Week in Wrestling: Kevin Nash on Diesel; creation of Undertaker; Gobbledy Gooker speaks
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
This Thanksgiving special includes an interview with Kevin Nash on the WWE title he won two days after Thanksgiving Day in 1994, with Bruce Prichard, The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff, the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase discussing the 1989 Survivor Series, and Five Questions with the Gobbledy Gooker Hector Guerrero.
Kevin Nash Analyzes Championship Run as Diesel
Kevin Nash made his decision to jump to WCW while he was WWE champion as Diesel.
“They never went with me,” explained Nash, who reigned as WWE champion for 358 days after defeating Bob Backlund on Nov. 26, 1994.
“Yes, they made me a household name,” said Nash. “At the same time, they didn’t do what they said they were going to do. I was told they wouldn’t take the belt off me for three years.”
Nash was disappointed that, as world champ and the face of the company, he did not headline WrestleMania XI against Shawn Michaels. The main event was Bam Bam Bigelow against NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
“That’s another thing the office did, and they did that all the time,” said Nash. “All those things added up to 1996 when it was time to leave, and I left. I love Vince McMahon and what he and the company did for me. I wouldn’t have been in the position to get the money I did from [Ted] Turner if it wasn’t for Vince. Vince is very smart, and that’s why he didn’t go with me 100 percent. He wasn’t sure if I would draw well, and I didn’t draw well.
“At that point, wrestling was dying. The Hulkamania era was over for Vince, and he was looking for the next big thing. A lot of his guys were working as occupations. There were a couple stars, and then there was a pig farmer, a dentist and a plumber.”
Nash, whose title reign is often compared to Roman Reigns’ time with the belt, was unique in the sense that Nash had very little experience in the business when he was made champ.
“When I became the world champion, I guarantee you that I had less than 150 matches,” explained Nash. “I was green, and this was also the period of time where we were being drug tested. The government was really down our throat. You were not allowed to use anything. Period. A guy like me now could probably get away with being on hormone replacement, but back then there was no leeway. As everybody whittled down during the time of the trial, I was still 315 pounds. I was the same size, and that had a lot to do with me getting the push.”
Nash was built as an indestructible force, which at 6’10” and over 300 pounds, naturally suited him and played to his strengths as a performer. As champion, however, he transitioned from a devastating heel to a lovable babyface, which manifested in creative frustration.
“They built the Diesel character in Providence at the  Royal Rumble when I lasted over 17 minutes and eliminated a few guys in a row, and then they basically castrated it as champ when they put a Santa hat on my head and had me sing I Wish You a Merry Christmas to the Titan Tower and WWE employees.”
Nash’s title reign began in earnest in November ’94, but he knew that there would be creative differences by that January as he defended the title against Bret “The Hitman” Hart at the Royal Rumble. The match was plagued by outside interference and ended in a draw.
“I went to a draw in my first pay-per-view match as world champion,” remarked Nash. “A draw. As a performer, you know then that they’re not going with you. If they were going with me, I’d have beat Bret. You can use run-ins to cause the win, but I’d have to beat Bret, and I didn’t. From there, I went on the road with Backlund and [King Kong] Bundy as my house opponents. That’s not exactly setting the world on fire. Bundy is a great guy and he’s great in a certain role, but for me, there is nothing I can do with him. I can’t chain wrestle, I can’t pick him up, I can’t toss him around. Then they brought Jeff [Jarrett] and Road Dogg [Jesse James] in so they could bump and feed. That was a lot better.”
Nash dropped the belt to Hart at the 1995 Survivor Series. Before Hart knew of the plans, however, McMahon called Nash into his office to discuss Nash’s future as champion.
“They brought me up to WWE Headquarters, which was called Titan Tower at the time, and Vince went into this elaborate idea of me fighting Mike Tyson in Central Park,” said Nash. “I asked him, ‘How much am I going to get paid?’ Vince said it was for charity, and I said, ‘F---. I ain’t fighting Mike Tyson and getting knocked the f--- out for charity.’ Then he told me, ‘By the way, you’re going to drop the strap to Bret at Survivor Series because we’re going to put it on Shawn at WrestleMania.’
