As Former WCW star The Maestro, Rob Kellum recently took some time to participate in an interview. Kellum reveals about his time with WCW, his current film career, how faith has a place in wrestling and his family lineage to legendary wrestler Gorgeous George. Check out the complete interview below.
Share with us your time with Pembroke & Iowa University’s collegiate wrestling program. How did it help prepare you for a potential professional career?
“I took the wrestling camps initially because I was with the USA freestyle Greco roman circuit. Wrestling collegiality at the time and I had the opportunity to do some wrestling through the Iowa Hawkeyes. Dan Gable was one of my heroes growing up, I mean Olympic gold medalist. I used to watch videos of his training and it was so inspiring. The guy was a machine, much like the way I respect Kurt Angle for winning the gold medal. Olympic athletes are so many notches above your normal athletes. They train so much harder and that’s their life to train to be the very best. I’ve always had a respect and admiration for Olympic athletes and wresting in general. To have the opportunity to wrestle and work with those guys was just amazing.”
Discuss your early training under Nelson Royal, Gene Anderson & Ivan Koloff and what you walked away with from each of those experiences.
“So much knowledge. Gene and Ole Anderson were the original Minnesota Wrecking Crew. Gene Anderson is one of the hookers of the business. He is just like Danny Hodge and the Gotch’s, William Regal’s that just have that tendency the Bob Orton Jr. who have that tendon strength that is just like those mountain climbers that ability to balance themselves on ledges because they are deceptively strong and when they grab you, you just want to cry (chuckles) it’s just amazing. Nelson Royal was just one of the greatest junior heavyweight champions or what they call cruiserweights of all time. He’s teamed with the very best. He and Sweet Hansen wrestled the very best.
Then you have ‘The Russian Bear’ Ivan Koloff who believe it or not is an ordained minister, God bless him that’s great. He was a machine in his time, let me tell you. He’s been world tag team champions with guys like Don Kernoddle and Nikita Koloff and he’s just been one of the very best and we know his accomplishments back in the WWWF when he won the World Heavyweight championship from Bruno Sammartino. In my eyes, he’s hall of fame up and down and just a matter of time before he gets inducted. To have the knowledge that I learned from those gentlemen and by watching videotapes. One of the first tapes I watched was Chief Wahoo McDaniel and Johnny Valentine. What a thrill that was and ironically one of my first matches was with Chief Wahoo McDaniel and Ivan Koloff.
It was a thrill for me to be on the learning tree from those guys and ironically I was still training collegiality while I was training to be a professional. So I was keeping both very separate at the time. For a time it was hard to put weight on because any amateur wrestler knows it was like training for track and field. I mean you’re constantly running you’re constantly doing cardio. I was pretty lean at the time and a lot of guys would take advantage of me until I started being dedicated to powerlifting and getting stronger and doing what I needed to do to get the size and the know how to become professional wrestler.”
Tell us more about how the Gorgeous George character was adopted and how you made it personal to you.
“What a journey that was. I grew up admiring Gorgeous George. He was a pioneer for all professional wrestlers. If it weren’t for him we wouldn’t have the TV and the drama that we have today, I have no doubt. He was pretty much the guy that started it all for pro wrestling on television in its popularity. For me, it was a crazy journey. He was one of the guys I always grew up admiring and I’ve always had the love of professional wrestling since I was little. During my career, what really got the ball rolling with the whole Gorgeous George thing was, I was doing some WCW TV tapings and William Regal, a good friend of mine and Dusty Rhodes were comparing my style to that of the original Gorgeous George and it just started this chain reaction. Just more and more people started comparing me to the original Gorgeous George and the more I kept hearing about it the more it kept rattling in my brain.
