Despite decades of success and millions of fans around the world, the mainstream media has never quite accepted professional wrestling. There have been moments when wrestling was extremely popular or culturally relevant, and major network news had no choice but to interview wrestlers and the people running the companies, but they always seemed to do so with a certain level of contempt. More than once, full news segments have been dedicated to manipulating wrestlers into admitting what they do is dangerous and overly violent. Sometimes, though, the wrestlers deserved it—in a few instances, they just acted like morons on live television.
Gotcha journalism can be a useful tool in politics, testing how much a politician truly knows and what their real feelings on an issue are, but in wrestling, it’s kind of absurd and cruel. The wrestlers rarely actually get flustered by it; they just get confused and then upset when the news producers inevitably edit their interview to try and make them look bad. The times the tactic worked and the wrestlers were successfully pissed off tended to go even worse for everybody. Obviously, the news is an intensely valid part of society and we don’t mean to knock it, but these 10 stories show that maybe mainstream news and wrestling just don’t mix.
10. WCW On The Cover Of USA Today
Arguably the most embarrassing moment in the history of professional wrestling saw David Arquette pin Eric Bischoff to win the WCW World Championship. For any wrestling fans who missed the nadir of the industry, Arquette is an actor/comedian smaller than most cruiserweights, who wrestled two or three professional matches for WCW in the year 2000 to promote the film Ready to Rumble. Why did this happen? Apparently Vince Russo was a firm believer in the adage there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and he really wanted to make front-page news.
Amazingly, the stunt worked, and ended up on the cover of USA Today. Unfortunately for Russo, most people read the story and learned an actor/comedian was the champion of a once great wrestling company, only confirming there was no reason ever to watch that company’s program again. Russo somehow maintains it was a good idea to this day. Granted, he worked for a company that thought it was a good idea to run this ad in USA Today, too, so he probably got a raise for his efforts. To Arquette’s credit, he donated all of the money he earned from wrestling to the families of Owen Hart, Droz, and Brian Pillman.
9. Exposed! Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Secrets
This wasn’t exactly a news segment, but it certainly presented itself as one. You could say it was to an actual news segment what WWE is to an actual athletic competition. In 1998, NBC was looking to capitalize on the Monday Night Wars and the booming wrestling industry by airing an absurd documentary “news” program called Exposed! Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Secrets. Intended as some kind of gritty expose on the secrets of the wrestling world, the special mostly just insulted the intelligence of viewers. Maybe some kids haven’t clued in yet, but most of the people in attendance at WWE events know the show is fake—you’d have to be kind of insane to think some of it was real. It doesn’t help that the wrestlers involved with the documentary, including WWE Hall of Famer Harley Race, Michael Modest and the Pitbulls, all claim they were lied to and misled into signing contracts they legally couldn’t escape.
8. Hardbody Harrison On Fox Birmingham
Hardbody Harrison is best known as the former jobber convicted of possibly the worst crime ever in professional wrestling history. Prior to being convicted of abducting women and keeping them as sexual slaves, he was a very (very) small name in WCW, where he debuted after training at and for the WCW Power Plant. Harrison also played a pretty significant role in a local Fox Birmingham affiliate’s story on the Power Plant back in 1998. Since it only aired on a local affiliate, the segment isn’t as widely publicly available as the others on this list. Reports of the show are available, however, and they indicate Harrison actually broke the reporter’s nose and essentially made fun of him for it on camera. The WCW Power Plant was regularly criticized for not producing any stars and overworking its trainees, and stories like this show that was likely a valid assessment.
7. Mr. Kennedy On Fox News
After the death of Chris Benoit, dozens of wrestlers were asked to appear on a variety of news programs to speak about his crimes. Most presented themselves well as they did their best to explain their takes on Benoit’s senseless acts, but Mr. Kennedy had a bit more of a controversial approach. Appearing on the Fox News program On the Record, he first gets the facts of the Wellness Program wrong, before making a really weird claim. After the host names Brian Pillman and Eddie Guerrero as WWE wrestlers who passed away due to previous drug problems, Kennedy claims they only fostered their habits in WCW, implying such a thing wouldn’t happen in wholesome WWE. He then ups the weirdness, making the very odd claim that although Benoit hadn’t done steroids in years, it was possible he did so the day before he died. In one sentence, Kennedy pretty powerfully negated everything WWE was trying to prove in the aftermath of the tragedy, and he based his statement on absolutely nothing. Kennedy would leave WWE within the next two years, blaming personal issues with Randy Orton and John Cena.
6. Diamond Dallas Page On Nancy Grace
A good deal of the items on this list focus either on a wrestler or wrestling company publicly making a bad decision. The only bad decision Diamond Dallas Page made was agreeing to be on Nancy Grace. Grace, on the other hand, made overwhelmingly bad decisions during the interview, like only she can. Shortly after the death of the Ultimate Warrior in 2014, DDP was invited on Nancy Grace, allegedly to discuss Warrior’s life and legacy. Grace instead exclusively talked about steroids, assuming Warrior died because of steroid abuse, despite all reports indicating he died of natural causes.
Grace continued her nonsense by presenting a list of about thirty wrestlers who died under the age of 40 over the past couple decades, implying steroids played a role in every death. The problem was, a good majority of them died of issues completely unrelated to steroids or any other drugs, most notably Owen Hart, who died after an accident during a stunt gone wrong, and Mark Curtis, a referee who died of cancer. A sad number of the names on the list died of suicides or car accidents. Even for those that were directly drug related, the drugs in question were never steroids, the only one she ever named. #CancelNancyGrace started trending on Twitter shortly after the show aired, but it was hardly the first time people realized she was just a loud, angry woman who has no idea what she’s talking about.
