Rob Van Dam is truly one of a kind, and a new documentary proves it. The former WWE world champion is tackling new ground in Headstrong, an eye-opening film by Joe Clarke. The stunning five-star documentary covers RVD’s life on the road as a standup comedian on the comedy circuit, and the grueling price of being one of the best to ever lace up a pair of boots. In an exclusive interview with Still Real To Us, RVD opens up about concussions he received throughout his legendary extreme career, and what’s next for “Mr. Pay-Per-View.”
“There’s things in life that we have no control over,” RVD tells Still Real To Us. “Aside from that, I believe that life is what we make of it.”
Van Dam’s currently living on cloud nine with his bodacious girlfriend, Katie Forbes. Forbes is also a wrestler who is developing her craft on the independent scene. The long and winding road to achieve his personal happiness and “spiritual vibration” isn’t all laughs for Van Dam. RVD survived concussion after concussion throughout his run as one of the top performers in the wrestling industry. In addition to suffering the loss of his dog and father, Van Dam’s ex-wife also separated from the former WWE superstar in 2016. It was a hard pill for RVD to swallow. In a sudden swoop, Van Dam lost his entire support system, and he turned to heavy drinking in order to keep himself going.
“Wrestlers were telling me, ‘Rob, you’re not yourself. You’re different.’ Yeah, I was drunk,” says RVD. “I allowed myself to drink. I wanted to change my mindset as much as possible, as early in the day as possible. I was drinking destructively. I was lining up 15 double shots. I was doing that every day for a while.”
Through heartbreak, there was triumph. Forbes and RVD hit it off right away when they first met. They’ve been together for three years, going strong. Van Dam believes his partner is likeminded, and wants the same things out of life. Compromise isn’t needed, because they both avoid being unhappy while focusing on the things that matter.
“Life is so rewarding right now,” RVD tells Still Real To Us. “I was married for almost 20 years. Although I think [my ex-wife and I] could have canceled it 10 years earlier because we were drifting apart. With Katie, I feel like we are an unbeatable team. We have each other’s backs like nobody’s business. I never had that in my life before.”
As RVD helps Forbes launch into the mainstream, the awe-inpsiring 48-year-old athlete never forgot his roots, and true friends in the business. Headstrong showcases a variety of wrestling’s biggest stars, including Colt Cabana, Ryback, Matt Striker, Mick Foley, the late Bruno Sammartino, and Van Dam’s one-time rival Tommy Dreamer. RVD’s extraordinary performances inside the squared circle against Dreamer never failed to be an absolute spectacle, and Van Dam wouldn’t have it any other way. From his famous five-star frog splash to the fan-favorite rolling thunder, RVD captured the imagination of fans both young and old. In Headstrong, Dreamer and RVD shared the stage to trade jokes, not fists. The crowd ate both their routines up. When not exchanging laughs with Dreamer, RVD tells Still Real To Us that his flashy moveset set him a part from the other guys in the locker room.
“As a performer, it was always important to me to prove how durable I was. I didn’t get into the wrestling business as a 400 pound giant. I was around 185 pounds when I was schooling with the original Sheik,” says RVD. “I had to prove how tough I was, and how much of a beating I could take.”
RVD took his thrashings and turned them into a wildly successful career. In Headstrong, “Mr. Monday Night” makes it clear that the thousands of chair shots he received from his wrestling brethren were no fault of the promotions or promoters he worked for. Gaining worldwide fame in Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment, the multi-time champion claims responsibility for his physical health. Van Dam tells Still Real To Us that in order to break into the wrestling industry, a person has to eat, sleep, and breathe the laborious lifestyle of a professional wrestler. RVD’s incredible desire to leave an impact on his fans and peers are leading him to make calculated decisions going forward. Taking crazy bumps in the ring could potentially become a thing in the past for Van Dam.
“I can’t think I’m indestructible anymore,” RVD reveals to Still Real To Us. “Even in my last few years, I always wanted to impress the people. Not just the people in the stands–but the wrestlers in the back who were watching my match. I wanted to impress them. I wanted everyone to think that they couldn’t survive a normal RVD match.”
The extreme wrestler looks back at his old matches with a new perspective. Gaining valuable insight on concussions from Christopher Nowinski, the co-founder and executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation; RVD realizes the amount of trauma he put his brain through. Headstrong shines a spotlight on Van Dam’s meeting with Nowinski. Nowinski was also a professional wrestler for WWE who saw his career come to an early end after he suffered from post-concussion syndrome in 2003.
“When [Nowinski] started his quest to find the commonalities between pro wresting and the NFL, as far as the brain damage goes–he met a lot of resistance. There were a lot of people who didn’t want him to make that bridge. I always looked at him as a hero,” RVD states. “I think it’s so awesome how he’s changed the whole world.”
Headstrong boldly dives into Van Dam’s informative meeting with Nowinski. The two men uncovered the truth of what was going on when RVD put his body through the continuous wear and tear of his extreme in-ring style.
“When I look at footage now, I think that each time that I was ramming my head and seeing stars…I was actually beating up my brain,” RVD tells Still Real To Us. “I’m very fortunate that I don’t have permanent damage from it. That’s a scary thought.”
RVD is going to put his fears aside as he focuses on an upcoming match. In April, RVD is heading back to the ring in a tag team match with Sabu at Impact Wrestling’s United We Stand event. The death-defying duo is going up against Pentagon And Fenix. Selective in the bookings he accepts, Van Dam doesn’t envision a grand sendoff when it eventually comes time to close the chapter on his over 30-year wrestling career. RVD tells Still Real To Us that wrestling is becoming less important in his life. Van Dam realizes that the next generation of wrestlers have a competitive drive in them–much like he did when he was first establishing his name in the business. He knows the landscape changed, and that this is their time to shine.
“I feel like I’ve already proven everything. I do what I’ve always done, and that’s be me,” states RVD. “Truthfully, if I retired this year, or ten years from now, I’d be fine either way as far as my wishes go.”
As Van Dam gears up for his next match, he wants his supporters to know that he is at peace with his life. Always a favorite among the fans, RVD has let go of past differences with other wrestlers who made his life difficult with backstage politics.
“I don’t see life as a competition anymore,” Van Dam shares with Still Real To Us. “When I do signings at conventions, I see the guys that I didn’t like. There’s no reason to not like them anymore. Now, I go, ‘Oh, hey! You’re still alive, too? Good for you, bro!’ That’s such a better place to be in. I have more love and appreciation for everybody. All of us are the same kids who followed our dreams to get where we’re at,” concludes RVD.