I went to my grandpa one day who was out in Oklahoma in a horse ranch and I told my grandpa of what was going down and he just looked at me, right and said, ‘You didn’t know?’. I look back at him and said, ‘Didn’t know what?’ (chuckles) and my grandpa was the one that smartened me up and that Gorgeous George was my grand uncle and that he and my grand uncle were amateur boxing buddies back in the day before he broke into pro wrestling and it just ironic how life takes its twists and turns and you find out your relation to one of the all-time greats, so that inspired me to carry on the name Gorgeous George, later on in my career in honor and retrospect of him which I was known as Gorgeous George the 3rd for a long time before my entrance into WCW.”
Fans may be aware that there was some issue with use over the name. Was there any trademark over it and how was the issue resolved?
“Here is how all that went down. I got a call in Puerto Rico when I was down in WWC, with Carlito’s dad, Carlos Colon, that was his territory, down in San Juan and I was staying down there with Rex King and Sean Morley (Val Venis) and I got the call from Macho Man (Randy Savage) and Hulk Hogan and they had heard about me from Jerry Jarrett during my time in the USWA and they had heard about the Gorgeous George the 3rd and to which Randy Savage was a big fan of Gorgeous George and him and the Hulkster asked me to come to down for a tryout for WCW Nitro and which I did. I flew from Puerto Rico down to Virginia for a tryout and was introduced to Eric Bischoff and The Giant (Big Show) and the guys they had in hand and that tryout match was with Jeff Farmer who later on was the nWo Sting character if you recall.
The deal was going to be that they were going to bring me in under a new persona and they wanted to give the Gorgeous George moniker to Lanny Poffo. I was cool with that because I had a lot of respect for the Poffo family. I knew Lanny could carry on the family name well with his style and athleticism and all. What happened was neither deal went through with the company so I kept doing what I did. I was still Gorgeous George the 3rd and I went to Puerto Rico where Jake the Snake Roberts and I did the Triple Mania main event with him. I went to Mexico for a little bit and then Texas, where I was doing some wrestling out there with the old, reminisce of the old World Class Championship Wrestling alumni with Black Bart and Wild Bill Irwin and the Von Erich’s. That was a good treat in itself. I was always a World Class fan in the days of the Freebirds and the Von Erich’s and Gino Hernandez.
When I got the call to come up for the second tryout and which that this time was against Chavo Guerrero Jr, I couldn’t have been any happier. Christmas came early that year! (Chuckles) I love the Guerrero family and we used to pray together before matches. Hector, Chavito, Eddie that family was just like the Armstrong’s. I grew up in the business with them some great workers some great wrestlers and we had a heck of a match. It was great. When we got in the back and Dallas (Page) and came to me and was putting the match over and the last time I saw you, you were light years. Your work rate was like light years. They came in and put their little pointers and few things and you don’t know which one to believe. I remember what my grandpa told me a while back, ‘always know who the boss is’. I remember Eric Bischoff walking in the back and amongst the agents and looked at me and said great match and said ‘we could use a great talent like you, welcome aboard’. No sooner than did he say that, all the agents changed their tune. ‘Oh, great match. That was outstanding’. I knew right then that if I had a problem and I had a go-to guy and if things got tight that Eric was the guy to go to, right. I look out at the door and there was Arn Anderson and a list of the boys all shook my hand and welcomed me into the company. It was one of the greatest feelings ever, I’ll never forget it.
For that first year, in WCW I was known as Gorgeous George the 3rd actually and did some TV tapings down in Orlando and in and around Florida. I was known by that full name for almost a full year before Randy Savage (chuckles) decided he wanted to give the name to his valet/girlfriend at the time Stephanie Bellows. In a way it kind perplexed me, I mean of all the names why would he want to give her Gorgeous George but I guess that was his thing. But like I said backtracking before he was always a big Gorgeous George fan. So when I went to Eric and told him the situation, I said ‘what can we do?’ because I wanted to work things out. We started trading ideas back and forth and that’s how the Maestro got created which was a throwback from the Gorgeous George the 3rd persona that I was doing anyway but more of my real life musical twist because I used to be in theater before I broke into wrestling. I had a musical background and that’s how the Maestro was born. My vision of Maestro didn’t really come to play until towards the end where I was more a fan of the opera persona which became arrogant and an aristocrat but with a darker side. Something would set him off and he would just go nuts. But yeah, it was one of arguably the greatest companies at the time and it was awesome. I was blessed to be there at the time and WCW was just rocking the world basically. With the nWo surge, Goldberg surge, Sting surge, Diamond Dallas Page was born it was just a great time.”
