Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Rhino reflects on 20 years as a professional wrestler
It was back then that the man who would become known as Rhino, or Rhyno “with a Y” on the professional wrestling circuits, used to walk from his Dearborn Heights home down Van Born Road to the Kmart in Taylor to watch Saturday morning wrestling.
SLIDESHOW: Photos from Rhino's 20th anniversary show
“I would stop in the front of the store to buy a slushie,” he said. “Then I’d walk back to the TV’s and change every channel to wrestling. As a 12-year-old I thought every TV was a rating. So I’d look to make sure no one was looking and switch every TV to wrestling. I understood if they didn’t pull a high enough rating it would be cancelled. I was trying to contribute even back then.”
Flash forward a few years Gerin, now 18-years-old, attended a local wrestling promotion in Taylor put on by Gary Woronchak. That was the night his life changed forever.
It was at that show where he picked up a business card for a wrestling school in Lima, Oh, and another for a school in Canada. Ultimately he’d head to Canada for training.
“If it wasn’t for that show, I wouldn’t have become a wrestler,” Gerin said. “I wouldn’t have picked up the information on the school.”
A few months later He was done with the training school and wrestling on the independent circuit all over the country, including for Woronchak’s promotions.
“He paid like $25 for a show,” Gerin said. “Back then that was really good money for a local show. He paid better than the rest.”
Gerin’s first show was March 10, 1995. He recently celebrated his 20th anniversary in the sport with a show at the Veteran’s of Foreign War post in Westland.
Woronchak, now the Wayne County Commission Chairman, escorted Rhino to the ring as his manager for the night.
Woronchak called Gerin “one of the best” professional wrestlers to come out of the Metro Detroit region, citing his time spent in the Extreme Championship Wrestling, and World Wrestling Entertainment promotions.
Also known as “The Man Beast,” Gerin was the final heavyweight champion and television champion for Extreme Championship Wrestling before it folded. He then spent several years in the World Wrestling Federation (World Wrestling Entertainment as it later became known), winning the hardcore championship three times and the United States championship.
After his time with those organizations, Rhino moved on to Total Nonstop Action and competed for several years before returning to his roots in the independent circuits.
Getting his start
Gerin was an All-City wrestler as named by the Press & Guide Newspaper while competing for Annapolis High School in Dearborn Heights, and spun that into his start in the the professional wrestling world.
“I wrestled all four years in high school,” he said. “I got to districts, but never put forth the effort needed to excel. I didn’t put forth 110 percent. In a way I’m glad that happened, because when I started wrestling professionally I knew not to make the same mistakes.”
He went to wrestling school at the Can-Am training academy in Windsor, Ontario.
His first match as a professional was March 10, 1995 in Canada, but within months he was back in Taylor wrestling for Woronchak.
Later in 1995 Gerin was signed to perform in a World Championship Wrestling pay-per-view event, and ended up in the locker room with Hulk Hogan, his childhood wrestling hero.
“When I first met him I was 19,” he said. “In school I was told not to ask for autographs and stuff, so I just sat and stared at him across the locker room. I couldn’t help it.”
Gerin said he never brought it up to Hogan when they worked together years later.
“He saw me staring at him,” he said. “We ended up becoming friends in the wrestling business. I got to be in the ring with him one-time for TV.”
After the deal with the WCW, which he was paid for but never participated in when his opponent didn’t show up, Gerin returned to the independent circuit to perfect his craft.
He did make two more WCW appearances in 1995 and one on the WWF, all losing efforts. He was brought in as a “jobber” intended to simply be beaten up by the established stars in matches that would air pre-taped on weekend shows for the two promotions.
He wrestled under the name Terry Richards in his early appearances with the WCW and the WWF.
“Three months in I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going to get this,’” he said. “The moves came naturally, but learning to tell the story. I just wasn’t getting it.
“A few months later, I put in the effort and told myself I wasn’t going to (quit),” he said. “Then it clicked.”
Staying in the independent circuit, Gerin wrestled in the Detroit area and also in Canada, where he often performed with friends and future WWE stars “Christian” and “Edge.”
Going overseas and trying out with the WWF
In 1997 Gerin signed on a multiple month deal with a promotion in Germany where they travelled from city to city putting on shows and tournaments.
“They would run a town for 40 to 60 days and do tournaments,” he said. “I was signed for two of those towns.
“I came back in 1997 and got a tryout with the WWF,” he said. “It couldn’t have gone worse.”
The tryout in Cleveland actually went ok, with Gerin being invited to “camp” for an extended tryout. It was at the camp that the wheels fell off for him.
