Recently, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese joined Spencer Love on the Conversations With Love podcast to discuss a variety of subjects, including his new podcast, if he’s back watching wrestling after an extended hiatus, his first meeting with Vince McMahon, shooting his vignettes with Shane McMahon, a rumoured pairing with Ted DiBiase, refusing to lose to Stone Cold Steve Austin and more. The full interview can be found in the links below.
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Life amidst the pandemic
Spencer Love: “A very, very cool opportunity for me to get today. Duke "The Dumpster" Droese joining me on the show. Man, we were chatting before this coincidentally, luckily enough, I've had the opportunity to watch your wrestle a lot lately, but it's great to get the opportunity to sit shoot the shit and pick your brain as far as professional wrestling goes, man. How are you doing? How are things amidst this really weird time for everybody?
Duke “The Dumpster” Droese: “Everything's going fine man. You know, things are slowly but surely kind of getting back to normal. Where I live, it's in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Tennessee. Everything's cool here, and I can't complain, man. I'm very happy. I've been doing a lot of wrestling related stuff, appearances like this and autograph sessions and just got interacting with fans. So yeah, things are great right now.”
His podcast, Road to Recovery
SL: “Awesome, at least (you've) had the opportunity to stay busy throughout it rather than just sort of shuttering indoors as a lot of people I know have. And, you mentioned as well that you've started a podcast yourself! Hopefully, you're not turning into my competition here anytime soon, but the Road to Recovery podcast every Friday at 5 pm Central, maybe just take me a little bit through that because I know you mentioned at the start of this that you even only just started that within this week."
DD: “Yeah, we had our first episode yesterday. It is every Friday (at) 5 pm Central, and it's called Road to Recovery. I call it the podcast with a purpose. My trials and tribulations - I had issues with substance abuse and things of that nature, and that's kind of where this arose from. But, it is not just a podcast about recovering from substance abuse. It's also just about people recovering from tough situations and finding redemption in their lives and trying just to overall be positive in these very negative times in this country and in this world. We're trying to kind of express the importance of being good to each other and encouraging each other in these times of negativity. So that's kind of what the podcast is about."
If he’s back watching wrestling
SL: “I love hearing that man, and you hit the nail right on the head in any previous interviews I've heard you do, too. You're a very, very positive guy. Starting a podcast outside of professional wrestling, you mentioned as well. Have you even watched professional wrestling in the last little bit? Or are you still not over that whole Katie Vick thing?
DD: “Yeah, you got that right. I always say - yeah, people say 'when did you quit watching?' It was the Katie Vick incident. What I'll see is I'll see people talk about certain matches on social media in the comment sections. I'll listen to people argue about wrestling and if something catches my interest, I'll go check it out on YouTube or something. I don't have - I don't even own a television. I don't watch TV. I don't have any of this stuff. I don't have the WWE Network or any of that kind of stuff. I do have internet with like YouTube. But yeah, that's about the extent of it. I don't watch any of the current wrestling except to catch something after the fact.”
SL: “It's really only sort of word of mouth it seems like for you then.
DD: “Yeah, yeah. If enough people are talking about it I'll check it out."
If he still considers himself a wrestling fan
SL: “Well and like you said, as well with the Road to Recovery if you want to stay in the sort of positive side of things it's pretty hard to do so a lot of the time as far as the professional wrestling comments sections go, man. It's pretty funny for me that you haven't watched pro wrestling in a bit as a guy who, you know, (in) any interview I've heard of yours previously, or even just watching the stuff you do, it's very clear that you had a passion for it. Would you still consider yourself - even though you're not watching it - a wrestling fan?"
