TNA Impact is set to go live each week on Monday nights against WWE’s Raw starting this Monday. And Hulk Hogan all but made it official in some media appearances last week that among the big guns TNA will be unleashing this Monday is the debut of its latest signing – Rob Van Dam.

In January, I had the opportunity to talk to RVD about the prospect of joining TNA. In this interview, he talks about why TNA may or may not be a good fit, his previous negotiations with the company and what role he was originally pegged for, and his thoughts on TNA’s polarizing head writer, Vince Russo.

In this extensive interview, RVD also shares his thoughts on WWE’s stance on marijuana, his relationship with the Ultimate Warrior, hypocritical politicians, and his refusal to take part in WWE’s Tribute to the Troops shows.

Again, this interview was conducted in mid-January, so some of the references may be a bit dated. To check out all things RVD, visit his web site.

AC: The one thing I’m sure you’ve been asked a lot about is TNA. Obviously, they’ve just re-launched their whole product. There’s been a lot of speculation and expectation that you’d be part of it and would maybe be the big mystery announcement at last week’s pay per view. Can you talk a bit about what your relationship has been with TNA. Have you talked with them and is it something that you’re interested in?

RVD: I think everybody knows that I was at the pay per view they did out here in Los Angeles. It was right after I got back from the American Wrestling Rampage tour that I was just talking about in Europe. And that started a lot of rumors – as if there wasn’t enough of them out there already. And they let me know that they were interested on their end. And at the time I was like, “Yeah, you know I’m really not looking to do this.” And it’s not just, you know, I wrestle overseas so why not wrestle for TNA? It’s also closing the door on WWE, which I have open. But I’m not ready to walk through that door either. And I’m not even thinking about going back to a fulltime crazy, non-ending schedule, like I couldn’t wait to get away from before.

Things are kind of changing now in the respect that it’s a little more exciting since Hogan and Bischoff took over TNA. People are talking about it – whether they’re putting it over or they’re critiquing it. Either way, they’re talking about it. They’re getting their highest ratings. I don’t think WWE is afraid of them. I thought maybe there might be a little competition and both groups might have to raise the stakes a little bit, which wouldn’t be bad for RVD. But it doesn’t look like WWE is even sweating them. And who knows what it would take to tip the scales and change that? Maybe it’ll keep progressing in that manner.

There’s some interest now. Before I was like, “I don’t see it. No thanks.” And now I’m getting a little wrapped up in all the hype. All day, whenever I leave my house, all day long fans are always like, “Rob, go to TNA!” Sometimes WWE. Sometimes they even say Ring of Honor. But they all want to see me go back. And I feel a little obligated to them. But the highest on my priority list is still time with my wife at home. If it’s possible to do both, then maybe things will work out.

I’m also very protective of sharing control of my image. That’s something a lot of people don’t consider. It’s not just wrestling. It’s letting somebody else control your image and put you in situations that you don’t want to be in or that you wouldn’t be in. And when you’re someone that’s really genuine like RVD, then that’s important. Because I’m not a character. And I think that’s really, hopefully one of the qualities that my fans admire about me. What you see is what you get. I’m the real deal. That’s why I can step into the ring after having many months off and not have any rust. I’m still working out, stretching. I’m a real life action hero.

AC: Is it flattering to you that so many people do want to see you back? The one thing that struck me is that TNA hyped pretty heavily who this new arrival would be at the pay per view last week. When they talked about a “game changer” and that kind of thing, a lot of people thought that you would fit the bill. When Ken Anderson came out, there was, I think, some level of disappointment thinking he didn’t. So it really speaks to you offering something more than just the latest WWE free agent. Again, is that kind of touching to you?

advertisement | advertise on newsday

RVD: Oh yeah. I’m very honored that that’s the perception that’s out there. I also think it’s possible that it could be over-hyped so much that it’s possible that some of the respect I got from seeing RVD being a legend and wrestling legends and hanging tough with the Big Show, the Undertaker, Steve Austin, the Rock – would they still get the same excitement watching me wrestle against young kids that are coming up as they think they would? Because it might not quite be the same to them. Or who knows? Maybe it even reached a whole new level in a different direction. I don’t know. But I think about all these things.

