December 4, 2006
A wild ride for Highlander RobbieIt's been quite a year for Woodstock resident
By MATT SHURRIE - Woodstock Sentinel-Review
It's been an incredible year for Woodstock, Ont. resident Derek Couch.
The former CAMI Automotive worker-turned World Wrestling Entertainment superstar admitted it's been quite the roller-coaster ride since Couch and tag-team partner and cousin Russ Murray debuted as the Highlanders, a pair of transplanted Scotsmen looking to make a name for themselves in professional wrestling.
The highlight of that ride was the Unforgiven pay-per-view in September at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto when the Highlanders (Couch playing the role of Robbie McAllister and Murray as his cousin Rory McAllister) battled The Spirit Squad -- a group of male cheerleaders -- for the coveted World Tag Team championship.
"The crowd was incredible," Couch said from Montreal, where the WWE made a stop for its weekly RAW program. "I think things went really well -- we got a lot of stuff and moves into the match."
Despite an entertaining 12-minute performance, a match that saw Couch fighting a good portion of the match somewhat shorthanded as the opposition prevented his partner from intervening, The Highlanders fell short in their attempt to claim the tag team titles.
"Everybody expected us to win the belts," Couch admitted, "so it was good that we didn't win.
"It allows us to build things up for another title shot."
Couch and his partner have certainly done an admirable job turning the WWE on its head since their arrival in July. The Highlanders, who formally signed a three-year deal in August 2005 with WWE chairman Vincent K. McMahon, have already developed a worldwide following, with many fans drawn to their rough and tumble style of wrestling. It's their ability to get the crowd going with their trademark saying -- Couch is now famous for his quote 'I'm Robbie' when asked by announcers who is standing before them -- that have made them one of the company's most popular tag teams.
Couch, a big wrestling fan before he was encouraged by a CAMI co-worker to attend the Von Erich/Hart Brothers School of Wrestling in Cambridge, spent a number of years perfecting his craft across southwestern Ontario with promotions such as the Pure Wrestling Association (PWA) and Neo Spirit Pro Wrestling. 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.
The team's big break came while working for the Massachusetts-based WWA New England promotion, where they caught the attention of Dr. Tom Pritchard, who was running weekend seminars in the area at the time. Shortly afterwards, the WWE came calling and the Highlanders were booked for shows in Montreal and Toronto -- in singles matches.
The pair received positive feedback from WWE management following their matches and were invited back on a fairly regular basis, appearing on the company's brand shows RAW, Smackdown, Velocity and Heat.
Vignettes began airing in June 2006 editions of RAW that featured the Highlanders cutting promos about their arrival in America.
"We're fortunate that they didn't just bring us in and throw us to the wolves," Couch said of the team's early fan base and wrestling success.
Since their debut, the Highlanders have feuded with The Spirit Squad and found themselves in the middle of the company's fledgling tag team division. Couch has accepted the challenge of helping rebuild a division that was once one of the company's most popular. He recalled fondly the likes of the Hart Foundation (which included Jim Neidhart and Canada's own Bret Hart), the British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) and the Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell).
"At first they didn't know what they were going to do with us," Couch said.
The future looks somewhat bright for the division, with the Highlanders, The Spirit Squad, the team of Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, Degeneration X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels), Haas and Viscera and the team of Eugene and 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan.
"I really hope it becomes what it once was," Couch said.
Couch pointed to a number of shows that he and his partner have worked with Duggan, who he proudly now calls his favourite WWE superstar of all time.
"His personality is so big and he's willing to help out the young guys," said Couch, noting the time he has spent with the wrestling legend after the shows and staying at the same hotels. "It's been nothing but a blast with him"
Another highlight in Couch's short professional wrestling career came in September when he had the opportunity to work with WWE Hall of Famer 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper at Madison Square Garden. Piper joined the Highlanders for a six-man tag match but, came out into the ring to talk with Couch and his partner.
"I got to slap him on the face and he slapped me on the face -- it was overwhelming," Couch said. "We sat around and chatted with him, but when it was time to go out there he handed us the ball and said he's just following us along."
Couch said it's been like a childhood dream to sit in the same locker room, alongside such legends as Ric Flair and Triple H.
"Most of the time I'm so mellow when it comes to this," Couch said. "I don't get too excited. "Sometimes it's hard not to say 'wow' when you're sitting around with these guys. But, we're all people -- we're co-workers."
Despite the quick rise to the top, Couch said the wrestling business has already taken its toll on him -- both mentally and physically.
"It's a tough business," he admitted. "You put your life on hold to get here."
Couch said he is currently working about four nights per week or about 200 shows per year. Travel also accounts for about an extra day per week -- adding to the physical strain. Despite it all, Couch continues to make regular trips back to Woodstock and has plans to spend upwards of three days per week at home between shows (assuming his schedule will allow it).
After stops in Toronto and Montreal this week it's off to Mexico City and Guatemala before eventually heading to Tijuana and Oklahoma City. Future international tours will take him to Japan and Hawaii before heading to Europe for stops in England and Scotland.
Couch, a native of Oban, Scotland, said he and Murray, also a Scotland native, were extremely excited about their trip back home -- where their new personas will likely be given hero status. The Highlanders made their official return to Scotland with shows in Glasgow and Aberdeen in November.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a slightly-edited version of a story that appeared in the Woodstock Sentinel-Review on Thursday, September 21, 2006.