An interview with Bob Cook
An interview with Bob Cook
You may not think of Bob Cook as a legend as I do. And, in fact, may not immediately know who he is. However, the man has been there for it all. Bob's been wrestling professionally for fifteen years and has worked in both the WCW and the WWF as well as a number of smaller organizations. A DDT Digest reader passed Bob's name and e-mail address along to me and Bob was more than willing to do a phone interview with me.
We talked for well over an hour and I got a great insight into his career and life as a pro wrestler. What follows is a transcript of the most interesting parts of our conversation.
Ring name: Bob Cook, Masked Superstar (see below), Pirhana Steel (masked)
Name of organization(s): WCW,WWF, Florida Championship Wrestling, Suncoast, SWF, Global, USWA, IWA
Height: 6' 1"
PWI Ratings: 1991 - 386/500 (first year top 500 was published), 1992- 415/500
Years Active: 1981 thru 1996
Wow, fifteen years is a long time...
Actually, I was most active from 1991 through 1993.
When were you in WCW?
1988 until 1994.
Are you retired at this point?
Retired's probably not the right word. I've had a lot of injuries: back, knees, neck, shoulders. They are definitely causing me some trouble now. I wasn't making that much money and I kept getting hurt. I still have pain every day and I haven't wrestled in eight months. Wrestling is not as easy as people like to think. I'm certainly not ruling anything out right now, it's a wait and see thing at this point.
Approximately how many of matches had you had in your career?
I've only had one acute injury I ever had that put me out. It's the nagging ones that are the problem now. It's funny, when I was wrestling a lot, I liked coming home at two in the morning with the aches and pains. Those aches and pains told me I'd accomplished something that day.
What's your approximate win-loss record?
Probably around 200-600. While that may sound bad, during my time in WCW I was wrestling a lot and I was wrestling the best. It's hard to get wins when you're going against guys like Flair and Luger.
Do you remember your first match?
Of course. It was against The Masked Terror, December 17th, 1981. The last one I fought was against Al Hardmen on November 4th, 1996.
What tag team partners have you had?
Dory Funk, Jr. in 1988, Jerry Grey, Nasty Ned, plus others.
I'm looking at the pictures you sent me. Did you dress as the Masked Superstar at one point?
I did, on occasion, wrestle as the Masked Superstar. I guess you could say I was "a" Masked Superstar, not "the" Masked Superstar. When I wasn't the Masked Superstar, I just wore the basic long trunks with the straps.
As a kid, did you have dreams of becoming a professional wrestler?
Since I was 11 years old. I don't want to sound like Shawn Michaels, but it's true. Look in my high school yearbook, you'll see how many people made comments about me being heavyweight wrestling champion someday when they signed it.
How'd you get into the business?
I was coming out of a wrestling show I attended as a fan in Tampa, FL and there was a flyer on my car for a wrestling school. It was the Great Malenko's school (Dean's dad). Went to the school the next day and the rest is history, as they say.
How long did the training take?
Eight months at a pace of six hours a week. I used to go up every Tuesday and Thursday for 3 hours each.
There's a lot of talk these days about fly-by-night pro wrestling schools that are just rip offs. Was the Great Malenko's school the real deal?
Absolutely. Certainly, the physical location left something to be desired. It was in the back of a mattress factory and there were rats. However, the school was fantastic. If nothing else, the fact that I had very little athletic background before attending the school tells you something about how much they are able to teach you. Dean and his dad were the two guys who really got me into the business.
Any big stars come out of there?
Sean Waltman, (Syxx/The 1-2-3 Kid) came from there. That fact came into play between Sean and Dean recently. Sean and I used to travel together. Barry Horowitz (Jack Hart) also trained there.
What was your best match?
That had to be June 7th, 1989. A cage match against Rick Ryder. I trained him and I had my biggest feud with him.
Was that your biggest victory?
