Alex Riley Q&A: ‘I need respect to survive’
If there is one Superstar we’ve seen evolve over the years, it’s Alex Riley. The man who once served as a cohort to The Miz and then turned into an announcer for WWE and NXT returned to the ring last year, only to be sidelined by a knee injury. This week, WWE.com talks to Riley about his injury, his diet and the renewed sense of urgency in his career.
WWE.COM: Last week, you finally returned to NXT after being sidelined for several months. How happy are you to be back in the ring?
ALEX RILEY: It is like being able to breathe again. Not being able to work is suffocating for me. I have another business I run, outside of WWE, but nothing replaces being in the 20-by-20. I tried to keep myself busy by staying in shape and building some other venture of mine, but the world outside WWE is so slow to me now. I felt the same way when I was done with football. I felt like everyone and everything was moving in slow motion, and I hated it. My senses began to dull and I became numb. I have always felt more alive in the line of fire with my back against the wall, and that is what I wake up to every day in WWE. I love it.
WWE.COM: To those unaware of the injury you suffered, what exactly happened?
RILEY: Well, shortly after my matches with Kevin Owens, I found out I had a second meniscus tear in my right knee. Prior to that, I have no idea. I had hurt my knee in a match in Washington, D.C., almost a year before I had it looked at. At that point, I thought it was like most of the injuries I had dealt with in my life. I figured I’d ice it, give it some time, and 99 times out of 100, the injury just gets better.
I was also coming to the end of my contract with WWE and very badly wanted an opportunity to get back in the ring full-time, and for some reason I got the feeling I was going to be given another look, so I ignored the injury. Kevin Owens threw me over the desk three months later, and I had finally gotten a chance to go be myself again. I can tell you in those weeks that I was in and out of the ring with Kevin Owens, the knee had never felt better. I attribute that to the high I was on from just being back out there. When that was over, I had an opportunity to get it looked at and it ended up being a small meniscus tear. It was a very simple surgery, and off we go.
WWE.COM: How long were you out?
RILEY: I think, completely, it was only a total of three months. The rehab process was a bit longer than I would have liked, but I wanted to make sure I got my knee as strong as possible moving forward.
WWE.COM: How frustrating was it for you to come back to wrestling full-time on NXT only to be sidelined again shortly after?
RILEY: Incredibly frustrating. I have been an athlete my entire life, and I am used to having to rebuild myself. I was thankful it was only a meniscus tear. I had recovered 100 percent from a tear once before, and I was confident I could do it again.
WWE.COM: Do you ever regret leaving your announcing career, given the setbacks that you’ve experienced since returning to the ring?
RILEY: Never. I am a wrestler. That’s what I came here to be, and that’s what I will leave as. I had plenty of very high-paying jobs thrown at me out of college, some in the field of broadcasting, and I left all of them. I took a $150,000-a-year pay cut, packed up my Jeep and, with no experience, headed south to become a wrestler. I challenge you to find one man on the roster that had earned himself a nearly $200,000-a-year job at 26 years old selling medical devices, who would leave all the money and security for the rest of his life to roll the dice in WWE. I don’t think one exists in the locker room. I have had my passion, my work ethic, and my love for this business questioned in the past and it infuriated me. I am not one to usually brag or boast, but that is the honest story of what Kevin Kiley gave up for just a chance to maybe one day be Alex Riley. As challenging as it has been for me to carve out a career here, I have no regrets.
WWE.COM: Has part of that infuriation contributed to the latest incarnation of Alex Riley that we’ve seen on NXT?
RILEY: What you see now wasn’t a choice. I was made this way by a lot of different factors, frustration being No. 1. That, plus being put in a situation where my survival instincts alone took over. If you have a canine and you love him, feed him and don’t ignore him, he will grow to be a sweet, loving, happy dog. Well, in my case, I was not being fed and I had been locked into what has been referred to as a cage and ignored for too long. I was poked and prodded. I need to eat, I need to drink and I need respect to survive. I will not live without these things, I learned over that time. I haven’t had, and still do not have, the respect from this business that I need to survive as a man. But I will get it or die trying. I believe a man has to be good at his job before he can enjoy the rest of his life. This is my job, and it is what I do. It’s now who I am, and the mark I leave here will define my life's work.
WWE.COM: Why do you think this attitude of survival is pivotal for you?
RILEY: I always have been at my best when my back is against the wall. Sometimes I feel like I am not 100-percent focused until that point. I literally wake up every day to a dogfight in one of the most competitive companies in the world, and I am at the bottom of the mountain. I feel blessed to have had it almost come crashing down a couple times and one time completely. I know what it’s like to not eat, to be pushed to the back of the line, ignored, blackballed and disregarded. There are not many things I know for sure about the course of my life, but I promise that will never happen again.
WWE.COM: You’ve always been in excellent shape physically, but now it seems even more so. What are you doing differently?
RILEY: I have a wonderful girlfriend named Austin who is a nurse and very health-conscious. She’s the most disciplined person I have ever met. She is up at 4:30 every morning making egg whites for us, then heads out to do 10 hours on her feet at the hospital and never misses the gym in the evening. I am lucky to have that example set for me every day, in my own house. She always makes her special “chicken prep” recipe whenever I want it. It’s made with chicken, brown rice and avocado. I think I eat it six times a day and plan on doing so for the rest of my life. I have also started working out with a fitness/bodybuilding professional named Frank Rich. He has helped me correct a lot of imbalances I have developed in my body due to football, wrestling and just getting older. I have always lifted a certain way and I’m now learning that just constantly throwing the heaviest weights you can around the gym might not be the best thing for your body.
WWE.COM: You’ve been on record saying that you “make no apologies from this point forward.” What does that mean?
RILEY: The “no apologies” thing came from the fact that I have always been considered a nice guy and prided myself on that. I have always apologized when I thought I wasn’t being such. There is no room for that in my world as it stands now. I always say that for eight years, I was both Kevin Kiley and Alex Riley while I was in WWE. It became very obvious to me along the way that they couldn’t coexist in this world. Either Alex Riley would survive and take his rightful place in the company, or Kevin Kiley would be back in a suit and tie, selling medical devices.
Right or wrong, for better or worse, Kevin Kiley is now dead and gone. The man that stands here today will never apologize for what circumstances and a basic need to survive have made him. This is not a game of laser tag or dodgeball. The world I live in is a game of life and death, and I won’t apologize for treating it that way. If you were left out in the cold for as long as I had been, and had to take someone’s comforter, food, or even their home to survive, you wouldn't apologize either.
Follow Alex Riley on Twitter @AlexRileyWWE