PHILADELPHIA – The building at the corner of Swanson and Ritner streets in South Philadelphia has had many names over 20-plus years: Viking Hall, ECW Arena, The New Alhambra, The Arena, The 2300 Arena among others.
Bubba Ray Dudley might know the building as well as anyone from his work with ECW, House of Hardcore, other independent promotions and now Ring of Honor.
“Come back this way,” he says, walking around people, suitcases and equipment backstage. “There’s a spot back here.”
Inside a small room that includes more bags, some tables and chairs and, oddly, a drum set and a speaker, Bubba Ray pulls over a chair. This Bubba Ray is now Bully Ray and is far different than the man who debuted with ECW more than 22 years ago and wrestled countless times in this arena during the promotion’s heyday.
The building is the same, but the man is not.
In many ways, that’s what makes him one of the most fascinating people in the wrestling business. Call it character evolution. Call it re-invention. Or call it a means to longevity, with wrestling fans who wholeheartedly embrace nostalgia but for only so long.
In fact, the change of Bubba Ray Dudley to Bully Ray in TNA in 2012-13, back to Bubba Ray Dudley for a WWE return in 2015-16 and then to Bully Ray again for his arrival in Ring of Honor in December rivals Matt Hardy in terms of the dramatic remaking of an identifiable character.
It comes with all the inherent risks of eschewing a persona that fans can identify with, especially given that Bubba Ray and partner D-Von were the most decorated tag team champions anywhere.
“When me and D-Von went our separate way six years ago, I knew I had so much left in the tank,” Bully Ray said. “There was no reason for me to sit back on my past history and rely on that. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I’m sure people want something different.
“The band KISS goes out there every night and they give you enough of what they’ve done in the past along with the coolest things they do now. They are always reinventing themselves.”
Bully Ray and Mark and Jay Briscoe will defend the Ring of Honor World Six-Man Tag Team Championships Friday night in Lowell, Mass., as part of ROH’s annual Best in the World pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET, available on Fite.TV app, Playstation Network, ROHWrestling.com and traditional pay-per-view carriers.)
As Bully Ray, who turns 46 next month, says, “When there is nothing left to do and creative doesn’t have anything for you, you have to come up with something for yourself.”
“Nobody told me I needed to change. Nobody told me a thing, actually,” he said. “My re-invention came all on my own. Nobody told me I should be Bully Ray or call myself Bully Ray.”
So we asked him to break down the key elements of the “creation” of Bully Ray:
- Being a heel: “Bully Ray is Bad Guy 101. I did not reinvent the wheel. I just stuck to the plan of being an effective bad guy and I just put my own little twists on it. … I became that heel that I knew I could be.”
- Physical changes: Bully Ray lost a substantial amount of weight and changed his body. “I got myself in the best shape that I’ve ever been in because I knew that was going to get people to sit up and take notice immediately.”
- Talking the talk: “I’ve had this speaking ability that I’ve had my entire career that nobody really remembered since the days of ECW. For six years in WWE, I didn’t really get to talk too much and then six years as a tag team in TNA, I didn’t get to talk that much. Now here comes Bully Ray cutting some of the best heel promos in the business.”
Where things get interesting is that Bully Ray has been a fan favorite since his arrival in Ring of Honor and is still using his signature line when he asks the crowd, “Do you know who I am?”
Could Ring of Honor make Bully Ray into a heel? Could he split from the Briscoes and go on a singles run? Obviously, he’s not saying, but he does say this:
“I have a desire to do whatever is presented to me that I can turn into something really good,” he said. “At this stage of the game, everything that I do I want to mean something: All killer, no filler.”
Bully Ray touched on some other topics with For The Win.
You have been with Ring of Honor around six months now. What’s your perspective on how things are going and how you’ve been received?
From my point of view and from my relationship with the rest of the locker room and my relationship with the fans, things cannot better. The first night here at the Hammerstein (in New York), I said I’m not coming in to be one of those veterans who is looking to take somebody’s spot or come in and grab a quick payday. I said I was coming in to be a full-time guy with Ring of Honor and a legit part of this locker room and that’s exactly what’s happening. Nobody understands what it’s like to be part of a company like Ring of Honor more than I do, especially being in ECW.
I understand what drives these guys, their passion and their willingness to put their bodies on the line and steal the show every night. I also understand the other side. I’ve wrestled in front of 100,000 people at WrestleMania. I’m trying to help them as much as possible to become better versions of themselves.”
