ear Page Joseph Falkinburg,
Everything starts with a bang.
No, seriously: a bang. A fucking car crash.
It’s the winter of 1968, in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, and you’re 12 years old and you’re running late for the bus. Well, technically — you’re running early. You and your friend Stan will have this thing, back in the day, where the two of you will try to catch the bus early to school.
Courtesy of Diamond Dallas Page
See, normally, the bus will only pick up kids on the side streets, later in its route. But you guys’ll have it figured — that if you cut through early, and flag down the bus on Route 88, then you can take it the whole way instead of having to walk to the pickup. There are two huge upsides here: One, less walking in the cold. And two, the longer you’re on the bus, the more time there is to flirt with girls, and joke around with your friends — you know, before the boring part of school has to start.
It’s a great system. But on this particular day, you’re going to be running late — because of an argument with your grandmother about wearing boots. (“I. Don’t. Have. To. Wear. Boots!!!” you’ll tell her. Uhh, yeah, Dallas … you do.) So you’re running late, and you’re feeling totally uncool from having to wear these enormous galoshes, and you’re mad as hell about it. And like any mad-as-hell 12-year-old boy … you won’t really be focusing on much else, besides how mad (as hell) you are. Plus it’s snowing, it’s sleeting — it’ll be one of those days where it’s just hard to think straight.
And then suddenly, through the snow, almost out of nowhere, the bus will catch your eye. It’ll be on its way, and — oh, shit! — it’s getting closer. You’re going to miss it … unless you hurry.
You’ll yell to Stan, up ahead of you, “Hold the bus!” — and then you’ll start sprinting across the street.
And you won’t even see it.
You’ll run smack — BANG — right in front of an oncoming car. Smack — BANG — right into the heart of the windshield, which smashes you so hard that it sends you flying, I mean flying, 40 or so feet clear in the air. Until the next thing you know, you’re waking up, and there’s this crowd of people gathering around you. Staring at you. Talking to you.
You’re lying splat on the pavement.
On the other side of the street.
You’ll survive … but it won’t all be good news.
You’ll track down this doctor in New York City, a Dr. Nicholas — this big-deal orthopedic surgeon for the Jets and the Giants. (They’ll say he “worked wonders” on Joe Namath.) And after some serious research, and serious begging, you’ll convince your mom to take you — and your shredded knee — on a trip to New York to see this guy. But Dr. Nicholas … he’s going to give you one look, kid … and then deliver what’ll feel like a pretty brutal assessment.
Courtesy of Diamond Dallas Page
“Son,” he’ll say, “you’re not going to be the next Joe Namath — that I can promise you. Your days as an athlete are over. You should go hit the books.”
Well … shit.
Sounds bad, I know.
But what Dr. Nicholas isn’t going to know — when he says that you’re not going to be the “next Joe Namath” — is that you’re going to be the first … of your very own thing. You’re going to be the first “Diamond” Dallas Page.
You’re going to be a professional wrestler.
I get it — you have a lot of questions. We’ll get to those. But for now, all I can tell you, is: Kid … just start working on those pecs.
Just start working those pecs, bro. Because if you think your knee, or your back, or your ribs are hurting — after a car crash? Just wait till your chest is on the receiving end of a Macho Man flying elbow. After one of those, you’ll swear to God that your entire body exploded into a million pieces.
Hang on — I can already tell: You’re rolling your eyes. I know you, Dallas. (Remember — I am you.) You’re reading this letter … and I can already picture you: just rolling those big blue eyes right out of your head. And I know why, too.
It’s because you still think wrestling is fake.
Nah, kid. Check yourself.
It may be staged … but it sure as hell ain’t fake.
That flying elbow from Savage? You can’t fake gravity. That elbow hurts, dude — holy shit it hurts. Like, for real it hurts. And before it’s all said and done, you’re going to take at least a couple hundred of them.
You’ll be put through tables … beat with chairs … and whipped with leather belts. You’ll break bones … you’ll rip tendons … and you’ll get concussed once so badly that you’ll be asking your future ex-wife, Kimberly, if you even wrestled that night. That’s some shit, right? Yeah, well … that’s the downside.
Here’s the upside: “Superstar” Billy Graham, “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, Dusty Rhodes, Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Hulk Hogan — those larger-than-life guys that you’ll watch on TV throughout the ’70s and ’80s as a fan? You’re going to work with almost all of them. No, I’m not bullshitting you.
Just wait, you’ll see.
You’re about to live a crazy fucking life.
You’re about to become DDP.
It’ll all start one night in Asbury Park.
Yep, right at home in New Jersey — where you and John, a buddy of yours, will be hanging and drinking outside the Convention Hall in the summer of ‘78. You’ll be there to catch that night’s WWWF (soon to be WWF) card — and since there’s no AC in the building (welcome to wrestling, kid), you guys will head outside at intermission to cool down. Nothing to it, really, just passing the time. Suddenly, though, you’ll look down toward the beach — and it’ll be the strangest goddamn thing: You’ll see Greg Valentine. The Hammer! One of that era’s great wrestlers, standing on the balcony … not far at all from you and John.
You guys will run down to the beach.
And then, right then, you’ll have an epiphany. Maybe it’s the alcohol in your system, or maybe it’s fate, or maybe it’s a little bit of both — but you’ll decide to seize that window of opportunity in front of you before it’s gone.
“Hammer!” you’ll yell, as loud as you can, trying to get his attention. “Yo, Hammer! How do I get into wrestling?!”
He’ll take a long look at you … and a few more moments to consider his reply. And then he’ll say the magic words.
Then he’ll turn around, away from the beach, and walk back inside.
Tough one, kid. But don’t take it the wrong way — honestly. I think what Hammer will be trying to tell you, in that moment, in his own Hammer way, is that the politics of wrestling … they can be very complicated. Wrestling, it’s not something that you can just drunkenly yell your way into. That whole world — it starts out almost like … this secret society, if that makes sense. And like any good secret society, there isn’t an easy way in. Well, not unless you already know somebody. Which means there definitely aren’t any shortcuts for an outsider like you.
But that’s O.K. — you’ll just outwork everyone else, right?
Bro, what’s crazy is … you almost will. You’ll work your ass off. You’ll work so hard that, at just 22 years old, you’ll catch your first break — and you’ll finally get to step into the ring for the first time. Like … this is it, dude, for real: a professional wrestling match. “Handsome” Dallas Page — that’s you. Yeah, you’re only in some tiny fucking cramped little legion hall in Jersey City … but as far as you’re concerned, you might as well be in Madison Square Garden. Bro, you made it.
Except … you didn’t make it.
About 10 minutes into “Handsome” Dallas Page’s third-ever match, he’ll shred his knee — again — and that’ll be it.
I mean … that’s it, right? That has to be it.
Bad knees, no friends in the business, no money … how could that not be it?
Yeah, Dallas — that’s it. You’re through. Nice try, shitty luck, it happens.
So what now?
Courtesy of Diamond Dallas Page
Well, you’ll dust yourself off, and eventually you’ll go full time into the nightclub business. (The nightclub business? Yeah, the nightclub business. Try to keep up.)
Before too long, you’ll even open up your own place. It’ll be a spot called Norma Jean’s — this rock-and-dance bar in the southwest of Florida. That’ll be your next chapter — the three B’s: booze, broads, and bullshit. And there’ll be no fucking shortage of each, let me tell you. You’ll surround yourself with a nonstop party.
As for that whole wrestling thing? You’ll still watch it, like the fan you’ve always been — but you’ll know that you’re never going to step inside a ring again. That ship has sailed, kid, and it’ll hurt. In fact, it’ll hurt so much — and you’ll hate to be reminded of “what could have been,” so much — that you’ll even try to quit watching it on TV, once or twice. But it’ll never take. Every time you’ll flip past it … bro, it’s like a drug. You won’t be able to help it but flip right back and tune in.
Every time you’ll hear Jesse “the Body” Ventura or “Nature Boy” Ric Flair cut a promo, all costumed up like rock stars … or watch Jake “the Snake” Roberts talk or wrestle like the genius that he is … I’m telling you, bro: You’ll get this feeling in the back of your head. You’ll hear this tiny little voice start whispering. And that voice — it will always whisper the same fucking thing.
