Rip Rogers has been in the professional wrestling business since 1977. From International Championship Wrestling, Continental Championship Wrestling, Central States, up north in Calgary Stampede, Puerto Rico at the WWC, Korea, Austria, Germany, Japan, and WCW before being dissolved, Rogers has worked all over the territorial map gaining expertise from every corner of the globe.
Since retiring from active competition, he’s been head trainer at Ohio Valley Wrestling, training the likes of Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Mark Henry, Dave Bautista, Randy Orton, and more. He had plenty of stories to share with us and, as always, was not afraid to speak his mind!
Jim Phillips, author of this article and one of the great wrestling historians here at Pro Wrestling Stories, is in the challenge of his life after being paralyzed on January 21st, 2023. Learn his story and how you can help him reach his goal of taking his first steps again!
Rip Rogers – A Great Mind in and Out of the Squared Circle
Born Mark Sciarra on February 7th, 1954, he grew up in Seymour, Indiana, attending Indiana Central College, where he played baseball and football. After graduation, he went to work locally, becoming a school teacher and football coach.
As a youngster, he was a huge fan of Jimmy Valiant and was even a member of his fan club. His sights were set on the wrestling business from a young age, but in the days before cable television, you had to have an in — or know someone to get your foot in the door of a promotion.
Rogers decided to try writing Verne Gagne about securing a spot in one of his training camps in Minnesota. About a week later, he received a letter from Verne himself, accepting him into the upcoming class in November of 1977. The young man’s desire was stronger than his patience, and Rip decided to make his inroads into the business.
Joining the Professional Wrestling Business
Living up to the ring name he would later adopt, Rip Rogers hustled his way into a small wrestling gig that his friend and old football teammate, Tom Zupanic, saw in an advertisement in the Indianapolis Star in the spring of 1978. Zupanic would later be an alternate on the defunct 1980 Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling team.
The Olympics were boycotted that year due to being held in Russia, and we, as a nation, did not compete in protest to the invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier. The world was a different place back then.
The advertisement was calling for "sparring partners for wrestlers," a call which Rogers would answer. He went to meet the man leading the troupe, Masher Stevens. Rip saw wrestlers mostly imitating the moves they saw on television and learning how to work off the right side, which is the predominant way American wrestlers work.
I recently had the privilege of talking with Rip about his early career and the path he took to break into wrestling. "I could tell real quick that they didn’t know any more than I did, but they had a ring. That’s all I cared about."
He quickly picked up on the ringwork and landed a spot on a local card, working under his real name, Mark Sciarra. However, it wouldn’t be long until he realized that he wasn’t as ready as he thought.
Rogers was completely ignorant of the lingo and wrestling terminology used in the locker room to describe the goings-on in the match. The booker began to tell him that he would "go over" and when it was "time to go home."
He was clueless as to what any of this meant. He just nodded like he knew and went along with crossed fingers and high hopes that he would make his way through the match without screwing it up or getting hurt in the process.
During these formative years, he worked as a bodybuilder, winning a few competitions he entered. He also spent some time as a chauffeur for Jimmy Valiant, where he logged many long hours on the road listening and learning from some of wrestling’s greats.
When I asked Rip what it was like learning the craft before the structured curriculum of today’s wrestling camps, Rogers replied, "Well shit, man, back then we learned in the cars, out on the roads."
Rogers continued, "When I was young, there wasn’t any damn Internet that you could look up and learn everything you wanted to know. Today, kayfabe is dead. We had the wrestling magazines, and whatever programming you could get on local television, that was it. When you got the chance to be around the boys, you shut up and listened. That’s how we learned."
Getting a Chance with The Poffo Family at International Championship Wrestling
Once Rip Rogers began to make a name for himself among his peers as an excellent hand to have around, doors started to open for him. Paul Christie got him a shot with The Poffos at International Championship Wrestling, and then, things really started to move.
Rogers was still working under his real name at this time, and when he came in the summer of 1978, they changed his name to Hercules Semard, where he would sport a black afro type haircut. He was then booked to Nick Gulas in Nashville, where he worked under the name "The Disco Kid." It wasn’t until Angelo Poffo sent him to Mississippi that he got the name that would stick with him for the rest of his career.
