Just a few years ago, Rob Van Dam had a big decision to make.
Both TNA Wrestling and WWE were calling, asking the free agent to join — or rejoin – their promotion. He had a big decision to make. But there was also another direction he could have gone: leave wrestling behind.
That was something that had crossed his mind after working a non-stop schedule in the WWE for six years, something that just didn’t fit his lifestyle.
He had enough.
“When I left (the WWE), there was a while where I thought man, I don’t care if I ever step on an airplane again, I’ve had so much of it,’ explains Van Dam. I don’t care if I step in the ring again, I’ve had so much of it. And, you know, my priorities were different at that moment, what I needed in my life. I thought I might not wrestle again. I didn’t even know.”
He spent the next three years pondering his future. During that time, he worked a few independent shows overseas and even made a surprise appearance at the 2009 Royal Rumble. But it took a lot to get him out of his home and into the wrestling ring.
He was finally in control of his schedule. After that downtime, he was ready to make a commitment again and in 2010 he signed with TNA Wrestling. But he admits that if the situation wasn’t right, he might be doing something else right now.
“TNA, WWE, everyone had kept in touch with me and kept talking to me and eventually the deal was right. If that deal had not been there, I don’t know. I have so many other projects there’s a good chance one of them would have picked up instead.”
That same smile was something tough for him during his final days with the WWE. He knew he wanted out. But the WWE wanted him to stay, especially at that period in 2007 where they were short on top-level superstars. Van Dam was a big commodity and one they didn’t want to get away.
WWE Vice President of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis pressed him to sign a new full-time deal. At one point, he told him to sign a deal and take a few months off to get recharged. But Van Dam wouldn’t agree to those terms. No full-time schedule in the WWE.
Before he left, he faced Randy Orton at the 2007 One Night Stand PPV in a stretcher match. Since it would be his last match with the company before his contract expired, it made sense that Van Dam would lose the match. Instead, he won the match. Afterwards, Orton attacked him and laid him out with a DDT on the concrete floor.
It was a bit unique and definitely unexpected. And Van Dam has a theory why that happened.
“I don’t think that they thought I was really leaving,” says Van Dam. “I had been telling them for months. It’s almost like they weren’t hearing me. Even the very bit where I was walking out the door that night after that match. I was emotional a bit because I knew I was leaving and who knew what I was leaving, a job a career, a life. Who knew. I was saying my goodbyes and Vince (McMahon) was like ‘Rob, I hope this is a very short, little trip for you to get regrouped and I hope we see you real soon’.”
“And so I think that was their mentality that I was just going to be right back and they just tried to hold my value there. I don’t know. That’s just a theory.”
Even Stephanie McMahon echoed her father sentiments in hoping that Van Dam would take a short break and then return to the WWE. However, Shane McMahon wasn’t so quick to praise him on the way out.
“When I shook Shane McMahon’s hand, he said let me tell you why it didn’t work out here,” he recalls. “I didn’t show that I wanted it enough. I didn’t build the relationship with daddy enough. They want more input. I was basically there as little as I had to be. I am with TNA as well. That’s how I roll. That’s what I’m comfortable with.”
After sitting back for several years and working a very limited schedule, he decided it was time to return to wrestling. But he didn’t want a grinding schedule either. TNA was offering a schedule that he was much more comfortable with but he gave WWE one last call before signing with them.
“I actually contacted WWE when it looked like things might work out with TNA’s contract. I emailed Johnny (Laurinaitis) and I actually said are you sure there isn’t a part-time schedule there. I even had some ideas where they would come out financially ahead of me, paying me a limited amount of dates but it never, the conversation never got as far as me explaining what my idea was.”
Looking back on that decision now, RVD knows it was the right one for him.
“I think that everything seems to be moving in a positive direction and I’m personally very pleased with how things are. I say time and time again I’m very happy with how they treat me. I like my deal with them. I have no regrets. I’m there with a smile when I show up to work.”
He’s now been working with TNA for over two years and during that time he was the TNA World Heavyweight Champion for nearly four months. But he always wants to showcase the extreme style has became famous for back in the original ECW. Even now, having been in the wrestling business for over twenty years, he doesn’t want to change that.
“I’m a showoff. That’s my whole job is to show what I have and my problem is the opposite. My problem is I’m always only allowed to show 10% of what I got. You know what I mean? People ask ‘I want to see more Van Daminators’. Well, that’s cool but it’s illegal to bring a chair in. I happen to be in a company that has a certain style where, if I brought the chair in and did it every single night, it might not mean as much.”
Van Dam has even thought that maybe he could have his own belt with his own extreme rules.
“I like to show that I can take more punishment than the other guys. I like to show that I’ve got flashy moves. I like to show that I have creativity by bringing in other factors and elements besides a regular, boring, one fall match inside the squared circle.”
But that’s just a thought he has from time to time. He says he hasn’t gone to TNA management with any ideas but if they want his input or feedback on something he would give it. In the meantime, he’s happy to be part of the team.
Brian Fritz has covered pro wrestling since 1995 as a radio host and writing for The Orlando Sentinel and AOL FanHouse. He currently hosts the Between The Ropes podcast which can be heard at http://www.BetweenTheRopes.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianFritz