WrestlingINC.com owner Raj Giri recently caught up with former WWE Superstar Richard “Ricky Ortiz” Young. We spoke about a large range of topics, including playing in the XFL, his start in the business, being hired by WWE, his WWE departure, Scott Hall, the UWF and more. You can check out the interview in its entirety below.
WrestlingINC: You started out playing pro football. Were you also a wrestling fan growing up?
Ricky Ortiz: Oh, yeah. I grew up in a third generation football household but professional wrestling was always a big part of it. My great grandmother was a big influence on my grandfather growing up through the depression. With those real rough times, that was always their outlet and their source of bonding. It was interesting because she was the woman of the household, but that was a different time and whatnot. But it got passed down to my father and then from my father to me. But that was something that was also a staple in our house, just watching some professional wrestling.
WrestlingINC: So, when you started your pro football career, was a wrestling career also something in the back of your mind as something you wanted to do?
Ortiz: I talked to my old man about that. I asked him, “Did I mention anything [about being a wrestler] when I was younger?” He said, “Yeah, when you were 10-years-old, you told me that you were going to do that.” It was also in my blood, watching it and being around it. I always felt like football was the big distraction keeping me from it. But, when I was in the CFL up there in Canada, I ran into Bruce Hart and he was running Stampede Wrestling at the time. We did some little interview back there with him. So, I was trying to get involved in pro wrestling in — I think — [in] 1998 but didn’t really know how to go about doing it. And, at that time, I started making some money and paid for my school with football. There’s where that dichotomy started.
WrestlingINC: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re also the only wrestler who also competed in the XFL.
Ortiz: Yeah. That was one of those stats that popped up. I don’t know if that’s something to brag about or something I should give you some heat for bringing up. [Laughs.] But, no, that was actually a really good time in Orlando. I’m back in Orlando and that was about 8 to 10 years ago. It was a shame that league didn’t last longer but, in the same breath, I’m not complaining because we were making on average $7,500 a week.
WrestlingINC: What did all the players think behind the scenes? Did you guys think it was going to last?
Ortiz: Yeah. I mean, I had a strong handshake with Dick Butkus and he said, “Hey. You’ve got my word that this is going to go at least two years.” But, I’ve learned in watching the NFL when they bring them in, anytime you have an expansion team, they don’t do so hot the first season. It takes a couple of season to go to .500. Here, you have an entire league that’s an expansion team. So, you’re not going to have a solid product for a couple of years, at least.
Of course, Vince [McMahon] was trying to put his own, unique wrinkle in there. Being a fan of wrestling and football, I enjoyed it. I mean, come on. I was in heaven, brother.
[After playing in the XFL] I headed back to my roots, where I was making money bouncing around from different professional football leagues at that time. Just enjoying it while I could. I was thinking, you know, how do I get into this wrestling and sniff it out? The Rock was blowing up at that time and some of the guys from Miami were friends with him. They said, “This guy’s got a book. You should take a look at it. He ended up going to Florida, there’s some wrestling down there. You can learn how to do pro wrestling.”
I guess that little interview with Bruce Hart was another bit of gas to the fire. So, I’m reading The Rock’s book up there in Canada with the urine-soaked mattress on the floor with about six other guys, eating canned beans and Ramon Noodles. I was thinking, “man, I can relate to this. Let me follow this guy down to Florida. It looks like he’s doing something right there.”
Because at that time, it was different trying to get into wrestling. There was still a little bit of hidden mystique to it. There was still a kind of underground fraternity thing to it. But, time’s have changed a lot.
WrestlingINC: You mentioned that The Rock was one of your influences when getting into the business. What was it like seeing his return over the last year?
Ortiz: Every time I turn around, it’s like, “Hats off to The Rock.” I’m not trying to work him a chub here or anything but — hey — call a spade a spade. Hats off to The Rock and what he’s done with his career and what he continues to do with his career. What he’s doing for the industry and the other wrestlers in the ring across from him. That’s huge. I think everybody is benefiting from it and I think there’s a lot of good to come from it. And especially at his age, for him to be going how he’s going, it’s inspiring for everybody.
WrestlingINC: How did you end up entering the business?