AC: You talked about being protective of your image. Do you worry that some of that might kind of fall by the way side when you’re dealing with so many big personalities? I guess that’s the case in both promotions now. Were you to have gone to TNA a year or two ago, I think it’s a safe assumption that you might have been the top dog. But you go in there now, and they’ve got Hulk Hogan – who I know isn’t wrestling, but in terms of being a name, Ric Flair, possibly Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle. You’d be one of several major names. Does that concern you – possibly being lost in the shuffle?

RVD: Only when it comes to the bank. When it comes to standing out, I don’t have any fear there. I think that the connection that I’ve always had with my fans would remain consistent. And I think that that would be a nice bunch of people to rise to the top of, which I believe I could do. Even in the past – not just with my recent WWE experience – but before, and always. I’ve always had a way of – even without the bosses really knowing what to do with me – I’ve always had a way of getting over anyway, even against their wishes. And it confuses them. And I think that would probably still happen, even if that energy wasn’t spent on me.

But I don’t think I’d really be interested in doing it unless there were plans to really make a big deal about it. Because I don’t need it. I’m fine at home. I don’t have like this aching hunger to get back in the ring. And I’ve still got my overseas bookings anyway, which is fine. It’d be nice to do a run and be seen on TV and to get that reaction. But it’s also possible, if I’m in a studio with only maybe a thousand people, it may be hard to be connected to what’s on the other side of that camera. That’s a small crowd really to judge by. That’s like doing a survey of five people in the street and saying that that’s what the national Americans think about based on your answers.

AC: You mentioned also wanting to keep the door open with WWE. Why is that important? Is it just a money thing? It’s more than a thousand people you perform in front of every time you go to WWE, right?

@NewsdaySports

RVD: With WWE I’ve wanted to keep the door open up until this point because they are the top of the business. In any business that you pursue, if you belong at the top and you’re perceived as having that caliber and you do qualify, then it’s something that you want to hold on to. It’s like, even though I’m not in the picture right now, everyone knows that I’m WWE main event material. I’ve proven it and I’m holding that.

And, really, when you close the door on that then that could possibly also change as well. When you close the door on that, you’re making a statement and you’re really turning your back on it and you’re disconnecting from it. And you’ve got to make sure that’s what you want to do, which could possibly be the right thing. Or maybe it could be a big mistake.

AC: Will we see you at the Royal Rumble on Sunday?

RVD: Basically having the door open right now means I can call them and get T-shirts if I wanted. It may not mean the same thing when I first walked through that door.

The Royal Rumble – I have no plans of it. Last year when I entered the Royal Rumble, they only called me like two days before. So keeping that in mind, I’m not hiding anything about it. As a matter of fact I thought the Royal Rumble was yesterday until a few minutes ago.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

AC: (laughs) So it doesn’t disqualify you from maybe being called again two days before the show.

RVD: It definitely doesn’t disqualify me. It’s possible. Having said that, I don’t plan on going.

AC: What did you think of your last couple of surprise appearances in WWE – the Rumble and before that I think you popped up for the 15th anniversary or some kind of anniversary of Raw?

RVD: They were awesome. There was nothing but positive energy there. Lots of hugs from the wrestlers. Lots of love from the fans. And it’s showing everybody, in case they’re wondering, what kind of condition I was in. I answered that question. Everybody saw it. It’s the same RVD that left. And he definitely has a place here, and we want him. So both of those times they checked with me to find out if I was ready to come back full time, and I was not.

AC: Can you foresee a day when you might be? It’s such a tough schedule. Can you ever again foresee the day when you’d be up for that again?

advertisement | advertise on newsday

RVD: You never know what life is going to throw at you. But sitting right here on January 25, 2010, I can’t see it, because as many benefits as there are being that person on TV and reaching those heights and carving my notch that much deeper into history, I still at the same time would be miserable hauling my bags from town to town to town. And I can’t see putting myself through that. So it would take a major change in what my life is right now.

