Where Are They Now? Chuck Palumbo
World Tag Team Champion, motorcycle builder, gym owner, musician. There isn’t too much that former WWE Superstar Chuck Palumbo hasn’t done. But long before he locked up with Hulk Hogan or built custom bikes for Rey Mysterio, Palumbo was struggling just to get by. ( CLASSIC PHOTOS | CURRENT PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)
His story begins in West Warwick, R.I., where he was an all-state high school basketball player whose sports career was hampered by a rough upbringing.
“I was living on my own at 17,” Palumbo explained. “I didn’t have the discipline to go to [college].”
Instead, he enlisted in the Navy, serving four years on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinton, which docked in San Diego, the town he now calls home. Palumbo did several tours in the Persian Gulf, which he credits to setting him straight.
“I don’t want to sound like a recruiting commercial, but the Navy got me on the right path as far as getting more organized and more disciplined,” he said.
He went back to school after finishing up his service, eventually earning a basketball scholarship to Central Missouri State University. It was during this time that Palumbo made a decision that would change his life. It all started when he was watching WCW on television.
“They had a guy named Lodi, who was holding up a sign in the audience that said ‘Do you want to wrestle?’ and had a number on it,” he explained.
“I was going to write it down but didn’t. The second time, I saw the sign and called the number.”
Palumbo’s decision to head down to Atlanta and enroll in WCW’s infamous Power Plant was a snap one, which he readily admitted.
“I knew nobody in the business, I knew nothing about the business, but I watched it on TV two times,” he joked. “The decision was that quick.”
Palumbo went down to Atlanta, not knowing what was in store for him at WCW’s training facility. Nothing could have prepared him for what head trainer Buddy Lee Parker and his staff had prepared.
“The whole place was a weeding out process,” Palumbo said. “It was really, really hardcore. You had 30 guys a month trying out and no one ever made it through.
“The first day was calisthenics to the extreme. Squatting until people are throwing up, people were actually losing control of their bodily functions, no exaggeration.”
The 6-foot-9 athlete was one of the few to make it through the rigorous tryout and into the regular program. He trained for about eight months at the Power Plant before WCW sent him overseas to New Japan Pro Wrestling to further hone his craft.
Upon returning from the Far East, he made his debut on WCW Saturday Night in 1998 as a young upstart wearing leopard-print trunks. He didn’t have much of a character at the point, but the tights were a tribute to a WWE Legend he admired.
“I always thought Jimmy Snuka was cool, those reminded me of him,” he explained.
Palumbo plugged away on Saturday Night, gaining experience in front of live crowds until early 2000, when he would put away the Snuka tribute trunks and put on the tights of another legend: Lex Luger. The rookie made a major impact in WCW when he blindsided “The Total Package” at Slamboree 2000, while wearing ring gear similar to the former World Champion’s. ( WATCH PALUMBO'S NITRO DEBUT)
After battling Luger, Palumbo joined forces with several other young upstarts, including Sean O’Haire and Johnny Stamboli, to form the Natural Born Thrillers. The group set out to make a mark on WCW and aimed high, gunning for veterans like “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. Though they were trying to take out the old timers, Palumbo remembered several experienced warriors going out of their way to help the rookies.
“At that time in WCW, a lot of the veterans didn’t want to work with the young kids coming in,” he said. “Here I am working with Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner, guys who had been around a long time and were at the top of their game. It was a pleasure working with them. They were real cool about it, super helpful.”
Palumbo was heating up in WCW as 2001 began. He and O’Haire defeated Nash and Diamond Dallas Page for the WCW Tag Team Titles in January ( WATCH). Their Thriller comrades got jealous of the pair’s success and booted them out of the group. That may have been the spark the two needed, as the hard-hitting Palumbo and high-flying O’Haire tore through the tag team division, growing in popularity by the day.
Before they could reach their apex however, the sports-entertainment industry changed forever. WWE purchased WCW in March 2001, leaving many WCW stars wondering what their future would hold. The mood in the locker room was somber, according to Palumbo.
“I think people were bummed for the most part,” he said. “For a company that was so big and so dominating and so successful to dwindle down to closing was sad.”
Though many WCW competitors’ futures were up in the air, Palumbo soon found out that he would be part of the group coming over to WWE. But when he finally joined WWE on the road as part of the invading WCW/ECW Alliance in summer 2001, Palumbo didn’t quite get the welcome he expected.
“I was thinking we’ll come over and they’ll be glad to have us all,” he said. “Not all, but most of [the WWE Superstars] were like, ‘Whoa, this is our company, you have to prove yourself.’ ”
Palumbo, still a youngster in the wrestling industry, worked hard to show the WWE talent he belonged. Several veterans took notice.
“I was very fortunate to work with guys like Mr. Perfect, Billy Gunn and Ron Simmons, guys who had been around a long time,” Palumbo told WWEClassics.com. “Those guys, in particular, were very good to me as far as giving me guidance.”
Some of Palumbo’s WCW co-workers, however, didn’t fit in quite as nicely.
“We had some guys in WCW who were spoiled with the working conditions and very light schedule,” he explained. “When you come over [to WWE], they’re a strong believer in Live Events, having guys out on the road. Once you get into that routine and you can prove that you deserve to be there, everything’s cool.”
After the Invasion ended, Palumbo found himself without direction, when a makeshift pairing with multi-time World Tag Team Champion Billy Gunn turned into something much bigger.