Ortiz: Actually, I was up in Denver with the Colorado Crush. Elway had bought that team up there and was running the show. I thought it’d be fun to work for Elway and see how he does things around there. I’m out in Denver, Colorado and lived there for a few years and we won a championship. After that championship, I got married and I said, “Man, this pro wrestling dream. I’ve got to go now or it’s going to be too late.”
Everybody only has so much time with their body. So, me and wifey — I said, “Come with me. I’m putting it all on the time. I’m all in, I’m making the commitment right now before I even have a job.” We went there [to OVW] and went to all of the classes with Rogers. Good, ol’ Rip Rogers and Robert Gibson were some of my first trainers. Off we ran. Louisville, Kentucky. It was a little change from Denver, Colorado. That’s for sure. [Laughs.]
WrestlingINC: You started there as Atlas DaBone and I remember hearing a lot of stuff about you, and hearing that this guy was probably going to make it. You weren’t actually there that long. They kind of brought you up pretty quickly.
Ortiz: Yeah. It was a unique situation. I went there and I was taking all the beginner classes, then I was taking the amateur classes. I was doing all their road show schedules. Then, I was doing the advance classes and their road shows. I was watching their matches and started studying and taking it all in. I made a commitment that this was my life and to eat, sleep and breathe it. To be the best I could and I knew that anything worth anything takes time and to develop any type of skill — whether it’s a professional sport or just your profession or trade in life — it takes time to hone your craft.
So, I was just trying to get as much in as possible. Next thing you know, six or seven months in, Johnny Ace came in and I wrestled a match with Chet The Jet and he did a helluva job putting that thing together. I was so green at the time and I got a job. That thing started running and I was kind of trying to put the brakes on it. Everything was taking off with the Atlas DaBone character. It had the old school feel, with the rag-tag towel for the Pittsburgh Steelers, DaBone Yard — I thought it was all really cool. It had a little bit of the old school feel to it. The old heel character with the stubble, the all black, some gold on, some flash and arrogance. Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect kind of stuff.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think it’s translating completely like you’d like it to at the start but that’s kind of where it all started with me. Al Snow had me working as a baby face like “Superstar” Billy Graham when he started off if you’re familiar with him in Canada. With what the Dungeon did with him, it was kind of synonymous with that. It just started moving really fast and the Atlas DaBone stuff was all getting over. It was all kind of corny/catchy. “He’s a bit of a womanizer. Giving them nothing but DaBone.” It was a fun, little thing … It was a good time.
I got over and when I got over in the development territory, it started changing. The black went to fluorescent, the little afro went to, “Don’t cut your hair and grow this completely out. No, you can’t get many more tattoos. No, you can’t cut your hair. This is how you’re going to talk.” It was a learning experience. Once again, you can’t trade experience. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sports, business or trade. It’s experience. That’s also kind of why I made the decision to train with MMA, training with America’s Top Team down here and just fighting. Doing this new breed of jiu-jitsu and grappling tournament… just doing all this real stuff… core, roots stuff.
I always enjoyed when I saw those old time guys and it’s like, he’s for real. He’s got real cauliflower ear. His face has been beat up. This guys been in all these fights, he knows how to hook, he knows how to shoot. Here we are and WWE’s bringing back Brock [Lesnar] and Lord Tensai, older men that know what’s going on and it’s kind of interesting to see where the product is headed. Especially with this big MMA craze.
WrestlingINC: How do you feel about Brock Lesnar coming back to WWE?
Ortiz: It’s very interesting. I’ll tell you what, there’s not too many things that perk my ears but that perked my ears. Lord Tensai perked my ears and it drew me back in. When you have grown men and they can really do stuff with their hands and their grappling and they’ve paid a lot of time into their field of work, I think it’s awesome. It’s that feel you get. It keeps getting back to these grown men, tough dudes and not boys. Guys that have spent time who have sweat and bled a lot.
WrestlingINC: When you got the call to go to ECW, that was about a year and a half after you debuted in OVW, right?
Ortiz: Yeah. It was maybe a year and two months that I have been working. I was trying to put the brakes on it but the thing is that I’m trying to learn the correct etiquette. Every locker room, every dojo, every place of business has an order of operation with the way things are running. Everyone’s got their role. I was just trying to take the whole scene in and whatnot and it was completely different than in the sports world. I had a lot of trust and understandingly, it comes with time.
