Pro Wrestler Robbie E.

If you walk past Robert Strauss tanning his chiseled physique on one of the Monmouth County beaches, you might easily think he was like any other 31-year-old man who works out to keep in peak physical shape. However, there’s  a whole other side to the man millions across the world know as “Robbie E,” championship wrestler. Strauss, who hails from New Jersey and lives in Holmdel, has built his successful wrestling career on hard work, perseverance,  and a dedication to exercise; he built his Robbie E brand by adding hair glue, spray tans, and a little more hair glue. Rob Strauss stands about 5’11,’’ but as Robbie E his trademarked hair towers several inches higher, helping to create the larger-than-life personality he dreamed of becoming since he was four years old.During his college years and a two-year stint teaching high school classes, Rob endured a grueling decade of wrestling in the minor leagues. His dream goal was finally jump-started in 2010 when he broke into Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling. In his more than four years as a professional wrestler for TNA, Robbie E has amassed more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and has established a strong fan base by marketing himself as a wrestler who  resembles the character Pauly D from MTV’s hit show Jersey Shore. During that time span, Rob has claimed three of the four TNA grand slam titles, regularly appearing on weekly Impact Wrestling broadcasts and on pay-per-view  events during every month of the year. Rob is thrilled to actually live the life he dreamed of as a young boy. His yearround travel, workout and wrestling schedules have yet to quell any of his enthusiasm for the sport. He is proud to  represent New Jersey as Robbie E, and readily admits to indulging in a Jersey Shore lifestyle when he was a little younger.
This last year, Rob, along with fellow wrester Brooke Adams, competed on the CBS hit show The Amazing Race. The duo reached the finals and came in fourth in the competition. Rob appreciates that his wrestling fans got to  see a different side of him during the show, and says they can look forward to seeing a newer version of him in the ring now; one that’s a little less cocky, but still just as entertaining. Viewers can catch him competing on Impact  Wrestling, which airs every Friday night at 9 p.m.
At a Red Bank café, Rob greeted us with his spiked hair under a cap and powerful arms cloaked in a sweatshirt. During our talk, he gave Living in Media some fascinating insights into the man behind the muscle of wrestling  champion Robbie E.

LIM: Congratulations on recently making the finals on Season 25 of The Amazing Race. Did you expect to make it that far when you started?
RS: To come in fourth place, we were definitely proud of ourselves. To make it to the finals was huge by itself. We felt like we were a wellliked team and entertaining on the show.

LIM: What was that experience like, to tour the world in a competition? Did it change your outlook on life at all?
RS: It was great. You just don’t get to absorb anything because you’re always on the go. You have no cell phone, no contact with the world. You’re living out of a backpack, wearing the same clothes over and over. It was a different  experience. We knew it was going to be hard. It taught me to appreciate some things about where I come from some more. I saw some places in Africa that were horrible to live in. I have more confidence in myself knowing I didn’t  give up and I can get through anything.

LIM: What was most challenging about it?
RS: Being out of my normal routine. Days without sleeping, not eating like I normally would. I didn’t work out. My body and mind felt off. That was the hardest thing. I also hate touching animals. We had to herd sheep, walk an ox.  That was tough.

LIM: How much of a break did you have before you went back to wrestling?
RS: The day it ended I was back wrestling. I flew home, flew right back out the next day for a television taping.

LIM: Really? How hard was that on your body?
RS: It was hard. My body probably needed a good week’s rest, but I got home, got a haircut, spray tanned and went right back to work. I only needed one day to become Robbie E again.

LIM: When did you first become interested in wrestling?
RS: I liked professional wrestling when I was four years old. My older brother was into it, so I got into it. Since then, I’ve pretty much been obsessed with wrestling.

LIM: Do you remember the first match you watched?
RS: Yes. I grew up in the Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior wrestling era. The first match I ever saw had Sting in it. What is even cooler is that I got to wrestle Sting for the first time a few months ago.

LIM: What was so alluring about wrestling at a young age?
RS: I guess it was the larger-than-life characters that drew me into it. At that time it was also the cool thing to do. They had action figures for the kids to play with. The guy who I liked best was Ultimate Warrior, who actually just  passed away a few weeks ago. He had big muscles and a tan and face paint and as a kid it was just cool to watch him.

LIM: At what point did you get serious about becoming a wrestler?
RS: I knew when I was 10 years old that I wanted to become a professional wrestler. I was researching wrestling schools and how old you had to be to go to them. Meanwhile I’m like 80 pounds at the time. But for years I told  everyone, right when I turn 16 years old I’m going to become a pro wrestler. Everyone said, ‘yeah right.’ Some people laughed because I was thin and only 160 pounds when I was at John F. Kennedy High School in Iselin. I’m still  skinny now. I’m only 180 pounds. On TV I look a lot bigger than I am because of the way I represent myself. But I used to go to small minor league wrestling shows here in New Jersey at school gyms. One promotion opened up a  wrestling school by my house, and I joined along with three of my best friends. I was the only one that stayed in. I’m sure they’re mad they didn’t hang in there. (Laughs.) So I was 16 years old when I started training and my first pro  match was on my 17th birthday.

