Where Are They Now? Rico
A former bail bonds collector, “American Gladiators” champion and motivational speaker, there isn’t too much that Rico Costantino hasn’t done in his 51 years. The Las Vegas native packed in plenty of experience before the WWE Universe got to know him as Billy & Chuck’s personal stylist in 2002. But don’t let the antics and gaudy outfits cloud your judgment of him. Today, if you’re in Nevada and step out of line, the sergeant for the Nevada Taxicab Authority and a part-time District Security Officer with the U.S. Marshals might lock you up. ( CLASSIC PHOTOS | CURRENT PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)
Born in Sin City, Rico grew up a wrestling fan, but he never thought he would end up becoming a Superstar.
“When you’re a kid, you have those dreams, but I was very small growing up,” Rico explained to WWEClassics.com. “In ninth grade, I was only 4-foot-11 and 82 pounds.”
After high school, he started working out, which paid off in spades when he tried out for the second season of the hit show “American Gladiators.” A staple of early ’90s television, the syndicated program pitted regular Joes against hulking “Gladiators” in a series of high-risk competitive challenges. Accepting a challenge from Gemini, one of the show’s massive warriors, Rico went to an open tryout at Universal Studios, where he and 15,000 other hopeful contenders were put through the wringer.
“You had to do 25 chin-ups in 30 seconds, a 40-yard dash in under six seconds, a shuttle run under 30 seconds and a one-on-one tug of war,” Rico said. “Most everybody got knocked out on the chin-ups.”
Rico impressed the producers of the show so much that he was invited to try out to become a Gladiator, but they ended up choosing him to be a contestant. That ended up being for the best, as he went on to win his season of the show. The victory made him an unlikely celebrity and he spent the next year donating his time to many charities, including Special Olympics and Make-A-Wish.
Costantino took on a number of different professions before he entered the world of sports-entertainment. He spent two years as a member of The Power Team, a Christian group that travels around to schools and performs feats of strength while encouraging children to avoid substance abuse and violence. He was a bodyguard and private investigator before returning home to Las Vegas to help his brother run his bail bonds business.
Not long after his return home, Rico and his brother decided to learn how to wrestle. They drove three and a half hours each way several times a week to San Bernardino, Calif., where they were taught the ropes by Jesse Hernandez. After eight months and 12 professional matches, Rico soon got the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Jesse got a call from [WWE], asking if he had any talent,” Rico said. “He sent a tape in and shortly after that, I got a call from Howard Finkel. He said we’re having a 10-day tryout and asked if I was interested in coming. I was in shock.”
Rico soon was on his way to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., to take part in the last dojo run by WWE Hall of Famer Dory Funk Jr. The infamous camps had been used for years as a measuring stick for potential Superstars. But before the camp even started, Rico thought the proverbial fork had been stuck in him.
“We all met in the cafeteria, and Dory and his wife were going to each wrestler and asking what our name was, how old we were and how long we had been in the business. Depending on what you said, the conversation continued from there,” he said before detailing the conversation he had with the legendary grappler.
According to Rico, it went a little something like this:
FUNK: What’s your name?
RICO: Rico Costantino.
FUNK: How old are you?
FUNK: How long have you been in the business?
RICO: Eight months.
“Then he stood up and walked to the next person,” Rico said. “Shut down. I didn’t think that was good.”
Athough he was the oldest guy in the camp, Costantino worked harder than anyone and impressed WWE officials enough to earn a developmental contract. The decrease in pay compared to his bail bonds job made him think twice, however, especially with a family at home. Rico sought the counsel of a former WWE Champion, who lived near Las Vegas.
“I met with Yokozuna and we talked a while,” he said. “The last thing he said to me was, ‘People would give their right arm and left leg to get what you’re getting.’ That stuck with me.”
Yokozuna’s advice led Rico to accept the contract. He was soon on his way to Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville, Ky. Although he was 38, he still had a lot to learn. To this day, he credits the people at OVW for getting him to the heights he reached. But even with all the mentoring he received at OVW, Rico almost didn’t make it to WWE’s main roster. ( WATCH RICO IN OVW ACTION WITH JOHN CENA)
“I think it was because of my age, they were going to let me go,” he said.