You and D-Von have long run a wrestling school and understand how to teach younger performers. Have some performers in the ROH locker room asked for your help and how do you walk the line of being a colleague and not a teacher?
There are a couple of guys in the locker room who have sought out my advice. They ask me to watch matches, they ask my opinion on psychology. If I’m friendly with a guy I might pull him on the side and point something out to him. Obviously, when you have a talent like myself who’s been in the business for 25 years, I can probably point out some things to them that they might not see and help them to be more creative, better storytellers and to work a style that is more entertaining for the fans.
Other than the math, how is working in a six-man environment different than working in a traditional tag team match?
It’s pretty much the same. Me and D-Von were tagging for so, so long that it became a well-oiled machine. We were two guys working together as one with probably the greatest tag team finish in the history of wrestling. With the Briscoes, they are an entity unto their own. They are like me and D-Von on speed. They are crazy and amped up at all times. Doing the six-man thing with them has been nothing but exciting and entertaining just for me to watch them half the time. I’m in awe of some of the things they can do. They are badasses after my own heart but still can work in the ring.
You have mentioned Matt Hardy’s reinvention and the Broken Universe. Right now there are elements of it in WWE, but a legal battle is ongoing. What do you see happening?
I think that they will get the best of both worlds. They can milk this Hardy run for every dime it’s worth and then they can evolve into a version of the Broken Universe that the WWE sees fits. WWE is not going to allow creations that got over someplace else to come in and rule their world. It’s not going to happen. It didn’t happen with the Bullet Club and it’s not going to happen with Matt Hardy’s Broken Universe. They are going to have to put their stamp of approval on it and have their creative input.
Best in the World card
Here is the rundown for Friday’s Best in the World pay-per-view:
- Ring of Honor World Championship: champion Christopher Daniels vs. Cody Rhodes.
- ROH World Television Championship: champion Kushida vs. Marty Scurll.
ROH World Tag Team Championship: champions The Young Bucks vs. War Machine.
- ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Championship: champions Bully Ray and the Briscoes vs. Dalton Castle and The Boys.
- Strap match: Frankie Kazarian vs. Adam Page.
- Eight-man tag team match (losing team must disband): Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Jay White and Jonathan Gresham vs. Caprice Coleman, Kenny King, Rhett Titus and Shane Taylor.
- Jay Lethal vs. Silas Young.
- The Kingdom vs. Ultimo Guerrero and El Terrible.
- Kris Wolf, STARDOM High Speed champion, debuts in Women of Honor.
Money in the Bank redux
The five performers from last Sunday’s first-ever women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match will do it again on SmackDown Live on Tuesday. That follows a controversial finish and social media backlash after James Ellsworth climbed the ladder and dropped the briefcase with the contact for a women’s championship match to Carmella. After an impassioned plea that might have been her best promo work yet, Carmella was stripped of the briefcase by SmackDown Live general manager Daniel Bryan, and Ellsworth has been banned from ringside for the rematch. Basically, it’s a do-over.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s match, Bryan, SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon and all five women — Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, Tamina and Carmella — tweeted in character about the result. If this wasn’t the plan all along, it was quick thinking given the response. The rematch might not be as good as the original in terms of the actual physicality, but let’s just hope the result highlights the women and gets the division back on track.
In another Money in the Bank rematch, Naomi will defend the SmackDown women’s title against Lana next week. Also, the Hype Bros. face SmackDown tag team champions The Usos in a non-title match; the Hype Bros. get a title shot with a victory.
New Japan on AXS-TV
Buzz continues to build for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s first shows in the United States in the company’s 45-year history. Shows are scheduled for July 1-2 in Long Beach, Calif. The July 1 G1 Special in the USA will be broadcast liveon AXS-TV with no commericals during matches and is expected to run at least four hours beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The second night will air in its entirety on July 7 (8 p.m. ET).
AXS-TV has long aired New Japan on tape delay, but this is the first time AXS-TV will air any form of live wrestling.
“This is a huge opportunity for New Japan,” AXS TV FIGHTS CEO Andrew Simon said. “They sold out both shows within hours without any marketing. It shows the reach and ability to build stars in New Japan.
“Take a look at the rosters from promotions around the world: Stars are coming from New Japan. Okada and Kenny Omega are becoming household names. There are Bullet Club T-shirts are being sold at Hot Topic. Marty Scurll is becoming a big name out there. This is not just a Japanese promotion anymore. It is becoming a worldwide name.”