Few paths to the WWE Hall of Fame have been as unconventional as that of Diamond Dallas Page, who will be as part of the Class of 2017. After spending a few years as a manager in the American Wrestling Association and Florida Championship Wrestling, Page didn’t even begin training as an in-ring performer until he was working as a manager in WCW in 1991, at age 35. Over the next decade he caught on as an everyman crowd darling, thanks in large part to his hugely popular Diamond Cutter finishing maneuver, and eventually earned his first world championship in 1999, at age 43. After WCW folded in 2001, Page spent a year in WWE before nagging injuries led to his exit.
It was a devastating back injury during his time in WCW helped inspire Page’s second career as the man behind DDP Yoga, which uses a workout regimen drawing from traditional yoga, calisthenics, and strength-building body exercises as the basis for a wide-ranging fitness and lifestyle brand. (More than 225,000 million DVDs of the workout system, which has also been featured on Good Morning America and Shark Tank, have been sold in the past five years.)
Ahead of his induction next Friday during WrestleMania weekend in Orlando, DDP spoke with SI about breaking into the yoga world, who stands out in today’s WWE, why the Diamond Cutter caught on the way it did, and the favor a young Triple H paid to help it do so. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
SI: How did you find out you were being inducted this year?
DDP: I got the call from Triple H on the end of the day’s shooting (for “Positively Living,” the WWE’s upcoming DVD retrospective of Page’s career). They said, “The boss wants to talk to you,” and I got on the phone with him. I had left a couple messages for him and I’m thinking he’s calling me back. At the time, I can’t remember what the f--- I called him for. While we’re talking, I’m half-assed trying to rack my brain, letting him do a lot of the talking. Then at some point he starts talking about how when he was in WCW and I was a manager, then I traded over to be a wrestler. He’s mainly doing the talking, saying, “I’m 22 and looking at you thinking you’re 35 and a half, how’s he thinking he can do this?” Then he starts really putting me over and at some point I’m thinking, wait a minute, these guys are filming me. Is this that call? It’s October, so it doesn’t even enter my mind. But it does right about then. I got super choked up. I said, “I love you, bro. Thank you, man.” I hung up and the producer says, “So what do you think?” What do I think? I think I wish you were filming him the whole time. He said some awesome s---, man! And he said, “Oh yeah, we’re filming him too.” I go, “Seriously?” He goes, “Yeah, we’ve been wanting to capture this and before I came down here today Paul (Levesque, aka Triple H) called me and said, Let’s let Dally know today.’” It was really super special, man.
SI: It seemed like there was a groundswell of support to see you inducted over the past few years. At this point had you been expecting or hoping for it?
DDP: You know, I never had the run that I thought I would have in WWE, so I felt like I was worthy, but I really didn’t know. Over the years people have always said to me, “You belong in the hall of fame.” They’re like, “Man, does it piss you off?” Up till last year I could say, “First of all, Jake (Roberts) is not in there. Macho’s not in there. And Michael PS Hayes isn’t in there. So until those guys are in, I’m cool.” Now if I had to wait another five years maybe I’d be pissed. But everything happens for a reason for me, my whole life. I get to decide whether it’s a good reason or a bad reason. Looking at it, as soon as Michael went in, the first year, boom. And (the ceremony is) in Florida. Florida was like my home. I lived in Fort Myers. Anywhere in Florida is gonna be good to me. Anything I did there I always got a huge local response. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.
SI: What does all of this mean to you?
DDP: It’s huge. It’s humongous to me. If I was given a choice to go back in time and say, Okay, we’re gonna let you do People’s Champion vs. People’s Champion (with the Rock), which was my idea, that’s how I wanted to come in. I had that idea for two years but I didn’t push it. But if I knew for the next two years, barring an injury, I was gonna have an unbelievable run... or, at 55, I could be asked to host the very first Best of WCW Nitro DVD, then a Volume 2, then a Volume 3. Then they started bringing me back for “old school” Raws, bringing me back on the 1000th episode, letting me where my DDP Yoga s--- everywhere, then they let me induct Jake, then they bring me to the Rumble, then last year Mania, then give me the DVD and induct me? Man, I’ll take this run every single time.
