Rico’s recent WWE success as stylist to Billy and Chuck seems to be taking everyone by surprise. Someone at TNN, however, seems to recall that before he was even a wrestler, Rico was an extraordinary athlete as a top notch contender on TV’s American Gladiators. That network recently reran the series, which originally aired in the 1990-1991 season. The show gives a unique glimpse into Rico’s early celebrity and ability, and those who are just beginning to see Rico’s talent will find some similarities in style, even then. His upper body strength was superior, allowing him to remain undefeated in “The Wall” competition until his very last run, where he was bested by Craig Branham. This last climb, however, was hampered by the fact that Rico had a concussion suffered from the weight bag on the Eliminator the day before. In the popular European TV show that followed, “Conquer Ft. Boyard”, Rico again met Craig Branham in a similar circumstance, scaling the 80 foot walls of and ancient fort, and indeed he did win in that obstacle, and led his team to complete victory.
Rico also was the only person to unsettle Gemini in the joust competition. In true Rico style, he actually had the larger man down to one knee, but waited for him to stand again before knocking him off the pedestal to the mats below. It was just one of many examples of Rico’s perfectionism, a trait still evident in his wrestling style today.
It is of particular interest to some Rico’s cheerleading ability with regard to his opponents. Rico has never been content to beat someone who wasn’t at their best…the victory would then be pointless. One of my favorite scenes from the Gladiator series is seeing him atop the wall, urging John Adams on, encouraging him to get to the top before the pursuing Gladiator got him. Even today, Rico remains encouraging in the field of sports entertainment, heartening rookies to be and do their best, and because of his sincerity, they listen and in turn, learn.
For those eBay and memorabilia addicts out there, there are remnants of Rico’s Gladiator days to be found if you have the patience to search. The “Red Challenger” action figure is based on Rico’s character. As arguably the most loved contender in the show’s history, it is Rico’s image that is on the packaging. Fans would show up hours before and stay all day as the show was taped, holding “Rico Rocks” signs aloft and cheering him on. On occasion, when the camera cuts to the crowd in the series, you can see dots of white…those are all the early Rico Costantino fans showing their support. Ironic now there are also sign wielding fans…and the reaction is just the reverse due to Rico’s arrogance as “The Stylist”.
Rico is also caught in action in four trading cards…two on the cargo net in competition with John Adams, one clinging to The Wall, and one staged shot with Gemini. These are all verified to be Rico, and their value to any collector or fan is immeasurable.
Also rare are Rico’s earliest photos taken upon arrival in Ohio Valley Wrestling. He was “The American Gladiator”, at the onset of his career in Empire Wrestling Federation, where he was initially noticed and signed to WWF contract. His patriotic attire and Gladiator belt lent both credence and love for the character. As he arrived in OVW, he continued to carry the Gladiator belt for some time, until it was eventually usurped by the OVW Heavyweight title…on three separate occasions.
Other hard to come by photos include a promo pic with Rico and a Tiger (quite a sight, don’t you think ladies?), a tiger who subsequently turned on and killed his trainer. The most hard to obtain photo, however may be in the coffee table style book “Louisville, The Greatest City”. For it’s $50 price tag, you can view a full page of Rico sporting the OVW title belt posed in the OVW ring, which is actually located in Jeffersonville, Indiana, just for added irony. The book, however, is very hard to come by outside of the Louisville metropolitan area, and indeed only stocked by finer bookstores here in Kentucky at all.
There are folks in and around the OVW viewing area who been lucky enough to catch Rico for an autograph while he was here in his developmental stage. Recently, on an eBay search, a picture of Rico popped up with a “Buy It Now” price of $40. I know for a fact this particular entrepreneur did not actually take this photograph, and it seems somehow unfair for him to make money off something he did not do and a name that is not his. I know, it’s common practice, but to look back and think about how many autographs the man signed for how many years, and now he’s worth something? Rico has always been valuable for more than his signature. I have always known Rico to be glad to sign something, glad to pose for pics, but this is meant to be something he does for the fans, not for someone’s profit. To us die hard fans, everything Rico is a treasure…not an investment.