Where Are They Now? Mike Rotundo

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August 26, 2009

If you want to talk about Mike Rotundo's career you have to begin with The Destroyer.

Born Dick Beyer, The Destroyer was a legendary masked wrestler, internationally known for his brutal rivalries with the likes of "Crippler" Ray Stevens, Giant Baba and Mil Máscaras. He was also a Syracuse University alumnus — the same college a 20-year-old Mike Rotundo was attending when the two men crossed paths.

"The Destroyer spoke at one of our wrestling banquets," Rotundo recalled. "He had just returned from wrestling in Japan and he asked me if I ever thought of getting into wrestling. I told him I knew nothing about it."

At this time in his life, Mike Rotundo had no interest in WWE. An incredible athlete, the Florida native was a standout in both amateur wrestling and football at his alma mater. He had spent his youth infatuated with these sports, but, with The Destroyer's urging, he began to watch WWE on television whenever he could. Impressed by young Superstars like Bob Backlund and Bruno Sammartino, Rotundo decided to give wrestling a shot.

Immediately after graduating, Rotundo found himself in Germany being trained by The Destroyer in a rock-solid ring. After two weeks of intensive schooling, Rotundo was competing against young Americans and European veterans all across the country.

When he returned to the United States, Rotundo worked briefly in Canada before getting a call from Jim Crockett Promotions in North Carolina. This legendary territory, which would later evolve into WCW, was where Rotundo would get his first taste of real American-style action and truly begin to develop his skills.

"I had the opportunity to work with some great talent," Rotundo said. "[Roddy] Piper was there, Sgt. Slaughter, The Brisco Brothers, Don Muraco, Ricky Steamboat — some of the top guys in the business. That was really my learning ground."  

After a successful year and a half with Crockett, including a run as NWA Television Champion, Rotundo decided to try his luck down south in Championship Wrestling from Florida. At the time, WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes was the top star and promoter of  CFW. It was Rhodes who had the idea to put Rotundo into a tag team with another young star in the making.

"Florida is where Dusty Rhodes teamed Barry Windham and I up," Rotundo revealed.

Windham, the son of WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Mulligan, was a tall, athletic kid from Texas who was coming into his own in CWF. Like Rotundo, he was a natural in the ring who enjoyed fishing and boating. The two hit it off immediately.

"We became instant friends," Rotundo said. "We were in the car every night driving somewhere in Florida. We were both young and we had a good time."

The duo also clicked in the ring, wrestling a hard-hitting, fast-paced style that immediately drew a following.

"Back then, we probably wrestled 45 minutes every night," Rotundo said. "We really got a chance to know each other as partners, so we had our stuff down pat."

During their year in Florida, Windham and Rotundo gelled so well as friends and partners that Rotundo's relationship with Windham's sister didn't cause a rift in the partnership.

"My wife was living in Dallas," Rotundo remembered. "She came to visit and it was meant to be. Six months later we were married. Twenty five years later, we're still together."

In 1984, Windham and Rotundo, now brothers-in-law, received a call from Mr. McMahon to join WWE. Here, they would become The U.S. Express, a patriotic duo who wore red, white and blue and entered the ring to the sound of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." They were an immediate sensation. (PHOTOS)

"We won the tag titles pretty quickly after we arrived," Rotundo said. "Then WrestleMania was rolling around and nobody had ever seen anything like that. It was really exciting."

As WWE's all-American team, Windham and Rotundo were quickly embroiled in a bitter rivalry with The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. This controversial duo was infamous for their anti-American rants, which would often incite near-riots in the stands.

"Back then, we didn't have security railings," Rotundo said. "I remember going out to the ring one night and Barry turned around and said, ‘Come on!' I was like, ‘What's the rush?' Then I looked up and saw 25 people in the ring attacking Sheik and Volkoff!"

The two teams traded the World Tag Team Championships back and forth, including a showdown at the inaugural WrestleMania, before Windham and Rotundo parted ways. In 1987, Rotundo left WWE and returned to NWA's Jim Crockett Promotions.

"We were young and stupid at the time," Rotundo candidly admitted. "I can't even give you a legitimate reason why we left."

