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Over two installments, we’ve covered the world of wrestling mummies. But now, we’re heading to Knoxville, TN for what I believe is the greatest of them all — Prince Kharis!
In the mid 90s, Jim Cornette ran a group called Smoky Mountain Wrestling, which presented “professional wrestling the way it used to be and the way you like it.” If that wrestling is southern style brawling heavy wrestling with bleeding baby faces and dastardly heels, than SMW would have been your cup of tea,
Rick Rubin — yet, Def Jam Rick Rubin — was the money backer of the promotion and rarely gave ideas, but according to Cornette, loved “southern territory wrestling, wild stuff, big heat, that type of thing.” Seeing as how he rarely gave ideas, when he asked for a mummy, he got one.
Prince Kharis, a 4,000 year old mummy, would be risen from the dead by his manager, Daryl Van Horne. Played by the man who would become the Sinister Minister in ECW and James Vandenberg in WCW (trust me, there will be an entire WCW Blood Runs Cold episode of Mat Monsters), his SMW name comes from Jack Nicholson’s The Witches of Eastwick character.
There were numerous technical difficulties with the gimmick — it was hard to put on, the wrestler played Prince Kharis was said to be claustrophobic (more on that in a little), the bandages were so white that it screwed up the white balance on the cameras — but the most memorable moment of the short life of Prince Kharis is when a promo was cut to set up his feud with the Dirty White Boy.
If you see any of Van Horne’s interviews of this era, note that he’s often saying incredibly perverted things in carny, a pig latin language used by old time wrestlers. In this installment, he discusses all the nubian virgins that he has set up for Kharis as he gets ready to defeat the Dirty White Boy for his SMW title. In fact, when he finishes with him, “he’ll be turning tricks for some chickenhawk on the streets of San Francisco and Dirty White Girl will return to her old job as the primary test subject for the Monistat Corporation.” Note — Bob Caudle, the ring announcer here, only did wrestling on the weekends. During the week, he was ultra conservative Senator Jesse Helms’ assistant. One wonders what he was thinking as this wildness was going on.
Things get even more surreal as Van Horne claims that Prince Kharis can’t be hurt, so to prove it, he cuts off one of his fingers and sand pours out! Of course, Dirty White Boy believes none of this until he gets the “sand of the Nile” in his eyes.
Kharis’ ring style is best described as lumbering, like a good mummy should be. And he even comes out to Universal monster movie music, which is a plus!
Good news, though, dear reader. I’m pleased to report that as a TNC exclusive, I’ve conducted an interview with the man under the bandages, Rob Mazzie!
SAM: How did you get into wrestling?
ROB: I was a mark growing up and had a family friend, a priest, who went to the matches all the time. I was a big Ric Flair fan, he knew Flair, so it was pretty cool. Once I got done with college, around 1990, I found out there was a ring in Verona, PA (around ten miles from Pittsburgh). I’d go up every Sunday and I don’t think the guys teaching had more than a six month head start on me — but they knew how to scream, holler and take bumps. I learned there and started working shows. I met Brian Hildebrand (the late and great WCW referee and literally the entire Smoky Mountain Wrestling office) and he was a tremendous influence on me.
I didn’t start as a mummy, but as “The Heartthrob” Rob Monroe. I had a gimmick, pictures, an outfit but I didn’t give it much thought other than I had long hair and a beard, you know? But I met a guy who had been around, Gino Rocco, who had already been around and had contacts. We started teaming as the Iron City Iron Men.
SAM: So you started traveling?
ROB: Yeah, I was getting 3-4 shows a month and knew a guy named Scott Wilcox, who was the American Patriot in USWA (NOTE: When you hear Memphis wrestling, that’s the name of the company). I saw a video of him with Jerry Lawler and Jeff Jarrett talking about how they were going to “turkify” Tony Falk. I gave him a call and I ended up in USWA a month later. They were looking for a big guy — hey I’m a big guy — so I get called up.
This is to show you how green I was: I get there on a Friday and go to Jerry Jarrett’s house (NOTE: Jeff’s dad and owner of the company). He tells me, “Monday, we’re going to do a tournament and the winner gets to go to Japan. You’re in it.” And that’s how green I was and how little I knew…I thought to myself, “If I can beat 15 other guys, I go to Japan and make money? Already?”
SAM: And this is where you get smartened up?
ROB: (laughs) They booked me as the Gravedigger. I’m up in a cemetery doing promos, with a hearse, dressed like their version of the Undertaker. First night, I’m at Mid-South Coliseum in this tournament with Billy Joe Travis, who got me through my match. But I had no idea how to really wrestle yet, you know? Before this match, they showed me how I’m going the whole way through this thing, beating everyone. After this match, I see the same paperwork, I’m scratched out and losing (laughs louder). I think they ended up letting Kamala win — and he didn’t get to go to Japan either!
