This Sunday night in Las Vegas, could be the biggest night yet for Team Taz in AEW. It starts on the Double or Nothing Buy-in when Hook and his new (best?) friend Danhausen battle Tony Nese and Smart Mark Sterling. Then on the main show, Ricky Starks and Powerhouse Hobbs look to capture the AEW Tag Team Championships in a triple threat match against the reigning champs, Jurassic Express, and the team of Swerve Strickland and Keith Lee.
Double or Nothing is already a special night for Starks and Hobbs. Sunday will mark their first PPV match as a tag team and they are looking to make it a memorable one.
It was an absolute grind for Ricky Starks just to make it to AEW. He spent nearly a decade on the independent scene before earning his opportunity with All Elite Wrestling. Starks parlayed a TNT Championship open challenge match against Cody Rhodes into a full time contract and ever since, he has been working his way to where he knows he belongs - the main event.
The #AEW World Tag Team Champions @boy_myth_legend/@luchasaurus will put their title on the line at #AEWDoN on Sunday May 29 LIVE on PPV against @starkmanjones/@TrueWillieHobbs & @RealKeithLee/@swerveconfident! Available on all major providers, @BleacherReport, @FiteTV (intl) pic.twitter.com/5bQn06szuZ— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) May 22, 2022
I had a chance to catch up with Ricky Starks on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast this week and the reigning FTW Champion knows how important this match on Sunday is for, not only himself, but also Powerhouse Hobbs.
“I think winning those titles is just a fact of solidifying ourselves as someone who is credible. If not more credible than most of the people that you see currently on television. I think Team Taz, or me and Hobbs should I say, our story has been a bit of a rollercoaster in a way where we had a lot of ups and we had a lot of downs. And I think having that, especially winning at a pay per view, would just be a cherry on the cake there.”
With a stacked roster that almost quite literally gets bigger by the week, it can be a difficult task for many pro wrestlers in the company to stand out and make their mark. Starks and Hobbs have been putting in the work both on screen and behind the scenes and are ready to show that they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Young Bucks, FTR, Blackpool Combat Club, Jurassic Express and all the other incredible teams in the AEW Tag Team Division.
Much like Starks, Hobbs arrived in AEW after a decade long journey across the independents. His size, raw strength and in-ring skills left an impression on Tony Khan after the Casino Battle Royale at the All Out PPV in 2020. Khan signed Hobbs to his first contract with a nationally televised promotion not long after and much to his credit, he didn’t relax after getting that deal. He went right to work and has completed transformed himself over the last year and half.
“It’s been incredible. He works very hard. Actually everyone from Hook, to Hobbs, to me, we all work very hard. It’s great to see where Hook is. It’s great to see where Hobbs is and it’s great to see where I am now,” Ricky Starks said. “Hobbs in his own credit, he’s done it himself. He wakes up very early on these travel days and he goes to the gym and he works out. He watches what he eats and he studies and he’s very attentive. No one can take any of that from him. That was all Hobbs’ credit, work, and he’s done the thing. And I’m very proud to see how far he’s come.”
Hard work and passion. Those are two things that Ricky Starks are all about. He fell in love with pro wrestling very young age and decided he would do everything he could to make it as successful performer.
He says without his dedication, his love of the sport, and surrounding himself with the right people to fuel his drive, he would not be where he is today.
“I think a lot of people get into this or anything and they half ass it or they’re not fully committed. And I think as a viewer, you can see through it and you can see who’s actually putting in the effort and who’s just kind of coasting by. So to me, passion is the greatest thing. And it’s the greatest power that you could have with anything and to not really tap into that is a crime.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone (who knows what they are talking about) who doesn’t believe that Ricky Starks has a very bright future ahead of him. This Sunday, he’s out to change the minds of any of the remaining doubters.
First things, first. Starks has a big match on tonight’s Dynamite on TBS. It’s the 3-year Anniversary Special and Starks is set to take on Jungle Boy and Swerve Strickland in a Double or Nothing preview triple threat match.
Make sure to check out my full conversation with Ricky Starks in the video above, or feel free to read more from our Q&A session below:
Bleav in Pro Wrestling: No company embraces and celebrates the hometown talent, like AEW does. Heel, babyface, it does not matter. What was it like for you to go back home to New Orleans a few weeks back for Dynamite and get the kind of reaction you did?
Ricky Starks: That was an insane night, especially for the fact that I grew up eight minutes from the (UNO) Lakefront Arena. It was amazing to go back home. My family was there. I was able to wrestle in my hometown. The place that I grew up. The place that I fell in love with wrestling. And to experience that reaction, that was amazing. I think that was pretty much a glimpse into the future for myself. Once things start to really get going for me, as far as, how I think I’ll be perceived moving forward, if not already.
But yeah, it was awesome to have people from work, go and experience my city and the energy that that city has. And not only that, but they experience the energy of the people. People in New Orleans love wrestling. They love the Saints. They love LSU. You know, college football, professional football, and they love wrestling as well. So it’s cool to have that and be a part of that too.
BPW: Does that kind of crowd give you just a little extra pep in your step? You always bring it, but was there something special in the air that night?