DD: “Yes, I would. But, I would tend to try and watch - I'm still a fan of a lot of the older stuff. I just joined a group on Facebook that is strictly Championship Wrestling from Florida from the old days, and I love watching that because that's the stuff I grew up on. I love watching the old WWF stuff, older than my time even, but I do still consider myself a fan. One of the other reasons, besides the Katy Vick incident, that I stopped watching wrestling was - and this is the truth, and a lot of wrestlers will say this - is a lot of the storylines are the same. It's the same old thing rehashed over and over and all they do is they just plug in new names. Basically, a lot of the storylines are things they've done many times over and over and over again. So from our standpoint, it can kind of be a bit tedious. But again, I will try to - if something's spurs my interest, I'll try to catch it maybe on a replay or on YouTube or something like that."
The Floridan wrestling scene of the early ‘90s
SL: “I love hearing that you went back to FCW because that was one of the things that I wanted to ask you is, obviously everybody knows that they were out of Florida at the time, but what else was there sort of for, I guess, a independent quote-unquote, scene in Florida when you were starting to break in as both professional wrestler and professional wrestling fan?"
DD: “There was not a whole lot. I mean, there (were) a few guys around South Florida that had a wrestling ring that would run shows whenever they could, but there wasn't a whole lot going on. I will say, though, the people that I got most of my independent time with wrestling as the garbageman gimmick before I went to WWF was a place called Sunshine Wrestling Federation, which interestingly, came about after Hurricane Andrew down there in '92. We did a lot of free shows for a place called Tent City, where people who lost their homes were living and, spurring from those shows, we started picking up a lot of bookings at schools in the local areas and stuff. We started doing a lot of shows after that. So that's where I got all my tape footage and stuff from my promo package on the Garbage Man Rocco Gibraltar that interested Vince McMahon so much."
Making demo tapes
SL: “Which is insane to me, man, and again, I've really only got previous interviews to go off of, but you were saying that, you know, everybody I think takes for granted even just how difficult it is now to make a demo tape and get stuff organized on that end. You said you literally had stacks and stacks and stacks of tapes that you'd have to go and actually timestamp yourself?"
DD: “That is exactly what me and my brother did. We had two VCR's and a bunch of VHS tapes. I went through meticulously and watched every one, and when I saw move I wanted to use on the highlight reel, I would timestamp the counter and it was just one of those little - it wasn't even (a) digital counter, it was just one of those little rolling counters on the old VCR's. I had two VCR's and I went through and I created a script of moves that I wanted to use and I put them in a particular order that I wanted. Then I just laid it on a tape, and then my brother, who was a musician laid over the rap song 'I Go to Work' from Kool Moe Dee and it just happened to line up perfectly by luck.”
SL: “Unreal man. Here I am sitting and playing an iMovie thinking 'holy s**t this is impossible,' and I mean I don't really have a pot to piss in anymore (laughs).”
DD: “Well, there was certainly - yeah, there was certainly a lot of dumb luck on this tape we put together, but yeah. Things are a lot different now. You just hit a couple buttons, man, and you can do all kinds of stuff on the computer. We didn't have all that stuff back then."
The story of how he first met Vince McMahon
SL: “Well, man, you say dumb luck. Some people just say hard work and I think that that's obviously a theme of your career. You've told the story to death and I am going to ask you to touch on it here because I think it's just such an indicative moment in your career as far as how you initially even approached Vince McMahon and having to sneak into a convention presenting the tape to him directly. You can talk about Duke "The Dumpster" Droese as just a garbage man or you can look at him as a working-class individual. It's just so cool for me. So sorry, again, I told you right off the bat I was gonna ramble (laughs). There's my caveat, but (can you give) just a little bit of the story as far as how you actually ended up getting your tryout with WWF?"