I learned a lot, though. 180 miles each way to make these towns, working six nights a week, twice on Saturday with guys like Bill Dundee, Eric Embry, Robert Fuller…it was crazy. I mean, those guys used to measure how far a town was by how many beers it took to get there. “How far is it to Evansville?” “Oh, about a 12-pack, I figure.”
Plus. I had a manager called Nate the Rat and I’m freaked out by rats. So…no luck. And every hotel we stay in, it’s filled with bugs, mice, rats…cheap motels to save money. But that’s how you get started.
SAM: How did you get to Smoky Mountain Wrestling?
ROB: Well, after awhile, my name wasn’t on the booking sheets. That’s how you found out you were fired. But I always had a job or my own business and didn’t depend on wrestling. I had flexibility — something a lot of guys didn’t. I started wrestling fair shows in between work and learned a lot from guys like Junkyard Dog, Abdullah the Butcher, Buddy Landell, Ronnie Garvin…man, that guy hated inexperienced wrestlers like me and let me know it in the ring! I met Jim Cornette and hit it off. Once Brian Hildebrand got there, he called me and asked if I could start for Smoky Mountain. I told Cornette, “I’ll do anything!” I should have watched my words!
SAM: What was your reaction when they told you that you’d be playing a mummy?
ROB: They didn’t tell me right away! They just told me to buy white boots. So I’m already out $150. Grab white sweats to wrestle in. And then I get down there and they said, you need to buy more athletic tape. Why? Well, you’re going to be a mummy. My first time was in a high school gym as a test in front of 250 people and they just kept taping me up and taping me up.
SAM: Was the outfit hard to wear and get dressed for?
ROB: I’m claustrophobic. And they would make me wear a latex mask, I’m already panicked. And then they kept taping me in, so once my head is taped up, I can’t get the mask off. So I’m nervous and the match hasn’t even started. Wrestling in it was tough, man. I couldn’t do shit!
Every week, I’d head back home to Pittsburgh and Cornette was super nice. He’d be like, well, maybe watch some mummy movies, see how slow he moves, be more menacing…but he realized that the gimmick sucked (laughs).
SAM: And why did he use it then?
ROB: Well, this is before the internet, there was the Pro Wrestling Torch, and I didn’t even know what a dirtsheet was (NOTE: An insider wrestling newsletter). So I didn’t know Rick Rubin…I still don’t! I don’t know the difference between the Counting Crows and Black Crowes, but he owned the company and he wanted a mummy. He was a good guy, they said, so if he wanted a mummy…you give the money guy a mummy!
SAM: What was SMW like?
ROB: I was there for a trial period before the Prince Kharis gimmick, working as Malaki with Brian Clark the Nightstalker. I remember bumping into him in the hotel, and I’m 6’6”, 285 lbs and this guy is bigger than me. (Laughs) I’m wrestling in the big time now! But you had guys like Brian Lee — what a talent. Tracy Smothers — taught me so much. Just so many good guys, so much talent and it was fun. It was a lot of small towns, but we had good crowds. I mostly wrestled Dirty White Boy and he treated me well.
SAM: And you were with Daryl Van Horne, right?
ROB: He was such a smart guy. I mean, he realized right away that the mummy gimmick sucked, so he was like an octopus. He found other angles and guys so when this died, he got his shit in and found another way to be used. I don’t blame him!
SAM: Did you think — hey, this has a chance of making it to WWE and a feud with Undertaker?
ROB: I mean, when Jim Cornette — I’ve been watching him on TV forever and he’s a genius — gives you a gimmick, you’re like, “Yes sir!” Then I find out it wasn’t even his! So between having a rat crawl on me in USWA and my claustrophobia and being a mummy…plus, you know, I wish I had like 200 more matches before I went down, so I was more seasoned and knew what I was doing!
But yeah! Cornette was on WWE TV then and I was like, “Well, I could match up size wise OK with Taker. And the gimmick is a horror movie, so…(laughs) You have to understand…I don’t know anything about horror movies! I never even watched The Mummy before I was one!
I was just lucky that no one took advantage of me. I’d be freaking out after a match, bandages all over trying to get cut out of this suit and everyone was actually cool to me. It could have been much worse. But man, I didn’t learn much being a monster.
SAM: What did you think of the Yeti and that people thought that was you?
ROB: (Laughs) Really? I didn’t even know about that.
SAM: Prince Kharis has achieved some internet notoriety. Are you aware of that?
ROB: My kid! My son looks me up all the time on the internet and laughs. He’s always finding these videos of me and I can’t believe that people still remember all that. I mean, you remember a lot, I can’t even remember some of the people I was with! Like, the Thrillseekers came in and I met them, then years later I see Chris Jericho on TV and I wonder, “I know that guy, right?”
Well, it’s been three installments of the Egyptian undead. And we’ve had great help from Kurt Brown and Rob Mazzie to tell the story. Stay tuned — next time we’ll answer the question, “What if Frankenstein’s Monster wrestled?” Stay scary!