Years before he was a cocky, brash, and rising star on television for TNA Impact Wrestling, Robert Strauss was a mainstay on the independent scene of professional wrestling. Primarily working in the northeast under the name Rob Eckos, Strauss wrestled for nearly a decade before earning a full-time gig.
Now, Strauss is better known to wrestling fans as former TNA X-Division, Television, and Tag Team champion Robbie E, a character that's evolved from being a Jersey Shore-inspired performer, to one of the most solid in-ring competitors the company has. It took nearly two decades for Strauss to get where he is, but he's aware of the work he put in, even if some fans are not.
"I think just, people are un-knowledgeable and they don't know people's backstories, but I have been wrestling for 16 years – half of my life," said Strauss just moments before wrestling for Five Borough Wrestling in Brooklyn, New York. "I'm 32 and have been doing this since I was 16. I've put my time in, I've wrestled all over the world and you know, you take what's given to you."
Strauss was given the Robbie E character, which, despite its potential short shelf life as a ripoff of a television show, is still going strong five years later.
"The Robbie E character, I think I kill it, I do what I'm asked to do and I am Robbie E and people enjoy that. Not every guy always has to go out and do a million moves and wrestle, I think I bring something different to the table and that's enjoyable to the fans."
Also, since his debut, Strauss lists names such as Kurt Angle, Eric Young Jr., Jeff Hardy, and Jay Lethal as some of his favorite opponents.
But now that Strauss' character is no longer in a tag team, he feels fans can see a different side to him. That's been evident in his recent outings against two of TNA's top performers in TNA's World Title Series to crown a new champion. In a way, Strauss is letting his spiky hair down and focusing on showing his versatility.
"Now that the BroMans have split up, me and Jessie Godderz have split up, I am getting more of a chance to showcase a little bit more. These past few weeks on IMPACT, I beat Eddie Edwards and had a big match with Matt Hardy where I was close to beating him and I think fans are now are seeing a different side of me where they're actually like 'holy s**t, he can wrestle?' It's like duh...yeah....I've been doing this for 15 years, I know how to wrestle."
As he prepared to face Sonny Kiss, a young, up-and-coming wrestler in the northeast, Strauss looks back to his days as a full-time independent wrestler.
The crowds, arenas, and pay may have been smaller, but the dream was still big – and that's why Strauss still enjoys working smaller shows – because he can see what the future of wrestling looks like, personally.
"Anytime that TNA isn't running and I don't have TNA shows, some people don't like to go out and hustle, I do. But not only for the extra money but because I enjoy it. I like being out there with younger talent, I like helping younger guys, seeing what's out there. That's the cool thing about wrestling, you're always learning, so I like going out on these smaller shows if that's what you want to call them and still being a part. I like being around wrestling."
There has been a bevy of rumors in recent years that TNA is late on paying its performers, will soon go out of business and more. Yet, Strauss says, "TNA hasn't been around for 14 or 15 years, whatever it's been around for nothing. It's a long-lasting company and I think it's not going anywhere."
If wrestlers work hard and do not fall into the traps of what is written about wrestling, Strauss' journey from independent wrestling mainstay to being on a worldwide television show can be a blueprint for others.
"When I got into wrestling all I want to do is wrestle full-time and not have a "normal job" if you will and that's what I do and it's because of TNA. I live in a nice house, I drive a nice car, I've gotten to travel the world, I'm married, I have money in the bank and it's all because of TNA."
Running around the world as part of the show was a "surreal" experience for Strauss and something he believes is "once in a lifetime." Being on the show was fun for Strauss and he doesn't rule out doing more television and acting in the future as he says he is, "always open to trying new things."
However, at this juncture, Strauss is still fully focused on wrestling and knows exactly where he wants to be.
"I would like to be added to the short list of Grand Slam champions and by that I mean holding every title [in TNA]," said Strauss. "So yes, the World Title is on my mind and that's where I'm headed."
For full audio of the interview, you can listen to it here.
[Featured Image by Tina Ruocco]