Rob Van Dam (Former WWE + ECW World Champion) (The VH Interview)

Rob Van Dam is a man who needs no introduction. Yet, he has many. From Mr Monday Night, to Mr Money in the Bank, to One of a Kind to The Whole F’n Show. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman Rob Van Dam.

First things first, I think the majority of people want to know. What are your plans in terms of a return to the ring, and what is your relationship with WWE like at present?

I expect I will return to the WWE, but I don’t have plans in the foreseeable future to do that. I have an open door policy, and I’m still with them under a merchandise contract that binds me to them as opposed to any of their competitors, so that answers a lot of questions people have about me turning up anywhere else. I do very few select independent matches in between my WWE contracts and that works out best for me right now. I’m enjoying not being on the road with WWE too much to start thinking about going back.

Is it a similar contact to Chris Jericho where he’ll just go back and do a handful of WWE Live events?

Very similar. Jericho and I are the only two that I know of that have the same kind of a deal. He created a precedent to allow him to tour with Fozzy, and then tour with WWE when he’s not with his band. So they decided to try that with me, which works with me. I really get to enjoy my off time a lot more than the other wrestlers.

There is that ‘sport entertainment’ stigma, where people don’t always realise you aren’t just doing Raw and Smackdown, quite often you are doing 6 or 7 nights in a row putting your body on the line.

Yeah, and also they don’t realise the wrestlers are real people. These are characters they see on TV, and the Rob Van Dam they know from TV, if he’s not in the ring going for the championship belt then he is thinking about it 24 hours a day, but that’s more of a part that I play. When I went back to WWE in 2013 because I had chosen not to re-sign with them years ago, it was because I’d had enough travel to last me three lifetimes when I left. When I went back in 2013 I had a 90 day contract, so I knew when I was coming and going but in that 90 days I did about 66 matches. So you don’t usually travel from or to home on the day you wrestle, it’s usually the day before and day after, so figure out 66 of 90 and then factor in the travel days and you have an idea what it’s like full time for the guys who don’t take a break.

On a personal level, although you held WWE Championships it never felt like you were being forcefully put over and that you were being given a push. It always felt natural and organic. Was that how it was from the inside, or was it always very much “this is our plan for you”?

People always want to ask me “were they going to do this, were they going to do that” and the honest answer is I have no idea what they were or weren’t going to do. I just lived the life. I’m always the last guy to try and find out information. If it was up to me, I’d turn up at the arena one hour before bell time, get my stretch on and go to work, and actually 90% of the time I do that. I always knew that I wasn’t one of their created guys, or one of their chosen guys, and I always knew that being the non-conformist I am, there would be limits to my marketability from their stand point because they want someone they can really mould, someone that’s a puppet and can do whatever they want. I don’t mean that in a bad way. The best employee is somebody that will do whatever you want and I am not able to because I have some stubborn old school principles and values and beliefs that I can’t compromise. As an artist, I’m not going to get something out of it just serving as someone’s tool. So I always felt that I’d be limited, but I had my following that respected me for that, and the following that respected me not knowing that, the ones who appreciated me for what they saw. That got me further than I ever thought I would go. I never thought I would be WWE Champion, because I knew that they weren’t really behind me, and they were more confused with how over I was with the crowd and then they were trying to figure out how to capitalise on that, I felt like throughout my whole career. The only exception is Paul Heyman, the only person who I felt really stood up for me in the office and had my best interest at heart.

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You mention that you feel they want people who they can mould, and your last few matches of your WWE run were against Seth Rollins. Do you think they’ve chosen the right person to take the company forward, because I see some of you him in terms of his in-ring ability. Is that something you see yourself?

I don’t know if Seth Rollins is the right guy, there is a whole bunch of decision makers who decide on the actions that take the company forward. Cena I think is still the guy, and think he will be until some point that I can’t imagine where they have another ‘guy.’ They always have that ‘one guy’ who stands out as being the face of the company. You can’t just erase Hulk Hogan from WWE history, from my perspective there are few guys that fans have held up to that level. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, The Rock and Cena is there, but I don’t think I’m forgetting anyone. I think that’s about it on that level. There is a reason for that, and the reason is Vince knows how to make money. I was very moldable in my first couple of years. The Sheik and Sabu told me “it doesn’t matter what they call you, it doesn’t matter what they want to do with you, you are just there to get experience.” At that point you could call me the International Patriot, the Flying Tiger, the Polish Prince, whatever and I would wrestle under all these names. Rob Van Dam was even one of those towards the end of that era where the last name put on me stuck. If I’d have been in WWE at that point I’d have done whatever they said, and that would have been right for me, but because I had so much experience when I arrived that limited how much they could really invest in me. That’s the balance. It’s good to have a lot of experience, but too much and you become set in your ways, which is not a flaw by the way and I have no regrets. Like I said, I never thought I would have been the top guy and had the belt, and that would have never happened if I hadn’t changed the whole playing field by bringing ECW back and being the right guy to represent that movement.

