There are times, when watching something like Sunday night’s A&E Biography on Rob Van Dam, that I’m pretty damn proud of the archives here at as it allows those who want to, to fill in the blanks that WWE didn’t on a complex career.

So take your time reading the stories that are linked to in this review/recap.

I’ll say this about the man born Rob Szatkowski, that we all know as Rob Van Dam or RVD — he was always happy to talk about things, good or bad. Even outside the site, in the book that I co-wrote with Steven Johnson, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Storytellers, there’s Rob explaining his take on how to tell a story in and out of the ring. He knows his stuff.

And, when he says, “I did everything my way, and I ended up at the very top,” he’s right. He didn’t take the regular path.

Growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, he didn’t fit in, met some kids who liked pro wrestling, and got into it himself. Vintage interviews with his mom and dad helped, as did a current one with his sister, Terri.

The young Szatkowski’s first taste of wrestling came at a house show in Battle Creek, where he got into the ring to kiss “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s foot. Instead of yet another Sam Roberts appearance (sigh), here’s our interview with DiBiase (who wasn’t on Biography): DIBIASE’S MONEY BOUGHT A YOUNG RVD

“From that moment on, I didn’t think about anything else,” said RVD of wrestling.

He and a buddy showed up at the door of Kit Lykins, a local kickboxing and karate instructor, who had a ring in his backyard. Lykins is on camera, and said the future “Whole F’n Show” (which was NEVER referenced by the way) “had all the physical stuff … what you can’t teach is drive, determination and willpower. You got those or you don’t.”

A young Dango Nguyen and Rob Szatkowski thinking about tag team action.

A young Dango Nguyen and Rob Szatkowski thinking about tag team action.

While they had photos of RVD’s pal who knocked on Lykins’ door, he is never named. Alas, Dango Nguyen, who wrestled as Dango Wynn, died in 2019. His story is told here: DANGO WYNN, WRESTLER, FIREFIGHTER, WALKING DEAD ACTOR, DIES

After kicking butt as a kickboxer as a teen facing adults, Szatkowski learns about the wrestling school offered by The Original Sheik Ed Farhat and makes a  deal with his parents to give it a try rather than college.

Just about any wrestling fan knows that Szatkowski trained with Terry Brunk, Sheik’s nephew, who would become Sabu. Guess what? Sabu wasn’t mentioned here or in regards to the 2006 bust when they were both pulled over and charged with possession of marijuana (it was a different time). WWE and/or A&E decided Sabu was taboo, other than photos with him and Bill Alfonso (also not named let alone interviewed) so here’s our archive: THE SHEIK (ED FARHAT) & SABU STORY ARCHIVE

Rob Van Dam and Sabu at the induction of The Sheik Ed Farhat into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.

Rob Van Dam and Sabu at the induction of The Sheik Ed Farhat into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wrestler turned promoter Ron Slinker gave him the Rob Van Dam name … and then they chose to have Sam Roberts explains who actor Jean-Claude Van Damme was. (Sigh.) What’s Van Damme doing these days? Not much, I’m guessing! Couldn’t they have found him? Van Damme’s Kickboxer movie is the source for RVD’s famous thumbs pointing at his shoulders, by the way, where they did show a clip.

Coming off last week’s Biography on ECW — ECW A&E BIOGRAPHY SAME OLD, SAME OLD — it was too soon to see Paul Heyman, Tommy Dreamer, Bubba Ray again, though they are key to Van Dam’s career, but even current WWE stars Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are back again raving about ECW and, more specifically, RVD, as is Busted Open radio host David LaGreca. Variety is the spice of life, but not on Biography apparently.

Some vintage backstage footage of RVD botching his promos was fun, and the ECW time was covered just fine, though it was also a stark reminder of how over someone can be. Being over in 2024 is nowhere near the same as being over in ECW in 1999.

There was a brief aside where RVD talked about being married and how it was tough on the marriage, but Sonya is never named, and certainly isn’t allowed to tell her side of things. One of the most honest and loving stories we ever ran here on the site was Rob and Sonya working together as she battled cancer, and its really where he started to advocate for medical marijuana. It’s a four-parter, so settle in, but it helps you understand that it was way more than a throwaway marriage: ‘I’M SO SORRY, SWEETIE’: SONYA AND ROB VAN DAM’S JOURNEY WITH COLON CANCER. (They divorced in 2015, which is mentioned.)