DD: “Well, it was interesting I was, as we just talked about, I put together this promo package and I made like 30 copies of it, a VHS tape with a highlight reel, a promo, a highlight reel and a wrestling match all put together on it. I had a written resume typed up off of a typewriter, and I had photos done. 8x10's of Rocco Gibraltar. I was gonna ride around the country in my old 1979 Cadillac Coupe DeVille and go to all the old territories to find a job. Right as I was finishing college at the University of Miami in 1993, as I was getting all this together, I was reading the paper one day at my work. I was working at this private beach club as a night watchman, and I read the article that they were interviewing Hulk Hogan locally at some convention about the steroids scandal because he was at WCW now. He talked a little bit about it. And then, the last sentence of the article said 'Vince McMahon, who was also at the convention had no comment,' and I realized Vince McMahon was in my town in Miami Beach at the convention center at the NATPE convention of TV executives, and that was my moment. I remember I just said, 'I got to go there.' It was interesting. One of the members of this private beach club I worked at was a TV executive at (the) local channel too. My boss knew him and called him and he gave me his credentials. I put on a suit, and I put on his credentials and walked in the door like I was a TV executive, and nobody asked. Otherwise, you had to pay like $500 to get in. I just walked in like I worked at the TV station. I just saw Vince by himself and walked right up to him, I didn't give myself a chance to think about it, and I just pitched him. I said who I was, I wanted to work for him. I've been wrestling for several years and I just graduated college. He asked me a few questions. Like, one was he asked me why I wanted to do it since I graduated college. I told him it was my dream. After that, I got out of his face and got out of that building as fast as I could.”
SL: “'Nobody look at the picture on the credentials.'"
DD: “By the time I got to the car, man, I was pretty much hyperventilating. I couldn't believe what I just done, but I did it. Basically, they - JJ Dillon was the Head of Talent Relations at the time, and he called me about a week later. So Vince, apparently Vince and Shane McMahon watched the tape together and decided they wanted to bring me in."
The process after getting signed
SL: “So what was sort of the process after that? Because I think right now it's a pretty clear cut process in you get signed, you go to NXT, and sort of work your way out from there. But what was it as far as developmental? Was it coming in and just working dark matches? Or, how did it sort of go for you in your first stages with WWF?"
DD: “I remember, there was probably it seems like several months where JJ said they were going to bring me in for a tryout. They put it together, they sent me a plane ticket and I flew up to, it was - there was a Monday Night Raw, I can't remember where it was, but I didn't go for Monday Night Raw. I just remember it was the one where they had this presentation with Tatanka, Chief Jay Strongbow, and maybe Wahoo McDaniel and somebody else, but anyway, I was not there. But, the next two TV nights were in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, if I remember correctly, and they flew me up for that. I did dark matches each night with Reno Riggins, and he made me look like a million bucks. That was the tryout. Interestingly, they checked my attitude because the second night - the first night, they put me up right away, and then the second night, they said, 'Get ready, you're going up right away,' And they made me wait all night, until almost the very end of the show. But the thing was, I had very good advice. Somebody told me exactly what they were going to do. This guy locally in Florida knew how the process worked, so I was prepared. I was ready for it. And I just sat there with a great attitude with a smile on my face waiting. We went out and wrestled, and they decided they liked what they saw and they were going to hire me. However, it still took a few months for them to kind of put it together and decide when they were going to bring me in. I did not meet with Vince McMahon. I talked to JJ Dillon over the phone to do my contract and they mailed it to me. And then, when I came in to do my vignettes, though, interestingly, I did them with Shane McMahon. He produced them. He drove me around Stanford, Connecticut, to do all the shots off the back of the garbage truck and at the dump and all that stuff where I did the promos. That was all Shane McMahon driving me around in his Corvette.
How the WWF changed his character
SL: “Very, very cool, man. I still even remember the one that was sort of like to play on the Larry Bird (and) Michael Jordan commercials where you toss the garbage can. That sort of stuff is so cool for me and especially cool to hear like, you know, you hear about Vince McMahon taking bumps, hearing about Shane McMahon doing stuff like this. It's very, very cool, at least in my opinion, how hands-on they were but did you ever see that, whether it was a positive thing most of the time, or was it a bit of a detriment for a guy like yourself who really had built his character prior to coming to work to WWE, or WWF, excuse me?
