February 18, 2005
Rob Van Dam
REAL NAME: Rob Szatkowski
Born Rob Szatkowski in Battle Creek, Michigan, Van Dam's introduction to the wrestling world came not with his 1990 debut, but as victim of one of Dibiase's attempts to humiliate a member of the audience. Dibiase claimed that he would pay $100 to anyone who would kiss his feet. The young Rob was the "lucky" audience member who got to take Dibiase up on his challenge. [See our Dec. 2003 story: DiBiase's money bought a young RVD for more.]
In spite of this -- or maybe because of this encounter -- Rob got into wrestling. While his background includes kickboxing (placing second in the 1990 Kalamazoo Toughman Contest) and weight-lifting, Rob's real love was wrestling and at the age of eighteen, he decided to break into the business. He was trained by The Original Sheik, going so far as to live with The Sheik for a time.
Van Dam debuted in Toledo, Ohio in 1990, defeating Dango Nguyen. Before long, Van Dam was signed to the USWA to replace Chris Candido. While in the USWA, Rob met promoter Ron Slinker, who would, when the pair were reunited in Florida some months later, give Rob the name Rob Van Dam. It was also in Florida where he had his first match of many against Sabu.
During those early months of his career, Van Dam also wrestled for South Atlantic Pro Wrestling, battling Rikki Nelson for the organization's Light Heavyweight Crown, and for the International Wrestling Federation, where he won the Television title.
In 1992, "Robbie V", as he was dubbed, debuted in World Championship Wrestling. Robbie V gained many upset wins, including victories over Scotty Flamingo (later Raven) and Shanghai Pierce. However, as 1993 began, Robbie V was gone from WCW, and Van Dam headed to Japan.
Van Dam toured Japan with Giant Baba's All Japan Pro Wrestling organization. He quickly mastered the Japanese style of wrestling and highlights of that 1993-95 tour included battling Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Kroffat in a thrilling 20-minute draw.
Van Dam was also active on the North American independent circuit, defeating Luscious Lonnie for the Georgia-based All-Star Wrestling title in March 1994 and Raven for the PSW Cordele City title. Van Dam formed a very good team with Bobby Bradley as Aerial Assault in the National Wrestling Conference, with the team winning the NWC tag team titles in a 1995 tournament.
Hollywood came calling for RVD, as he appeared in two straight-to-cable martial arts movies, Bloodmoon and Superfights. Van Dam returned to Japan that same year, defeating Kentaro Shiga at the All Japan 23rd Anniversary show on October 25th in Tokyo.
In 1996, Van Dam returned to North America and began working for Extreme Championship Wrestling. In his ECW debut, on January 5th, Van Dam defeated Axl Rotten at House Party '96. Van Dam quickly became a favourite among ECW fans and helped cement his reputation with a draw against TV Champion Too Cold Scorpio in March 1996.
At April's "Hostile City Showdown", Van Dam defeated Sabu but spurned Sabu's handshake and a feud began. However, the more these men battled (with Van Dam coming up short), the more the mutual respect for the other grew. So much so that these two adversaries began to team. After getting by Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas, Sabu and Van Dam turned their attention towards the ECW tag team Champions, the Eliminators (John Kronus and Perry Saturn) but could not win the titles.
After losing several matches to Taz, Van Dam began to become frustrated in ECW and began to drop hints that he would soon be wrestling on Monday Nights, earning him the nickname "Mr. Monday Night". It was expected that Van Dam might soon be back in World Championship Wrestling but instead appeared on Raw as part of the WWE/ECW inter-promotional angle.
On May 12th, 1997, Van Dam was on Raw, defeating Jeff Hardy. Later, Van Dam defeated Flash Funk. After teaming with Jerry Lawler to defeat the Headbangers as part of the WWE tag team tournament in June, Van Dam became disillusioned with the WWE and returned to ECW.
The WWF/ECW inter-promotional angle continued with Van Dam's return to ECW. With Lawler in tow, Van Dam enlisted Sabu and manager Bill Alphonso to wreak havoc on ECW, targeting Tommy Dreamer. Van Dam and Dreamer would battle for the rest of 1997.
Van Dam defeated Bam Bam Bigelow for the ECW TV Championship on April 4th, 1998 in Buffalo, New York and thus began a reign as champion that would go down in the history books as one of the longest runs as champion in recent years.