It was a building thing. When you really do it right, you build that person. There’s really very few young WWE fans who don’t know who Diamond Dallas Page is. Again, thank you, WWE Network. It’s almost like when the 80s were huge and rock and roll music was amazing, 70s and 80s, then it got to the 90s and then they came back with classic rock. It was giving the Eagles and all those guys another run on top. They were the top guys then and they had the best music and they were all over radio again. That’s what I think the WWE Network is. It’s keeping us there forever. I don’t care if they hadn’t been born yet. If they’re a wrestling fan and start working their way through the network and get to the Monday Night Wars, they’re gonna be pulled in and know exactly who Diamond Dallas Page was. My whole run of fame was during the Monday Night Wars, when we started beating them.
I’m humbled and honored, man. Just to be a part of it. I remember Dusty (Rhodes) telling me one time, “You know, D, there’s only two things left in our business that’s still real: your first world title, and the hall of fame.” That’s gonna be emotional for me.
SI: You mention how the younger generation of fans knows you through the network. What’s the balance with people who know you as the DDP Yoga guy and people who know you just as a wrestler these days?
DDP: The people who invest in our program, it’s about 50/50. It’s maybe 50 percent fans and the others, they may have been fans of the disabled veteran Arthur Boorman’s story. They may have seen us on Shark Tank. We have so many inspirational stories that a lot of people come from that.
SI: When you were starting your business and starting up DDP Yoga, were there people who were skeptical because you were coming from the wrestling world?
DDP: You know, I imagine so. But think about this. I didn’t develop this for yogis. Twenty million people do yoga. I could have been Mr. Yogi and would’ve f---ing taken over a huge part of that. But that’s not who I am. And I know they already have some kind of yoga in their life, which everybody needs. So I decided I was gonna develop this for people who wouldn’t be caught dead doing it. Once I get to show one person to another, it makes people believers. I was doing this for eight years, $548,000 of my own money in, between making the DVDs and hiring production companies and money for PR. We were an eight-year overnight sensation. Everybody laughed at me. Like, “Wait a second, you’re doing yoga now? But you’re doing your own yoga? Oh my god, what the f--- is he thinking?” I go back to: “You’re gonna be a wrestler, you’re 35 and a half, are you out of your f---ing mind?” Like, yeah.
I’m the first guy to ice my body in professional wrestling. No one did for maybe seven or eight years after I started. I started in 90, 91. And everyone’s like, what are you putting ice on your knees for? Keep down the inflammation. They laughed at me. They laughed about deep muscle massage therapy every week, getting chiropractic done, acupuncture. Things that help heal your body. I mean, one match, depending on who it is, it’s like anywhere from three to seven car accidents. Then you gotta go do it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. So the guys get beat up and they’re in a lot of pain, but they keep going because of the adrenaline and they love it. But at some point your body just goes, okay, we’re gonna blow your knee out now. You’re gonna tear your rotator cuff now. We’re gonna blow your back out now. So when I did DDP Yoga, oh my god they laughed at me. What I learned is when someone’s laughing at me, I’m onto something.
SI: I was going to ask, with you breaking into your in-ring wrestling career later than usual, how did that experience inform this? You said people were kind of skeptical about you getting in the ring
DDP: Not kind of. They thought I was crazy. Michael PS Hayes fell down laughing. I mean, belly laughing. Ho-ho-ho laughing. No one thought I could do it. Scott Hall told me, “Dally, by the time you start to learn what you’re doing out there you’re gonna be way too old.” But no one has my work ethic, except guys like Triple H, Vince McMahon, the Rock. After that, I don’t really know anybody. My business partner, Steve Yu. My wife. If you’re doing something you love, then you don’t really think of it as work.
SI: You’re such an enthusiastic salesman and evangelist for DDP Yoga. Does that come naturally to you?
