|Bob Cook in 1984.
American motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel once said: "You come to a point in your life when you can't pull the trigger anymore."
For wrestler Bob Cook, those words echo loud and clear. But despite his better judgment and Knievel's epithet, Cook plans to pull the trigger one more time by coming out of retirement to wrestle in the main event at Rumble on the River III: A Night of Legends, as his alias, The Masked Superstar.
"I guess you could say I'm a Masked Superstar, not The Masked Superstar," Cook recently told SLAM! Wrestling, referring to Bill Eadie who wrestled as The Masked Superstar throughout the '70s and '80s, and made the name famous. "I'm wearing the mask for several reasons, and one of them is because I have long hair and it keeps my hair out of my eyes. I also can't see without my glasses, and when you're in a mask you naturally squint. Also, if I embarrass myself, no one will know who I am. I can also back out at the last minute and let somebody else wear the mask so I can sit in the back and watch. So as you can see, I've got it all covered."
It won't be the first time Cook has donned the mask. "The Great Malenko back in '89 called and asked if I wanted to work for some TV show he was putting together with a guy named Henry Raines for (the small-time promotion) Sun Coast Pro Wrestling, and they asked if I wanted to work as The Masked Superstar. I said, 'Of course!' -- you know, anything the Great Malenko wanted. I loved the Great Malenko like a father, and he was the best teacher/mentor anyone could have been lucky enough to have had.
"But Bill Eadie actually did cause us to change the name to just 'The Superstar' about two years in, even though he hadn't used the gimmick for years prior. Anyways, I'm the one who put this upcoming show together and on the poster I just put 'The Masked Superstar' on there. I posted a notice on Facebook and this one guy (wrote me to say): 'Oh, Mr. Eadie would appreciate knowing about this!' So I was like, you jerk, and I banned the guy from being my friend."
It was friends who inspired Cook to come out of retirement and promote the upcoming Rumble on the River III event, and wrestle as part of a six-man tag team match. "My old friend Rick Ryder -- who I got into wrestling and had some of my funnest matches with -- asked me to put the show together because my son wrestles and he knew I have friends who wrestle and that I have some connections," said Cook from his home in Newport, Florida. "I just wanted to put a show together using guys that I knew and liked and hadn't seen in years. It's going to be more of a reunion show for us and we're all going to have a party at my house afterward.
"Bugsy McGraw, he's a fun guy, and he's all excited because he hasn't worked for years, and I figured these guys wouldn't be as likely to hurt me as some young punk who wants to go over the entire match in the dressing room, and then when you go out there they'll screw it all up, you know."
Throughout his career, Cook found success in various promotions, winning the Florida Tag Team Titles in 1987, teaming with Jerry Grey as The Mighty Yankees, and holding the Sun Coast Pro Wrestling Championship as "The Superstar" on several occasions in the late '80s and early '90s. But it was during the years he worked primarily as enhancement talent, "losing to the stars," that provided him with the opportunity to meet some of his childhood heroes. "I've never done a lot in wrestling, but I was there and got to meet all the people that I admired. I took pictures along the way with a lot of those guys like Harley Race at the Slamboree Legends Reunion show, and Jesse Ventura in '92 (at Superbrawl II). I even helped Abdullah the Butcher put his girdle on in the dressing room one time -- well, I guess that wasn't too much fun.
Jesse Ventura and Bob Cook in 1992.
"And of course The Great Malenko, I feel honoured to have known him for the 14-plus years until his passing. I learned everything I knew from him and his sons Dean and Joe. The only person I regret never getting to meet was Superstar Billy Graham
, who I was a big fan of as a kid -- that's one person I always had hoped to meet one day."
Unabashedly, Cook told SLAM! Wrestling, "Yeah, I'm stuck in the past and I still watch wrestling all the time," he said with a laugh. "I don't always enjoy what I see today, but I still watch it. I like WWE 24/7 more than anything. I like to say that it was Vince McMahon's greatest idea, but I bet he didn't actually come up with it.