WrestlingINC: It sounds like you thought that you were being brought up too soon.
Ortiz: Right, but I didn’t want to question the industry. I had put 22 years into a different industry and I was starting all over. So, I knew what it takes to dedicate your life to something. I knew that with timing and what feels right as a competitor and professional athlete, so my natural instinct was to pump the brakes. But, what do I know? Know what you don’t know and just shut your mouth and do as you’re told. Trust them.
WrestlingINC: From OVW you went to WWE and they gave you the name Atlas Ortiz. Who came up with that name?
Ortiz: They said, “You’re going to debut today.” I thought it was a rib. They said I was debuting and I was like, OK. [Laughs.] “We’re going to cut this promo but your name’s going to be Atlas Ortiz. You know, you’re Ricky Ortiz, but your friends call you Atlas.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh. Really, dude? Like this?” But I was like, whatever. So, you run with it and you figure that that’s how it goes. You never know, things change and flip around.
Tony Atlas was there at the time and I think it had something to do with him, who I respect. I didn’t have a problem with that. They bring you in one day, they change your name the next day on television. It was actually the second day. It was the follow-up. It just kind of makes you wonder about the trust and how much trust is going on with the thought process and what’s going on. I mean, this is my life. I dedicated everything to this. I’ve sold everything, lost everything along the way and I’ve put it all on this. I made my mind up not to turn back and I’m coming losing trust a little bit is what it’s starting to feel like. They’re just throwing this here or there or maybe it’s a test. Maybe it’s a test, you know. I’m not going to judge anything and I’m just going to take it as it comes with a positive mind frame and be grateful for each day I’m given. What else can you do especially when you’re that green in the business?
WrestlingINC: How would you describe your first year in ECW?
Ortiz: It was like a dream come true. It felt like the first time I stepped out in a field or arena playing football. It was like that all over again but with its own uniqueness to it. I wouldn’t compare the two but yet, it felt thrilling, man. All those years just spending inside these different arenas and stadiums packed and battling. This is the feeling of grace, just wanting to fall to your knees and say, “Thank you, man. I get to do this again.” It’s life, brother. You’re feeling the heart beat. Man, it’s a real grateful feeling. That’s for sure. Especially with ECW and the path that those guys had laid before us and what they had put themselves through and sacrificed for that product.
You watch all those old promos and all the old matches. That was actually a nice launching pad for many superstars. But, those guys were coming in with a lot more experience than a year. [Laugh.]
WrestlingINC: Who were the guys you enjoyed working with in the new ECW?
Ortiz: Jack Swagger was fun. I mean, I enjoyed all those guys — all the guys that are on television now. I worked with those guys every day. All those guys; from Dolph [Ziggler], to Kofi [Kingston], to Jack [Swagger], to Evan Bourne, to Santino [Marella]. I mean, come on. You’re just messing around with the comradery with each other and playing around. There’s no better job. I think that’s important, too. Sometimes, it gets lost and there’s so much hustle and bustle that that aspect kind of gets lost in there when you’re in it. It’s fragile. Life is, wrestling career, all that stuff. You’ve got to remember the love that drew you there in the first place. That’s what I think about when I think of all those guys that I wrestled up there in ECW and everywhere in between.
WrestlingINC: How would you describe the mood in the company at that time?
Ortiz: Like any top notch, Fortune 500 company that’s producing the figures that they’re producing. With those profit margins, and the way they go with their product and the different avenues they’re taking. I think it’s no different than an NFL team. Everything’s got a little different like Mexican food or American food or Chinese food. It’s still prepared food but it taste a little bit different. It’s got it’s own little spice to it.
WrestlingINC: You were in ECW for a little less than a year and then you were drafted to Smackdown. Did you know ahead of time that you were going to be drafted to Smackdown, or was it a surprise when they did that?
Ortiz: Brother, I think everything was a surprise. [Laughs.] Every time I’d be sitting in the back, they’d say, “We need a baby face.” Jamie Noble would say, “We need a baby face. He’s Ortiz. That’s my man!” My boots aren’t even tied up, I’m eating. That’s sports-entertainment. It can happen on a drop of a dime. That’s kind of the draw to it for myself, too. You always have the mystique and the unknown of it that may occur. I think it lies within that.
