Robbie E is a man on the rise these days. For so long he has been the comedy figure, with his Jersey Shore haircut more likely to stay standing in the ring than he was. But now we’re finally seeing a new side of the former-BroMan, who is determined to surprise everyone by becoming only the fifth ever TNA Grand Slam champion.
For the 31-year-old, a member of the TNA roster since 2010, the wait for a World Heavyweight title shot has been a long one. Over the course of his five years with the company he has won every other major honour on offer – Tag Team, X Division and Television gold – and now there’s just one thing left on his checklist.
So as we move towards Bound for Glory, TNA’s biggest and most prestigious pay-per-view of the year, Robbie is determined to concentrate solely on single’s action. Following the demise of one of TNA’s most beloved tag teams, the BroMans, after almost two years together, Robbie’s path is clear, and those main event matches are within touching distance.
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He knows only too well that he’ll have to work hard to change people’s expectations and opinions of him – having been TNA’s go to fall guy for so long – but after starring in an incredible, high-risk King of the Mountain match on last week’s edition of IMPACT, he’s confident that the tide is starting to turn and that he’s finally being given the opportunity to show people what Robbie E can do.
“It’s a shortlist of people who can say that they’ve been a Grand Slam champion and I 100% wanted to be added to that list,” he said. “[In a year’s time] I’ll be sitting in this same exact seat but with the World Title next to me.”
This summer has marked an important transition period for Robbie E – both on and off screen. After the demise of the BroMans, who were officially disbanded back in April of this year, Robbie has ‘turned face’ and embarked on an intriguing feud with his former tag team partner, Jesse Godderz, which culminated in matches at both the Slammiversary pay-per-view and the ‘Bell to Bell’ edition of IMPACT a couple of days later.
However, his biggest turning point arguably came just last week, when he produced a daring dive from the top of the King of the Mountain penalty box and hauled himself back to his feet after taking a nasty looking piledriver on the steel steps from title rival Eric Young.
It was a match which he legitimately didn’t know he was going to be involved in until the day it was due to take place, with the TNA writers hiding the identity of the final competitor following a storyline injury to Drew Galloway.
“It was a last minute thing,” he admitted. “I think at first people were [surprised], but I think by the end of the match they saw that it was finally my time to shine, a great opportunity for me where they said: ‘wow, he belongs’.”
“I did some things which I don’t normally get to do and I took some risks because I have to prove myself. That’s fair after five years of the fans seeing me one way. I understand I’ve got to work hard for them to see me another way.”
Robbie E in the King of the Mountain match:
Asked what the differences are between heel Robbie and babyface Robbie, he added: “I was myself then and I’m still myself now, but now I’m just showing a different side of myself. I chopped some hair off, maybe the colours I wear aren’t as bright, I lost some of the bling and now I’m just focused on wrestling.
“I think now I’m getting more of a chance to showcase my wrestling skills,” he explained. “A lot of people looked at me as a comedy guy or a funny guy or a guy who just gets beat up by everybody, but I am from Jersey, I am tough and now I’m getting to show that side of myself.”
Of course, two of Robbie’s opponents in the King of the Mountain match – Chris Mordetzky and eventual winner PJ Black – weren’t in the ring representing TNA. They were there as part of rival franchise Global Force Wrestling, or GFW, the company run by former TNA supremo Jeff Jarrett. The two companies have been working together closely in recent weeks ahead of a possible invasion angle and Robbie believes that the extra publicity surrounding the partnership can only be a good thing.
“Anything that creates a little buzz is a good thing,” he said. “Anything that gets people talking is a good thing. So they’re here, and they’re trying to take our spots, but I don’t think that’s going to work.
“TNA always wins every war. We’ll definitely win this war. But they’re here. It’ll create some good matches and create something special for the fans.”
The TNA vs GFW battle will kick into top gear this coming Sunday for UK viewers, when World Heavyweight Champion Ethan Carter III takes on Black, the man formerly known as Justin Gabriel in WWE. Robbie will likely be watching closer than most to see what happens, as he admits that he has his eye firmly on a match with EC3.
“He’d definitely be one I’d want to beat for the title. We kind of have a love-hate relationship. So I would definitely like to show the whole world that I’m better than him. That would be a plus.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due. He’s entertaining, I love listening to him speak, he’s in a great shape, a good looking dude, awesome in the ring, I can’t take that away from him. But it’s time for me to be a Grand Slam champion.”
Becoming a Grand Slam champion, which would see Robbie follow in the footsteps of AJ Styles, Abyss, Samoa Joe and Eric Young, would certainly complete an incredible journey for him. As he explained to me, his route into wrestling – and TNA specifically – was particularly unique.
“I was just booked for a try-out match,” he said. “I was wrestling a guy named Bobby Fish. That day, Pat Kenny who was an agent for TNA and a buddy of mine, was sitting and eating with me. Then the writer at the time, who was Vince Russo, walked by and Pat said to him: ‘hey Vince, you always wanted a Jersey Shore guy, here’s your guy’.
“He made a joke and Vince looked at me and he was like – ‘you’re from Jersey? Can you spike up your hair?’ – and luckily I was growing out my hair at the time. I didn’t even have it spiked, I never wore it like that or anything, but they pulled me aside and they told me that day that they really wanted me to get into it. To fist pump and do all that stuff that I had never done before. So I did it that day.
