Where Are They Now?: Hardcore Holly
Hardcore Holly had a reputation as one of WWE’s toughest, surliest competitors. It’s hard to imagine a hardened brawler who once bodyslammed a man into the Mississippi River sitting down to answer tweets from his fans.
But that’s one of Hardcore Holly’s favorite hobbies today. He promised that if you asked him a question @TheBobHolly, he’d personally respond.
“Without the fans, we would never be what we are,” he told WWE.com. “It’s all because of them. This is my way of giving back.”
Holly appreciated the fans because he still vividly remembers being one. Growing up in Ventura, Calif., then moving to Grants Pass, Ore., he was exposed to two of wrestling’s major territories — Big Time Wrestling out of northern California and Portland Wrestling from Oregon’s largest city.
“I couldn’t wait for Saturdays,” he said. “I would see Pat Patterson, Pepper Gomez, Bob Roop and Mr. Saito on Big Time. And Portland Wrestling had Jesse Ventura, Roddy Piper and Curt Hennig, a lot of big names that went on to do big things.”
Enamored with the exploits of his favorite grapplers, Holly dreamed of stepping in the ring himself one day. Still, it never seemed likely that he would as he headed from Oregon down to Alabama, working as an auto mechanic and a welder, until he made friends with a wrestler by the name of Marcel Pringle. That foot in the door led him to Pensacola, Fla., where Bob Sweetan and Rip Tyler trained him in the vicious art of wrestling. The training curriculum wasn’t all headlocks and suplexes.
“We would run stairs and run outside for miles,” Holly explained. “Sweetan would ride his bike behind us, and if anyone slowed down, we’d have to start over again.”
Starting in the ring in 1987, Holly began working on the independent circuit, though the pay wasn’t quite good enough to make it a full-time gig. He was still working odd jobs, while pursuing other hobbies on the weekend.
“I was doing what I enjoyed doing, working on my race car,” he said.
After short stints in Memphis and Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Holly wasn’t too sure that wrestling was going to work out for him, until a friend of Pringle’s made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Paul Bearer told me to put together a two-minute video tape and he’d give it to [WWE] Talent Relations,” Holly said.
A month later, his life changed forever.
“I came home from work, I got a phone call from [former head of WWE Talent Relations] JJ Dillon,” Holly recalled. “I couldn’t believe JJ Dillon was on my answering machine!”
After meeting with Dillon and Mr. McMahon at WWE headquarters, Holly was on board and ready to debut. Although he was an experienced race car driver, he had no idea that he would be portraying one on WWE television.
“I got my contract in the mail and opened it up, and it said ‘Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg,’ ” he said. “I thought it was a rib, but it didn’t matter what my name was. That was where I wanted to be.”
He was soon speeding into the squared circle, finishing off opponents with a daring top-rope splash to the delight of the WWE Universe. While Holly may have been uncomfortable with the name, he got acclimated to WWE and soon learned he could give a little input.
“I asked Mr. McMahon if we could change the name,” he explained. “Because nobody took Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg seriously, and rightfully so. It was kind of a silly name.”
Although he kept the racing stripes and checkered flags, he was now Bob “Spark Plug” Holly and began to find himself as a wrestler. Teaming with The 1-2-3 Kid, he won a tournament to crown new World Tag Team Champions at Royal Rumble 1995.
After dropping the titles, Holly bounced around WWE, teaming with Bart Gunn as part of The New Midnight Express and trading fists in the infamous Brawl for All competition, before finding his niche in WWE’s Hardcore division.
“Those matches were so fun,” Holly said. “You had the liberty to be creative. Whatever idea you came up with, you could use. I looked forward to those matches.”
He made his name in the vicious division, particularly on the night he battled Al Snow in an infamous match that spilled out to the banks of the Mississippi River. Holly became so synonymous with Hardcore Matches that he added it to his name.
Holly’s stature as a no-nonsense, tough guy wasn’t just onscreen posturing either. He showed that in one of reality television’s most infamous moments when he put the boots to a young WWE hopeful named Matt Cappotelli on “Tough Enough.” The beating was difficult to watch, but Holly maintains that scrapes and bruises will happen when you step between the ropes.
“What blew the whole thing out of proportion was him crying on the show. It was called ‘Tough Enough,’ ” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I was in the ring and got popped in the mouth and bled a little. I never said anyone was too rough.”
Holly faced setbacks of his own when a neck injury put him on the sidelines for more than a year. He returned to WWE in 2004 to challenge Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship at that year’s Royal Rumble, but was soon sidelined again by a nasty staph infection that nearly cost him his arm. He fully recovered and got back in the ring, however, joining the rebooted ECW. Holly relished the opportunity to mix it up with some of WWE’s younger, fresher talent.
“I enjoyed working with guys and helping them learn,” Holly said. “I know what it’s like to be in their shoes and to have a dream, and to have it come true.”
Holly moved on from ECW and was asked to take another newcomer to WWE under his wing.
“Dusty Rhodes came to me and asked me to look after Cody,” he said. “I was like, ‘What can I show him that you can’t?’ But I felt honored that he asked me to help him.”
The veteran captured the World Tag Team Titles with Cody Rhodes in December 2007, marking his last time as a champion in WWE. After Rhodes turned on him to join forces with Ted DiBiase the following summer, Holly’s WWE tenure came to an end after 15 years.
“I had a really great career and have nothing to complain about,” Holly said.
Hardcore Holly recently recounted his career and his life in great detail in his autobiography “The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story,” an opportunity that he didn’t imagine would present itself.
“I never thought anybody would really be interested in what I had to say,” he admitted. “They want to hear from the top guys, the real Superstars.”
Holly Skyped with co-writer Ross Williams for a year and a half to relive his life and put it all on paper. The final product is an engaging story told in his opinionated, Hardcore style.
“I wanted it to be honest as it could be,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be bitter or bashing anyone, but a straightforward book. I wanted it to be like I was sitting there, telling you the stories. That’s how it came out.”
Now that he’s published the book, Holly is free to pursue his other hobbies, like the one that inspired his first WWE character.
“I love working on cars,” he said.
He also works on virtual cars, playing the multiplayer online game iRacing, where he competes against other users in online replicas of real NASCAR tracks. Away from the computer, Holly enjoys mountain biking and traveling with his wife. Unlike most tourists, Holly eschews the long security lines and baggage claims of crowded airports for the open road.
“We drive across the country,” he said. “You have the freedom to do what you want. I love driving, you can see so much and you’re not on a timetable. I don’t live by my watch anymore.”
As for wrestling, Holly still steps in the ring at the occasional independent wrestling show and teaches seminars to those hopefuls who are brave enough to tangle with the man they once saw taking students to the school of hard knocks on “Tough Enough.”
“It’s not ballet. There’s physical contact,” Holly said. “That’s the nature of the business.”
You can follow Hardcore Holly on Twitter @TheBobHolly. His autobiography, "The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story" is available now.