AC: Were you satisfied with your world title reign in WWE? It’s what every wrestler, I imagine, strives to do. It’s the same world title that was Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan. But, if I had to be honest, I think in the grand scheme of things a lot of people don’t remember your world title run. It was relatively short. It was in between John Cena’s big peak years there. Were you happy with it? Do you wish more had come out of it?

RVD: I’m very happy with it. I never thought that would happen. I never set my goals that high. And I still know that it never would have happened if I hadn’t changed the playing field and actually brought ECW back. The only reason I was champion was because I best represented that style, and it was needed to kick off the new brand. So I actually changed all the current factors that were on the table and made them work for me. Otherwise that never would have happened. I definitely didn’t fit their preconceived notion of what a champion is – probably not even of a major push.

AC: Was it always kind of a push between you and management the whole time you were there? Through the years I heard these stories and it always seemed like there was a little tension between you and the bosses, as you said.

RVD: I’m grateful for my experience there, and what that’s done for my career. And I really enjoyed living in the limelight like that. But at the same time I never really liked what the writers had for me and I never really agreed with any of the agents except for Arn Anderson and Steve Keirn, and that’s because they would never really say much. They would just give me credit for knowing my own craft. So there was a lot of compromise from my artistic point of view. There was a lot of burn out factor, which could have possibly been treated. But it wasn’t.

When I was asking for time off, I didn’t get it. I even had it in my contract that I would get a weekend off every month. And like five months went by and I was like, “Look, I haven’t gotten this time off. I need it.” And then they were double booking me. I had two shots on a Saturday two Saturdays in a row. And I just felt like, “My contract’s up. I have an exit. And this is the only chance I have. If I re-sign, I’m committed.” So it was a risk. It was like taking a step off a cliff for me. I had regular income coming in through that for six or seven years, and I was stepping off with no plans except for just to get away and refocus. I have no regrets.

I’m glad I went through what I did. I’m glad I left when I did. I’m glad I went and left WCW back in 92-93 when I did. I quit there because it was the right thing for me to do. We all have our paths. And I’m paying attention to mine. I like where it’s going.

AC: I was always surprised at how you could be as – I don’t know if “defiant” is the word – but stand up for your convictions, pretty vocally. I think you, as much as anyone, have been pretty open and honest in how you feel about this business and about your employers and WWE, and haven’t taken crap as much as other wrestlers, and have kept a good reputation within WWE. As you said, the door remains open to you. They went as far as putting the world title on you despite you being so vocal at times. What was it about you?

One small example that I was always surprised by was when they did those early trips to Iraq. I had read that you just said you didn’t want to go and you didn’t feel like going. And I was amazed that that was OK – that that was allowed to fly.

RVD: Right. I got a lot of feedback from the other wrestlers saying, “Man. I don’t really want to go. I wish I could get away with saying no like you did. Man this sucks. I’m not looking forward to it.” And I didn’t understand that. I’d say, “What do you mean? You wish you knew how to say no? Say no.” And they’d say, “Well, I’m not going to get away with it.” What’s “getting away with it”? I’m just saying that I’m not going to go. Whatever the consequences are, I’m ready to face them. Think it through. That’s the only equation that there is there. If it came down to, “You’re going or else you’re fired,” I would have said, “That’s fine. There’s no way you can physically make me go somewhere I don’t want to go.”

And that’s what it became about. It wasn’t necessarily about like my political view on the war. It was the fact that we hadn’t had any time off. I was so burned out. And I was looking forward to having two weeks off for Christmas after being on the road for several months. And then a few days before the vacation they say, “Guess what? During our Christmas vacation, instead of having some time off, we’re going to go to Iraq.” So I wasn’t going. I knew there was no way I was going to go. I would have fought Vince physically over it. And one day I did feel like doing that.

But for everybody else saying that I always get away with everything, that’s just me doing what I feel is right. I’m not wired to understand why anybody else makes the choices that they do.

AC: Do you think maybe it’s exaggerated that guys will get in trouble? Do guys worry more than maybe they have to about the repercussions of standing up for themselves? Are you proof that you can stand up for yourself, and really, at the end of the day, not much will happen?