DDP: If I believe in something -- I don’t care if it’s a gluten free burrito. If I think it’s amazing, I’m gonna tell you about it. On my cooking shows, I’m constantly giving plugs to products that pay me nothing. But most people don’t know where to find them. I don’t consider myself a salesman. I’m super passionate about what I do. You know (former Reds pitcher) Rob Dibble? Rob’s one of my good buddies. We went to Iraq together in 2003. He was around me when I was first developing this for other people besides myself. This was 14 years ago. On his radio show, when we got towards the end, he goes, “You know, I’ve been around you for 14 years and you are just as passionate about DDP Yoga as you were the first day we ever talked about it. No one can ever fail at doing anything when they’re as passionate and they believe the way you do.” A lot of people are afraid. Well, what if people never like it? A lot of people told me they would never like it who now do it and love it. The way I look at it - P90X, Insanity, Crossfit - all those workouts beat the f--- out of your body. They’re gonna need as they get older some kind of yoga. That group, 80 percent of them are never gonna do yoga. Maybe 95 percent. But when they’re beat up and they realize and now start to see one of their buddies who went from blown out back or knees or hips to feeling amazing again. The change starts then. I’m gonna own all those people. When you beat your body up -- I’m gonna be 61, so I know what you’re gonna feel like. I’ve been doing my s--- for 19 years now. So if I’m already doing it and feel this beat up, boy, you guys are f----ed.
SI: There’s been a lot made about the help you’ve given to former wrestlers and helping them get in shape and improve their lifestyles. The flip side of that seems to be that there’s a toll that wrestling takes on a lot of people over the course of their careers. What is it about wrestling that has that effect?
DDP: When you’re on top, you wrestle over 270 nights a year. Two hundred and seventy. Think about how many days are left in the year. And those off days, that’s when you’ve gotta travel home. Or we’ve gotta drive 200, 300 miles if we’re not flying. How hard is it for you when you get out of a car after driving 100 miles? Now triple it, then go to the hotel, go to the gym, get something to eat, go to the building, hop in the car and go back to the hotel. The next morning, drive 240 miles to the next town. The wear and tear on your body is brutal.
There is no offseason. I was on Hollywood Squares one time and somebody said, “DDP, when’s your offseason?” I said, “When I’m injured.” Not when I’m hurt, because I wrestled hurt all the time. Again, it comes down to taking care of your body. Back in my era, we did pills. We did painkillers. Some people more than others. I was with Jake one time early on in my career and he had just put a pill in his mouth and chewed it up. I thought it was a percocet. So I said, “Dude, is that a percocet you just chewed up?” He said yeah. I said, “Why would you do that? It tastes like s---.” He said, “Because it goes right into your blood system if you chew it.” I go, “Really? How many is that? I’ve seen you take a few today.” He goes, “I dunno, nine, ten.” And that’s an off day. He could take friggin’ 20 or more. They don’t allow any of that s--- anymore (in WWE). It’s really gonna help those guys. Those kinds of pills when you’re taking them like that, and the muscle relaxers, it just beats your body down on the inside. You’re not even aware of it. You think you’re taking away the pain but now you’re pushing through s---. And your body only goes so far.
SI: Do you think there should be any kind of offseason, or changes that would avoid that wear and tear?
DDP: I don’t think you’ll ever see it. It’s futile to even bring up. But you know, everybody knows what you’re getting into. And everybody wants to be there more than anything. It’s not like the guys don’t know. There’s nobody holding a gun to anybody’s head. You’re trying to get to the friggin’ show, and when you get to the show, now you want to be on top, and very few of us get to that spot.
SI: Were you able to avoid that side of things during your career?
DDP: When Jake told me, I said, “Nine or 10? How come so many?” He said, “Well, they sort of lose their effect so you have to take more.” I said, “Man, I’m gonna need those things to work. I’m only taking them when I have to.” A lot of people use them for recreation. That’s the whole thing. You take a pill and have a cocktail, that changes things. The WWE, you can’t do that s--- anymore. They’re super strict. It’s good for the boys.
