Bully Ray has some useful advice for wrestling fans visiting the New York area for WrestleMania: If you want to see the best wrestling of the weekend, be in Westbury on Friday night.
The Total Nonstop Action world heavyweight champion, who grew up in Huntington, is coming to the NYCB Theater as part of a star-studded line-up that includes Jeff Hardy, Sting and even WrestleMania pioneer Hulk Hogan.
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Bully Ray promises that Austin Aries and AJ Styles will deliver the best pure wrestling of any match this weekend. And, back in the New York Metro area where he earned his reputation, the former Bubba Ray Dudley said he and his longtime partner Devon will deliver the violence.
"New York wrestling fans are obviously very passionate about their wrestling," Bully Ray said. "I always enjoy coming back to towns like New York and Philadelphia where we cut our teeth, so to speak, where we made our names, where we had the opportunity to become who we are today."
And who Bully Ray is today is one of the most talked-about TNA world champions in history -- and also one of the most unlikely. For most of his 22-year career, Bully Ray was a pudgy tag team wrestler. But when he felt Team 3D had run its course about two years ago, he split up the duo and underwent one of the most drastic transformations wrestling had ever seen.
"I knew I had to reinvent myself, get a new name, and get in the best condition of my life," said Bully Ray, 41. "It's been a lot of work, but I really did it the old fashion way, and lost almost 100 pounds. I got up in the morning, did cardio. I ate five to six meals a day. I drank a gallon of water. I lifted weights in the afternoon. I was just really careful about what I did and really diligent about getting to the gym every single day."
While Bully Ray may look in better shape than ever before, he said he doesn't feel all that different. One big change: With less padding on his body, every bump he takes hurts a little more.
"I've always been an athlete . . . My wind has never, ever been an issue in my career," he said. "I'm not saying that I've been in shape, but I've been in ring shape, which is a totally different world."
One thing that hasn't changed about Bully Ray is his penchant for controversy. The outspoken New Yorker recently got himself in some hot water with TNA corporate officials when was caught on camera using some derogatory terms while chewing out a ringside fan. He later apologized for his language, but says he has no plans to change his personality.
"It wasn't like I was using those worlds in a hateful, bashing way. But I guess in the world we live in today, we can't use those words. It was a little bit eye-opening for me," said Bully Ray, who recalled regularly spewing far more vile epitaphs during his days in the original ECW.
"That was a different time and a different place and you can't get away with that stuff now," he said. "People weren't as sensitive as they are now. The world was less politically correct."
If Bully Ray was to credit one person with his straight-shooting, "New Yawker" speaking style, it would be the man he says created Bubba Ray Dudley, former ECW boss Paul Heyman.
Given Heyman's reputation as "The Dr. Frankenstein of wrestling," Bully Ray said he's not surprised that he's at the center of two of WrestleMania's biggest matches this year: CM Punk (managed by Heyman) vs. The Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar (also managed by Heyman) vs. Triple-H.
"Nobody has mastered the art of the politics of wrestling better than Paul. He knows that when he's out of the spotlight, he's going to lay low and let people forget about him. And when he's in the spotlight, he's going to absolutely steal it . . . And more importantly he's going to get anybody around him over," Bully Ray said. "And he knows when he's involved in two of the top matches, he's going to get one hell of a pay day."
Bully Ray may be proud of Heyman, but he's prouder still of being involved in what he says is "the best piece of wrestling storytelling in any company in a long time." He's talking about the recent revelation that he was the leader of the villainous Aces and Eights faction, which has been causing chaos in TNA for nine months.
Throughout most of that time, Bully Ray heroically led the charge to stop the group -- even gaining the trust of TNA authority figure Hulk Hogan. But after winning the world title at Lockdown, Bully Ray revealed, in great detail, how he had been behind the group all along.
"Basically what you got was the ending of the movie 'The Sixth Sense' when they go back and they show you how everything unfolded in front of your eyes but you never realized it," Bully Ray said. "I'm proud of the fact that we were able to pull off such a compelling storyline where people totally got themselves involved with everything that went on. To get that reaction that I got at Lockdown is almost impossible to do in pro wrestling today."
At this stage of his career, the satisfaction of a story well told means more than almost anything -- including the prospect of ever competing at WrestleMania again.
Bully Ray has only good things to say about his former employer, WWE, and noted that he recently talked to friend and former Long Islander Chris Jericho to wish him well at Sunday's big show. But he has no desire to perform again on wrestling's biggest stage, especially after already being involved in his share of epic WrestleMania matches.
"Been there, done that, and stole the show--twice," he said.