This exciting talent was born Robert Alex Szatkowski in his ring-announced hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan. Now 46 years old, Szatkowski made his big debut in 1987 whereby as a youth he appeared on WWF television and was offered $100 to degrade himself by kissing the foot of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
He had excelled in martial arts and gymnastics growing up and due to his physical resemblance to legendary kickboxer/actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, he adopted the “Van Dam” moniker for his in-ring performances, often simply being referred to as “RVD”. Despite his high-flying in the ring, his character was that of a laid back, Zen-embracing pot smoker.
He started off in the Michigan independents and then travelled extensively to wrestle, including a stint in All Japan Pro Wrestling.
In 1992, he appeared on World Championship Wrestling (WCW) as “Robbie V” and did nothing worthy of note during his one year stay.
Life changed for Van Dam when he entered Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in 1996. He challenged 2 Cold Scorpio (later Flash Funk in the WWE) for his World Television Championship to a draw.
He finally found his match in a long, physical and bitter feud with his arch-nemesis Sabu. Van Dam had known Sabu for a long while before wrestling against him as the two had received training together from the Original Sheik, the late Ed Farhat (who was Sabu’s uncle).
Eventually, Van Dam and Sabu were able to put aside their differences and function as a cohesive tag team, entering a short feud with Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat to victories.
Sabu and Van Dam had their sights set on tag team gold and were involved in a series of title challenges against “The Eliminators” (Perry Saturn and the late John Kronus). Despite some hard fought matches, the duo were not able to secure the straps.
In 1987, Van Dam and Sabu turned heel and Van Dam started to verbally berate ECW and its management, stating that he would be better suited for the WWE for WCW. Jerry “The King” Lawler had appeared on an episode of ECW as an “invader”, giving RVD a chance to start showing up at WWE shows as a heel.
After a short run, Van Dam returned to ECW, rejoined Sabu and started to feud with hardcore legends Tommy Dreamer and the Sandman. Dreamer and Van Dam would also have a series of solo bouts against one another with either side emerging victorious.
Van Dam’s high risk, high flying moves such as his signature “Rolling Thunder” and 5-star Frog Splash drew him popularity with fans, signaling a face turn. With this, he got a push by defeating Bam Bam Bigelow for his first taste of ECW gold, the World Television Championship.
Despite his solo success, Van Dam never gave up on his partnership with Sabu and the two went on to defeat Lance Storm and the late Chris Candido to capture the ECW Tag Team Championship, making Van Dam a double champion.
After a near 4 month run as champs, the two would drop the belts to the Dudley Boyz (Devon and Bubba Ray). As fate would have it, about 2 months later, Van Dam and Sabu re-captured the titles from the Dudleys in Japan, now making Van Dam a two-time double champion.
In 1998, Sabu and Van Dam were slated to defend the belts against the Dudleys. Sabu had been suspended from ECW prior to the bout, so Van Dam fought Bubba Ray in a solo effort with the tag titles on the line, losing the match and the titles in the process.
Van Dam continued to successfully defend the Television Championship against the likes of Jerry Lynn, the late Balls Mahoney and 2 Cold Scorpio. His reign to come to an end at 700 days (!) in January, 1999, not due to a loss, but rather due to him forfeiting the title as a result of an ankle fracture he sustained during a match against Rhyno.
Upon his return, Van Dam feuded with Rhyno who was now the ECW Television Champion, with Rhyno winning the bouts often due to interference from his colleagues.
As time went on, ECW was becoming more and more financially strapped and RVD stopped attending events as scheduled due to monies owed. He nonetheless never officially left the promotion until its purchase from the WWE in 2001.
During the horribly botched “Invasion” angle, Rob Van Dam as an ECW heel gained fan popularity and had one of the best matches of the whole angle against fellow high-flyer Jeff Hardy. The two would trade the WWE Hardcore title back and forth with Van Dam ultimately proving the victor.