LIM: You’re still fairly slim now. How did you get in the shape you’re in?
RS: I started working out when I was younger. I lift heavy and I eat everything in sight. I have an insane appetite but it’s hard for me to keep on weight. I take supplements and creatine and try to keep on as much weight as I can.  Now that I’m getting older the weight stays on a little easier. That’s a blessing and a curse.

LIM: How receptive were your parents to you pursuing a career in wrestling?
RS: My mom hated it because she was scared, but the fact that I was still going to college a little later on, she was happy with that. If I had just been wrestling and not doing anything else, she would have been a little upset, like any  parent would be. To this day, still, even if the show isn’t live and it’s taped, and I’m sitting next to her, she can’t watch it. She’ll cringe. In my 14 years of wrestling, she’s only come to three or four live shows because she can’t handle  watching me get hit. But she still gets a kick out of it. She wears a “BroMans” [the nickname given to Rob and his tag team partner] shirt and all that. My dad likes that I do it because he always wanted me to do something with  sports and be athletic. He was cool with it.

LIM: What was the next step after wrestling school?
RS: After wrestling school you’re in the minor leagues, so it’s kind of like acting. You pick up as many small gigs as you can and make as many connections as you can. It’s right place, right time. You try to get a tryout here or there,  get noticed and get to the big leagues.

LIM: How long were you in the minors?
RS: I was there for about 10 years before I hit it big. During that time I went to Kean University. I have a Bachelor’s degree in physical education and health. I was a school teacher in Woodbridge for a little while. I was also going for  my master’s in administration. I had girlfriends and jobs, I was a personal trainer. I basically had a regular life, it was just on the weekends I’d put on boots and tights and wrestle. When you’re in the minors you’re making $30 a  night, making no money. But I enjoyed doing it.

LIM: Was it difficult to balance wrestling with your normal job?
RS: I only taught for two years because halfway through my second year was when I signed my contract with TNA wrestling. The thing is, I finished out the school year, so I would wrestle live on TV on Thursday night and fly home  Friday morning and have someone cover my first class and go to the school. My students were watching me fist-pump and then the next morning I was trying to teach them Health.

LIM: Did they still take you seriously?
RS: It was cool for the school. My principal would fist-pump when he saw me. It was an exciting thing for the students to see that someone could actually have a dream and follow it. It shows kids that even if you have a crazy dream  and want to be a pro wrestler on TV that it can happen, so they can follow whatever they want and go for it.

LIM: Where did the “E” in your name come from?
RS: My name in the minor leagues was Rob Eckos, and I got that from the clothing brand Ecko shirts. I was in woodshop class and I needed a name for my first match and someone near me had an Ecko shirt and I just said ‘I’ll be Rob Eckos.’ It wasn’t a sponsorship or anything like that. I was only 16 years old. It just stuck from there. When I got to TNA they wanted me to be like Pauly D from Jersey Shore, so they just shortened it to Robbie E.

LIM: How did you break in with TNA?
RS: The better guys in the minor leagues are scouted and are invited to get a tryout. The day I had a tryout with them they happened to be looking for a Jersey Shore- type character, and they knew I was from Jersey. They told me  to fist-pump and spike my hair. I did and they loved it, so they signed me to a contract that day. It was just the right place, right time.

LIM: Had you seen Jersey Shore before?
RS: Oh yes. It pretty much fit perfect because I went to those same clubs and my friends are all just like the cast, so it was pretty natural for me.

LIM: So you spent a lot of summers along the beachfront here in Monmouth County?
RS: Oh yes, ever since I was 18, because certain clubs you could get into at 18. I was always here. D’Jais in Belmar was one of my favorite places. I still love D’Jais. I went to Jenks in Point [Pleasant], and some of the names are  different now, but any of those places that the Jersey Shore people went, I was there.

LIM: How did get your hair into that position?
RS: My hair right now is pretty trained. It’s four and a half years later, and I do it four times a week so it goes up pretty easily now. I use a lot of hair glue to get it up, then I blow it dry and use a lot of hair spray. When they wanted me  to be like Pauly D, I wanted to take it to the next level to make it as high as it could go. In wrestling, you want to be larger than life and stand out and have people give you the double look factor, even if you look like an idiot. You want  people to talk about you, so I figured that would get me noticed.

