Highlanders set sights on WWE
STEVE RENNIE- SLAM! Wrestling
|Rory, left, and Robbie MacAlister
As rugged as the craggy rocks of the Scottish Highlands, they bring to mind
the land of lochs, glens, castles and bagpipes as they approach the squared
circle. They're also living proof that tag team wrestling hasn't gone the
way of the warring clans of old. Just don't let them catch you laughing at
Since debuting in 2000, the Highlanders -- Robbie and Rory MacAlister -- have
become bit players on WWE television. Most recently, they appeared on
Smackdown as security guards, but they've also wrestled a handful of matches
over the past year, earning both praise and invitations to return from WWE
The bright lights of the WWE are a far cry from the drizzling gloom of their
homeland. Rory (born Russell Murray) decided to pursue a career in the mat
game after growing weary of his life in Scotland. Although he owned a small
business and made good money, Rory longed for a change of scenery. Five
years ago, he decided to pack his bags and move to Canada, where he met his
future wife. He made his way to the Von Erich / Hart Brothers School of Wrestling in
Cambridge, Ontario after a brief stint in Halifax. It was there that he met
Robbie, and the Highlanders were born.
"The one good thing that came out of there was that it was where I hooked up
with Robbie. That was my only reason for staying," says Rory. "Right off the
bat, the first day, we clicked. The next day, he moved me into his house
with his wife and family."
Like Rory, Robbie (real name: Derek Graham-Couch) is also a native Scot. He
moved to Canada 17 years ago from Oban, Scotland. He recalls watching
wrestling on television and being immediately hooked. Although his goal of
becoming a professional wrestler was briefly put on hold a few years ago, he
rededicated himself to realizing his longtime dream five years ago.
"It all came to a sudden halt when girls and partying came into play," says
Robbie. "Due to this factor, everything I wanted to do in life didn't
matter. When I stopped partying my perspectives on life became clear again
and wrestling and working out became my number one goal in life, and here I
At the Von Erich / Hart Brothers School of Wrestling, Waldo Von Erich took the young
Scots under his wing, schooling them in the fundamentals of the mat game.
The determination of both men impressed Von Erich.
"I thought they were pretty good guys," says Von Erich. "They had a
different gimmick. They had the willpower to do it and they wanted to do
To this day, both men are quick to sing Von Erich's praises. "Waldo doesn't
quite get the credit he was due from his time in wrestling. I believe Waldo
did a lot for the business," says Rory.
Soon after leaving the school, the Highlanders quickly became mainstays at
independent shows across the continent. Their gimmick was a hit, and calls
from promoters kept pouring in, sometimes as many as three or four bookings
a week. Both men are fortunate enough to make a living solely from
"The amazing thing with me and Robbie was that right off the bat, we started
getting work everywhere," says Rory. "I can't think of a promotion we did
not work for. If you string a few letters together, we probably worked for
While working for the Massachusetts-based WWA New England promotion, the
Highlanders caught the attention of Dr. Tom Pritchard, who was running
weekend seminars in the area at the time. They were invited back by
Pritchard, who was impressed by their no-nonsense ring style and distinctive
"We went for half a dozen weekends and worked with Dr. Tom. I learned more
in those six weekends than anything in the past year and a half," says Rory.
Shortly afterwards, the WWE came calling and the Highlanders were booked for
shows in Montreal and Toronto -- in singles matches. Sharing a locker room
with regular fixtures on WWE television didn't daunt Rory.
"If you meet one guy in a locker room, you've met a thousand. We're all
pretty much the same. We just don't want to grow up," says Rory. "We've got
the best Peter Pan job in the world. We've all got the same kind of goals
and aspirations. We've all got the same sense of humour. Whether it be
Triple H or just some random guy on the indy scene, we're all the same."
For his part, Robbie felt the call up to the WWE was a testament to half a
decade of hard work and determination.
"You know, when you work for something so hard and get to where you wanted
to get, it's quite an accomplishment, even if you aren't a mainstay," says
Robbie. "Everything about it, whether training with Arn Anderson or meeting
Mr. McMahon and having him tell you that you did a good job, is all a
Robbie and Rory received positive feedback from WWE management following
their matches, and have been invited back on a fairly regular basis,
appearing on Raw, Smackdown, Velocity and Heat. Although they've been used
mostly in singles matches, the duo feels that the WWE would be well served
to let them showcase their tag team abilities.
"I think tag team wrestling is in a pretty shoddy state right now, I really
do," says Rory. "Tag team wrestling itself is a spectacle. It's the best art
form in wrestling. There can be so much going on, it's like organized
Rory says teams who work well together, like the British Bulldogs or the
Bushwhackers, are increasing harder to find in today's wrestling landscape.
"There really hasn't been any legitimate tag teams, guys that perform
together, work together, live together. You can put two guys that look
identical in a gimmick, call them a team, but if there's no cohesion there,
it's not going to work. It is almost like singles matches in a tag match,"
"Today's tag matches are kind of like four guys just doing singles matches
in the tag match," adds Robbie. "When you get two guys on the same page in
the ring, you can have some very exciting action. I think they can bring a
different side to a show, as each member can play off one another and be
very entertaining to the crowd."
Despite getting a taste of life in the WWE, the Highlanders still relish the
opportunity to perform before dozens of fans at independent shows.
"I think, for some people, there may be an ego kick there. For me, I don't
care where it is, whether it be a WWE crowd or in front of 50 people. I just
love the whole interaction with the crowd, because I firmly believe that our
job is to make people emotional," says Rory.
That doesn't necessarily mean that the Highlanders are content to spend the
rest of their careers at local shows across the country. Both men are
currently trying to update their looks to make themselves more aesthetically
pleasing to WWE higher-ups. While they have the size for the part (Robbie
stands 6'2" and weighs 228 lbs., while Rory is 6'0" and 236 lbs.) they're
going for a more authentic look, complete with the hides and wild, bushy
hair of their clansmen.
"I believe they know we can work or they wouldn't be asking us back.
Although we're wearing kilts, there's still nothing that distinguishes us
from anyone backstage," says Rory. "Right now, we're trying to change
ourselves aesthetically, trying to go for the wild man look. I am a
highlander legitimately, but just because you are something doesn't
necessarily mean that you look it. I believe that's something that might
make us a little bit better."
Until they sign a coveted WWE contract, the Highlanders will continue to
make their mark wherever they compete. They're hoping to wrestle in Japan
before the end of the year, fulfilling a long-time career aspiration. "I
don't know of anything that would put a bigger smile on my face. I think
Japanese wrestling is pretty much where it's at right now," says Rory.
In the meantime, Rory and Robbie plan on staying the course to wrestling
"As far as our careers go, that's in the hands of everybody else. That's in the hands of indy fans, indy promoters, Steve Corino in Japan, Luke [Williams] down in Puerto Rico, the WWE," says Rory. "We'll just keep going the way we have for the last five years. If people continue to react to it, then I guess we'll keep moving forward. We're just going to keep doing what we've been doing."