Navigating through the real world, Ricky Cox was going to have a hard time finding an occupation that fit his personality.
So he turned to the not-so-real world.
“I’m pretty much a big mouth, smart (butt),” said Cox, who has thrilled local professional wrestling fans for years as “Ricky Ruckus.”
“If someone asked me to describe myself in the ring, I would say, ‘Get to know me,’” Cox said. “That’s what they would see in the ring. You just try to be yourself, but you turn it up.”
Cox will be turning it up again Saturday when Hoosier Pro Wrestling hosts a card at the 4-H Fairgrounds called “New Year’s Nightmare.” He will be trying, as Ricky Ruckus, to take the Hoosier Pro Wrestling heavyweight title away from Zombie Rob Ramer. Action begins at 7:45 p.m.
At 34, Cox is a survivor in a sport that can be unforgiving to those who try to make a living without the advantage of huge arena gates or television money. However, he said he has no desire to pursue a spot on the major circuit.
“Once you got older, you understand the business side,” he said. “Those guys in the WWE, unless you are one of the very top guys, you are not making as much as anyone thinks. And you have to be on the road all the time. I’m a homebody. And I’m cool being a big fish in a small pond.”
He’s a homebody who has found his niche as a character who can live out some evil intentions in the ring without having to deal with the police afterward.
“When you are a kid, you have all this pent-up energy and frustration,” Cox said. “In the ring, you can let that go with no consequences.”
Cox said he grew up in a poor Columbus neighborhood.
“I didn’t play organized sports, but I played football and basketball in the neighborhood,” he said. “I always loved sports. It was one of my favorite things. I loved football and wrestling.”
Without the money to attend any big pro wrestling cards in Indianapolis, he caught pro wrestling whenever it was on TV.
“I liked the bad guys,” he said. “They always had more personality. The good guys weren’t very realistic, and they were cookie-cutter.”
Cox eventually went to Columbus East High School but did his senior year at Jefferson.
“I guess that’s where the bad kids went,” he said. “In high school, I just didn’t take things seriously. All my role models were knuckleheads. I didn’t have a dad growing up, no one to stick his foot ...”
While Cox lacked focus, he was smart enough not to cross some important lines.
“I had friends going to jail for drugs,” he said. “I never got in that deep.”
However, he still regrets wasting his athletic ability during his school days.
“I always was a good athlete,” he said. “I wish I would have played football.”
‘Play to the crowd’
At 21, he attended his first live professional wrestling match, promoted by Jerry Wilson at the Armory in Columbus.
“I met a wrestler (Eric Draven) from Madison, who was selling shirts. He explained to me that’s how you made your money.”
The thought intrigued him, especially since he had been working “piddly jobs.”
“I didn’t even know there was a wrestling crowd in Columbus,” he said. “But I watched that first show, and I knew I could do it better. I guess I’m just kind of cocky.”
Cox started driving to Madison several times a week to learn the ropes from Draven.
“He trained me with the agreement that I would work for him for my first year for free,” Cox said.
Although the workouts were tough, he kept going.
“I knew I was not going to quit,” he said. “Playing football in my neighborhood, I always was the youngest guy. I was used to the pain. Most guys who try this quit after the first day.”
In April 2000, he had his first match in Madison.
“There were about 50 people there, but I felt like I was in Wrestlemania,” he said. “I was so nervous.”
He began doing shows every weekend while learning his craft.
“The more time you spend in the ring, the better you will be,” he said. “You try to wrestle people better than you. And once you get down all the moves, you start to work on ring psychology, how to play to the crowd.”
Wrestling for free that first year, he worked at the Columbus Bar in the kitchen.
“We had a guy who worked there named Chris. I don’t even know his last name. But he started calling me Ricky Ruckus. I liked it.”
Becoming a fan favorite
So in 2001, Ricky Ruckus became an attraction in Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio. At 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds, he was big enough and strong enough to get in the ring with the biggest bodies.
“I did a show in Shelbyville at the fair; there were a couple of thousand people there,” he said. “There was a guy there, the Highlander, who weighed 600 pounds. He was the biggest person I’ve ever seen.”
Fortunately, Cox didn’t have to pick him up.
“I just ran into him,” said Cox, who made like he was bumping into a wall, then shivered his whole body and pretended to fall backward.
Seldom does Cox perform in front of “thousands,” but that is OK.
“Here in Columbus, even a small crowd can be a decent crowd,” he said. “The main thing is if the crowd is into it. And no matter how many people, you always give your best. They might bring more people with them to the next show.”
Wilson said Cox has been a “charm” to work with as he has matured over the years.
“He puts more butts in the seats than anyone other than Donny Idol,” Wilson said.
The fans tend to love him, bad boy image or not.
“He’s got the tattoos and the long hair, that rough guy kind of look,” Wilson said. “But he’s just a good old boy, and he grew up in town. He never left Columbus, and he would help anybody out.”
Wilson hopes Cox will help him out for a long time. Now a 240-pounder, Cox walks “a fine line” when it comes to training for his profession. He loves to go to the gym, but he has two herniated discs in his back and a blown-out knee. He has to train just enough to negotiate his time in the ring, yet not so much that he aggravates his injuries.
Even so, he believes he will have a long career. He might suffer when just walking around town, but he said he never feels it in the ring.
That’s where the big mouth takes over.
“It’s kind of weird,” he said. “The crowd seems to like me.”