Pro-wrestler Rob Ryzin is no stranger to the ring -- but this Sunday, November 10, the local hero will be performing a fighting first. Going up against his wrestling hero, Matt Hardy of the WWE's Hardy Boyz fame, Ryzin will take on the Sensei of Mattitude in Twist of Hate, one of his biggest matches to date.
In advance of this massive throwdown, Ryzin spoke candidly with Westword about his tough childhood, keeping a positive attitude and what it's like training to take on his idol and rival in the ring.
Westword: How and why did you get into wrestling?
Rob Ryzin: I've been a lifelong fan of wrestling for as long as I can remember -- I even remember being in a crib for some reason and watching wrestling on TV. I never grew out of it. When I was five, I started buying all of the action figures and I had the toy ring -- my life was consumed entirely with pro wrestling.
I was attracted to the athleticism and the larger-than-life characters -- I think I've always had an interest in being the center of attention. I loved the idea of being able to perform and having thousands of people chanting my name. I remember jumping couch-to-couch doing flying elbow smashes and wearing a paper belt that I made. It was very cartoonish -- it seemed like the wrestlers had super powers.
My grandmother had custody of me when I was five. One of the cool things about her was that she kept a lot of my grade-school work: I have a drawing from kindergarten that says, "when I grow up, I want to be a pro wrestler." Even then I knew; this is all I ever wanted to do.
That never changed -- all through elementary, middle and high school, it's what I wanted to do. I didn't graduate; I left school in tenth grade. Both of my parents struggled with alcohol and that's why my grandmother had custody of me at a young age -- but I moved back in with my dad as a teenager. My parents had divorced and I felt a personal responsibility almost to spend time with him. I lived with him in a run-down motel, until I persuaded him to get us an apartment. It was a good thing -- I think part of him wanted to have a "do-over," so to speak.
He wanted to make good with me and I wanted to spend some time with him. He got lung cancer and passed away when I was fifteen and I've been living on my own ever since. When he passed, I basically was emancipated. I left high school, got a job and got my GED right away and never looked back.
While my father was still alive, I saw an ad for a wrestling school in Westminster called XTC Pro-Wrestling. I was fourteen and I begged and pleaded with my grandmother and my dad to help me get into this school. It was all wanted to do. We went and met with the owner and he said I was a little young -- but he let me train. I was only at the school for about six months before it went under.
I went to another wrestling school and I felt a little bullied -- I was out of my element and still pretty young. I felt like they took advantage of that -- I was thrown around and beat up a little bit. But I loved what I was doing and I wanted to wrestle, so I kept going back. I ended up walking away from it because I hated being beat up and walking away crying -- not in front of the other guys, of course.
I waited until I was seventeen to get back into wrestling -- that's when I met a guy named Jay Synn, who still wrestles today. We met and completely hit it off. We became best friends and had the same goals. We had this common passion and it was like, no matter what we were going to do, we were going to get into wrestling. I'd already been into it and I wanted to get Jay into it because I knew we could both be successful.
We found another wrestling school called High Velocity Wrestling. It was the same situation -- I was only seventeen and they didn't want to train anyone under eighteen, no matter what. I went through a ton of paperwork to get myself in there, and I was able to. Jay was eighteen. Jay and I designed tickets and T-shirts in exchange for tuition, because we didn't have any money. We were basically a two-man street team that promoted the events. We even built the website. We did all of these things just to be a part of the company.
Jay and I really shined in training. We did a lot of backyard wrestling to learn our craft a little bit -- I mean, we didn't do any of the crazy, dangerous stuff usually associated with backyard wrestling. We did everything safely; we just wanted to learn and hone our skills until we could get somewhere to prove ourselves. We just practiced the craft of pro-wrestling meticulously, so that when we were able to blow the school away once we were allowed to train.
They couldn't believe how natural it was coming to Jay and I. It was within a matter of weeks that we were put into matches. That was ten years ago -- I'm now in my tenth year as a pro-wrestler. Jay's and my friendship has had its ups and downs, but both of us have constantly wrestled. We've gone our separate ways as wrestlers -- I started developing myself as Rob Ryzin, the brand and the character, "The Denver Daredevil" that I am now.
