For anyone who thinks professional wrestling is fake, WWE star Ryback can point to the ankle he broke in three places during a match and vouch for it being all too real.
"I grew up playing baseball and football, and I was very successful at both of those," he says. "I've seen guys come in and try to do this and mentally and physically fall apart instantly. It is by far the hardest thing I've done in my life –– the things we put our bodies through in a day-in and day-out basis and the injuries we suffer."
Ryback, whose real name is Ryan Reeves, will be among the field competing at the "Road to WrestleMania Super Show" 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The event holds special importance because it's the last major competition before the league's "Super Bowl" –– "WrestleMania 29" at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on April 7.
The A.C. card will feature the stars of WWE's "Raw" and "SmackDown," including John Cena, Sheamus and Randy Orton, who will challenge The Shield in a six-man tag team match. Card is subject to change. Ryback and Alberto Del Rio will be matched against Big Show and Jack Swagger. The card also includes Chris Jericho, The Miz, Team Hell No (Kane and Daniel Bryan) and Kaitlyn.
To underscore the intensity of WWE, the 6-foot-3, 291-pound Ryback kept going for a full minute after breaking his ankle in August 2010. In comparison, Ryback says, NFL star Reggie Bush suffered a similar injury and collapsed.
"Anybody who questions the legitimacy of WWE, that's all you need to know," he says. "I literally broke my ankle in three places, and I kept running as my foot dangled and finished the match, whereas one of the premier NFL player fractures his ankle in one place, and goes down and he's done. The injuries are real, and the emotions we bring out are real –– it's the best form of entertainment that money can buy."
Being part of the WWE is a lifelong dream come true for Ryback.
"It had me hooked instantly," he says. "I remember being 12 years old at my first live event. I was a guest bell-ringer. I knew leaving that night I wanted to be a WWE superstar. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but eventually that all came to fruition and now here I am. It's all worked out. Either you get it or you don't, and I've always just gotten it. I'm very thankful that I'm here where I am with the WWE today."
The Las Vegas native got his professional break nearly a decade ago when he participated in "ToughEnough 4," a training competition connected to "SmackDown."
"I knew right from the get-go it wasn't going to be easy; it was much more difficult than I thought it would be," he says. "I had my trials and tribulations and setbacks, but I never stopped and I kept going. It was a lot of hard work. A lot of people said I wasn't going to make it, that I sucked and didn't belong here. I knew it was a bunch of bulls--t. It feels good to be in the position I'm in now for those people who said that."
To maintain his spot on the WWE roster, Ryback spends two to three hours a day in the gym doing stretching, cardio, conditioning and weight training. Before each match, he spends an hour warming up, jumping rope, using the stretch band, stretching and doing breathing exercises.
Who is his biggest nemesis in the ring?
"Right now, The Shield –– Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns - have wreaked havoc on my life the last four or five months and cost me the WWE championship on multiple occasions and put quite a beating on me on a 3-on-1 numbers game," he says.
"I've given them some beatdowns as well. But they have not made things easy for me the past four or five months, so they would definitely rank No. 1 right now."
Still, Ryback is confident he has what it takes to go the distance.
"I bring an intensity to the ring that nobody has - speed, explosiveness. And I get the crowd involved like no other –– that's what sets me apart," he says.
The WWE's super event
This weekend's WWE event at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall offers the last chance for the league's stars to fine-tune their skills before "WrestleMania 29," the "Super Bowl" of the sport, which will be held April 7 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
"WrestleMania is the biggest event of the year for us," Ryback says. "It's something you've got to see in person to see how magnificent it is."
What makes "WrestleMania 29," which is being shown as a pay-per-view special, so big?
"It's the culmination of a year of hard work," Ryback says. "You've got the biggest matches and angles going into one night."
The Undertaker, for example, will put his unbeaten streak on the line by taking on CM Punk.
Another star, Brock Lesnar, will take on Triple H. Ryback, Sheamus, left, and Randy Orton will be paired up with The Shield –– Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns –– and new faces of the sport.
"It's a lot of fun –– a lot of excitement," Ryback says. "You pack in anywhere from 50-, 60-, 70,000 people in an outside arena and it's just something you've got to see."