By Robby O’Daniel
NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Ironman” Rob Conway’s journey to becoming a professional wrestler began with seeing a sign on the way to work.
Conway, also one-half of the NWA world tag team champions, saw a sign for Danny Davis’ wrestling school.
“They had a Sunday show at 7 o’clock, and I stopped in and watched it and thought, man, I’d really like to do this,” Conway said.
He signed up, and his wrestling career began, a career that included a span from 2000 to 2007 where he was under contract with World Wrestling Entertainment, including time, from 2003 to 2007, on the main roster.
Television in the Age of DVR caught up with Conway before his match on the Next Level Wrestling show in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday. Next Level Wrestling is under the National Wrestling Alliance banner.
He described his debut on “Raw.”
“I was in the crowd in an Air Force uniform in the front row, and La Resistance, who were anti-Americans from France, came out and were talking on the microphone, noticed me in the front row and started making fun of the fact that I was a U.S. serviceman,” he said. “And then they came out of the ring, and one of them pushed me. And then the Dudley Boys came out and basically took up for me, ran La Resistance off, and got an American flag, got in the ring, asked me to come across the barricade. Security OKed it. I went under the bottom rope, and they saluted me and then handed me the flag. When they turned their back, I knocked them both out with the flag, and La Resistance returned to the ring, and we beat them up pretty good. And then I took off my service uniform, and the three of us held up the French flag, and I joined La Resistance on the spot.”
What was going through his mind at that moment – when he turned heel?
“Oh, it was just a dream come true,” he said. “I’d been plugging away at the time for six years, trying to get to the big time, and then when I finally got the opportunity, it was just take advantage of it and get in there and hit them as hard as I can and make it look as good as I can. And just knowing with that story of them thinking I was a serviceman and then knocking them out and draping the American flag over them and standing there with the French flag, it’s just the amount of boos and heat and reaction was unbelievable, and it made it all worth it. It felt like cheers to me.”
He recounted matches and moments that were special to him over the years, including winning the world tag team championships with tag team partner Sylvain Grenier against Chris Benoit and Edge in Montreal in WWE.
“It was the only time that I was in WWE that I ever got cheered for,” he said.
He described other memorable moments from his time in WWE.
“Me and Sylvain wrestled on ‘Monday Night Raw’ The Rockers,” he said. “They reunited after about 15 years for one night only against me and Sylvain. It was sold out in Atlanta. … And then as a singles competitor, I got to wrestle Ric Flair for the intercontinental championship in Indiana, with my parents sitting in the front row, so that was kind of a milestone to get a chance to wrestle Ric Flair. And then getting to wrestle Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit in singles matches over the years, those were big moments. And then, of course, the first time I was in ‘WrestleMania’ was a tag match. It was also my first time wrestling at Madison Square Garden. So that was huge.”
While wrestling at Madison Square Garden was a milestone, so was wrestling at Louisville Gardens to Conway. He wrestled there early in his career.
“A lot of times people always ask me what it was like to wrestle in Madison Square Garden, but for me, it was actually a bigger deal to wrestle in the Louisville Gardens because I grew up watching the USWA,” he said. “And I got to wrestle in the main event in the Louisville Gardens in a stretcher match against Jerry “The King” Lawler, so that was just as special to me as wrestling at Madison Square Garden for the WWE.”
He estimated the stretcher match with Lawler took place in 1999.
“I came out to my entrance and did my thing, and then when the King’s music played and he started walking to the ring, it really dawned on me, Man, I’m in the main event at the Louisville Gardens against Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler,” he said. “And then once the match started, it went back to normal ‘Ironman’ moments, slapping him in the face and posing and telling him ‘I’m the man.’ But his initial music hitting and me watching him took me back to when I was younger, coming to the shows and watching him wrestle Bill Dundee and Austin Idol and Jimmy Valiant, all those guys.”
Conway turned 41 on Thanksgiving.
“My birthday, I was in Japan actually, so I missed Thanksgiving and kinda missed my birthday, got all the birthday wishes on Facebook,” he said. “… Went to the Hard Rock Café in Osaka and some great fans took me out to dinner and bought me a shirt.”
He talked about what it means to hold the NWA world heavyweight title.
“It’s held by the who’s who of wrestling in the past, and then for me, it’s meant a lot of opportunities to wrestle worldwide,” he said. “I’ve defended it five times in Japan, as well as all over the United States since I won it in March, so it’s meant a lot to me, not only it’s kind of a career milestone and probably the most significant thing that’s happened to me in my 16 years wrestling but … the opportunities, I’m scheduled to wrestle in Europe and in Australia in 2014 with the NWA, so it’s been exciting and very humbling and puts your name on a list that they’ll never be able to take away from me.”