Given that Dean Malenko is the current U.S. Champion, I guess my victory over him in Suncoast might be considered by biggest victory historically. I'd also consider beating Mike Graham one of my other really big wins. [Editor's Note: Less than 24 hours after the interview, Dean Malenko lost the U.S. Title to Jeff Jarrett.]
Who was the most famous wrestler you ever faced, win or loss?
Hard to say as I really have wrestled just about everyone. I've wrestled Luger, Sting, even Ric Flair.
Have you had any title matches in your career?
Sure. I had matches for the Suncoast title, Florida tag titles and SWF champ title matches. When I was in Suncoast, Dean Malenko was the number one face and I was the number one heel. Jerry Grey and I won the Florida Tag Team Championship as the Mighty Yankees. We were the last team to ever hold those belts. Also, as Superstar I won the Suncoast Southern Title three times, the third of which was that victory over Malenko, and I held the Florida title once.
Do you get more psyched up for a title match or is it "just another day at the office"?
Of course you get more psyched up. The wrestlers are no different than any other sport. If it's a more important match, you get more psyched up, no matter how low the probability of you coming out on top might be.
What was your claim to fame?
"The Best Punch In Wrestling"
I thought that was "Hands Of Stone" Ronnie Garvin...
Hey, I didn't give the nickname to myself, Bill Watts gave it to me. One night, after my match, Randy "Pee Wee" Anderson came up to me and said the boss wanted to see me. I thought I was in trouble for something. He brings me in there and he's got a bunch of other guys in there. He's showing a tape of my match telling the other guys that I've got "The Best Punch In Wrestling" and they should model it. Ever since then, Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone, and Eric Bischoff (back when he was just an announcer), would always point out my great punch when I used it to knock someone down.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Bill Watts. What's yours?
I really liked the guy. At the time I was there, pretty much everyone did. He definitely believed on pushing the guys with the talent.
Any other claims to fame?
I wrestled Dustin Rhodes in his first match. Literally, there were about 50 people in the arena. As you might guess, Dustin won. It's probably not a claim to fame, but I wrestled The Great Malenko in his last match. Also, I got Marc Mero / Johnny B. Badd into the business.
Is it really true that Marc Mero was working as a pool builder when he was "discovered"?
Yup. The first time Dusty saw Marc work, Dusty saw something special in him and Dusty knew Marc would be a star.
It must be weird seeing Dustin now considering you worked with him in the earliest part of his career...
Marc is a fitness freak. Before he got into wrestling, he'd be building pools all day, jog to the gym, work out, and then jog home. And it is true that he was a great boxer. He knocked down Riddick Bowe. I've seen the tape.
Ironically enough, I was Dustin's first opponent and I had my worst injury against him in a later match. My knee blew out in the middle of the match. I popped it back in but it was swelling up immediately. Dustin was a pro. He saw me in trouble, nailed me with a clothesline, and pinned me.
Did you ever get busted open during a match?
Oh, all the time years ago. I didn't like it.
Did you ever work any supercards or pay-per-views?
Only one. In the dark match at War Games '92, Firebreaker Chip & I wrestled Tommy Rich & "Diamond" Dallas Page. Page pinned me.
Did you have any idea at the time that "Diamond" Dallas Page would go on to be such a major star?
No clue at all at the time. However, looking back on it, I should have known. When he started out, he videotaped every one of his matches and went back and reviewed them. He was always trying to learn and improve. Everyone, including me, could have really learn something from his work ethic. He deserves everything he has. Well, everything except maybe that wife of his. [laughs]
Who will be the next big superstar?
I think Marcus Bagwell will be a big star if they would really do something with him. I think he should go to the WWF. Vince can sometimes make a star out of a Bagwell-type wrestler. WCW hasn't yet. Look what Vince did with Steve Austin.
What's the most matches you ever had in a day?
Four in 1989 for a TV taping at the Gainesville Civic Center. I fought Rick Steiner and Lex Luger in singles matches. I fought Ivan Koloff & Junkyard Dog in one tag match and the Russian Assassins in another. It was a great week, I made $1500, but it was tough. Four ten minute matches is a lot tougher than one forty minute match. Aside from the fact you've got to psyche yourself up four times, think about the physical toll it takes on you, especially when you lose all four.