“It was an incredible smoke-and-mirrors move. So, I asked him, we just went over a bunch of horses--- for an hour to distract me? I didn’t care about losing the belt or getting it back. I’m not a mark. If you want to beat me, beat me—as long as I can turn my character back after I get beat.”
By this point in his career, Nash was more confident in character. He made sure he was going to turn heel after his loss to Hart.
“I didn’t ask for permission,” said Nash. “I told the camera guys, ‘Make sure you get a close-up of my face after I lose the belt.’ After I lost, I said, ‘Motherf-----!’ on camera right after Bret beat me.”
Nash left for WCW before the 1996 Survivor Series. He admitted that he wanted Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker to join him, but McMahon was particularly careful with the timing of their contracts.
“As soon as Shawn and ‘Taker got even close to their contracts running up, Vince locked them up,” said Nash. “We never got Shawn to a negotiating point with WCW. Vince couldn’t allow it. He couldn’t let Shawn get to that 90-day window where you had to write a written notice.
“When Scott Hall left, Scott said, ‘I’m giving you my notice, I’m leaving.’ I said, ‘I’m giving you my notice. I’m not going to let the terms of my current contract continue.’”
Nash was willing to stay in WWE, but he wanted McMahon to increase his pay, which he believed did not equate to all the sacrifices he made for McMahon’s company.
“I had a wife who was due,” explained Nash. “I was living year-to-year on whether I got a payday at ‘Mania. I didn’t know what I was going to make, and I’m driving a used Mercedes. Then, all of a sudden, I’m going to get a minimum of $850,000 from WCW, and it was for 180 days, which was considerably more days off than Vince at over 300.
“I was coming from a world where I’d sit in the car and watch guys come back from the phone booth after making a collect call home and say, ‘My kid walked today.’ Then we’d drive off to Binghamton, New York or wherever else. I didn’t want that to be my life. If you’re in this business, you’re already on the road way more than you should be. The majority of our time was Waffle Houses and getting lost with no GPS. You had a map.”
Nash wanted Diesel’s run as champion to change the direction of the business to an environment infused with far more reality-driven storylines, but he ultimately had to wait until he was with WCW to turn that idea into substance.
“Our society is f----- up, and we knew that,” said Nash. “Scott and I were more in tune to pop culture than a lot of the other guys. The Crow was the anti-hero, and there were a lot of anti-heroes. Look at the movie Heat. At the end, when Pacino is chasing De Niro through LAX, there is nobody in the f------ theater rooting for Pacino, and De Niro was the heel. That was our society, and we knew that.”
News of the Week
What comes next?
Soon we will learn the long-term plan for Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, but there is one certainty: Goldberg is over.
People have criticized the decision to have Goldberg destroy Lesnar in 86 seconds this past Sunday, questioning whether Lesnar should have suffered his first loss since WrestleMania 29 to a 49-year-old parttime wrestler.
Lesnar is strong enough to withstand the loss. He is also booked to be in the Royal Rumble, and he will, no doubt, cause Goldberg his shot at victory and extend the story.
If Lesnar had walked away victorious, the feud would have lost a considerable amount of steam. The Goldberg victory—especially in such convincing fashion—forces Lesnar to play the rare role of underdog.
WWE seemingly has a pay-per-view every two weeks, so genuine excitement and anticipation for these events is dwindling, but the early excitement for January’s Royal Rumble is real.
In other news…
• Eric Bischoff shared his thoughts of the Brock Lesnar/Bill Goldberg match from Survivor Series: “I thought it was perfect. One of the things that really helped me shape Nitro was a crystallization of an acronym called SARSA—story, anticipation, reality, surprise and action. If you can hit all five of those elements, then you have a great angle and a great longterm storyline. You’ve had a very successful event if you hit four of those boxes, but chances are you’ll be disappointed if you can only check three of those boxes.
"Brock and Bill had four of those five elements—they had a built-in story from 2004, anticipation from the backstory and the timing, a strong reality with Bill Goldberg approaching 508 years old and having one last shot to wrestle in front of his son, there was action and physicality leading up to the event, and the surprise box was checked at the Survivor Series and they ended up with five out of five elements. That’s why the majority of fans—not the hardcore ones who question why you’re having a guy who is 49 defeat Brock Lesnar—watched and said, ‘This is fantastic.’”
