Three months after he blew up the sports world by flipping a 227 lb. man with his penis—hands free, of course—I met The King of Dong Style at a sushi joint in a strip mall in the Valley.
Pro wrestler Joey Ryan is given to wearing aviators, skimpy neon floral briefs, a thick mane of oiled-up chest hair, and a smarmy sheen of chauvinism when he struts into a ring, peacocking his way through an infectiously entertaining caricature of faux-misogyny and retro machismo.
He usually walks out to EMF’s one-hit wonder anthem “Unbelievable” or “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)," sucking suggestively on Blow Pops that, on at least one occasion, ended up being wielded against him in a match.
But kayfabe be damned; in real life Ryan’s a Disneyland fanatic who proposed to his pro wrestler girlfriend in the ring when they fought each other in an intergender match in February. (She said yes.) Strolling up to meet me in a wrestling tee and shorts, he was all polite smiles and brawn, ponderously quiet—the antithesis of his outsized ring persona.
Ryan’s also no fool. After scrapping in the indie circuit his whole career, he can recognize an opportunity when once-in-a-lifetime shots at viral celebrity land in his lap. Which brings us back to the subject of his penis and how it became a global sensation.
The moment was a huge one for Ryan, even if the world didn’t realize it until a 28-second clip hit the web last December. Technically it happened the previous month in Osaka in a match against Japanese wrestler Danshoku Dino, whose own highly effective signature move consists of grabbing his opponents in the junk.
As the brunette American and the bleached blond Japanese star sparred in the ring, Danshoku went for the crotch with an iron grip that’s bested many a rival in the past. But then—well, the video speaks for itself.
The clip went viral, landing Ryan newfound notoriety and raining a rare smattering of mainstream attention on the indie wrestling scene—i.e. the world of spandexed warriors that toil, for far less money and fame, on the outskirts of the juggernaut WWE bubble.
Ryan was instantly approached by media types and companies, including adult XXX site YouPorn, who offered to sponsor his ring career. When the check cleared he officially named his dick power move the YouPorn Plex.
Not bad for a fight that was hashed out, like most wrestling matches, on the fly with Danshoku right before the show.
“Because the political correctness is a little different in Japan than it is in America, [Danshoku] can be over the top, he can feel up his opponent and do the grabbin’ the dick stuff as his offensive maneuvers, and the crowd eats it up,” Ryan remembered. “The wrestlers sell it as shock.”
According to him, Danshoku planted the seed for what would become Ryan’s signature. “He spoke broken English,” Ryan recalled with a laugh. “‘Maybe I grab’—meaning he grabs my penis—‘but maybe you no sell’—meaning I don’t react. He said, and I quote, ‘Because American cock is so big and so strong!’ It felt like an episode of South Park.”
According to Ryan, his brand of crotch-first wrestling requires no additional, uh, training, or protective gear. But with crowds and promoters clamoring to see him pull some variation of his now-infamous dick stunt at every live show, he’s had to keep coming up with ways to make those penis moves feel fresh and new.
Last month he pulled the YouPorn Plex on not one, not two, but eleven opponents at once. In another match he shared his penis power with tag team partner Main Man Malken to drop a tandem dong style blast at a RONIN Pro Wrestling event. Ryan seems to know his dick moves will have a limited shelf life for hardcore wrestling fans, but for the time being they’re still making live audiences go nuts.
“Now sometimes the guys I’m wrestling are like, ‘I have a great idea for your penis,’ or the promoters will say, ‘I have an idea…’” he laughed. “There are no rights or wrongs in wrestling. I can do other tricks with my penis.”
It’s perfect enough that Ryan should become known for his penis power. At 36, the California native has been wrestling professionally for 15 years but has never known the level of popularity he’s currently enjoying as the indie circuit’s preeminent sleazebag. The same month he went viral Ryan signed on to join the second season of El Rey’s Lucha Underground, bringing his ‘80s styled persona to the wrestling show.
As a kid he’d watch WWF with his dad and two older brothers, always favoring the heroes. “I was a big Hulk Hogan fan,” Ryan explained. “Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat, the British Bulldogs… my brother Jimmy was always into bad guys like Jake the Snake and Rick Rude, so I always liked the good guys.”
He gave college a stab, but Ryan dove full force into pro wrestling after attending his first indie show. It took time to break out of his shell—so the first character he wrestled as was far from the overconfident, hypersexual Joey Ryan of today.