Discuss ‘The Stro’ character. Did you find it evolved from its inception in WCW until your contract expired?
“When I first debuted on Nitro I was kind of the guy that would calm Sid Vicious down from powerbombing everyone into oblivion. Later on, the addition of Alicia Webb aka Symphony aka Ryan Shamrock which was great. A wonderful lady even to this day, a great friend. My original two picks to be manager were Sherri Martel and Bobby Heenan. I loved both of them to death and so much history. Bobby wanted to do it so bad but he was too tied up with commentary and then Sherri she almost had it but then at the last minute the office decided to go with Alicia Webb. It was great to work with her and have her valet for me. We got to be good friends and a real classy lady.
It was such an exciting time that I was in the ring on the shows with arguably the greatest talent in the entire world. From legends like Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man to guys like Curt Hennig, Barry Windham to the greatest cruiserweights from all over the world, Mexico, Japan, Europe, and Canada. It was just an amazing time working with the great mat technicians from Europe the Regal’s, the Finlay’s, and Dave Taylor. Then there were guys from Japan you had Great Muta, Masahiro Chono, and Ultimo Dragon. It was just such an awesome time, we had. The affiliation with New Japan Pro Wrestling at the time it was just amazing.”
After your time in WCW, life has been incredibly busy for you. Share some of the stories with other promotions and what you walked away with from those experiences.
“I’ve done a lot of work with a lot of promotions across the country. On occasion, I’ll attend conventions. I’m very active now in TV and film in the acting world. I’ve always evolved myself with life. Basically, it’s just like Triple H, The Rock and Steve Austin have evolved with their personas. Even though they are called by the same name they have still evolved their personas and their looks. I’ve done that myself where now I’ve taken the crazy side of Maestro and went to a whole new level calling myself Papa and I’ve even got a pop-up branding iron. I come out in the fog and have creepy music (chuckles). I’ve pretty much taken two guys I look up with and are friends in Uncle Terry Funk which I had adopted as an uncle from his time in WCW and Kevin Sullivan and made this creepy, crazy Ghost Rider like persona.”
Not being one to rest on your laurels, your talents also include singing, drumming & playing the piano. How have you been able to parlay that into something more outside of the ring?
“Well, that goes back to my theater experience where I had to go back and know a little bit of everything. I was in the musical events like Cats, Hamlet, Macbeth you name it. That kind of carried over to the wrestling and acting world being more prepared. To do things like that more entertainment wise creatively and always keep your persona fresh for the people to be entertained because they’re your biggest critic. That’s what it’s all about bringing the people in and having them enjoy your world and entertainment value.”
The transition from wrestling to film has been a seamless one. How did the opportunity to appear in films come about?
“It’s funny how everything ties in. We tell stories in the ring basically and that’s what professional wrestling is, it’s physical storytelling. It’s no different in film and just like in a match where we are sticklers on the detail like we are on film in different scenes. What will work and will not work? Just like in matches. It’s just like a chess game. You want to bring the people along for the ride in a chess game. This is no different from making a film. You want the people to come on that trip, on that journey with you. To make the story the best it can be. I tell people all the time, it’s not really how matches you win and how many matches you lose it’s how great a story you can tell to the people to keep them interested and motivated and watching it.”
Anyone that has followed you can truly get a strong sense of faith. Has your faith ever prevented you from making choices in the ring with a storyline?