RVD: I believe, to an extent that… there’s a lot going into it. They’ll take advantage of whatever they can take advantage of. And they know what guys aren’t going to stand up and they know what guys fear for their jobs. So, for a lot of guys, having already exposed their position, if they were to stand up at that point and say no, they might have suffered some undesired consequences. But if they were men from the beginning, then maybe they would have gotten away with it just like me.

AC: I guess the point is that some people can be intimidated and some can’t.

RVD: That’s very well put. I don’t think there’s ever been any question on which of those guys Rob Van Dam is.

AC: If the ultimate punishment they can hand out is to fire you and you’re up front in saying, “Well, go ahead and fire me then,” then really it takes the power out of their hands.

RVD: And that’s what fired me up about it. I just said, “Hey, Vince, I just wanted to let you know that I’m not going to be going out there.” And Vince said, “Well, Rob, I appreciate that.” And I said, “OK.” And he said, “But, I think you’re going to find this is one of the best experiences of your life.” And it became offensive that he thought that he could make me do something that I don’t want to do. I don’t care what it was. I don’t care if it was eating a spoonful of green beans. If I said I wasn’t going to do it, and he thought he was going to make me do, that’s what it became about for me.

AC: Have you watched any of those Tribute to the Troops show and have you ever regretted not going – seeing that they have become a pretty special show and something that’s pretty nice?

RVD: No. I don’t feel obligated to go somewhere that I don’t want to go. I really don’t enjoy flying anyway. When I do these bookings now I have to fly business class or first class. If I’m in economy, it takes five minutes of sitting on that plane, where I can’t even reach my own feet, until I’m miserable and my back hurts. And I did that already. I did that for a long time. So to get on a – what – a 20 hour flight on a flying warehouse that might not even have a bathroom or seats, or whatever, to go to a desert and wrestle, which by the way, I had no passion for and was only doing out of business. To do that voluntarily in a war zone to entertain those troops? I never felt the obligation.

I’m glad that they get entertainment out there. I don’t feel their life has suffered in quality because RVD hasn’t been there, but they go tot meet John Cena and whoever else. I think that everyone else is doing it is fine. But I never felt like in addition of what they’re getting they also have to have my participation.

AC: Let me ask you about something else. I hope none of this is offensive to you, but you’re pretty well known and pretty openly have been an advocate for marijuana use. WWE has made a lot stricter their position on marijuana in the wellness policy. I don’t know how exactly it started, but I know the fines have increased and have gotten fairly severe. Would that be a problem for you coming back? And what do you thin in general on having a hard stance on marijuana?

RVD: Since I don’t want to go back to the full-time schedule anyway, it’s kind of hard to answer if, in addition to not wanting to go back, I would also not want to go back and apply to all of their conditions. I’d have to want to do it, and if I wanted to do it bad enough to not promote or advocate marijuana or whatever, it would depend on what it was worth to me if I was wanting to do that – which I’m not.

As far as their stance on it, like you said, I’m an advocate. I don’t understand why people are OK with marijuana prohibition when alcohol and cigarettes are such mass murderers. I mean, they kill so many people and marijuana can’t cause a lethal reaction. So that alone – I don’t understand why people don’t do a little looking into it themselves. I understand that we’re all lied to. It was outlawed in 1937 based on lies. And this isn’t hidden information. We know that. We know now that it was lies to say that marijuana causes violence, promiscuity, and insanity. But even thought we know it was outlawed on lies, we don’t do anything to change it. And right now, still in 2010, even though we have 14 states that have legalized it medicinally, the federal government still has it classified as a schedule one controlled substance with heroin and acid – meaning no medicinal value and highest danger for addiction and for harm. That’s bull---- and people don’t care enough to change that. They’re starting to, but for the most part people give into the fear. It’s all about fear.

And, like you said, RVD doesn’t get intimidated. I’m not afraid of fear tactics. They don’t work on me. I’m also sensible enough to look into the lies. My wife used cannabis to help her with chemotherapy. I have no question whether it’s medicinal or not. And, to tell you the truth, President Obama has no question whether it’s medicinal or not. But still, the federal guidelines that Nixon set way back in 1970 have it classified as a non-prescribable, non-medicinal drug. So it’s important to me that things like that have to change, because, like it helped my wife, it can help a lot of suffering people.

