Robert William Howard was born January 29, 1963 in Glendale, California. He was raised in a single parent household by a tough working mother that had to work long hours to make ends met. This formed Howard’s core resiliency and determination to beat odds life dealt him.
He attended high school in Oregon and later relocated to Mobile, Alabama as he was a young dad at the time. He gained work experience with his love of cars by being a mechanic and later trained as a welder and pipe cutter.
All of these manual jobs helped to form Howard into what he became: as the late, great “Rowdy “ Roddy Piper would say: “one tough son-of-gun-dang-goat.”
The world-wary Howard trained under Rip Taylor, Marcelle Pringle, Stan “Uncle Elmer” Frazier, and Eddie Sullivan for professional wrestling and competed in various independents until he made his debut in World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
In WCW, he was used as a jobber; routinely losing matches to the likes of “The Total Package” Lex Luger, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and The Fabulous Freebirds on the tag team circuit.
After a very brief run in the WWF again as a jobber, Howard made his way to Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling as “Hollywood” Bob Holly, a heel that was very rich and snobby, not too far from Hunter Herst Helmsley’s initial character run in the WWF.
In 1994, he got an opportunity to wrestle in the WWF under the moniker of Thurman “Sparky” Plugg, a NASCAR driver who wrestled on the side. While the angle was compatible with Holly’s love of automobiles, it was a far cry from the tough as nails brawling character he was inside of himself. From 1994 – 1998, Holly was nothing more than a career jobber in the WWF, losing to efforts in SummerSlam, Survivor Series and Intercontinental Title bouts.
In 1998, Plugg ran a WWF sponsored car in the All Pro Series in the Mobile International Speedway. According to Holly’s autobiography, “The Hardcore Truth”, Holly detailed that Vince McMahon allowed Holly to own the car thereafter.
In 1998, Holly joined the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and tried to gain some notoriety as being one half of the “New Midnight Express”; a tag team concocted by the brilliant mind of Jim Cornette. Corny felt that combining Holly with fellow tough guy Bart Gunn would be a great idea and it was. The two won the NWA Tag Team Championship from the Headbangers and successfully defended it for almost 5 months.
Holly also participated in the “Brawl for All”, a WWF shooter fight tournament, ultimately won by Holly’s partner Bart Gunn. While the two remained friends, they did fight against one another in the gloved spectacle and Holly was the only one of Gunn’s opponents not to be legitimately knocked out, losing strictly by points. Author’s note: listen to Jim Cornette’s shoot on the event on YouTube. His comments on Bart Gunn are very interesting as is his outlook on the whole event in general which he called, “f**kin’ stupid”.
In 1998, Holly returned to WWF as “Bob Holly” and became part of a faction known as the “J.O.B. Squad” with members Gillberg, The Blue Meanie, Al Snow and Too Cold Scorpio. While all members had in-ring talent, the WWF did not see it in themselves to give them a push, so they were reneged to “jobber” status, hence the name of the faction in a breaking of kayfabe rules at the time.
The J.O.B. squad was officially disbanded when Holly defeated Snow for the Hardcore Championship and re-christened himself “Hardcore Holly”.
As the Hardcore rules were, the champion had to defend the title 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, hence competitors were gaining and losing the title sometimes in minutes, if not seconds. Holly lost and regained the title in various matches including those from Snow and Gunn.
The WWE found it appropriate to boost Holly by adding in some new kayfabe cousins alongside him. These included female cousin Nora “Molly Holly” Greenwald and the late Mike “Crash Holly” Lockwood. Eventually the tag team tandem of Hardcore and Crash won the WWE Tag Team titles, but lost them two weeks later to Hardcore legends Mick Foley (aka Cactus Jack, aka Mankind aka Dude Love) and Al Snow (aka Leif Cassidy).
From there on in, things went largely downhill for Holly. He lost Intercontinental Title bouts to Joanie “Chyna” Lauer, as well s matches against the Big Show and Chris Jericho.
Holly was able to regain the Hardcore Championship in 2000 from cousin Crash, but as soon as he got it, it was gone. He later had losing efforts to Kurt Angle (who legitimately broke Holly’s arm), William Regal and Undertaker.
In order to keep Holly active in the WWE, he was given a chance at being a trainer for a reality show known as “Tough Enough” whereby wrestlers trying to break into the WWE could compete in order to secure a contract on television. Holly appeared in Tough Enough Season II and was then sidelined in order to treat a variety of serious injuries including a broken neck courtesy of Brock Lesnar.
Holly returned in Season III of the series and in one episode, went completely nuts and viscously beat a contender, Matt Cappotelli in order to teach him what wrestling is all about. The footage is quite disturbing and is available for viewing on YouTube. Holly is so bitter and so angry, his stiff shots caused bleeding over Cappotelli’s face. Capppotelli held no ill will against Holly and considered it a good learning experience.
Between 2003 – 2006 Holly jobbed around, losing to tag team bouts with old comrade Billy Gunn and in Championship shots against JBL. During this period he also underwent surgery for an infected arm which thankfully did not have to be amputated.
In 2006, Holly made his debut in ECW aligning himself with Paul Heyman. It was here that Holly really stood out as a hardcore legend by sustaining a severe back laceration during a bout against Rob Van Dam, and still continued with the bout despite his obvious serious injury. The fans never, ever forgot and started cheering the heel Holly as a result.
Holly later competed in the Elimination Chamber match, and Royal Rumble to losing efforts. He did break CM Punk’s undefeated streak in ECW.
In 2007, Holly won a series of bouts against Cody Rhodes and eventually formed a tag team with him, although the two lost at their title shot against the late Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch.
The two would eventually gain the gold by defeating Murdoch and Cade on the 15th Anniversary Episode of Raw. The two would successfully defend for more than 6 months, ultimately losing as Rhodes backstabbed Holly and joined forces with Ted DiBiase Jr.
Hardcore Holly ended his 15 year career with WWE in 2009 and has continued in the independents ever since, including Total Nonstop Action (TNA).
He and his wife are the founders of the Bob Holly Wrestling Academy in beautiful Mobile, Alabama, shaping the new face of wrestling talent around the globe.
Bob Holly is a hardcore legend that cannot be forgotten in WWE history. He has endured the ups and downs and political side of the business and while never achieving Heavyweight Championship gold in the big leagues, nonetheless built himself a reputation as one of the toughest competitors around.
Special thanks to Dr. Stephen Balsky for contributing the above wrestler profile.
Dr. Stephen Balsky is a chiropractor currently in practice in his native Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has been a wrestling fan since age 13 and is very passionate about the product, especially the “old-school” 80’s – 90’s era. He completed his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in 2015 and currently is also working part-time as a professor in both business and healthcare.