It has been almost two decades since Duke the Dumpster Droese has taken out the trash for the WWE. The last time that the garbage man stepped into the ring for Vince McMahon was at Wrestlemania 17 in 2001 as a participant in the Gimmick Battle Royal.
Today, at 50 years old, Mike Droese, a Peer Case Manager, helps people with substance abuse and mental health problems as far as getting their lives back on track. Until recently, it has been years since he has had anything to do with professional wrestling.
In August of last year, Mike was invited to do a meet and greet with wrestling fans. At the time, he didn’t think much of it.
“It started with me doing autograph signings and then I was asked if I could run into the ring and hit someone with a trash can lid,” Droese said. “People always love to see that.”
It wasn’t long before Mike found himself fitting wrestling back into his busy schedule. Although he has no intention of perusing a second run with the WWE, he is satisfied with participating from time to time in his lifelong passion.
In 1985 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Mike was watching Wrestlemania I on a closed-circuit screen with his father. From that moment, the seed of wrestling was planted. The hype that surrounded the match with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff captivated his attention.
“I stood up, turned to my father, and told him that’s what I was going to do,” Droese explained. “At that moment, my Dad said okay, and he has always supported me since with my wrestling dream.”
After going to wrestling school, attending college, and spending seven years on the wrestling scene in Florida, Mike developed his garbage man character calling himself Rocco Gibraltar.
With the intentions of going off and finding a permanent spot in what was left of the wrestling territories before Vince Jr. swallowed them up, Mike made 30 promotional packages with matches and photos so he could sell himself to wrestling promoters.
Before he was able to do that, however, Mike had a chance run-in with Vince McMahon, where he was able to deliver his tape in person. McMahon was so impressed with Mike that shortly after their visit, he received a phone call from J.J. Dillon.
“They flew me up for a tryout, and afterward, I was told that I was hired. Within a couple of months I received my contract,” Droese recalls. “When I went up there to shoot some vignettes for the promotional process, Shane McMahon told me that I would be wrestling under the name of Duke the Dumpster Droese.”
Mike spent years wrestling in Florida learning his craft and developing his character. It finally paid off him. The beginning of 1994 was an exciting time for him, because he was now on the grandest stage, and was hopeful that his career would take off.
Over the next two years, Duke the Dumpster would step in the ring with the WWF’s top talent. Wrestlers such as Savio Vega, JBL, Jerry Lawler, Steve Austin, Owen Hart, and Triple H would share the ring with him.
“I thought that I had made it to the big time. I thought I was going to be rich and famous and good things were going to come my way,” Droese says. “I believed that I was going to show people on a worldwide level how good I was.”
Being one of the better wrestlers during his time in Florida gave Mike great confidence, but the road schedule in the WWF is difficult, even for the well-seasoned veterans of the business.
With having to take bumps in the ring night after night, and being on the road inside of a car some nights for hours at a time, it really took a toll on his body. His body started to feel the effects of the wrestling business
“As a wrestler, you’re constantly getting beat up, and it’s like being in a car accident every night,” Droese remembers. “I would eventually start taking pills or having a few drinks at the bar to help with the pain.”
Near the end of his run with the company, while he was having a feud with Triple H, Mike suffered a serious back injury when he landed on his rear end on the concrete floor outside of the ring.
Duke the Dumpster couldn’t move for several seconds. For a moment, he thought he was paralyzed. The referee became so concerned for his well-being that he came out of the ring to check on Mike. Mike ended up finishing his match and continued to wrestle when he was scheduled.
“Back then, you kept on wrestling or you didn’t get booked, Droese explains. “My drug use really took off because I was trying to mask this ridiculous major spine injury in my lower back.”
Eventually, in the middle of 1996, a difference between creative opinions between the office and Mike would end his employment at the WWF. Vince entertained the idea of sending him to Tennessee to work in Jerry Lawler’s company, the USWA, but that never panned out.
Mike even reached out to Bret Hart. Bret was willing to help the garbage man get booked with the connections that he had, but at that point in Mike’s career, he was disillusioned and unhappy.
“I was so disgusted with the business, and it just felt like a dirty place to work,” Droese said. I went home and I got a lot worse.”
Finally, in 2002, Mike went to rehab. He got clean and sober and eventually, he became a school teacher. Over the next 11 years, Mike would experience a series of ups and downs. Unfortunately, Mike would relapse, lose afoot, and be arrested in 2013.
As part of his plea deal, he participated in a strict drug court program. Those who entered this particular program are monitored; drug tested regularly and required to attend several recovery meetings and drug classes on a weekly basis.
Mike wanted his life to change, and after he completed the program, he was hired to work there. His goal moving forward now is to remain clean and help others to do so as well. Mike is working on getting his license so he can work as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor at a rehab.
Though wrestling is still something he enjoys doing, he does it on the side at a limited capacity when he is not working his full-time job.
“I think I’m having fun with the wrestling now because I’m not putting so much pressure on myself, Droese replied. “I have found that the greatest thing that keeps me clean and sober is helping other people that are in recovery.”