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In honor of National Public Works Week, WrestleZone is joining in by celebrating one of professional wrestling’s most memorable gimmicks of the New Generation, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese. WrestleZone Managing Editor Bill Pritchard recently spoke with Mike Droese about his WWF career, his portrayal of a “sanitation engineer” and what he’s up to today in his post-wrestling career.
The “trade” guys were a big part of that era in WWF—TL Hopper the plumber, The Goon played hockey, Bob Holly (aka Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg) drove a race car—but most fans might be surprised to know Droese had a similar gimmick before he got to WWF in 1994. Droese says he knew what Vince McMahon was looking for in characters and intentionally modeled himself in a “working man” image.
“Vince McMahon was still holding on to a lot of the same ideals in the 1980s and into the 1990s, trying to do the same things. Whether it worked or not, I knew that’s what he was looking for, and I knew he was always looking for someone to get over with the people, especially the working-class man,” Droese said. “A ‘blue-collar’ gimmick was perfect and that’s why I came up with it in Florida when I was working the independent scene. I wrestled as ‘The Garbage Man’ Rocco Gibraltar.”
Droese says there weren’t too many changes to his character upon arriving in WWF. His name changed and the color of his shirt changed but it was largely the same character he portrayed on the independents. Droese credits Shane McMahon with giving him the name Duke ‘The Dumpster’ and explained that he actually owned the IP for his gimmick due to a provision he wrote into his contract.
“Interestingly, when I came in it was Shane McMahon who produced my vignettes because he was running through the different facets of the office. He was doing all of the different jobs in the company like he was maybe being groomed to take over the company someday, he was probably in his early twenties at that time. I sat down with him and they were throwing around a few names, Duke ‘The Dumpster’ was the first one he said. That’s the one they were going to use and ‘Droese’ is my real last name,” he said. “It was the same gimmick but he a tan overshirt on it and covered up the name tag which still said ‘Rocco’ on it. That’s the only change they made physically to the character. I had it written into my contract that I own the intellectual property to that garbage man gimmick and the way it looked, that was all mine before I got there.”
Droese says eventually, the ‘old-school’ mindsets of some of the agents set in and tried to mold him into the ‘WWE style’ of his character. He added that not speaking up for himself may have affected his mindset and he should have taken a different approach to how his character was handled.
“I was getting over just fine in Florida the way I was doing my gimmick. I’ll give an example—the first time I did interviews, we were doing them for an upcoming [live tour] and in Florida, I always yelled. I was a fan of the Road Warriors and there was never a time when they didn’t yell and scream, so I would yell in my promos,” Droese said. “I don’t remember who the agent was but he said ‘no, no, you don’t need to yell. We don’t yell in interviews here, because if you yell all of the time it doesn’t mean anything.’ It was just this backward, old-school psychology.
“I should have just done things the way that I did, but little by little, they would keep picking it apart and taking away pieces. I think that affected me. I made the mistake of trying to please everybody and it ended up tearing apart a lot of what I had done, what I created back in Florida. It made it so it was not fun to be there later on. It was interesting the way that they do try to take control over you and a lot of people made the mistake that I made in trying to please them,” Droese said,“when you should be trying to get over. Vince doesn’t care if you’re trying to make Chief Jay Strongbow happy or making George ‘The Animal’ Steele happy, if you’re getting over Vince McMahon is happy and that’s all that matters. That’s the way I should have approached it from the beginning.”
Droese’s run was only two years long, but the man billed from “Mount Trashmore, Florida” provided a number of memorable moments in his time on WWE TV. Debuting in 1994, he quickly became involved with a feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler that saw him hit in the head with his own trash can, which some consider as one of the first instances of hardcore wrestling on WWF TV. At the time, the incident was so out of character for WWF that Lawler actually had to apologize on TV for the level of violence.
Fast forward a year, and Droese was involved in a feud with Hunter Hearst Helmsley. He not only beat Helmsley by disqualification at the 1996 Royal Rumble, but he’s in the record books for handing Helmsley his first WWF loss. Helmsley ended up cutting off Droese’s hair and they feuded until the next month; Helmsley won that match and after a few more months of being portrayed as a job guy, Droese reached a mutual agreement for a release from his contract.
Droese had tryout opportunities with both WWF and WCW a few years later and made some independent appearances, but he ended up leaving the business completely. He eventually went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in education, but an old injury and a battle with addiction saw him lose his foot and he ended up in jail. After he went through a drug court problem and got sober, Droese was offered a job in Tennessee with an adult recovery court program in Tennessee. Droese says it took getting arrested for him to change but he’s happy he got his life back and now he gets the chance to help others, giving them a chance to stay out of jail.
While he is no longer a full-time wrestler, he does still make occasional appearances with promotions like WrestlePro and even appeared as a competitor in Chikara’s Infinite Gauntlet match on May 11, 2019. Droese says he does get a little bit of the best of both worlds, as he enjoys his career with the courts but still gets to meet fans and interact with them without worrying about a “spot.” Droese says he spent a long time away from the business but he’s finally doing events to have fun and loves the reception he gets from the fanbase.
“Interestingly, I tried to hide from the world. With the drug addiction and getting arrested, I wanted everyone to forget I ever existed. I was never going to do anything again involving wrestling. Then in 2018, this promoter here in Tennessee got me to come do an appearance, this little high school fundraiser appearance. I went and did it, I signed autographs and met some people and the fans were really nice,” Droese explained, “ but then afterward, the people that hit me up on social media went crazy. They started friend requesting me—I started accepting them and interacting with these people and it opened me back up to it.
“Now I really enjoy it. I’m having fun. It’s not a job for me anymore and I’m not getting stressed out working for a spot anywhere. I’m just doing stuff that is fun for me, and it’s great to make a little extra money on the side of course, but I enjoy talking to the fans. I interact with them a lot on social media and it just took off.” Droese said. “I started telling road stories and people really started to react to it. It’s like a rebirth of the parts of the wrestling business that I actually enjoyed when I was there. I get to interact with the fans, so in that respect, it’s fun for me now. So yeah, it is the best of both worlds.”
Check out the full interview below:
Now, more than ever, it’s time #WeSayThanks
#WeSayThanks is a celebration honoring essential workers and all their acts of charity, kindness, strength, and perseverance and we’re using the color purple as a symbol of that solidarity.
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So rock that purple! Whether it’s a purple ribbon on your lapel, purple clothes from your closet, or our limited edition #WeSayThanks t-shirt ($5 from every sale will go to charities serving our communities and families of Essential Workers) the time is now that #WeSayThanks.