“I grew up a very shy kid and even today, I can be very shy and awkward and introverted,” he admitted. “So the last thing I picked up in wresting was to be able to, like, emote and be over the top. My original character was more of a goth—they put me with a group of goth characters to form a little faction, because with a gothic character you don’t have to show as much emotion or be as vocal. It was a way to get me in front of an audience before I was comfortable doing that other stuff.”
In time, he says, he learned he could control the audience with his performance, rather than let them dictate him. His Joey Ryan character emerged as a fantasy self modeled on his childhood influences. “I decided I wanted to be the kind of wrestler that made me fall in love with wrestling. I wanted to be an ‘80s wrestler.”
He grew out the ‘stache, the chest hair, and took his fashion cues from “probably the coolest guy in the ‘80s”—Magnum, P.I. With one crucial caveat: “As cool as Magnum, P.I. was in the ‘80s, if you saw a guy walking around town today with that look you’d think it was sleazy and kind of gross. So my look is patterned after ‘80s cool, because that’s the kind of wrestling I grew up watching. But the attitude is based on the audience’s reaction to it. I ran with the sleazy.”
That’s not to say Joey Ryan is all penis talent and not the whole package. Over the years the athletic performer flirted with the big leagues, but was told he was too short for the WWE. “I was always told it’s just hard to get in there when you’re under six feet tall,” he smiled. “But that’s nothing I can really fix.”
He dabbled in a wrestling reality show, contracted with TNA, NWA, and appeared in WWE shows, formed the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla promotion out of southern California with five other wrestlers, and, acting as his own agent, learned how to negotiate his own contracts with dozens of indie promotions around the world.
But joining the second and upcoming third season of Lucha Underground has given Ryan his biggest pro platform to date and allowed him a freedom to grow his sleaze-tastic brand in ways the WWE would never allow.
“A lot of television shows try to step-by-step plan their shows out, so the wrestler isn’t painting their own picture—they’re painting by numbers,” he said. “Sometimes the audience can see through that. Lucha Underground is different because they still want their wrestlers to maintain their freedom to play characters the way they want to play them… whereas WWE is like, ‘We need these bullet points to happen and we’re going to hold your hand.’ You’re not as free to be yourself or to figure out your own way to get there.”
Working the indie world also allows Ryan to embrace a raunchy side that, aside from being entertaining as hell, would never fly in the family friendly era of the WWE. Even intergender matches between men and women wrestlers are far more prevalent in indie promotions than they are, and will likely be, on wrestling’s biggest stage.
“I think it has a lot to do with being a publicly traded company and having to make their stockholders happy,” he said. “Wrestling is still not seen as the same as TV or movies. In movies you can get away with Scarlett Johansson fighting men in The Avengers and nobody thinks twice. On TV you can have shows like Jessica Jones where she’s fighting men all season, and even in Star Wars they have intergender fights.”
“To me it all falls under the realm of scripted fighting, but because wrestling is done live and especially WWE presents its product as a sporting event, the visual of men fighting women might not come off like it does in movies—even though I think it should.”
And yet, despite the WWE’s historically sexist bent toward female talent, wrestling’s primetime outfit is starting to see the benefits of a changing approach to gender. That’s evident in the rise of athletic women wrestlers over eye candy—a true diva revolution that Ryan sees in part springing out of the indie scene.
“In the past year they’ve accelerated bringing those women from NXT to the main show,” he applauded. “It’s a natural evolution of wrestling. They’re not just models; they’re wrestling fans. Now you have women wrestlers who grew up watching as much if not more wrestling than the men did. They’re putting in the same time and effort as the men and the wrestling’s getting better, and it’s showing.”
“I think it’s important for wrestling to grow,” he continued. “Now the women wrestlers aren’t there just to be attractive to men, they’re there to be heroes and inspirations to little girls.”
In his own way, the sleazy heel persona Ryan turns on when he fights women plays into a progressive streak we may not see anytime soon in the PG-friendly WWE.
“My character can be…uh… molest-y,” he offered, acknowledging the fine line between comic hyper-sexuality and straight-up misogynist. “It’s important to me when I wrestle women that they have a hero moment, whether it’s them winning or getting even with me, because I feel like it’s a better message of empowerment. I don’t want to just degrade a woman—there’s no drama there, there’s no story being told. When you have a sexual character and you’re doing these over-the-top sexual acts, you have to make sure you’re telling a complete story.”
For now, Ryan’s happy to ride the wave of popularity he’s currently enjoying thanks to his internationally famous package. Fans ask for photos with self-styled King of Dong Style, mimicking his power move. He’s happy to oblige. “People want to emulate it, or pose looking like they’re grabbing it,” he smiled, appreciatively. “I mean, what’s the alternative—not being asked to take pictures?”