Professional wrestling is fake. Nobody questions this. It’s like saying Hugh Laurie isn’t a real doctor; we get it, there’s a script, nobody is shocked to hear that. But sometimes the crazy stuff that occurs in sports entertainment is more legitimate than you realize. For instance…
4. John Stossel Gets His Mustache Slapped Off
In 1984, ABC News reporter and noted facial hair enthusiast John Stossel was working on a story for 20/20 about the secret, backstage world of professional wrestling. Although part of the report focused on topics like the WWF’s wrestling monopoly and the fact that wrestlers have no employer-provided healthcare, Stossel seemed to be really interested in “exposing” professional wrestling as staged and scripted, which at this point would’ve been like “exposing” that Mr. Ed couldn’t really talk.
The segment seemed pretty standard for a mainstream news story on wrestling until Stossel interviewed WWF wrestler David Schultz backstage at Madison Square Garden. Schultz was 6’6″ and 270 pounds; John Stossel, meanwhile, is about 150 pounds lighter if you don’t count facial hair. Schultz, who was either in character or just an asshole, told Stossel that he could never make it in professional wrestling because it’s a “tough business.”
When Stossel questioned the validity of professional wrestling, Schultz decided that random violence was the best way to defend the art of scheduled violence; he sent Stossel to the floor with a slap to the ear, and when he got back up, he gave him another. He then chased Stossel down the hallway, and suddenly everybody present realized that the sight of watching a large man in wrestling trunks chase another man and his mustache while boxing him in the ears was a lot less hilarious than they had imagined.
Stossel later sued Schultz and the World Wrestling Federation. Schultz claimed he was told by WWF owner Vince McMahon to attack Stossel but was later fired for the incident, while Hulk Hogan claimed in his autobiography that Schultz was actually fired because he tried to pick a fight backstage with Mr. T at a WWF event. If I were Schultz I would just stick with Hulk’s story since starting a fight with Clubber Lang is a lot more impressive than starting one with the Give Me a Break guy.
3. Brawl for (No Reason at) All
In 1998, the WWF announced it would be hosting a tournament called Brawl for All featuring WWF wrestlers in legitimate, unscripted fights. Yes, a company that specializes in staged fighting held a real fighting tournament featuring stage fighters. If this had become a trend, today we’d be treated to David Caruso suffering an actual gunshot wound during a special “legit” episode of CSI: Miami.
If you’re picturing Vince McMahon hosting a Mortal Kombat-like tournament on his mysterious island fortress, prepare to be disappointed. The fights were less “bloody displays of martial arts mastery” and more “two guys clumsily pawing at each other like blind kids on prom night;” instead of fighting Goro, the tournament’s winner (Bart Gunn) fought rotund boxing super-heavyweight Butterbean at WrestleMania.
McMahon’s inspiration for this insane competition came from two places: the first was the growing popularity of events like Toughman Contests and UFC, and the second was fuck you, I’m Vince McMahon. Legitimate MMA fighter Dan Severn, one of the tournament’s main draws, defeated The Godfather by points in the first round. The Godfather’s gimmick, WWF fans will recall, was that he was a wrestling pimp. Not “pimp” in the sense of “I’m very successful with the ladies,” but “pimp” in the sense of “I’m very successful with the ladies paying me on time due to threats of violence.” Severn, contemplating the damage that would have been done to his MMA career if “DAN SEVERN SAVAGELY BEATEN BY PIMP” had become a sports headline, realized the batshit insanity of this tournament and opted out after the first round. This was probably a smart move, as the competition eventually resulted in injuries for at least four wrestlers (including management favorite “Dr. Death” Steve Williams).
WWF fans hated Brawl for All. The boring, slow-paced fights were held during normal episodes of Monday Night Raw, which is a lot like a porno abruptly cutting to scenes of the couple doing their taxes (the only difference being that the porno would likely result in less than four injuries). Brawl for All taught Vince McMahon that sports entertainment fans actually want to be entertained, a lesson he would immediately forget three years later when he launched the XFL.
2. Talk Show Hosts Learn Not to Fuck with Wrestlers
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control, Hulkamania reached pandemic levels in 1985. That year, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T took time out of defending the WWF Championship and pitying fools (respectively) to appear on Richard Belzer’s Hot Properties talk show to promote the first-ever WrestleMania.
At the end of the interview, Belzer challenged Hogan to use one of his signature moves on him. Hogan’s signature move, the Atomic Leg Drop, was responsible for more destruction in the 80s than Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez combined, so The Hulkster mercifully decided to instead perform a simpler manuever: the front chin lock.
