Da Pope, aka Elijah Burke, recently spoke with WrestleZone Managing Editor Bill Pritchard about his return to the ring and his tenure with TNA Wrestling. Pope is known for his unique style and delivery, and he’s often said Dusty Rhodes was an inspiration to him. Pope shared a story about how someone asked if he ‘learned’ to talk like he did, and he explained how you can’t be taught the gift of gab and some guys just have it. He also talked about how much of an influence Dusty was on him personally, noting that he tries to create the same kind of moments now that drew him in in the first place.
“There are only a few guys who are able to get in the ring, I mean to grab a microphone and to parlay whatever the message is that they’re trying to get across, and to have it come across so authentic and genuine. And Dusty [Rhodes] was one of them. Flair was one of them as well, and you’ve got Stone Cold and The Rock from the modern era, you know, and others, but there’s only a few that get in there today that when they’re saying something on that microphone, they do not come across as scripted. And even if you have been scripted—here’s what Dusty did, this is why I loved Dusty and here’s why he’s such a huge influence. Without Dusty, I wouldn’t have even got into the business. Without Watts and the NWA, I wouldn’t have ever had the dream,” Pope said. “I wouldn’t have ever believed you know, when he said, ‘Take your hand, I’m gonna reach in and I’ll take it right now.’ It’s moments like that that brought me and drew me into wanting to be a professional wrestler. And it’s moments like that that I try to reciprocate back, you know? And hopefully encourage others in a manner which is encouraging me to speak from the heart. And what I love about NWA Powerrr, what I love about even coming back now to join them with the United Wrestling Network, you ain’t gonna find no scripts for Pope.”
Pope says he enjoys NWA and UWN for the same reason he loved his run in TNA and praised Vince Russo for never trying to write for him when he didn’t understand it. He went on to say Dusty was instrumental in a similar fashion, recalling a story where Dusty threw away a script given to him by another WWE writer and encouraged Pope to do things his way.
“That’s what I loved about Pope when he came to TNA. A lot of people give Vince Russo a hard time, and I think he’s done a lot of crazy things, but the man’s done a lot of good things too. And to his testament, that man never tried to script Pope. All he would was, ‘Okay Pope-ay, man what are you doing today, Pope-ay? What’re you saying?’ You know, and it was that type of thing. Because there was never a reason as he would put it for a 40-something-year-old Italian to try to write and script someone who is ‘The Pope.’ [He’d say] ‘I don’t know how The Pope would talk. I don’t know what The Pope would say. That’s your deal.’” Pope said.
“And when I was with Dusty, the reason I credit Dusty so much is, they would script me when I first came up to SmackDown and ECW, Dusty came in there with the script. He said, ‘Here. I want you to read this. You read this okay, hurry up.’ And I read what they had ‘Elijah Burke’ say. And he took it, he’s like, ‘You got that?’ He took it back, he holds it up, and he threw the paper over his shoulder. He said, ‘Now that’s what they want you to say, but I want you to say it how you wanna say it.’ And so therefore it just gave me the added confidence to speak and speak freely while still getting across the point that, you know, the writers or whoever was in charge, wanted me to say. I’ve never went, quote on quote, with the script. I’ve just said what I wanted to say and included some elements of the script.”