• A weekend full of events in Toronto, which included Samoa Joe regaining the NXT championship, made me think of Hulk Hogan. Did Hogan have a more loyal following than he did in Toronto? His most memorable encounters—at WrestleMania VI with the Ultimate Warrior and WrestleMania XVIII with The Rock—both took place inside Toronto’s Sky Dome.
• Dean Ambrose dressing as The Mountie was the highlight of Smackdown. The lowlight, of course, was AJ Styles losing to James Ellsworth in a ladder match. More is less with that four-man broadcast booth on Smackdown. The four broadcasters—Mauro Ranallo, JBL, David Otunga and Tom Phillips—do not even fit at the announce table.
• NXT’s TakeOver: Toronto hit the mark with a succinct and intense card of five matches, and the highlight took place in the opener as Bobby Roode defeated Tye Dillinger. DIY—comprised of Johnny Gargano and Tomaso Ciampa—also won the tag team titles, and Roode discussed how they connected for the “GloriousBomb” videos.:
“Johnny and Tommaso were a part of the Cruiserweight Classic, but I hadn’t made my debut,” he explained. “The ‘Glorious’ song was being played in the arena throughout the day of the CWC tapings, and all the cruiserweights thought that the song was going to be for the cruiserweight show. Everybody fell in love with the song, and they were truly disappointed when they realized it wasn’t for them. Then we were on the road with NXT, and we were at a gym, and Johnny and Tommaso asked if they could do this ‘GloriousBomb,’ kind of like a photobomb. We did it, and it blew up like crazy on social media, so we did more. Still, to this day, I’m getting tweets of people doing ‘GloriousBombs,’ and I just got one from Madrid, so it’s going worldwide.”
• WWE.com ran a story this past week that featured superstars picking their “dream” Survivor Series teams. The piece was terrific, and a highlight was reading how AJ Styles would choose only The Club as his ideal Survivor Series team. Since millions and millions of people asked (I actually received one direct message on Twitter asking about this), my dream Survivor Series team consists of team captain Mr. Perfect, Andre the Giant, Brock Lesnar, Brian Pillman (every team needs a wild card) and Dean Malenko.
• For those keeping track, yes, Sheamus was WWE world champion at this time a year ago. All is right a year later as AJ Styles—who, at the time, was wrestling in Japan—now holds the title.
• WWE Storytime, which is the Network’s new animated series, delivered a promising debut Sunday night. The advertised clip has Triple H sharing a story about a night with the Kliq that spiraled out of control. I’ll also include the link for the NSFW video from Kevin Nash, which provides a little more detail behind the story.
• Marty Scurll is Ring of Honor’s new World Television champion. Scurll, who captured the PWG BOLA this past summer, defeated Will Ospreay for the title only two days after Ospreay beat Bobby Fish. ROH has high hopes for both Scurll and Ospreay, counting on them to elevate the company in 2017.
• No, I didn’t enjoy the comedy of Doink the Clown. I did, however, think Jerry Lawler somehow turned sour juice into lemonade during their feud, which culminated here during the 1994 Survivor Series as we continue to view clips from the Survivor Series of yore (the shoulder spot at the 10-minute mark makes me laugh every time).
• Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the Honky Tonk Man are feuding. Roberts vented frustration that Honky is attempting to trademark the names of other wrestlers and profit off their success, and HTM shot right back at Roberts on Twitter. Who would have ever thought we would see a WrestleMania III rematch on social media?
The Shoot: Bruce Prichard
Bruce Prichard worked directly for Vince McMahon for 22 years in the WWE, as well as on-camera as Brother Love. Prichard now shares his insight and unheard of access on the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast, as he and co-host Conrad Thompson take one topic from Prichard’s WWE run—like The Lex Express, Montreal Screwjob, or WrestleMania VII”—and discuss in detail, allowing wrestling fans to experience a rarely-heard viewpoint that captures the feelings of Vince McMahon. Prichard, in his own words, now shares the story of the birth of Kane the Undertaker, who is better known now as simply The Undertaker.
The Birth of Kane the Undertaker
People can call bullsh--, but I’m the reason Mark Calaway signed with WWE. You’re welcome.