And, furthermore, I do believe an adult should have access to it. And if they were educated right on it, a lot of people would choose the safer drug of marijuana over the lethal drugs of alcohol and cigarettes. But that’s all in the education. So, for WWE, they’re just like a small society. They’ve got their own set of laws, their own set of rules. And on the wellness program, marijuana is definitely different than if you test positive for anything else on their list. But still it has a very hefty fine with it. And it’s, unfortunately, turning the boys away from marijuana and turning them away from any pain relievers, and saying, “Alcohol is OK.” It’s just like the SuperBowl will tell you – “Drink, drink, drink.”

AC: Did you find that, for that lifestyle, the WWE lifestyle, the isolation, the long hours, the pain – that marijuana was really beneficial?

RVD: No question about it. And it wouldn’t be for everybody. And I always say that kids shouldn’t smoke it. They shouldn’t do anything to stray from sobriety. But they should be educated honestly and not scared away from it. Because if you scare them, it doesn’t work. They’re going to find out you were lying. They’re going to get into it. And now you’ve told them it’s the same as heroin and acid, so they might as well try that too. I believe in honesty, all the way through. And definitely, for pain, for focus, for stress, for helping to acclimate to different time zones when your body and your mind is like on warp 9, cannabis can be useful in helping with all of that. And I’ve found that to be the experience.

AC: Let me ask you a couple of unusual questions – one that I just thought of when you mentioned your wife. I don’t think you’ve been asked about this. What are your thoughts on John Edwards? He just admitted to fathering this kid out of wedlock and was having an affair on his wife while she was dealing with cancer, and is still in pretty bad shape. As somebody who went through something similar, does it really bother you to see somebody like that, a public figure, having abandoned his wife in the middle of something like that? Can you imagine something like that in your own life?

RVD: As much as I brag about being genuine and being honest, I love it when a hypocrite gets busted. The politicians that preach. I love when they preach against homosexuality and how wrong gay marriage is and they get caught ------- little boys in the bathroom. I love that stuff. I love it when Larry Flint – after they tried to impeach President Clinton – Larry Flint offered a million dollars up to anybody who had evidence of politicians up to their own sex scandals. And a bunch of them had to resign with all the evidence they had.

They’re hypocrites. To go out there and stand for one thing and really deliver a powerful message that you stand behind, that you want people to acclimate into their own lives, to structure their own moral code after what you’re saying, and then come to find out that your own life is inconsistent with that. I love it when they busted when they’re on a platform like that.

So, yeah – John Edwards denied, denied, denied, denied, denied, which, of course he did. I mean that’s the first instinct when you get busted is to deny. That’s your first self-defense. But the fact that it finally came out that it’s his and that the people are hating him on it, that’s just karma. Tiger Woods – He’s in sex rehab now… Tiger Woods is addicted to sex. So are most of the people I’ve worked with in my wrestling career. For me, I think that their priorities are different and I think that Tiger Woods is in sex rehab to offer comfort to those who judge him with different priorities and morals than him. To him, he was out living the life. He’s a rock star. He’s out there getting the women. And he chose to do that. That was more important to him than his own genuineness with his wife.

I see that as black and white. It’s clear as day to me. They pacify everyone that’s judging them. David Letterman came right out and said, “Yes. Yes I did --- that chick.” And he got so much respect for that that we almost forget that he was cheating on his wife.

AC: That’s a good point. Another unusual question I wanted to ask you. I grew up a big fan of the Ultimate Warrior. So when he made his big comeback a couple years ago, I thought it peculiar that I saw the video of you and him together and that he was training at a facility of yours. So few people have good things to say about the guy. I go back to the DVD that WWE put out a couple years ago, where it was just really trashing the Ultimate Warrior. And, I thought it interesting that you seemed to have some kind of – I don’t know if friendship is too much – but a relationship with him. What was your impression from talking to him and getting to know him a little bit?