But his teachers weren’t going to let the company pass on someone who worked so hard to get there.
“Jim Cornette wrote a letter to Mr. McMahon and Stephanie, explaining that I was a hard worker and I do what I’m told and that they should at least give me a tryout.”
So they did. After several months of tryouts, Rico finally got the call that he’d been dreaming of. Billy and Chuck needed a stylist. Costantino assumed a dual role, as stylist and manager for the fashion-obsessed World Tag Team Champions ( WATCH). On his first night, Rico showed how important he would be to Billy & Chuck, helping them retain their titles by sliding in the ring and spin kicking Jeff Hardy.
“I didn’t realize how much [the WWE Universe] liked The Hardy Boyz,” Rico recalled with a smile. “When we left, I was getting snowballs thrown at me.”
Rico was given free reign to come up with his own outfits, which led to a wardrobe of flashy colored shirts and loud, animal-print pants, not to mention his trademark sideburns. Eventually, he broke out on his own, even picking up a singles victory over WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair ( WATCH), which still leaves him a little speechless.
In 2003, he reinvented himself in the image of another legendary competitor: the double-tough, extra-colorful “Exotic” Adrian Street.
“[A WWE official] came up to me and asked me what I thought about doing the character,” Rico told WWEClassics.com. “I asked, ‘Why me?’ And he said, “Mr. McMahon thinks you’re the only one who can pull it off.”
Before he put on a dab of makeup, though, he asked WWE to set up a meeting between him and Street, to get his blessing, and hopefully, a few tricks to make him successful in the ring. The company obliged and flew Rico down to Gulf Breeze, Fla., where Street lives.
“I spent about 14 hours with Adrian and [his longtime valet] Miss Linda,” Rico excitedly explained. “He told me everything, what worked and what didn’t. I told him my ideas and he wished me luck.”
Grateful for Street’s blessing, Rico also thanked the legend in a unique way.
“I bought my tights from him for the next year,” he said.
Armed with an arsenal of antics that distracted even the most focused opponents ( WATCH), Rico pranced back on to SmackDown, with Miss Jackie at his side, and found success almost instantly. He captured the WWE Tag Team Titles with an unlikely partner, Charlie Haas.
“My antics fired Charlie up to do what he did in the ring,” Rico giddily recalled.
It worked. In their first match as a team, they defeated Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty for the titles ( WATCH). The unusual duo held the championships for two months and remained a team even after they lost the titles.
By the end of 2004, however, Rico was released from his WWE contract. He went on a tour with All Japan Pro Wrestling in early 2005, capturing their tag team titles with Bull Buchanan. Although he enjoyed the experience, Rico was coming to a crossroads in his life.
“I was 44 years old. Was I going to keep coming to Japan and traveling like this?” he said. “After that tour, I told them I wasn’t going to be coming back. I decided to become a police officer again.
Shortly after his WWE release, he was hired by the U.S. Marshals as a District Security Officer, which he does on a part-time basis to this day. Because he was too old to become a deputy marshal full-time, he began looking for other police work in Nevada. It had been 20 years since he was last a cop, so Rico had to go back to the police academy in March 2005.
He graduated first in his class, passed the state test and was hired by the Nevada State Taxicab Authority that September. Rico has since risen to the rank of sergeant and commands the graveyard shift in Clark County, leading a squad of 10 officers. ( CURRENT PHOTOS)
“If anything happens with a cab, I’m involved,” he said.
When he’s not doing police work, Rico enjoys going to the mountains and has also taken up archery and hunting. From time to time, Rico still puts on his boots and gets back in the ring. He often helps train potential wrestlers with an independent company in Las Vegas.
“I did a match in November, my first in seven years,” he said. “It felt pretty good. Grew the sideburns back and everything.”
The bout helped Costantino remember how much he loved performing for the WWE Universe.
“I miss them, I miss entertaining them,” he said. “I still get fan mail that comes to my house.”
And if you happen to be in Nevada, don’t pull any funny stuff in a cab, or else you might catch one of Rico’s trademark kicks.