June 6th saw Sabu and Van Dam finally win the ECW tag team titles with a victory over Lance Storm and Chris Candido. Despite holding the TV title, Van Dam concentrated on his team with Sabu. Their reign as tag team champs ended at the hands of the Dudley Boyz in October but a second one began in December, with the Dudleyz again being the opponents in question.
Van Dam received some recognition outside the wrestling ring when in 1998, the International All-Around Weightlifting Association recognized the Van Dam Lift as one of their lifting challenges. Van Dam performs the lift by doing a split across two benches and lifting a dumbbell.
Van Dam and Sabu's title reign would end in April 1999. Sabu had been suspended from ECW and Van Dam couldn't overcome a two-on-one situation in a handicap match against the Dudley Boyz. Meanwhile, Van Dam added a new nickname: Mr. Pay-Per-View for his success on ECW pay-per-view events.
Soon, Van Dam began a program with Jerry Lynn, who was dubbed "the New F'N Show" and had several title defences against Lynn, including pay-per-view match at "Living Dangerously" and "Hardcore Heaven '99". Van Dam also defeated Taz and Balls Mahoney.
On January 29, 2000, less than three weeks after a successful title defence against his former tag team partner, Sabu, Van Dam suffered a cracked fibula during a match against Rhino and was forced out of action for several months. The injury also meant that he was stripped of the ECW Television Championship, ending a 23-month reign.
Van Dam returned in April to face Lynn at Hardcore Heaven but lost the match when his friend, Scotty Anton turned on Van Dam. RVD feuded with Anton in a successful effort to get revenge before turning his attention to new Television Champion Rhino but could not regain the belt. After a falling out with ECW head Paul Heyman in October, Van Dam left for Thailand to film another movie, this one entitled Black Mask 2, capping off a year where he appeared on The X-Files, 18 Wheels of Justice and V.I.P.
After a trip to Japan to face Sabu, Van Dam headed to WWE, rushing out of the crowd with Tommy Dreamer to jumpstart yet another ECW invasion, this time joining with Shane McMahon's WCW contingent.
At the Invasion pay-per-view in July 2001, Van Dam won the Hardcore title, defeating Jeff Hardy. The pair traded the title over the next few weeks with Van Dam beating Hardy in a ladder match at SummerSlam 2001.
Van Dam quickly became the most popular member of the Alliance which led to dissention between RVD and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Austin became jealous of Van Dam's popularity among their fellow Alliance members. That changed, temporarily, when RVD helped Austin win a tag match. But Austin attacked Van Dam after it appeared that RVD was joining Vince McMahon and the WWE. Austin also attacked Van Dam during a triple-threat match involving Kurt Angle at No Mercy. Meanwhile, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley began to have Van Dam help her in her feud with Chris Jericho.
Van Dam, as Hardcore Champion, survived the Alliance's loss at Survivor Series but not Vince McMahon's wrath. McMahon sent the the Undertaker after Van Dam who would not last the year as Hardcore Champion, losing the belt at Vengeance in December.
At Wrestlemania X-8, Van Dam defeated William Regal to win the Intercontinental Championship. After a title defence against Christian, Van Dam was drafted #4 in the Brand Extension Draft by Ric Flair for the Raw brand.
Van Dam lost the Intercontinental to Eddie Guerrero at the Backlash Pay-per-view in April, and also came up short in several rematches until winning an incredible ladder match on the May 27th edition of Raw. Van Dam would defeat Guerrero on June 10th to qualify for the 2002 King of the Ring. Van Dam then defeated X-Pac and Chris Jericho only to lose to Brock Lesnar in the finals of the tournament.
On July 22nd, RVD defeated Jeff Hardy to unify the European and Intercontinental Championships and then, with a defeat of Tommy Dreamer on August 26th, unified the Intercontinental and Hardcore titles. At about the same time, Van Dam was aligned with Ric Flair. Flair had helped RVD get a victory over Chris Jericho and the pair teamed up to take on Jericho and Triple H. However, during a title match at Unforgiven in September, 2002, Flair turned on Van Dam, allowing Triple H to retain the World Championship.
In addition to trying to get revenge against Flair and Triple H, Van Dam began to team with Kane. Although they lost to Val Venis and Lance Storm during the Heat broadcast before Wrestlemania 19, they would win a Triple Threat match involving Venis/Storm and the Dudley Boyz the next day to win the WWE tag team titles.
