As with Bruno Sammartino, I met Rockin’ Robin at a 1991 New York wrestling fans’ convention. Robin sat at a table displaying her championship belts and pictures of herself in different poses that one could purchase for five dollars. Robin gave a photo to me after this interview and signed it, “Live, Love, & Laugh!”
ROBIN: I have a lot of family in the business, which I think most people are well aware of. My father was a wrestler, and I have two brothers that wrestle. One is Jake “the Snake” Roberts, and the other is Sam Houston. They were all into wrestling, they were already in the business, and it’s one thing I never thought I would do. Everybody would always ask me, “Why don’t you get into it?” It just wasn’t something I was interested in until I was about 20, 21. So I actually started kind of late.
Funny enough, I was in theater before wrestling. I took dancing for 12 years, played some instruments. Unfortunately, where I was living, there weren’t a lot of places to do that, to practice or work on your art. So I went up to North Carolina, and that’s where I trained, under a man named Nelson Royal. He was one of the great wrestlers, and he actually still wrestles. So he trained me, because I wanted to be trained like one of the guys. I didn’t want to be trained like you see some of the women train. I don’t think people take enough time sometimes to be trained properly. The women, if you’ve ever noticed, they have different moves. And it makes sense, but I was always fascinated with the men’s wrestling, because, I guess number one was the crowd got into it so much. I never wanted to put on a T&A show. That was not the reason I was in the ring. I was in the ring for the people to get into it, and back me up, get behind me. Therefore, I knew which direction I wanted to go in. So that’s what I did, and it worked out well.
I was scared to death [in my first match]. Knees were knocking, you know, I was just about to pee my pants. And you worry about everything. It’s not just if you win or lose–I was worried if my suit was gonna stay on. Being the first time in the ring–when you’re training, you know, “OK, hold it, let me fix myself up here.”–but when you’re out there and in front of people, you just worry about everything. What’s really hysterical was that the first pair of boots I ever had were given to me by the wife of Nelson Royal, the man who trained me. We just became like family all over again, when I stayed there. She gave me my first pair of boots, and she had told me at one time, if I lose that she was gonna come repossess her boots. So to this day I still have dreams. When I’m sleeping at night, I dream about being in the ring, and I dream about wrestling. But the thing that’s always in every dream, I either can’t find my boots, or I get in the ring and I don’t have any boots on. I guess it’s just something that just stays in the back of your mind. It’s nerve-wracking, I mean, it’s hard enough to concentrate on what this other person is gonna do. It just kind of wraps you up and you can’t hardly breathe, you know, the first match or two. But then you do get used to it, and you can set your mind more and more on your opponents, so it makes it a lot easier.
I guess the highlight [of my career] was in Paris, when I won the championship, the WWF title. I won it two days before my birthday, so it was a great birthday present. And being in Paris at that age, and just traveling the world is something that most people don’t get to do, so I appreciate every minute of it, really. I guess that had to be the highlight, in Paris. It seemed like there were two million people in the place, and they were all cheering and all ready for someone else to take over that title, and that’s what I did.
I went to Japan last year, which was one of my best trips. I had a great time there. It’s wild! I was telling you how scared I was the first match or two, it was 10 times worse there. It’s hard to describe, really. They fly all over the place. I felt like I was standing still most of the time. They were all over. I guess the weirdest thing about it was, you’d be in the ring, and you’d have this little bitty Japanese girl across from you. And the second they’d ring the bell, she’d come out of the corner with this “Aaaah!” like a banshee. And then I would turn around and yell, “Aaaah!” They scared me to death. I guess they try to psych you out, I don’t know. The whole trip was wonderful. The people in Japan to me are the best. They’re so gracious. A totally different culture, you know, you just have to keep an open mind.
Although we all travel together, nobody’s really involved with anyone else. What I mean by that is, that you have your own thing to do. You go from the airplane to the hotel to the arena, and this is every day. Actually, most of the wrestlers are like big brothers, because it is like a family. Wrestlers are a special kind of person, you know. They always seem to take care of you, they really do. That’s never been a big problem. Like I said before, I never wanted to do a T&A show. A lot of times I would come out, and of course the whistles and all that started. I could have fun with that also. But then, whenever I can hear the crowd either cheering or booing, or when I get a reaction, I know that they’re respecting me for wrestling. Because if they’re getting into it, that means I must be doing something OK, you know. That was my whole point. I wanted to change the way people look at the woman wrestler. And I think I will, one of these days.
Every match is different. Every place you travel to is different. You always meet real interesting people. I can’t say I regret anything, really. It’s all been pretty much uphill, and as soon as the different promotions become aware that the public wants to see the lady wrestlers, to see more of the women, I think it’s gonna get a lot better. There’s the argument of “there’s not enough women to keep something like that going,” but there are, there are. It’s hard when you don’t have a place to–you don’t have a stage to dance on. It’s very hard. So it tends to die out. But they are out there. There are people out there. So I think perhaps, like I said, when they become aware that people do want to see women’s wrestling, it’ll get a lot better.
Thoughts from 2022: Many wrestling fans, including myself, were horrified by Robin’s account of abuse at the hands of her father Grizzly Smith in a 2021 episode of Dark Side of the Ring. The positive attitude that Robin exhibited when I met her in 1991 must have helped her survive her traumatic childhood. I think Robin would be gratified that women have headlined several WWE pay-per-view events in recent years.