“Christian was at the same camp,” he said. “He got hired and one other guy, the rest of us didn’t.
“It was a little discouraging. In life we all have failures and setbacks. I was already scheduled to go back to Germany, it was a blessing in disguise.”
The timing just wasn't right for him, his storytelling still needed improvement and he was working to clean up some of his moves, which was all evident in the camp tryout, he said.
It was while in Germany that he adopted the name Rhino Richards, and earned his first professional title. Along with “XL Legend,” they teamed to win the Catch Wrestling Association’s Tag Team title.
He stayed with that promotion through January of 1999 when he signed on with the ECW.
ECW and making a name for himself
From early 1999 through 2001 Gerin became a star in the ECW and got national exposure every week on TV.
From the onset of his time in the ECW he became “Rhino,” dropping the Richard moniker and truly becoming the “Manbeast” that made him famous.
“On January 20, 1999 the ECW came to Michigan,” he said.
His start with them almost didn’t happen, with owner Paul Heyman watching Gerin hit one of the worst moves of career.
“Right as he turned to look I hit a terrible closeline,” he said. “My grandmother could have hit a better clothesline.”
That was Heyman’s reaction as well. Gerin was told that Heyman thought he “moved pretty well,” but needed to “tighten up” his clothesline.
After a second workout later in the weekend Heyman offered Gerin a job after the show.
At 23-years-old Gerin was joining the then-third largest professional wrestling circuit in the country.
Within months Gerin was one of the most popular wrestlers in the promotion.
Eventually he was rewarded with the ECW Television Title, and became the only wrestler in the show’s history to unify that with the heavyweight title.
When the promotion shut down in early 2001 Gerin still held both titles, making him the final wrestler to hold either.
Joining the WWF/E and becoming a superstar
Within weeks of the ECW shutting down Gerin was signed to the WWF, which later changed it’s name and became the WWE.
When he debuted with the WWF, the spelling of his name was changed to Rhyno and he was reunited with close friends Edge and Christian whom he had broken into the sport with.
By mid 2001 Rhyno was a worldwide phenomenon with wrestlings top promotion and was rewarded with winning the Hardcore title on three separate occasions that year.
Later in 2001 he also won the United States Championship, but was forced to lose the belt to Kurt Angle in a stunt to get himself “suspended” from the sport to cover for him needing surgery to repair two herniated discs in his neck.
After more than a year out with injury he returned to the sport and his star continued to rise. He was featured heavily in championship matches and on pay-per-view events.
He stayed with the WWE through mid 2005 when he was released from his contract.
TNA Wrestling and a return to the independent circuit
After several months on the independent circuit Gerin signed a deal with Total Nonstop Action wrestling to join their promotion, which was also nationally televised.
He was popular enough with the fans that he served a time as the heavyweight champion for this promotion as well.
“Being the champion is about so much more than having the talent to do the moves,” he said. “To be the champion you have to be the face of the organization. You have to be able to tell the story, get reactions out of the fans and put on a good show.”
He returned to the traditional spelling of Rhino, and continued to entertain the fans, working with some of the biggest names in the wrestling world.
“One of the best things about the TNA deal was that they allowed me to keep doing local shows too,” he said.
During his time with TNA, he also did shows with the Juggalo Championship Wrestling promotion and many others across the country.
In 2011 Rhino competed on the first New Japan Pro Wrestling tour of the U.S.
Return to the WWE
In February of this year, Gerin made a surprise return to the WWE, appearing on the newest TV show WWE NXT, where many of the young up and coming wrestlers are learning the business. The show airs on the WWE’s own network.
“It’s a great deal,’ he said. “I’m not under contract, so I can still do local shows when we’re not filming.”
Reflections on his career
“It’s all about the fans,” he said. “We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
Gerin cites the second proudest moment of his life happening as a result of being in the WWE.
In December 2003 the WWE was invited to perform a show in Baghdad, Iraq for the members of the military
“This is the biggest achievement of my wrestling career,” Gerin said, holding a letter of thanks sent to him by a military general. “It was by far the second greatest experience of my life after the birth of my daughter.
“They would send guys individually over there, but this was the first time we did a show.”
Gerin said it was a volunteer situation to go, but he was still one of the first to sign up.
“It’s an honor to perform for them,” he said. “Going over there and seeing behind the scenes of what they go through, it’s life changing.
“I could win the world title, or main event Wrestlemania, but nothing will compare to meeting the troops.”
After 20 years in the industry, and at nearly 40-years-old Gerin has no plans of hanging up his boots anytime soon.
“I’d like to go at least another 10 years,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to stay healthy and in shape. I don’t want to quit just yet.”