Ricky Starks: Absolutely. Of course. I think too going into that day, my mind was already just all over the place, just because there was a lot to get coordinated with my family being there. Making sure they were taken care of. And then some of my friends, and then earlier in the day, I went and did a visitation at a school with me, Hobbs, Captain and Amanda Huber. Things like that for the community. And so I was already pretty wiped before I even got to the venue. And then I got recharged up when I got there and heard the people come in.
BPW: I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never been to New Orleans. What was the best part about growing up there?
Ricky Starks: I think the best thing growing up for me was the fact that, I was able to experience a lot in terms of different walks of life. I grew up around a lot of older people, so I’m more apt to talk and communicate and be able to relate to older people. And that’s just how I’ve been. I’m a very old soul. I grew up around these people who were well beyond their years telling me things that I shouldn’t have been hearing when I was younger.
On top of that, I got to do whatever I wanted. I was a very adventurous kid. And so I got to do whatever I wanted in the realm of safety and things like that. So I think for me to experience that, to live in that environment, was great for me because I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. And obviously that’s where I fell in love with wrestling. And so you’d see me outside wrestling by myself or with my brother in the front yard, and playing with the little action figures that I had too. So it was cool, man. It was just a great, it’s a great city.
BPW: Were you one of those trampoline wrestling match kids? That’s what we did back up here in Cincinnati.
Ricky Starks: No, I actually was a futon kid. We wrestled on a futon and broke that. I remember inventing Billy Kidman’s finisher. You know the one where he gets behind you and hooks you... it’s like the reverse Pedigree basically. I remember doing that. And then the next week I saw him do it. I said, “Wow, look at me. I’m a creative genius.”
BPW: You may have already shined a light on the answer to this next question. But I follow you on Twitter. And on multiple occasions I’ve seen tweet about passion and surrounding yourself with the right people to fuel your drive. At a very young age, you decided what you wanted to do in life. How did that drive and passion for you develop so early in life? Where did that come from?
Ricky Starks: I think we all try to figure out what we are good at in life. We go to the grave still trying to figure that out. I never did any sports. I never had that type of opportunity for myself to really figure that out. So, when I got into wrestling, obviously this was something that I genuinely loved. I really do love it. And I’m already a passionate person by nature. So I think those two just went hand in hand.
If more people understood what passion is and the love for it, we would see a lot of different things come out of it. And on top of that too, it’s also important to be around people who fuel you and you fuel them because it’s hard to do it by yourself. I’ve done it by myself. I really have for my entire career, but I have people now and I’ve had people back then too, that really pushed me forward and helped me. They didn’t have to do anything physically to say, “Hey, get this guy a job.” But just talks and perspective, things like that. That’s what I’m about. So it is important. It’s important to me. Passion. Manifesting what you want and having the drive to really get these things done is my whole formula. If anyone wanted to ask me what makes me successful and what can I do to get here? Really? That’s just it. Those three things, to me.
BPW: Is there anything outside of wrestling that you’re really passionate about?
Ricky Starks: (long pause) Women... (laughs). You know what I really got into? I taught myself how to do Photoshop when I was 13. I used to make a lot of graphics. I’m pretty big into graphic making, designing t-shirts and things like that. Essentially, I’m passionate about art. If you’ve ever seen my vignettes that I make, I produce those. And I direct those and I make sure that they’re shot a certain way, because that’s how I see it visually. So I’m really, really passionate about that. Photography too. I’m really big into my digital film.
Those are the things I hadn’t gotten into until, I wanna say, I was about halfway through my twenties. If this question happened a lot earlier on, I’d be a boring person. I’d be like, yeah, I love wrestling. I only watched wrestling when I grew up. So I don’t know, I used to be ashamed to tell people that because they’re gonna think I’m boring, but now I don’t care. That’s what I like.
BPW: And these are skills you’re gonna be able to use for a long time. You’re not gonna be in the ring for forever, presumably. Look at the commentary work and look at the production aspect of it. You seem to be setting yourself up to be able to stay in wrestling for a long time, even though it may not always be as an active competitor.
Ricky Starks: That’s the other part about it too, is exploring things that you really may not be good at. I think from there, once you have the exploration down, now it’s about actually seeing what’s the improvement we can get out of it. So, all these different things that I do, that I love to do, easily sets me up for my resume down the line, when I do retire from the in-ring work.
BPW: So as a 90’s kid, I could not have laughed harder when you called Swerve and Keith Lee a broke ass Kennan and Kel a couple of weeks back. Do you put a lot of prep work into you roast game or do these just come naturally to you?
Ricky Starks: Sometimes I may have something loaded in the chamber that I’ve thought of right before I’ve gone out. Sometimes they just come off the top of my head. No one in AEW, really no one in wrestling, is as good as I am when it comes to roasting them. We have a lot of corny people that have these terrible, as you saw on Dynamite, we had a lot of terrible corny comebacks.
And this is why some of these people get made fun of by people like me. I’m a very quick witted person. I have a very silver metal tongue. I will slice through you. You may be able to beat my ass, but I can make you cry. And that’s how I used to be in school. Like, some kids could beat me up and that was fine, but man did I cut deep.
BPW: Last question. Very nice question and semi-evil question. With the rise of Hookhausen, is Danhausen an official or at least an honorary member of Team Taz?
Ricky Starks: (Without hesitation) No. Absolutely not.