I could do that.
Then one night, right out of the blue, it’s going to go down like this:
A guy who looks like Jake Roberts is going to walk into your nightclub. Yeah, that Jake Roberts. The wrestler — the wrestling god — that you keep seeing every time you turn on your TV. The guy who’s so fucking talented with a mic in his hand that it almost gets you high.
Alright, kid, you don’t want to blow this. But at the same time … you also want to keep your cool. It’s your move, Dallas — what’s it going to be?
Here’s the move: You go up to a few of your employees by the bar, real casual. And you tell ’em, “Wow, that guy over there — he looks like Jake Roberts.”
And then one of them says what — let’s be honest — you were hoping one of them would say, all along: “Dallas … that is Jake Roberts. That’s him.”
O.K., then. You walk over.
“Excuse me — are you Jake Roberts?”
Jake turns to you.
“Who wants to know?”
“Uhh. The guy who runs this place.”
“Is that you?”
“Alright. Then, yeah, I’m Jake Roberts.”
He’ll probably be expecting you to say something else, at this point — but you won’t be thinking nearly far enough ahead for that. Bro … not even close. In that moment? All you’ll be thinking about is how you’re suddenly one good line away from having an all-time inroad to that secret society — that wrestling pipe dream that you just can’t ever seem to get out of your head.
You think long and hard about the right thing to say.
It’s so obvious.
“What are we drinking?”
Courtesy of Diamond Dallas Page
It’s a match made in heaven: A wrestler who loves to drink … and a mark offering free booze. Before long, you and Jake will hit it off and become casual friends. And soon after that, bro … you won’t even believe this: Norma Jean’s Dance Club — your very own Norma Jean’s — is going to become a regular spot for wrestlers to hit when they come through Southwest Florida.
It’ll feel … well, it’ll feel fucking amazing at first. You’ll start getting to know all of these famous pro wrestlers. You’ll start collecting all of these famous pro-wrestler drinking buddies. At one point, no lie, you’ll even get into a Cuervo-chugging competition with “The Million Dollar Man” himself, Ted DiBiase. (Nobody officially remembers who won, but let’s be real — nobody officially remembers a lot of those nights.) Anyway, yeah, like I said — at first? Come on, bro.
It’ll be amazing.
But then reality will set in — and this will be the reality: The wrestlers? They’ll come through Norma’s … and then they’ll get back on the road. But you? Kid, when they leave, you’ll still be at the bar. You might be drinking with them….
But you won’t be one of them.
Girls just want to have fun.
No, kid, I’m not telling you that girls just want to have fun — it’s a lyric. It’s the title of this song by Cyndi Lauper. Gonna be a real big hit in the ’80s. And because of it? Your entire world will never be the same.
I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how it’s going to be: One slow night in ’87, after hours at Norma Jean’s, DJ Johnny M is going to play that fucking “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” music video. And right as it’s playing, you’re going to look up at the TV set … and you’re gonna see it. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, bro: That’s “Captain” Lou Albano, wrestling’s own, making a cameo in the video.
“Rock and wrestling,” you’ll mumble under your breath. “I should’ve been a part of that.”
Rock and wrestling — that’s the life that Captain Lou is living. It’s your two favorite things in the entire world (besides booze), shaken together. It’s almost like this … movement, and you can feel it quickly gaining steam. And just as quickly, you can feel it leaving you behind.
But within a few minutes, you’ll forget about the video. You’ll go back to whatever it is that you were doing — and forget you even said anything. (Forgetting is something that you’ll have gotten pretty good at, by 31, when it comes to your dreams.)
About 10 minutes after that, though … something interesting will happen. While you’re in the back office counting the night’s money, Smokey — your head bartender — will walk in with a question.
“Hey, Page, what’s all that, that you were mumbling earlier — you know, that thing about ‘rock and wrestling’ … and how you ‘should have been a part of that.’ What’d you mean?”
By now, the other managers are coming into your office to count their money — and of course to take part in end-of-the-night shots and beers. So you’ve suddenly got a bit of a crowd. Just what you want when you’re getting ready to spill some embarrassing shit from your 20s.
“Wrestling, man,” you tell Smokey. “I tried it when I was 22.”
“Seriously?” Smokey will say. “You’re kidding. What was your name?”
“Nah, bro, totally serious. I was ‘Handsome’ Dallas Page.”
“Wheeew, well, you could never use that gimmick today,” Smokey will shoot back, and of course everyone will laugh their asses off — before going back to counting up money and drinking. But you … you’ll be in too deep now, kid. Now those wrestling thoughts will be in your head, and there’ll be no getting away from them. So while everyone else is focusing on their cash and booze (I think it was Goldschläger shots that night), you’ll start doodling in this blotter pad that you have in front of you — just sort of in your own world. They won’t even notice.
That is, until you pop your head up, and — like no less than a fucking bolt of lightning just hit you — say the three words that will change your life forever.
“Diamond Dallas Page.”
“Huh?” They’re confused. But you barely even notice — you’re on a roll now.
“I mean, I’m 31 — I’m too old to be a wrestler now. But you know what I could be? A manager. What if my name was Diamond Dallas Page!” And whether it’s the idea itself or just the fact that everyone is hammered at that point, you’ll never know … but the entire room seems to love it. So you’ll toast more shots — and now you’re really off and running.
“You know how Jimmy Hart has the Hart Foundation? Well, O.K., what if I had … the Diamond Exchange?” More cheers, more shots.
“And what if I had a whole entourage full of hot — I’m talking smoking hot — ladies, and I called them … the Diamond Dolls?” More cheers, more shots.
“Oh that’ll be a stretch,” Smokey says, and everyone laughs.
By now half the room is passed out drunk — and to be honest, you might’ve sworn that the entire night was a passed-out dream yourself. That is … if you didn’t happen to wake up with your face stuck to a notepad — the very same notepad where you had written it all down.
The Diamond Dolls. The Diamond Exchange.
Diamond. Dallas. Page.
Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
That next week, a local cable show called Party News Network will do a story on you. Well, not you exactly — they’ll do a story on the guy who does “the Voice” in the radio commercials for Norma Jean’s, which have started to get some local attention. And that’s you, kid — you’re “the Voice.” They’ll film you at the radio station, and then in your ’62 pink Cadillac, and then finally in your office at Norma Jean’s. And you’ll be in that office of yours, sitting right at your desk, when the interviewer will ask you a certain question.
“Where does the Voice come from?”
Huh. Where the fuck DOES it come from?
And at that very moment, as you’re searching for an answer, you’ll look down … and what are the odds: You’ll see all of those notes that you wrote from the week before on that blotter pad. You’ll also see a pair of white sunglasses — and then, as if by instinct, you’ll pick them up, slide them on … and, kid? It’s like something inside of you will just click.
“The Voice comes from Diamond Dallas Page, DADDY. I was born to be a professional wrestling manager. It’s big … it’s bad … it’s … the N-N-N-Norma Jean’s Voice!”
Pretty cool, right?
You’ll get to act out your biggest dreams, and pretend to be this real-life wrestling personality for a day — and you’ll get to do it all on TV, too.
And then … that’s it! That’s where your story stops.
How’s that for a happy ending?
Nah, I’m just kidding.
How’s this for crazy: The day after the interview airs, a guy named Smitty will call you, tell you he loved you on Party News Network … and ask you to do his radio show — as Diamond Dallas Page! And wait, it gets even crazier: The other guest on the show that day? It’s going to be none other than “Captain” Lou Albano. WTF, right???
You’ll actually almost not do the show. You’ll know that you’re just making this stuff up as you go along … and you’ll be worried that they’re eventually going to find out how full of shit you are. So here’s some of the most important advice I’ll ever give you, kid: Fake it till you make it! That might not be the most original sentiment — but it’s unoriginal for a reason: It’s fucking true.
Don’t be scared of your bullshit, bro. Embrace your bullshit.
It’ll be the most honest thing you ever do, in a way.
And it’ll be the beginning of it all.
