On a recent episode of AEW Unrestricted, Ricky Starks joined Aubrey Edwards and Tony Schiavone to discuss his short time in WWE as an enhancement talent. Starks noted that these opportunities came shortly after he started his pro wrestling career.
“I think my first enhancement match was back in 2012, a year after I started wrestling. I think that was against Jinder Mahal on SmackDown in Houston, and that was cool to just have that experience,” Starks stated. “Obviously, when you’re younger and doing stuff like that you’re like, ‘oh this is it. This is how I’m getting my big break.’ Obviously, it didn’t turn out like that. That was the first start of that, and then, as the years went on, I started to do more with them. I did some stuff with Ryback and getting put through a table.
“I’ve done a tag team match with me and Aaron Solow against the Revival, just a big, big circle, obviously, in life, and then also too, I had a match against Kane in Austin on Main Event. And that one is very unusual just for the fact that they gave me a live microphone. I went out there. They gave me a live mic. and I talked my stuff. Then Kane comes out, and we have this this five-minute match.”
Starks spoke more on his Main Event match against Kane because he got a chance to speak on the mic and cut a promo. He recalled a backstage conversation with a writer and going through a promo that he did not think was good. However, he praised Kane for being really nice and understanding of a miscommunication in the ring during their match.
“It was so weird to me because a writer gave me a sheet that I had to go over,” Starks recalled. “I’ll never forget, the writer came up to me. He’s like, ‘do you want to go over the lines and what you’re going to say to me?’ I said, ‘no, I think I got it. It’s up here,’ and he asked again. I said, ‘I think I’m OK.’ I can’t remember who it was. It was one of the producers. I would say it was Dean [Malenko], but I don’t even think it was Dean. It was someone else, and they go, ‘he’s basically telling you to recite it to him.’ I said, ‘oh, OK. Well, I guess I’ll go ahead and do that.’ And it was terrible. What was written was like stuff that people in Austin, in TX don’t even eat at a sporting event, but I went out there and I did it.
“Kane comes out, and I knew Kane’s move set. And there was this moment where he whipped me to the turnbuckle, and usually, he gives you the sidewalk slam. And that wasn’t called in the back, and I really thought I was in trouble because I hit it and walked out and then just ran right into it. I was like, ‘oh shoot,’ and as he’s covering I go, ‘I’m so sorry man.’ He goes, ‘no, it’s OK kid. Keep going’ and we get to the back, super nice guy, super, super nice, super respectful, and really, after that, it kind of ended there.”
Looking back now, Starks said he appreciates his WWE experience. He said it helped him learn more about the system on that kind of a stage.
“Then I went and did a tryout,” Starks said. “Nothing happened and was like a bit in limbo as far as not knowing what to do, but as far as the enhancement stuff goes for WWE, I appreciated it more just because, one, I think I got more comfortable with how the system worked and just getting in front of a live crowd like that in that setting in that position.”
Starks revealed that he was in the same WWE tryout as Sammy Guevara. Guevara has spoke about that tryout saying it made him realize that WWE was not the place for him. Starks reiterated those same points while also highlighting his performance in the tryout and what WWE coaches told him during the tryout.
“So the way I took it was, ‘wow, they gave me mic time,’ which is very rare,” Starks noted. “So I was like, ‘OK, this is a good sign.’ So at that point, I still did want to continue with that, but I think what happened was things changed after the 2017 tryout I did, and I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I’ll be damned if I don’t relish in the fact of how hard I work and how out of the water I blew people. Me and actually Sammy were at the same tryout together and he can attest to you.
“I definitely killed everyone in the promo class, and then, when it came to having to go up against these athletes, I held my own to the point where even the coaches were like, ‘you did good, blah, blah blah.’ So I went into it putting all my eggs in one basket and said, ‘this is it.’ That’s how I went in with that mindset only to get a basic no from there, which is fine, but it wasn’t even a no. It was more like, ‘go off and try to get over somewhere else, and then we’ll try to come back on you.’ I was like damn. That right there really showed me that I cannot wait on somebody to offer me something, and I think it changed from that moment where I was like, ‘I don’t think WWE is exactly where I want to be right now. I’m going to just go out and try to make a way for myself.'”
Starks admitted that WWE was a childhood dream of his. He talked about coming to the realization of your dream not being what you thought it was.
“And so ever since that happened, I just started to think more outside of the box with certain ways of getting myself over especially on the indies at that time, like if you weren’t super athletic and doing all of the crazy stuff, you really weren’t a main name,” Starks pointed out. “And so I had to struggle with that and being like a character when everyone else was just a dude who could do a backflip.
“I couldn’t compete, so I think after that, the goal for WWE wasn’t as prevalent as it was. And that took a bit of time for me to get right because that’s my childhood dream. That’s a hard thing to try to process when you’re an adult to be like, ‘well, it isn’t what I thought it would be when I was younger. So let me try to figure something else out.'”
NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis has spoken before about discovering Starks before most, and Starks confirms that saying that his vignettes on Twitter were discovered by Aldis and NWA that lead to him joining NWA Powerrr.
“So the way the NWA came about was after the WWE thing, like everything in my life, there’s always some type of milestone that I’m like, ‘oh, this is what I look forward to,’ and so after the WWE, I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do now.’ So I started making these vignettes that I went out and paid a guy and produced, and I started putting them on Twitter,” Starks explained. “In my opinion, it wasn’t a vignette. It was an aesthetic like ‘lookbook.’ That’s how I would approach it, and that caught the attention of I want to say it was Nick Aldis and then [David] Lagana, and so from there, we started talking.
“They brought me in for NWA 70. I did a four-way match with a bunch of big guys. Willie Mack was included, and then that was the end of it, and so he called me up. Lagana called me up about a few weeks afterwards, and we were talking. He says, ‘you know, we have this idea for the show that we’re trying to do on YouTube,’ and so I said, ‘well, I’ll have to wait until I come back’ because I was traveling overseas. And so when I came back, they were still a go for it, and that’s how NWA Powerrr came to be.”
Starks revealed that NWA did not have a concrete plan for him, but he realized that he could make something for himself through his promos. He also revealed that his NWA Powerrr promos were never written out for him other than the important talking points he had to get across.
“Before going into it, there was no real plan for me if that makes sense, which I’m fine with. I can just make something out of nothing,” Starks noted. “So when I got there, I started to see how things worked. What I noticed off the bat was that no one does promos anymore. It’s a bygone thing for whatever reason, and that’s an area that I obviously enjoy, but I think that was an area that I was like, ‘OK, I can take this and make it a lot more than what it is right now.’ And so they offered me that position and that platform to do so, and I’m telling you, every time I went out there, I was always freestyling.
“I had an idea of what points need to be hit, but every single time, it was a freestyle. I love that. I swear to you. I love that so much, and I like that because, one, I think I work best under pressure. So if I put the pressure on myself and not have a lot of time to prepare, it’s different, and so, from there I had the promos and then we’re doing the matches. It was great, and that’s how I slowly started to build up that following essentially.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit AEW Unrestricted with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.