He was involved in some high profile matches against Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson over the WCW Heavyweight Championship and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin over the WWF Championship to losing efforts.
Later in 2001, RVD would drop the Hardcore belt to the Undertaker (Mark Calloway) at the “Vengeance” Pay-Per-View event. He the set his sights on the WWE Intercontinental Championship then held by William Regal and would capture the strap for the first time from Regal at WrestleMania X8 in this writer’s hometown of Toronto, Ontario.
RVD was then drafted to the Raw brand and feuded with the late, great Eddie Guerrero whom he dropped the IC title to at the “Backlash” Pay-Per-View event. Just over one month later, Van Dam reclaimed the gold from Guerrero in a ladder match on Raw.
After a short feud against Brock Lesnar, Van Dam would achieve a milestone by unifying the WWE European title with the Intercontinental title by defeating old rival Jeff hardy. Van Dam would eventually lose the belt to the late Chris Benoit on Raw.
Van Dam did not lose his sights on the IC title and would eventually reclaim it for a third run after defeating Benoit at the “SummerSlam” Pay-Per-View event. He would go on to make WWE history yet again by defeating Tommy Dreamer for the WWE Hardcore title to unify with the IC title in a classic match that has to be seen to be believed.
He would next feud with Triple H and mentor “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. RVD would lose the IC title to Chris Jericho owing to interference from Flair and Triple H. He would then face Triple H again in the inaugural Elimination Chamber match, but would not be victorious.
His battles with Triple H were not through as the two would face one another in singles bouts. Triple H would also cause RVD to lose a title shot against WWE Heavyweight Champion “HBK” Shawn Michaels.
RVD would then return to the tag team circuit with an unlikely partner: The “Big Red Machine” Kane. RVD and Kane would partake in a 3-way elimination match for the WWE Tag Team titles against old rivals the Dudley Boyz and the team of Lance Storm and Chief Morley (Val Venis). RVD and Kane would emerge the victors, creating Van Dam’s first run as a WWE tag champion.
After a close to 3-month reign, Kane and RVD dropped the tag team belts to La Resistance (Rob Conway and Sylvian Grenier) during the “Bad Blood” Pay-Per-View event.
Kane would turn heel after he was forced to lose his mask and would start a feud with ex-partner Van Dam. The two had a memorable series of bouts with Kane on the winning end of things. The rivalry ended when Kane defeated RVD in a steel cage match on Raw.
2003 rolled around and Van Dam was able to capture the WWE Intercontinental belt from Christian in a ladder match for his fourth run. He had a number of successful title defenses, mostly against Christian and Chris Jericho before ultimately losing the title to Jericho when he submitted to Jericho version of the Boston Crab, “The Walls of Jericho”. Things changed however, when an angry “Stone Cold” Steve Austin demanded that the two fight each other again in a steel cage the same night which they did and Van Dam won the title back the same night as losing it for a remarkable 5th run as IC champion.
Throughout the remainder of 2003, Van Dam would feud with Randy Orton and the “Evolution” faction (Batista, Ric Flair and Triple H), eventually dropping the title to Orton in January, 2004. His rivalry with Evolution extended into tag teams when he and Booker T defeated Flair and Batista for the WWE Tag Team titles, making RVD a 2-time WWE Tag Team title holder, however shortly thereafter, they would drop the titles back to Evolution.
RVD was the traded to Smackdown! where he had several unsuccessful attempts to win back the WWE United States Championship. Given the success he had on the tag team circuit, RVD found a formidable partner in Rey Mysterio Jr. and the two high-flyers captured the WWE Tag Team Championship from Rene Dupree and fellow cruiserweight Kenzo Suzuki.
Due to pending surgery for a knee operation, Van Dam and Mysterio dropped the titles to Doug and Danny Bashem on SmackDown! so Van Dam could seek his medical attention.