LIM: What was your reaction when you got the gig with TNA?
RS: After 10 years in the minors, at that time it was 22 years in the making. Ten years of hard work and making no money and constantly sending tapes and emails and letters trying to get noticed, I finally got a chance to wrestle full  time and let that be my living. To be beside Hulk Hogan and Sting and guys I grew up watching as a kid, it was awesome. In July 2010 I signed my contract, and I debuted on live TV on Oct. 7, 2010, on Spike TV.

LIM: When you’re in the ring and you want to portray that Jersey Shore attitude, do you have to put on an act, or does that come naturally?
RS: It’s natural. It’s an extension of myself. It’s who I am, but it’s raised to the next level. It’s basically who I am on a few Red Bulls. I made it what it is. There are special people in wrestling that really make and have a connection  with the fans, that make things their own. If someone else wanted to be Robbie E, they couldn’t do it, just like I wouldn’t be able to be someone else.

LIM: Were you always a little bit of an entertainer or comedian growing up?
RS: No. I wasn’t super-shy, but I certainly wasn’t the one who liked talking in front of the class. Now I don’t mind, and being a teacher helped me to be in front of an audience. But being a pro wrestler, you become someone else.  You don’t feel like it’s you doing it so you can kind of break out of your shell. I figure, hey, if I look stupid it’s not me looking stupid, it’s Robbie E looking stupid.

LIM: What championships have you won?
RS: I was the 2010 X Division champion, a 2011 Television champion and a two-time, 2013 and 2014 Tag Team champion. So far I’ve held every title except for the World title.

LIM: Do you think you can achieve World?
RS: In years to come I think it’ll happen. I’ll compete for the World and might become a grand slam winner and have every title. Characters in wrestling don’t always last very long, but I feel I have the longevity to be with TNA  wrestling for a long time. Now my character has changed. Now I’m not all goofy and I’m kind of serious. The Jersey Shore thing is kind of fading out and it’s more focused on my wrestling. I think I have a huge future ahead of me. Eventually when Jessie and I break out of our tag team I see myself as being a top guy fighting to be world champion, being a star for TNA and a face of the company. There’s no set format to fight for the title, you just continue  connecting with the crowd. The more the crowd is into you and they’re buying your merchandise, the more the writers and the people in TNA are going to give you opportunities to do bigger things. It’s all about having good  matches, getting high ratings and keeping the fans coming back for more.

LIM: At 31 years old, do you think you still have enough time left to grow and compete for the World title?
RS: Wrestling is ‘Never say never.’ For starting out, 31 years old would kind of be a disadvantage, but I’m already four-plus years in so I’m established. Some guys don’t really make a good name for themselves until a few years in  anyway, so I’m at a perfect age.

LIM: Has it been a challenge to change your persona?
RS: I’m from Jersey and I’ll always be from Jersey, but eventually my hair will get cut and I won’t say ‘bro’ so much. The “E” is slowly getting dropped and I’m being known more as Robbie. I’m established and I’m making myself  more just a guy. The fact that we’re in more important matches now and I’m getting more opportunities to show how I can be different really helps.

LIM:  How did you hook up with your tag team partner, Jessie Godderz?
RS: He used to be on “Big Brother,” a reality show on CBS. He was in TNA and the writers of the show thought that we would be good together as a team.

LIM: Was he from New Jersey as well?
RS: No. Currently he lives in Louisville but he’s originally from Iowa.

LIM: Is there any down-time during the year for you?
RS: There is no off-season, unless you get injured and you need some time off. That’s it.

LIM: Has that ever happened to you?
RS: In 15 years of wrestling I’ve had a broken ankle, separated shoulder and just a few minor concussions. That’s very minor for that many years. I’ve been lucky.

LIM: It sounds like lucky is relative. What kind of toll does that take on your body?
RS: It does run you down. I wrestle three to four days a week, work out four to six days a week, and am always on planes and sleeping in beds that aren’t mine. I wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight after going to bed at 2 a.m. I  order the healthiest things off the menu in fast food places because I eat out every meal four or five days a week.

LIM: You have more than 100,000 Twitter followers. How did you build and connect with your audience, especially on social media?
RS: We’re promoted on our show. A lot of the people on our show have a lot of followers.

LIM: Get any tweets from local Jersey fans?
RS: Oh God, yeah. I can’t even get into the crazy things that fans write. (Laughs). It’s not a bad thing because it’s a Robbie E twitter, and Robbie E is a guy that’s supposed to be like a Jersey Shore guy, like my fans.

LIM: Have you ever had someone recognize you in public?
RS: The thing that sets me apart and would be the most recognizable feature would be my hair. I don’t wear my hair like that in real life. I have hats on all the time because, well, would you wear your hair like that in real life?  (Laughs.) I have a lot of hats and headbands so I can sometimes get away with not being noticed. I luck out because I can hide my hair. If you walk by me, even if you watch me on TV, if you don’t see the hair you’re not going to  recognize me.

