Interview with the Innovator : My One-on-One with Tommy Dreamer
The Innovator of Violence. The “heart and soul” of ECW. Whatever the moniker may be, Tommy Dreamer has been a huge part of the wrestling world for 25 years and is still working hard at bringing the hardcore to all his fans. Dreamer joined Eastern Championship Wrestling just before its change to Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1993.
Many legendary matches took place during Dreamer’s tenure in ECW, including a Singapore Cane match between Dreamer and The Sandman, in which the loser would take 10 lashes. Post-match, after Dreamer had lost and taken the 10 lashes, he asked for more. This ended up being the launching point for the blurring of lines between faces and heels in wrestling.
When ECW was purchased by WWE in 2001, Dreamer wrestled in the indie circuit for a little while until he debuted on RAW under the Alliance as part of the Invasion storyline. Over the next two years, he claimed the WWE Hardcore Championship 14 times before it went defunct in August of 2002.
Now Dreamer is enjoying wrestling indie circuit shows and running his own promotion, the House of Hardcore. I was able to catch up with him at indie promotion Ronin’s first event to talk about his past, present and future.
Tuff Gnarl: You are the only wrestler to have held both the original ECW title as well as the WWE version of the ECW title. What are your feelings on that based on the fact that you are one of the ECW originals, carrying the same title under two flags?
Tommy Dreamer: It was honestly a great time. From the original ECW I actually never really wanted to hold a title, but that was a very different situation with Mike Awesome going to WCW and Taz winning the title. It worked out really well. The second time around, my contract was coming to an end so I sat with Vince McMahon and said, “You’re not really doing a heck of a lot with me. If you want, this is my way to leave, and if not let me see what I can do with the title.” And what everyone saw was real. That was supposed to be my last match but they re-signed me. I ended up quitting right after that because it kind of went to the same thing four months later.
Well, since you brought it up, during the Rise and Fall of ECW, you were quoted saying, “I didn’t want to win titles and the only reason I ended up a titleholder was other wrestlers leaving the company.” How did the mindset and mentality change as you went from not wanting the belts to being thrust into that role as a champion?
I never wanted anyone to say that I was a titleholder because I was a friend of Paul Heyman. At that point in the wrestling business, guys were getting their title shots because of who they were friends with, whether it was WWE or WCW. Not saying necessarily that they didn’t deserve it, but that was one stigma that I wanted to avoid. I also felt that once I was established I didn’t need it. I always felt titles were needed for helping build up a guy. Perfect example, Rob Van Dam is here today and he said, “Man remember when I beat you for this?” and I was like, “Umm, I never held that title Rob.” But with titles it’s about the chase and with my character I didn’t need it. The way we did it in ECW was a little different. You elevated your career and watched your progression. That’s how it used to be, so it’s funny now when you see guys that hold titles. I remember Miz was heavyweight champion and headlined WrestleMania and the next year they had nothing for him. There’s a lot of guys that win titles and people are like, “Wait he was champion?” To me, hearing that makes it mean a lot less, so I just didn’t need it.
You have worked with WWE, ECW and TNA, which are major promotions. Where have you had the best experiences in the business and what were some highlights?
Greatest part and, especially for me creatively, is ECW. I had the time of my life, especially career-wise. WWE is where I made my money and I’m enjoying myself in TNA. Second time around now and I really enjoy the storyline with Dixie Carter and I get to do my own thing as well helping a lot of talented men and women in the locker room, but still as my own boss. Of course, it’s fun still appearing on TV here and there, especially when ratings are needed they break the glass and pull out Tommy Dreamer.
You wrestled under both incarnations of ECW, one controlled by Paul Heyman, the other by Vince McMahon. What are your thoughts on one versus the other?
Well, it became Vince’s property, so he owned it and could do what he’d like with it. Obviously we know the end result, so it didn’t work out, but I was able to work WrestleMania with my friends and a lot of guys were shown on a national level that wouldn’t have. They were made into action figures and received weekly exposure. Yes, woulda/coulda, but you can’t live in the past. Always move forward. The fans stressed their unhappiness with the WWE incarnation and it failed. It was supposed to be different. The fans and ECW guys wanted it to be, but in the end it just turned into another WWE property.
Out of a long successful career one of the most positive things, if not the most positive, is you met your future wife and now have twin daughters. Based on mom and dad’s wrestling background, could we see the kids following in their parents’ footsteps?