You can also credit Paul Heyman. Vince McMahon, obviously, too. Most of all, credit Mark Calaway, because he has turned a career as The Undertaker into the kind of success you rarely ever see—and may never see again.
I was a fan of Mark beginning from his days in the Dallas territory, when he first broke into the business. The first thing that grabbed my attention was how he walked the ropes. He moved like a cat, and he was a big man. There was an old-timer by the name of Don Jardine, who worked with a mask as the Spoiler. When I saw Mark—who was “The Punisher” when I first saw him—move, I thought he was trained by Don Jardine. When he went to WCW as “Mean Mark,” I just kept saying to myself, “I love his work, and there is just something special there.” I thought he would fit in really well.
Paul Heyman called me. He was managing Mark in WCW, and he called me out of the blue and said, 'Is there any interest in “Mean Mark?' And I said, F--- yeah, I’m interested. I’ve watched his s--- since Dallas, I’d love to have him here. Paul told me his contract was coming up, he would be available, and he would love to make a move. “His dream,” Paul told me, “is to come to the WWF.”
So I went to Vince.
“We’ve got this guy, ‘Mean Mark,’ and he would fit in really well here.” But Vince didn’t see anything special. All he could see was the Howdy Doody face, the red hair and a normal looking guy.
Vince described him as “a tall, red-headed basketball player.”
I said, “You’ve got to see this guy work. His s--- is great. He’s convincing, he’s a big b-------, and he’d make a great opponent for Hogan. Plus, I have an idea; I’d like to manage him.”
My idea was, simply, for him to be the yin to my yang. I was Brother Love, the purest of pure and pure as snow, and he was the black to my white. I had to reign in this evil, who wore black and would be dark as night. In my eyes, he would be the anti-Brother Love, but together, we’d be this unstoppable force.
I pitched Vince on the idea of meeting him. He agreed, and he watched Mark’s match from the 1990 Great American Bash against Lex Luger.
Vince wasn’t impressed.
He gave me a call while I was in the pool at Randy Savage’s house in Florida, and someone brought me the cordless phone while I was in the water. Vince canceled the meeting, but I called ‘Taker and didn’t tell him it was canceled—I only told him it was postponed.
A few weeks later, WCW was up in the Meadowlands. I got Mark to take an earlier flight and had him meet Vince at his house. Vince and Pat Patterson fell in love.
That’s when I shared my idea with Vince.
Since Brother Love was a play on evangelism, I searched for a biblical name for Mark. The name Cain sounded so powerful. When you look at the story from the Old Testament, Cain is the first man to ever commit murder by murdering his own brother—and the name just sounds so powerfully evil.
When Vince gave our concept to the art department at Creative Services, they sent back all these drawings of a guy all in back, and in one of the pictures, he looked like an undertaker.
“Oh my god,” Vince said. “He looks like an old timey undertaker.”
I fought hard for the name Kane—I didn’t want to give the Bible too much credit by using “Cain”—so we called him Kane the Undertaker. That lasted for about two weeks, then we just called him The Undertaker.
I did vignettes with him, I always worked with him, and I always pitched stuff from him. People would derisively say, “Oh, that’s just Bruce’s favorite.” I’d pitch stuff for him because I loved the job he did as the character.
If you are wondering, “Why didn’t he manage ‘Taker longer?” Well, the answer is simple. My longevity was behind the camera instead of in front of it. At that point, I’d had a hell of a run of three-and-a-half years on camera with the Brother Love character. I’d reached the point of overexposure and redundancy, but we had Percy Pringle—William Moody—or as most people know him, Paul Bearer. His background was as a mortician, which helped with the authenticity. Percy was ‘Taker’s first manager when he broke into the business, so they knew and liked one another. Sometimes you have to put the product ahead of yourself. Selfishly, I wanted to do both—work with Vince and manage ‘Taker, but I also wanted longevity in the business, and for me, that was behind the scenes. When I looked objectively with my producer hat on, it was clear that Brother Love was a niche character and ‘Taker needed someone to talk for him. Paul Bearer was the better fit.
