For generations, Canada has produced its fair share of legendary professional wrestlers.
In the early days it was the likes of Whipper Billy Watson and Killer Kowalski.
Later it would be greats like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Dino Bravo and Jacques Rougeau.
More recently, the likes of Edge (Adam Copeland), Bret (The Hitman) Hart, Chris Jericho, Lance Storm and Trish Stratus have gained living legends status.
Today is no different, as Canada continues to turn out fantastic wrestlers, none more dominant in this generation than Bobby Roode, of Total Nonstop Action wrestling.
Roode, born in Toronto in 1977, has made a strong case to join the likes of Hart, Kowalski et al in the discussion of all-time great Canadian-born wrestlers.
In his 10th year with TNA, Roode holds the distinction of being the longest tenured TNA World Heavyweight and TNA World Tag Team champions, as well as being one of half of the wildly popular and successful Beer Money, Inc.
This weekend, House of Hardcore fans will get a chance to see Roode firsthand as he makes a cross-promotional appearance with Tommy Dreamer’s company at the former ECW Arena in south Philadelphia.
Roode may be firmly entrenched into the professional wrestling scene, but even he believes his first calling was supposed to be Canada’s favourite pastime.
“Of course, you know, growing up in Canada … I’m from Peterborough, a big community, so I grew up a hockey player and a hockey fan,” he said over the telephone ahead of the HoH show. “I remember when I was a kid — (all the way) back to the very first WrestleMania, I think I was seven or eight years old at the time — that’s when my love for wrestling really kicked off.
“I would play hockey on the weekends and I would rush home (on) Saturday mornings. I remember my dad would take me to (hockey) practice and I would rush home and … I’d turn the TV on and I’d catch Maple Leaf Wrestling, and Superstars, whatever else I could get … any kind of wrestling I could find on television. I’d be mesmerized by it. That’s what I grew up watching. Most of my childhood was hockey and wrestling. I’ve been a fan for a long time.”
In those days, the early to mid-1980s, there was one name synonymous with pro wrestling … that of Hulk Hogan. Like countless kids in that generation, Roode counted himself among the Hulkamaniacs.
“At that age, as a fan, not knowing the business the way I know it now or the way that I knew it when I was breaking in, Hulk Hogan was my favourite,” Roode said. “That was the man back in the day. We’re talking about back to WrestleMania I. It was Hulk Hogan, it was Roddy Piper, it was Randy Savage: those guys are the guys who made me love wrestling.”
Little did the young Roode know, but some day he would work with, Hogan, the very man who influenced his love of all things pro wrestling. Looking back now, Roode admits it was surreal, and humbling.
“I don’t know if intimidating is the word,” Roode answered when asked if working alongside the man he once idolized was intimidating. “The first time I met him, it was cool. That was when it was kind of weird, kind of eerie almost, getting a chance to work in the same company as Hulk Hogan. Then you get to know each other a little bit and it becomes a, not necessarily a friendship, but more of a working relationship where you talk at work and at the building and you have a few laughs together and then all of a sudden you find yourself in the ring with him. I did a lot of promos with him when I was the World champion. I stood in the ring with him, just one-on-one many times and had an opportunity to wrestle against him.”
Working with Hogan remains one of Roode’s career highlights.
“We were in the UK (on) tour when Hulk was with us,” he said. “We had a dark match at the end of the show and it was a six-man tag and it was set up just kind of on the fly, but it was me, Bully Ray and Kurt Angle against James Storm, Sting and Hulk Hogan. Being able to compete against Hulk and Sting in the same match — we did that every single night on that loop, so that alone was a lot of fun — being able to say I locked up with Hulk, got to take the big boot, just to get to know the guy and to be able to work with him … it was a great moment for me. He’s the Babe Ruth of wrestling.”
Breaking into the somewhat obscure and very much nepotistic world of pro wrestling is difficult enough in general, but doing so from north of the border adds to the challenge.
For Roode, it wasn’t easy, but he concedes he did find some good fortune early in his career.
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” he said of breaking into the business. “I’ve got to admit though, I had a huge break. I broke in in ’98 and in 2000, I got a big break and I ended up going out to the Maritimes and wrestling for (another Canadian legend of wrestling) Emile Dupree, for Grand Prix Wrestling. At that point in my career, I was two years in, a year and a half really, in a handful of matches. I never really ventured outside of Canada my first year and a half in the business … just local independents. I wasn’t making any money and I was getting very little experience other than my training and what I got on the weekends here and there, but I got to work for Emile.
“I went out there in May of 2000 and worked for Grand Prix Wrestling. Emile, back then, was running seven days a week, so I would wrestle seven days a week, May, June and July. That’s where I got a lot of experience. (I) got to travel around, got the feel for the business outside of the ring, and performing in front of different crowds, driving the loop, being around veterans and learning. That was a lot of fun for me and I got to go back again in 2001 for another wrestling group. That’s where I kind of really honed my craft. I was very fortunate because that was really the last of the quote-unquote territories here in Canada.”
