Where Are They Now? Duke "The Dumpster" Droese
The story of how Mike Droese became WWE's wrestling garbage man, Duke "The Dumpster" Droese, is the kind of fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime tale that you wouldn't believe unless you heard it from the man himself.
Some 15 years later, Droese recounted the story with a sense of wonderment.
"I read in the newspaper that [Mr. McMahon] would be at the NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) convention at the Miami Beach Convention Center," Droese recalled. "So I crashed the convention, walked right up to Vince, introduced myself and told him what I wanted to do. Then I handed him my promotional package and left."
Ninety-nine out of a hundred men who tried this move on Mr. McMahon would be quickly dismissed and never thought of again, but the Chairman saw something in Droese he liked. (PHOTOS)
"They called me a week later and flew me in for tryout matches," Droese said.
The University of Miami graduate had been preparing for this opportunity since March 31, 1985. That was the night he watched WrestleMania on closed-circuit television and realized what he wanted to do with his life.
"I remember watching Hulk Hogan that evening and absolutely knowing that I wanted to become a professional wrestler," Droese said.
Even though he was only a teenager, the athletic big man immediately began pursuing his dream. While other students were playing football after school, Droese was hitting the ring, learning his trade in small promotions throughout Florida and the Caribbean.
He also began developing his in-ring persona — a tough talking sanitation worker who wasn't afraid to bash an opponent with a garbage can.
"I wanted a hardnosed character to follow along with the guys I watched like The Road Warriors," Droese said. "I always wanted to be one of those tough, brawling guys."
In 1994, the year Droese joined WWE, his trash man persona was the perfect fit. At the time, the personalities in WWE were much more cartoonish than the Superstars you see today. Men like The Goon, a rough hockey player who battled with his gloves on, and T.L. Hopper, a disgusting plumber, ruled the ring. A grappling garbage carrier from Mount Trashmore, Fla. fit in perfectly.
"The Dumpster" also made a perfect counterpart for his first big rival, Jerry "The King" Lawler. The two men battled often on Raw, including an infamous moment where Lawler smashed Droese on the head with a garbage can.
"It's funny, because a lot of people freaked out about that," Droese said. "They actually went on the air and apologized for it."
Droese also had a memorable rivalry with Triple H, who was just beginning his career in WWE.
"I had a blast with Triple H," Droese said. "I was happy that I got that opportunity, because he's one of the best in the business and I certainly learned a lot from him during that period."
Despite the fun he had competing in WWE, Droese began to feel the strain of the busy schedule after three fast-paced years in the ring. In 1996, Droese came to a mutual agreement with Mr. McMahon and left the company.
"It takes a very special athlete to work in WWE at that level," Droese said. "I have all the respect in the world for the guys who can last five, ten, fifteen, twenty years in the business."
After leaving WWE, Droese continued to compete off and on in smaller promotions throughout North America and Europe, but eventually decided he wanted to pursue a different career.
"I realized I couldn't wrestle anymore and I had to do something else," Droese revealed. "I always wanted to teach kids, so I went back to school and got a master's degree and became a special education teacher."
Settling down in Tennessee, the man who once made a living from bashing men with trash cans became an elementary school teacher for students with learning disabilities.
"I work at a great school with a lot of great teachers," Droese said. "Our school is one of the top-scoring in state test scores. I take a lot of pride in that."
While Droese always put his education first, he also credits his WWE career with helping him excel in the classroom.
"I think to be a wrestler you have to be a performer and to be a teacher you have to be a performer," Droese said. "You have to get up in front of a classroom full of kids and find a way to get them engaged in what you're teaching and I think that's what wrestling gave me."
Outside the classroom, the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder also passes on the training techniques he learned in WWE to local high school athletes. "I am a strength coach at the high school," Droese said. "I train the guys during the offseason in the weight room and also take care of the conditioning."
Most of all, the students are amazed that a former WWE Superstar is walking the halls of their school.
"There are so many WWE fans at my school, so it's really cool that one of their teachers used to be in that big company," Droese said. "They go online and see my old matches and they're all really excited about it."
Yet, in spite of the admiration he gets from his pupils, Droese has never received any gratitude from his local custodians. "I never had a garbage man come up to me and say, ‘Hey, man, thanks!'" Droese said, laughing.
And while "The Dumpster" is very happy in his new role as Mr. Droese, the big man still misses the ring every now and then.
"It was tough to leave the fame and the fans, but I have fond memories" Droese said. "I had a blast."