“They loved it and they offered me a job immediately after the match. The rest is history. That’s how Robbie E was created, by Pat Kenny making that joke to Vince Russo. If he’d never made that joke to him, I wouldn’t be here.”
Robbie E’s trademark entrance as part of the BroMans:
Robbie embraced the gimmick, as any good wrestler will do, and he’s never looked back. His partnership with Cookie became known as ‘The Shore’ and the Knockout star helped him to his first title – the X Division – in TNA.
From there, he entered into a partnership with Welsh body-builder Rob Terry, who also became known as ‘big Rob’. The gargantuan bodyguard fought side-by-side with Robbie E as he became a Television Champion.
Only in 2013, after forming a partnership with Jesse which soon became known as the BroMans, did Robbie E really put himself on the map – winning tag gold twice, including the victory which Robbie still considers the best of his career – against James Storm and Gunner at Bound for Glory.
Asked whether he regrets the partnership coming to an end, as well as the loss of his own personal DJ – Zema Ion, Robbie admitted that no good thing can last forever. However, he also hinted that we might not have seen the last of the BroMans.
“I think all good things at some point have to come to an end, but not come to an end forever. So never say never, it’s pro wrestling, and me and Jesse might find our way back together even though we hate each other.
“You know how wrestling goes. We might find a way to be friends again. It was a once in a lifetime thing. Who else has ever had their own DJ? We’d just be in random places and he’d go [horn noise]. If we were at the mall, or in the movies, he’d be doing it. So I kind of miss that, it’s like Zema’s not here right now, that’s kind of awkward.
“So it’s a little sad but now we’re both doing big things and I’m happy where I’m at. I think knowing someone so well both in and out of the ring makes it easy. It’s great to team with them or go against them. I know all his tricks and he knows all my tricks and we gel well together.”
The BroMans became larger than life characters and were one of the top reasons to watch IMPACT throughout 2014. I asked Robbie whether he felt such characters had become lost somewhat in modern day wrestling and he agreed, giving me this response on the matter: “I’m a big believer in characters and the double look factor.
“I always tell people when I do wrestling seminars and I talk to guys that are coming up – you need to stand out in a crowd, like when I had my crazy hair, even if someone didn’t know that I was Robbie E they would look twice and say: ‘wow, look at that guy’s crazy hair’.
“That’s fine, even if they’re making fun of me, they’re noticing me. You want to be larger than life and get noticed and you want to not look like the people in the audience. That’s my opinion anyway, so I wish that it would go back to that. I don’t think that average Joe’s are meant for pro wrestling.”
It was, after all, arguably Robbie’s personality – perhaps more even than his wrestling skills – that first got him through the door at TNA. Only now, five years on from his debut, is he being allowed to demonstrate the true potential of his in-ring abilities – rather than just his likeable character.
It’s something which his fans in the UK will no doubt be eager to see again when they welcome him back for the 2016 tour, which comes to Manchester, London and Birmingham in January 2016. Robbie will be hoping that he’s in better form than earlier this year, when he lost to ex-girlfriend Brooke – who starred alongside him in American reality show the Amazing Race. However, he reasoned that taking part in anything that can be described as memorable is all that matters.
“I’d like to not lose to a girl this time, that would be good,” he laughed. “But it was because Jesse hit me by mistake and I ended up getting my retribution on him so, all is well. But hey, anything that is memorable is a good thing, so I guess I’m going to be remembered as the guy who lost to a girl and you’ll always remember me.”
Robbie takes on Brooke at Wembley:
With three months still to go until the tour begins, there’s plenty for us TNA fans to think about. Anyone with a passing interest in the company knows that they’ve been going through a challenging time – with 2015 bringing with it a new TV network, a huge roster overhaul and an intriguing new working relationship with a rival promotion. However, Robbie summed up the situation best and gave any TNA critics out there reason to rethink their pathetic taunts.
“With every negative there’s a positive and although you don’t want to lose talented guys, it opens up spots for guys like me to move up, and be able to get in King of the Mountain matches and to get World Title shots against EC3,” he explained. “That’s the way I look at it.
“Everyone is always positive. You hear these things all the time about how the morale in the locker room is down and we almost joke about that, because it’s completely the opposite. No matter what happens we’re all friends, we’re all positive spirits. We see what goes on and we know that there’s bigger things coming.”
Robbie’s a man that’s used to television exposure, even before the Amazing Race, and he closed by telling me how being a wrestler and a reality star is something which goes hand in hand. He added that, once he’s finally closed the book on his days of in ring competition, that’d he’d love the opportunity to expand his horizons in a new industry.
“Any time you branch out, I think it helps wrestling gain a new audience,” he explained. “I think when I was on the Amazing Race a lot of people fell in love with me on the Amazing Race, therefore they tuned into IMPACT to watch me on IMPACT. It’s the same with Jesse on Big Brother.
“I don’t think television could survive without my face on it – at least on one channel, once a week. I always want to stay a part of wrestling, even if the in ring stuff is done, behind the scenes. I love it so much, I just always want to be around it. But I would definitely be interested in branching out to do more television and movie stuff.”
So put a note in your calenders. Robbie E is one to watch in 2016. Remember to look out for the spiky hair, the bright colours and the glinting jewellery, because while you might be able to take a Bro out of Jersey, you can’t take the Jersey out of this high-flying Bro.