We’re coming off of WrestleMania, the largest pro wrestling event of the year. WWE’s annual extravaganza draws in excess of 100,000 fans from around the world. It is the stage every wrestler dreams of performing on and where every fan wants to be. But one-half of one of the most decorated tag teams in the history of sports entertainment chose not to be there. He was wrestling one night earlier about an hour away for Ring of Honor.
Bully Ray wrestled in front of 70,000 fewer fans, and he couldn’t be happier about it. He loves the intimate connection with the crowd. The ECW legend walked away from WWE and other lucrative offers last year and shocked the wrestling world by appearing in Ring of Honor. He’s flying solo without longtime tag-team partner D-Von, but quickly found a place beside one of ROH’s most celebrated teams, The Briscoes. The trio ascended to capture the promotion’s six-man championship and successfully defend them at SuperCard of Honor XI in what was quite literally a student-versus-teacher match. Two-thirds of their opponents were graduates of the Team 3D Wrestling Academy, founded by Bully Ray and D-Von after their first stint in WWE ended in 2005.
The show was went head-to-head with NXT TakeOver on the WWE Network and held its own. And indeed, thousands of fans in Orlando for WrestleMania chose to forgo NXT’s biggest show of the year to attend the more intimate ROH show — they are wrestling aficionados and proud of it. It was the largest crowd in ROH history with thousands more watching online.
And with history now in the rearview, ROH turns its attention to a set of TV tapings in Baltimore this weekend. It will be the next step in their three-man title run and set the stage for Bully Ray’s immediate future in the company.
I talked with him last week about the match, his run in WWE, and whether there will be a Dudley Boyz reunion in Ring of Honor or another Dudleyz run in WWE. His insight on the hate John Cena and Roman Reigns get from the WWE Universe is fascinating.
Walk me through your decision to sign with Ring of Honor. How did the connection come about?
I had taken a short break from the wrestling business since I left WWE last year. We said farewell in Brooklyn, New York, and I was taking a lot of time for myself and concentrating on our wrestling school, the Team 3D Academy. I was just enjoying life and taking it easy. During that time, I did get offers from several other wrestling companies, and I was trying to make a decision on what I wanted to do.
In my heart, Ring of Honor was just the right decision because it reminded me of ECW. The passion of the wrestlers, the passion of the fans, the small company that’s growing. It’s just something that I wanted to be part of. I turned down a lot of money from other companies so I could be with Ring of Honor. I felt that it was the best thing for me right now.
Was there a storyline that was pitched to you by ROH that intrigued you? Did you know what your role would be when you were signed?
There was no plan or storyline with me going into Ring of Honor. We just knew that we wanted to do business together. We figured once we were able to get the business and contract stuff out of the way, we could figure out what we wanted to do.
I told them that I thought that having me debut at a non-televised live event would be something to get the people talking. Especially because it was going to happen in my backyard, in New York City at the Hammerstein Ballroom. That’s where we did ECW One Night Stand… It was a pretty shocking moment and got people in the wrestling community talking and created quite the buzz.
You’re now one-third of the ROH six-man tag team champions. Six-man championships are pretty rare, and that goes to the uniqueness of ROH. Is that distinctiveness part of what drew you to the promotion?
The one thing about Ring of Honor is the passion of the fans and wrestlers and the intimacy of the shows. ROH doesn’t perform in front of 20,000 people. They’ll perform at most in front of 2,000 or 3,000 people, and I really enjoy that intimacy. We’re going into SuperCard of Honor. It will most likely be their largest pay-per-view to date, maybe their largest audience of up to 4,000 people. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m excited about being part of it.
I’ve performed in every arena in front of just about everybody you can. Being in front of a sold-out WrestleMania crowd of 101,000 people sounds pretty exciting. But for a guy like me, being in front of 4,000 people at a sold-out Ring of Honor show is even more exciting.
You’re an established guy, and you come into ROH and are now working with the most established tag team in that promotion’s history. How is the chemistry been working with The Briscoes?
When I first got to Ring of Honor, Joe Koff asked me what interested me. I said, no matter what, I want to work with the Briscoes. They are Ring of Honor’s most decorated and best tag team. They are a homegrown tag team. This again reminds me of ECW. Me and Devon were the best tag team in ECW history. We were the most decorated tag team in ECW history. I wanted to do the crossover to what the Ring of Honor’s version of the greatest tag team was. I wanted to be in the ring with them, work with them, be part of their universe. We go out there on the first night, and we have such great chemistry. We hit the Super 3-D, as it’s known now, and it worked.
As a kid growing up, the Freebirds and the Von Erichs, I never thought I’d get the opportunity to be a six-man champion. But here I am, and it’s cool.
>>MORE: Ring Of Honor’s Joe Koff Talks
What is the likelihood that we’ll see your longtime Dudley Boyz tag team partner D-Von join you in Ring of Honor at some point?
I don’t think we’ll be seeing D-Von in Ring of Honor. You never say never in the wrestling in the business. But D-Von is very happy with his producer job in WWE. He’s working behind the scenes and helping some of the younger talent. It’s a very stable job and not as grueling as being a wrestler. So, I think that, for him, it’s the best fit right now.
Now, who knows? He may wake up tomorrow morning and decide he doesn’t want to do that anymore. He may want to throw away his suit and tie, throw away his pencil and paper and lace up his boots again. He’d be more than welcome to come to Ring of Honor and Team 3D would ride again. But as far as I know, he’s very happy in his current position.