After defeating Venis/Storm, the Dudleyz and even the returning Legion of Doom in defence of the tag team titles, Kane and RVD lost the tag titles to La Resistance on June 15th at Bad Blood. The pairing between Kane and Van Dam ended when Kane snapped during a match between the former partners on a July 21st edition of Raw. Kane later cost Van Dam the Intercontinental title when RVD challenged Christian several weeks later.
After losing several matches to Kane (including at SummerSlam), Van Dam began to battle Christian, the end result being that Van Dam defeated Christian for the Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match on September 29th. That reign would end on October 27th, when Chris Jericho defeated RVD. However, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, then co-General Manager of Raw, ordered a steel cage rematch that same night and Van Dam walked out champion once again. He would not be so lucky at Armageddon on December 14th when Randy Orton ended Van Dam's run as Intercontinental Champion.
After several attempts to regain the title, Van Dam teamed with Booker T to defeat Evolution's Ric Flair and Batista and become the WWE tag team Champions. This team retained the belts through a successful title defence at Wrestlemania XX when they came out on top of a Fatal Fourway match involving Mark Jindrak and Garrison Cade, the Dudley Boyz and La Resistance. A little over a week later, on the same night as the Draft Lottery, Flair and Batista regained the belts.
That same night, Van Dam was traded to Smackdown. Teammate Booker T was as well, but was not as happy about it as RVD, and the two former partners feuded before Van Dam began to team with Rey Mysterio, Jr.
Throughout the summer of 2004, however, Van Dam was involved in the United States Championship scene, along with Booker T, John Cena and Rene Dupre. Although involved in many Triple Threat and Fatal Fourway matches, Van Dam was never successful in lifting the U.S. belt.
As summer turned to fall, Van Dam was back teaming with Mysterio Jr. and the pair finally became the Smackdown tag team champions with a December 9th victory over Rene Dupre and Kenzo Suzuki on Smackdown.
After several successful title defences by the team of Mysterio/Van Dam, RVD was injured on January 9th, suffering a torn MCL and a partially torn ACL. Mysterio and Van Dam lost the tag team titles to the Bashams in a Fatal Fourway bout (also including Booker T/Eddie Guerrero and Mark Jindrak/Luther Reigns) soon afterwards.
On January 27th, Van Dam underwent reconstructive knee surgery and is due to be out for some time. While he's out of action, RVD has been involved in his Lomita, California-based 5-Star Comic store. He also made an appearance at ECW's One Night Stand where he conducted a shoot interview before being gored by Rhyno.
Even thought he was on the shelf, Van Dam was drafted to Raw as part of the draft lottery. He was introduced to the Raw audience as part of Carlito's Cabana. Soon, however, Carlito attacked Van Dam, focusing on RVD's injured knee.
Van Dam returned at the 2006 Royal Rumble and then made his way to the finals of the Road to Wrestlemania tournament, before losing to Triple H. Undaunted, RVD went to Wrestlemania XXII and defeated Ric Flair, Shelton Benjamin, Lashley, Finlay, and Matt Hardy in a Money in the Bank ladder match.
At Backlash, he put up his Money in the Bank title shot against Benjamin's Intercontinental title and came away the new I-C Champ.
RVD cashed in his MITB title shot at ECW One Night Stand and came away with John Cena’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Days later, Paul Heyman would also award RVD the ECW World Heavyweight title.
That same night, however, Edge – who had helped RVD beat Cena – began a feud with RVD after spearing him. But just as RVD’s WWE career was peaking, a routine stop for speeding on an Ohio highway following an ECW house show almost assured RVD’s fall from grace.
RVD and his passenger Sabu were arrested on drug-related charges. Days later, RVD lost both his titles on TV, as Edge won the WWE belt on RAW, and the Big Show captured the ECW Championship on ECW’s Sci-Fi program. Almost immediately thereafter, the WWE suspended RVD for 30 days for violating the company’s wellness program.
Not long after his return, RVD began a feud with Hardcore Holly and pled guilty to possessing marijuana. (He received a small fine.) WWE pushed Bobby Lashley as unstoppable in ECW while RVD languished by comparison. He would take part in the ECW Originals versus The New Breed grudge and had an extremely short feud with Randy Orton. In his final WWE match, RVD opened ECW One Night Stand in a stretcher match against Orton. Although RVD won, Orton would give RVD a “concussion” in the midst of his “kick all prone opponents in the head” gimmick.
RVD declined to re-sign with WWE and has since announced on his website he will create an online reality show called RVD-TV.