“You Better Pay Your Taxes”: Looking Back on the Career of Mike Rotunda AKA Irwin R. Schyster

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IRS Irwin R. Schyster
Credit: WWE

It’s April 15th, which means for Americans, it’s the final day to pay your income taxes if you’re hoping to avoid the Internal Revenue Service coming after you. In the 1990s, if you were the WWF locker room, you were also hoping to avoid IRS, but instead of the Internal Revenue Service, it was Irwin R. Schyster, who was there to remind his colleagues and fans to pay their taxes and to not be a tax cheat. Otherwise, he’d know and he’d come after you for it.

The son-in-law of the legendary Blackjack Mulligan, and brother-in-law to Barry and Kendall Windham, IRS, real name, Mike Rotunda, began his professional wrestling career in the summer of 1981. After graduating from Syracuse University, where he competed in football and amateur wrestling (four-time letterman, one-time Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association heavyweight champion), Rotunda moved to Germany to train under the Destroyer. In 1982, he made his debut for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, a territory which operated under the Jim Crockett Promotions and National Wrestling Alliance banner. For the next two years, Rotunda wrestled primarily for NWA and MACW, winning the NWA Television Championship, Canadian Television Championship and Florida Southern Heavyweight Championship once each.

In 1984, after joining the NWA’s Championship Wrestling from Florida, Rotunda had his most successful year as a pro, winning six titles including the Florida Heavyweight Championship, the Florida Southern Heavyweight Championship for the second time in his career, and four reigns as Florida United States Tag Team Champion, three of which came alongside brother-in-law Barry Windham. That same year, Rotunda made his World Wrestling Federation debut, briefly feuding with Bob Orton, but primarily in tag team appearances alongside Windham.

The following year, Rotunda joined WWF exclusively and alongside, Windham as the U.S. Express, was quickly inserted into the tag title picture. With an all-American gimmick, complete with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” as their entrance music and Captain Lou Albano as their manager, just 21 days into the new year, the two won their first tag team championship, mainly defending the belts against Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik. At the inaugural WrestleMania, the U.S. Express lost the titles to Volkoff and Sheik, only to recapture them just a few months later. This time, the duo lost the titles to the Dream Team (Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake). Despite having success as a duo, the U.S. Express broke up due to Windham returning to CWFF, wrestling their last match together exactly one year to the day of their debut.

With Windham gone, Rotunda immediately teamed up with Dan Spivey as the American Express and the new duo resumed the U.S. Express’ feud with the Dream Team. They were, however, unable to recapture the championships, and in 1986, Rotunda briefly left WWF for a few months. On the independent/territory scene, Rotunda joined back up with Windham in All Japan Pro Wrestling for New Year Wars Super Battle 1986. He returned to WWF in 1986, where he once again teamed with Spivey, notably wrestling the Moondogs (Moondog Rex and Moondog Spot), the Dream Team and the Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart). Rotunda also took part in the King of the Ring tournament that year, reaching the quarterfinals.

Rotunda once again left the WWF in early 1987, this time for an extended hiatus. Returning to the NWA for CWFF and MACW, Rotunda won his second Florida Heavyweight Championship that year. The following year, Turner Broadcasting under the leadership of media mogul Ted Turner, purchased the bankrupt Jim Crockett Promotions and rebranded one of its territories, Georgia Championship Wrestling, as World Championship Wrestling. Still under the NWA banner, Rotunda joined WCW that year, wrestling as both a singles star and as a tag team wrestler, as a member of the Varsity Club.

Created by Kevin Sullivan who recruited Rotunda and Rick Steiner due to their collegiate amateur wrestling background, the Varsity Club set out to dominate WCW while promoting an agenda that they were better than the rest of the locker room because of their college accolades. It didn’t take long for the stable to find success as in January 1988, Rotunda defeated Nikita Koloff to win the NWA Television Championship, holding the title for nearly one full year (335 days). At the time, Rotunda was also still the Florida Heavyweight Champion, a belt he gave to Steiner after his TV title victory. While both members held titles, Rotunda and Steiner showed dissent early on, unable to decide amongst them who was the leader of the group. Less than a year after their debut, Steiner, who had been bullied by Sullivan and Rotunda, began feuding with his former partner, taking the Television Championship from him at Starrcade. Rotunda regained the title just a few months later, losing it shortly after to Sting.

