Rob Van Damn Discusses Leaving WWE, Busting People Open, ECW, WCW, TNA & More
The Shining Wizards Podcast is featuring an interview with Rob Van Dam. Here are some highlights from the interview.
Training with the Original Sheik: He was there almost always, in fact he didn’t like us to train without his presence. Which we did once in a while, especially more once we reached a certain level, where we understood the basic fundamentals, and at a certain point his nephew Sabu could teach us and it was only like 3 or 4 of us. It was a real personal, family like atmosphere, some other guys would come and go, but they never stuck around, our training was so stiff. We just got taught how to manhandle each other, squeeze each other and try and pin each other. That was the way we got trained, it was a really stiff style. That’s how we broke in. The Sheik was always besides the ring when he was there, once in a while he would get in the ring to really try and drive a point home. Usually the ring was outside, depending on the location, but i remember a lot of times it was in his backyard, and we would be working out in the ring and he would be in a chair soaking up some sun with some suntan oil all over him.
Having Second Thoughts on being a wrestler: I am sure there were, I don’t remember them happening during training. There were a few points early in my career when I thought, jeez what am I doing? I should be in college preparing for something else. I don’t have what it takes to make it. That certanly happened. I remember one time early on, in my career, it was 91, I had my 21st Birthday at a wrestling show in Jamaica. And we wrestled at Coney Island amusement park in Kingston and we had like 3 shows there over 3 nights. It was an awesome deal and a great experience, for me to travel somewhere like that, just everything about being there. The island, the feel, the reggae music. I had second thoughts then, I wrestled this dude named Mark Starr , and I did something, cause I was green at the time. I don’t know what it was, he just took it to me, and ended up PowerBombing me 3 times and pinning me. This was my first match after doing interviews for newspapers, and everything. I was pretty upset about it, and I had to check my gut later on that night, and fight down some thoughts of possible resentment, or regret. I had a scholarship to college. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t fit in with these guys. I hate these guys. During training, training was stiff, your sides hurt from hitting the ropes when you start and you have bruises on them. Let alone hitting the mat, I always went home with headaches. At that point I don’t remember ever doubting my choice. Not until I got into the actual business world of it.
On other wrestlers taking liberties on him when he first started: Oh sure, thats just part of the coming up. Thats part of what you do. You’re at a disadvantage, because you’re just trying to do the right thing. It’s not like it’s an all out fight in the street where you just wanna like take the guys eye ball out and leave him laying there with a punch to the throat or something. You’re trying to be respectful to him and the business. And you’re trying to gauge the whole ratio between entertainment and the physicality thats going on. So when you’re young and green like that it defiently happens. It’s not like an all out challenge, its about using tools against you that you don’t even know, they can use yourself against you at that point. Nothing comes to mind at the moment, but it happens. I remember one time in Japan, when I first started wrestling in Japan. I was young and green. I wore this happy coat like it was a karate gi. It was actually what japanesse wear when they get out of the bathtub, so they must have thought I was an idiot. I tied a black belt around it, and I had electric tape that I put around my ankles for some reason. For whatever reason, I thought I was getting support out of that. So they would kick the shit out of me. Kawada would make it a point of not reacting to when I was kicking him, and then he would kick the shit out of me and at first I really took offense to it, then it really fired me up. Made me want to give back, then I realized, thats what he wanted, thats what the match needed. Out of respect to him, you had to lay it in to him, or he can’t react to it. He was at that level. That really helped me step up my game. It was years later, that I was stepping my game up too much for most americans.
Using his Martial Arts Kicks in Wrestling: When I was training with Sabu, one time in the backyard. It was just Sabu and I, no Sheik. We were talking about a move. Which I still use today, in fact a form of that, is when I kicked Abyss and knocked his teeth out about a year ago. Sabu said you’re a martial artist, you should be able to control anything. I said it would be cool to jump off the second rope and do a flying spinning back kick, but I don’t really know how to do that without killing you. He said try, and I was like if I do it Bam, I can’t imagine it not knocking your head off. Sabu said, just try, and if you knock my head off, then try and pull back next time. I said, that sounds crazy, and he said just do it. So I bounced off the ropes and I kicked him so hard, he had to eat through a straw for 2 weeks. I felt really bad, but sure enough, he was back and wanted to try that kick again.
Training With Sabu: I think that our like minded opinion of what was entertaining and what was exciting to see that helped us really get along at that stage. I was acrobatic, mostly from showing off on a diving board or trampoline. And at that point I was kickboxing, so I was able to show Sabu how to do some backflips and stuff. He had a crazy way of doing it, it looked wild. It worked for him, and he was teaching me, arm bars, arm drags, stuff i needed to add to my repertoire. And we both really liked the same wrestlers, when we watched TV. We were drawn towards the same style. We both enjoyed someone who was considered a high risk flyer. It made an impression on people.