RVD: It was very inconsistent with my expectations. I figured that I would have at least one Warrior moment. And I had my guys with the camera ready because we were filming some RVD TV footage. And he was just as cool as can be – all day. I picked him up form the airport and we filmed, “Friends in High Places,” where we talked about the power of your mind, which is actually on the DVD – the RVD TV DVD that is non-acquirable. But one of my favorite episodes, along with Chris Nowinski talking about his study of brains and concussions in football and wrestling… Anyway, we went to the ring. He hadn’t been in the ring in a long time. He wanted to get in the ring and bounce around a little bit and stuff. And he was just so respectful the whole day that, when he left, I felt like I had met a friend. He left saying, You know what, I’m going to put a link to your web site on mine, and I’ve never done that for anybody in 12 years. I’m going to do that for you Rob.” And I just really felt like we connected. I was like, “Wow, this is not the guy that everyone else had talked about.” Since then, he’s never returned my phone call, but…

AC: (laughs)

RVD: But when I saw him in Spain, he was cool again. So I’ve got nothing bad to say about him from my personal experience.

AC: Do you think maybe he’s misunderstood? Do you think you have anything in common with him as far as being a little misunderstood?

RVD: You know what, I know that I’m a non-conformist. I know that could probably be translated to a weirdo, and I’m OK with that because I don’t want to be like other people. And the more I study humans, the more I swear I must be an alien from another planet. And if that’s what I have in common with the Warrior, then I’m all right with that.

AC: The last thing I want to talk to you about – Another guy who you’ve been linked with, Booker T, worked with TNA. Isn’t that why you were at that event a few months back?

RVD: It’s funny you mention Booker because he just called a few minutes ago. I was there visiting Booker T and Sharmell. My wife and I are good friends with them. In fact, Booker is here in LA at the moment. So that’s definitely something that I would do – stop by and say hello. I found out that I had some other friends there that I knew too. I just didn’t realize that I knew so many people. “Hey, Rhino, what’s going on? Stevie, hey! Hey Bubba Dudley! Devon!” Everywhere I looked. And I was like, “Wow, I really do know a lot of people here.”

AC: What did you think of (Booker’s) departure from TNA and what he did there toward the end? There was a lot of criticism about his run in TNA – feeling that it was kind of self-indulgent, that he was doing a lot of what he was doing just to, kind of, entertain himself, that he didn’t give it his all in the ring. And I think he left TNA with a lot worse reputation than he had going into it.

RVD: I don’t know anything about that. Except for January 4th, I never really watched the show. But he said that he was leaving because of the writing – that there was a one-man writing team, and that that wasn’t working. And he said that was the whole reason he was leaving. And he even recommended – even right there at that pay per view when he was leaving – he still felt that I should consider coming there and working. He said that he would have stayed if it wasn’t for the writing. It was a couple weeks later that Hogan and Bischoff took over. So that changed. I don’t know, in his opinion, if it changed for the better. But that’s still what he told me – that he enjoyed it there, just not the writing.

You mentioned earlier, if I would have came like a year ago I would have been one of the top stars for sure before Hogan and all his guys were there. Vince Russo called me maybe a year ago or so and wanted me to come in and consider joining the Main Event Mafia, which would have been with Booker and Steiner and whoever else was doing that. I didn’t feel like that was right for me. I think I stand out and am showcased best as the individual that I am. Don’t put me in a suit and a tie with four to six other guys. I don’t think that’s the way we need to see RVD, do we?

AC: Do you know Vince Russo at all? Was that the first you talked to him or have you had any relationship with him in the past?

RVD: Negative. I didn’t know him. He called and introduced himself on the phone. And when I was out there for the pay per view in California I met him for the first time in person.

AC: Any impression of him? Obviously he’s a very controversial figure. I’ve heard the term, “The worst booker in the history of pro wrestling.” Yet, he has a job today.

RVD: Yeah, it’s amazing, huh? I don’t have any personal experience with him, but I do associate him with a lot of stories I heard the boys talking about when WCW was crashing. And I know that I personally have a lot of resentment for the time period with David Arquette was a wrestling champion ad Jay Leno was in the ring and Rodman. At that time we were cracking our heads open with chairs in ECW doing a complete, complete different sport than they were doing.