Diamond Dallas Page gazes out over sun-baked Levi’s Stadium at WrestleMania 31, a grin climbing across his face as a 30-man melee unfolds below. The two-decade pro wrestling veteran oohs and aahs at every brutal beat of the 2nd annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal before Damien Mizdow turns on his chest-thumping tag-team partner The Miz in a spectacularly theatrical twist, allowing The Big Show to triumph in front of 76,967 rabid fans. Many would later proclaim it the best WrestleMania in years.
“It’s like Shakespeare,” he marvels moments later, still smiling. “That match you saw just there, you feel there’s no way The Big Show’s not going to win—but they told a story all the way through. When wrestling is done properly, it’s like really physical ballet.”
Page, 58, officially retired from the ring in 2009 after carving out a hardscrabble career in one of the most unforgiving professions in entertainment. Like many old guard wrestlers, the longtime WCW superstar never left the game entirely, even if he’s got a few regrets over his brief stint in the WWE—when he jumped over from the WCW straight into an eyebrow-raising stalker storyline opposite The Undertaker.
“I should have gotten up, shook Vince [McMahon]’s hand, ‘Thank you so much for the opportunity, but I’m going to pass,’” he tells me. “If I go back in time, I walk away from it until they tell me we’re going to do People’s Champion vs. People’s Champion. And I don’t think I would have gotten to the elevator!”
One thing that deal taught Page is what not to do with his career. He sought ownership of his Diamond Dallas Page brand and built a health and wellness company teaching “Yoga for Regular Guys/Gals” in accessible terms under his DDP Yoga banner. “I own everything to do with Diamond Dallas Page, DDP Yoga, the Diamond Cutter, the hand sign. I wouldn’t be able to do it if it was today because [the WWE] is not going to allow anything that they don’t create,” says Page, who returned for this year’s Royal Rumble sporting his own DDPY swag.
While the magic of wrestling’s special brand of live storytelling has remained the same for decades, the industry’s a far different beast than the one Page entered in 1988 as a manager for the Diamond Exchange in the American Wrestling Association. Back in the day, that “physical ballet” took a punishing toll on talent in and out of the ring, many of whom struggled to balance their outsized personas, hard partying, and the blurred line between their personal and public lives.
“It got clouded at times and sometimes you’d start believing the character too hard,” says Page. “I was in the nightclub business for years before this and when you’re in front of that hot nightclub, everyone wants to know you. It’s like that bar from Cheers. Everybody wants to be your friend… but when you’re not doing that, all of a sudden two-thirds of your friends are gone. That’s a wake up call.”
Wrestling has seen its share of tragic stories: Macho Man Randy Savage, Eddie Guerrero, and Brian Pillman’s deaths from heart failure, the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide that rocked the WWE. Months after the Benoit shocker, the WWE offered 100 percent coverage of substance abuse rehab to ex-talent. For former greats like Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Scott Hall (a.k.a. Razor Ramon), that wasn’t enough. Page moved Roberts, then Hall, into his home in Smyrna, Georgia.
“Jake and Scott, they’d been to 11 and 12 rehab clinics and never came out of a clinic without drinking within 30 days,” says Page. “Most times it was right to it, thinking, ‘I got this now’—and of course, the booze, the drugs, turns into everything. Destruction. I brought Jake in originally because of what he did for me when I started wrestling. I didn’t start wrestling until I was 35 and my career didn’t take off until I was 40. And the reason it took off was because Jake mentored me.”
When Page was struggling to convince the wrestling world he had the chops to be more than a manager, Roberts was his superstar mentor. “He watched my matches with me and would say, ‘That was good, but why would you do that?’ Sometimes I’d say, ‘That’s what they want me to do,’ meaning the writers or bookers. He’d say, ‘Are they out there with you? Do they really care if you get over? Do they believe in you?’ Hell no. It made me take control of my own destiny—and that’s exactly what I told Jake once he was living with me.”
Roberts dropped weight, got clean, made a return appearance to the WWE, and earned a spot in the Hall of Fame last year as a documentary crew captured the process. The Resurrection of Jake The Snake Roberts premiered in January at Slamdance. “He never believed he’d be entering the Hall of Fame,” recalls Page. “And when you say Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, we’re talking Top 5 of all-time. That guy should get to walk away with his shoulders back, head held high.”
Hall’s uphill battle was even tougher. “He was far gone and really almost died,” says Page. “His turnaround is even more remarkable than Jake’s because Jake really wanted a turnaround. Scott wasn’t sure. He didn’t think he deserved it.”
Page and Roberts filmed their initial 2013 call to Hall, reaching the two-time WCW heavyweight champ, already inebriated after downing vodka for breakfast. “I’m dying, man… I want to die,” Hall slurs in the video.
“When you’re an addict, you’re filled with shame,” says Page. “It took me a really long time to understand that—why can’t you just do the right thing? And you set yourself up. Well, I just know I’m going to screw up again… but if you keep telling yourself that, you’re right, you’re going to.”
Nowadays Page applauds the corporatized WWE machine for allowing its legends to rejoin the fold alongside a new generation of talent, whose offscreen habits and antics are stringently monitored and kept mostly family-friendly across live TV and film appearances.
“In the WWE, back in the day when a lot of guys were dying and it was running hard, that was damage done already,” he says. “Today all the young kids, they’re all tested and not just for illegal drugs, but also prescription. If you’re taking Percocet, painkillers, or any kind of muscle relaxers, they want to know exactly what you’re taking because it’s so easy. Housewives get hooked on them, so how easy would it be for wrestlers?”
Page is high on his hustle, with plans to expand the DDP Yoga empire with cooking shows pushing his anti-GMO and gluten regimen, green-screened children’s fitness programming, and his own reality TV show. One end goal, he says, is to get so famous again that the Hollywood he tried to break into years ago can’t help but cast him as a serious actor. As believers in self-transformation go, the ex-wrestler helping other wrestlers battle their demons, who says he held out for a reasonable Shark Tank contract three times before pitching shares of DDP Yoga on the show, and who once walked out to a theme titled “Self High-Five,” is both preacher and choir.
“WWE’s a whole different world now,” he mused. “It’s a big corporate empire and it ain’t just like we’re wrestlers. I think Vince started to change that about 20 years ago. He stopped calling us ‘wrestlers’ and started calling us ‘sports entertainers.’ And he’s right.”