RVD stuck around with ECW to the bitter end, saying that he had turned down earlier pitches from WCW and WWF, as he felt they would have wanted to change him too much.

Then ECW folds just after WWE buys WCW (thanks to Sam Roberts, ugh again, for helping the viewers learn that detail).

Those were heady days in July 2001 with the ECW and WCW Invasion angle, though the payoff may not have been what we all wanted. Former WWE writer Brian Gewirtz is the talking head here, no doubt thinking long and hard about wearing a Rock brahma bull baseball hat to keep his current boss happy. RVD talked to SlamWrestling that fall, which gives a lot more detail into his thinking at the time: RVD READY TO BE THE WHOLE F’N SHOW

We get some insight into RVD in WWE, where he quickly got to face top names, but found himself “fighting conformity.” Or, as he put it another way, “I always felt producers didn’t understand me” since he didn’t fit into a category. Man, I wish he would have named the producers who didn’t get him!

It was RVD who pitched an ECW reunion to Vince McMahon, and that resulted in ECW: One Night Stand in 2005, that magical reunion. RVD, though, had a torn ACL and instead spoke from the heart in an in-ring promo.

The second ECW: One Night Stand was magical, RVD versus John Cena, with RVD going over to win the WWF World title. “Everything about that night was exciting,” said Cena. That launches the new ECW show, and RVD is given the ECW World championship belt.

Ah, but then, “the higher you are, the further you have to fall” and we get to the arrest in 2006, and the pot talk. “In ECW, I started to be known for the cannabis community,” he said, adding that he was happy to associate with it, and so many of his promos included tongue in cheek references. (Here are stories from the time: SABU & ROB VAN DAM BUSTED, RVD SUSPENDED 30 DAYS and RVD COMMENTS ON WWE RELEASE, BENOIT, THE FUTURE)

Left off the documentary is RVD’s future dealings in actual pot-related projects.

Contrite looking back on the mistake, RVD admits he was irresponsible. “It was a pretty humbling experience,” he said. The news would have been way bigger today with social media, but at the time, “just because I was World champion, that’s what made it different,” he said, and therefore he lost the belts in consecutive days and was suspended. He admitted he “wanted to find a gutter to crawl into.”

“I was a little bit of a wildcard … I proved them all right,” RVD said, really summing up his career.

After his WWE contract expired in 2007, he was “burned out” and didn’t care if he wrestled again. He said that he meditated and learned his spot in the universe.

AJ Styles vs Rob Van Dam in TNA. Photo by George Tahinos,

AJ Styles vs Rob Van Dam in TNA. Photo by George Tahinos,

There’s a photo or two of RVD in TNA but the promotion is not mentioned by name, which is even stranger given the current TNA-NXT talent exchange. Here’s a story from that time period: WORLD CHAMP RVD’S GOAL IS TO HELP TNA

They skipped his WWE return in 2013, but we didn’t: ROB VAN DAM HIGH ON WWE RETURN

Eventually, it all culminates in some dark times for Van Dam, depressed already, then his dog and his father die shortly apart. Though he was “surrounded by darkness” RVD “rebuilt myself.”

Katie Forbes comes into the picture in 2016, and is interviewed, but she’d already been on screen in a photo within first minute and later she’s in a huge airbrushed wall when he’s exercising. If A&E/WWE isn’t going to touch “F’N show” they sure as heck aren’t touching much about the very public Forbes-RVD open relationship lifestyle.

Naturally, the WWE Hall of Fame induction from April 2021 closes the show.

“If you’re happy being you, hey, you’re okay by me,” said RVD. “I’m fulfilled.”

Well, I can’t say that I was fulfilled by this episode of Biography but that’s mainly because of time limitations, it being less than an hour, given all the commercials.

There was lots missing, and I would have liked more on his actual training, how he stayed so limber in his heyday.

But it was fine, and, if anything else, it’s a chance to dive into our ROB VAN DAM STORY ARCHIVE to get the bigger, more rounded story.