LIM: What about any random encounters with fans?
RS: It’s cool. Even if they come up to me at weird or random times when I’m in the middle of doing something and I feel a little frustrated, I always think, ‘what if that was me when I was a kid?’ I would have freaked out when I was  younger and asked for their autograph, so I keep that in mind.

LIM: Have you met anyone from the Jersey Shore cast?
RS: Yes. Ronnie was on our show. I wrestled him in a match and JWoww was on too. She wrestled Cookie, who was supposed to be like Snooki on TNA. I never met Pauly D, but when I was with Ronnie I talked to him on the  phone.

LIM: When did you move to Monmouth County?
RS: A few years ago. I wanted to move to a place where the school systems are good for children, but be close to the shore and still close to my parents, but not too close. I felt it was a good area for that. I live in Holmdel with my  wife, Tara Gally. I don’t have any children yet but I would like to one day, for sure.

LIM: Would you want them to take on wrestling also?
RS: Probably not. It’s a crazy world with the scheduling and the toll it takes on your body.

LIM: Is being a professional wrestler like you envisioned it in your dreams growing up?
RS: It’s pretty cool that I make a good living and I’m comfortable with the money I make, but I don’t feel like I have a job. I do what I love, so it’s not like I think ‘Oh, I have to wake up and go to work today.’ It’s all fun and I want to get  better at it. Even though it’s a little hectic and it does drain me, I love the travelling and the road schedule. I’m not sick of it yet. It is a hard lifestyle, but I enjoy it. I’ve travelled internationally to the UK and Japan. We’re actually bigger  in the UK than the WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] is.

LIM: Did they understand the Jersey Shore reference over there?
RS:  Oh, they loved it. They actually had a similar show over there called the Geordie Shore. It’s huge on MTV over there. Some people said it was crazier than the Jersey Shore, but I’ve never seen it.

LIM: What do you like to do in downtime at home?
RS: I like to unpack and repack. (Laughs.) I don’t really watch much TV. I rent movies or go to the gym. I’ll try to fit in a night to go out with my friends and do something regular. And then, just relax, chill and catch up on regular life. In  a day and a half I’ll have to catch up with all the normal errands, like food shopping and haircuts. I just try to be human for a day. Any full day off in the summer, I love to go to the beach and lay out to tan for a whole day. I like to go to  Sandy Hook and find a quiet beach and just chill out.

LIM: Do you consider yourself a role model to children?
RS: Yes, 1,000 percent. Just because of the fact that, like when I was teaching, I can show people that you can have a crazy dream and it can actually happen. I can show them not to give up on your dreams, whatever you want to  do is possible and you can do it. When I was four years old, I wanted to be a wrestler on TV and now I am. I do four shows a week, and most of the fans that I see are little kids.

LIM: Where did the nickname “BroMans” for you and Jessie come from?
RS: The writers came up with the name for us and we liked it.

LIM: How much free reign do you have between the lines?
RS: As long as you get the important and key points in you can kind of make anything your own, but you have to get certain things across. Whether it’s a storyline or you have to say a certain line, as long as you do that you can do  whatever you want.

LIM: How long did you have your tag team belt for?
RS: We’ve had it a couple of times. We lost it for three days at one point but won it right back, but then we lost it again.

LIM: How often can the belts change hands during the year?
RS: Every week if they want it. It’s all up to who they schedule for a match.

LIM: Did you ever travel with the belt?
RS: Yes. I can’t check it when I fly. I have to carry it on, because God forbid it got lost or something. They always know what it is and they take it out, and sometimes they’ll take pictures with it. The security people love it. They’ll tell  me they didn’t recognize me with my hair down.

LIM: Would you ever make the transition to WWE if the opportunity arose?
RS: Never say never, but right now I’m in a good spot and there’s some longevity there. To go somewhere else and start over would be hard at this point.

LIM: I have to ask. Pick one: Raw or Nitro?
RS: Oh, back in the day. Just like most people, it changed by the week depending on what each one had to offer. I was into them both. In the late 90s, everyone was watching wrestling.

LIM: What do you see yourself doing after wrestling?
RS: If wrestling ended, which I hope it never does, I would finish my administration degree and go back to teaching. I feel comfortable having that to fall back on because a lot of wrestlers have nothing. Even then I’d still love to be a part of wrestling, whether it’s a backstage interviewer, commentator, or a guy that helps younger talent put matches together or trains younger talent.

Favorite Restaurant Sawa in Pier Village
Favorite Music Artists Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog
Favorite Movie Major League
Pet Peeve Unorganized people
Three people you would like to dine with TV actors Matt LeBlanc, Jennifer Aniston [Friends]; Ed O’Neill [Married with Children]

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21 Sep 2016

By Paul Williams