But that doesn’t mean ‘Taker and I didn’t have some fun together. There was the night in Chattanooga, Tenn., when we just finished TV. We were driving from Chattanooga to Atlanta, trying to get to the hotel before the bar closed. We rushed out of TV and headed to Atlanta, but we both had makeup and s--- all over our place. We were rushing, so it didn’t take long for us to get lost in Chattanooga. We pulled into a gas station, and ‘Taker pulled up next to a group of unsavory guys. The sumb---- was so big, you couldn’t even see him behind the wheel with the chair leaned so far back in the Ford Taurus because he was so big. So all these guys could see is me – a fat white guy in the wrong part of town. I asked for directions to the interstate, and one of the guys came over, swaggering, literally grabbing his d---. The guys started surrounding the car, and he said, “What’s in it for me?”
Mark sits up, snaps his head, and looks at the guy with that Undertaker face. The dark circles were under his eyes and his face was pale as s---, and this guy backed up–almost falling down–saying, ‘What the f---! This man looks like he just killed somebody!” He spit out the directions, then told us to get the expletive out of there.
I really and truly believed ‘Taker would be huge. I always imagined him as champion. One day, I was going to the gym with Vince, ‘Taker, and two other people in the car. I played a cassette tape of ACDC’s Hells Bells and explained to Vince how I wanted to make a video with ‘Taker and that song. Vince said, “Goddamn pal, that would be great. He’d be a babyface if he did that,” and I remember saying that day, “And what a f------ babyface he would be.”
Vince agreed. He said, “When it’s time, The Undertaker will be the hottest f------ babyface in the world.”
Everybody else thought we were crazy. How do you make an undertaker character a babyface? But that’s why all of the credit goes to the human being behind The Undertaker. You couldn’t ask for a better human being than Mark Calaway. One hundred percent of the credit goes to Mark. You could have taken that same gimmick and given it to Brian Lee, who has a similar build, and he wouldn’t have had a fraction of the success that Mark Calaway has had.
It’s the person behind that character who brought it to life. He lived the gimmick, and was a leader for us on and off camera. He believed in it, he embraced it, and made himself The Undertaker.
Exclusive Lucha Underground clip
The NitroFiles: The Montreal Screwjob: Part II
The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro era. Bischoff —who was the president of WCW during the company’s most successful years—hosts his weekly “Bischoff on Wrestling” podcast, as well as delivers a “Controversial Video of the Week” with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and plans on proving every week in the Nitro Files that the “truth is out there.”
The “Montreal Screwjob” was the impetus for a very memorable scene with the New World Order.
Nitro kicked off with the New World Order’s music blaring as Hollywood Hogan appeared with Canadian flags in his boots. The NWO followed behind him, waving Canadian flags, as Eric Bischoff made a “huge” announcement by introducing the returning Kevin Nash from injury.
The second big announcement soon followed, as Bischoff revealed that Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who was WWE’s world champion just one day prior, was the newest member of the NWO. Curt Hennig celebrated by serenading the crowd with his rendition of the Canadian national anthem.
“We were comfortable with the improvisation and the ad-lib nature,” explained Bischoff. “When you have a guy like Curt Hennig, he is so funny, you just go with it. We were hot, we were edgy, and for a time we could do no wrong.”
Bischoff just celebrated his 20th year anniversary with the New World Order, as he officially joined the group on Nov. 18, 1996. Even with Scott Hall, Nash and Hogan surrounding him, Bischoff controlled this segment on Nitro as he claimed Hart was joining the NWO–and his storytelling was an integral piece to the group’s success.
“Joining the NWO was more of a necessity than a desire,” said Bischoff. “Reality-based storylines are the ones that generally resonate with people the most. You need to become immersed in the story to suspend your disbelief, and I depended on my story to do that in professional wrestling. So there were two reasons in particular that I became part of the NWO, and the first was that was the only way to make the story believable. Otherwise, the NWO wouldn’t have been able to do half the stuff they were doing without an inside guy.
“I also worked in that role because I was good on the mic and I was vulnerable—I could get my butt kicked three times a month and it wouldn’t hurt the NWO at all but it would still advance the story. People didn’t like me anyway. I had heat the minute I walked into the business, so it was really easy for me to turn up the volume on my character as a heel to make it work.”
Bret Hart’s tenure in WCW never reached the height of success that Bischoff had anticipated, and he discussed what went awry.