“To me, it’s more than religion, it’s a way of life. Everybody goes through a journey in life their ups and their downs. Their heartaches and their accomplishments and their greatest moments. There are some peaks and valley stages and we deal with the struggle every day. The cliché says the struggle is real. In pro wrestling, we have good vs evil all the time going on. The characters may change which I hate to use the word character because we live what we do. It’s a persona. It’s a 24/7 gimmick that we live and believe in every day and put our heart and soul in every day 365 days a year. When we set out and do, people live vicariously through us as a professional wrestler so when we go out there and tell our story in the ring we go through those peaks and valley stages. Sometimes we’re on top and sometimes we’re getting that sympathy. We’re taking the heat.
People can identify with that because in everyday life some parts of your day are great and other days you’re just struggling and going through hardships and people can identify with that with a match. Not only can they identify with that with a match but with film too as well. So it’s funny how everything is intertwined and that believing and having faith in God is so important. God has saved my life I mean, I don’t know how many times. God also kept me from making some really bad decisions and I’m so grateful to this day that I didn’t make those bad decisions and that’s all because of him. I owe everything to God and thank you, Jesus, for everything because if it weren’t for Jesus and God, looking out for me I know personally I wouldn’t be here talking to you here today.
I don’t find religion in storylines to mock at all. The reason being no matter what you believe in there is good and there is evil in the world and there are good times and there are bad times. People no matter what they believe can identify with that. They understand that either they’ve lived it or gone through it in the past or the one thing that I call is the best seller in the world has been here from the beginning of time and always will be is emotion. People understand emotion. That is why certain wrestlers, certain wrestling matches fans get into because of those guys instead of creating a picture with crayons, they are using the great paintings of Picasso to portray that emotion to bring out that inner feeling from everyone that is watching their match just like in a movie. That’s why some of these movies are such masterpieces because they bring out that emotion and make you want to cry, laugh, and be angry they bring all that out. I don’t care where you are from anywhere in the world they can identify with that emotion. That is why it really isn’t insulting anyone because they can identify with certain emotions and what they feel. That’s why wrestling, film and makes everything we do unique because it’s intertwined.”
What is your opinion on some if the wrestling today? Anything you enjoy and others you rather not care for?
“There are some great things that I see happening today in wrestling. I’m really happy that are companies today that are emerging like the TNA’s, the Ring of Honors and many of the smaller ones from around the world. With WWE and their NXT, that’s amazing and it’s great to see guys achieving down there is someone that I’ve trained and helped get started and that’s Scott Dawson. He and Dash Wilder are just a phenomenal team. Just expect big things from them. I’d say athleticism there are some great athletes out there no doubt.
What I’d like to see more and like to see more work with is promos and with some of the matches. You can tell when a match is phoned in. Oh my gosh, even the most avid fan can tell when a match is phoned in. When anybody gets out there and bust their butt and puts all their heart and soul in that ring there is no substitute from that and that is what I think is missing from wrestling today.
Back in the day, that is why guys connected with the people they believed what they did they believed it and showed it. Once again they brought out that emotion in people and the connection between yourself and your audience. That is why it is important in the film, it is important in wrestling, it is important in everything. You have to have that connection with the people. Whether you are a villain or you are a hero, they will follow you to the ends of the earth if they are connected.”
What does the balance of 2015 & beyond have in store for Papa Stro or The Maestro?
“Bigger and better things. Sky’s the limit. As far as bigger and better films, wrestling matches, conventions. A possible book coming out. I’m writing a script for a film right now. Expect big things to come. I’m branching out into different avenues right now and it’s a very exciting time for me. I can’t wait for myself to see what will happen in the next few years.”
Was there anything you would like to share, encourage or promote?
“My official website is www.thestro.com and that’s all my latest on my wrestling, TV and film appearances, merchandise etc. On Facebook, Stro The Maestro, on twitter @TheStro, on Instagram stromaestro and I’d just like to say to anyone out there that have dreams and ambitions to be the very best, go for it. Anything you want in life, go for it, don’t let it stop you. You’ll have your good days and bad days just stick with it. Persistence pays off and never stop always be driven to do what you love to doing because that’s what makes life great.”