The Sheik kept Van Dam sharp
By TIM BAINES -- Ottawa Sun
Rob Szatkowski sat across the table from The Sheik, no doubt guarding his utensils.
As an 18-year-old Szatkowski learned his wrestling in Michigan from The Sheik, a legend in his own right and an early innovator of hardcore matches with his use of sharp objects and fire.
"I got to see his soft side," says Szatkowski. "But he's still very intimidating. We'd wrestle in his backyard, then swim in his pool.
"My style was a lot different than his, but he would tell stories and teach me. It doesn't get any more old school than that.
"It was an honour and a privilege very few have."
Szatkowski had an accomplice in gaining his early wrestling knowledge, The Sheik's nephew Sabu. And Szatkowski would spend some of his early wrestling life in ECW, alongside his friend.
Szatkowski would change his name.
He became Rob Van Dam.
And he became The Whole F---in Show. Later, he was also called Mr. Monday Night.
When ECW knuckled under, he joined the WWF.
There's no question along the way he also became a star. At 6-foot, 237 lbs., he's a dynamic ring performer.
"The best part for me is the fans," he says. "It's great when they chant RVD when I step through the curtain.
"I would like people to remember the things that Rob Van Dam does, the things that nobody has done before.
"There's a thrill-seeking element in me."
Bungee jumping, jumping out of an airplane, flips off the diving board. Van Dam likes a good thrill.
Van Dam says he feels great these days.
"I hear a lot of guys complaining about their knees being shot. A lot of them played football and they're already beat up," he says. "I'm tough and I think I'm in good condition."
One downside of his success are the rigours of the lifestyle. Plenty of travel, and time away from his wife Sonya.
"It's rough. I bring my wife with me a few times a month," he says.
He says ECW played an important role in the history of wrestling.
"ECW definitely revolutionized the business," he says. "Hitting with chairs, the hardcore matches, that came from ECW."
Since his move to the WWF, his company role has been up and down.
But in a world where different wrestlers are pushed, he'll get his shot at the top, in the midst of all the glitz and glammer that is the WWF.
"This is a huge Barnum and Bailey production, with makeup and wardrobe," says Van Dam.
While Van Dam is a fan favourite with moves like the VanDaminator and the Five Star Frog Splash, he'll go with the flow. If the WWF wants to turn him into a heel, he's "cool with that."
After all, he can do just about anything he wants.
Remember, we're talking about R-V-D!