Even when he first started out his career in broadcasting and SiriusXM, Sam Roberts made know bones about it. He was an unabashed professional wrestling fan. In the years since starting out as an intern on Opie and Anthony to today with his own show with comic Jim Norton, he enjoyed bringing WWE superstars on the air. During the incarnations of his wrestling podcast, he has also interviewed the biggest names in the business.
Building notoriety and a solid reputation, WWE invited Roberts on to join the panel of its Pay-Per-View and NXT kick-off shows. The 35-year-old is a true "One of Us" success story. And before "The Last Professional Broadcaster" gets caught in the madness that is WrestleMania week, he took time out to reflect how he got here and why his fandom is as strong as ever.
Take me back to when you became a fan. What was that moment?
I don't actually remember a time that I wasn't a fan. I feel like wrestling was ingrained in me by the time I was birthed. I just do not remember an interest I had that is earlier than wrestling. I don't remember a time I decided, "Okay, wrestling is what I like." It was just always something that I was into. The first pictures in my head, the first storylines I got into was the stuff going around 1990, 1991. The coming out of WrestleMania 6 and coming into WrestleMania 7. That year is where, especially the beginning of 1991 when Macho King interfered in the Ultimate Warrior/Sgt. Slaughter WWE championship match. That string of storylines leading into WrestleMania 7 is probably the first storyline I remember getting locked into. I don't remember a time in my life I was not a wrestling fan.
Living in the Northeast, what was the first show you attended?
I was born here in New York and living here now, but I spent my childhood living in England. My family moved to the U.K. when I was young. So, we spent four years living in the U.K. My first live show was actually SummerSlam '92 in Wembley Stadium. I will never forget. It was probably three days before the event. I was eight years old and the idea that WWE doing a SummerSlam live, even though it was in England, it was so far out of the realm in my head. I looked at wrestlers the way I looked at cartoon characters or anyone else on TV. It wasn't anything I could see myself getting that close to. Three days before the show my dad came home, and he had these tickets. I didn't know what they were because they weren't traditional looking tickets. They were printed on regular paper. It was a photo of a battle royal, which I think it was the battle royal from WrestleMania 2, NFL-WWE battle royal with the SummerSlam logo on it. I looked at them. I don't think I've ever been that surprised and out-of-my-head excited about anything. I think that was the peak. I looked at him asking, "What are these?" He goes, "What do you think they are?" I said, "Oh my God! Are these tickets to SummerSlam?"
I started freaking out. I was running around the house. I started calling all my friends. My dad got tickets somewhere around the 12th row of Wembley Stadium for me and the whole family. There were five of us. We all went and sat and watched and got there early. The colors were so bright. Everything was so big and loud. It was real life happening in front of my face. It just changed everything.
Later on, my parents told me they were worried because I was so obsessed with wrestling that if we were sitting up close to it, and at eight I would look at it and see some of the magic. That it maybe wasn't all that it appeared to be. That there was some cooperation going on among the participants. I remember that never occurred to me whether it was a legitimate athletic competition or whether it was entertainment or sports entertainment. It never mattered to me. Seeing them, I wasn't thinking, "Hey, he isn't really hitting him that hard." It didn't even occur to me. I was watching Kamala and The Undertaker, Papa Shango, Bret Hart and the British Bulldog and Macho Man versus the Ultimate Warrior. Here comes Ric Flair. I was seeing it all in person, and my tiny eight-year-old mind was just blown. I've never looked back since.
Do you still have that ticket stub?
I have it somewhere. I couldn't pull it out and show it to you right now, but there is absolutely no way it was thrown out. It was among the boxes and bags and stacks of wrestling paraphernalia that has been saved for my entire life.
When was the first time you physically interacted with a wrestler? I know you share a lot of photos of you and wrestlers on social media growing up, but who was the first? What kind of impact did they have on you?
Even back living on the East Coast, WrestleMania 10 was in Madison Square Garden. I was back living in New York, but I had never been to a show at Madison Square Garden. I didn't go to WrestleMania 10. They had this Fan Fest going on before Axxess. It was the early version of it. It was so far of the realm of reality even then that I didn't go to that. My parents didn't like taking me to things that were overly crowded. They weren't driving to the city. They had every excuse in the book, but I lived in Westchester. There was this store that was doing this autograph signing with Doink the Clown. What's amazing, you think back, and this was 1994 that it would be some fake indie guy that they just dressed up as Doink the Clown to trick a bunch of kids. I still have the photo. It's the first wrestler I met in person. I got a photo and an autograph and said hello. It really was Matt Borne, for real, for real as Doink the Clown. He had just left WWE and Ray Apollo taking on the gimmick. So Matt was able to take on these independent bookings. It was some sports club here in Westchester who has booked Doink the Clown. So, the real Doink the Clown was my first meeting.
