Where Are They Now?: Simon Dean
The patrons at Louisville, Ky.’s Woodforest National Bank might not know it, but before he became the bank manager helping them with their loans, Mike Bucci spent the previous 15 years as a superhero, a Hulk Hogan impersonator and the most obnoxious fitness instructor since Tony Little. For Bucci, the road from the ring to the bank took many twists and turns, some of which he least expected.
Growing up in Toms River, N.J., Mike Bucci was a huge wrestling fan. With ease, he can recall the first match he ever watched — Pedro Morales vs. The Magnificent Muraco. Though he was passionate in following the exploits of his favorite grapplers, the idea of entering the ring himself seemed out of reach for a Jersey kid with a normal upbringing.
“It was an impossible dream,” Bucci told WWE.com. “I didn’t think I could do it until the end of high school [in 1990].”
That was when he discovered that journeyman grappler “Iron” Mike Sharpe had opened up a wrestling school in nearby Bricktown, N.J. Bucci and his brother, Donnie, would go to the eccentric grappler’s school and watch him train wrestlers. After a week, “Iron” Mike asked Bucci if he wanted to get in the ring and give it a try.
“After the first lesson, I loved it,” he exclaimed.
He continued training, but wrestling was just a hobby for Bucci at that time.
“I was working full-time at Wendy’s and going to school to get my math degree,” Bucci said. “I thought wrestling was going to be a part-time thing, like some guys do bowling leagues or softball.”
It seemed as though the more Bucci convinced himself wrestling would be anything but a career, the more it became clear that a life in the squared circle was his destiny. Any time WWE’s tour stopped within driving distance of Sharpe’s camp, “Iron” Mike would take Bucci and his other students to get them work with the biggest company in sports-entertainment. While it probably wasn’t fun getting bulldozed by guys like Ludvig Borga and Adam Bomb, the experience was invaluable.
Meanwhile, Bucci was developing his own unique persona on the independents. Taking a cue from another passion of his — comic books — he created the off-kilter caped crusader known as Super Nova.
“The vein in which I did it was Adam West in ‘Batman’ — tongue-in-cheek, an almost goofy kind of superhero,” he said. “That’s what got me noticed by Raven. He saw me and invited me to come to ECW.”
As Super Nova, Bucci began hanging around ECW with the grungy Raven and his goofy sidekicks, The Blue Meanie and Stevie Richards. The silly trio often did pop culture parodies of groups like KISS and The Jackson 5 away from their leader, which made them extra popular with the South Philadelphia faithful.
However, it was a goof on the biggest trio in sports-entertainment that helped propel them into wrestling history.
“It might have been Bubba Ray Dudley who said, ‘The only thing that would be better than KISS is if you parody The nWo,’” Bucci recalled. “We were joking about it, but I went home and made all the signs. We planned everything out.”
And thus, The Blue World Order was born. Bucci spoofed Hogan as “Hollywood Nova,” Meanie became “Da Blue Guy” and Richards morphed into “Big Stevie Cool.” After their debut at November to Remember 1996, The BWO exploded in popularity, with the trio even making an appearance on Monday Night Raw in early 1997. Blue World Order shirts are still a coveted item among hardcore wrestling collectors.
“I think it was the fact that we were three guys that were the most unlikely wrestling stars: a guy in cutoff shorts, a fat dude with blue hair who could moonsault and a comic book superhero,” Bucci said. “Plus, we were friends outside the ring. I think that always came across.”
Eventually, Meanie and Richards left ECW, leaving Bucci to carve a new path for himself. So Nova got serious. Unveiling a new physique and a plethora of innovative maneuvers, he became a hit once again with ECW fans as a singles star and as part of a team with Chris Chetti.
“I was constantly trying to evolve my body and get in better shape,” he said. “I would spend hours practicing and trying out different moves. You have to keep evolving in wrestling, because if you do the same thing and it’s not working or it’s getting old, you get replaced.”
After ECW closed in 2001, Bucci spent more than a year wrestling around the world and gaining even more experience. His dedication to improving himself caught the eye of WWE talent scouts who signed Bucci in April 2002. He made an immediate impact upon his arrival in [WWE training ground] Ohio Valley Wrestling, defeating John Cena for the OVW Championship in his very first match. Although he had considerably more experience than many of the other Superstars in OVW, Bucci saw his time in WWE’s former developmental system as a challenge.