In NWA, Rotundo would join up with Kevin Sullivan and Rick Steiner to form The Varsity Club, a team of rough and arrogant wrestlers with a background in amateur wrestling. Clad in leather varsity jackets and collegiate wrestling gear, the stable would destroy their opponents with their intimidating strength and amazing technical skill.

"It was a unique situation, because in those days someone coming out of college would be an all-American hero, but we took it the other way," Rotundo said. "We were bragging about being college wrestlers. Nobody had ever done that at that time."

When Rotundo's contract expired in 1991, he returned to WWE. At this time, Rotundo would trade in his singlet for a shirt and tie and take on his most enduring persona yet — a crooked taxman by the name of Irwin R. Schyster.

"I was a little skeptical at first," Rotundo admitted, "but the fact is nobody likes the IRS. I had a lot of fun calling people tax cheats."

I.R.S. immediately caught on with the WWE Universe, becoming the type of Superstar they love to hate. Rotundo was so successful as a villain, the boos often occurred outside the ring.

"I remember one woman telling my wife that she couldn't stand me," Rotundo said. "I guess I was doing my job."

After competing as a singles star, Rotundo teamed with The Million Dollar Man to form Money, Inc., one of the most successful duos in WWE history.

"We kind of fed off each other and knew what the other one was going to do," Rotundo said. "I think that's what makes certain tag teams gel — the two guys involved just kind of mesh together to make it work."

During a time when WWE's tag team division was wildly competitive, Money, Inc. was one of the top teams, capturing the World Tag Team Championship on three occasions.

"When you have to fight guys like The Natural Disasters or The Steiners or The Road Warriors, it's definitely a challenge," Rotundo said.

In 1995, Rotundo would abandon his I.R.S. persona and head to WCW. Wrestling as Michael Wallstreet, Rotundo spent much of his time in Japan as a member of the Japanese NWO. While Rotundo enjoyed his team overseas, he doesn't have many fond memories of his time in WCW.

"It was very mismanaged and out of control," Rotundo told WWE.com.

After five years in WCW, Rotundo retired. The Florida native would spend some time working for his father-in-law's used car business, but he missed WWE too much. In 2006, Rotundo returned to the company, this time as a producer. (PHOTOS)

Utilizing his 20-plus years of experience, Rotundo helps with all facets of running a WWE show, from production to scheduling to assisting younger talent.

"Years ago, when you made it to WWE you probably had seven or eight years of experience already," Rotundo said. "You were a known name somewhere in the country, but those territories aren't available anymore."

As a producer, Rotundo has had the opportunity to aid some young Superstars and Divas and watch their talents blossom.

"I worked with Jack Swagger and gave him some ideas to throw in his amateur stuff. I think he's going to do really well," Rotundo said. "Kofi Kingston is another guy who will do well. Tyler Reks just came in. I think he's going to do pretty well."

Rotundo is also giving his extensive ring knowledge to his two sons, who currently compete as Bo and Duke Rotundo. The stellar athletes, aged 19 and 22, respectively, are both training in hopes of finding a spot on WWE's roster — whether their dad likes it or not. 

"Initially, I really didn't have aspirations for them to get into it," Rotundo admitted, "but I gave them the option and they're developing pretty well. They seem to be picking it up quickly."

Although Rotundo is busy with his WWE responsibilities, he helps his sons whenever he can.

"They tape their matches for me and we go over them," Rotundo said.

While his sons develop as a third-generation tag team, Rotundo stays in touch with his old partner and brother-in-law, Barry Windham.

"Barry and I went on a fishing trip this weekend," Rotundo said. "We still get together once in a while and cookout."

Nearly 30 years since he met The Destroyer in a banquet room in Syracuse, N.Y., the kid who never watched wrestling is now a revered veteran and an integral part of WWE. Having performed all over the globe as a beloved American hero, a crooked Wall Street tycoon and a loathed IRS agent, he has a storied career to look back on.

"It makes you feel proud that you're still a part of something that does so well and touches people's lives," Rotundo said. "It's a unique industry and I'm proud to be a part of it."

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