Once you became old enough to train, what did your path as a wrestler look like?
Jay Synn and I were completely influenced by The Hardy Boyz. They were our idols; they were our inspiration. They were the style that we wanted to portray, so we actually emulated them to the point that people called us "The Hardly Boyz." (Laughs.) That's who we wanted to be -- we wanted to be the Hardy Boyz of the next generation. I loved Matt and Jeff Hardy, but I loved Matt more for his confidence. Jeff had the charisma.
But like I said, Jay and I went our separate ways. Once you get into independent wrestling and really get on the map as a performer, it is a business. You are a business. One of the cool things is that I actually do marketing for a magazine and I got that job from learning how to market myself in pro-wrestling. I see myself as the Rob Ryzin brand.
I live my brand and through it, I preach positivity. I'm not a negative person and I have a very positive outlook on life. I think that bleeds over into the character. I was able to work within a multitude of wrestling promotions and I was able to start marketing myself to be more than just another indie wrestler. I know that might sound egotistical, but to quote Gene Simmons, "Life is too short to have nothing but delusional notions about yourself."
I've wrestled in Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Kansas and Iowa -- all across the Midwest. Obviously, you don't make a lot of money in this business right away, but I've booked myself everywhere and anywhere I possibly could. I never had really bad matches -- I'm always looked at as a top-tier guy, no matter where I went, and I think it is because my brand exudes that.
I also have two tattoos on my forearms and one on the back of my neck that are spiders. They are also part of my brand. The reason I associate with spiders is because I feel that my life has loosely mirrored Spiderman's: He had to leave his parents at a young age, just like I did. He became a pro-wrestler in the comics, just to pay bills. Spiderman is a superhero and I really feel like I am that guy.
What does training look like for you when you have a big match like this one coming up?
I train at The Butcher Shop -- which is owned and operated by Primo's Hardcore & Wrestling's Joe "Joey Terrofyin" McDougal -- and it's pretty much an open door for those already wrestling and those who want to get into it. I go there to sharpen up; I go there to stay fresh. I don't want to get hurt during training and not be able to perform, so I'm careful. Because I've trained for so many years, it is all about staying consistent.
Right now I spend more of my time at the actual gym bulking up. After ten years of struggling through the indies and doing all of these shows out-of-state, I was actually contacted by the WWE in July. I did trial matches for them in back-to-back shows in Iowa and Kansas. That's a huge piece of my puzzle -- not a lot of guys in Colorado have had that opportunity. Now I'm on their radar.
It was a great opportunity because they could look at me and tell me exactly what they wanted from me. On a positive note, they want me back. Anytime there's an event nearby or if they have a need for extra wrestlers, they are constantly checking up on you. They keep tabs on you all the time.
You're wrestling Matt Hardy, who was famous for his "ladder matches" when he was with The Hardy Boyz. Can you explain what that is, exactly?
You can use the ladder as a weapon of sorts, but the purpose or goal of the match is to set the ladder up in the ring. Hanging fifteen feet above the ring is usually a championship belt or, in our situation, it is a briefcase. It is a briefcase that I inherited a few months back when I came to Primo's after a hiatus. I hadn't wrestled for Primo's in a while and I came back as the bad guy.
I'm a positive guy and to have me come back as a bad guy -- that was bewildering to Primo's fans. I've done a really good job staying the good guy everywhere else and being the bad guy only in this company. I don't like the fans of this company. I love my fans. It's like, I don't like the way this company runs things. I get respect everywhere I go, but I don't get respect here -- it's that kind of thing.
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Matt Hardy has challenged me, personally, to a match for the "cash pot" briefcase. It's literally what Matt and Jeff Hardy are known for -- the craziest, over-the-top ladder matches in professional wrestling history. When I was younger, I dreamed of someday wrestling Matt Hardy in a ladder match. I had no idea that I would get to wrestle Matt Hardy in a ladder match. It's a dream.