“There are a lot of guys who might not have [spending time in developmental], but to me, if you’re as good as you say you are, you’ll have no problem proving it,” he explained.
After two years fine-tuning his craft in OVW, Bucci pitched an idea to then-Talent Relations head John Laurinaitis and Vince McMahon that would bring him to the main roster.
“I told them I wanted to be a cross between Tony Little and Jack LaLanne,” he explained. “I said I wanted to have supplements and do infomercials. [Mr. McMahon’s] eyes lit up and two weeks later I was at WWE Headquarters filming the infomercials.”
After hocking his phony Simon System workout tapes and supplements on WWE TV for weeks, Dean finally made his in-ring debut in December 2004, defeating The Hurricane. While many Superstars might feel a major adrenaline rush when they first compete on Raw, Bucci took time to put things in perspective for himself.
“To me, it was more satisfying than anything else, because it showed my mom and dad, my relatives and friends that I made it,” he said. “This plain guy from Toms River made it. I had action figures and was on pay-per-view.”
Still, he was always looking for ways to intensify the obnoxiousness of his character, finding inspiration from unlikely sources.
“I was on a casino boat in Indiana, and I saw a security guard going around on a Segway,” he explained. “I said, ‘Look at him, he’s too lazy to walk around.’ I thought, ‘This is perfect!’”
He snapped a picture of the Segway and pitched the idea to Stephanie McMahon.
“She said, ‘You want to be a fitness instructor who’s too lazy to walk to the ring?’” Bucci recalled. “I said, ‘Yes,’ and she said, ‘I love it. Get it.’”
Not long after, Bucci was scooting around arenas on his own “Dean Machine” while competing and managing a burly tag duo known as The Gymini. At the same time, he was also revisiting his past by taking part in the ECW One Night Stand reunion show alongside his Blue World Order buddies. By summer 2006, however, Bucci knew his in-ring career was winding down.
“I felt that Simon Dean had gone as far as he could competitively and I was looking for a new challenge,” he said.
Laurinaitis presented Bucci with the opportunity to leading WWE’s developmental system, scouting and managing the Superstars of the future. For him, the transition from the road to the office was a breeze.
“It was easy,” he said. “I loved working in the office and having a semblance of a ‘real life.’”
While he enjoyed being able to help make dreams come true by signing Superstars like Sheamus, Bad News Barrett and Santino Marella to WWE’s developmental system, Bucci never planned on staying with WWE forever.
“I didn’t know how long the gig was going to last, so I wanted whatever I did to look fantastic on my résumé,” he told WWE.com. “I never planned on being with WWE for life. There was so much more I wanted to accomplish.”
In August 2007, WWE and Bucci parted ways. He had already been preparing for post-wrestling life and took a test to be licensed as a mortgage originator in New York and New Jersey, just days after leaving the company. He had experience in the field in other states, having helped some of his fellow Superstars purchase homes. Bucci eventually moved to Louisville, Ky., where he is the branch manager at Woodforest National Bank. Though it’s a 9-to-5 job, he often finds himself on the road going to help out at several other branches in the area.
“My day-to day-worries are different than in the wrestling business,” he said. “Instead of worrying about whether I’m going to get hurt in the ring, I’m worried about what the interest rates pay on a five-year CD.”
He may not be entertaining millions of people every week in the ring today, but Bucci still finds satisfaction in helping others in his current job.
“It’s rewarding,” he said. “I change lives. Next to people’s families, their money is the most important thing they have. It’s my job to make sure they’re being fiscally sound and that we’re there for them.”
When he’s not at the bank, Bucci loves spending time with his 4-year-old daughter, checking out movies and following football, whether he’s rooting on the Dallas Cowboys or tracking his fantasy team. He also does volunteer work for Dare to Care, a food bank that partners with 300 other service agencies to fight hunger and has helped serve more than 13 million meals over the past year in the Louisville area.
Above all else, Bucci hopes that his path from the squared circle and beyond can be an example for other Superstars to follow.
“You need a focus. You need to have a reason to get out of bed every day,” he said, reflecting on his lifestyle today. “I would implore every WWE Superstar, either at the Performance Center or on the main roster, to get themselves in the best place possible for life after wrestling.”