“I think it was just an idea that Sgt. Slaughter had,” he said. “He was joking around about it, ‘Let’s have these guys with platinum blond hair and robes’ in one of Mr. McMahon’s meetings before the show and it happened that quick.”
The infamous duo known as Billy and Chuck was born. Palumbo dyed his hair to match Gunn’s, the pair got identical headbands with their names emblazoned on them and the rest was history. The fashion-conscious duo, guided by their stylist, Rico, dominated the tag team scene for most of 2002, winning the World Tag Team Titles on two occasions ( WATCH), even taking on American hero Hulk Hogan and Edge on the Independence Day edition of SmackDown. ( WATCH)
“We had a blast,” Palumbo said of his team with Gunn. “It started out as a joke and turned into this big thing.”
After the partnership with Gunn ended, Palumbo joined up with Johnny Stamboli and Nunzio, The Full Blooded Italians, before he was released in November 2004.
He competed in promotions around the world, including All Japan Pro Wrestling for several years before he was contacted by WWE again in 2007 to see if he had any interest in returning. After finishing up his commitments in Japan and Mexico, Palumbo headed right to a WWE SmackDown taping, competed against Rob Van Dam and was offered a deal to return, which he accepted. Now, he needed a way to get noticed after several years away. Palumbo knew just what to do.
“At the time, I was building motorcycles in my garage as a hobby. I’d grown up around them,” Palumbo said. “I just had a cover feature in American Iron Magazine. So I showed Mr. McMahon and asked ‘What do you think about me just being myself?’ He loved it.”
So Palumbo went full-throttle onto Friday nights, riding one of his custom motorcycles to the ring before unleashing his bruising blows on opponents. ( WATCH) For Palumbo, being able to be himself was a welcome change.
The motorcycle-riding brawler soon struck up a romance with Michelle McCool, which led to a rivalry with Jamie Noble, who was trying to woo the Diva, as well. After their battles died down, Palumbo was sidelined by a shoulder injury. While rehabbing, he was let go by WWE, more or less ending Palumbo’s career as a full-time grappler.
“I didn’t really stop wrestling, but I took some time off and never picked up full speed again,” he said. “I wrestle once in a great while, to have a little fun, travel and see the boys.”
During his free moments, Palumbo enjoys spending time with his 15-year-old daughter, Charli, a varsity volleyball player, and his girlfriend Laura, who he calls his biggest supporter.
“None of this stuff would happen without her,” he said.
But just because Palumbo is no longer wrestling doesn’t mean he isn’t busy. These days, Palumbo can be found rocking out on guitar and backing vocals with his band, 3 Spoke Wheel ( VISIT THE BAND'S FACEBOOK). Strangely enough, the former Superstar hadn’t even played guitar until 2008.
“When I came out of [shoulder] surgery, I decided I was going to play,” he said. “I don’t know where it came from, but I picked up a guitar and started taking lessons immediately. I haven’t put it down since.”
Palumbo cites rock legends Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Buddy Guy, BB King and Leslie West of Mountain among his biggest influences as a guitarist. That can be heard in the music of 3 Spoke Wheel, which specialized in classic rock and blues. ( CURRENT PHOTOS)
They’re looking forward to playing at Count’s Vamp’d in Las Vegas as part of Las Vegas BikeFest on Sept. 27. Palumbo will also be taking part in the World’s Strongest Biker Competition on Sept. 28.
Outside of his band, Palumbo’s also built up several businesses in the past four years, including one he started up while last was with WWE. His passion for putting together motorcycles was noticed by his fellow Superstars, who asked Palumbo if he’d build them bikes. It started with former World Heavyweight Champion Batista. Then, Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero asked Palumbo to create motorcycles for them. With very satisfied Superstars among his clientele, word of Palumbo’s prowess in the garage spread, leading him to turn his hobby into a business.
“When I got released, I had some time, so I decided to open up a shop,” he told WWEClassics.com.
CP Kustoms went into business, and following some magazine features, orders started piling in. ( CHECK OUT CP KUSTOMS ONLINE)
“It’s been four years, almost five, and I’ve been slammed,” Palumbo exclaimed.
Palumbo's love for customizing motorcycles and cars has brought him back onto television, as the host of " Lords of The Car Hoards," a show on Discovery where he and a team of customizers dig through scrap heaps to find hot rods worth rebuilding.
He also spun off the motorcycle theme into another venture, Chuck Palumbo's Garage Gym, a core fitness facility in El Cajon, Calif. He’s adapted the fitness knowledge he gained over his years in sports-entertainment and adapted them to the cross-fit style of training. ( VISIT THE GYM'S WEBSITE)
“Back in the day, we trained with heavy weights and did cardio and those were two separate things,” Palumbo explained. “Now people are realizing with core fitness that you can work out the whole body and keep cardio up at the same time.”
In addition to running the gym, the former Superstar teaches several classes a week. The experience at the gym has brought Palumbo new joy.
“You don’t think about what you’re going to get out of helping people,” he said. “That’s where I’ve got the most satisfaction. I’ve changed a lot of peoples’ lives.”
For more information on CP Kustom's, Chuck Palumbo's motorcycle design shop, check out CPKustoms.com.
To learn more about Chuck Palumbo's Garage Gym, head over to CPGarageGym.com.
To find out when 3 Spoke Wheel is playing, go to Facebook.com/3SpokeWheel.