Newly aligned with Steve Williams, University of Oklahoma alumnus, who joined the Varsity Club in an attempt to help Rotunda retain his title against Steiner, Rotunda won the NWA World Tag Team Championship, defeating the Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) thanks to a fast-count from referee Teddy Long who Sullivan had bribed. Sullivan helped the duo keep the titles through outside interference but at WrestleWar 1989, the Club were stripped of the gold due to the manner in which they won and defended the belts. Shortly after WrestleWar, the Club effectively disbanded with just Sullivan and Rotunda left as original members.

With Varsity Club over, Rotunda spent the next few years in midcard gimmicks for WCW, first as Captain Mike Rotunda and then as Michael Wallstreet, which in some ways served as the precursor for the IRS character. In April 1991, Rotunda and WCW parted ways, opening the door for a return to WWF where he enjoyed his biggest success as Irwin R. Schyster. A former tax accountant from Washington, DC, IRS scolded fans and fellow wrestlers as tax cheats, and was even known to criticize entire states of fans, such as New Hampshire, for individuals not having to pay a state income tax. His finishing move was called “The Write-Off.”

Schyster found early success with the gimmick, reaching the finals of the King of the Ring tournament where he lost to Bret Hart. That same year, he teamed with Ted DiBiase for the first time on the house show circuit, though the duo wouldn’t officially come together as Money Inc. until several months later, in February 1992. In return for a bribe, Jimmy Hart turned on The Natural Disasters (Earthquake and Typhoon) and gave their contract for a WWF World Tag Team Championship match to the newly formed Money Inc., which won the belts in their first opportunity against Legion of Doom (Hawk and Animal). This was all before the new stable even appeared on TV. Over the next several months, Money Inc. made their televised debut, defending the titles for 164 days against LOD and the Natural Disasters, the latter of which won the belts from Money Inc. in July 1992. In October of the same year, Money Inc. won the titles again and retained them in feuds against the Steiner Brothers (Rick and Scott Steiner), the Mega Maniacs (Brutus Beefcake and Hulk Hogan w/ Jimmy Hart) and High Energy (Koko B. Ware and Owen Hart). DiBiase and Schyster regained the titles two days later but dropped them right back to the Steiners.

In 1993, DiBiase suffered a back injury and subsequently decided to retire from wrestling bringing Money Inc. to an end. Back as a singles wrestler, Schyster notably feuded with Razor Ramon, Bret Hart and Tatanka before rejoining DiBiase under his Million Dollar Corporation, a stable which featured Nikolai Volkoff, Bam Bam Bigelow, Tatanka, Kama, King Kong Bundy and later Steve Austin, Sycho Sid and the 1-2-3 Kid. During this time, Schyster most notably feuded with Undertaker, before leaving the WWF in 1995. He returned to WCW that same year, under the moniker V.K. Wallstreet. After being used as a midcard performer for the next two years and briefly uniting with DiBiase as a member of the New World Order, Rotunda headed to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he had previously debuted in 1991. There he joined nWo Japan, alongside Scott Norton, Big Titan, The Great Muta, Buff Bagwell, Masahiro Chono, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and others.

In 2000, Rotunda and Rick Steiner briefly reunited the Varsity Club in WCW and Rotunda and Steve Williams reunited the group in AJPW for the Real World Tag League which they won. Rotunda remained with AJPW until 2003, continuing to team with Williams until he left the company later that year. Rotunda wrestled a handful of matches after that but had primarily retired, wrestling his last official match with WWE in the all-legends 15th Anniversary Battle Royal on RAW‘s 15th Anniversary episode. The match was won by DiBiase, who last eliminated Schyster, paying his former partner to eliminate himself. In 2006, Rotunda returned to WWE as a road agent/producer, working alongside his sons, Windham (Bray Wyatt) and Taylor (Bo Dallas) and has made several televised guest appearances since.

And while he’s not around much anymore, on Tax Day, whenever someone utters the initials “IRS,” know that Irwin R. Schyster is out there reminding you to pay your fair share and not be a tax cheat.

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