Source: Amy Kuperinsky of The Star-Ledger
Wearing a black tank top with gold metallic lettering, the muscled man steps onto the elliptical machine for a warm-up. It isn’t long before his deeply bronzed arms stray from the machine to check his hair.
As the man’s legs churn forward, said hair, frozen stiff and standing at least 3 inches above his head, is in no real danger of going anywhere.
“This hair is waterproof. Bulletproof,” the guy says. Mere hair gel will not do the trick. Instead, he uses something called hair glue. And it doesn’t matter how much, because there’s always more — the company that makes the adhesive is his sponsor.
This man is not Pauly D.
He’s Robbie E.
And though his appearance may conjure the grooming habits of the “Jersey Shore” kids — those denizens of MTV who made “gym, tan, laundry” a mantra — Robbie E is an entirely different type of entertainer. One who works in an arena where reality is no obstacle.
Robbie E, you see, is a professional wrestler.
As part of the Impact Wrestling roster, a franchise owned by TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Wrestling, Robbie — whose real name is Robert Strauss — can be seen weekly in matches on Spike TV. (“Impact Wrestling” airs tonight at 9.) Though he is from New Jersey, he didn’t grow up gelling his hair a la Pauly D. But Strauss has taken the “Jersey Shore” look and run with it.
“Robbie E is Rob Strauss,” says the wrestler, getting in a morning workout at Work Out World gym in Edison’s Menlo Park Mall.
Strauss, 30, lives in Holmdel and has much in common with the “GTL” gang. The gym, for one, is such a way of life that when Strauss, a frequent flier, gets off a plane, his first order of business is to get in a hotel workout. As for the “tan” part — well, Strauss’ toasted hue doesn’t come without some serious time at a local salon, where he spray tans and spends time in a tanning bed.
Standing in a spray booth at Soleil Tans in Edison, Strauss closes his eyes and holds his arms out in some faux-sun salutation, then mugs for a camera phone.
“BOOM! BOOM!” he bellows, motioning to each of his underarms, so an employee can hit them with the spray gun. He wears little pink and yellow caps on his fingers and toes. One of his worst fears is having his nails stained by the tint.
The video, he explains, is for social media, since part of his job is ministering to Twitter and Instagram followers.
Whether in the ring, gym or at the mic, if there’s a camera, he’s performing.
“It’s an addiction,” Strauss says. “You take people high and low. You make them laugh and cry.”
‘Living my dream’
Robbie E is also 24/7.
Monday through Wednesday: Gym. Tan. Spray tan. Eyebrows. (He threads.) Shave. Wax. (“Pro wrestling is a cosmetic business,” he says.)
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday: travel, film and wrestle. First, a flight to Cincinnati to film until midnight. At 6 a.m. the next morning, another to Arizona. The replica of an oversized victory belt travels with Strauss in a carry-on bag.(TSA agents, finding the hardware in his luggage, sometimes ask to take pictures with him.) As one half of the BroMans — the other is wrestler Jessie Godderz — Strauss last month won the belt when he became TNA world tag team champion.
The whole routine isn’t such a grind, Strauss says, because he’s craved the nonstop life for a pretty long time.
“I am living my dream every single day,” he says. “I don’t feel like I have a job.”
Growing up in Iselin, Strauss decided he wanted a future in professional wrestling when he was just 4 years old.
Now, given to wearing neon wrestling outfits reminiscent of brightly colored children’s underwear, Robbie E’s exclamations are half-“Sopranos” slang, half-“Jersey Shore” keg party: “AAYYOOHH!” he says. And “BROOOOOO!”
Rob Strauss became Robbie E because of “Jersey Shore.” As the MTV series rapidly shot into the lofty canon of pop culture, TNA bosses decided they would cast a wrestler with a similar vibe.
“It’s very hard to make a name for yourself,” says Strauss, who initially wrestled under the name Rob Eckos. Hearing the company wanted a Jersey look, he was up for the challenge.
“I had about three hours to become a whole new character,” he says.
Apart from the Pauly D blowout and abs that rival those of Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Impact Wrestling managed to preserve a few heavy hints of the “Shore” connection. For instance, Strauss once had a female sidekick named “Cookie,” meant to channel Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi. Ironically, Strauss’ act has managed to outlive “Jersey Shore.” Not that there aren’t plenty of antics to behold in his own show.
“Pro wrestling is the coolest male soap opera there is,” Strauss says.
Once a gym teacher
Though he starting training when he was 16, he hasn’t always been a full-time wrestler.
Before he joined TNA, Strauss was a gym teacher at Woodbridge High School. There was a time when he’d do both, returning from a TNA match to the awe of his students. He still visits the school and doesn’t rule out a return to education. The wrestler says he’s working on his master’s degree in administration.
But as long as Robbie E is wanted in the ring, Strauss says he won’t be straying.
The money is good, he promises — “nice triple figures.” When he was driving five hours to make $20 or $30, he sometimes thought he’d never make it.
Along the way, he found a mentor in Pat Kenney, another Jersey wrestler. “I think he was very tenacious,” Kenney says.
A wrestling agent for TNA, Kenney, 45, once wrestled as Simon Diamond for now-defunct Extreme Championship Wrestling.
“When you look at pro wrestling you look at it as fireworks,” says Kenney, of Colonia. “The reality of it is, it’s a tough living.”
Running with the “Jersey Shore” look achieved much for Rob’s career, he says — “It put him on TV.”
When Strauss was a teenager, his parents drove him to the Independent Wrestling Federation wrestling school in Woodland Park — often, three times a week. Now, he says his mother often flinches watching him on TV, even when he’s right there on the couch.
“She still can’t watch it because she thinks I’m going to get hurt,” he says. At first, Marlene Strauss didn’t know quite what to make of her son’s souped-up “Jersey Shore” character.
“I was amused by it in the beginning,” she says. Now, “I think he’s perfect for that part.”
She’s does throw in a little disclaimer: “I was thrilled that he did get his teaching degree.”
Impact Wrestling airs 9 p.m. Thursdays on Spike TV.