You just mentioned that part of D-Von’s job is grooming the next generation of wrestlers. That’s a huge part of your wrestling academy as well. Do you enjoy that process of coaching up future talents?
We thoroughly enjoy grooming the next generation of wrestlers. This is our 10th anniversary of the Team 3D Academy in Kissimmee, Florida. We’re also opening another location in Danbury, Connecticut.
When we originally left WWE in 2005, we decided it would be fun to go do a couple of smaller independent shows, kind of like when rock-and-roll bands go back and play small clubs. When we did that, we saw that the quality and respect of the young wrestler was very poor. We wanted to do something about that. So, we opened up the Team 3D Academy to have a school that really gave back to the business and turn young wrestlers into respectful men and women who understood the wrestling business. Our wrestling school is not there just to take people’s money. Our school is there because we truly want to put quality back into the system.
You have had some pretty successful talents come out of the academy.
I’ll give you two names that you probably didn’t know came through our doors and that’s New Japan Pro Wrestling stars [Hiroshi] Tanahashi and [Kazuchika] Okada. Those are the two biggest stars in Japan right now. And interestingly enough, at SuperCard of Honor, for the first time in my career, I will be facing two of my students: The Guerrillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga and Tonga Roa. They are the sons of Haku. Me and D-Von trained them from day one. I will never forget the day he brought them to the school and said that he wanted us to train his sons. Haku has always been a great friend of ours. So, four of five days a week, D-Von and I would train his sons. And then Haku would come in on the weekend and train them by himself. We’ve all had a huge part in training them, and now, for the first time, I’m actually going to have to fight them.
As a trainer you have to feel immense pride that these are your guys. How are you feeling going into this one? Are there some jitters that come along with this?
I’m not nervous about it at all, because at the end of the day, when the bell rings, you gotta do what you gotta do. If that means punching a guy in the face or kicking them in the back of the head or hitting them with the Super 3D, you do what you gotta do.
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Let’s jump back to your last run with WWE. You were there for 18 months or so if you include your appearance in the Royal Rumble. Was it always supposed to be a year-long farewell tour, or was it even a farewell tour?
Nope. It was not a farewell tour. It was a one-year deal and let’s see how everything goes. They knew they wanted the Dudleyz back, and we were very interested in coming back… The WWE Universe was very excited to have us back, and we were excited to be back. We were ready to go. I think where the disappointment comes in with the wrestling fans was that they wanted to see more from the Dudleyz. Trust me when I tell you that we wanted to give you more. We were prepared to give more. We were ready for any and everything. However, WWE wanted us to perform a certain duty and a certain job, and that’s what we did for one year. We understood what our job was going in and we understood the enormous amount of money we were going to make. So, at the end of the day, it’s business, and we had a business agreement. We did what we had to.
The WWE run was very successful. I understand that the people wanted more, and D-Von and I wanted to give more, but it just wasn’t in the cards that particular year.
It’s WrestleMania season. As a wrestler there is no bigger stage. Did you miss being part of that build this year?
I don’t miss the WrestleMania build one bit, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I got the t-shirt, and I stole the show twice. I’ve already done it, I know what the rush is like, I know what the feeling is like. It’s great. WrestleMania in 2000 in Anaheim, when we did the first triangle ladder match, exhilarating. TLC II in the Houston Astrodome, exhilarating. You can’t top it.
But I’m a little different. When you come up in ECW, you learn to appreciate that intimate small-arena feel. The kind of relationship with the audience where you can almost look every single person in the eye. And I love that intimacy. I can honestly tell you that I [was] more excited for SuperCard than I was for WrestleMania last year…
What’s your take on the negative reaction guys like John Cena or Roman Reigns get from WWE fans? These are good workers, but half the arena craps on them. Is that a fair reaction, and does it really even matter?
None of it matters because the people are responding one way or the other. That means that they are actually emotionally invested in these characters one way or the other. I would worry when there is no reaction because that’s when you’re dead in the water. Let’s take Cena, for example… Cena was the top guy, the most-loved guy forever. But how much can you possibly love a guy? It’s like I love John Cena, I love John Cena, I love John Cena, I love John Cena. I think after a while some fans got sick and tired of loving John Cena, and now it’s fun and entertaining for half of the place to love him and half the place to boo him. … You can kick and scream and cry and boo all you want. Who cares? He gets a reaction.
With Roman Reigns it’s a little different. I’ve talked about this on my Busted Open radio show. I don’t understand why people don’t like Roman. My co-host used to really like him, and I asked when that one moment in time was that he started to hate him. He said there were so many things, and I said just to name one. And he couldn’t do it. I told him he couldn’t because he was just a sheep like everyone else. Because what does Roman do out there as a performer that he gives people a reason not to like him?
I think some fans naturally revolted because they felt he was being shoved down their throat in much the same way that Cena was.
How is he being shoved down their throat? He’s going out there and doing the things that he’s being asked to do. We can cut this up a million different ways and go into the business of how things are done. In my opinion, Roman Reigns has not done one thing wrong where people should be booing him. He has a phenomenal look, he is really good in the ring, his stuff looks great. I will agree that he could probably use a little more enthusiasm when he’s cutting a promo. Other than that, he’s got it all. I don’t know what there is to hate, but I guess it’s just become the cool thing to hate Roman Reigns.
And if I’m Roman Reigns, this is what I’m thinking. Go ahead and hate me all you want, because every Monday, when I open up my mailbox and I open my check, I love you who hate me even more.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.