SI: If you were to come back for one more run, who would be your top choice to work with?
DDP: I always wanted to work with the Rock. I would’ve loved to have done that. I’m a super big fan and super proud that the number one actor in the world, the number one drawing actor in the world, the number one paid actor, is one of us. I love the Rock. He’s been super kind to me in anything he’s ever said. He would be one. The guy who’s really relevant -- I’m too old now, but back when I was in my friggin late 40s, if I would’ve come back, Randy Orton. Even in my mid-50s we could’ve drawn huge money: the Diamond Cutter vs. RKO. It would’ve been amazing.
SI: The Diamond Cutter was hugely popular; the RKO is probably the most over finisher in the company now. What is it about those cutter moves that people love so much?
DDP: To just do it doesn’t really mean a lot. But when you catch it out of nowhere, it gives the surprise element of the DDT, and the DDT was the move that was the most over in the 80s. Everybody wants to be surprised.
SI: It’s interesting because with a lot of other moves, there’s these sort of pavlovian cues, like Austin’s kick to the stomach to set up the Stunner, or Shawn Michaels tuning up the band. The Diamond Cutter is sort of the opposite.
DDP: There’s a video called “Diamond Cutter on Everyone.” It shows the beginning of the Diamond Cutter, where people went “ahh.” And then: “aahhh.” Then “AHHH.” Before you know it, there’s maybe 40 of them, and at some point you get the pop of people jumping out of their seats doing the sign as I hit the move. And if you go back and look at the guys I was doing that to, they were all enhancement guys. None of them are Sting or Savage or Luger any of them guys. It’s friggin’ nobody. So how do you get people to react like that when it’s really nobody? You gotta make them believe that it came out of nowhere.
SI: When did you realize you had something special like that?
DDP: Johnny Ace (aka John Laurinaitis) gave me the one-armed grab, then Steven Regal taught me the cravate (two-armed head grab) and I just incorporated that. I started doing that and you’ll see it in the beginning and it wasn’t that big of a deal. But when it starts coming out of nowhere - I think the first one was Buff (Bagwell) or his tag team partner, Scotty Riggs. He went to do a suplex to me and I grabbed the rope. My feet went into the air and he couldn’t take me any farther because I’m holding onto the rope. When I came down I turned it right into the cutter. Boom! The first time I showed that to Jake he went, “Now you’re starting to get it.” So that just became part of it.
I’ll tell you a great story about Triple H. He was there that day that Johnny Laurinaitis and I were working on it. He was still there (in WCW) for another three or four months (before going to WWE). Now I’m getting that move over. One night on Raw - because I watched everything they had - (Triple H) hit a Diamond Cutter out of nowhere and beat somebody. And I thought, Oh no. If he does it, it’s gonna sort of dilute what I’m doing. So I call him. One of the very few times he answered his phone. He’s like, “Hey D, what’s up, man?” I’m like, “I got a favor, bro.” He goes, “Sure, what do you need?” I go, “No, don’t say that. I got no right to ask you this favor” Because Bret Hart had the Sharpshooter and Sting had the Scorpion Deathlock, same move. I said, “You know, I saw you did a Diamond Cutter the other night. I think your Pedigree’s amazing, it’s a great finish. But I’m just starting to get that Diamond Cutter over, bro. I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t do it anymore.” “Sure, D.” He never did it again. And he didn’t have to do that.
SI: How much do you watch the current product? Who stands out?
DDP: Enough to stay informed, see who I think is a comer. I’m a big Kevin Owens fan. I love the stuff that him and Jericho are doing. Sami Zayn is awesome. He’s just a real guy out there, busting his ass. He’s like a different version of me, I think. He’s not a really big guy but he’s got a huge heart and works his ass off out there. Big fan of Bray Wyatt. Randy Orton is still my favorite.
