WWE Alum Rob Van Dam on His Doc 'Headstrong' & Furthering the Conversation on Concussions
Pro wrestler Rob Van Dam initially agreed to have cameras follow him on a string of standup comedy tour dates for a conceptual documentary. However, when the former WWE superstar noticed he was having vision problems, the events that followed led to the project turning into so much more. The result is Headstrong, a candid peek behind the curtain of a ring veteran reminded that success isn’t without physical sacrifice.
Threaded between the tour stops is the 48-year-old interacting with fans and peers while realizing he might have suffered a concussion from a prior match. Van Dam’s experience gives viewers an inside look into what goes into diagnosing concussions, the possible symptoms, and delving into hot topics across sports including Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
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“I’ve only seen the movie twice in front of a room full of people to screen it,” he said. “Both times it was surprisingly emotional for me because I was involved in the editing process frame-by-frame. I had seen the movie to death, but watching those emotional scenes, which there are a few, I find my tear ducts start to sting. I’m actually crying just because I feel so open and vulnerable in front of all these people.”
The "Whole F'n Show" has gotten early positive feedback from people inspired by his story. There was the sense that the audience related to the wrestler on a different level.
“They understand that this superhero image that they have in their mind is a real person. I try to tell the story in the movie just exactly how it was for me,” he said. “When this thing happened in the ring, something to really be concerned with, it changed everything.”
A few days into it, Van Dam wasn’t sure he wanted to show what was going on or not. However, by the end of the tour, he knew they were going to have to follow-up and the movie was going to change course. He eventually got his brain checked, met with doctors and a specialist to analyze any potential long-term side effects of what he had done for a living over almost 30 years.
Clips of the daredevil taking unprotected chair shots, landing badly after high-risk and aerial moves and other hard blows are embedded through the doc. Many scenes are self-admittedly hard to watch knowing what we know now about concussions.
“I never knew I could be doing long-term damage. For me, one of the things I enjoy about professional wrestling is showing how tough I am. That’s an outlet for it. I would get hit in the head with a chair, and I knew it would knock my senses a little loopy,” he said.“This was part of the job for me. I just thought I was really tough because I could take it. Now I feel very fortunate that at this point in life that I don’t have the CTE that the football players have suffered…Vince McMahon told me when I first got into WWE to put my hands up to protect my head from those chair shots.
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“I was arguing with him because I was stupid because I thought I was tough. He went all father on me, ‘I’m your father telling you to put your hands up. He was really serious. Now I won’t be cheering on chair shots to the head, but most of my concussions have probably come from landing and hitting the back of my head. So, I’m going to be cautious of that as well. There's been once or twice I’ve had similar things happen since shooting the movie. Thankfully, I didn’t get concussed.”
Van Dam credits girlfriend and fellow wrestler Katie Forbes (Khloe Hurtz on WOW: Women Of Wrestling) for her support. Coming off a formal divorce last year, it’s a feeling he admits he's never had before.
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“There is so much positivity instead of drama. I help her with what I can in life and wrestling,” Van Dam said. “She knows I’m at the end of my career not looking to do this into my 60s or 70s or be another Ric Flair. But who knows because money always talks. The fact she is up and coming, it is awesome to see her name get out there and to see her star power grow. I would rather her go out on the road and chase her dreams, and I’ll wait for her at home with the dog.”
Van Dam does still leave the house, working select dates for a variety of companies. For the top talent, the growth and changing landscape of the business is something he saw coming years ago.
“I wrestle about 10 to 12 matches a year for the past three years. I see the promotions coming up and more places for the boys to work,” Van Dam said. “I think competition is cool. I think WWE is always going to be the king, at least for the foreseeable future. They are the standard setting worldwide… That’s a lot to compete with. The AEW (All Elite Wrestling) is very impressive right now. They sold out MGM Grand, which is pretty groundbreaking as are some of the contracts they are offering. We have seen other groups in the past that want to be competition before fizzing out before making any money back…AEW has to prove history wrong. I hope they do.”
RVD is gearing up for a marquee match teaming with Sabu, a reunited team rooted in the now defunct Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), April 4 at Impact Wrestling’s iPPV United We Stand.
“We’ve probably only tagged once in at least 10 years. I’ve been talking to him on the phone almost every day via text. He actually lives in Las Vegas. I just moved out here, so we are in the same town,” Van Dam said.
“There are people who have RVD money. But having said that, I can tell you after talking so much about AEW, Impact Wrestling also has RVD money.”
The question is will RVD and Sabu’s match against the Lucha Brothers (Pentagón Jr. and Fénix) be a one-night only return, or will we be seeing more of the former world champion on Impact events? “I don’t know if I’m spoiling any big announcement or anything, but yes,” Van Dam said.
Headstrong, Streaming Now, iTunes/Google Play/Amazon/VUDU