Just in case you skipped the headline and have NO IDEA what this column is about... over the last month, we've been looking at wrestling incidents that have proven to be public relations nightmares.
This is more than just a wrestler saying something dumb in an interview; it has to have serious consequences outside of the wrestling community. To see what I'm talking about (and to catch up on previous installments), here are parts one and two.
Feedback/belated birthday wishes appreciated.
Background: WWE was on a tour of Germany that included John Bradshaw Layfield, at the time a top heel on SmackDown.
The Incident: During one house show in Munich, JBL decided to goose-step and make Nazi gestures. Among those in the audience that night: the Bavarian Governor's chief of staff and his children.
The Aftermath: Angered fans called for WWE to fire him. WWE.com issued an apology (before removing it shortly thereafter). Fans also petitioned CNBC, where he had recently started working as a financial commentator, to fire him. CNBC complied and released him from his contract (without wishing him well in future endeavors). Newspapers worldwide had a field day writing about the wrestling Nazi.
Lie, Cheat, Steal, Die Under Mysterious Circumstances
Background: Eddie Guerrero was one of the top stars in WWE, reaching a career high almost two years earlier when he won the WWE Championship and successfully defended it at WrestleMania. By all accounts, he had successfully kicked previous substance abuse and alcohol problems and was now living a clean lifestyle.
The Incident: Eddie, 38, was found by his nephew Chavo Guerrero laying unconscious in his Minneapolis hotel room on November 13. He was dead by the time paramedics arrived on the scene. There were very strong rumors that he was slotted to win the World Heavyweight Title during a scheduled triple threat match featuring Batista and Randy Orton that very night.
Um... might want to ignore the Papi in the corner...
The Aftermath: Guerrero's death was covered by major media outlets worldwide, as never before had one of WWE's most popular wrestlers died while still in such a prominent position. An autopsy later showed Guerrero died of acute heart failure, which may have been linked to past drug use. WWE launched its Wellness Program designed to definitively test for wrestlers that were using banned substances. Countless tributes were made through WWE and elsewhere, and he is now referred as one of the company's all-time greats. One such tribute led to the push of Guerrero's best friend Rey Mysterio, which allowed him to win the World Title at WrestleMania 22.
The Ultimate Homophobe
Background: The Ultimate Warrior (legal name: Warrior) had been retired for several years, following a disastrous run in WCW. His penchant for being outspoken and surprisingly conservative made him a potential for the lecture circuit. The University of Connecticut thought Warrior would be the perfect choice to speak for the College Republicans association. For, um, some reason.
How can you stay mad at a face like that?
The Incident: Perhaps it was the catcalls coming from obnoxious university students that snuck into the lecture ("heh heh.... wrestling") but Warrior snapped when it came to the question and answer portion. He told one Iranian student that he needed to "get a towel". And when asked about homosexuality, Warrior quipped that "queering don't make the world work."
The Aftermath: Media outlets picked up on The Ultimate Outburst. WWE released its infamous "Self-Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior" DVD later that year, which painted Warrior as kind of a loon no longer in touch with reality. And of course, Warrior wasn't invited back to speak at UConn.
The Whole F'ed-Up Show
Background: Rob Van Dam had withstood political pressures, the glass ceiling and yes, even the reputation of being a "Paul Heyman guy" to win the WWE Championship. In fact, he became the first and only person to hold both the WWE and the reborn ECW Championship after defeating no less a franchise than John Cena at the One Night Stand pay-per-view.
The Incident: RVD and driving companion/tag-team partner Sabu were arrested on June 2 in Hanging Rock, Ohio. A police officer stopped a shirtless Van Dam for speeding and discovered that Mr. PPV was holding some Mr. POT, as well as Vicodin. Sabu was found to possess drug paraphernalia and the drug Testolactone.
The Aftermath: The two were released on bail and later paid fines of $140 (Van Dam) and $1000 (Sabu). WWE, already under public pressure to clean up its act, suspended both men for 30 days. They also stripped Rob Van Dam of both belts on subsequent shows (under WWE's Wellness Policy, suspended wrestlers can still appear on television without being paid). Sabu was fired less than a year later, while RVD finished out his contract and made a handful of WWE appearances after that before signing with TNA in 2010.
Roid Rage Rumble
Background: Sports Illustrated, the world's most popular sports magazine, doesn't typically sully its pages with the likes of professional wrestling. Unless it's a really juicy story.
The Incident: In February, two SI writers accompanied federal and state drug enforcement agents in a raid on a so-called "anti-aging clinic" in Jupiter, Florida. Steroids, HGH and other performance-enhancing substances were distributed, and the purchases were allegedly linked to Edge, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, The Hurricane, the late Eddie Guerrero.
The Aftermath: Initially... not much. But in August, a further investigation linked Orton, Edge, Hurricane, King Booker, John Morrison, Charlie Haas, Umaga, William Regal, Mr. Anderson, Santino Marella, Chavo Guerrero and Funaki as clients of a pharmacy in Orlando that was raided by law enforcement agencies. WWE suspended those names and/or wrote most of them off television in one of the most widely-known talent suspensions of all time. Of course, it wasn't really prompted by the SI article at all. Another event that happened in between March and August had a far bigger impact on the industry...
