’t anything that was pre-rehearsed or planned. I knew Vince [McMahon] and Triple H and Stephanie McMahon and Kevin Dunn were watching, and I just said, ‘Feed Me More.’
“I got to the back, and Road Dogg, one of our WWE producers, came up to me, and he goes, ‘Man, that ‘Feed Me More.’ Vince really liked that.’ I go, ‘Oh yeah,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah. Where did it come from?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s just what I felt. It’s gotta be how I live my life, like I always want more.’ Road Dogg said, ‘Well, whatever it is, keep doing it. Vince loves it.’
“It all kind of grew from there.”
It grew tremendously, helping Ryback reach five WWE pay-per-view main events, including three for the WWE title. He has appeared in two WrestleManias. In 2013, PWI ranked him No.13 of the top 500 singles wrestlers.
Becoming Ryback in WWE wasn’t his first foray as Ryback, just the first on the main stage.
In 2005, his WWE journey began as Ryan Reeves with Deep South Wrestling in Georgia and then Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville, two feeder groups to WWE. In 2008, he took the name Ryback with OVW, before joining Florida Championship Wrestling, another WWE feeder program in Tampa. He received his first real exposure on WWE TV on the first season of NXT in early 2010, under the name Skip Sheffield.
He evolved into Ryback, and Ryback‘s star grew in WWE, even working with Jared, the spokesman for Subway.
“Everything you see with Ryback, the bug guy, is me. It’s not a character. It’s not a gimmick. It’s who I am as Ryan Reeves [real name],” he said. “Ryback is taken from my real name Ryan and my nickname as a kid, Silverback, because I looked like a little Gorilla, when I was a kid. So everything is Ryback just possibly turned up a little bit. I go out there, and I’m very intense.”
So far, a very intense Ryback worked with many top talent in WWE including Paul Heyman.
“Being with Paul Heyman, if you look back at the wrestling footage throughout the years, he’s been around for a very long time, and he’s been around a lot of the greats,” Ryback said. “So for Paul to want to align himself with me and be with me was a great compliment to me. It was a lot of fun. At that stage of my career and where I was at, I always liked being out there by myself to speak and say what I want to say and not have a mouthpiece, but it was a great learning experience for me, seeing how Paul approached promos and how he spoke to people and controlled the crowd, because he is truly very gifted in that aspect.”
Ryback has his supporters and critics, but the big guy is being the bigger man.
“In anything in life, there’s going to be ups and downs,” Ryback said, “but my time in WWE thus far has been amazing. Each and everyday I get to show up to my job. I love it. I’m very thankful. Everyday is a different opportunity, a different challenge, and I love that.”
Ryback, 33, hails from baseball lineage. His grandfather, Ebba, on his mom’s side played professional baseball, as did his uncles -- his mom’s brothers -- Steve and Randy St. Claire. Ebba was a catcher, competing in the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Braves organizations in the 1940s and 50s. Steve had a four-year minor league career as an outfielder and pitcher.
Randy, 54, pitched relief in the majors for the Montreal Expos (1984-88), Cincinnati Reds (1988), Minnesota Twins (1989), Atlanta Braves (1991-92) and Toronto Blue Jays (1994). He made one World Series appearance with the Braves in 1991. Randy later worked as pitching coach for the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins before being hired by the Toronto Blue Jays organization, currently working for the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays.
Ryback excelled in baseball and football, growing up in Las Vegas. He starred in both sports for the Western High School Warriors (http://schools.ccsd.net/western/) and his senior year for the Palo Verde High School Panthers (http://www.paloverdebaseball.com/). In baseball, he started at third base his freshman year, then moved to shortstop as a sophomore and played first base his junior and senior years.
“I put on quite a bit of size, so it was just a better fit for me at first base,” he said. “I was the power guy on the team.”
As a youth, Ryback attended Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Rams games with his father, who lived near Los Angeles. Obviously, that was before the Rams moved to St. Louis.
Ryback added: “I actually really loved football.”
But opportunity knocked as a walk-on baseball player at the Community College of Southern Nevada, a top JUCO baseball program, ranked No.16 nationally.
Ryback decided to end his baseball journey as a foot injury stymied his freshman season. He continued his studies, before focusing on becoming a pro wrestler. He attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, entering its fitness management program.
“I wanted to try to finish school and then go into wrestling,” Ryback said, “but then the [WWE] Million Dollar Tough Enough competition came long.”
A wrestling fan as a kid, Ryback favored Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith.
“I really didn’t have any wrestlers I hated. I liked them all,” he said, “but the ones I named were my favorites.”
Ryback had pro wrestling aspirations. So he entered that Tough Enough competition in 2004.
“I sent in a video, and I was chosen for it,” he said, “so I dropped out of school with about a year and a half left to go.”
He did not win, but he was a finalist and impressed the right people. He signed a developmental deal, landing in Georgia in 2005 with the now defunct Deep South Wrestling.
A student in the ring and away from it, Ryback listens to audio books, educating himself on finance, money.
“Going back to school isn’t something that would truly benefit me with the life that I have now,” he said. “If it was something that could possibly benefit me, then definitely yes, but as of right now, no.”
Twitter The Big Guy @Ryback22
SmackDown in Sunrise/Fort Lauderdale
The Road to WrestleMania travels through South Florida as tickets for WWE SmackDown tapings at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, near Fort Lauderdale, are on sale via TicketMaster and at the BB&T Center box office.
WWE SmackDown is 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17 at the BB&T Center, home to the NHL Florida Panthers. That SmackDown will be broadcast 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 19 on Syfy. It will be WWE’s final TV show before the inaugural Fast Lane pay-per-view, which is Sunday, Feb. 22.
It is also the final night of the Florida swing on The Road to WrestleMania.
Ryback said. “We’re on the road five days a week. During this time of year, where you have storms back East and there’s a lot of bad weather, we don’t shy away from that. WWE, the travel, we go wherever we go. It doesn’t matter if it’s rain or snow, but to be able to go to Florida now is a real treat for us.
“First because of the weather. I lived in Tampa for three years when I was in developmental. So it’s great I get to come back and see some people I knew during my time period there. We don’t have to worry about freezing weather and being snowed in and not getting back home at the end of that [Florida] tour. For me, it’s always great coming back to Florida.”
For tickets, visit Ticketmaster
WWE Monday Night Raw in Orlando
WWE Monday Night Raw is 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Amway Center in Orlando.
Raw will be live at 8 p.m. on the USA Network.
PRO WRESTLING ON THE WEB: http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/fighting/.