Many fans are thrilled to see RVD and his unique, high-flying arsenal back in the ring after leaving the WWE three years ago. This Sunday, he will be on full display on the TNA Lockdown pay-per-view (airing live at 8:00PM ET) where he will be a part of Team Hogan, which includes Jeff Hardy, Abyss and Jeff Jarrett, against Team Flair, made up of Sting, Desmond Wolfe, James Storm and Robert Roode, in a Lethal Lockdown match. (You can check out the entire lineup for the show here.)
In an exclusive interview with FanHouse, Mr. PPV talks about why he joined TNA, teaming with Jeff Hardy, wrestling inside a steel cage, who he would like to see join the company, and more.
Brian Fritz: It wasn't too long ago when you decided to join TNA. Why did you finally decide to join the company?
Rob Van Dam: Well, the timing was just right. I'm very pleased with the deal -- it's just awesome. Everyone down there is too. It's really a good vibe at Universal Studios where like 80-85 percent of the travel is to and from, which is a great thing for someone like RVD. I don't miss going out there on the road and driving hundreds of miles and having to fly every day. It was the right time. I always said that when it came down to doing business and crunching numbers, which wasn't done for a long time although they had tried to get my interest for a long time before it came down to that. But when it came down to that and the time was right for everybody -- boom, that's where my path went.
You've come into TNA with a tremendous impact -- no pun intended -- and mixed in with the roster. Did you think it would be this easy of a transition to a busier schedule than what you had, and having this much impact this quickly?
Yes I did. I knew that I was going to be like a really big fish and, of course, everybody probably knew that the whole universe was directing me in that way to go there. I came in not feeling like I was going to have to prove myself to anybody except for the people that might have thought, 'hey, I haven't seen RVD wrestling in almost three years, what kind of condition is he in?' And in that case I wouldn't be surprised that a lot of people may have had that perspective because they may not watch RVD TV or keep up with my international bookings which have been everywhere else except for the United States over the last several years. But like I always say, I'm the real deal so I come in and I do my thing. I don't have to get worked up. I don't have to put a gimmick on. I'm just RVD all the time.
Although, I will say I am surprised at the energy from the crowd there at the studio. It sets more of an impact on me than I thought it would be. It doesn't come across on TV that loud or that responsive. When the crowd is chanting to my song 'Rob Van Dam -- the whole f'n show' when I'm coming down and they're screaming it, I really feed off of that. I noticed on television it doesn't come across quite that way. Also, like when they do the backstage segments, I was asking Eric Bischoff why don't they do a little pause like the WWE 3-2-1, you do a little pause to hear the crowd popping when you see us on the screen and you give them time to react. Eric said it doesn't really come across and you don't hear them that way. I think that should be capitalized on. I wish you could feel that energy from the crowd even more so than you do, so it could transcend into the show you're watching.
If you had not joined TNA, was there a chance that you would go back to the WWE? Or would you have just kept the schedule you had the last few years in working for various indie shows when you wanted?
Well, at a certain point anything was possible. I guess that never really changed, although when it came right down to it and I made the decision to sign with TNA, at that point I wasn't considering either it's going to be TNA or WWE. I had already ruled out the possibility of that happening at this time in my life. Returning to full-time is just not in my cards and that's what they (WWE) wanted. It was more or less continuing to do as I do or go with TNA, and TNA ended up being an awesome opportunity.
Let's move forward to Sunday with the Lockdown pay-per-view with Team Flair vs. Team Hogan and you are a big part of Team Hogan. If we look at what has happened on TV over the last few shows, Team Hogan is pretty beat down.
I'm going to give you probably a selfish perspective because I'm in it to rise out of all the mess and follow the bubbles up to the top. Basically, throughout my whole career all of the story lines that I've been attached to have always just been part of the job that I go through. I love being part of Team Hogan. I mean, he's Hulk Hogan! I have total respect for him and (Jeff) Hardy and Abyss. It's a sweet team and I'm looking forward to this, but what I expect to happen is even beyond this pay-per-view. I expect the crowd to react and cheer so strongly for RVD -- and I know they're going to do this for Jeff Hardy too -- that no matter what tries to stop us, I think we're going to rise up to the top. There's just going to be nothing keeping us from doing and being exactly where the fans want us to be, and that's at the top. That's how I've done it my entire career and I don't expect that to change.
Correct me if I'm wrong but throughout your career, you haven't been in too many cage matches have you?
I've been in a few. I don't know what you consider a lot. The first one I can remember was in the original ECW with me and Sabu against (Tommy) Dreamer and The Sandman, and Rick Rude was part of that and Beulah. It was kind of brutal. I remember jumping off the chair and doing a flying sidekick into a chair that Fonzie (Bill Alfonso) was holding into Sandman's face while he was handcuffed to the cage, and he said 'let's send it in' and he never said that again. I did some cage matches with The Undertaker at house shows in WWE. It's not something real new. I was in the first-ever Elimination Chamber match. Everybody remembers the Spider-Man spot and, of course, the crushed trachea spot from RVD (where he came down hard on Triple H's throat), that really stuck out in that match. So, I'm no stranger and anything hardcore I'm all about that, anything that takes it to another level that makes you think outside the box. I just look at it as other ways for me to shine, and when it comes down to people beating each other up to see who can take the most punishment, I'm always going to outlast everybody.
With your style in the ring, does being in a cage make it more difficult for you?