To that point, Roode wrestling was not only his Plan A, but his Plan B and so on. He had no fallback.
“Before TNA signed me, in 2004, I was kind of at the end of the rope,” Roode said. “I knew that it was either make or break for me. I felt like I was spinning my wheels and trying to make a name for myself and trying to get out there and do what I was asked to do to try to get a job anywhere and it just didn’t seem to be working for me.
“At the time, I was working at a sports store as an assistant manager, just making ends meet and wrestling on the side. I never really gave it much thought to be honest with you. I always thought that I would catch a break, and I did. Honestly, I can say that in the wrestling business, it’s all about timing, and the time that I had when I broke into TNA and when I came here, I was just fortunate that I got the phone call. Like I said, I was ready to just hang them up, but I got that call from (Canadian wrestler/manager/promoter) Scott D’Amore, and the rest is history.”
Prior to D’Amore’s call, Roode had been working dark matches for World Wrestling Entertainment, attempting to catch a break while working for the largest wrestling company in the world. D’Amore’s call would lead to TNA signing the young Canadian, the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Roode remains one of TNA’s longest tenured employees, holds the distinction of the two single longest title runs and was involved with one of the company’s biggest success stories, Beer Money, Inc.
“Wow, it’s been that long,” Roode reflected when realizing he’s nearing a decade with TNA. “There’s me, Eric Young, James Storm and Abyss … we are the sole survivors,” he said of the longest-serving TNA employees. “It’s been a fun ride, to be honest with you. From where we started to where we are.”
Roode says that his run with James Storm as the wildly popular Beer Money, Inc. remains one of his favourite times in his career.
“That’s probably one of the funnest times I’ve had,” he said of the tag team run that lasted parts of three years. “I don’t really understand why tag team wrestling isn’t what it used to be. It’s a shame because I’m a huge fan of tag team wrestling. I’m big on psychology, wrestling psychology, and I love the tag team psychology that you can have in the ring with a good tag team. We got to learn a lot.
“You mentioned (D-Generation X), the New Age Outlaws. At the time when James and I first started tagging, both Road Dogg and Billy were in TNA so we got to learn a lot from those guys.”
Roode is at a loss to explain the success of Beer Money, Inc.
“It’s just one of those things, again, it’s timing. It was just one of those thrown-together tag teams one night. The way it came together was basically, James and I had both just broken away from a tag team — I was with Team Canada and he was on America’s Most Wanted — so we were kind of on about a three or four month singles run.
“At the time, creatively, there wasn’t really anything we could sink our teeth into, so they put us together in a tag match and the chemistry was there right away. The next week we came to TV and had another tag match and had an interview after. The match went well. I remember we did the interview and Vince Russo was there and we did the interview and James said at the end of the interview, ‘The two things that make the world go around are beer and money,’ and a light bulb went off and that was it. We were Beer Money. We created the Beer Money Suplex, that was just a crappy old double suplex that turned into something incredible. Every time we did it, people got behind it. A heel tag team turned into a babyface tag team overnight, basically. That was a fun run. That was a lot of fun and like I said, I loved being able to do that tag team wrestling stuff. We had some great guys. There was a long list of great teams that we could run with back then and it was a lot of fun.”
Perhaps Beer Money, Inc. hasn’t run its full course yet.
“I can’t really complain about the split, because at the time that we split, I became World champion … but I think Beer Money probably had some more legs to it, but who knows, maybe down the road we’ll see it again.”
Following the success with Beer Money, Inc., Roode would climb to the top rung of the TNA ladder, becoming its face and World champion. There’s a lot of a pressure at the top, though.
“Back in 1997-98 when I first started train, that’s what you aspire to,” Roode said. “You want to get on television, you want to be a part of a big wrestling company and ultimately you want to be the top guy, you want to be the World champion … and it happened.
“It was a weird feeling,” he said. “It was a pretty good feeling, (but) the hardest part for me was being able to do a good job being World champion and being able to go out there and produce every night and have good matches and be able to talk on the microphone and look like I belong. I really worked hard on my promos and that sort of aspect of the game for me. And it obviously worked out well because I held the World title for over eight months. That was good. Being a World champion is a lot of pressure so obviously the guys that I had a chance to work with like the Jeff Hardys and the Rob Van Dams and guys of that nature, it was easy for me because they’re so good. It was a dream come true for me to be able to win the World title and to be able to hang onto it that long and to be the top heel in a wrestling company that is seen worldwide was a big deal for me.”
During his run, Roode had the opportunity to put his TNA World title on the line in a match versus his friend and mentor Dreamer at Dreamer’s House of Hardcore show in Philly. It was an honour, according to Roode.
