One of the more outspoken critics has been Ryback. Even before the Oliver segment aired, Ryback has been very vocal about the company's treatment of their athletes. Wrestling Inc. President Raj Giri was a guest on the latest episode of Ryback's Conversations with the Big Guy podcast and they discussed some of the issues that were mentioned during the Oliver segment.
A primary issue has been the grueling travel schedule. The former WWE U.S. Champion discussed just how brutal the WWE travel schedule can be.
"It's a grind when you get there, and you get that mentality. I tell everybody, that once you get inside those walls, you either sink or swim," stated Ryback. "You've got to adapt quickly to the schedule and [you're] hurting all the time. That's one of the best things about not being on the road. You wake up and it is just one thing after another. Because it is never-ending. There is no off season or nothing. Again, I have my issues with WWE... there is good there, it does exist. But by default, why they do certain things [when] it could just be so much better. It is an adjustment for talent, booking your hotels, booking your rental cars, WWE takes care of your flights. But you must be good with your money. You are not just a professional wrestler. You're a professional driver."
In addition to the barrage of air travel, there are a lot of late-night road trips in order to make the towns. Ryback noted that he is surprised that there haven't been more fatal accidents with how much talent are on the road.
"I'm shocked that there have not been any deaths," Ryback explained. "Driving on one-way roads with semi-trucks. There have been nights I have been driving with my head bobbing, drinking my tenth coffee just to stay awake because I'm going on 45 minutes of sleep doing media in the morning. It's a grueling schedule for the talent."
Pay discrepancy has been another complaint lodged against WWE. From the Network taking away from pay-per-view revenue to dwindling live show attendance, many have felt that they are not getting what they deserve.
"Something that got me into trouble is I would keep track of the gates and ask the reps what our gate is tonight," Ryback said. "Then I would document that on my phone so then you can see what they are paying you. I saw my pay fluctuate so much for no reason. A lot of times you only get $500 for these live events. Especially the guys on the low downside. Therefore everyone tries to get as high as a downside as possible because they have to pay you your downside every week. What they try to do is whether you are on a $3,000 downside or $20,000 downside, they will put those live events and TV to equal that downside. It very important that you get a high downside there. Hunter and those guys will say downside doesn't matter. They are full of it, they mean everything. And a guy with a million-dollar downside is making way more than a guy with a $100,000 downside."
This pay scale is not just subject to shows stateside, as international shows have also suffered.
"When I main-evented a 20-day tour I made $35,000 (for the whole tour), nowhere near what previous main eventers made, but I have no way to reference that, so how can I check that?" Ryback asked. "To break this down you would probably do 10-12 tour shows and then TV you would get paid for. When I got downgraded creatively, working more, working longer matches, I was dropped down to the $15-16 thousand range.
Ryback felt that the ultimate insult occurred when he stepped up during an overseas tour due to top talent succumbing to injury, only to experience a further drop in pay.
"The ultimate blow was tagging during the RybAxel period, John Cena wasn't on the tour for some reason (so refunds were issued), so Axel and I had to wrestle the Shield (Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose) in the opening tag each night because Roman and Randy main evented," Ryback stated. "Roman and Randy would kick off the show with a promo. We would go out and attack Roman and beat him down, Dean and Seth come and make the save and all chaos would break out. Then a tag match would be made between us and Dean and Seth.
"Then we do that 20-25-minute tag match for the John Cena refund match. Which no refunds were issued because we went out there and killed it every single night. Then Randy got hurt a week into this tour and said he couldn't wrestle so they took me and Axel, with Randy in the main event working a six-man tag for the whole second half of the tour. Randy couldn't wrestle during the match. We were 30 minutes every night, working hurt the whole time and I left shortly thereafter to get fixed. I made $13,000 that tour. I got that payout and turned babyface Ryback and asked this is the least amount I have made on a tour, we were sold out every night, supposedly this was the biggest tour we have done in years and I said we main evented, in the refund match with no refunds, working hurt for 30 minutes every night, this is nothing. The lowest I have ever seen for a tour. I was told don't ask questions if you want to come back as babyface Ryback, don't rock the boat and don't ask questions."
As referenced in the previous statement, WWE talents are not made privy to past numbers. This lack of financial transparency gives WWE greater control over their talent.
"I do not have all the answers but there needs to be something done to keep them in line," Ryback exasperated. "Because they abuse the system and they abuse the wrestlers. The wrestlers don't have a voice. The main event guys are not going to speak out because they have their money, or what they perceive to be a lot of money. They have created this vicious environment where something needs to be done."
You can listen to the full conversation between Ryback and Giri below. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit the Conversations with the Big Guy Podcast with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.