DD: “Well, I will tell you the thing that happened. I was doing certain things as the Garbage Man Rocco Gibraltar in Florida, and I was getting over. I remember one thing: I was cutting promos like Road Warrior Hawk. I was just screaming in my promos. Well, that was the first thing they stopped, you know, and you want to make everybody happy, and you think you've got to listen to everything that the backstage agents tell you to do. So, I listened. They said, 'don't yell. We don't do that here,' and they started changing things about the way I presented the character. So not only did they change the name, but slowly but surely, because I let them they, started changing the character. Knowing what I know now, I would have stuck to my guns and kept doing it the way I was doing it in Florida and just got over because that's the name of the game, get yourself over, and then you make money and then you get the big matches with the major players. But, I got so wrapped up in trying to make everybody happy and being worried that I didn't want to piss anybody off that I kind of started losing parts of what Duke the Dumpster was."
His angle with Jerry Lawler
SL: “Yeah. But it does seem like that was a bit of the path for you, at least right off the bat, in that you got signed, you worked your ass off, and then pretty well right off the bat you're working with Jerry "The King" Lawler which had to be pretty cool. But, you mentioned again before that you maybe felt you weren't ready for it or (it) was maybe something that you took on too soon in your career. Can you maybe give me a little bit of your thoughts on that?"
DD: “Yeah, again, it was a situation where knowing what I know now I would have stood up more for myself, because when we did that angle on Monday Night Raw, he hit me with my own garbage can, and that freaked them out because they said it was too violent. They came back on TV and they apologized for it. They even had him take this comedy routine on the next Superstars show where he was apologizing, and it was just kind of killing it. If I would have known then what I know now, I would have pulled Shane McMahon aside, because Shane came running up to me in the back right afterwards, and I would have said 'listen, we need to keep this. This is good heat.' I would have called a meeting with Vince, and I would have pled my case and tried to get it put on. But again, I was just so worried about pissing people off that I was so worried that I was gonna get in trouble for doing that. It just killed it. We didn't even do a pay per view out of it. We ended up on a Monday Night Raw match for a blow-off, and that was it. We could have got so much more out of it.”
SL: “It could have been something that you feel they could have ridden out more, taken the heat for it, and then really had a star on their hands.”
DD: “Yeah, and I think it got people's attention in the wrong way in the back. Other wrestlers and even agents that didn't like me necessarily jumping right into a situation like that (with) so much heat. It kind of got squashed from many different angles I think. That's just my opinion. But yeah, I thought it could have been so much better and had so much more longevity out of it."
Refusing to do the job for a future Stone Cold Steve Austin
SL: “Now, I don't know how quick the turnaround was between this so excuse my timing perhaps, but is that sort of what maybe inspired you to take a stand when Bret Hart recommended that you did? Or, was that more just 'yeah, this is the WWF Champion, listen to what he says?' Because I heard you said before that you may or may not have refused to do the job for one Stone Cold Steve Austin."
DD: “I did refuse to do a job, and that was that job that I refused to do. But, it was a combination of things. It was I was completely frustrated. I was riding with Brett and he gave me that piece of advice. And, also, my initial two-year contract was almost over. So, that was probably the only reason they listened to me, was because my contract was almost up and they wanted me to resign for another year so they could just beat me down again, basically. But yeah, it was a combination of things, and that's just kind of how it worked out. But, yeah, the actual person I was supposed to wrestle that night was the Ringmaster in his first match in the World Wrestling Federation. And I refused to do it. But of course, I pulled Steve aside and I told him what was up, he was completely understanding and we became very good friends after that.”
SL: “Yeah, it seems like on the personal level that you guys have, you know, not even had to need to get past that, but do you ever have any, maybe - I hate the word regrets, but do you regret doing it at any point? Or, do you still see it as something that 'Yeah, I do 10 out of 10 times.'
