Rip Rogers deflected the boos the way Captain America deployed his shield, and the good-soldier professional wrestler shrugged off the snarls and insults of spectators with a big-league umpire’s tolerance.
He absolutely reveled in the role of villain in the ring, soaking up the animus from a loathing crowd the way others of a different personality might be energized by adulation.
For Rogers, aka Mark Sciarra, life in the spotlight of the wild world of WWF and WWE paralleled the philosophy of the Billy Joel song lyrics: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.”
And Sciarra, who once played football and other sports for Seymour High School while growing up here, did have it both ways when he preferred. In another city, he might appear as a good guy in the scripted world of big-body, body-slamming behemoths, but it was just duller for him.
“The good guy just gets told what to do,” Sciarra said.
The heel opponent, however, was the bold one, the rule-breaker, the one on the canvas who gathered the jeers, an expression of emotion Sciarra said was more soul-satisfying.
“The boos are better than the cheers,” he said.
More fun. And besides, audiences need variety.
“Wrestling is like a buffet,” Sciarra said. “You can’t have all chicken or fish.”
Wrestlers develop personas, and the Rogers/Sciarra trademark was to basically throw tantrums protesting any defeat, clear-cut or not. Easy way to make enemies and earn hisses.
Sciarra is 66 and currently lives in Indianapolis. He is an enthusiastic storyteller, and many of his sentences are decorated with words you cannot say on television, mostly as adjectives.
One of his enduring presences in Seymour is at The Brooklyn Pizza Co. and The Seymour Brewing Co., where owner Shawn Malone pays homage to the wrestler with a Hustler beer and other artifacts.
“As a fan, I used to watch him as a kid,” Malone said. “I just liked his flamboyant style. He really played the crowd.”
Sciarra adopted pink as a trademark color before most wrestlers dared to wear such an unmanly color. After attending Dick the Bruiser’s Indianapolis matches as a youth, Sciarra knew he had to stand out.
Following graduation from Seymour High School in 1972, Sciarra attended Indiana Central and began teaching. Even though he also could have received boos in that profession, he switched to pro wrestling.
Years later, after grappling his way around the country, Sciarra melded his areas of expertise and began schooling wrestlers who went on to prominent careers.
Although sometimes promoters fudged his listed weight like NFL rosters do, Sciarra was not a big guy for big-time wrestling. His 6-foot listed height may have been an inch-plus of exaggeration, and he generally weighed 215 pounds, perhaps 80 pounds less than some foes, while being announced to fans as a 250-pounder.
Sciarra’s main nom de grapple was Rip Rogers. At times, he was called “Disco Kid” and “Hercules Marseilles,” the latter rolling off the tongue only in France. Friends call him “Hustler,” and locally, Malone promotes a beer of that name in tribute to Sciarra.
Rogers spent just shy of 23 years on the road between 1977 and 2000, an itinerant athlete savoring a touring lifestyle that delivered adventure and kicks as long as he kept his muscled chest well-oiled, his shaggy blond hair gleaming and his stamina at the level of a cross country runner.
Jammed in a car, he and partners, first the Convertible Blondes, then others, roamed the land, hurling their bodies into mischief and challenges, wrestling so often it was remarkable every knee or shoulder did not give out.
“Oh my god! Your whole career was a vacation,” Sciarra said. “You were pretty much wrestling every night. Can you imagine? You get in a car with two other guys and you drive and you tell stories.”
As Rogers, he won International Championship Wrestling tag-team titles with Gary Royal. Other championships included a tag-team victory in Ohio, one in Georgia, two in International Championship Wrestling and two in the World Wrestling Council. He also won the Ohio Valley Wrestling heavyweight crown three times and the Ohio Valley Wrestling Southern tag-team titles three times.
When it comes to belts, Sciarra should have no trouble finding something in his closet to hold up his pants for the rest of his life.
He wrestled everywhere, man, even if he doesn’t make the cities rhyme like Johnny Cash, wrestling in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Portland, Oregon, Calgary, Tampa, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama, Memphis and Atlanta. And elsewhere. Didn’t wrestle as much as one might expect in Indianapolis, though.
“I wanted to get away,” he said. “You want to see the world.”
The Rogers character drifted from territory to territory, working for Jim Crockett Promotions in the Mid-Atlantic area, Pacific Northwest Wrestling, in Puerto Rico and in Calgary for most of two years.
“There were different pieces of the pie all over North America,” Sciarra said.
