This is our first exclusive interview with a wrestler, so it couldn’t be with a regular one. Our guest is well-known everywhere, he’s someone who all the fans have always cheered for… and honestly I don’t remember a “boring” chant during any of his matches. He’s “Mr. Monday Night”, he’s “the whole f’n show”, but most of all he’s “one of a kind”… Ladies and gentlemen, from Battle Creek, Michigan: Rob… Van… Dam!
It was hard to cover most of such a complex character in a few questions, I’ve done my best and I hope you’ll appreciate and leave a comment for Rob!
Hello, Rob, and welcome on BE! Magazine. First of all, there are certainly many people who don’t watch wrestling reading this interview… So, how can you explain them what you do for a living?
A career in pro wrestling, especially at the top, involves year-round non-stop travel, to get from city to city to perform for thousands of fans all around the world. I am currently taking a break from that lifestyle, and only taking selected international bookings at my discretion, while I’ve got my hands on several other projects. I’ve always stood out as one of a kind: from my unique moves in the ring, to my uncompromising confidence, to my original perspectives on everything. This has made me stand out and has been good for business.
Your real name is Robert Szatkowski, but you’ve wrestled for almost your whole career under this ring name proposed by Ron Slinker. A ring name is very important in a career… Did you like it since the beginning?
Ron gave me that name in 1991, when I was still young and green in the business. At that time, I just wanted to learn, so the name wasn’t important to me, but it certainly stuck.
You’ve been the symbol of a whole federation (ECW) for a couple of years. Has all that popularity and responsability changed your way of wrestling or your way of thinking?
Because the ECW was such a non-traditional, rebel group, I really got in touch with my non-conforming nature and learned to take pride in being different and I loved that we had the platform to show everyone that pro wrestling could be very cool to watch.
All the fans who lived Extreme Championship Wrestling won’t easily forget it. Do you think there’s any federation around these days who could be somehow “the ideal son of ECW”?
The factors are too different for another ECW like we had. There are small organizations who pattern themselves after the extreme style, but they aren’t original; the competition will never be like it was during the Monday night ratings wars and they don’t have Paul Heyman.
What’s your honest opinion on Paul Heyman?
Paul was the best wrestling promoter to work for, if you cared about freedom of expression. As an artist, working under Paul’s tutelage helped mold me into the non-conforming superstar I became, but made it challenging to be compatible with WWE’s style.
And on Vince McMahon?
Vince is the man. Although he’s intimidating, he has never treated me with anything but respect. He obviously is a great businessman that no one can touch in his field.
Many people say you should have won “the big one” shortly after joining WWE, in 2001 or 2002 (PWI had ranked you as the most popular wrestler in both years and leader of the PWI500 in 2002)… but that didn’t happen. Were you frustrated about that or happy to still have a job and a quite important role, while several other members of the Alliance were being fired?
I was so frustrated by the adjustment to WWE style and politics that I’d often phone my wife, so she could talk me into staying. I’ve never felt like I needed a job or had to stay somewhere I wasn’t happy. I see hundreds of open doors on any given day and I felt more like they were lucky to have me there.
What was your first thought when somebody told you WWE wanted to bring back the name ECW?
I rejected the idea, because ECW is forever linked to the extreme wrestlers who made history as rebels, and most of them would not be able to step back in the ring like they did back then. After giving some thought to new recruits, I got behind the idea to revive the spirit and, just like everyone else, I was very disappointed to learn that Vince used a “bait-and-switch” tactic to get started and then turned his back on the original ECW to try to create something new.
2006, the most incredible year in your career. You’ve finally won the title all your fans were expecting and, 22 days after, 18 grams of marijuana costed you a 140 dollars’ fine and… a world title. Regrets? Does it still hurt?
I lost two world titles from that event and, considering how burnt out I was from the travel, I welcomed the time at home. I even asked for more time off when they wanted me to come back. Although I wasn’t happy that I had fucked up the plans for the ECW and the WWE, I have always felt proud to draw attention to the great injustice of marijuana prohibition. I’ve never given a public apology, because I’m not sorry when truth is exposed. Michael Phelps just helped prove the truthful point that even the world’s greatest athlete chooses to smoke pot. Do you think that these concerned parents know more about physical health than the 14 gold medal winning Olympic champion or the WWE champion for that matter? They do not. Watching the chemotherapy patients wasting away, while my wife was getting treated, is enough reason to be very pleased that the American policy just changed to acknowledge state’s rights to use medicinal marijuana. That’s huge after denying its benefits for decades. People are going to have to adjust to the new truth as they will learn it. While alcohol kills over 150,000 Americans every year and tobacco kills over 450,000… marijuana poisoning has killed zero. Stop the bullshit. Views will change and I am at the front of the movement.