Women in athletics have literally blown through the roof. You look at our female soccer team that won the World Cup a couple years back. I can put on any women’s basketball game, Connecticut or whoever, they’re unbelievable athletes. You look at the UFC, there’s a new toughest chick coming out every month up there. Then you look at our women. Charlotte, if she ain’t her daddy’s daughter, my god. I think she’s one of the best in the business, men and women. From her promos to her look to her work, it’s unbelievable. And Sasha and Becky - I’m bummed Paige is out because she’s super. Nikki Bella has stepped up big time. If they’ve got a match going, I’m watching it. Years ago, unless it was Madusa or Sherri (Martel), it wasn’t anything that really grabbed me. I would have loved to see Madusa at 32 years old facing Charlotte. Oh my god. It would’ve been lights out, baby. It would’ve been, “Good luck following that.”
SI: What you make of seeing Goldberg back on top?
DDP: I love it. I love it more than anything for the WCW fans. When we came in there, it was coming right off a war. There was a lot of South vs. North feelings there. So for him to be able to come back at 49, they’ve booked him perfectly. My hat goes off to Brock (Lesnar) because he’s done business on every level. And it’s easy for him. He’s still making his payoff. But I’m sure the big payoff is coming. He’s the best. I always kid around saying Brock thinks it’s real. But then again so did Goldberg used to. I just hope they go out there, hope nobody gets hurt, hope they friggin’ blow it apart.
Goldberg’s the only guy from our era that could have gone out there and done what they’ve done with him. He’s 49 and in phenomenal shape and his lineage was never really tarnished. They may not have handled him as well as he wanted the last time he was there, but he still was a world champion. And he did beat Brock last time they faced. It’s like a storyboard deal. For Brock to have gone on to be UFC champion and then come back? Wow. It would’ve been a total waste if they’d have done it earlier. But as soon as I saw the first match, I knew exactly where it was going. I texted PS Hayes, because he’s one of the guys responsible writing for a lot of what you see. I was like, “Great booking, bro.” Now we’ve got that match and no one even gives a s--- about the other quick ones. Now everybody’s waiting on this one. And when you make people wait a really long time for something, they’re salivating. Now, will some people rip it to shreds for whatever reason? That’s what they do. It wouldn’t matter if it was Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero. Those guys would put on that match and they’d still get bulls---. But I think they’re gonna do really well. I think Goldy’s had a long time to be training. I was more worried in the beginning, that they were gonna put him out there and he would’ve never been able to deliver. But now it’s been what, five months? He should be fine.
SI: The business has evolved a lot in the last 20 years or so. Is there anything that has been lost along the way?
DDP: Letting the guys cut their own promos. Like most everything’s written for them now. There’s certain guys -- I’m sure Jericho gets to do whatever he wants. But they might give him ideas, which are great. The only reason I was able to get over the way I was is because I had to cut my own promos. Back when I was saying, “They said I couldn’t be a top guy. They said I’d never be a main eventer. They were wrong.” I was talking to the booking committee, so it was real.
That is one thing I like that they do. They take real situations and write into it. Like a lot of things you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. That’s the beauty that makes professional wrestling. Like the promo that Kevin Owens did, then the one Goldberg did back. It’s what we call ribbing on the square, shooting on the square. Some of that’s real. Some of that’s just exaggerated. But I guarantee you that Owens has a ton of respect for Goldberg and what he was able to achieve. It’s wrestling. We are the first real reality shows.
SI: Last thing. It’s 100 years in the future, you’re no longer with us. How do you want to be remembered? What’s that first line of your obituary? What’s your legacy if you could choose it?
DDP: I want to be the example that anything’s possible. On the inside of my (WWE Hall of Fame) ring, they said, “What do you want to inscribe?” I said, “What do you mean?” They’re like, “We inscribe on your ring whatever you want.” I called her back and said put this on it: “WORK ETHIC = DREAMS! DDP.” If you’re willing to put the work in, anything’s possible. Most people aren’t though. They quit. Einstein once said something like, It’s not that I’m smarter; I just stick with the problem longer. That’s what I do.