The Whole F’N Show, Mr Monday Night, Mr Thursday Night, Mr PPV, and RVD are many of the names that Rob Van Dam has gone by in his career spanning 22 years.
RVD has held 22 titles in ECW, WWE and TNA including the World Championships in all three organisations, the 41-year-old is also the only man to achieve the Triple Crown in both ECW and WWE, plus he was the longest reigning ECW Television Champion holding the title for 700 days.
We caught up with the Battle Creek, Michigan grappler to talk about his outstanding career, wrestling in the ECW Arena, and the Medical Kush Club.
How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?
I started watching wrestling through WrestleMania and for WrestleMania II I actually watched in an arena and paid to watch it on a screen. Hulk Hogan was the man, but I was a big Ultimate Warrior fan. Some of the guys that caught my attention weren’t necessarily the main focus, I liked ‘Leaping’ Lenny Poffo a lot because he would do flying headbutts and moonsults, when other guys wouldn’t even leave their feet and that caught my imagination.
Owen Hart as the Blue Blazer, was the first time I had seen anybody do that sort of stuff because when I was growing up the average wrestler was 275 lbs and they weren’t really doing a lot of athletic moves. It wasn’t until some time later in life that I would be exposed to Japanese and Mexican wrestling and when everybody saw that the standards changed forever, and I would like to think that I had a part to play in that.
You were trained by The Sheik, what was it like working with him?
It was an honour, I knew how much respect he got everywhere and knew if I name-dropped him, saying The Sheik trained me, it would give me credibility. When I first started out on the independent circuit I would be getting in the ring with guys who had been wrestling for several years and they didn’t have a clue what they were doing.
The Sheik trained us to be stiff, grabbing each other and really roughing each other up, so lots of the other wrestlers didn’t like getting in the ring with us because we would hurt them. Al Snow was one of those wrestlers, way back in 1991 I would wrestle Al and he was training in a different way to how The Sheik was training us.
It was intimidating to be around The Sheik even though I knew him like family, I would eat dinner with his whole family but I was still afraid of him. He never opened up to the point to where you felt really comfortable around him.
What was it like for Sabu and yourself to induct The Sheik into the WWE Hall of Fame?
It was a great honour and I was so glad that he was being inducted and I was glad that Sabu and I could represent. He trained a lot of legendary wrestlers such as Greg Valentine and Dusty Rhodes, but Sabu and I he trained from scratch and I was so proud to represent him at the Hall of Fame and still wrestle today with his spirit.
It was also a great honour to give a speech like I did that night, which enabled me to show another talent of mine that the WWE always seemed to be oblivious to and that was the fact that I can talk.
You really started to make a name for yourself in ECW after an unsuccessful and short lived spell in WCW, what was it about ECW that made you feel at home?
First of all I have to give a lot of credit to Paul Heyman for allowing freedom where it’s deserved and those of us in the dressing room that would stand out, he let us go and be in control of our matches and to connect with the fans. When we were out there having a match it would be an exhibition of our talent and me personally I’m out there to show off, and with ECW I was never held back.
What was so special about performing in the old ECW Arena?
The energy was just caught in such a confined space that it goes through you and it feels as though your swimming in the energy it’s that thick. Many people who never went to the arena but watched events on television thought it was just chaos but that wasn’t the case, there was a rhythm to it and it’s a crowd you can learn to connect with and that’s how I became a superstar.
The first time I stepped foot in the Arena I was scared and intimidated because before then I had only wrestled in the south and in the south we clap our hands, and in Philadelphia it was more of a bloodthirsty crowd, who all wore black t-shirts and were all males in their twenties. It was such a different atmosphere; the music alone was such a big culture shock for me.
I wanted some hardcore moves, some extreme moves, and I thought I would throw a chair up, jump up and kick the chair into the guys face, then I was coming up with all these new moves to try and get over in this environment and I had no idea at the time that would become the Van Daminator, a move which has won me a lot of matches and gold and it all started in the ECW Arena.
You held the tag titles and Television title for 700 days in ECW , plus had many great rivalries – what were some of your highlights during your time in ECW?
