Note from RD: Many thanks to Wrestling Observer‘s Dave Meltzer for his assistance with this induction, as well as Grant Zwarych for his assistance with the old newsletters.
The following is a partial transcript from the Larry King Show in the mid 1980’s:
Larry King: “So now you would be out looking for a Libyan right now? Some guy who will like Qaddafi, who’s not going to win?”
Vince McMahon: “No, I don’t think we would go that far. Again, I think there’s a fine line in terms of what you are presenting to the public and some things that are very sensitive, I think we have the good taste to stay away from.”
I know that people are going to get really upset with me for what I am about to say, but I have to get this off my chest: the whole recent furor over the Muhammad Hassan has been a bit of a joke to me. I mean, come on – who looks to pro wrestling as a bastion of good taste?
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Was the angle, in which Hassan was more or less depicted as a terrorist in bad taste? Absolutely. Was the fact that WWE aired footage of Undertaker being strangled by piano wielding men dressed as terrorists, on the same day as bombings in London costing lives no less, reprehensible? Without question.
Here’s the thing – everyone jumps on Vince’s case, and many times (such as this) rightly so, but every wrestling promoter I’ve ever seen was equally classless. Consider Fritz Von Erich, who would suffer “heart attacks”, with his condition getting better and worse depending on the gate on any given week. Or the clowns at WCW who wanted to bring in Harlem Heat as slaves. Heck, one time when I was managing on the pro wrestling circuit, there was even a character named “The Oklahoma City Bomber.”
In short: if you are looking to wrestling for good taste, I’m sorry, but you’re an idiot.
Which isn’t to say I excuse antics such as what WWE has presented to fans of late. Although I do have to say I truly appreciate their PR department, who come across as nothing more than con men, making hilarious statements such as this (which appeared in the July 11 issue of Variety):
“We all feel bad about the timing of the segment,” said WWE spokesman Gary Davis, who said the show wasn’t attempting to depict a terrorist attack — although he said he understood how some viewers might construe it as such.
See, stupid, it wasn’t really a terrorist attack – you just CONSTRUED IT as such. It’s not WWE’s fault that you took them carrying Daivari around like a martyr in Baghdad to have any relation to something that happened in the real world, you dope.
Besides, it’s not like this was the first time something like this has ever happened. Heck, it’s not even the first time WWE has mined the conflict in Iraq for storyline fodder. And really, how can you blame them? Once upon a time, WWE used the whole “America at War” motif for a WrestleMania match that had so much heat, a match that was so volatile, that it had to be moved for safety purposes!
Well, at least that’s the WWF version of the story.
The year was 1990, and the WWF was in something of a slump. The Ultimate Warrior, whom everyone believed would be a true successor to Hulk Hogan after he had defeated the Hulkster earlier in the year at WrestleMania VI, was something of a bust as champion. People loved him in the upper midcard, but his weird, rambling interviews and cookie cutter matches didn’t endear him as a true, bonafide main eventer of Hogan’s level. Attendance was down, buyrates were down, merchandise sales were down. Something had to give.
Enter this man:
Eat lead, you commie pinko bastards!
Sgt. Slaughter, American hero. In fact, he was an American hero so American and so heroic that he had his own GI Joe figure. Even Hogan couldn’t say that (though, to be fair, William “Refrigerator” Perry could, so perhaps the folks at Hasbro were a bit lenient on letting folks into the corps). If ever a wrestler could come along and take the banner of the Hulkster as a true red, white, and blue icon, it was the Sarge!
So, of course, he was immediately turned heel.
As hard as it may be to believe, there was actually a decent storyline behind his turn. Slaughter, seemingly trapped in a time warp, could not deal with the fact that the Cold War had ended. He believed that America had let him down, and that we were a bunch of ninnies for trusting commies such as Nikolai Volkoff.
Now, honestly – would you trust a guy wearing THAT suit?
That’s all well and good, of course, but there was an ulterior motive behind the Slaughter turn. You see, during this time, not unlike today, there was a great deal of unrest in the middle east. In fact, it wasn’t out of the question that the United States government might actually send troops overseas to attempt to put an end fo the trouble brewing there. The possibility of war was certainly a hot topic…one that the WWF wasn’t about to let just pass by. And thus, Sgt. Slaughter, the former American hero, was teamed up with this man:
Go ahead, maggot – pull my finger!
