Rhino talked to SlamWrestling.net — where he was first featured in 1999 — on March 10, which happened to be the anniversary of his debut 27 years ago. That was the perfect segue into the obvious question: “What keeps you going?”
Without hesitation, he said it was the fans.
“Wrestling’s generational, so seeing guys bring their daughters or sons, and then they’ve watched some of my matches, and go, ‘Oh, I love that match you had with Sandman at the ECW Arena at this pay per view.’ I’m like, ‘You have the Network, right?’ Fans are like, ‘I was at that show’ and they fill them in and they become fans and they can share that moment,” Rhino explained over the phone from Philadelphia, where he was doing promotional work for Impact Wrestling’s shows at the 2300 Arena — what fans know as the ECW Arena — on March 18 and 19th.
Just like he used to take his daughter (now age 19) to Detroit Tigers games at Comerica Park, and reminisce about the greats he saw when he was younger, like Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell at the old Tiger Stadium, Rhino hears it from the fans. And he can point them to a product, like Impact+, to check out the many matches he’s had against the top names in the wrestling business.
But after 27 years, there’s plenty of reminiscing for Rhino (Terry Gerin) too. Like the dozen years between his appearances at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The first time, he was in a low-rider, alongside Eddie Guerrero; fast-forward to 2016, and Rhyno was a WWE Smackdown tag team champion with Heath Slater. Rhyno/Rhino was home, and he said Slater recognized the occasion: “The crowd was just so alive for the match. I remember after the match, we get our hands raised, and he hugged me. He goes, ‘Man, I’m so happy I was part of this with you.’ For him to say that it like, such a real moment.”
It gets Rhino going on a what if coming up in Philly.
“I think we’re gonna start doing more stuff as a team,” Rhino said about Heath in Impact. “I’d like to tag with him in the ECW Arena, because he’s never been there before. People loved us together as a tag team. And he shared a really cool moment with me — several moments — first time ever winning the tag team titles, or any tag team titles. The last time I was a tag team champion was for CWA Catch [in Germany] in 1997. And here 19 years later, I win it with Heath.”
With the Honor No More faction running rampant in Impact, Rhino is asked about loyalty. He’s been to WWE, to Ring of Honor, to just about every nook and cranny where they have wrestling — he even just did some shows in Pakistan at a resort, and he has been on the Team Impact side of the feud.
“Obviously, my loyalty lies with Thug Life,” he laughed, referring to an early faction he was a part of, with some youngsters that went on to other things, like Sexton Hardcastle (the future Edge), Christian Cage, and Joe Legend, along with manager “Handsome” Johnny Bradford. “That’s the first real brotherhood I had in wrestling. I’ve gained a lot of friends along the way,” noted Rhino, thinking back to his days in ECW, where he was World champion.
“I felt so loyal to ECW and Paul [Heyman] for giving me such a great start that, when it did close down, and I was with WWE, and I was so blessed to be with WWE, and I had so much fun, I was given such an opportunity, and I feel like took advantage of that opportunity,” he said, rolling with the past. “Unfortunately, nine months, I had to have neck surgery, so I was out for 15 months, and WWE took care of me great — I can’t say a bad thing about them, any time I’ve ever worked for ’em or worked with ’em. But it’s hard to say goodbye sometimes. Wrestling fans, they still cheer E-C-W at me when I get in the ring, and other ECW wrestlers that still get in the ring.”
ECW ended abruptly, noted Rhino, not unlike Ring of Honor (since bought by AEW). “It was like that girl you loved and dated and all of a sudden, she just ghosts you. You never had that opportunity to say goodbye, and that’s the best way I can explain to fans and then that relationship became perfect when it wasn’t — it might have been a good relationship, but you forget all the [bad] in ECW. It became such a perfect promotion that there was never a bad match or anything,” he said, thinking back. “You watch some of the stuff and you’re like, ‘Oh, that was a great match. But it wasn’t as great as I remember it.’ It one of those things, it takes you a little while to get over. I think the Honor No More guys are doing the same thing.”
The 2300 Arena will be hopping this weekend. “It’s real special every time I’ve stepped foot in the ECW Arena,” said Rhino. “They’ve redone it. It’s great, because after they redid it, you know that building’s going to be there for decades to come and there’s going to be more wrestling shows there and stuff like that. With Impact going there, with the roster they have — JONAH, PCO, The Good Brothers, myself, it’s just going to be a great fan experience for the wrestling fans.”
ECW alumni often say they love the atmosphere of the old ECW Arena, but the building itself had a lot to be desired. Rhino scoffed at that: “Oh, I loved the old, gritty feel to it. It still has that feel, but it’s a lot more fan friendly nowadays.”
As for Rhino’s friends in Impact, there has been a shift behind the scenes that has changed relationships. While he still shares knowledge with the young wrestlers — they want to know about using pagers to contact the office, or about some of the crazy trips from town to town — he is also helping to produce the shows.
It may not register, but Rhino’s matches are usually early on the show for a reason. “I like being up close to the beginning of the show, that way, I can just sit back and watch the monitor,” he said. “Now I’m starting to work behind the scenes, so I’m able to do that and then really focus on the new talent and just really enjoy wrestling and enjoy the Impact product.”
The prop of being a producer is as important as the job, Rhino noted.
“The first day I was in the production meeting, I come out and I’m telling all the boys, ‘I’m cloaked with immense power, this roll of paper shows to you that I’m a producer, I’m office now. So kayfabe me,'” he laughed. “It was fun in the locker room. I’d put on my outfit and I’d have that roll of paper close by and I just tell them I’m half office, half the boys — so you can only tell me half of the stuff you want to tell me.”
Rhino has had his own issues through the years, including seeking help as he battled alcohol addiction, and knows he needs to be there as a person as much as a peer or producer.
“I have an Italian background, so you never want us to stooge anybody off — but I always tell the men and women because I’ve had life experience, heartaches from relationships not working or getting fired or different problems that arise in everyday life — you don’t have to be a wrestler to have issues that happen in your life — and I always tell the boys, ‘You can come to me’ — and the women — ‘on a personal level, and I’m not going to stooge anything off, totally off the record,'” he said, adding that if he doesn’t have the answer, they’ll find it together from someone else.
Judging others is human nature, he added, aiming to take the high road every time. “We’re all people, we all make mistakes and don’t be afraid to say, ‘Okay, I made a mistake.’ I believe a lot of people deserve second chances. I’ve gotten second chances in wrestling and outside of wrestling.”
Spoken like a veteran of 27 years … and six days.
TOP PHOTO: Rhino gets fired up before heading to the ring. Impact Wrestling photo