I remember a match with Bam Bam Bigelow really well when I became the TV Champion and the dive into the fifth row of the crowd is a personal highlight of mine, they showed that over and over on the highlight-reels. Like I said I’m showing off, so when I hear people are impressed then I like it, so I’m glad people got to see that, and that single match did elevate me to superstar status.
After that night the crowd really got behind me and started to chant ‘RVD’ on a whole new level and of course I’ve never lost them.
You were involved in the original ECW invasion angle on WWF television, what was that experience like?
I was actually angry with Paul becuase at the time I felt underused and I had an offer from Eric Bischoff to go to WCW and then Paul had this idea where he could get me on WWF television doing this angle with the spotlight on me. Everybody was expecting me to go to WCW because they knew about my offer but we pulled the plug and I would turn up on Raw and it was something that had never been done.
It was a great angle with lots of twists and turns and my debut on WWE television was actually against Jeff Hardy and lots of people don’t remember that because at the time he was just a jobber. The angle only lasted for four or five weeks, and then I found out that Vince McMahon actually thought that I was being transferred over to the WWE and Paul kind of let it self destruct.
When we went over to the WWE for the angle we were told to watch our backs because their guys didn’t want to get beat by us and it ended up on a sour note when they made ECW look bad. We were there to get ECW exposure on WWE television because we needed it as we were growing and it helped us out a lot. I didn’t realise it had all blown apart until Sabu, Vince and myself all sat down and talked but I ended up walking out, and have walked out from everywhere when I thought it was time.
Many people draw comparisons between WCW and TNA, do you feel there will ever be another company like ECW?
No I don’t because there are too many factors and one of those factors was that time period. We were pioneers and it was so cool because none of the stuff we were doing had ever been seen before. That type of wrestling has now been done to death and a lot of indy wrestlers do that style of wrestling but they don’t know why they’re doing it.
To make another ECW you would have to not only capture the same spirit , toughness and the same willingness of all the performers we had to really give everything for that company but also it will need to be cool and cutting edge for 2012 not for what it was then and I can’t imagine in my mind what that would take, and I don’t think we will ever see anything like the original ECW again.
ECW was relaunched by the WWE with One Night Stand followed by the ECW Brand on television, what did you make of the product?
I had high hopes for One Night Stand, I pitched the idea to Vince because I loved ECW and all of the fans at the Raw and Smackdown shows were chanting ‘ECW’ when myself and other former ECW wrestlers made our way to the ring. I gave Vince a list of 14 guys that had been in the original ECW that were on WWE’s books at the time and they didn’t need to bring anyone else in. Vince liked the idea and thought that he could make some money from it and I was getting more excited each time we talked about it.
I was glad we had it and I thought it was awesome, there are things that I could complain about but my major complaint was that I had knee surgery and couldn’t wrestle but again I talked on the microphone. What I said on the mic did more for me than what a match would have done as far as I will be remembered in people’s memories, because they didn’t know I could talk because WWE didn’t want those people to know I could talk.
I didn’t like it when they used ECW as the third brand just like Raw and Smackdown with all the rules and all of a sudden it didn’t mean anything anymore, it basically squeezed every last bit out of our hearts that we had left.
What was it like to be involved in the ECW One Night Stand and beating John Cena for the WWE Championship and holding the WWE Championship and ECW Championship at the same time?
I have to say that was my crowning moment and the reason for that isn’t just because of the World Championship’s I won but also because of what it stood for. Everybody remembers the sign in the crowd that said ‘If Cena wins we riot’ the crowd that night were one hundred per cent behind Rob Van Dam and in my opinion the way wrestling could be if you would allow it to be cool.
Then there was John Cena who stood for the way WWE wants to shove wrestling down your throat and the fans in the arena that night said, we don’t want wrestling that way, we want wrestling this way damn it and that’s what that match was about.
To win that match by sticking to my guns, by not letting go of what I always believed and refused to ever stray from was an awesome night.
What did you make of TNA’s reincarnation of ECW, Hardcore Justice?
I enjoyed it, Sabu and I had an awesome match and to be honest I thought he would still be in TNA today because on that night he proved he can still go. 2 Cool Scorpio had an awesome match with Kid Kash. It was a great night all in all and all of the guys had a great time and we were really thankful to Dixie Carter for letting us do that but we didn’t want to carry it on just to milk it.