Long-time fans might know this man as Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissy. For the purposes of the WWF, however, he was a former General in the Iraqi army, and was now Slaughter’s military adviser. If you’re asking why, exactly, a wrestler would need a military adviser, the answer is because not only had Slaughter turned his back on America, he had joined forces with the Iraqi nation. He began carrying the Iraqi flag with him to the ring, and laying it atop his fallen opponents. He threatened to burn the American flag. He began wearing a turban atop his balding skull, and even went so far as to claim that he had meetings with Saddam Hussein himself. Don’t believe him? LOOK AT THE PHOTO!
On three, everybody say “!!!”
To say all this was in bad taste…it does kind of go without saying. By this point, however, the WWF already had the ball rolling, and weren’t about the stop. Slaughter was booked to face the Warrior for the title at the Royal Rumble, with the gameplan being that he would take the title.
But then, the real world got in the way, as just days prior the Rumble, war erupted in earnest in the middle east. Real US soldiers were being shipped abroad to risk their very real lives. Obviously, with such real world events taking place, a silly wrestling match featuring a bogus American turncoat and his Iraqi crony would surely be cancelled.
Ha ha ha…RD, you’re so funny.
Of course it wasn’t cancelled.
Of course Slaughter won the belt, becoming the focal point of the company.
And, of course, there were all kinds of protests and people up in arms (just like what recently went down with Muhammad Hussan).
With Slaughter as the champion heading into WrestleMania, there was really only one guy who could possibly put an end to his reign of terror:
Really makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?
Well, only one guy the WWF would dare to put in a WrestleMania main event:
Well, what do you know – he really IS a Real American!
Despite the fact that Hogan was a so-called “immortal”, Slaughter had an advantage the likes of which the Hulkster had never faced. Sure, he’d been able to withstand King Kong Bundy’s Avalanche, the mighty Earthquake’s Earthquake Splash, the Macho Man Elbow, and Andre’s…well, that thing where Andre fell on top of guys. But he had never, ever faced the like of…
SGT. SLAUGHTER’S NOOGIE OF DOOM!
Look, before I even get into this…I don’t know. Please, and I am being serious here, do not email me, asking me why Slaughter abandoned his famed Cobra Clutch in favor of sticking his knuckle into his opponent’s noggin. Just know, that for whatever reason that made whatever sense to whatever person that came up with it, Slaughter’s new lethal finisher was something that your big brother did to you over and over and over again until you cried uncle.
And it looked totally stupid.
Anyway, back to the match, which was to be the biggest event in the history of professional wrestling. It was so big, so colossal, in fact, that it was booked for the 100,000 seat LA Coliseum. No, that’s not a joke – the WWF actually believed that Hogan taking on SGT. SLAUGHTER would be bigger than his epic battle with Andre!
Whatcha gonna do when Bob Hope runs wild on you?!
Hogan went on tours with the USO, visited sick soldiers, the whole nine yards. Slaughter continued his reign of terror inside the ring, stirring up as much controversy as he possibly could. In fact, he was getting so much heat, and was so hated, that for “security measures”, the event wound up being forced to move from the 100,000 seat Coliseum to the LA Sports Arena, which didn’t even hold 1/5 as many folks.
You see, there was a very real bomb threat: that being that the show was going to be a complete bomb. According to our good buddy Dave Meltzer over at the Wrestling Observer, the WWF was giving away tickets the week of the show in hopes of trying to get a full house for THAT venue. Just imagine what it would have looked like with 15,000 fans in a 100,000 seat building!
In other words, not only did the media take a big crap on the angle, but the wrestling fanbase did as well.
As I’m so fond of saying…the less things change, the more they stay the same.
Slaughter’s career, of course, never again came close to reaching main event status, let alone WrestleMania main event status. Less than a year later, he was back on TV, openly crying about how he made a mistake, and how he wanted his country back. It was a truly pathetic display.