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Photo: Ed Webster

You mentioned Sabu, and one of our questions on Twitter was, what memories do you have of trips to Walthamstow in the mid-90s working for Dirt Bike Kid?

I knew him through Sabu. Sabu had been working with the guy, he thought he had a good thing going and that his heart was in the right place. That was my first time coming across the pond to London. I think it was ‘97 I was in London for the St. Valentines Massacre and I was also in Germany. That was my 1st time to Europe, and the start of something I would do throughout my career.

You mentioned earlier about Heyman and ECW. When they relaunched ECW what was the feeling between the old guard, because it felt like they only brought some of those guys back for the nostalgia element and to get the brand over with the fans.

That was the idea originally, I went to Vince and said “let us just do one more show, where we can be ECW. You have enough guys on your books who are former ECW wrestlers and we’d just love to display our art form in that way.” That was the idea, and it got such a good reaction it became an annual event and we brought the third brand back. At first it had potential and I had a lot of hope and I had a lot of fun at first, but when ECW came back it was not the same and we were always fighting against them further bastardising it and them adding really undesirable factors to the brand. But at first, I had some really good matches with Sabu, Test and Bob Holly. These were really awesome matches and I was excited to do that on their stage. A lot more people were seeing the old ECW, and because of that the old ECW libraries are being watched on ‘the network.’

Do you ever think they could use ‘the network’ to bring it back and have another run on a smaller level. There are shows such as NXT which are network exclusive which are working very well, do you think it could come back with ‘the old guard’ having creative control on a smaller budget?

Stranger things have happened, it wouldn’t floor me if they did. I don’t think necessarily that would be the right thing to do. The further that it gets away from its nucleus the more fans are disappointed. They want it to stand for what it did and it can never be what it was in the 90s.

You’ve had many matches with Sabu over the course of your career, is it purely down to your training together that helped create that chemistry? Knowing each other inside and out?

It definitely gave me an edge with him. He was the first guy that I was in the ring taking bumps with. Even beyond that though, you have to have like-minded views of the world to have that chemistry. I could have been one of many people that went into Sheiks wrestling school that had different views, and that didn’t agree with me and didn’t want the same things out of a match, didn’t find that same things exciting and then it wouldn’t have worked. Anyone I’ve had really good matches with were extreme like Sabu or Jerry Lynn or even Rey Mysterio or Jeff Hardy. When I have matches with those guys it’s so good because we both like that same things about what we did, we are both turned on by the same kind of entertainment, like ‘whoa, that was a cool move.’ Some guys don’t think that way. They think inside the box and we think outside the box.

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Photo: Mike Kalasnik

You mentioned Jerry Lynn, and he’s been much talked about recently due to his surgery. What memories do you have of working with Jerry? Any stand out matches?

All my memories of Jerry are good. I always liked him and chose to take the time to see what I could pull out of him when we first wrestled, and it was an investment that paid off because I had some my favourite matches of my career with him. They kind of blend in, I don’t know difference between my Guilty as Charged match or my Whatever to Remember match, but I don’t remember feeling I could have rolled straight over him because I didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do. I didn’t even know the guy, we had a mutual friend Scotty. That first match we had at the Philly Arena ended up being 25 minutes or something, I had a bloody nose, my outfits ripped, my hairs all out of place and I’m pulling splinters out my ass from the tables and when I beat him it really meant a lot and it started something beautiful.

Splinters in your ass, sums up your style of hardcore wrestling. Is that something you would recommend to the younger wrestlers, that hardcore style knowing what you know?

I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do what I do, except in thinking for yourself. I always heard don’t try to take somebody’s spot, try to create your own. Don’t try to be ‘this guy’, because there is already ‘this guy’. I’ve always applied that it has worked for me, I feel like this whole generation of wrestlers grew up watching me, and were inspired by me and I never got to pass on the old school fundamentals which are behind why I do what I do, and the style has changed so much I feel like they are my bastard children that I never got to raise.

We also had a number of questions through twitter, so we wanted to put some of those to you.

Favourite wrestler growing up?

It changed, but Ultimate Warrior was the biggest inspiration for sure.

When the time comes around and you finally wrestle your last match, who would you like to wrestle against?

Sabu theoretically.

Best frog-splash of your career?

Good question, I guess I’ll go with frog-splashing Cena through the table at the Hammerstein Ballroom because it brought me and all the ECW lovers to the top of the world.

Huge thanks to Rob for taking time out of his schedule to talk to us, and as he said the WWE Network is full of ECW content that is worth a couple of hours of your time.