“Officially”, you’re not a full-time wrestler anymore because you’ve got beaten up badly by Randy Orton. What’s your opinion on him?
Randy is a good kid. He grew up in the business, but doesn’t get by just his third generation status. He works hard and is the full package for a WWE product.
Would have you preferred someone else to share such an important moment in your career or has he been a good opponent?
He was fine. The focus was going with him anyway and my departure gave him some more momentum. That’s business. I wanted off the road so bad, I even went out with a “concussion”. From someone who prides himself in appearing indestructible his whole career, that was quite a sacrifice.
And now let’s move to 2009… You’ve been the biggest surprise in this year’s Royal Rumble! The crowd went nuts! Have you enjoyed those moments? Did you feel rusty on the ring or still in great shape?
The whole day was nothing but positive energy. It was nice to see everyone and it was great to have everyone see how good RVD is doing; there was a lot of positive energy generated when everyone saw how fantastic Sonya looks after what she went through. I felt just as awesome as always in the ring and it secured my value in the industry, as if it wasn’t already. The demand for a full time return is even stronger after the Rumble. Even if I’m not ready to return, it is good to be wanted, and I love further establishing myself as an exception. Other wrestlers that appeared on the tv show Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling were told they’d never work for WWE again. Not me. I know how to hold my value.
RVD outside WWE. First: weightlifting. There’s a technique you invented and it’s still named after you, the Van Dam Lift (executed performing a split between 2 benches). That seems a combination of strength and balance… How did you think of it?
I used to split between two chairs in the kitchen to excel in flexibility. Eventually, I would stand between two benches in the gym, and jump up to land in a split across both of them. It went from there to actually holding or lifting weight while in this position. I guess it’s a combination of challenging myself and showing off. I set the record lifting 166.5 lbs off the ground, while suspended off the ground by the 2 benches, but no one really challenged it.
You’ve also worked as a trainer for the wrestler who made me fall in love with wrestling… the legendary Ultimate Warrior! How was working with him? Is he as bizarre as all the rumours suggest?
Although I was ready to experience the bizarre train wreck everyone has come to expect, Warrior was nothing but respectful to me and I felt like we really clicked.
Do you use internet a lot? Can you explain us shortly what’s RVD TV?
I’ve had this reality show at robvandam.com going since I left WWE, capturing my life in Los Angeles with my crazy celebrity friends, workouts and random personal footage. I also bring the camera on the road when I take selected wrestling bookings, like the upcoming March trip to France.
You’ve been into memorable fights, but I’ve read your wife Sonya has recently won the biggest fight of them all, since she defeated cancer! You’ve quitted full-time wrestling to be her “ringside enforcer” in this “match”… Do you think your nearness has been important for her?
We have the best relationship I know of, and couldn’t get along without each other. She had to suffer through 6 months of chemotherapy and now that she’s done, we’re ready to enjoy life to the utmost extreme.
Well, we’re all glad she’s feeling much better… Plus, this means we’ll see you back to wrestling soon, right?
I miss showing off in the ring in front of thousands of people, but not enough to trade in my life at home for it, yet. It’s the non-stop travel that I’ve had enough of in the last 19 years or so. Still, I know I could come back and go straight to the top any day I wanted, and there’s a lot of contentment in that.
Have you had any phone calls with TNA during this time off?
The wrestling world keeps in contact with me. TNA, WWE and many others have their eyes on me and keep checking back with me to see if I’m ready to return to the ring… which translates to the road.
Some flash questions: what/who do you think is…
Your best match in WWE
Hmm… great matches with Eddie Guerrero, Christian, Jeff Hardy, Test, Bob Holly… my crowning moment was definitely beating Cena at One Night Stand for the gold.
Your best match outside WWE
Your best promo
My shoot at the first One Night Stand and also my induction speech for Shiek into the Hall of Fame.
The wrestler from the past who inspired you to become a wrestler
“Leaping” Lanny Poffo, Brady Boone, Owen Hart.
Hottest diva in person
So many, it’s hard to say… Trish, Ashley Massaro, Candice Michelle, Maria, Kelly Kelly, Milena… they just keep getting new ones all the time!
Ok, the interview is over, thanks for the time you dedicated to us. Just one last question for your Italian fans… How many times have you been in Italy?
Not sure. That’s one for the fans.
Can you say an “arrivederci” to our readers?
Arrivederci to all the BE! Magazine readers!
All the images in this article come from RVD’s official myspace, www.myspace.com/5starcomics. I invite you once again to visit Rob’s official website www.robvandam.com, and to leave a comment as soon as you can, so that he could read it, too!