The promoter there, a man known by the in-ring name of The Great Mephisto, bestowed Rip Rogers’s name on him. Upon his return to ICW, he teamed up in tag matches with Randy Savage while also winning the tag titles with "Pistol" Pez Whatley and Gary Royal as The Convertible Blondes.
In 1979, Lanny Poffo booked Rip out to the Pacific Northwest Wrestling territory for a six-month run. Rip spoke of his time there as well as his travels on the road.
"Lanny booked me out in Portland working with Buddy Rose, The Bushwhackers, Roddy Piper, and Jesse Ventura. Guys like that that could work and teach you more by being in the ring with them. It was a great place to learn.
"When I came back, things were getting really hot for ICW. They were beginning to promote together with All-Star Wrestling, and we were doing lots of shots. We had fourteen television spots going at one time on different stations when things were really moving."
After leaving ICW, he went on a tour of the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. He held tag titles and championships everywhere he went and had a lengthy feud with Adrian Street in the Fuller’s Continental Championship Wrestling territory out of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Dothan, Alabama.
Rogers would also become Caribbean Champion during his time with the Colons in Puerto Rico at the WWC. He continued his journeymanship to the WCW in 1991, where he later enjoyed a victory at the 1993 Battlebowl and a substantial run against Brian Pillman while there.
He would make his way to Ohio Valley Wrestling in the late ’90s and held the Heavyweight Championship there three times, while also capturing a trio of tag titles with Dave the Rave and his Suicide Blondes partner, Jason Lee.
Rip Rogers on Becoming Head Trainer of Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW)
Traveling the roads finally caught up with Rip Rogers in 2000, when he was involved in an automobile accident that left him with a heavy limp in one leg due to his injuries.
Just before the accident, he took on the job of head trainer for OVW, which he maintains to this day. He has some of the biggest names in the business today in his list of past students. Names like John Cena, Dave Batista, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Mark Henry, Cody Rhodes, CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, Tye Dillinger (Shawn Spears), and Ruby Riott are just a drop in the bucket of the numerous careers Rip Rogers had a hand in teaching.
When talking about the differences between the business today and the way it was for him, Rogers was quick to point out where he saw the shifting of the business.
"It’s a lot different. It’s like night and day. You have the big guys that are looking to the indies now, and that’s where the opportunities are coming from right now. It’s not like it used to be when you could cut in through working a territory. It’s like a football camp now.
"Bigger wrestling promotions such as the WWE are looking for specific things now. Like, have you been on television before? Or do you have a relative working for the company? Having an athletic background is pretty important. They like professional athletes that are looking to get into the business. You have to be original, though. Being middle of the road is just playing it safe. Too many people are the same with their looks and styles, so you need to stand out from the rest."
Rogers also talked about the difference in career paths this generation of wrestlers takes.
"There’s just no real time out on the roads because there are only a couple of companies that you can make a living working for now. The money is way better than it used to be, though. The kids today can earn more money in a couple of years than it would take us old guys a career to get. Things move so much faster now. There really aren’t years spent on building a career unless you come up through the indies and work overseas."
Rip Rogers knows this business as well as anyone I’ve ever spoken with. His knowledge of not only the techniques but the psychology of the ring makes him an invaluable source of information for anyone that crosses paths with him. I can vividly remember his coming to the ring in ICW, with the strut of a heel and the bleached blond hair that made everyone take notice of The Hustler.
Rogers has a recommended book out entitled, The Book on Pro Wrestling: Lessons from Rip Rogers. The book is a compilation of his lessons and teachings in wrestling. Being able to understand and implement these lessons will significantly expand your knowledge and help any aspiring wrestler to further advance their career through the words and mind of one of the all-time great pro wrestling coaches.
I want to thank Rip, as well as all of you out there, for sitting down with us and peering behind Oz’s curtain into the land of professional wrestling as we uncover its treasures. As always, we urge you to seek shoot interviews and videos of Rip and take the time to learn something from a true, old-school legend.
Until next time, no matter what you do to get your foot in the door, when that opportunity is given, break it down!
In a highly entertaining interview, Rip Rogers and Lanny Poffo speak of their past and time on the road:
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