The unique genre of professional wrestling has always had its share of “hidden gems,” those that were skilled in the ring and a credit to the industry, but for one reason or other didn’t fully receive the credit they deserved. For example, the late Brad Armstrong is unanimously praised as a versatile talent that could work any role he was booked for on a given show. He could guide a rookie through an opening match or work with a main event star further up the card, Brad Armstrong was always a dependable performer that could get the job done. Dynamite Kid didn’t main event Wrestlemania, but his revolutionary style influenced a generated and helped alter the presentation of the industry.
One such hidden gem is “The Hustler” Rip Rogers, an athlete that has spent nearly 40 years in the wrestling business. A former bodybuilding champion, Rip worked nearly every major promotion in the United States during his era, and journeyed to several different countries as well. Despite sharing the ring with everyone from Randy Savage to Giant Baba, Rogers is most well known for his contributions as a trainer of many of the current stars in sports entertainment.
WWE Hall of Famer, Johnny Rodz is known as, “trainer of the stars of the 90s,” and a similar statement about Rip Rogers could be made concerning the stars that rose to fame since the start of the millennium. As the head trainer of the advanced class of the prestigious Ohio Valley Wrestling training center, the man once known as “The Hustler” saw countless names walk through the OVW doors to learn their craft before they chased sports entertainment fame on national TV. John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton, three athletes that are scheduled for prominent roles at this year’s Wrestlemania event, all trained at OVW in their formative years.
The thumb print of “The Hustler” can be seen at all levels, from prospects with potential that attempt to make a name for themselves on the dirt-stained canvas of the independent scene to the main event of Wrestlemania, the knowledge that he taught is displayed.
However, long before he was the villainous Hustler and he trained some of the top stars in the industry, Mark Sciarra was a standout athlete in his hometown of Seymour, Indiana in the early 70s. A natural teacher, Sciarra worked in education even before he stepped into a ring, but after a year in the classroom, he knew his calling was the squared circle.
In 1977, under the guidance of the legendary Poffo family, he made a name for himself in the sport of professional wrestling and began a 40 year journey that took him around the world.
After he became a well seasoned pro, Rogers worked the territory system for over a decade, making stops in Jim Crockett Promotions, Continental Championship Wrestling, and the Central States promotion. He earned the reputation as a solid performer and soon traveled to Canada to begin a nearly two year run in Stampede Wrestling in 1988. His international travels continued, as during this time period, he had the chance to work a few tours for the All Japan organization, where he worked matches with the legendary Giant Baba.
“It was a great honor to work with a wrestling god,” he recalled.
The late 80s also saw Rip travel to Puerto Rico, an island as well known for its wrestling as it is for its violent fans. In contrast to the sunny beaches, the antagonistic Rogers taunted the crowd into a frenzy during matches with local favorite, TNT, the athlete that would later become Savio Vega in the WWE.
“It was a rough place, but it was a place to learn. They had riots a few weeks in a row. You had to show the fans you were crazy to get out of there,” Rogers said.
When he was safely on American soil again, Rip spent most of the 90s wrestling dozens and dozens of TV matches for World Championship Wrestling, Smokey Mountain, and other groups. He made an occasional WWF appearance as well that was added to his always busy schedule.
After nearly 25 years of in-ring competition, Rip settled into a role as the head trainer of OVW in 2000. The promotion had become a developmental group for the WWE, and the previously mentioned names learned from Rogers’ old school philosophy.
“If you have to get good at anything, you have to learn from someone better than you. We learned from working 6-7 days a week. Now, a top indy guy might have eight matches a month. It’s not about a scripted promo or a scripted match. You have to learn to call it in in the ring to become a ring general.”
Prospects with potential entered the training center and departed to national TV as polished professionals in part because of Rip Rogers’ willingness to help them grow as performers. But, even his time as a trainer for the WWE developmental system was a tough path, similar to his in ring career. Living in Indianapolis, Rogers drove two and a half hours to Louisville, KY to teach the WWE prospects. He still makes that same trip to teach wrestling hopefuls today, nearly twenty years later.
“I had to have an extra job to get insurance. I drove from Indianapolis to Louisville during the day and worked at UPS at night to get insurance, Rip remembers.
In 2002, a hit-and-run incident left Rogers several injured, with medical problems that he still deals with today. Unable to work multiple jobs following the incident, Rip relied on teaching the next generation to provide for his family. A humble man, Mark Sciarra never led a lavish lifestyle or had any vices. Still a fitness fanatic at nearly 63, “The Hustler” often posts workout photos as early as 5 AM for his nearly 20,000 Twitter followers. Quite simply, the only addiction Rogers ever had was wrestling.
Recently, the financial pressure of a family, including a college student ready to enroll in classes, became too much for Sciarra after his car, his mode of transportation to the OVW training classes, finally stopped running.
“There’s the van with 250,000 miles, with my wife working and me working, it’s hard not having a vehicle,” he said.
In an effort to help someone that has given so much to the wrestling business, a Go Fund Me page was set up to help get Rip back on the road. Randy Orton, who learned from Rogers during his time in OVW, donated $1,000 to help kick off the campaign.
Despite the setback, Rip remains one of the most giving veterans in the sport, often posting helpful tips on his Twitter page for aspiring wrestlers. Rogers offers an insightful alternative to the cookie cutter mold usually seen in the current wrestling landscape, emphasizing the importance of avoiding a wrestling monopoly.
“If everyone does a flip, a flip means nothing. Mad Dog Vachon, Dusty Rhodes, Wahoo, everyone one was different. If everyone is 205, it means nothing. “I don’t watch TV wrestling, I never watched a WWE pay-per-view in my life. If you know how to play baseball, you know how to play baseball. If you know how to wrestle, you know how to wrestle and to train guys, teach them. If someone only knows how to follow the script, they get lost calling in it in the ring. Highspots mean nothing. Everyone count is two and a half. People want to see the story. Everyone had their own niche, Austin had the stunner, Jake had the DDT, everyone had something special. When I watched the Rocky movie, when Apollo went down, I stood up and cheered. I know it’s a movie, but you want to be emotionally involved. If the whole world is a Pepsi cola and a Papa Johns, I guess I’ll have a Pepsi cola and a Papa Johns,” he explained.
Rip explained that his training style is designed to produce the best talent possible saying, “Have you ever heard someone say they want to play Arena football? Minor league baseball? Playing for NFL Europe? No, they want to be the best.”
Regardless of his current situation, Rip Rogers has nearly four decades of a career to reflect upon, and his reputation as a trainer earned him the status of a respected figure in his chosen profession. Rogers lived the dream and has no regrets.
“I never got into this for the money, I wouldn’t change a thing. If I had $20 million, I still can’t take it with me. I have buddies that are doctors and lawyers that have boring jobs, and all they want to do is hear stories. There was one option, I said I was going to play college football and be a championship wrestler,” he said.
If you would like to donate to help Rip Rogers, you can go to https://www.gofundme.com/rip-rogers-raw-deal
You can follow Rip on Twitter @Hustler2754
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Until next week
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