I recently interviewed former WWF Intercontinental Champion and WCW Television Champion Marc Mero. Since retiring from pro wrestling, Mero started the non-profit organization Champion of Choices. You can get more information about the organization at thinkpoz.org, and you can follow Mero on Twitter @MarcMero.
You can check out the full interview below:
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How did you get started in the business? Were you a fan growing up?
My dad would take us to the Buffalo War Memorial and I watched guys like Johnny Powers, Chief White Owl, the Von Erichs. It was amazing as a kid to think that someday I'd be doing that. I remember seeing Bobo Brazil and The Original Sheik wrestle at the Buffalo War Memorial, and Sheik was jabbing him in the head and (Bobo) is bleeding all over the place. I was wondering why the police weren't going into the ring and arresting this guy, it was terrifying. I met him later on in life and shared that story with him.
What made you decide to get into it?
I had a pretty good sports background in football, hockey, boxing. I made some bad choices in my life and went down a wrong path. It was a little bit later in life, I was 30 years old, and I remember I had a bunch of friends over and we were watching television in my apartment. Wrestling was on and I remember saying "I could do that." We were all laughing but it planted that seed. I met some friends that were working in the industry at a gym in Venice- Bob Cook, Robbie Idol, Rob Ryder, enhancement guys. They told me about Malenko's wrestling school in Florida. About a year later I was given a tryout in Atlanta by WCW. When I say tryout, I mean one of the guys who gets beat up on television. Dusty Rhodes spotted me and said I looked like Little Richard. I'll never forget when he said "Has anyone told you you look like Little Richard before?" and I said no. Next thing I know, Johnny B. Badd was born.
What did you think about Dusty approaching you with that gimmick?
It's funny, I'm a Golden Gloves boxing champion and all of a sudden I have this Little Richard persona. But I was making 17 grand a year digging swimming pools, then the first contract after all the incentives was almost six figures. I thought I'd stick with this.
What ultimately made you decide to leave WCW?
Even when I was with WCW there was the belief that you never really made it in wrestling until you made it to the dance, WrestleMania. I actually talked to Vince years before when my second contract was up with WCW. We both agreed that someday I was going to work for him. When my third contract came up I had some disputes with Eric Bischoff about the contract and other things, but WWF offered me an unbelievable deal. I think I was one of the first guys to get a guaranteed contract in WWF. Not only that, I wanted my ex-wife to fly everywhere I went. They gave me all these stipulations in my contract, it was a deal I couldn't refuse. When I went out there the "Wildman" Marc Mero character was given to me, which was a little hard because Johnny B Badd was such a wild character, opposite of what I really was. The Marc Mero character was hard because it was trying to connect with that, am I from the Jungle? Am I crazy? I tell you, I have no regrets. I look at the paths we take in life, and the paths let me to where I am today, and I've never had this sense of purpose of joy in my life that I have today.
You mentioned your ex-wife (Sable) going with you to WWF. Was that something that happened by accident?
Here's the thing, we didn't want to out the marriage to fall apart like so many in the industry so we thought the best idea was to have her travel with me and I'd ask Vince if she could be my valet. He hung up the phone never having seen her before and said he would fly her wherever I went and we'd cross that bridge whenever it came. He flew me in to sign my contract in Stamford, but he only sent me one ticket. I remember telling him my wife flies wherever I fly and he thought I was kidding. When he flew me in he flew her in too, and he saw her and said he had to put her on television, so the Sable character was born. She did amazing, you never know how someone will do in front of the camera, and she did amazing and was one of the leading characters in the Attitude era.
You were coming in right around the turn of the Attitude era in an angle with Triple H. What was it like working with him?
He's one of those guys I wrestled more than most. There are probably only a few guys I wrestled hundreds of times and he's one of those guys along with guys like DDP, Steve Austin. Those were some of my favorite guys to wrestle. Me and Triple H had tons of matches together. The first title he won was the Intercontinental Title when he beat me.
The Attitude era happened, and around that time they stopped drug testing, correct?
If I remember correctly, I was tested once or twice the entire time I was in the WWF.
What was it like working for WWE/F during that period?
It was a dream come true, making it to WrestleMania. Could my career have gone better there? Probably, but I have no regrets. I look back on it now and I was blessed that I was able to do that at one point in my life. I'm a former Intercontinental champion.
What led to your exit? You had an injury, did you want to come back?
I wrestled for them for just over 3 years, and I had just signed a new contract. I had three years left for a lot of guaranteed money. I guess there's a lot of things that happened at that time. My ex-wife went into a lawsuit against them, and it was just a real tough time to be in that business. We thought the best thing to do was leave. After a period of time she went back and performed for Vince again.
You never worked a full-time schedule after that. What made you make that decision?
I'd probably had ten surgeries at that time. Four elbow, two shoulder surgeries, total reconstruction of my knee. I didn't want to do in on a full-time basis and financially I was in a good place.
There were a lot of tragedies in the 2000's, and you made a lot of appearances talking about what changes needed to be made. What steps can be made?