Were you ever under contract to an organization or were you always free lancing?
Always freelancing. For the smaller federations back then, there was no such thing as having someone under contract.
How does a wrestler not under contract find work...do you literally sit by the phone, do you make phone calls, or do you use contacts?
I would call them or sometimes just kind of just show up. WCW would always pay. Sometimes, the smaller shows do get canceled. You go all the way there and you come home without a dime. Oftentimes, they'd at least pay for the rental car to get there.
When you were working a lot, how many days a year were you on the road?
At least 250. We traveled Sunday to Thursday. Back in '93 when I blew out my knee against Dustin Rhodes (in only my second match against him), Jody Hamilton, the Masked Assassin, found work for me on security detail to keep me working.
With your road schedule, how often did you get to train once you were on the road full time?
Early in my career, I kept up with the formal training. I still went up every Tuesday and Thursday. Eventually I stopped...maybe that's why I'm not wrestling now.
Even when you weren't working that heavy schedule, was wrestling your full time job?
Yes, at least I tried to convince myself that it was. I made excuses so I wouldn't have to do anything else. My wife had a job so that allowed me to concentrate totally on wrestling.
What would you have done if you weren't a wrestler?
No clue. Dean Malenko said it takes seven years so I kept working at it. I had nothing to fall back on except bed.
When did you wrestle for the WWF and who did you wrestle?
I wrestled for them for eight months in 1995. The WWF paid better and paid in cash on the spot. While WCW never stiffed you, you'd have to wait for a check. WWF would fly you and rent the car and take care of the gas and hotel. WWF behind the scenes was less stressful at the time. While I was there, I fought Luger, The British Bulldog, Man Mountain Rock, The Smokin' Gunns, and the 1-2-3 Kid. It was great because it just so happened that when I went to the WWF, I already knew everybody that was there. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall showed me around. And as far as all the rumors are concerned, maybe he's changed in the last two years, but Shawn Michaels was a really nice guy when I was there. I also think he is the best worker in the business.
Even in a non-title match, is it more nerve racking wrestling a guy like Flair?
The last time Scott Hall and I were together in the WWF, Scott got me so drunk I couldn't walk.
Absolutely. If it had been up to me, I would have never wrestled Flair just because I was so intimidated. Dave Pinzer set the match up before I had a chance to back out. But Flair is such a pro and a great man, even though he thoroughly beat me, he made me look good. And the "Best Punch In Wrestling" put him on his back more than once. When Flair retires, they're going to be in trouble. He cannot be replaced.
I never would have guessed that the ring announcer did booking...
At the time I was in WCW, one of Dave's duties was to scout talent in other federations. No one wants to see Lex Luger rack T. Rantula every week. Dave's job was to bring guys like that in for TV tapings.
When the big guns "defect", such as Anderson and Blanchard going to the WWF and then Flair, does that bring the rest of the guys down?
Not really. They realize it's just business. In my mind, it's probably bad all this jumping federations, but it's all part of the game.
Was it more fun to work with the same guys repeatedly in that you could know what to expect, or would you rather wrestle a different guy every night?
Honestly, I'd rather wrestle the same guys. You know what to expect and have a better match that way. I had my best matches with Rick Ryder. I always hated wrestling guys bigger than me.
Is it tougher wrestling a guy you've personally got a problem with outside the ring?
I never had a problem with any of the other wrestlers outside the ring.
Come on, that can't be true...
Well, there's one big name guy out there now, currently in the WWF, that I didn't get along with for awhile. Then, one night, we went out, had some drinks, and the problems just went away. And, I don't like to speak ill of the dead, but since it was a common feeling I'll say it. I didn't get along with Buzz Sawyer. However, as I said, I was not alone. We were in the locker room when word came down that he had died. One guy, who is now a former WCW champion, had as his first question: "Where's the grave so I can piss on it?"
Speaking of locker rooms. Are they really separated between the heels and the faces?
It depends on the facilities. It was much more important years ago that it is now. Years ago, heels and faces had to travel separately, couldn't be seen outside the arena together, and sometimes even had to use separate entrances and exits. Even for guys able to separate their lives inside the ring from their lives outside the ring, for appearances' sake, they had to carry their feuds outside the ring as well.
Do the stars and the jobbers talk to one another or is there definitely a pecking order?
It's obvious from reading the Brushes With Greatness section that it's no longer true. Certainly not in WCW, anyway.
It's not that there's a pecking order as far as social status. You tend to hang with the people you travel with. Since the stars have a different travel schedule than the jobbers, they tend to forge closer friendships on the road. There are exceptions, though. For example, Arn Anderson and Joey Maggs are really close friends.
It's well documented that the stars often have their pick of women. Do the jobbers get come ons as well?
Some do. I never really tried. I went to the bar and did my thing and didn't chase women. Some guys, though, definitely have a well-earned reputation for scoring.
Who is your all time favorite wrestler?
In terms of my overall all-time favorite as a wrestling fan, it has to be Terry Funk. When you add up everything about him, with what he is still accomplishing at the age of 53, he is my favorite. As a wrestler, as far as who I respect the most, it would be Dean Malenko and his dad.
Who were you closest with in the business?
I was not that close with anyone really, there were other jobbers that I thought of as pretty close friends. But when I wasn't around wrestling I didn't keep in touch with them that much.
Who are the nicest guys in the business?
Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, Cactus Jack (Mankind), Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair, The Funks. They are all really down-to-earth. And those are just a few, as I found that most of the guys were pretty nice for the most part.
Who are the most opposite from their ring persona?
Denifinitely Dean Malenko and Steve Austin.
Who are the legit toughest guys you ever worked with?
The Steiner Brothers, Kevin Sullivan (had some of my best matches with him), Harley Race, The Funks. There are a lot of tough guys in wrestling, I think you have to be a tough guy just to be in wrestling in more ways then one.
Were you a heel or face?
I once asked Kevin Sullivan, "How do you do that stomach stomp without really hurting people?" His answer, "I don't". Shoot, one guy he gave that stomp to, he was shitting blood for a month.
Mainly a heel.
Does a heel get as much satisfaction out of boos as a face does for cheers?
I know I did. The boos were just as good for me. The boos tell you that you are doing your job.
Any problems with fans jumping the railing during your career?
However, I had one big night as a face I really enjoyed. I had a match 25 miles from my hometown and I wrestled as a face against Jerry Gray. I got the win and soaked up the cheers. It was great. On any other night, though, I loved being the bad guy.
A few times. I only had one really bad experience, and, physically, I wasn't the one who took the worst of it. I was on the railing and I got kicked by a fan. I reacted and, without getting a good look, I hauled off and punched the guy who kicked me. After the match, I looked back to see who it was. It was an old man and I'd busted his glasses. I felt pretty bad about it.
Anybody who wish you could have wrestled in your career?
Not really, although on those lines one big regret I have is not taking more pictures with people. A good example of this was on a Legends night. I was standing between Andre The Giant and Bruno Sammartino. George Napolitano, the best known wrestling photographer is standing right there with his camera. However, I didn't want to act like a fan and ask Bruno and Andre to be in a picture with me. Sometime afterwards, I saw a photo taken a few minutes later where George had given the camera to someone else to take a picture of him with Bruno and Andre.
So, what are you doing now?
Nothing except living off my wife like all "retired" wrestlers should do.
Do you miss wrestling?
More then ever.
Would you encourage your son to go into the business?
That seems odd. You loved being in the business, you miss it now that you are out, but wouldn't encourage your son...why?
Well, "never" may have been too strong. If he had the right head for it, maybe. I'm just afraid the business would break his heart. Just five weeks ago, a lady from one of the federations called me about some work seeing if I was available. She said she'd call back and just never called back. It's tough. Plus, I wasn't a star so I can't push him.