You’ll do Smitty’s show, and kid … you’ll be a natural. You’ll be such a natural, in fact, that he’ll invite you back, and you’ll do another one — this time with Sgt. Slaughter (who will be amazingly gracious to you). The night after your second appearance, Smitty will take you out for a couple of drinks, and he’ll try his best to convince you that you need to do something with this “Diamond” character. You’ll try to shrug it off — what could he mean, “do something” with it? It doesn’t even exist, really. To you, it’s still just some … idea in your head. But Smitty, bless his heart, will insist. And he’s going to give you the name and address of a friend of his, this guy Rob Russen — who works for the American Wrestling Association.
The AWA?! Bro, that’s big time. At first, though … you’ll have no idea what to even do with that info. You’re a nobody. What are you supposed to do … just … call them up?! But pretty soon it’ll come to you — it’ll be that same old refrain: Fake it till you make it.
Seriously, kid, it’s as simple as that. You’re a nobody? Alright … well … then pretend you’re a somebody! And that’s exactly what you’ll do. You’ll round up three friends — buddies of yours from Norma’s — and you’ll create these characters for each of them. Then you’ll get some waitresses from Norma’s to play the Diamond Dolls. And then last but not least, you’ll get another buddy who owns a camera to film and edit. That’s your crew. And with that ragtag group, you’re going to set out to make the greatest audition tape there ever was: just you, in full character, as “DDP” — flanked by “Rock Hard Rick,” “Big Badd John,” a little person named “Ted E. Bear,” and, of course, the Diamond Dolls. You’ll cut your very first wrestling promo on that tape, and you’ll give it everything you’ve got. And then you’ll send that tape to Rob Russen, Smitty’s friend, at the AWA.
And believe it or not? Two weeks later, Rob Russen is actually going to call you.
“Hey, this Rob Russen, from the AWA. Is Diamond Dallas Page there?”
Don’t hang up on him. “Yeah, this is DDP.”
“So, we want to bring you and your boys out to Vegas for an AWA tryout. One question, though: I’ve shown your tape around, and everybody likes your shtick. But it’s the strangest thing — no one, and I mean no one, has ever heard of you before. Where are you guys working?”
“Ahh … emm … well … hmm.” Fake it till you — ahh, fuck. “We actually might have one small problem, Rob. See, none of those guys on that tape … can … umm … wrestle … yet.”
“Wait. Why would you send us a wrestling tape — if the boys on the tape can’t wrestle???”
“Well, you know, the whole business, it’s like this secret society, and no one can figure how to get in, and, you know, you’ve gotta understand, Rob, we just figured—”
Alright, so that didn’t go very well.
But if you regret making that tape, kid, let me tell you something: Don’t.
Courtesy of Diamond Dallas Page
Because a little while later, this brilliant fucking guy, Paul E. Dangerously, aka Paul Heyman (remember that name), is going to leave the AWA, and head to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). And when he leaves, that’s going to create this huge void in the AWA for a young manager type who can talk. And when it comes time for them to fill that void….
Yup: Rob Russen is going to remember your goddamn tape.
Before you know it, before you can even blink, you’ll be managing the AWA tag-team champs, Badd Company (Paul Diamond and Pat Tanaka), and the AWA women’s champ, Madusa Miceli — on freaking ESPN.
ESPN, kid. Good gawd!
Suddenly, all of your drunken, back-office dreams … they’re going to start turning into reality: It’ll be Diamond Dallas Page and his Diamond Exchange, accompanied by his Diamond Dolls. It’ll be big white glasses … flashy rings … and gold-plated necklaces. It’ll be night after night of smoking cigars, chewing bubble gum, and managing champions.
It’ll be one of the greatest feelings in the entire world: the feeling that you have it all figured out.
You have no idea.
“Dallas, I’ve got Dusty Rhodes on the phone for you.”
Alright, kid. This is the part of the story where you practically shit your pants.
One night, out of the blue, you’ll get a call from the legendary Michael Graham at Florida Championship Wrestling. He’ll tell you that Dusty Rhodes is in his office right now, and he’s looking to bring in new talent to FCW.
Now hang on. Back the fuck up.
DUSTY … RHODES?! The American Dream?! Dusty Rhodes — the American Fucking Dream?! Maybe the single most iconic wrestler that you ever watched when you were growing up … is on the phone … right now … for you.
“Umm … well … uhh well Mm … Mike, umm … I got nothing prepared. Can … can you maybe just … show him the video tape I sent you?”
“The video machine is broken. You’re on with Dusty.”
Dusty Rhodes, a certified wrestling GOD, is suddenly on the other end of the line. What do you do? Seriously — what the hell do you do in a situation like that???? Ya know, it’s funny, though, how the brain works when it’s under pressure: Without even a half a second to think, you launch into this … thing. I don’t even know what to call it. It’s like this full-blown … psycho … tangent … of every Dusty Rhodes, Captain Lou & Jesse Ventura promo that you can ever remember. And of course you’re gonna throw your own shit in too…
“Good gawd! Dusty Rhodes! The American Dream! The Tower of Power, the Man of the Hour, too sweet to be sour getting funky like a monkey in Florida Championship Wrestling with — who else — but me! D-D-P — Diamond Dallas Page! Good GAWD!”
Dusty Rhodes, a certified wrestling god, is suddenly on the other end of the line. What do you do? Seriously — what the hell do you do in a situation like that????
You go on and on for about another 30 seconds till you run out of gas.
It’s like you almost black out from the adrenaline. It’s like something — this thing, this voice inside your head — that just takes hold of you, and you almost become a version of Dusty Rhodes. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever experienced before.
By the time you finish, you’ll be out of breath — and for whatever reason, you’ll start apologizing. “That’s all I’ve got right now, Dusty. Uhh, man … I wish you could’ve seen the video tape I sent Mike. I’m sorry, bro. Oh, and also — I got strep throat.”
What the fuck, Dallas? Strep throat? But it’s just any excuse that you can think of at this point. Anything so Dusty knows that this was all last-minute — all off the top of your head. Anything so Dusty knows that you can do better.
You’ll wait for him to respond. And you’ll wait … and kid: you’ll wait.
Dead. Fucking. Silence. On the other end.
“Hel … lo? He- Hello … Dusty … are you still there?”
In reality about 10 seconds or so go by — but trust me, it’s gonna feel like 10 minutes.
Finally — Finally, though, The American Dream will speak.
“Was that a … re-cor-din’, kid?”
“No! Dusty, that was me. That was just me, all off the top of my head, bro.”
More dead silence. Another long pause.
“You should come into my office, kid. I’d like to see you in person.”
There’s really no underplaying this, kid, so I won’t even try: Meeting Dusty Rhodes will be the most defining moment in your entire life.
Dusty will sit you down … ask you about your past … ask you about your goals.
You’ll hit it off almost instantly.
And even having just met, it’ll feel like you’ve known each other for years.
“I see some Jesse Ventura in you,” he’ll tell you. “I see some Captain Lou. And I even see a little of me in you.”
It’s in this moment that you’ll make it your mission, your absolute mission, to work with “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes someday … no matter what it takes. And that mission, bro — it’ll be the beginning of a relationship that will last almost 30 years: from that first day in his office … until his last day on this earth. He will become your mentor, your brother, one of your closest confidants, and yeah — even your friend.
But that all comes later.
For now, kid? Here’s what you need to know:
In 1991, Dusty Rhodes will finally return to World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
And one of the first people he’ll bring in … is Diamond Dallas Page.
In WCW, you’ll start out by managing the Fabulous Freebirds — tag-team legends and eventual Hall of Famers. You’ll also manage a talented young stud named Scott Hall, who will begin to realize his potential under your management as — no point overthinking it — “The Diamond Stud.” One ambitious manager, two promising acts … at that point, you’ll feel like your career is really taking off.
But apparently not. Because five months later, Magnum T.A. (Dusty’s right hand man) is going to come up to you, and let you know: Kid, you’re done.
“I’m sorry, Diamond, but you’re done managing.”
Done?? Done managing?! Wait, what??
