Orlando Sentinel – August 18, 2000
By Ric Russo
Bob Roop has no regrets. Professional wrestling turned out to be a good career move for the 58-year-old former Olympian.
“I met my wife when I was wrestling and today we have two beautiful children, boys ages 7 and 11,” says Roop when looking back on his 17-year career. “As a young man, I was fortunate enough to travel to places like Iraq, Europe, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, all through wrestling. Wrestling gave me a life lesson that you can’t get in any school.”
It’s a lesson Roop hopes to pass down to his sons and a group of Boy Scouts he works with near his home in southeastern Michigan. Roop and his wife spend a lot of their time helping out the local chapter in a variety of ways.
“It’s a great organization, and we all enjoy being a part of it,” he says. “Kids today face dangers coming at them from all angles in all walks of life. Boy Scouts are educating these young men on what they can do to stay safe — we call it our youth protection program.”
Not many of his charges are aware their fearless leader was one of the top heels in professional wrestling in the 1970s. Roop made a lot of money — $80,000 one year — playing opposite some of the most popular fan favorites in the business. Five times he wrestled for the National Wrestling Alliance version of the world championship, but he never won it.
When Roop entered pro wrestling at age 26, he took a lot of grief. A member of the U.S. Olympic team that competed in the 1968 games in Mexico City, Roop was a heavyweight on the Greco-Roman squad. He came in seventh in his division after losing to a 7-foot Russian grappler. Wrestlers with those kind of credentials didn’t “go pro.”
In the pros, Roop won a slew of regional championships in singles competition and as a member of a tag team. He parlayed a vast knowledge of the basics with charisma, brains and showmanship. Working for Championship Wrestling from Florida during the mid-’70s, the “All-American back-jumper” — as the late Gordon Solie referred to him — had some legendary feuds with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Mike and Eddie Graham and Steve Keirn.
World Wrestling Federation performer Kurt Angle, an Olympic gold medalist, has reinvented the Bob Roop gimmick.
“I thought it was a great idea from the very beginning,” Roop says of his ring persona. “We got a lot of mileage out of it.”
Roop’s wrestling character was an arrogant snob with an impressive amateur background who wore his Olympic medals when he wrestled and talked down to the audience, Solie and his opponents. His wrestling attire resembled the American flag. Sound familiar?
While working for Florida promoters Roop won the Florida Heavyweight Championship on several occasions and teamed with Bob Orton Jr. to win the Florida tag-team belts. Soon the landscape in pro wrestling changed, and style started to mean more than substance. Guys like Roop with superior knowledge of the basics were pushed aside for wild characters with brawling styles.
But Roop was ready. Maha Singh was born.
“It was a very interesting concept that Kevin Sullivan and I concocted in the early ’80s,” Roop says. “Maha Singh was a wild man who just grunted a lot. It was supposed to a split personality type thing but Sullivan backed off of the idea at the last minute,” and Roop became Maha Singh full time. He wore unusual face paint, shaved half his head and sported half a mustache and beard. The gimmick lasted for about a year.
“Wrestling runs in circles,” Roop says. “When I first got started, there was a lot of wrestling involved and it was the hard sell. Then the characters became more flamboyant and the storylines more bizarre.”
He left wrestling as an active competitor in 1988, but still had ties to the business. Roop worked as a booker — the guy who calls the shots at the shows, comparable to a producer for television — and eventually opened a pro wrestling school in Davie, Fla. One of his top students was Larry Pfohl, better known by his ring name of Lex Luger.
“Call it [wrestling] hokey if you will, make fun of it, I understand. I’m a college graduate [Southern Illinois] and understand the credibility factor,” Roop says to naysayers. “But I had a hell of a lot of fun doing it, and it was quite an education.”