I guess there are certain people that will always look to make money on the back of ECW, Shane Douglas recently held a Hardcore Reunion event also.
Again you had many great matches during your time in the WWE, what was it like getting in the ring with guys like Undertaker etc?
Every time I get in the ring with someone, each time it is different and they bring what they bring to the table as do I. Brock Lesnar is the strongest guy I have ever been in the ring with, he just picked me up and threw me about like a rag doll, and I didn’t even know which way to shift my weight or anything and I’ve always been a fan of his since I first met him.
The Undertaker is the legend and is the leader of the WWE locker-room because he has been there for so long and when you step in the ring with him you know he is the leader.
It was also great to work with guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Eddie Guerrero and Shawn Michaels.
What have you make of Brock’s return to the WWE?
When I saw Brock lose his last UFC fight I actually tweeted ‘looks like someone is going to be heading back to WWE’, it was an obvious move and a good move. After Rock v Cena at WrestleMania, bringing Brock back was probably the biggest thing they could have done in wrestling today and it is great to see Paul Heyman on TV again.
You are currently under contract with TNA, and two guys that have a similar career path to you are Bully Ray and Devon, what have you made of their singles pushes?
I think that it has been a good move for both of them, they obviously like the spotlight and when you’re a tag-team then you share that spotlight. They have been partners for a long time and achieved so much during their time together, and I’m sure like most partnerships they just needed some time apart from each other and they can now grow on their own.
I wrestled Bully Ray recently in singles competition and he’s in the best shape of his career and he’s built kind of like his action figure now. Devon is also the current Television championship and is defending the title on a regular basis, so things are going well for the Dudley Boys.
When will we next see you with gold around your waist?
It will only be a matter of time, I’ve held more titles than any other World Champion, so gold always finds its way around RVD’s waist, well my shoulder, I hardly wear the titles around my waist.
I understand when one of your idols The Ultimate Warrior called you when he was looking to get back in ring shape for a return, is this true and what was it like working with him?
He called me and wanted me to train him because he had his first match coming back in ten years and he was fifty years old. I was honoured because I was a big fan of his and we actually went to a wrestling school, so I didn’t want to go to rough on him and didn’t want to take a chance injuring him so we did a bit on the ropes and worked off some cobwebs. We only did it the once but talked about doing a few more times but it never happened, he did do some RVD TV for me and he was super cool.
Are there any dream matches that you would like to have?
I’ve been in the ring and had matches with a lot of guys, someone did recently mention John Morrison and I think that would be a great match, it’s not a big dream of mine or anything but I was hanging out with him recently and we got talking about having a match and some of the things we came up with sounded pretty awesome.
Having worked with Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon and Dixie Carter how would you compare your three bosses in terms of their similarities and differences?
I would say that Dixie rules with love, Vince rules with fear and Paul rules by letting you think your ruling.
What have you made of the way wrestlers are using the internet and social networking sites?
I actually first started watching Hardy Boy’s TV, and that is what gave me the idea to do RVD TV and radio. Lots of wrestlers have their own YouTube channels and podcasts, and I think it is a great idea because when we’re wrestling we’re only able to show one side of ourselves, which are the characters we portray but we actually have other sides to us that are the real us.
You are currently involved in a documentary about the Medical Kush Beach Club, what is your relationship with the club and what can people expect from the documentary?
The Medical Kush Beach club is a very famous building on Venice Beach, California and it’s a hang out of RVD’s, I actually spent quite a bit of time there when I was in between WWE and TNA. One of my best friends actually ran and operated a cannabis dispensary and he had nearly 100,000 patients that would come in.
Whenever I had other wresters staying over at mine I would always take them there because he is such a big wrestling fan. He has a band and they actually perform the theme music that I come out to every week.
The Kush Beach Club is always being raided and it got shut down, they are always changing laws and are trying to fight for their different interpretations about legalising cannabis for medical purposes, and since the club has closed down it is back being sold on the streets. The whole rise and fall of the Medical Kush Beach Club was caught on film for Hash Bar TV and a film documentary we are putting together Broadwalk Hempire.