“Mags,” you’ll say, heartbroken, “what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing really, D, honest truth,” he’ll tell you. “It’s just, with the hair … the bling … the clothes … the dolls … for a manager, you’re taking way too much attention off the boys — you know what I mean? They’re the ones that gotta draw the money.”
You’ll be stunned.
“Mags … hang on … let me get this straight. Are you telling me … that I’m too over-the-top … for PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING?”
He’ll kind of laugh … half agreeing with you, and half out of pity. And then he’ll say, “D, it’s not your fault, bro. It’s really not your fault. What we probably should have done was just give you a pair of tights and boots — and see if you could do this. See if you could do this for real.”
It’s 1991, you’re 35 and a half years old, you have two bad knees and seven months left on your contract.
Right then and there, kid, you will make the decision.
You’re going to become a professional wrestler.
You’ll go down to the WCW Power Plant in Atlanta, to get trained by “The Assassin” Jody Hamilton.
And for those first few months … it’s going to be absolutely brutal.
Not just because of how hard the training is (though it’ll be insanely hard). But also because — come on, you’re no idiot. You’ll hear all the jokes, hear all the guys laughing in the back, about this 36-year-old rookie who thinks he’s going to go from managing to wrestling.
Do me a favor, though, alright? Keep in mind this saying — I think Einstein might have said it first: “It’s not that I’m so smart … I just stay with the problems longer.” That’ll be you, kid. You’ll stick with the problem longer. And somewhere around the 100-day mark? What do you know — you’ll finally earn Jody’s respect.
“I have no idea what’s gotten into your head,” he’ll say. “But keep it there, and you might have a shot at this.”
Slowly but surely, they’ll start letting you do some house shows (shows with no TV cameras). You’ll suck — oh, brother, you’ll suck — during those first couple of matches, but don’t worry about it. Just take your lumps, learn from your mistakes, and keep at it. It’ll get better. One night, you’ll even catch a break and get put into your very own tag team. It’ll be called the Vegas Connection — and it’ll be you and this handsome, talented, 6′ 10” dude, Kevin Nash, who’ll go by the name “Vinnie Vegas.” (The team won’t last long, but you’ll form a friendship with Kevin that’ll last a lifetime.)
And then one day at the Power Plant … just a normal day, about nine months into your training … a familiar face will walk in.
You won’t have seen him in a pretty long while. Man … a few years, easy. He couldn’t possibly recognize you … right? You guys had just been casual drinking buddies — and not even for that long. But you’ll walk over to him, anyway.
And wouldn’t you know it….
The guy I.D.’s you on the spot.
And suddenly you’ll be bros again — better bros than ever. You and Nash will become this sort of traveling entourage for Jake. And by that, of course, I mean you’ll follow him wherever he goes, and get hammered with him every night.
But then one night, while teaming with Kevin, you’ll tear your rotator cuff — and that will be all she wrote for the Vegas Connection. And since you won’t be able to work with a bum shoulder … well, sorry, kid: You’ll get let go from your WCW contract, pretty much on the spot. Feels unfair, I know. But that’s the nature of the business.
And yet, just when things seem like they’re at their darkest … Jake will call you to check in.
Turns out you’ll both be in a pretty bad place, in that moment. You, with your injury, and being out of a job. And then Jake … well, as he’ll soon tell you, Jake will be in the process of splitting up with his wife. And maybe it’s fate or something — man, who the fuck knows. But only a short while after being brought back into each other’s lives at the Power Plant … you’ll somehow talk Kimberly (your wife at the time) into letting Jake move into the spare room in your basement.
Kid, let me say that one more time: Jake “the Snake” Roberts … is about to be moving into your basement.
Life, bro. It’s strange, isn’t it?
All I can say about this next period of your journey, Dallas, is that you better be fucking paying attention. Because class will be in session in a serious way over these next few years — and it’ll be the only schooling you’ll ever need.
I’m talking about Jake “the Snake” Roberts University.
I’m talking about you, with your bum shoulder … and Jake, with what he’s going through on his end … just sitting on your couch … enjoying each other’s company … and watching match, after match, after match. It’s crazy how much knowledge Jake will have about wrestling — how, after just a few match tapes, he’ll be attuned to your tendencies better than you are yourself. It’s like he’ll know every move, every detail of every match, before it even happens — and not just know, as in predict, but know, as in understand. Kid, it’ll be like sitting on the couch and watching an instant replay of your life … with God himself.
Courtesy of Diamond Dallas Page
At first, though, you won’t quite get it. You’ll appreciate what Jake is doing for you, of course … but you won’t quite see the full value in it — or at least, not enough to see that these sessions on the couch aren’t midterms. They’re final exams. “Bro, this is great,” you’ll tell Jake. “Now we’ve just gotta wait until my shoulder is right again — so I can get in the ring with you.”
But Jake will smarten you up.
“Dallas, that’s the wrong attitude,” he’ll tell you. “You know how to do all the moves, bro. You already know how to do them. That’s the easy part. The hard part is learning when to do — and more important, why to do — what you’re doing out there. That’s the part that you still need to learn. You still need to learn how to tell a story, a real story, in the ring. You still need to learn how you get the people to care. That’s your ticket, pal. And you can just trust me on this one: You’re going learn more from me, right now, sitting on this couch, watching your matches … than you ever will learn from me in the ring.”
And of course Jake will be right.
By the time your freshman year is over at Jake Roberts U — that is, when your shoulder fully heals — you’ll be on your way to becoming a whole new wrestler. Now you won’t just be able to work a match … you’ll be able to think a match.
Now you’ll be ready to start to make a name for yourself in this business.
After working the indie circuit for about a year with Jake, you’ll make your way back to WCW as a solo wrestler in ‘93 — but still no one will see your potential. You’ll only be used on TV once in a blue moon, and you’ll very rarely be put on the road.
One day, though, unannounced, Dusty Rhodes is going to decide to swing by the Power Plant. He’s going to sit quietly where no one can see him … and he’s going to spend the day assessing talent. You’ll be doing your usual thing — with absolutely no idea that he’s there.
That is, until the end of the day — when Dusty will pull you over.
“Dream?! What are you doing here, bro?”
“Oh, I been here, all day … just watchin’.”
“So … umm … how am I doin’?”
Courtesy of Diamond Dallas Page
“Well, I know you’ve always seen yourself as one of the boys … as this … top guy in our business. But I have to be honest, D … you, as a wrestler … I ain’t ever seen it.”
Your heart will sink.
“That is … not until today.”
“Today, I seen it, D. I don’t know what’s changed in you — but man, I seen it. I seen that something today. That special something. And if you keep doing what you’re doing, D … well … you actually just might pull this shit off.”
Talk about a moment. Kid, I want you to really soak this in for a second: Dusty Fucking Rhodes, the goddamn American Dream, just told you that you might have it in you to be a top guy in our business.
It’s time to prove him right.
The first thing you’ll have to do is figure out who the real DDP is.
I know what you’re thinking: What does that even mean? “DDP” is a made-up character … how can he be “real,” or fake, or — anything?
But that’s the beauty of wrestling, kid. Yeah, we’re playing characters. But the stories that we’re trying to tell through those characters — in and out of the ring? At their core … those are human stories. And within this very specific wrestling universe of ours, the only way those stories will work, is if they feel authentic. The guys who really get over in our business … they don’t play the gimmick. Bro — they are the gimmick. I’m talking Ric Flair, Steve Austin, Jake Roberts, The Rock, Kevin Nash, Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes. These guys, they aren’t “characters,” strictly speaking. They’re more like … exaggerations of themselves.
“If you really wanna get over, Dallas, you gotta be authentic.”
You’ll learn that from Jake, and you’ll take it to heart. You’ll experiment with every gimmick in the book to try to figure out who the “real” DDP is. You’ll have your Diamond Dolls … you’ll have this bodyguard … you’ll have crazy hair, crazy sunglasses, crazy clothes … you’ll have bubblegum in your mouth, you’ll have a cigar in your mouth — at the same time. You’ll bring some Vegas swagger … you’ll bring some Florida swagger … and of course you’ll bring some Jersey swagger. It won’t all work, kid, but like I said, just stick with it.
It’ll all be a part of the process.
