Out of the cage: Alex Riley on being in 'survival mode'
In the first installment of this in-depth interview with Alex Riley, A-Ry opened up about defying expectations en route to finally making it back into the ring. In part two of WWE.com’s exclusive interview, the former analyst speaks on the emotions of his first match back, the #FreeRiley social media campaign and plenty more.
WWE.COM: Let’s talk about your first match back, where you faced CJ Parker. Describe that experience.
ALEX RILEY: I have always respected CJ Parker and the work he has done in WWE. When I called his matches, I genuinely enjoyed his talent and the type of man he is outside of the ring. When I had the opportunity to face him the first night back, I was more than pleased. Coming through the curtain at Full Sail University was surreal. It was something I was told over and over that I would never do, so it was special to me in a lot of ways. In my mind I had never left, so I was prepared for the situation and thrilled to enjoy the ride.
WWE.COM: Following your return match on NXT, you got a little choked up. Can you explain what led to that moment?
RILEY: I certainly was not planning on getting emotional after the match was over. I am a professional wrestler and realize I am being paid to be cold and calculated, but I couldn’t control myself. When the dust settled after Kevin Owens came out and I had realized what had just happened, I was too overwhelmed to hold it back. I had spent so many Monday nights walking the halls of WWE Headquarters in Stamford, Conn., thinking I would never step foot in a ring again. Walking by the posters of all the guys that would continue their wrestling careers, I can’t put into words how painful that was. If you looked at it mathematically, I had zero chance of joining the men on the wall but for some reason, I just kept working out.
I just kept showing up to the WWE Performance Center, even though I was told there was no room for me on the shows. People used to say, “Why are you beating yourself up for nothing? Why don’t you just enjoy getting paid and having a job?” That blew my mind! I genuinely love to wrestle. I love being at practice, and I love the brutality and the contact. My job always has been to wake up and do everything I can to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Until that happens or my knees give out, that will always be my job, even if the company has me doing something else. When I had realized that all the work that I was doing for seemingly no reason finally made sense, and although the logical thing to do by anyone looking at the situation would be to quit and give in, on faith I didn’t stop. I realized I had truly resurrected myself, and the emotion was too much for me to keep inside.
WWE.COM: You mentioned that you continually worked out during your time away from the ring and we clearly saw the results when you returned. What does your time in the gym mean to you?
WWE.COM: You received a lot of traction on social media from what’s been called the #FreeRiley movement. How did that begin?
RILEY: #FreeRiley came from a WWE fan that had written a review of a match I had with Tyson Kidd in Fairfax, Va. He spoke about how good the match was and the potential I had in WWE. He suggested putting me back in the ring and hashtagged #FreeRiley. When I saw it, I loved it. I had been feeling somewhat bound to that desk but because of my desire to still wrestle, I ran with it.
WWE.COM: Prior to your two-year hiatus from the ring, you suffered a serious shoulder injury. Now that you are back, do you have any concerns in the back of your mind about getting hurt again?
RILEY: No. I signed up to get hurt. I signed up for physical contact. I enjoy it. The only thing that is more fun than hitting someone is getting hit. I have always enjoyed the brutal nature of this business. I joined the WWE to be a high-impact athlete. The world without things like that is very slow to me.
WWE.COM: Imagine we’ve never met. At his core, who is Alex Riley?
RILEY: I couldn’t tell you exactly. The face I see in the mirror is not the man that looked back at me when I started in this business. It’s strange sometimes when I feel like I am losing control and the barriers come crashing down. Three years ago, I was a kid that most of the time was scared and timid. That kid is now dead. He needed to go. He was not built to survive here. If I did not destroy him, I would not be doing this interview. I would be back selling medical devices to doctors and that was horrifying to me. I am truly fearless. I can say that with all honesty.
When you have things taken from you or you lose them for whatever reason — your identity included — it is very scary. When you’re truly not happy with what you see in the mirror and you can’t find a way out or a way to fix the problem, it creates a lot of anger. I don’t know how I got set on this path or where it began, but the product of that road traveled is truly a caged animal. Somebody that thrives on anger, emotion and lives for one reason, and that is to protect what he loves at all costs. At this point in my career, I make no apologies; I will not be held responsible for my actions. I am in survival mode until the last of my days as a wrestler and anyone that tries to take what I love better be ready to be put in a life-or-death situation because that is what it means to Alex Riley.
WWE.COM: What’s does your future hold?
Follow Alex Riley on Twitter @AlexRileyWWE.