After his knee had been repaired, RVD appeared back on Raw replete with knee brace when he was insulted and attacked by Carlito. RVD would gain his revenge 6 months later by eliminating Carlito in the Royal Rumble and by besting him in the first round of the Road to WrestleMania tournament.
After he won the 2006 “Money In The Bank” Ladder match, a challenge was issued such that Van Dam was to put his contract on the line in a match against all 5 members of Spirit Squad and in return, Shelton Benjamin would put the WWE IC title on the line against Charlie Haas. Benjamin and Van dam would lose both of their efforts and thus both the contract and the IC title were up for grabs at the “Backlash” Pay-Per-View event. Van Dam would go on to win the match and thus the title and the contract, but he would drop his 6th run as IC champion to Benjamin shortly after acquiring it.
In May of 2006, Van Dam would cash in his “Money in the Bank” contract and capture the WWE Heavyweight Championship from John Cena for the first time at the “ECW One Night Stand” Pay-Per-View event. ECW head honcho Paul Heyman re-christened the title the ECW Heavyweight title, thus making Van Dam a double world champion at the same time.
Van Dam would subsequently drop the ECW title to the Big Show and the WWE Championship to Edge in a 3-way dance also including John Cena.
Van Dam would then be suspended by the WWE for 30 days owing to drug possession charges.
Upon his return, he would make multiple failed attempts to re-capture the ECW title and finally gave up his pursuits. Instead, he joined a faction called the “ECW Originals” along with Sabu, Sandman and Dreamer. The ECW originals with feud with the “New Breed” of ECW talent including the likes of Matt Striker, Kevin Thorn, Marcus Cor Von (Monty Brown in TNA) and Elijah Burke (D’Angelo Dinero in TNA). The two teams would square off at WrestleMania XXIII with the Originals prevailing.
Van Dam would then re-visit a bitter rivalry against Randy Orton after receiving a concussion from Orton during a bout. The two had some very physical, stiff encounters and in their final match together, Orton delivered an elevated DDT on the concrete to Van Dam. At that point, RVD took a much needed break from WWE television.
For the next three years, Van Dam took to travelling the globe on the independents. He appeared in Japan, Spain and throughout Europe and captured some regional titles along the way.
In 2010, Van Dam showed up in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and made a splash by defeating Sting and then shortly after his debut, defeating AJ Styles for the TNA Heavyweight Championship. After a series of defenses in hardcore-style matches, Van Dam had to vacate the tile owing to injuries sustained as a result of an attack by Abyss and members of Ric Flair’s faction “Fourtune”.
He would eventually return to TNA Impact to gain revenge on Abyss but did not regain the title from then champion Jeff Hardy.
From 2011 to 2012, Van Dam would partake in TNA events across the globe including Japan and Mexico with multiple lost attempts to win the TNA Heavyweight Championship again. He would have feud with the likes of old rival Jerry Lynn and Christopher Daniels.
Returning to the US, Van Dam would lose shots at the heavyweight title against Bobby Roode and for the Television Championship against Samoa Joe.
In 2012, RVD would capture his first title in a while, the TNA X Division Championship over Zema Ion. He would hold the tile for an impressive 137 days facing any and all challengers the X Division could offer, ultimately losing to Kenny King.
Come 2013, RVD made a triumphant return to the WWE, blazing through a series of wins against Jericho, Wade Barrett and Darren Young. He would also win a non-title victory over Alberto Del Rio, but would fail to win the title from him in subsequent attempts.
He would remain in the WWE until late 2014 after multiple attempts to win the WWE Intercontinental title back to losing efforts.
From 2015 to present, Van Dam is active on the independent circuit. The man who calls himself “The Whole F’n Show” can certainly live up to the title. He has stood the test of time, had multiple championship runs and has won the fans over in whatever promotion he appears in. He is also in the process of launching RVD-TV, a reality based TV series about his life outside the ring. RVD is truly one of a kind.
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.