Background: While it's difficult to fathom now, Chris Benoit was the most respected wrestler in the world only a short time ago, viewed by hardcore wrestling fans as a grappler than never got his just due, even though WWE had given him the World Title at WrestleMania XX.
The Incident: I realize practically anyone reading this already knows the incident, but just for completeness: Benoit was found dead at his Georgia home, widely believed to have killed his wife Nancy and seven year old Daniel before commiting suicide. Everything from drug use to brain damage has been blamed for Benoit's actions, although no theory has been found conclusive.
The Aftermath: Wrestling has never before received such negative publicity, and probably never will again. Four years later, the industry still hasn't fully recovered. Not only did the murder-suicide make the news, but it actually dominated the media for several weeks, becoming a top story in virtually every newspaper, television newscast and Internet news site in the world. Wrestling personalities that hadn't been seen in ages (Steve Blackman, Marc Mero, Chyna) made the talk-show rounds. As James Guttman pointed out in his second book Shoot First... Ask Questions Later, wrestlers turned down Internet-type interviews for fairly obvious reasons. The federal government threatened to investigate the industry and even made initial inquiries. Amid public and government pressure, WWE radically changed its drug-testing policy. TNA adopted a drug-testing policy. CM Punk became an unofficial poster boy for wrestling because of his straight-edge lifestyle, receiving a push as a result. WWE effectively erased Benoit from almost all of its library of video footage (no small feat considering his presence in WWE, WCW and ECW). Need I go on?
Hogan Knows Best?
Background: Roughly a year earlier, Hulk Hogan's son Nick was driving a car and was involved in an accident that left friend John Graziano critically injured.
The Incident: It was later discovered that The Hulkster bought his son and Graziano some beer before they were to meet at a restaurant on the evening in question. Nick was arrested and spent time in the Pinellas County Jail. The police recorded conversations of Hulk and Linda Hogan had with young Nick in prison. Here's an excerpt:
The Aftermath: Nick was sentenced to eight months in prison, which he served about four months of before being transferred to his mother's house. The Hogan Family's credibility took a major blow. Hulk and Linda divorced (although who knows whether that
was related to this incident). Same with Hulk going to TNA.
The Senator McMahon Kiss My Ass Club
Background: Not wanting to be the only McMahon family member without a huge public embarassment, Linda McMahon left WWE to run for Senator in Connecticut.
A candidate who's not afraid to get her hands dirty...
The Incident: Well.... no one incident. But if you take a look at virtually everything we've discussed so far in this series, and a few things that we haven't, you'll get a sense of the obstacles that were thrust upon Linda. Regardless of her political abilities, she was cast as a "wrestling person" and never quite got past that. The so-called wrestling media had a field day with the campaign (as yours truly may have indicated once or twice), thinking for some reason that she was running for figurehead commissioner of wrestling, or something. An idiotic sketch on Monday Night Raw having Vince McMahon wear the bumper sticker of Linda's opponent on his ass didn't help matters much.
The Aftermath: Linda didn't win and is currently unemployed. However, she may soon run again for public office, so we can live through this particular PR disaster again and again.
The Road To Victory Is Paved With Drugs
Background: Jeff Hardy was a central part of TNA's Immortal faction and was arguably the group's highest-profile active wrestler when it was formed in October 2010. Although he'd recently dropped the TNA Championship to Sting, there was reason to believe he'd regain it at the Victory Road pay-per-view.
The Incident: Come Victory Road, Jeff wasn't quite.... well, himself. Or maybe the problem was that he was himself. To wit:
The Aftermath: Sting broke character after the match, telling ringside fans he, too, was disappointed with the outcome -- never a great thing for your promotion's top competitor to say. Hardy was sent home immediately after the match and only returned to TNA this month. TNA was roundly criticized for letting someone in his condition compete. Most of the progress wrestling had made in cleaning itself up went right out the window.
Matt Hardy Will Not Die. Unless....?
Background: Huge Douche Canoe Matt Hardy had drugged his way out of a job with WWE and happened upon a gig with TNA earlier this year. Six months later, Hardy was suspended by the company and on August 20, he was fired following a DWI.
The Incident: No stranger to using the Internet to get publicity, Hardy unleashed a bizarre serious of YouTube videos and Twitter messages to suggest he'd finally gone over the edge. One such missive contained the following message:
Goodbye, World... My time here is Almost complete... I only have a few hours & minutes... I loved you all... Regardless of how you felt about me... I'll miss you all... September 23, 1974 - August 31, 2011.
The Aftermath: TMZ and other media outlets picked up on the message, unsure of whether it was a shoot or a work. Hardy apologized for the stunt, suggesting it was just meant to create a "new character". And sadly enough, I don't think we've seen all the fallout to come from this.