"Those old NWA shows from the '80s that they're showing right now, that's great stuff. Well, we like to think that it's great, and some of it is, but I mean, with every aspect of wrestling there are bad parts to it and a lot of the guys back in that era actually earned their name 'jobber.' You see, there's a difference between 'a jobber' and a guy who loses (regularly) on TV, you know. A jobber's a guy who doesn't know what the hell he's doing in the ring, in my opinion. Barry Horowitz always hated the term 'jobber' if you knew how to work, and there's a lot of guys I see on those old shows who don't even know how to hit the ropes.
"But I still love watching that classic stuff," said Cook, who occasionally sees himself in action, wrestling the likes of the Road Warriors or the Koloffs. "I did a match with Dick Murdoch in '87 and that should be probably comin' on sometime soon. Murdoch was one of the best. I mean, even still, if he were to break into the business now he probably wouldn't get very far just because of the way he looked. But man, I'm tellin' ya, the guy could out-work most of the guys in the business now. Everything he did looked good -- those kicks right to the face and those punches, you didn't even feel it, he was so good. Everything he did looked great, I love it, and to me that's my idea of working."
Along with Dick Murdoch, Ronnie Garvin and Terry Funk, Cook earned a reputation for throwing a great punch as well, thanks to Bill Watts. "I was wrestling Van Hammer and after the match I was upstairs getting a soda when (referee) 'Pee Wee' Anderson comes up and says, 'Hey Cook, Watts wants to see ya,'" Cook recalled vividly. "I thought, 'Oh crap -- What, am I in trouble?' Because anytime Watts wanted to see ya it was usually to chew guys out. So I came back into the hallway and all the guys are sittin' there as Watts says, 'Hey guys, I want you all to know something. This guy has one of the best punches I've ever seen, next to mine,' he had to throw that in there, 'And from now on, you sons of bitches better sell it and the announcer better put it over. If everybody had a punch like that, this business wouldn't be in the s**t it's in.' And that made be feel good.
Bob Cook as the Masked Superstar.
"See, I'm not into all that stiff crap that you hear people talk about that they think is so great, like Samoa Joe
wrestling (Kenta Kobashi) and they chop the crap out of each, then claim they don't remember half the match.' Cook added facetiously: "Oh wow, that's really impressive.
"That's not my idea of working. My idea of working is you take a match with Terry Funk against Jerry Lawler from '81-82, where they were feuding and everything they do looks great, the punches, the selling, everything -- and they're not even hittin' each other. Now that's the art of wrestling that is lost today."
But there were wrestlers in the '80s, Cook agreed, who had a reputation for working stiff. "Kevin Sullivan, he was always easy with me, but I know there was a guy named Rex King who would say otherwise. You know that stomp that Sullivan would do on his opponent's stomache? Well, there was this one time when he did it to Rex King and he was crapping blood for a month. I remember one time asking Kevin, 'How do you do that without hurting a guy, and he said, 'I don't.' He was a lot of fun to work with though, and I'm a big fan of people who know how to punch because I think that's just as important as doing a headlock takedown."
Working in Florida with the likes of Kevin Sullivan, Mark Lewin and Dusty Rhodes are fond memories for Cook, who said he got along with most people in the business, with the exception of a few: "I hated Buzz Sawyer," Cook said without hesitation. "I don't think anybody liked Buzz Sawyer. I thought he was a great worker, but I know he hurt a lot of guys. I liked watching him as a young kid and he was always aggressive and put a lot into his matches -- but he was the biggest jerk you ever wanted to meet.
"Definitely he and Vader were two of the biggest jerks I ever met. Sawyer was just a jerk all the way around. I remember one time just walking down the hall, I think I was in Tallahassee, Florida when he came in, in '89, for that little run. He comes up to me and says, 'Do you know where Ole (Anderson)'s at?' And I said I think he's around the corner,' and he (responded derogatorily), 'You think or you know?" He'd then call you a name and start cussin' at ya. Such a jerk. I remember when he died, and it was announced in the dressing room, Ron Simmons said, 'Well, where can we go to piss on his grave?' So, as you can see, he wasn't very well liked."
And there were those who didn't like Cook, he admits, but for the most part, "I think many of the guys were just completely oblivious to me," he said with a laugh. "And that was OK, 'cause as a result, I never got ribbed by people -- which I consider a blessing. I don't think being ribbed is any badge of courage. I hated to hear these stories of guys that ribbed, especially guys like the Nasty Boys and all the mean stuff they'd do. All the ribs that Mr. Fuji was proud about, I mean, there's nothing great about the stuff he did -- and that's certainly nothin' to be proud of."