Eventually, two major moments are going to stand out as breakthroughs for the DDP character.
The first major moment will come in 1995 — when your buddy Johnny “Ace” Laurinaitis will give you a new finishing move that will change your life.
Johnny will be on his way to Japan, and during his layover he’ll stop by your house in Atlanta to catch up. You’ll insist that he stay for dinner — and at some point during dinner, he’ll bring up how he’s got this brand new finisher, that he just came up with, that he thinks could be great for you. It’ll be a three-quarter facelock, that turns into this front-face bulldog. Johnny will show you his version of the facelock with one arm, and you’ll love the move instantly. But then as you keep trying things … experimenting with it … William Regal will show you the cravate, this shoot hold that nobody can get out of. It adds a second arm to the facelock — which, in terms of the move’s aesthetics, really just brings it all together.
You’ll start working your new finisher into matches — and then one day, at Center Stage (where they’ll tape WCW Saturday Night in the mid-’90s), Bobby “the Brain” Heenan will come up to you. “Dallas,” he’ll say, “I like that new finisher you’ve got.”
“Thanks, Bobby,” you’ll tell him. “What should we call it?”
“Hmm. I don’t know. It cuts … it’s quick … you’re Diamond Dallas Page….”
And this is why they call him Bobby the Brain.
“It’s like … a diamond cutter.”
And then the final element that you’ll add to the Diamond Cutter, you’ll develop from watching Jake — and once again, this is where the mental aspect of the game becomes so important. You’ll study Jake’s finisher, the DDT, and try to see what makes it so special. And after a while, it’ll hit you: What makes Jake’s DDT work as a finishing move isn’t the move itself. It’s the spontaneity with which Jake executes the move. With every DDT that Jake would hit on someone, seemingly “out of nowhere,” he’d also be teaching the fans: Don’t you ever take your eyes off of a Jake Roberts match — not even for a second. He would be training the fans to believe in a big idea — the idea that can take a wrestling match from good to great: That anything can happen.
That anything is possible.
And you’ll adopt that same idea — that same “anything is possible” principle — for the Diamond Cutter. You’ll make sure that the way you hit the Cutter is never predictable, that it never comes from the same setup twice. You’ll make sure that every DDP match has the fans on the edge of their seats — wondering when that “out of nowhere” moment will happen.
You’ll even develop a “diamond” hand signal around the move — and a catchphrase that’ll be as simple as it gets, but still amazingly effective at getting your message across.
It’ll be a message, loud and clear, that DDP matches are about explosive moments.
And that when you wrestle DDP — it’s going to end, not with a whimper….
But with a BANG.
The second major breakthrough moment for DDP will involve a guy named Eric Bischoff.
The first time you’ll meet Eric, it’ll be in the AWA, where one night you’ll find yourselves on opposite ends of a pullapart — emphasis on pullapart — bar brawl. (A good bonding experience if ever there was one.) A few years after that, you’ll be instrumental in Eric getting a job as a play-by-play guy in WCW. A few years after that? Eric will become — wait for it — president of WCW. (Seriously — I’m not making any of this shit up. Wrestling is a crazy, amazing goddamn business.)
Anyway, at some point, Eric Bischoff — new president of WCW — is going to give you the advice that will change the DDP character forever. He’s going to tell you, simply put, to lose all of the gimmicks. Yeah, that’s right: all of them. No more Dolls, no more bodyguards … no more crazy sunglasses, crazy clothes … no more bubblegum … man, Eric is even going to make you lose the cigar.
“Dallas — no more gimmicks,” he’ll tell you. “Just … be you, now. Just be yourself. You do that right, and stay true to it, and I’m telling you, it’ll be all you’ll ever need.”
Listen to what he has to say, kid. He’s right.
After 37 years … it’ll be time for Page Joseph Falkinburg and Diamond Dallas Page to meet.
Once those two things are in place — once you’ve got your finisher and your persona down — the rest is going to follow.
You won’t be in the big time yet … but you’ll be the next best thing: You’ll be ready for it.
And people are going to start to notice.
Bro, even the immortal Hulk Hogan himself will notice. It’ll be during a short tour of Europe in 1994. You’ll just be working hard, and minding your own business — when one night, out of the blue, Hulk will randomly come up to you. He’ll tell you that he’s been watching your matches, and that he likes what he’s been seeing. And then comes the kicker: He’ll say that it might not be this year, or next year, or even the year after that … but if you keep this up, if you just keep doing what you’re doing … then somewhere down the line, brother … the two of you — you could draw huge money together.
He’ll tell you that, just that, and then he’ll walk away. Total power move. It will almost be like he’s throwing down the gauntlet for you — like he’s saying, “O.K., brother — you’re seen. The biggest draw in the history of this business just walked up to you … and just told you what you could become. Now it’s on you to become it.”
And then, finally, it’ll happen.
It’ll all just … happen.
In 1996, two buddies of yours from way back — Scott Hall (formerly “Diamond Stud,” one of the first guys that you managed) and Kevin Nash (formerly “Vinnie Vegas,” your tag team partner in the Vegas Connection) — will return to WCW as the single biggest act in all of wrestling: the New World Order.
Led by Kevin and Scott (and then later “Hollywood” Hogan), the nWo’s evil takeover of WCW will go on to become one of the most lucrative and influential “angles” (wrestling language for “storylines”) in the history of the business. And in 1997, after almost an entire year of the nWo coming in, and dominating, and tearing the WCW roster to shreds … it’ll finally become time, in storyline terms, for a WCW guy to “get one over” on the unstoppable, insurmountable nWo machine. It’s going to be a huge, huge, HUGE spot … a fucking career-making spot. And lucky for you, kid, Hall and Nash are loyal friends — and they won’t have forgotten just how much you helped them out early on in their careers. So when it comes time to pick the guy who’s finally going to get over on them.…
They’ll decide to pay back the favor.
Monday, January 13, 1997 — that’ll be the night that you become a star. Live in New Orleans: Just you, and Scott, and Kevin, and a Superdome full of your closest friends.
It’s crazy how fast it’ll all happen: Diamond Cutter — BANG — on Mark Starr, your opponent that night. Match over. Then Hall and Nash walk out, all swagger, and get in the ring. They offer you an nWo shirt. You take it. You shake Hall’s hand … but wait!!! Diamond Cutter on Hall — BANG — out of nowhere. The crowd goes WILD. Now Nash comes charging at you. You toss him over the ropes — BANG. The crowd goes wild AGAIN. You throw up the Diamond symbol with your hands — BANG. And then you roll out of the ring, and over the guardrail … and into the sea of people. BANG.
Three minutes ago, you were Diamond Dallas Page, WCW mid-carder.
Now? BANG — you’re DDP.
Now, kid, you’re the People’s Champion.
And the ride that you’ll go on from there … bro, it’ll just be surreal.
While Kevin and Scott will make you a star — it’ll be your next feud that turns you into a true main-eventer. It’ll be the feud that Pro Wrestling Illustrated will vote 1997’s Feud of the Year — and that many will call the most intense one-on-one feud of that entire era.
It’ll be DDP vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage: easily the biggest feud of your career, and probably the most fun that you’ll ever have inside a wrestling ring. The two of you will go back and forth on the most electric improvised promos … have absolutely epic no-disqualification matches … and just like I warned you: There’ll be a couple hundred flying elbows on the way — ready to hurt like a motherfucker — with your name on them.
One of the biggest moments of your career will come in the lead-up to Spring Stampede ’97, where you and Randy will be set to go one-on-one — your first-ever shot against a main-event guy on pay-per-view. At the house shows preceding Spring Stampede, you and Randy will be wrestling each other — which will be common, just as a way to get familiar in the ring and work out the kinks and details, before you have the big blow-off match on pay-per-view. And the finish to those house-show matches will always be the same: Savage “going over” (wrestling language for “winning”), as the entire nWo beats the crap out of you. Which — as much as any wrestler doesn’t want to lose, or get the crap beat out of them — will be fine by you. You’re getting to work with Randy Savage, a guy who’s main-evented WrestleManias, in a big-time program. Everything else is gravy.
