Part Two: CFL legend Glenn Kulka honest to the bone

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

As one of a handful of Canadians to play three sports at a professional level, Glenn Kulka is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve, boasting a larger than life personality and his ferocious playing style.

Part One of my look back on his infamous athletic career focused largely on his football playing days. Part Two details his wrestling and mixed martial arts endeavours.

For a number of years, you held the pro football bench press record, repping 225 pounds 53 times. When and where did you set that record, and was Guinness involved?

I did it in training camp with the Argos actually. I’d been there a few seasons and used to train with Tony Mandarich, John Mandarich’s younger brother. John and I were best friends until he died in my arms from cancer, we’d been like brothers and used to all train together.

We were training with Tony and he became a pretty big deal and was headed down to the NFL. We did all kinds of crazy workouts, doing 100 reps of every exercise, always going to failure and then some. Anyways, Tony repped 225 pounds 38 times and that brought him a lot of attention. But from training with him I knew I could smash that record.

So camp was just starting with the Argos and all the guys, I think there were 90 of us, packed into the gym for testing. I actually wound up benching 225 pounds 60 times, but Bob O’Billovich didn’t count seven of my reps, probably because I failed to lock out. Either way, 53 was a huge number and the guys were going nuts, even the Americans with NFL experience. At the time it was a North American record and I still don’t think anyone in the CFL has come close.

Unfortunately, there was no combine back in those days and no video recording of it exists. But it’s gotta be in the Argos’ records somewhere. If I’d done that today, I’m sure it would’ve gone viral and it probably would’ve led to an NFL tryout. Oh well.

You are one of the rare athletes who has admitted to taking steroids. In an interview you mentioned starting them because you were told you needed to gain muscle quickly to avoid being cut. Do you think that kind of thing still happens in today’s CFL?

If it does happen today, guys have to be a lot smarter hiding it. What you have to remember is that back then, there was no policy. If something was against the law, it was against league rules. So basically if you were caught selling it, that was one thing, but otherwise, there was no regulation.

The reason I admitted and spoke out about it is because I thought it was so hypocritical that everyone was using but nobody would talk about it. Both sides of the line were on it, a lot of linebackers and I even saw receivers and quarterbacks shooting up, just because they could.

I believe the fact that I talked about it and brought it into the open is why I didn’t make so many All-Star teams or get the accolades that perhaps I should have. The league didn’t appreciate someone taking about that kind of s***, but that’s what you get with me, truth to the bone. I don’t lie and I don’t make stuff up. I learned early in life that I didn’t play the political game well and I wasn’t smart enough to lie, because if you tell one lie you gotta tell five or six more to cover that first one up.

Following your football career, you quickly transitioned into the wrestling world. What was it like training with Bret Hart and going up against guys like King Kong Bundy, Kurt Angle and The Rock? 

The weird part of that whole thing is that I was never really a wrestling fan growing up, so that whole world was very new to me. I didn’t understand the importance of going up against a King Kong Bundy or giving The Rock the DDT at the Skydome. Looking back, I wish I would have had the same respect and knowledge of wrestling that I did for football.

The opportunity to get involved with wrestling presented itself in a very nonchalant way, The WWF came through Saskatchewan and Regina and was a notoriously a bad draw. To try and fix that, they got a few football players involved (Bobby Jurison, Scott Hendrickson and myself). We cut some promos and did some things of that nature before a match with Sycho Sid, Bret Hart and King Kong Bundy.

A few months later, Bret called me up and invited me to train at his house with the Hardy Boyz, Ken Shamrock, Test, Kurt Angle and a few others. I said yes of course, but it was a real chore. I didn’t even know the correct terminology for anything so I sat there with a pen and paper to take notes and soak it all in.

Do you think football made you a better wrestler?

Without a doubt. The athleticism I had for a big guy allowed me to excel at a rate that was uncommon for a guy who had never done something like that before. Within a few months I had a contract and was traveling around, doing up matches, which is just a step below being called up to the big show.

But that was when I broke my leg. I was wrestling Cyrus the Virus in Regina and two minutes into our 26-minute match, I snapped the crown of tibia right off and tore my anterior cruciate ligament right off. My knee was way over to the side and the pain was unbelievable.

Although I physically recovered from that, I never properly came back from it. I had to take a ton of painkillers just to get through the day and that’s when the alcoholism and drug addiction almost took over. I got into a car accident and was charged with a DUI (which I later beat) but my contract was cancelled and my wrestling career over. Right after that happened I checked myself in rehab and have never looked back since.

Why did you choose to settle in Ottawa following your wrestling career?

Because of my wife, Mariko. I met her when I played in Ottawa with the Rough Riders and we’ve been married 19 years now and together for 24. She’s been an incredible rock to stick with me through everything.

Since retiring you’ve worked as a personal trainer, at a car dealership, done radio work and even acted in a play. Were those all things you wanted to do, or was it more a result of circumstance?

Definitely a result of circumstance. Not only did I have no clue about what I wanted to do, I didn’t even know what I’d be good at. I would say I had an aptitude to sell, which is why I was successful at the car dealership and was quickly promoted to manager, but most of the time I just fell into things. People would contact me and ask if I wanted to try something and more often than not I’d say: ‘Yeah, that sounds good, let’s try it.’

When you were 44 years old, you became an MMA fighter, making you one of the few people in the world to compete in three sports at a professional level. What’s next?

Hahaha, good one. Unfortunately my brain is broken as a result of playing three professional contact sports, so that’s it for me in terms of being an athlete. MMA in particular was vicious, taking headshots every day.

Looking back, I honestly believe I could’ve gone to the Olympics for something if I’d set my mind to it. I was never one of those guys who looked at a sport and said: ‘Hey, that looks cool.’ I was the guy who looked at something and said: ‘I’m going to do that.’ And usually, I was good at it.

That uncanny ability for sports comes from my father because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree there. He was a phenomenal two sport athlete, excelling at baseball and hockey, so I definitely inherited those genes from him.

Glenn Kulka Ottawa Rough Riders 1991. Copyright photograph Scott Grant

Tell me something most CFL fans would be surprised to know about you. 

That’s hard because I put my heart on my sleeve and don’t hide anything. I guess two things come to mind. First, is that I spend an an abnormal amount of time with my dog, he’s a black lab. He’s not a service dog but comes with me everywhere.

The other thing that would surprise people, although maybe not so much if they follow me on Facebook, is that I’ve given my life to Christ. I try to live my daily life as Jesus would and whatever situation I find myself in I try to answer the question: What Would Jesus Do? I try to respect that through my actions and deeds. I understand that line of thinking isn’t for everyone, but it works for me and has gotten me through these past five or six years which have been really tough.

Do you ever make it out to any Redblacks’ games?

I go maybe two or three times a year, but mostly for my kids’ sake. The truth is I can’t sit through a whole game, there’s too much commotion with the noise and everything and they understand that.

What are you up to nowadays?

My focus is on my family. You’d never know it from looking at me, but I’m literally considered disabled because of my post-concussion syndrome. I still work seven-eight hours a week and I take care of my kids and my wife and contribute as much as I possibly can to the family. I make sure I’m there for all of them as much as I can be. I’m paying for my life choices now, but what could I expect eh? That’s what a lifetime of contact sports does to you.

Thanks for your time Glenn and best of luck with everything going forward!

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).