To Cook's surprise though, the biggest name of them all in the NWA was a class act, through and through, he said. "I got to wrestle Ric Flair. I only had one match with him though, 'cause I was a nobody, so I only got lucky to wrestle him once. And I didn't even want to do that, that's the funny story about it. It was at Orlando, when they used to do the tapings over there, and Dave Penzer comes up and goes, 'Hey, you're working Flair,' and I said, 'Really? Oh crap, I don't want to work Flair.' I didn't want to screw up, or get nervous, cause it's Flair -- he's like the greatest of all time, next to Terry Funk, in my opinion."
But wrestle Flair he did, and Cook doesn't regret it for a moment. "I just walked up to Flair and said, 'Well, what are we goin' to do?' and he goes, 'Don't worry about it kid, just listen to me.' He just said, 'Remember the figure four -- OK?' We got in the ring and he just told me everything to do, and it was great. He was always nice to me, you know, even when he went to WWF for a while in '92. There was this one time when the WCW and WWF guys were all in the same town together in Atlanta and all these guys hung out at the Ramada Inn -- they all called it the dungeon. I was in the bathroom and Flair came in -- he'd been gone for two years -- and he goes, 'Hey Bob, how ya doin'?' He knew who you were, would asked you how your family was, and he was just a really nice guy.
"That match we had was really cool, 'cause unlike now, the match wasn't scripted start-to-finish. That's what I hate about today's wrestling, it seems everybody is doing everything by the book and they look like they're working in slow motion, trying to remember the next spot that they scripted on the plane ride over."
Bridging the past with the present, Ric Flair has always been a constant in Cook's life as a wrestling fan. "I'm not going to be a proud man and admit anything other than the fact that I cried when Flair retired," said Cook. "I watched Wrestlemania and went to the (WWE) Hall of Fame ceremony that year 'cause we live in Florida, and it was just really cool to be there. They had a lot of people there and being honoured who I knew, guys like Gordon Solie, who I was friends with. I cried when Flair was giving his speech. I'm a big sissy when it comes to that kind of thing.
"I thought, 'Finally, Vince is actually treating somebody right for once in his life.' But as soon as Flair goes and (works for TNA), here's Vince -- mister multi-millionaire -- removing him from the (WWE) website and the intro to RAW. Here is Flair, probably spending his last dime on the last woman he married and Vince gets pissed off because he's trying to make a little more money before he dies or before he can't do anything else. That to me is just so insulting -- it really is. That's just pansy crap."
And though Cook is unapologetic about his issues with the WWE these days, he remains an unwavering fan of wrestling. "I love wrestling and always will, even though I don't agree with a lot of things they're doing," said Cook. "That (episode of RAW) they did a few weeks back with Bret Hart, I mean, that was not a very good show. Who the hell wants to see a 60-year-old man kick a guy who's been gone for 12 years and looks like he just came out from the homeless shelter -- dressed like a 10-year-old kid? When (Hart) first walked out I thought it was Ozzy Osbourne, for God's sake!"
Weekly, Cook watches TNA Impact with the same critical eye. "I watch all the wrestling. I watch TNA even though I think it's disgusting, half the stuff they do. I can't support 'em but I watch it 'cause I don't have a life," Cook said with a laugh.
"Dixie Carter, to me, is just a huge Hulk Hogan mark and she thinks he's going to be the saviour -- but I don't think so." said Cook without reservation. "In Hogan's case, when you got a stupid wife who screws you out of most of your money and a ridiculous kid who can't keep his car under control, the media will jump all over you. So if (Hogan and TNA) have an opportunity to make money, I don't see anything wrong with 'em doing it, but I don't actually think him bringing in all these guys, like the Nasty Boys, is gonna help.
"Regardless of what they may tell you or what anybody else may tell you, the Nasty Boys have never drawn a dime and there's nobody who has ever bought a pay-per-view because of the Nasty Boys. There's not a rating book in the world that would say, 'Hey, this rating is because of the Nasty Boys.' They're just Hogan's friends and he's gettin' them a pay day, which is great to be his friend, I guess, but that's not going to help A.J. Styles and all the rest of the guys' bank accounts in the long run -- guaranteed. Hogan bringing all his friends in to TNA? -- That just seems to be a bad omen for the future."