Not necessarily. One of the things I think about is a lot of times it ends up being a brawl and blood and heads being smashed into the cage, but that's where I try to think outside the box. In that Elimination Chamber match, the Spider-Man spot in particular, I did a cross-body out of the ring and (Chris) Jericho ducked and bam! I caught onto the cage like a spider and I flipped back and moonsaulted on him when he stood up. I like doing that stuff. It becomes hard to do something that hasn't been done before. I'm not thinking, 'let's get to the top and I do the frog splash off the top and Jeff, you do the shooting star.' Who knows? I'm pretty sure (Hulk) Hogan's not going to do a leg drop off the top of the cage. You never know what could happen. We've seen Jimmy Snuka and probably seen just about everything done. But when I'm in there, I bring something fresh and original. I think differently. I don't even look at what else has been done. I just do what comes to me, so put me in the cage. I don't consider it a disadvantage at all.
One thing that has jumped out since you joined the company is the chemistry you have with Jeff Hardy as a tag team. I know you see yourself as a singles guy, but it seems like there is something special between you and Jeff?
Yeah, I've always really liked Jeff and vice versa if I can speak for him. I think it's just because we're like-minded. We both have similar visions of what a good match is and we also have similar likes and dislikes about the j-o-b. When it comes right down to it and when it comes time to do promos and people giving us words to talk about, we're both rolling our eyes like 'oh man, can't we just get out in the ring and show off,' because that's what we really like to do and that's when we're shining. That's when we're having fun. We can have fun doing all the other stuff too. We enjoy each other's company but we also both feel like we rose to the top of the business against the odds, against the preconceived notions of the promoter that actually did try to hold us down. We did it through connecting with our fans in such a way that the fans brought us to the top. When I was in WWE, there was no way I was ever going to be WWE Champion. There's no way that ever went through Vince's (McMahon) mind or any of those guys' minds. For Jeff, same thing, but eventually through sticking to our guns that happened. We manifested it. We understand that and we vibrate in a similar fashion. Yeah, we click. It's so natural it's organic and we like that out here in Cali.
At the same time, I think when you came into TNA with Jeff Hardy already there that most people thought you guys could have some great matches against one another. Is that what you initially thought would happen and were you surprised when the company put the two of you together?
Yeah, I thought more about the fact that Jeff and I wrestling each other would be a hell of a match and a great draw that you couldn't see anywhere else. I expect that to eventually be something that TNA will utilize and the fans will go out of their way to see. Jeff started calling me a few weeks before I worked out the deal with TNA. I hadn't talked to him in years either by the way. It's not like he always calls me. Before this, I probably talked to him maybe once or twice on the phone ever. But he started calling me and said, 'hey man, I just want to know what you think about TNA cause I just think it would be great for you and me to be there man and we'd be able to ... I mean, (expletive) WWE!' It was aspiring and I was like, 'did they ask you to call Jeff?' This was after January 4th that he was just looking forward to being there so much. He hadn't even worked out his deal yet but he said he knew where it was going. It was going that way and he was saying he wanted me to go there. He was saying Sabu. He was saying we could have great matches and that would be such a better place for us than the other company. It was cool for him to call and say that. We're both looking forward to someday owning that main-event spot with just the two of us, but I'm not in a rush. I'm there for a while and we're on TV every single week. I'm watching what they're doing but at the same time I'm just going to connect with my crowd and have fun and at the same time kick some people.
You mentioned the TV show iMPACT! which is now on Monday nights from 8-10PM ET on Spike TV and just moved up an hour. A lot of people look at the ratings and compare them to WWE. How much do you pay attention to something like that?
Not at all. Since I started with TNA I quit reading any of the newsletters altogether because there's just so much negative energy out there. Somebody had sent me an e-mail talking about 'oh, watch your back there with the Hogan guys and their sabotaging,' and I said whatever. I'm happy. You have to be a (expletive) to (expletive) which you're there. It's a great working environment. People on the outside can (expletive). But this guy actually said, 'you debuted and then the ratings were down like 20 percent the next week so that could affect your asking price in the future.' I'm like, oh my God, what a mark! Do people really think that much about all that stuff? The other day, I looked at my first newsletter since I started wrestling there and that's because I wanted to find out some information on Chris Kanyon which I still don't know that much about. I'm just feeling the universe and it feels good. I think things are going to pick up. I think more and more good stuff is going to happen on the show that's relevant that people care about.
You've been so closely associated with (former ECW owner and booker) Paul Heyman over the years. Would you like to see Paul there at TNA and how often do people ask you about him because I believe you and Paul stay in touch?
Paul and I do stay in touch, we're friends. Of course, I would be thrilled to have him there and I think that he really, I know that he really has a way of staying on the pulse of people and staying really connected in what they want. He's a little bit ahead of them. He knows what the people want next week, what they're going to be listening to next, what kind of music is going to be coming around. That's something that is really important and he would make it cool. His name does come up a lot by fans or some of the other wrestlers or by people that are curious, wondering if he is going to come in. To the best of my knowledge, no. I don't know if he is. That would be nice but I have no reason that he is.
I was saying before about letting baby-faces shine -- this is definitely worth adding since you brought Paul Heyman up -- when I was with the original ECW and I was the television champion, I had like a two-year run. It's hard to argue the success of the company back then which, of course, Vince (McMahon) will knock it. I'm sure a lot of the promoters will knock it, but the rate that ECW was growing at the time was from 400 fans to 600 to 800 to 7,000 fans for our pay-per-views. It was growing and the formula we used was RVD is different, he's an exhibition. So let him go out there and do his stuff. They would bring in opponents from Japan, Mexico or wherever and I was always going to have the most outstanding match on the card. Everybody else was not held back. I was like, go ahead and try and do your best but I'm going to have the best match out there. That was the formula that we used. Obviously, one thing that RVD has is I'm one of a kind. I'm an original -- I stand out. But promoters don't know that. They try to put me in a formula for everyone else. In the 20 years of my career, there's only been one promoter that understood to just let me go out there and do my thing and that was Paul. In fact, he taught it to me.