Did you ever think you were one move, such as the diamond cutter, or one idea, such as the Undertaker, away from the big time?
Not really. I was my own worst enemy. Dusty wanted to hook me up with Tom Pritchard. Dusty kept telling me to get in better shape and told me I had the potential to be a big star if I really wanted it. He didn't have an ulterior motive...he was really trying to motivate me to be the best I could be. I had an opportunity to hook up with Joe Cruz as one of Masked Assassins but it didn't work out.
Did your wife every come to the matches? Did the violence bother her?
Heck, no one tells me to drink ten Mountain Dews while I'm watching King of the Ring. I think that like anyone else in the sport, whatever things I may have wanted to achieve that I didn't are more a result of not trying hard enough rather than someone else holding me back.
Once in a while. Didn't bother her at all.
Did you ever have to defend your profession to in-laws, neighbors, or the other parents at the PTA?
VERY rarely. For the most part, people were positively interested.
Do you watch wrestling on TV?
I watch wrestling every week just as I always have and probably always will. I love wrestling and I like to keep up with what's going on. Right now, I'm not involved in the business in any way other than just being a fan.
Where do you see the business going?
It's hard to tell. Everytime I watch wrestling I see them taking two steps forward and six steps back. There definitely seems to be more of an emphasis on the high-flying Mexican style wrestling. It seems like just two years ago, just about everyone was a brawler or a mat wrestler like me. Now everyone has to be a trapeze artist. That's one of the things that makes me a little reluctant to go back as ALL of wrestling, even for big guys like me, is becoming more high risk yet I don't see why. I'd rather watch Sullivan and Benoit duking it out any day rather than watch the high flyers. What gets a bigger reaction from the crowd, Sullivan and Benoit duking it out over a real issue, or a 160-pound guy who's never been interviewed doing a suicide dive through the ropes? If you watch and listen, I think you'll see Sullivan and Benoit getting the bigger reaction.
Wrestlers are very public about how much success in the business is due to politics. Do you believe that's true?
Less now than before. Fans are smarter and with head-to-head competition so important now, the "cream rises to the top". In the past, a federation could get by making stars out of no-talents. I don't think you can do that anymore. Of course, just like any business, some no-talents do get pushed but I don't think it's as bad as some people are making it to be and it's probably no worse than other businesses.
Tell me about your interest in Evel Knievel.
It all started when I was five years old. I heard about him, saw the things he was doing, and it just sort of clicked. Everybody has their "thing" in life, Evel's mine. I know everything about him. I'm a big time collector of all the Evel Knievel collectibles that have come out over the years. I even have a 14' by 12' mural of him painted on the living room wall.
What was it like meeting him?
First time I ever met him was two months ago. Thank God for the Internet as without it, it never would have happened. I had joined his fan club and through "talking" via the Internet to various people, I got hooked up with someone close to him. The guy could tell that I was a big time fan of Evel's and set it up so I could meet him. I was so nervous. I was so afraid that after all these years, he might turn out to be a jerk and blow me off.
I'll see what I can do to hook you up with some other Evel Knievel fans. Thanks a lot for your time. This has been great.
Instead, the guy spent two hours with my son and me talking about his career. He was so down-to-earth. He let my kid sit on the bike and everything. It was, by far, the most exciting day of my life as the guy had been my idol for thirty years. He really is an awesome guy.
I cannot say enough nice things about Bob for taking the time to talk to me. As this is a non-commercial site, I couldn't "pay" him anything even if he'd asked for it (which, of course, he didn't). However, the way I'm trying to pay him back is to point out that, if you haven't already noticed, Bob is a huge Evel Knievel fan. If you are an Evel Knievel fan, and wish to get in touch with Bob to trade memorabilia, swap stories, or just touch base with Evel's biggest fan, feel free to e-mail Bob and check out his webpage.
Bob mailed me a few pictures. If you'd like, check out the Bob Cook Picture Gallery.
As always, if you have any comments on this or any other DDT Digest feature, please e-mail me.
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