So, yeah, like I said — that’ll be the default finish: nWo beatdown and Randy goes over. No problem. But then on this one particular night, at a house show in Florence, South Carolina, the craziest thing is going to happen. The agent on board, Arn Anderson, is going to come into the locker room where you and Randy are getting ready. And — just like he would any other night — Arn’s going to ask the two of you (that is, Arn’s going to ask Randy), “Alright, so what do you guys want to do tonight?” Which will mean, “What do you want the finish to be?” And Randy, while he’s lacing his boots, is going to lift up his head … and look at Arn for a moment … and then look back down and keep lacing. And then, real soft and low, staring at his boots like it’s nothing … he’s just going to say it:
“I, uhh … I think I want to take the Diamond Cutter, yeah.”
Translation: Savage wants you to hit your finisher on him, to the end match.
Translation: Savage wants to put you over tonight.
Translation: Savage wants you to win.
To make the understatement of the century: Arn will be surprised. And if Arn is surprised … oh, man … that’ll have nothing on how you’ll be feeling.
So then Arn will turn to you, and he’ll say, “Wow, umm … Diamond … I hope you realize … you know … what this could do for your career….”
And it’s a miracle you can get any words out, but you’ll be like, “Yeah, Arn — I do.”
And anyway, those will be the stakes that night. It’ll be Savage, giving you his blessing — not on putting you over as the finish at the pay-per-view, necessarily. But on testing the waters of that finish. On testing the waters of a DDP win, and seeing how it feels. It’s the sort of opportunity in this business that — well, let’s just say … it doesn’t come around twice.
But you’ll go out there, and you’ll have a hell of a match — mostly just Randy beating the shit out of you. And then you’ll mount a short comeback … and then blow it … and then, right as Randy’s cutting you off on a slam, you’ll hear the magic words come out of his mouth: “Diamond Cutter.”
You won’t need him to say them twice.
You’ll pull a Diamond Cutter on him out of nowhere — and kid, I swear: It’ll be the loudest pop you’ll have ever heard in your life.
The ref will count, “One, two, three….” The place will erupt … and somehow, in all that madness, you’ll be able to hear Randy clear as day, when he turns toward you and says, “Well … LOOKS like we know … what we’re GONNA DO … for Spring Stampede.”
Wrestling is a complicated business, kid … and it might be hard for you to understand, just from reading this letter — but Randy Savage taking the Diamond Cutter, at Spring Stampede ’97, and putting you over … man … that’ll mean something. In a way, you’ve gotta think of the wrestling business as almost a foreign language, all of its own. And Randy taking your finisher, clean, at a pay-per-view — that won’t just be him taking your finisher … and that won’t just be him putting you over. That’ll be Randy telling the entire locker room — hell, the entire world of wrestling — that you’re someone worthy of doing main-event business with. That will be Randy telling the other main-event guys, in no uncertain terms, that you have what it takes.
That there aren’t just good matches to be worked, with Diamond Dallas Page.
There’s good money to be drawn.
Remember how I told you that Hulk Hogan will come up to you on that European tour in ’94, when you’re a total nobody, and tell you that the two of you could draw money together? Well, guess what, kid: In the summer of ’98, you and Hogan won’t just draw money together. You’ll draw some of the most money in the history of WCW together.
I shit you not: You’ll tag with Karl “the Mailman” Malone (who will go on to become the No. 2 leading scorer in NBA history) … to take on “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and Dennis “the Worm” Rodman (coming off his third-straight NBA championship with the Bulls) — in what’ll be the second highest-grossing WCW pay-per-view ever. You’ll even shoot angles to promote the match on the goddamn Tonight Show! (“D,” Dusty will say, around that time — “y’all are transcending … the business.”) It’ll be about as dead-center mainstream as professional wrestling ever gets. People will go fucking nuts for it, bro.
And it won’t stop there.
Robert Beck/Sports Ilustrated/Getty Images
You’ll headline or co-headline the next four WCW pay-per-views: at Road Wild, teaming with Jay Leno against Hogan and Bischoff; at Fall Brawl, joining up with Roddy Piper and Warrior, two of the biggest stars in the history of the business; at Halloween Havoc, taking on the still-undefeated Goldberg in a match for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship; and at World War 3, challenging Bret “the Hitman” Hart — one of the best ever to do it — for his United States Title.
Tally it all up at the end of the year, bro, and there won’t be any way around it: That 12-year-old kid … you know, the one who almost died on that highway in the winter of ’68? Well, 30 years later, in the winter of ’98 … that 42-year-old kid is going to become rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams.
That 42-year-old kid is going to re-sign with WCW on a multiyear and multimillion-dollar contract. That 42-year-old kid is going to dine with movie stars, and party with rock stars. That 42-year-old kid is going to look up one day … and find himself, simply put, on top of the world.
And then that 42-year-old kid is going to break his fucking back.
Funny how life works, huh?
Forty-two years, just to climb your way up to the top of that mountain … and then not even half of a second, to fall all the way back down to the bottom.
It’ll be a powerbomb from, of all people, your good friend Kevin Nash. Not Kev’s fault, not your fault — just one of those freak things that can happen in a wrestling ring. Here’s the damage: one ruptured L4 disk, and one ruptured L5 disk. Or, to put it in the layman’s terms that your doctor will spell out for you: “Imagine stomping on two jelly donuts.”
You’re not a spine specialist — but in the pain you’re in after that bump, you’re sure as hell going to find one. And that specialist … well, he’s going to give you some of the worst news of your life: “Your career in the ring,” he’ll tell you — “it’s over.”
You’ll get another opinion, and another opinion after that … but it won’t make a bit of difference. Three separate specialists — and they’re all going to tell you the same thing: that your days as a working pro wrestler are through. They’re going to tell you that you had a heck of a run … but on that back? At your age? Sorry, Dallas. But for your own sake … get real.
Your dream came true.
Now it’s time to let it go.
And then here’s where things get really weird, kid. You know how you broke your back — right after signing your multimillion-dollar contract? You know how your worst luck came right after you reached your highest peak?
Well … your best luck?
It’s going to come right after you hit your lowest bottom.
This letter has already gotten pretty long, and trust me — the full story of what I’m about to tell you could fill a whole other letter of its own. So I’ll save that version for another time. But let’s just say: When the doctors tell you that there’s no use rehabbing your broken back, and that there’s no point in trying to make a comeback … you won’t exactly listen to them. And instead — stubborn fucker that you are — you’ll begin to look for some alternative remedies. You’ll try everything, kid … and I do mean everything.
You’ll even try listening to your ex-wife.
And when Kimberly tells you that yoga might help? You’ll even try that, too.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you, loud and clear: You think yoga’s for wimps. I get it, kid … I really do. But you’ve just gotta trust me here. Making yoga a part of your lifestyle is going change your life.
Oh, and I know what you’re thinking. (Remember — I am you.)
You’re thinking, Wait, why are we talking about yoga all of a sudden — who the fuck cares? What’s that got to do with wrestling? Let’s get back to wrestling. I liked that part.
Well here’s the thing, and I hate to break it to you, but: Yoga — actually, scratch that, DDP Yoga — will end up having everything to do with wrestling. In fact, your first real experience with it … is going to be when it helps to save a wrestler’s career.
You know that broken back? Ruptured L4, ruptured L5, three spine specialists telling you that your days in the ring are over at 42 years old?
Yeah, well, what if I told you that — less than six months later, at 43 years young — you’ll go on to become the heavyweight champion of the world?! And what if I told you that you’ll win that WCW world title by pinning a guy who many (yourself included) will consider to be the greatest professional wrestler of all time — “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair?!
It’ll be Spring Stampede ’99, and the world title will be on the line in a “four-way dance” between yourself and three absolute icons of the business: the Hulkster, Sting and the Nature Boy — with your old rival Macho Man Savage as the special-guest referee. Lotta star-power in that ring, kid. But you’ll hold your own. And after over a decade of paying your dues … over two decades from your first, desperate attempt to get into the “secret society” of wrestling as “Handsome” Dallas Page … and over three full decades from getting crushed and shredded against the windshield of a car, while chasing that goddamn school bus, in your enormous galoshes….