I really think there's a lot of steps that have been made in a positive way. A lot of people dislike me for going on TV and speaking my mind, but I think about all of the changes that have happened because a lot of us did speak up about drug tests needing to be stricter, and now they are. I think of the guys who passed on, it seemed like every couple of months somebody was dying. Now because of their drug testing and Wellness Policy - I get a letter every year that says if I want to go into a drug treatment center, they would pay for it-- what more could you ask for. That's a really expensive thing they're offering to all of the guys who have gone through in life.
One thing that seems like it could use some work is the schedule. How tough was the schedule, and do you think that led to people using prescription medication and things like that?
Obviously it comes down to a personal choice of putting something in your body. When you're wrestling day after day, your body takes a toll. Wrestling is fake, but gravity is real. I think that's the hard part. You have the Super Bowl of wrestling, WrestleMania, then the next night is Monday Night Raw. After the Super Bowl in football you have months off before training camp. You have time to heal. Today, people are going to their bosses and saying they need time off to heal their bodies. They're more adamant about giving guys time off, because they know what's happened over the years.
How did the idea for the Champions & Choices non-profit start. Was that during the Chris Benoit tragedy?
It was. There are two types of people, those who say something needs to be done, and those who go out and do something. For years I would sit back and say something needed to be done and I really wanted to stand up and speak out about things I could make a difference in. A lot of that is with high school, college age people. I even spoke in Russia at schools out there about anti-drug abuse and it's snowballed into one of the top requested programs in our country as it pertains to speakers in schools. I'll do over 200 events this year, it's like being in professional wrestling. I'll be performing every night but nobody's hitting me over the head with a chair anymore.
You're really connecting with people. You've talked about the relationship with your mother during your speeches, even. Why do you think that moves people so much, the relationship with your mother?
Many presenters that go into schools go in with a lot of statistics. Kids tune out to that and go home and play video games and blow people's brains out. They're really desensitized to violence. I think you should share a personal story of something they can relate to. I had a great Mom. She'd be at all the sporting events, she always wanted to spend time with me and talk to me but I never had the time. When I was on the wrong path in life I'd come home drunk and high and she'd wait up and make sure I was still alive. She always asked if we could talk, which I never had time for and slammed my door and told her to leave me alone. Unfortunately I was overseas wrestling in Japan when she passed away and I'll never forget that. It's one of the most sobering feelings in the world that someone you care about and you dont know how much you appreciate it until its gone, and you're told she's gone forever. An emptiness just came over me. I was in Hiroshima, Japan and was crying and said how sorry I was, but it was too late. And unfortunately my little brother and sister died at 21 years old, my dad died while he was in my arms. When you start sharing these stories these students start realizing what is truly important. When we leave this earth we aren't going to say "Hey, who wrote me on Facebook? Where's my cell phone?" We're going to ask for mom, dad, brother, sister, husband or wife.
Has WWE contacted you about your non-profit? They do something similar with be a star.
They have not contacted me, but I hope one day there is an opportunity to work with WWE again. We have an amazing school program. Our dance team went to the quarter finals of America's Got Talent this year. Our singer is a recording artist now. We have an opportunity to work with WWE if they choose, but we have 200 events this year. Obviously it's a little different; if you put a wrestler in front of kids they'll just go crazy. But the important thing is the message the kids are walking away there with. We get hundreds of letters. The common theme is "this changed my life." That's what we want for kids, some sort of life changing moment. Whether it's goal setting, whether it's how we treat others with respect and dignity. Also how to treat yourself; you have to love yourself.
How can a teacher or principal contact you if they want you to come speak at their school?
Our website, thinkpoz.org. There's a booking request form they can fill out under the contact information. What's great is that we're traveling all over the country. We're in our eighth year.
Congratulations on that, it sounds like its a great program that's making a difference. It's great to hear. I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit. If you had to pick a favorite match of all-time, one of yours, what would it be?
I have some really good ones that I remember. Brian Pillman I think at War Games, a 30 minute match. DDP, the hardest working man in show business right there. He'd call me in the middle of the night and go over a spot with me and I'm like "Are you kidding? It's 3 o'clock in the morning and you're calling me to go over a spot? You can't sleep on it!?" Me and Steve Austin had some good matches, King of the Ring was a good one. Of course guys like Triple H over and over again you learn each others moves and become synced in.
What was your favorite match of all-time that you weren't involved in?
I go back to Macho Man and Steamboat at WrestleMania. A lot of false finishes, a lot of psychology. Some of Stone Cold's matches, that guy can just go. It seemed like he didn't get tired out there.
Speaking of Savage, what are your thoughts of him finally going in to the WWE Hall of Fame?
Oh gosh, I think it's great. I always liked Randy. He was really funny, every time I saw him he'd say "Hey Badd man." I have great memories of him, every time I saw him he was so kind to me.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Do you have anything you'd like to plug?
The Champion of Choices program, I'm not trying to sell anything. I just want to speak in as many schools as I can across the country. Go to our website thinkpoz.org. If you're a church, you can always just go to marcmero.com. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @MarcMero.