WrestlingINC: You didn’t make your debut for about a month after you were drafted. Were you hearing anything during that time?
Ortiz: Nah, brother. I never heard anything too much. Even if there was stuff, I don’t think I really paid attention too much. I was really just focused on my work and studying so much. There’s only so many hours in a day. Like I said, it takes time and I was just grinding and grinding. I was thinking about what I could do and different ideas. I feel like that character had gotten so far away from the original character I developed that it was kind of to a point of no return, I guess.
WrestlingINC: Were you able to talk to anybody about that or is it one of those things that since you’re new, you kind of just have to listen and don’t speak?
Ortiz: I think so, but at the same time, I think communication is an important part. How much are they willing to give you to communicate? I mean, come on, they’ve been in this their entire lives and you’ve been in this a year or a year and a half. How much can you know? What can you know, right?
At the same time, you still have faith and belief and trust and you’re thinking that they know something I don’t know. I’ll trust them. I don’t have any reason not to since they’ve given me this job and all this. If Steven Speilberg said, “Hey, come in. You play a janitor in my new E.T. movie. Sorry, you’re not going to be the lead bad guy or good guy but we’ve got this role where you play janitor.” Well, you play the best dang janitor you can for Steven Speilberg. Well, Vince McMahon has you play the role he wants you to play.
WrestlingINC: So, for the months you were on Smackdown, did you get the feeling that things weren’t gong well or that something wasn’t right?
Ortiz: Something wasn’t kosher? [Laughs.] Yeah, like are the cards weren’t somehow mysteriously falling into place and you’re hearing glass break. [Laughs.] No, but I think there’s some sort of innate, natural sense in all of us about the direction that things are moving… Whether it’s the company or your individual position in the company.
Hey, it’s synonymous with sports. Whether it’s fighting or whatever; you persevere. You get knocked down, you get back up. Times are tough, you fight through those. You keep going because this is what you train for and this is what you do. You don’t let it bring you down. You let it motivate you and keep forward, keep going. You grow from the situation and you learn from it and you adapt and become better from it in the end.
WrestlingINC: When you were released that summer, what was the reason given to you?
Ortiz: They basically said, “Why don’t you give that Atlas DaBone character another try,” and basically, “Go and refine your skills. There will be an open door here and hopefully, we’ll be in contact with you in the future with each other.” They made a call for me to go to Puerto Rico right after my release and that was it.
You sensed it and then you knew with the squash match I had with Great Khali before that. With the call, you know, it hurts because you’ve put everything on the line. But, if you want something, you’ve got to be willing to pay the price for it. Everybody’s got to pay dues and has to go through hard times. That was just the beginning of it. [Laughs.]
WrestlingINC: After you were released, you appeared on an episode of “Last Call with Scott Hall.” I know you traveled with Hall for a few indie shows, as well as Larry Zbyszko. What was your relationship like with them, two guys who are legends of the sport?
Ortiz: Well, I ended up living with Scott Hall for about eight months and studying tape every single night. I listened to his stories with Shawn Michaels about the stuff they’d talk about before and after the matches. Looking at the entertainment aspect of sports-entertainment by studying movies and different sorts of actors. All the stuff that had to do with the business that was that old school type of teaching and mentoring. Kind of young boy style.
Just really breaking stuff down. Studying old Dick Murdock tapes and hearing the stories about him being young and him doing stupid stuff like him doing a slingshot over the ropes and he’s about 280 pounds. Dropping down and leap frogging you even though he’s a big giant dude, just because he can. Just doing all this kind of stuff, where you go, “OK. These guys weren’t always psychology-based geniuses. They weren’t always these artists at the top tier. They actually had to learn and they were mentored and it took time.” So, it was actually refreshing to live with him.
He [Hall] was on the straight and narrow when I was there and then stuff happened. Shoot, we all need prayer, brother. God helps us all, man. But, I thought it was good. Then, we’d go do these indie shows and hear the stories on the road and I’d pick his brain.