You’ll hit a Diamond Cutter — BANG — on Ric!
The ref — the Macho Man — will count, “One … two … three!”
And he’ll raise your hand high in the air, higher than you ever thought possible — as they announce the NEW … WCW … HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD … DIAMOND! DALLAS! PAGE!
Ain’t that some shit, right.
By the time it’s all said and done, and you hang up those wrestling boots: You’ll be one of nine guys ever to win the WCW Triple Crown … a one-time world television champion … a five-time world tag team champion … a two-time U.S. heavyweight champion … and a three-time world heavyweight champion.
And to top it all off?
One day — I swear to you, kid, one day — you’ll even make it to the WWE Hall of Fame.
Not bad for a guy in the nightclub business.
Dallas … I know that when you were lying there, splat on Route 88, at 12 years old … your body and your dreams torn to pieces — I know I told you that all of the pain would be worth it, because you’d go on to become world heavyweight champion one day. I know I told you that.
But here’s the thing, kid….
The truth is, the pain won’t be worth it because you’ll go on to become world champion. To be honest, the pain won’t be worth it because of any championships, or belts, or fame, or fortune. The pain won’t be worth it because of Halloween Havoc, or Bash at the Beach, or Fall Brawl, or Spring Stampede. The pain won’t be worth it because of the rush — BANG — of hitting another Diamond Cutter, or the thrill of making another crowd go wild, or the satisfaction of knowing that you proved so many people wrong.
The pain will be worth it because of one thing, and one thing only:
It’ll be relationships, kid.
It’ll be relationships like the one you’ll have with Steve Austin. You and Steve — or “Redneck,” as you’ll lovingly call him (it’s the name you’ll have him under in your cellphone to this day) — will ride together in your early days as WCW mid-carders. You know those ice packs that you put on your knees, on your shoulders, and all of that? Well, when you travel with Austin, bro … those items are no longer used for healing purposes. Instead, you’ll become what’s known as a “Steve Austin Refrigerator”: Just you, your ice packs, and your Ace bandages — strapped to a few cans of beer.
You’ll have some years on Steve in terms of age, but he’ll have some years on you in terms of time in the business. So whenever the two of you will arrive at a town early, Steve will get in the ring with you and help you work on your shit before the show starts. And then after the show, when you’ll play your tape (you’ll tape all your matches) — Steve will sit there with you, and watch it, and do this running fucking color commentary on your performance. And of course, Steve being Steve, he’ll be giving you the most hilarious shit while he does it: “Sad to say, folks, but we almost expect Diamond to miss that dropkick at this point … and … he … does. No disappointment there.” Or: “Another … fucking … clusterfuck … in the ring … from master … fucking … ring technician … Diamond Dallas Page.”
And while the joking will mostly be at your expense, kid — it’ll be the meaning behind the joking that will really matter. What will matter is Steve Austin, fighting for a spot the same as you, and not owing you a goddamn thing … taking the time out of his day to help you out, and coach you up, and make you feel like you belong.
It’ll be relationships like the one you’ll have with the Paul “Big Show” Wight. Show will start out at the Power Plant in ’95 as “The Giant,” just 23 and green as can be. And it’s there that you’ll help to train him for the first match of his career — against Hulk Hogan, immortal as ever, for the world heavyweight title. Show will call you “Mr. Page” when you first meet him, that’s how humble he is … even though the kid’s name will be way above yours on every card, and even though he’ll be out-earning you by probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to zero.
And when you travel together? Show — knowing how well he’s doing, and how much you’re struggling, and how much you helped him early on — will fucking pay for everything. Meals, rides … you name it, bro. Man, he won’t even blink. With Big Show, honestly, it won’t even be friendship — that’ll feel like straight-up family. Show will be like your nephew, and you’ll be like his uncle. And it’ll be a bond that continues to this day. (Only now you pay for your own shit.)
It’ll be relationships like the one you’ll have with Ric Flair, wrestling’s absolute GOAT: Who will do you the favors in the most important match of your career … putting you over for the world title … even though there will be heat (wrestling language for “backstage tension”) between the two of you at the time. It won’t even matter what the heat is about — it never does, bro. It’ll always be something in this business, one small thing or another. But the point is: What kind of a guy, while being the top dog of an entire fucking industry, decides to go out of his way to lie down for — to make the career of — someone he has heat with? Just think about that for a second. Think about how fucking rare that is.
Years later, you and Ric will bury the hatchet — and thank God. Because not only will he turn out to be the greatest wrestler of all time … he’ll also turn out to be a really fucking good friend.
It’ll be relationships like the ones you’ll have with Pat Tanaka, Paul Diamond and Madusa Miceli — they’ll be the very first talent you manage, and, even as big stars, they’ll be so good to you. It’ll be relationships like the one you’ll have with Mick “Cactus Jack” Foley — he’ll pull a solid prank or two on you back in the day (ADVICE, kid: Never put a prank over, always no-sell it), but he’ll end up becoming one of the most thoughtful and dependable sources of wisdom in your life. It’ll be relationships like the one you’ll have with Chris Jericho — he’ll go from being this super-talented young cruiserweight who you’ll consider a friend in your early days in WCW, to this genius fucking rock star world champion who you’ll become even better friends (and valued business partners) with, after you retire.
And it’ll be relationships like the one you’ll have with Paul “Triple H” Levesque. When Paul comes to WCW, around ’94, you’ll still be in those early stages of your development as a wrestler — where you’re clawing tooth and nail for a place on the card … but mostly just spending time at the Power Plant. And so the two of you will get to spend a lot of time with each other down there, training your asses off, and basically just figuring shit out. The first thing you’ll notice, right off the bat with Paul, is his crazy work ethic — the guy will be more committed, more laser-focused on his craft, more willing to put in that extra level of effort to be great, than anyone you’ll have ever seen. In fact, his work ethic will remind you a lot of your own … only if you subtracted 13 years and a partying habit. Let’s just say: When Paul’s career begins to take off, a few years later up north, you won’t be surprised.
But a funny thing will happen, around ’96. One night, you’ll be watching some WWF — bro, if wrestling is on, in those days, you’ll be watching it — and they’ll be running a Triple H match. And at first, it’ll just be a totally normal TV match. But then … out of nowhere … Paul will hit his opponent with a Diamond Cutter. A fucking DIAMOND CUTTER. Oh God … oh no … oh fuck, you’ll be thinking to yourself. Not … him. Not Paul. Because like I said, kid — you’ll know Paul, from back in the day. And you’ll know exactly what he’s all about: That’ll be a talented, young, next-level motherfucker, right there, with a great look and an all-time work ethic. And if he starts using the Cutter … Dallas, let’s be real — pretty soon yours will be obsolete.
So you’ll call him up, that very same night. “Paul? It’s Dallas.”
“D! Hey, D! How you doin’?”
“Good, bro,” you’ll say. “But I’m just calling … you know … I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“Sure, D, what do you need?”
And you’ll go, “Don’t say ‘sure’ yet, because I got no right to ask you this.”
“Come on, D. Ask me anything.”
And so you’ll say, “Bro, I saw you catch the Diamond Cutter out of nowhere, the other night, and — you know, like I said, I got no right to ask you this. But you’re my boy, Paulie, and you know how damn hard I worked to get here. And that Cutter, bro … that’s my meal ticket. So Paulie, kid, if there’s any way … on EARTH … that you could not do it again, man — I just can’t even tell you. I would be so appreciative.”
And man, this is so real. Paul will let you finish — and then, without even missing a beat, he’ll say to you, “Done, bro. Come on. Say no more. It’s done.”
And he’ll never do it again.
Kid, that’s who Triple H — that’s who Paul fucking Levesque — is.
And then 20 years later, wouldn’t you know it, Dallas, he’ll be the one calling you — in his new role as executive vice president of WWE. Telling you that you’re going into the Hall of Fame.
If you listen to nothing else that I say in this letter, I won’t blame you. You’re a young dude with his whole life ahead of him … and I’m a 61-year-old man telling stories. But please listen to me, and trust me, on this one, simple truth: The people that you cross paths with, and the relationships that you build with them over the next 50 years … those are the only things, in the end, that are going to matter in this life.