DD: “Ah, man, there were so many things I have regrets about, but I've learned that I had to kind of own up to a lot of things that I did incorrectly as far as the business was concerned. But, no, I don't necessarily regret it. Again, I wish I had taken more of a stand for myself and done things differently, had more creative ideas. That's where people miss out. People think they just complain and things change for them. No, if you're gonna complain, or you don't want to do something, you better have three better ideas on deck, and I didn't understand that concept back then."
SL: “It seems like at the very least, you've talked about the potential for turning heel before, for example, that they're at least willing to try that stuff and then make the decision on whether or not it works. Like in your case, specifically, at least I remember, you had said that you wrestled a couple matches as a heel. They just weren't feeling it and made the decision not to turn you, correct?"
DD: “Yeah. And again, it was a combination of things. I think it was that they just decided not to turn me, or at least they didn't turn me right away. But, it was during that short stint that Bill Watts came in and was gonna take control. He was the one that had me go out and wrestle heel against Marty Jannetty on TV. It was a good match, and the people responded to me as a heel, but it just didn't go any further after that. It's just kind of how it worked out. And then, of course, Bill Watts was gone, so I think anything he was coming up with, they just kind of swept under the rug and moved on.”
SL: “Yeah, got rid of whether they liked it or whether it was just out of spite."
If he was ever a victim of backstage politics
SL: “Do you maybe think that that is because, you know, whether you were wrestling a guy like Jerry "the King" Lawler, or whether you were sort of near the end of your run with WWF, you were always fairly popular in the eyes of the fans. Do you think that that maybe had a little bit to play into it?"
DD: “I don't think - as far as the other wrestlers, I don't think they necessarily felt threatened by me because I was getting over with the fans so much. I just think - Bruce Prichard recently said on his podcast that Duke the Dumpster was too nice for the wrestling business. I tried to be everybody's friend and I was probably too nice for the wrestling business. That worked against me in a lot of ways, because at certain times, you've gotta be a prick in the wrestling business, and I didn't know that. I was just so worried about not piercing people off and not stepping on toes that everybody stepped all over me. So that's kind of how it worked."
His rumoured pairing with Ted DiBiase
SL: “Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it makes a lot of sense. But it makes a lot of sense. I want to touch back on again on that potential heel run because correct me if I'm wrong, but you'd mentioned before that you were supposed to be paired with Ted DiBiase.
DD: “Yeah, that was the idea. That was what - Vince Russo came up with that when he was the editor of the magazine. He - well, I won't say he came up with that. The office came up with it, but Vince Russo, that was one of the first stories he kind of ran with and really got creative with in the magazine. It was a very large spread in the WWF magazine, it was a really good story, and it looked like they were going with it. And then, again, something just happened and they didn't go with it. I don't know if DiBiase didn't want to do it or Vince just got turned off to the idea, but they just changed their mind. I just kind of went back to being a mid-card heel for the time being. That's just kind of how it happened."
SL: “Yeah and then from there it seems like that was not the turning point but it seems like one of the turning points because close to that you were you were on your way out of the WWF, correct?”
DD: “Yeah, the heel turn with DiBiase was actually before the Hunter thing. It was before my contract was up and it was before the hair. I still had long hair, actually, if you look at the article, I had my hair was long and everything. They were talking about turning me heel even way back then. But, it didn't happen. I remember after I refused to do the job for Steve Austin, I had a sit down with Vince McMahon and Jim Ross. And I told them, I said I wanted to change my appearance and turn heel still. They agreed to turn me heel again, this time just under different circumstances. I told him I just wanted to be Duke Droese, I didn't want to be a garbage man anymore. I wanted to start changing to a more realistic fighter or wrestler. They agreed with everything I said, but Jim Ross's addition was, well, if we're gonna change your appearance, why don't we cut your hair as part of the angle with Triple H, because they had already offered up that angle for me to kind of make me happy when I was angry, and get me to resign the new year deal. So I agreed to that, and I remember I just said, all I said to Vince was 'I'll be glad to do this as part of the angle and let him cut my hair as long as I get some revenge somehow. I know I probably won't win, and I definitely won't cut his hair, but as long as somehow in the end, I come out strong,' and Vince agreed and absolutely agreed with all of it. You know, and it was one of those times where I learned that Vince McMahon would change his plans very, very frequently.”