That’s another thing that’s missing is being on the road for years with guys in the car after shows. Then, after the show, they tell you what’s what and you start to get a sense and a vision of what works for you. Then, there it is: it’s the gift passed down and I think that’s a part that’s missing also. You can call them the dinosaurs. [Laughs.] But, I mean, those guys are a dying breed. They hold a lot of the golden keys, so to speak, to the industry and what built the industry. They’ve been groomed under all these great guys that have built the industry and have been taught all these secrets. That helps with them giving back to the business like that. It really does.
It helps — not only that person — but the person up and coming. It helps the business. And the end result is that the fans get a better product and that makes it all worth it.
WrestlingINC: Do you still keep in touch with Scott Hall?
Ortiz: He’s going through his battle right now. I think the best thing to do is just pray for each other and let everyone fight their fight. Be there for them if they call or want you to come by. But, everyone’s got to fight their own battles. Everyone’s gotta step one foot in front of the other every day and just be there for each other. Just to be a shoulder to lean on — offer a hand.
WrestlingINC: Yeah. I think we all hope for the best for him.
WrestlingINC: So, how would you rate yourself since you left WWE? It’s been a few years and you’ve wrestled for a lot of independents. Do you think you’re at the point where you’d want to make a return or do you still want to do the indies for a bit?
Ortiz: I’d absolutely like to make a return but that’s not always our decision. Like I said, I found the love within what I do. Sweating and bleeding with the real stuff. Doing the sports-entertainment stuff on television and tying it all together. I think when WWE is interested, and like Johnny Ace said, that bridge is always open — there’s been a little bit of talk back and forth. Just a little something here and there. We’ll see where things go.
I’m just really humble and grateful at this point and I’m just enjoying each moment in front of me at this time. But, yeah. That’s where the Superbowl goes down. I’ll tell you what: over at Urban Wrestling Federation, it’s a man’s game now. They don’t play around there, brother. [Laughs.] You go in there and you see the guy from TMZ trying to do an interview and he’s shaking. “You shouldn’t have waxed those eye brows and wore that shirt buttoned up so tight around here, man.” He’s like, “I know! It’s scary around here. These guys have guns around here. They’re doing this over here.” [Laughs.] I said, “Yeah, brother. There’s two different worlds.”
There’s a lot of liberal freedom over there and you get to try different things out. There’s a lot of guys that have worked for many years around the indies and Japan. I think it’s good. Now, you have all these people that are really passionately working and honing their skills. Whether times have changed or not, it’s always good to see someone that puts their life into what they do. So, yeah. It’s cool, brother.
WrestlingINC: You’re been wrestling with the Urban Wrestling Federation for a little while now, and I managed to catch a couple of their shows. I find it entertaining, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Tell the fans that don’t know much about the UWF what it’s all about.
Ortiz: The Urban Wrestling Federation is combining hip hop music — all these hungry artists that also are drawn to sports-entertainment/professional wrestling. They’re big fans of it. It’s a demographic that’s been untapped, so to speak, as far as the hip hop genre. With the music-based plots and story lines with thugs and gangsters. Kind of like the present day Scarface/Grand Theft Auto/The Wire — with that energy.
It’s also got some ECW roots to it so you know there’s going to be done different that’s never been done before. You know there’s going to be some extreme stuff happening around there. It was obvious when — I believe it was the second pay-per-view — the last scene ends with one of the gentlemen outside of a club is shooting his .9mm down the road at another entertainer.
You’re having all of these matches going on but it’s more of a Fight Club kind of scene. It’s like Pitbulls or dogs going in there and and they’re betting on their dogs who is kind of their enforcer type of each other these crews. I mean, come on, there are guns involved, there are razor blades, chairs. There’s falls count anywhere, anytime. So, anything can happen. You’ve got a lot of backstabbing, a lot of drugs, a lot of money, a lot of sex, a lot of violence and a lot of blood. Just what America wants. [Laughs.]
WrestlingINC: Well, thanks a lot. Do you have any final comments for the readers of the site?
Ortiz: Just check out UWF Turf Wars. It’s coming up for Urban Wrestling Federation on May 27th. It’s going to be something different than the other products out there. Don’t be scared to try something different. You might like it.
You can follow Richard Young on Twitter @beastortiz. Also, you can check him out in action at Urban Wrestling Federation’s sixth national pay-per-view, Turf War, which premieres on Sunday, May 27th at 11pm ET.