I would support my daughters in any thing they want to become. I would tell them it is very hard in this business. Really though, I have two girly girls. I couldn’t ask for a better wife to take care of them and she deserves a medal or a spot in heaven for doing a lot of it on her own but especially for putting up with me. Both girls were early childhood actresses though, appearing on The Sopranos for the last 2 seasons. They both take acting classes now and, out of nowhere, developed a love for Karate. It’s funny, I told my daughter, who’s 10, “Kick me. Right in the back of the leg.” She hit me and Beulah laughed and asked me, “Did she kick as hard as Van Dam?” And I replied, “Not quite, but she’s getting there.” The fact that we both know how hard Rob kicks and we are comparing our daughter to that gave us both a laugh.
Recently, you started your own indie promotion called the House of Hardcore in the New York/Philly area. You have Hardy Boyz, Austin Aries and a plethora of others on the upcoming event. How did HoH come to fruition?
Always wanted to run my own promotion. I did a lot in the original ECW and it carried over to working in WWE and working in the developmental system. It came about almost out of anger because it was a weekend I went to work for an independent promoter and he canceled the show. I was just so pissed about it. You know, like here today at this event with Ronin. They are so professional with everything. That’s how it should be for every wrestler. Unfortunately there are a lot of shady people out there that will take advantage. So I was just like, “I’m going to do this right.” I did the first show and I had the wrestling school and it was successful. We had shows we did in Poughkeepsie, Philly and out in California. All were successful. Now we are coming into the seventh one. We’ve had national TV coverage with Bully Ray jumping me at my own show and did that through TNA. We are making good strides and hopefully it continues seeing success. It is a business and I said, “Once I lose money, I’m done.” Well, we haven’t lost money and I want to give back to the business. With the next event, we will be in the old ECW Arena, so it’ll be a homecoming, but the business needs competition and change. Slowly but surely, I am trying to do that.
After such tenured career with major promotions, you work quite a bit in the indie circuit now. Do you have a preference of one over the other?
I have had some of my best matches in the indies. Rob Van Dam and I tore it up for a while in FWE. My own stuff (HoH) of course, I love. Again, it all depends on the environment and the matches. In the indies, you get a chance to work with some guys you never had the chance to. Being on the bigger stage in the pros of course is really cool as well, but I am really happy where I am now, where I get to be on TNA but also do indie promotions. I get to call my own shots, and if I don’t like something, I won’t do it.
As long as they don’t give WCW control to everyone right?
(Laughs.) I never worked there so that’s for when you interview Eric Bischoff.
You’re known as the “Innovator of Violence.” What is your favorite weapon to use in a match?
Hmm, chairs are always fun. I don’t really have a favorite; it’s kind of just whatever is out there. I enjoy involving the fans or something where I grab a fans drink and spit their drink in the guys face.
As long as there isn’t a million chairs around raining down in the ring right?
That was actually here in Florida. That was a pretty amazing time. But honestly, I’ll use anything. I haven’t been very “innovative” with my violence in a while, just kind of the standard. Nowadays you don’t have to be. You just look under the ring and theirs a ton of stuff that wasn’t there back in the day. I’m just waiting to pull out Hornswoggle once. It’s always a great match when you can pull out a little person. He was never under my ring though.
What’s was your favorite match and opponent that you have had in your career?
I get that question all the time. Honestly, I don’t have one. This has been my dream since I was 9 years old. I am hoping tonight against Shawn Prime is one of my favorite matches. I love going out and performing. You’ll see in a few weeks on TNA, I have a little feud I’ll be in. Again, working in indies and my own promotion, I had a match in Philly against Lance Storm and Terry Funk was in my corner. I looked around and it was 1997 all over again. Every week is a different adventure and they all become my favorite. The hard thing now for me is I am 43 years old and my mind tells me I’m 23 but the recovery time is a lot longer and harder. Regardless, I go out there and work hard because I just love it. I’ve worked with so many great wrestlers and it’s created great moments. Newer fans of wrestling now can get on the WWE Network and see my old matches. I was proud of most of my WWE matches. There was a feud with Vladmir Kozlov, that wasn’t my proudest moment, but, like I said, I’ve been living my dream since I was 18. From my first match to whenever my last match is, I am just going to keep enjoying the ride.
Speaking of the ride, this is the end of interview where I open it completely to you to say whatever you’d like, plug your promotion, etc. The spotlight is yours.
I just want to thank the fans for all the years of support that they have given me. I am still very in touch with my fan base via social media and respond to almost everyone when I get questions on twitter, which you can find me @THETOMMYDREAMER. I am The Tommy Dreamer on Facebook, though my fake Facebook pages have more likes than mine, which is weird but that’s okay. I reiterate again: I’ve had a great career and I’ll say whatever you want to do in life, you have to go 100% ahead and follow your dreams. We all have the potential to be whatever we want these days as long as you give your all.
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