“Tommy has always been there for me, throughout my career,” Roode said of the Extreme Championship Wrestling legend who started his own company in 2012. “I’ve known Tommy for a long time, and if there’s one guy who can get another wrestling company/wrestling promotion off the ground, it’s him. I’ve always respected him and I think he would say the same about me.”
It was an injury to another TNA star that opened the door for Roode to wrestle at HoH.
“When EC3 went down last year, it was supposed to be him and Tommy on his show and I think EC3 tore his bicep. I was talking to Tommy and we were able to work something out through the (TNA) office. I was happy that I did it. For nostalgia reasons, to be in the ECW Arena, I’ve never been there before, and to be able to compete there and to be able to wrestle against Tommy and to defend the World heavyweight championship there was an amazing experience.”
Roode counts himself among the legions of wrestlers around the world who hold Dreamer in the highest of regards.
“Tommy’s an amazing worker and a guy that everybody in wrestling worldwide just respects. I hope nothing but the best for him and for House of Hardcore.”
Roode sees the cross-promotional appearance by himself and other TNA stars in exchange for Dreamer appearing on TNA programming as a win-win for both companies.
“Some of the guys that Tommy is bringing in, especially for his show this time — me and (Austin) Aries are there together as a tag team and you’ve got Eric Young coming in — I don’t think it’s going to hurt (TNA). Maybe if the people who come to Philly to the House of Hardcore show and see us and are impressed by us, and have never really been a TNA fan may tune in and I think it could help.”
With his second HoH appearance just days away, Roode admits his first exposure to Dreamer’s company was a mix of nostalgia and fun.
“It reminded me of why I got into wrestling,” Roode said. “It was some of the guys who you haven’t seen in a long time — Stevie Richards, the Guidos, even the guys that were just hanging out backstage, Blue Meanie was there, some guys you never see anymore … Danny Doring … just the old-school reaction. It was an old-school feeling. It was just a lot of fun. The atmosphere to be in the ECW Arena, being in a sold-out arena in front of a bunch of rowdy Philadelphia fans and being in the ring with Tommy and Beulah, for me it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to coming back for sure.”
Given the ever-changing wrestling landscape, Roode believes that not only do the fans have more options than ever, but so do the talent.
“I think that the competition is just heating up,” Roode said. “It’s great for guys who are breaking into the business now because when I was trying to make a name for myself, there was only really one option for me and that was WWE at the time. Now you look at the landscape and there’s WWE, there’s TNA, there’s House of Hardcore, Ring of Honor, GFW, Jeff Jarrett’s group … there are a lot of options. Like I said earlier, WWE is such a huge machine, but TNA has been on TV now for 10 years and everybody keeps trying to knock us to the ground and put us into our grave but we keep bouncing back all the time. We’ve got a great partnership now with Destination America. They’re over the mountains happy with what we’ve been doing and are excited about the future. As long as we can maintain a great relationship with our TV company and with our fans, I think that TNA is going to be around for a long time. Ring of Honor, they’ve got a great fan base.
“House of Hardcore, obviously, just the show I did, huge fan base and from what I understand, nearly sold out for the show coming up. That says a lot. It’s great for the guys to be able to go out and find work.”
Roode prefers to look ahead than looking back, but when asked what he feels has been his greatest accomplishment to date in the business, the Canadian in him emerges.
“I try not to overthink it,” he said. “I think partially some of my success is just staying humble. I never really think of myself as being any better than any better than anybody else. Even to this day, I still want to learn and I still want to get better. I’ll sit and watch matches that I have just had and be like, ‘I could do that better, I could do this better.’ Just little things. My eyes and my ears are always open. I want people to give me feedback on stuff, promos especially. Just try to get better. Like I said, just being humble and never really putting myself above anybody else has been a huge credit to where I’ve got to and I’m going to continue to have that attitude.”
Roode will team with Austin Aries in the main event at HoH in Philly Saturday to face the high flying Young Bucks. For tickets, go to houseofhardcore.net.
House of Hardcore 8
When: Saturday, March 7.
Where: 2300 Arena, Philadelphia
Tag team match
The Young Bucks vs. Austin Aries and Bobby Roode
South Philly Street Fight
Tommy Dreamer vs. Eric Young
Tag team match
Team 3D vs. Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian
Three Way Dance
Matt Hardy vs. Carlito vs. Lance Hoyt
Rhyno, Mikey Whipwreck, Velvet Sky, Thea Trinidad, Tony Nese, Brian Myers, Alex Reynolds, Team Tremendous, Vik Dakishus, Ben Ortiz, Hale Collins, Eddie Kingston, Matt Striker and more.
Pre-show meet and greet
Kelly Kelly, Melina, IRS Mike Rotundo, Lanny Poffo, Ashley Massaro, Magnum TA, Earl Hebner and more.
Tickets: houseofhardcore.net or at the door.