WCW: December of 92 to May of 93. Bill Watts hired me, through Ron Slanker. He was a promoter at the time, the same promoter who had given me the name Rob Van Dam. The first promoter to look at me, when I was 20, not old enough to drink, he saw me in USWA. Ron Slanker was there to visit his son in law, Tex Slazenger. He told me, not only that he was going to be running shows in Tampa, at the Sportatorium, and that he wanted my info and he would like me to come down there. He also told me, I would be World Champion someday. He said I might be wrong about you kid, but I wasn’t wrong about Curt Henning, I wasn’t wrong about Savage, he named a couple of guys. He said I have got this feeling about you. He was the first person to put that confidence in me that made me feel like, ya know I don’t know if I am better then a bunch of the other guys in the dressing room or not , but I am going to go for it like I am and see what I can get out of it. So Ole Anderson took over from Bill Watts in WCW, February of 93 when I did my first tour with All Japan. WCW wrestlers wrestled for New Japan which was the competition. I had this previous booking in All Japan in 92, so when I went to work for Bill Watts he said, go ahead do the booking. When I came back he was gone, and Ole had taken over. And I didn’t have that interest from him that I had from Bill Watts, he was putting me down, I was either getting beat on a regular basis or I was having dark matches giving guys tryouts. And I was young and green, but I still had enough self worth and business sense to decide to leave against the veterans wishes. They said I was crazy to leave, I was on TV and I have only been working a couple of years. I went and worked Independents, and made a lot more money doing that. And I also wouldn’t advise some of you young green kids to go the route that I did. I have no regrets, I walked away from every single company that I worked for until this point, with the exception of the USWA. I left WCW, I left WWE twice, I left All Japan, I left ECW, and fact is, I never regretted it.
Not being booked for the 1st ECW PPV: I am sure there was a reason. I don’t know why I wasn’t booked on the 1st ECW PPV. It wasn’t my job to make the matches. That was Paul Heyman’s. I am sure when he put the card together, he had a reason for not putting me on it, and I took offense to it. So I entertained the first offer that Eric Bischoff put on the table to go to WCW.
How ECW Countered the WCW Offer: He knew that things were looking like I may be going to WCW. The fans believed it, the internet reports believed it. Paul had a great idea, he said, what if we could use this momentum and capitalize on it and put the entire spotlight of the industry on you. I said what are you talking about. He said, what if everyone is expecting you to go to WCW, and we announce that you are going to Monday Nights where you belong, and we pull a switch. What if I can get you on WWF TV. And I was like, what the hell are you talking about. He is telling us, how Vince and him hate each other, how WWF wants us to die, cause we are in there backyard. I had no idea, they had a working relationship the whole time we were running, till I watched that DVD documentary, that was my first proof. He denied it all along the way. I said yeah, that sounds awesome, I am an opportunist and I could go to WCW, which by the way, the idea was to put me under a mask and make me the Mortal Kombat character, Glacier. I wasn’t wanting to do that, and I ended up not doing that. That wasn’t the entertaining part of the offer to me, it wasn’t the gimmick, we were talking numbers and stuff. Went to WWF TV while still working for ECW, which to the best of my knowledge hadn’t been done. I am all about jumping fences and breaking records and finding ways to put my mark on history, and I thought this was a great way to do it. On WWF TV I was a heel, and when I went back to ECW I was a heel because they thought I worked for WWF.
Wrestling Jerry Lynn: Every time that we wrestled we clicked right away. Since the first time we wrestled each other. Because of that, he has been one of my favorite guys to work with, and has produced my favorite match. If you had never seen an RVD match, I would show you an RVD/Jerry Lynn match to impress them. Including the last match that I had with him, a few weeks ago ,awesome match, everything was just great, everything a wrestling match should be. A kind of match, that not only the fans, but the boys in the back know that they wouldn’t survive one of those matches, everything so physical and everything was just there. I would put that match up against any of the matches we have had. Big loss to the business with Jerry Lynn tapping out.
His thoughts on weather Vince wanted the ECW Brand to be successful in WWE: No, No. I think that his ego was more important to prove that WWE was superior to ECW, then it was to try and do business. I think the king wants to be the king, and wants any competition to be visibly destroyed and devalued so everyone knows the king is the king.