And that's why, Cook admits, he lives in the past, addicted to watching old-school wrestling on WWE Classics on Demand. "I like watching the programs they do like 'The Film Room with Gordon Solie.' I also collect all the classic wrestling figures. I've got old wrestling magazines -- about 2,000 of them. I just love all those old magazines with the bloody wrestlers on the covers."
His nostalgia for wrestling, though, is only rivalled by his love for his childhood hero, Evel Knievel: "(My fascination with Evel Knievel) all started when I was five years old in 1958," said Cook. "Everyone has something in their life, I guess, that just kind of clicks with them. And in my case it's Evel Knievel. I have an entire room dedicated to him and I got to meet him and become friends with him in '97. He was awesome and treated me with respect, and the first time I met him, he sat there and talked to me for like three hours, and took pictures with us."
Cook said it was Vince McMahon Jr. and his father who helped promote Evel Knievel's 'Snake River' canyon jump in '74, showing it on closed-circuit in venues on the East coast like Madison Square Garden: "I remember Evel telling me all about working with the McMahons, along with the rocket he used for that jump.
Evel Knievel and Bob Cook.
"(Evel Knievel) came out with a book in '98 and he put a picture of me and my son in it. They did the biography on Evel Knievel in 1998 on A&E and they had him come to my house, if you ever watch the biography, most of the pictures and toys in it are from my collection and I'm even in the credits at the end -- which is awesome. I also got to go to the Snake River canyon and actually take the rocket out there for him, along with one of his motorcycles for the big 25th anniversary of the canyon jump. It was the best, and I will not lie, I cried like a frickin' two-year-old kid when he died. I heard about it on the radio, which was so depressing. and I'm still bothered by it. He was my hero as a kid and still is. I just got a bunch of Evel Knievel toys in the mail today. I love going to my Evel room and hanging out, looking at all the toys and videos -- it's one of the largest collections of Evel stuff in the whole country."
Like watching footage of his childhood hero, Evel Knievel, Cook is nostalgic for those memorable moments of yesteryear when it comes to his own career. "Sometimes I watch myself on TV and I'll start crying 'cause I'm an old man now, and the good times are gone," said Cook, who currently works for an airport limo service. "But that's the way things go."
Fortunately for Cook, he's taking the opportunity to hit the ropes, one more time, at Rumble on the River III, but not without some trepidation: "Stupidity and insanity is my reason for coming out of retirement," Cook joked. "No really, it's something I've wanted to do ever since I quit wrestling. I've been working out like crazy trying to lose weight trying to get into, I wouldn't say 'shape,' but in presentable condition.
"I'm likely going to embarrass myself in front of hopefully 20 people, like I used to. But you never know, there might be a good crowd and that will make it even worse," Cook concluded with a chuckle. "Ah well."
The National Wrestling Association and Big Time Wrestling presents: Rumble on the River III: A Night of Legends on Friday, February 12, 2010 at the Charlotte Harbour Event and Conference Centre in Punta Gorda, Florida. Matches include: 'Reckless' Robbie Cook vs. Maxxwell McDonald, Donovan Carmichael vs. Dirk Manning, 'The Mighty' Heinrich Volkoff vs. Gino Santana, The James Boys vs. The Highwaymen for the Florida Tag Team Title, A three-way Lightheavyweight title match with Sheik Khan Abadi vs. Virgil Flynn vs. Anthony Devlin. And in the 6-man tag team 'Legends' main event, The Masked Superstar, 'Rotten' Rob Minion and 'Maniac' Michael Patrick (with CWF legendary manager, Sir Jay Goodley) vs. Bugsy McGraw, B. Brian Blair, and 'The Golden Boy' Jerry Grey. Bell time is 7:30 pm. Autograph Session at 6:30pm. Tickets are $10. Proceeds to benefit the Make a Wish Foundation.
Marshall Ward, like Bob Cook, owns a Masked Superstar wrestling mask and is a 'WWE Classics on Demand' junkie. His is also a visual artist, independent filmmaker, and weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle. Email is welcome at email@example.com.