"Oh you didn't know? Your a$@ better call somebody!"
It's funny how the little things can pay huge dividends in the wrestling industry. Before the catchphrase that would change his life, Brian "Road Dogg" James was just another wrestler, the son of a southern wrestling legend who was trying to make his way in the WWE.
But with those nine words, a star was born. A midcard act became an attraction. A wrestler became a rock star. Somewhere on that ladder to stardom, however, he lost his path, and nearly his life, falling into a pit of pain killers, parties and eventually despair. It's a pit he's crawled out of, making Road Dogg a perfect cautionary tale for the young wrestlers he now mentors for the WWE.
Monday night, that mentoring takes on a more active role. Alongside tag team partner Billy Gunn, Road Dogg joins a motley cast of former stars returning, for one night only, on WWE's Old School Raw.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden had a chance to talk with Road Dogg just hours before he returned to national television, discussing family, demons and how he developed his iconic catchphrase.
Bleacher Report: It's good to see you back in WWE. After everything that happened when you left, everything that was said, I would have never guessed we'd ever see you again. I guess, in the wrestling business, no door is every truly closed?
Road Dogg: That's very true for me. I don't think Hunter and Vince tuned in to the other show on that other channel. So I think I was good to go.
But thank God and heaven above that no door is ever truly closed and I've gotten another opportunity here. And I hope I'm giving back to the product as much as it gave to me over the years. Even if I wasn't appreciative of it at the time, I'm sure appreciative of it now.
B/R: Wrestling has been your family's career path of choice for a long time. And, if you follow in your dad's footprints, you've got a while to go. I had the pleasure of going to "Bullet" Bob Armstrong's retirement show in Dothan, Alabama, and even in his 70s, he's still going strong now and again across the south. He's a hell of a man, isn't he?
Road Dogg: I appreciate you saying that. And you're right. I look at him in the same light. Seventy-three years old and he still does independent shows on the weekends. He's a heck of a dude. A heck of a role model for me, that's for sure.
B/R: How can he keep chugging along after all these years?
Road Dogg: He's the first one in the gym every day. I believe that has something to do with it. It's his lifestyle, man. Maybe he'll die in the ring. That's probably how he wants to go. I hope it's no time soon (laughs). But I hope he gets what he wants.
B/R: It's interesting, because you're in your early 40s. Bullet Bob was just getting started! I had a chance to go down to the WWE Performance Center and saw Billy Gunn there and he looks like he's in great shape. Even though you retired, is there a small part of you that thinks, "Man, we could still be out there in the ring?"
Road Dogg: I honestly think we could do it again right now. I don't think we could do it again in 30 years (laughs). You know what I mean? Not at this level anyway.
But I do think the New Age Outlaws can and will ride again tonight. I don't know what they've got planned for us, but we'll be ready. Like you said, Billy's in great shape and it is that point in our lives we still can.
Thank God we've been able to keep our foot in the door, still keep our heads involved in the product anyway, if not our bodies. We didn't have to retire per se, but we did have to get out of the ring. Daggum, when you see some of these guys today, I'm kind of glad I stepped out of the ring.
B/R: No kidding! And you did your time. I remember you and your brothers working the undercard matches on WCW Worldwide and some of the smaller promotions. Did it make it sweeter for you when New Age Outlaws broke big? Because you had spent that time struggling?
Road Dogg: You know, it did. It was a long time coming, and the ladder of success is a tall one. You just pray you don't fall off of it.
I didn't appreciate it like I should have, though. It's pretty cool now when I look back on it. I wish I could have appreciated it a little more at the time.
...There are a few regrets that I do have. That was toiling with alcohol and drugs. I had some demons. While we're on that subject, I would advise you if you're taking drugs, stop. If you're not taking drugs, don't start.
I appreciate it even more now, now that I'm a little older and wiser and a little more clear-eyed. I can look back and see the prominent role we played in the Attitude era or, dare I say, the WWE as a whole. We had a good run, and it seems our run ain't over. Because on Old School Raw, the Outlaws will ride again.
B/R: You talked a little about the pitfalls of the wrestler's life—the pain killers and the parties. It seems to me, from the outside, that all that has kind of faded from the business. Do you think that's true?
Road Dogg: For sure it has. It used to be a rock-and-roll-party lifestyle. It's not like that any more. It's more like a sports organization. And if you want to make it here? You certainly can't be on drugs. That's all there is to it.
If you're a starving artist of a professional wrestler, and you're on drugs and want to make it, you aren't going to make it here. They've weened that out of the lifestyle. And it was a lifestyle. It was just like a rock band. Every night a different town, different people and different things to do. It was easy to lose your way.
I'm not afraid to share my story with the young guys coming up. Don't lose your head, because you'll lose your job (laughs). And that's nowhere to be.
B/R: One of the most important things in wrestling is finding the right persona. You made that work perfectly for you. Your brother Brad, one of the greats in the ring, never quite figured out how to take his backstage humor and bring it out in front of the camera.
Road Dogg: The thing about it is, some guys are characters and some guys are just extensions of themselves. That's what I was. That's what Stone Cold was. That's what the Rock was.
You have to be yourself but not afraid to go out on a limb when doing so. That's how you make an impact.
So first you have to decipher what a guy is trying to do. Is he playing a character, or is he trying to be an exaggerated version of himself? But some of the advice is the same either way. I tell them not to be scared or embarrassed.
The Road Dogg would scream when Kane grabbed him. People would say, "Why do you do that? You sound like a girl." Because it's funny. It's self-deprecating, and it lets the people get close to you know that you're human.
B/R: You talk about your impact—you guys were at your height 15 years ago, but that catchphrase is still potent. That's how I know you made it big. How many times in your life, conservatively, has somebody come up to you and said, "Oh, you didn't know?"
Road Dogg: (Laughs). A hundred thousand? Every time one of the SportsCenter guys says it or someone says it during a basketball game, I still get tweets out the ying yang. And it's just words that were in the Rolodex of society anyway; I just put them together and put them in a sing-song way.
So I don't know if I get all the credit for it, but it's pretty cool. It does mean that something I did in this world stuck.
B/R: Is it true that Brian Lee, the wrestler who played Chainz at the time, used to go around saying that?
Road Dogg: That's where it came from. Me and him used to go back and forth. Texting hadn't become prominent and faxing was still prominent. So we would say, "You better fax somebody." It derived from "you better ask somebody" and eventually turned into "you better call somebody."
We were just messing around in the back and I told him one night backstage: "I'll just say that during my entrance." He said "no, you won't." So, later in the night, I did it. It fit in our music during the guitar riffs and just worked out, man. It was fate I guess.
Road Dogg joins a cast of legends Monday night on WWE's Old School Raw. Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's lead combat sports writer and the author of Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling.
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