He said wherever he went, he also “stayed in character every minute.”
Whenever he wanted to, he switched territories.
“If you wanted to move on, there were 28 other places,” Sciarra said. “Now if the promoter doesn’t like you, you’re out of luck.”
Those were the old days before the World Wrestling Federation (then WWE) under Vincent McMahon Jr. became the mega-outfit, swallowing up independents.
“It was like it was being run by the Mafia,” Sciarra said.
History of wrestling
Wrestling has been around since Neanderthal days, or longer than McMahon.
Men went one on one when they lived in caves. They just didn’t get paid for it or bother with constructed rings or the niceties of guidelines. The original Greek Olympics of 776 BCE, of which no film footage exists, featured naked guys twisting arms and necks.
Professional wrestling, a vague member of the same species, had its origins in the 1830s when feared Frenchmen Edward the Steel Eater and The Bone Wrecker ruled. They were strong-men wrestlers. By the 1920s, wrestling was beginning to push up against the line between sport and entertainment.
Wrestling as fans know it began to evolve more vividly post-World War II. Gorgeous George introduced new levels of flamboyance and showmanship, and pro wrestling has built on that foundation with storylines, colorful characters and outrageous costumes.
Astonishing violence, plus amazing and unbelievable developments, played out in the 20-by-20-foot ring. People marveled at the abuse dished out and endured before gradually adopting the viewpoint that despite the sight of anguished facial expressions and blood, it was all fake.
Steadfastly, bound by a code of silence called kayfabe, wrestlers indignantly rebuffed such suggestions. Kayfabe was the secret, a wide-ranging word that might as well have been the title on the Bible of pro wrestling.
Shh was the theme. Insiders kept inner workings to themselves, using the word kayfabe as a warning if someone not supposed to be in the know approached. The results of wrestling matches may well have been preordained, but to imply nothing was real as was charged was false.
Flips and flying kicks and body slams required more contact than Hollywood stunt men received, even if heads were turned at the last second. The injuries were all too real, torn muscles and broken bones hurting wrestlers as much as they did football players.
“I hardly ever got hit in the ring,” Sciarra said.
An old-school guy, Sciarra was an adherent of kayfabe and was horrified and angered when McMahon confessed in a public forum that wrestling matches were fixed. On Feb. 10, 1989, McMahon testified before the New Jersey State Senate as chairman of the then-World Wrestling Federation, saying wrestling should be removed from administration of the State Athletic Commission because it was not a sport.
McMahon called wrestling “an activity in which participants struggle hand in hand primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest.”
Sciarra was one of many who felt betrayed.
“He exposed that,” Sciarra said. “It can never go back to what it was. He’s an idiot.”
Sciarra assuredly interjected just what type of idiot he thought McMahon is.
Turning to training
The bumps and bruises incurred in nearly a quarter century of in-ring combat paled next to the results of Sciarra being hit by a car in 2000 at 48. He then turned to training, affiliated with Ohio Valley Wrestling out of Louisville, Kentucky.
Whenever Sciarra came to town, he stopped in at The Brooklyn Pizza Co. and The Seymour Brewing Co., sometimes just to eat, but he has also signed autographs there.
“He pops in regularly,” Malone said. “People see him and go, ‘Is that Rip Rogers?’”
Hustler was one of Sciarra’s nicknames, and pondering ways to honor Seymour natives, Malone introduced the Hustler beer in 2017. Except for teetotalers, who wouldn’t want a beer named after them?
“He was all for it,” Malone said.
Sciarra’s blond hair turned white over the years, and his piledriving capability may have diminished, but he pretty much morphed into the Vince Lombardi of wrestling, coaching the young and eager, some preparatory to their gaining great fame.
Among the pupils who wanted to learn from Rip Rogers were such luminaries as John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Mark Henry, Dave Bautista and Randy Orton. Rogers could field his own all-star team. The veteran wrestler had knowledge to share and wrote a how-to volume named “The Book on Pro Wrestling: Lessons from Rip Rogers.”
Former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, who made the NFL all-star team, also signed on for lessons, not on a whim. In 2018, McAfee signed a contract to talk for WWE, featured on the TakeOver kickoff show and digital content.
“This is a dream come true,” McAfee said.
The wrestling world was just that for Sciarra, too.
“I wouldn’t have traded it for nothing,” he said.
They say athletes pine for the cheers when they retire. Mark Sciarra misses the boos.