Whether you’re “just” Page … or “the” DDP … or you’re trying to figure out one from the other, and live in the space in between — your relationships, kid, will be there. They’ll be the best thing you have going for you on the day that you enter this profession … and the best thing you have going for you on the day that you bow out.
They will help you, and shape you, and grow you, and — more times than you can count — save you.
So treat them with care.
Sometimes, Dallas, it won’t even take that much care.
It’ll just take a thank you.
One example that always comes to mind is from late in ’97 … when you’ll share a moment that’ll stick with you for — well, 20 years and counting.
It’ll be Thanksgiving night, and of course you’ll have a lot to be thankful for that year. That will have been The Year for you, your big breakout, when you’ll have gone from being Just Another Guy in this business to being PWI’s No. 4–ranked wrestler in the world. And as you’re sitting there at home, that night, surrounded by friends and family, after a great meal … you’ll just sort of ask yourself, you know, Man — who in my life do I really owe a thank you to, but maybe have never told them so, in the way that they deserve?
It won’t take more than five seconds of thinking before that lightbulb flickers on … and you land on the perfect person.
Kid, what Randy did for you … putting you over in the exact way that you needed it, at the exact moment when you needed it most … there’s no way that you’ll ever be able to repay him. There’s a list of wrestlers a mile long — I’m telling you, a mile long — who’ve gotten to around the spot on the card that you got to in the spring of ‘97. But then, when it came time for their moment … and they needed that right guy to put them over in the right way at the right time … no one did it for them. And then that was probably it for their careers. Because once that moment comes and goes … there’s really no getting it back.
Randy Savage came through for you in your moment, bro.
And so you’ll be sitting there, in November of ’97, on Thanksgiving night — and you’ll decide to give him a call.
“Hey, Randy … it’s D. This whole year, man … it’s been pretty overwhelming. And I’ve just been thinking, you know … and I’ve been asking myself, Who am I thankful for — that maybe doesn’t know it. And I know this is going to sound kind of corny, but … umm … for me, it’s you, bro. I just really don’t know if you know, Randy, how I feel about what you did for me. How I know that I’m not in this position I’m in right now, without you taking the Cutter. Without you stepping up and — not only saying you want to work with me, but — wanting to put me over. It’s like … I honestly feel like I got blessed by the Godfather or something, this year, with you doing that for me. And I just wanted you to know that I’m really thankful, bro. And that I will never forget it. Anyway, man, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.”
So you’ll leave that voicemail … and then not really think anything of it. It’s just you saying thank you, right? To a guy who deserves it. Feels pretty obvious.
But then you’ll go to WCW’s TV tapings the following week — at whatever big arena you’re in for that Monday’s Nitro. And as you’re walking inside … you’ll catch Randy out of the corner of your eye. And when he sees you — he’ll start power-walking toward you.
“DIAMOND,” he’ll yell. “DIAMOND — come HERE.” He’s looking real pissed. Almost like he’s about to beat the shit out of you or something. And you’re thinking, What the fuck did I do?
So you’ll start heading over his way as well. And then you’ll get to each other — and he’ll grab you, grab you, real fucking strong by the arm, and almost, like, throw you into his dressing room. And then he’ll stand up to you — I’m talking no more than a few inches away from your face — and he’ll look you dead in the eye.
“DIAMOND,” he’ll say, in one of those louder-than-bombs, highwire whispers that only Randy Savage can pull off: “I GOT … your MESSAGE, yeah.”
“Oh, Mach, that’s gre—”
“And I GOTTA tell YA … I played it … PLAYED it a COUPLE of times, yeah … COUPLE of times … and THEN I called my DAD.” (Randy’s dad was Angelo Poffo, an old-school wrestling legend.) “And I PLAYED IT … for HIM. And I said, ‘DAD — have ANY of the BOYS … ever CALLED you … and THANKED you … thanked you LIKE THAT.’ And my DAD … he said, ‘No, RANDY — I’ve NEVER even HEARD of anybody … doing THAT … before … NO SIR.’ So I JUST want you to KNOW, Diamond, yeah … it was just me, that night — and it meant A LOT.”
And then — and someday you’ll know the guy, and you’ll know what a crazy, magic moment this is — Randy will basically just pick you up … and look you once more over … and hug the fucking stuffing out of you. And then you’ll go your separate ways.
You’ll be 41 on that day — Randy will be 45.
Less than 14 years later, he’ll be gone.
Around the beginning of the 2000s, right around the time that you and all the other guys from professional wrestling’s golden age will be hitting their 40s and 50s — there is going to be this … almost … epidemic, of wrestlers dying young. Heart attacks, overdoses, suicides, you name it. It’ll never only be any one thing. But taken as a whole, these tragedies will start to shed some real light on the dark side of the business.
Pretty soon, it’ll seem like something that people just take for granted: Wrestlers die young.
It’ll make you think about the irony of how you used to view pro wrestling as this “secret society” — always focusing so much on the secret aspect of it. But the truth, of course, in the end, is that it really won’t have ever been that much of a secret at all.
And you’ll realize that what you really should have been focusing on, more, is the society part.
Because wrestling is just that, kid — a society. It’s a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a community of people … all brought together by this one, strange, beautiful, unforgiving-as-fuck business. And when you see all of these amazing people giving their lives for this business … and then you see them again, years later, having been chewed up and spit out by that same business … and then you eventually hear about them having died, in one way or another, in some sad or broken state, all alone, way before it should have been their time … kid, you’ll think hard about just what that word — society — really means.
And you’ll realize that the wrestling society that you were let into all of those years ago — it’s the responsibility of everyone within that society to take care of each other, whenever possible. And to be there for each other in times of need. And that those responsibilities don’t — and shouldn’t — end when you hang up your boots. In fact, it’s when people hang up their boots … that they need support more than ever.
So I want you to keep that in mind, kid. Because those cycles of paybacks, and friendships, and favors, and helping hands, that you’ll build your active wrestling career on for almost 15 years … they won’t make you special.
What will make you special, though, and what will give your life its most enduring meaning, is the way that you’ll keep those relationships going … and going … and going … and going, long after you’ve gotten out of the ring. What will make your life feel well-lived — more than the electric promos and the classic matches and the Diamond Cutters “out of nowhere” and the insanely hot crowds — will be the way that you keep on giving back to wrestling, long after you’ve retired from it.
When you’ll help Jake Roberts emerge, alive, from rock bottom, after a battle against addiction and a lifetime of personal demons … when you’ll help Scott Hall do the same … when you’ll help Mick Foley lose massive amounts of weight, and massive amounts of day-to-day pain … when you’ll help Chris Jericho work at peak levels of performance, almost three decades into his historic career … and when you’ll help so many other wrestlers, big-time and small-time alike, live lives that they can feel good about, into their 40s, and 50s, and 60s … and hopefully 70s and beyond….
That, kid, will be when you’ll really know you’ve made an impact on this world of ours.
And so I guess that’s it, then — that’s all I’ve got for you right now.
That’s pretty much how it’ll go.
You’ll be a 12-year-old piece of near-roadkill in Point Pleasant, a 29-year-old rock-and-dance club owner in Fort Myers, a 35-year-old rookie wrestler in Atlanta, a 40-year-old People’s Champion in New Orleans, a 43-year-old world heavyweight champion in Tacoma, and hopefully not last … and certainly not least … a 60-year-old WWE Hall of Famer in Orlando.
To be honest, I’m still not sure about this whole “letter from the future” thing. Part of me thinks that I should have just left you to figure it all out for yourself.
But then there’s another part of me, I’ve gotta admit … that’s glad I did this. Because I really just want you to be proud of me, kid. I want that a lot. You’re the only person in this world that I can talk with … or confide in … or ramble to … about all of these things that I’ve done. And though I haven’t been perfect, far from it … I hope you’re proud of me for writing this, still — and for one reason most of all.
I have a younger self to write to.
Which means that somehow, Dallas, someway … you managed the single most difficult move that you can pull off as a professional wrestler — and maybe, go figure, the only thing you ever really wanted out of life to begin with.
You got old.