Rodzilla on the rampage: Inside the sports-entertainment career of Dennis Rodman

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June 28, 2013

At the same time, Rodman earned a reputation as a difficult athlete, prone to infighting with teammates and management. WCW was taking a calculated risk by introducing him to their locker room. On one hand, major media coverage was guaranteed. On the other, Rodzilla could poison a talent pool that was unhealthy to begin with. But when he showed up in Charleston, S.C., for WCW’s Uncensored ’97 event, Rodman quickly ingratiated himself to the boys in the locker room.

Find out what Rodman did at Uncensored

“I remember when he came in, he was just a really cool guy,” former WCW Cruiserweight Champion Billy Kidman said. “Sometimes celebrities or athletes come in and they’re just there for a paycheck. Dennis was there like he wanted to be there.”

Indeed, by almost all accounts, Rodman was dedicated to learning the craft of professional wrestling and, according to Sullivan, he spent time working with veterans Paul Orndorff and Jody Hamilton at the Power Plant — WCW’s notoriously unforgiving training facility. In fact, the big man adapted to the ring quicker than anyone imagined he would.

“He was a natural,” former Rodman opponent Lex Luger said. “Man, he caught right on. I was almost envious. It took me a lot longer to even have a clue how to do this.”

The Worm’s antics often distracted from the fact that he was an outstanding athlete with an enviable work ethic. Even a 2011 NBA Hall of Fame induction failed to establish Rodman as anything more than a freak show in the public eye. But that shock appeal is what led hundreds of thousands of viewers to shell out money to watch his first official WCW match at the Bash at the Beach pay-per-view on July 13, 1997. Teaming with The Hulkster as a representative of the evil nWo, he battled WCW stalwarts Luger and The Giant — better known to WWE fans today as Big Show.

Rodman cut an imposing figure on the court, but he appeared lanky and almost malnourished next to the herculean builds of guys like The Hulkster and The Total Package. In the role of a dominant aggressor, Rodzilla would have been unnatural. What made his persona work was that Rodman was able — and willing — to occupy the role of cowardly rogue.

Relive Rodzilla's ring debut

He avoided contact with his opponents and reacted to their blows like he’d been tossed down a flight of stairs. (One of The Worm’s great defensive skills on the court was his ability to “flop” to the parquet when charged, drawing a foul against the opposing team.) When Rodman connected with a basic armdrag on Luger, the Ocean Center erupted like they’d just seen Hogan slam Andre the Giant.

“They didn’t expect that out of a basketball player,” Luger said. “It really came across better than we ever anticipated. The crowd reaction was phenomenal.”

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