5. Vince McMahon On Bob Costas
WWE is entirely clean and corporate today, but it hasn’t always been that way, as evidenced by one of Vince McMahon’s appearances on HBO’s On The Record with Bob Costas. The interview took place in March of 2001, which was a hugely successful time for WWE and Vince McMahon in general, with one glaring exception: the XFL. Costas grills McMahon over his failing football enterprise, clearly pissing him off in royal fashion.
Once they start talking about wrestling, Costas brings up the infamous moment Vince made Trish Stratus strip and bark like a dog. Vince tries to defend it as soap opera storytelling, but also points his finger in Costas’s face and tells him to shut his mouth. His tone never changes from a controlling bully upset he’s losing, so although the points he’s making to Costas (Vince makes entertainment that at the time lots of people wanted to see) were valid, he just seemed like a jerk for making them. Costas doesn’t look great, either, seeming kind of smug over McMahon losing his composure, and repeatedly admitting he doesn’t really watch wrestling so he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. For most people, that would mean an easy victory, but it only upset Vince, causing him to spiral further out of control.
4. Mick Foley On 20/20
Mick Foley has taken so many chair shots to the head it’s dangerously affected his life, but he’s still a pretty smart guy. ABC must not have taken this into consideration when asking him to appear on 20/20 in 1999, where they would manipulate his interview into making it look like he encourages and approves of amateurs attempting violent backyard wrestling. The segment airs clips of WWE, ECW, and a few teenagers in their actual backyard alongside sound bites from Vince McMahon, implying all three are pretty much under his enterprise. Foley contended in his second book that his words were taken out of context, but even if true, in viewing the segment it just seems like both he and McMahon agree backyard wrestling is dangerous and kids shouldn’t be doing this at home. Regardless, ABC keeps trying to make them the villains, ignoring what they say. Wrestling isn’t the most highbrow entertainment in the world, but it’s ridiculous to blame it for kids hurting themselves as if that was the intention from the start.
3. Vince McMahon, Bruno Sammartino, Billy Graham, Barry O, Dave Meltzer And Others On Donahue
The early 1990’s were an extremely tumultuous time for Vince McMahon. He nearly went to jail for alleged steroid distribution, and just a few years before that, WWE faced a rather serious underage sex scandal. Former young male employees were alleging abuse from Pat Patterson, Terry Garvin and Mel Phillips. Patterson has been Vince’s right hand man for decades, and the other two were WWE agents for years until the scandal. In 1992, Phil Donahue had Vince and a variety of wrestlers appear on his show to discuss the accusations.
Vince appeared with future WWE Hall of Famers Billy Graham and Bruno Sammartino, former WWE jobbers Barry O and Tom Cole, and former WWE ring announcer Murray Hodgson. Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer also appeared, later claiming he was the only person to talk to McMahon off-camera, and saying he’s never felt more hatred in one room than when all of the other former superstars were looking at McMahon. The exact facts of the case at hand are iffy and were never made completely public, but almost no one comes out of this particular show looking good.
The former big name wrestlers, particularly Billy Graham (who later admitted he made everything up), come off as jilted former employees trying to get back at Vince. McMahon himself just seems like a jerk, basically telling Murray Hodgson he sucked at his job so bad Pat Patterson wouldn’t want to abuse him in the first place. Even the audience is outrageously inappropriate, laughing at claims of abuse and one audience member even asking why it matters, given the fact it’s just wrestling. With a mindset like that, one has to question why Vince bothered appearing on the show, given the fact it was just Phil Donahue.
2. John Cena On CNN
In late 2007, CNN aired a documentary titled Death Grip: Inside Professional Wrestling, where they interviewed a number of major superstars about steroid abuse, amongst other topics. The most damning moment of the documentary saw John Cena answer a question about whether or not he had ever done steroids by saying, “I can’t say I never did them, but you can never prove I did.” Obviously, Cena said those words, but his actual answer to that question in particular was, “Absolutely not.” Cena’s other words came later in his response, as he was voicing his frustration nobody in the mainstream media believes him when he answers the question honestly.
The piece aired with Cena taken out of context, and WWE responded by posting both CNN’s version and the full-length interview on WWE.com. Vince McMahon and WWE have been criticized fr always acting like a victim with the mainstream press, but in this instance, it was easily provable CNN manipulated Cena’s words with malicious intention.
1. Dr. D Slaps John Stossel
Professional wrestling is fake. Everyone over the age of 10 who watches WWE knows this, and in fact, most of the kids under 10 realize it, too. The only people who seem to care about this are people who don’t like it to begin with, news reporters, and occasionally, pissed off wrestlers with serious attitude problems. The truth may not have been total public knowledge in the mid-80’s, but enough people knew that John Stossel decided to confront ‘Dr. D’ David Schultz about it on 20/20, late 1984. While most wrestlers at the time probably would have still denied it publicly, Schultz took a more direct approach, slapping Stossel twice and continuing to threaten him after he started trying to run away.
Schultz was immediately suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission and was fired from WWE shortly after the incident. Over 30 years later, it remains one of the most embarrassing moments in wrestling history. It didn’t matter if wrestling was fake or not—the guys who wrestled were big idiots. Stossel sued over the assault and settled out of court for a hefty sum. Schultz has spent years claiming McMahon told him to hit Stossel, but he also spent years claiming Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Randy Savage were just siphoning his fame, so maybe he’s not the most reputable source.