On the list of shitty decisions one can make, allowing Hulk Hogan to place you in any wrestling hold ranks right above “bear trap juggling contest” and right below “flaming bear trap juggling contest.” Hot Properties had suddenly become less of a talk show and more of a video taped suicide note, and Belzer seemingly had no idea. He probably figured this was going to be like when someone is taking your picture and your buddy puts you in a little pretend headlock. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, dying was probably the worst that could happen, but I’m pretty sure “death by Hulkamania” would’ve been the most badass phrase his coroner would ever get to write.
What followed next was easily the most predictable event in talk show history: Hogan applied the move, Belzer was knocked out, Hogan let go, Belzer fell and hit his head on the floor. He was out for a few seconds before awkwardly jumping to his feet and sending the show to commercials. He was gone when the show returned, and Hogan and Mr. T appeared with one of the show’s producers to explain that Hulk somehow didn’t believe the unathletic Belzer would actually be harmed by the move.
But Hulk Hogan isn’t the only professional wrestler to assault a talk show host. In 1997, WWF wrestler Vader appeared on a Kuwaiti talk show called Good Morning Kuwait during the Federation’s Middle East tour.
When host Bassam Al-Othman asked him if wrestling was fake, Vader calmly opined that while professional wrestling is best classified as performance art, to call it fake would be–no, I’m kidding, he knocked over furniture and grabbed the host by the tie. Vader screamed about how “this isn’t fucking fake” while Al-Othman nervously glanced over at the show’s production crew, who I’m sure were eager to jump in and help just as soon as they found drier pants.
Vader, who apparently did not learn from the David Schultz incident that the best possible reaction to that question is to just let it go, later said he was acting under the suggestion of the show’s producers, who told him to “be rough” and to “have fun.” The host was not made aware of Vader’s intention to “have fun” (and probably had a defintion of “fun” that didn’t involve being made to look like a coward on national television).
Like John Stossel before them, Belzer and Al-Othman sued the wrestlers. Belzer had a brief hospitalization following the Hot Properties incident, but what do you expect to happen when you openly invite Hulkamania to run wild on you? Al-Othman’s lawsuit had less to do with physical injury and more to do with the public humiliation he claimed to have endured, but he should consider himself lucky; most men who are attacked by Vader don’t get to leave the encounter with mere embarrassment.
1. The Worst Debut in Wrestling History
During the build-up to their 1993 Fall Brawl pay-per-view, World Championship Wrestling ran into a problem. Their main event was to be a War Games steel cage match pitting the team of Sting, Dusty Rhodes, Davey Boy Smith, and Road Warrior Animal against heel team Sid Vicious, Vader, and Harlem Heat (Kole and Kane, who would later be better known as Booker T and Stevie Ray). The problem was that Animal had to pull out due to an injury, so Sting and Smith announced they had a “mystery” partner they would reveal before the show. To put this into perspective, Sting had previously teamed up with RoboCop. Not a wrestler named RoboCop, but THE fucking RoboCop. Whomever his mystery partner was had some big damn shoes to fill. Roboshoes.
During a WCW talk show segment hosted by wrestling legend Ric Flair, Sting and Davey Boy were confronted by Vicious and Harlem Heat, and Sting announced that their partner would “shock” the world because he was “none other than The SHOCK! MASTER!” Nobody had ever heard of The Shockmaster before this, so whomever it was was going to have to make a huge entrance in order to create a great first impression. Instead, this happened:
[There used to be a YouTube video of the incident here, but WWE took it down.]
To recap: The Shockmaster is just a guy (Fred Ottman, better known as Typhoon in the WWF) wearing jeans, a vest, and a sparkly purple Stormtrooper helmet. He looked like he had bought an all-in-one kit for Star Wars, redneck, and My Little Pony cosplay, but that wasn’t the worst part of all of this. Rather than just crashing through the fake paper wall like a wrestling version of the Kool-Aid Man, he tripped and fell so hard that his sparkly Stormtrooper helmet shot right off his head and rolled across the floor. I can’t decide if it’s sad or impressive that he tried to continue the segment, especially when you can audibly hear Davey Boy Smith laughing and saying, “He fell right on his fucking arse!”
Despite the major fuck up, WCW decided to try and salvage the character. In typically confusing WCW fashion they actually introduced a new character called The Super Shockmaster who was The Shockmaster’s nephew and was also played by Fred Ottman, who would enter the arena to a remixed version of “Day Tripper” (Get it? Because he tripped!). WCW finally dropped the character not too long after, and nobody ever talked about it again because YouTube was never invented.