RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week series profiles significant wrestlers from the past and present.
The most famous professional wrestlers tend to be champions, remembered by fans for their epic wins and losses in the main events of big shows. But just as often, some of the most important wrestlers aren’t even in the spotlight: They are those who can highlight the best in others while not necessarily taking up the spotlight themselves. One such wrestler is Johnny Rodz, who wrestled for the World Wrestling Federation (and the WWWF, the pre-WWF WWE) from 1965 through about 1985.
In WWF, Rodz played the role of what is diplomatically called “enhancement talent,” but more commonly referred to as a “jobber.” In wrestling, “jobbing” or “doing a job” means losing a match, and a jobber is someone who makes their living by losing. Calling jobbers “enhancement talent” doesn’t just sound nicer, it more accurately describes what a jobber’s purpose is: to enhance how skilled their victorious opponent looks.
“[Rodz] was a guy that Vince McMahon Sr.—Vince Jr., his dad—if you weren’t good or if they wanted to test you out, they would put you in a ring with Johnny. And Johnny would either see what you had, or if you were a problem, he’d stretch you. He’d stretch you big time. He’d put you in holds and you couldn’t get out… He knew how to do the grappling. He knew how to put you in holds where you couldn’t get out of, and that’s what they used to do back in the carny days of pro wrestling, when wrestling used to be in the carnivals—the circus—back in the 1930s and ‘40s.”
Rodz never jobbed to or shot on D-Von on television, but the two know each other from Rodz’s other important, under the radar position in the wrestling industry, that of a trainer. Rodz runs a wrestling school out of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York, with his trainees over the decades including the likes Tommy Dreamer, all of the Dudley Boyz, Bill DeMott, Matt Striker, Tazz, and Big Cass, who once featured Rodz and Gleason’s Gym in a video by WWE about the school.
“Hey, don’t let him fool you: You step in this ring with him, he will stretch you. I know from experience.” – Big Cass
During the goat walk, D-Von described the process of training with Rodz, which he began after he graduated high school, even though he wanted to start as early as junior high.
“I spent five and a half years in Johnny Rodz’s school… Being in high school, I was one of the biggest kids in his school. It was a big school. And then all of a sudden, I’m thinking I’m the man on the block. Nobody can beat me. I’m a badass. Then I get to the wrestling school and I find out I ain’t so bad. I got my ass beat, and I spent five and a half years. I got beat up, I got stretched, I got everything. But I got taught. And I think that was the most important thing. I got taught.”
Rodz taught D-Von the old-school fundamentals of wrestling: the carny language that includes terms like “job” and how to “shoot” (or amateur wrestle). Football and basketball were D-Von’s sports of choice in high school, but:
“I wound up loving [amateur wrestling] when I got to Johnny’s school because that was the first thing he taught me. He taught me the amateur wrestling. I regretted so much as a kid not learning to do amateur wrestling, but I learned later on—years later, of course—and I incorporated that into the style me and Bubba [Ray Dudley] did over the years.”
It’s easy to understand the value of Rodz’s work when someone in the wrestling industry explains it, but it could be easy to overlook when watching wrestling as a fan. Though he was never the most prominent performer, WWE did make sure his work was honored when the company inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
You can also go back and watch Johnny Rodz in action (as enhancement talent) on the WWE Network, where you can see him against Carlos Colon in Madison Square Garden in 1977 and the likes of Tony Atlas and Pedro Morales, as well as team up with Jose Estrada against Andre the Giant and Pat Patterson in AWA All-Star Wrestling.
Not every wrestler is destined to be a champion, but the careers of people like Johnny Rodz shows that wrestlers don’t need to be champions to make important contributions to the wrestling business.