Over the years since, you've interviewed a lot of pro wrestlers. A lot of them you've up to like you mentioned. Now working for WWE doing these pre-show panels and becoming friendly with guys like Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins, Corey Graves. Has that kind of changed your perspective on the business as a fan? How has it changed the way you see yourself as a fan?
There are maybe slight things that I appreciate a little bit more. The little things I see work being into. Whether it's the way a story is being told. Some of the moves, and when I say moves, I mean the direction that things go in, that make a little more sense. I see what maybe what they are going for here. I haven't really changed as a fan. I still watch every Raw and every SmackDown and every NXT and Pay-Per-View whether I'm on the kickoff show or not or watching there or at home. Even in the arena during a kickoff show, odds are you'll see me wondering around the arena floor while the Pay-Per-View is happening thinking, "Oh my God. I can't believe I get to watch this Pay-Per-View. I have this backstage pass and get to watch on the floor and see it." That's one of the reasons WWE asks me to do the kickoff shows.
They want somebody who is a fan and an outsider. I think there are so many great and talented announcers and hosts and broadcasters in WWE that they don't need another body. I think the reason they have me there is because the closer I get to this company the more I become a fan of it. None of that is changing. I still have Goldust ring-worn outfit that is in my studio as I talk to you. I still have all my Hasbro figures on the shelf. I still buy Mattel figures from target. I still order stuff on WWE Shop and subscribe to the Network and pay for it. My fandom and passion for it hasn't changed at all. I think that's part of the reason I can add the perspective I can to the kickoff shows.
I think the big "One of Us" moments we've had was seeing you and Peter Rosenberg at WrestleMania. Now doing this for as long as you've done it since then, knowing your background and career, what would you say you've gained knowledge-wise form having this experience. Is there any advice given to you by a Vince McMahon or a Michael Cole that you've taken into your "day job" at SiriusXM?
The people I work most closely with are Michael Cole and Mike Mansuri. Watching those guys work, it's the passion. Both those guys have bene in the company for a really long time. Everyone knows how long Michael Cole has been in the company, but Mike Mansuri has been there for a hugely long time as well. Seeing the passion, they have for everything that goes on in WWE.
The painstaking detail that goes into everything. The fact after decades of working for a company and doing the shows over and over again, they are not lazy. They are not calling it in and constantly trying to make everything better. I'm saying even as the live show is going on, they are sitting there trying to make it the best thing possible. And if they come up with an idea when the show is on thinking, "We have an idea that might be better." They'll change it on the fly and communicate with all members and departments within WWE to make sure everything and everyone comes across as best possible. That is what I take away when I do my own show on Sirius and the other stuff I do. This idea of giving it your all every single time and looking at the people around you and recognizing what they are good at and trying to highlight that in people and bring that out in them. You want to make it so that energy of giving it your all is contagious because if you do that and everyone shares that attitude, it becomes really difficult to not put out a great product.
Lastly, with WrestleMania coming up again. I'm sure you are probably very busy. What are your plans at the moment that week with WWE and your coverage in general? Also, does it mean more to you that it's in your own backyard and you're going to be working for WWE? Is it a come full circle moment?
There are so many of those moments. It's amazing. You talk about Peter Rosenberg and me showing up at WrestleMania. The first WrestleMania he and I did together was WrestleMania 33 in Orlando. WrestleMania 24 was really the first time I met Peter at WrestleMania as a member of the media sitting as a fan. Nine years later to come back to the same building with Peter and the two of us being there. That was an amazing full circle moment. I remember I was there for WrestleMania 29 at MetLife Stadium. I was sitting in the media suite. That was a huge moment for me because WrestleMania 29 was when I really started to pick up the media opportunities.
That was the first WrestleMania I did radio row and started to do a whole bunch of interviews thinking, "I can't believe I'm getting to interview all these guys." The idea that six year later I get to come back to MetLife Stadium to be any part of WrestleMania, it's one of the most pinch me moments you can ask for. I'll be doing stuff for the WrestleMania kickoff show, stuff on the NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn kickoff, and of course going to the Hall of Fame. During down time I'll be at Axxess. I'm sure I'm going to make time to check out all the other stuff gong on in and around New York City that whole weekend. It really is a whole week because realistically everything starts on Wednesday and keeps going until that next Tuesday. It really is a full week of stuff all over New York. I can't wait for it.