SL: “Card subject to change."
DD: “Absolutely! Absolutely."
Returning to the WWF for the Gimmick Battle Royal
SL: “So of course, you leave the WWF. Again, you've talked about that a ton. But I know that you made a couple of attempts potentially to come back to the WWF before you finally did for WrestleMania X-7. Can you maybe give me a little bit of detail on that? And then finally, how good did it feel to come back as part of the gimmick battle royal?"
DD: “Well, I tried to come back, and they made me try out, which was interesting. It's like 'why do you need to see me try out if you already know how I wrestle?' And I also had to try out about the same time with WCW. I was trying to get into both. I wanted to get into either one. It was interesting because during the time I was getting ready for those tryouts, I asked again, I asked advice from a couple of people. One was Bret Hart. One was Steve Austin. I asked what they thought I should do and Bret Hart said do both of them. That was the professional thing to do. And Austin, who you could tell he was getting ready to take off but he had not fully - I mean, he was on his rise. But anyway, he said, Austin said, 'just pick one, because these are very vindictive people, and if you do both, you'll probably piss everybody off.' Well, once again, I took the wrong advice. I took Bret Hart's advice, and I did both. Apparently I pissed everybody off because they didn't bring me back in. So then fast forward. By the time I came around for WrestleMania 17, I was severely addicted to drugs. I was going to a methadone clinic in Miami. So I was in no shape to wrestle. In fact, I had to bring some methadone on the road with me, so I didn't get sick during the WrestleMania weekend. So I was just kind of hiding in the locker room. I really didn't want to see a lot of people. It was just a kind of weird feeling. Everybody was really nice to me, but I was just happy to get in and get out of there and get the payday because, like I said, I was in no condition to wrestle. At that point, I wasn't trying to come back. I was just trying to get a payday and get out of there."
The resurgence of more outlandish professional wrestlers
SL: “I do want to ask you before we close it out here on the show, as far as today's wrestling does go, there maybe is a bit of a resurgence on 'gimmick' professional wrestlers. You look at guys like Bray Wyatt and what he's doing now, but do you maybe think that there is a lack of sort of the maybe more outlandish side of things in professional wrestling? To me personally, it does seem like there are a lot of guys who are, I guess, going out and just trying to be 'the best professional wrestler.' What's your sort of opinion on that?"
DD: “I would agree with what you're saying. I just think that wherever it comes from every so often, they're coming up with a Fiend, or a Demon or a Boogeyman. Of course, he was a while ago, but they are few and far between. But now they seem to get over. Like you said, there seems to be this resurgence of interest in those types of gimmicks, especially if they're done properly. But, they can't have a whole roster full of mostly garbage men and plumbers and dentists anymore. That won't work. I know the fans won't buy that. But I will say this: it is interesting, also, (that) there's a resurgence of interest in people looking back fondly at those years that I wrestled and all those cartoonish characters (that) were on the main roster. People are looking back and it is creating a new interest in the wrestlers like me from those days coming out of the Golden Era and into the New Generation Era right before the Attitude Era. People are looking back fondly, and I'm enjoying interacting with the fans, and in a lot of cases, meeting a whole new set of brand new wrestling fans that are going back and doing research and learning about the wrestlers that were there when I was there.”
SL: “100%, and I think you're bang on in saying that, Duke, in the sense that maybe it does get a bit of a bad rap when you do compare it to an Attitude Era, or like you say with the New Generation Era, but you go back and watch some of the matches from them and even some of the Monday Night RAW's in and of themselves and it's damn good professional wrestling. It's some damn good entertainment, and you, my friend, are a huge, huge part of that. Thank you for that., and thanks for taking the time today, man. It really, really is appreciated."
DD: “Thank you very much. I really appreciate you having me on the show, man. It's been an honour.”