His feelings on how the WWE was using RVD: I thought that the caliber of wrestlers that I was working with was great. I was in there with Main Event guys, the top stars of the industry, most respected wrestlers in the world. To be in there with them, and to be able to do some of my stuff, of course sometimes I felt held back. At Different times I was able to still show off, like when I had the hardcore title. Which is what I am out there to do, impress the people with my style, my way of doing things. My unique perspective of a fighting style that I can show with this world of entertainment. I was cool with it, but I was frustrated with the politics. But I didn’t have higher goals then where I was at, I didn’t have it in my mind, screw all these guys, I should be the one with the belt, I should be the one making the most money. I never had that in me. In fact, I never thought, and still don’t think I would have ever been World Champion had I not, personally changed the entire playing field in order to make that a possibility. By bringing back ECW, and spawning a 3rd brand and needing me to represent it. None of that would have happened without me, and my passion and desire for that, so otherwise I really didn’t think I would be wrestling main event single matches against the Undertaker and Steve Austin. I was cool with that, and I was starting to see how much more money they were getting then I was getting, and then I didn’t feel like we were on equal terms like we were in the fans eyes.
Injuring Triple H during the 1st Elimination Chamber: That was the only night that Vince McMahon ever called me, to tell me Hunter was ok. He knew I was concerned for a lot of reasons. I was visibly upset about it. I knew that it was a real big deal, and I never want to hurt anyone anyway. This was something, that was an accident. I wasn’t comfortable jumping off of there, it wasn’t my idea to do it. Just being off like that, BAM. Yeah and its Hunter, it wasn’t good, and they wanted me to know they understood. Vince was super cool about it.
Rumors of having heat about busting people open: When I came in, no one knew how to take the Van Daminator. I split open Booker T, Raven, Steve Austin, Test, everybody. The internet was going crazy with it. I had a match with Kurt Angle, and he got busted open, between the chin and the lip, I hit him with a leg drop on the table, and boom he was busted open. And when I was walking back, I passed Vince, and I said, Oh Vince, sorry about your boy, and Vince said, well next time he will learn to turn his head.
On Concussions: Its a very physical job. I am part of the Brain and Spine donation program through Chris Nowinski. I am part of that program, I am one of those people that have received hundreds and hundreds of concussions. Even now its like once every couple of months. I hit the back of my head, Bam, my equilibrium is off,or the sound is off and everything is in slow motion. You don’t even know when you’re watching, you think you’re in the know, but you don’t know. For me, I feel like I still have it together. I feel like I am in the minority. My friends and I talk about this, some of them are MMA Fighters, Football Players, a lot of these guys have had a lot of concussions, and some of them tell me, they know they have long term damage due to concussions. It surprises me how many of my friends have that and live with that. Weather its headaches, or dizziness, or fogginess or they lose their train of thought. They tell me they relate it to concussions, and me, who has had so many concussions, I thank my lucky stars that I am able to still feel like all the damage is temporary so far.
Bloodletting in Wrestling: I’ve never been a fan of blading. Its funny, cause the Sheik was the master of blading. The Original Sheik he bladed everybody, he cut everybody up. I have never been a fan of that, thats not what I like about the business. However when I am busted open hardway, I’m proud. Because, one I think its good for the business, and two, I am out there to show how tough I am, and thats why for over 20 years, I have been wrestling the same style, taking those DDT’s on my head, and those crazy bumps. I have been taking all that for so many years, I feel like its my position professionally to show how much punishment I can take, cause that’s one of my strengths.
WWE Departure: I was pretty much burnt out. It was nonstop travel. Going town to town to town to town, and the meaning behind it faded for me. I needed time away. So I took it. They had burnt me out, way past the point of being burnt out. It was something I knew I may never recover from. The thought about going back to that full time schedule hurts my chest thinking about it.
Arrival in TNA: I was excited to be there. I liked the business end of it. I wouldn’t have gone unless we worked out a deal that was cool for me. Which meant more balance in my life then I had with WWE. It was a big deal that I was there. As I was ready to make my debut the fans were chanting RVD while they were waiting to enter the building.I was glad to be back I was ready to get some exposure. I was wrestling a lot over seas, and the fans in the states hadn’t seen me. I knew getting back on TV would be good for me.
TNA Leaving the Impact Zone and if its a plus for TNA: I think that remains to be seen. Its a optimistic, hopefully adventure. The bigger crowds look much better on TV. Hopefully TNA hitting all these towns with bigger promotion then they do with the house shows, the live events, hopefully that will help the brand recognition get out there more. Its a lot more expensive to run shows on the road, then it is in the studio. Its more work for us, a lot more travel, we had routine. I love my flight from LAX to Orlando. I love the routine. Now, we gotta go places, where its cold and snow. Flight connections to the smaller cities, few hundred mile drives. There are a lot of different ways to look at it. Being a traveler, I am looking at it like that. Hopefully it will get the brand recognition out, it will look better on TV. So we shall see.
About finishing his career in TNA: Not necessarily. I really don’t look that far ahead. I go with the flow. I don’t know, when I will be completely finished and where I will be when I make that decision.