“It didn’t work with Bret for many reasons, and I’ll put myself right at the front of them,” said Bischoff. “I didn’t have a great master plan for Bret. If I did, it may have worked—or it may not have. When Bret showed up to WCW, he was broken, in my opinion, and disengaged. He would show up to the building 15 minutes before show time looking like he walked all the way to the city we were in. He didn’t engage. Anyone who was successful in WCW, or is currently is successful in WWE, engages. If you don’t, if you don’t come to the table and push ideas or participate as much as you can, you’re going to get left behind. Bret would show up 15 or 20 minutes before show time, he’d find a corner to go sit in, and he found out what he was being asked to do and got through it the best he could. He was not the same Bret Hart when he showed up in WCW.”
Bischoff revealed that he and Hart are not on the best of terms, yet shared that he still holds Hart in high esteem as a performer and person.
“I have a lot of respect for Bret Hart,” said Bischoff. “I have a ton of respect for Bret, and I’d go have a beer with him right now if he were in Arizona. But he was not the same Bret Hart in WCW that he was at his peak in WWE.”
Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard produced another fascinating “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast this week, dissecting and analyzing the career of Vader, particularly focusing on his WWE run from 1996 to 1998.
“I was most surprised to hear Bruce defend Shawn Michaels,” said Thompson. “It felt like Shawn was a petulant child in the ring, and I was surprised that Bruce defended that.”
Michaels defended the WWF championship against Vader at SummerSlam in 1996, and was so unhappy with Vader that he broke character at one point during the match and shouted “Move!” when Vader botched a spot.
“I thought it was a wasted opportunity by the WWE, but Bruce was OK with it,” said Thompson. “It’s really a story of ‘what could have been.’ If things go differently with Shawn, it’s possible that Vader headlines Survivor Series, he main events the Royal Rumble in 1997, and given that Shawn lost his smile, there may have been an opportunity for him to main event WrestleMania XIII against The Undertaker. Instead, those spots all went to Sid, and it was a steady decline for Vader.”
This Friday’s podcast is part two of Prichard’s time with TNA, which set record downloads during the original airing.
“This podcast covers all the pieces we missed the first time,” said Thompson. “We’ll cover Dixie Carter’s action figure, rumors about Bob Ryder and talent, the TNA Hall of Fame, Gut Check, and everything in-between from the years that Bruce was in TNA.”
The topics for the next poll, which is decided by the listeners, include “The Rise and Fall of Sunny,” the 1987 Slammy Awards, Vengeance 2001 (which is when Chris Jericho defeated The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin), and “John Cena in 2005” which would discuss Cena’s Royal Rumble spot with Batista, winning the WWE championship from JBL at WrestleMania 21, and finish out the rest of his year.
“This will be the hardest poll topic we’ve ever had,” said Thompson. “I think Cena probably will win, but I tend to think that Sunny will because people love a s--- show.”
Everybody Has a Price
The 1989 Survivor Series featured the most popular team in the history of the pay per view.
And Ted DiBiase carried all of them.
The match pitted the Hulkamaniacs—WWF champion Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and WWF tag team champions Ax and Smash of Demolition—against the Million Dollar Team of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Zeus, and the Warlord and Barbarian of the Powers of Pain.
Context is critical, as those teams—particularly the babyfaces—were the most popular acts in the golden era of wrestling that Vince McMahon had manifested.
“That was the first Survivor Series I was ever in and there was a lot of star power,” said DiBiase. “It was obviously a big match and a big moment. When you wrestle as often as we did, you don’t remember every match, but I do remember that. I am not taking anything away from the other guys in the match, but I knew Zeus was there for his look. He was a monster, and Warlord and Barbarian were good, but I also knew that, in the truest sense of the word, I was going to have to carry the match for my team. I did that a lot. When I tagged with Andre, and I loved tagging with Andre, but Andre started having some physical issues, so I did all the bouncing around in the ring, and I did it joyfully.”
Hogan pinned DiBiase to become the match’s sole survivor, but not before DiBiase finished off Jake Roberts—who was actually one of his closest friends in the business.
“The first time I was in the ring with Jake was when he was refereeing my match,” said DiBiase. “Jake Roberts started in Mid-South as a referee. We’re pretty close, and we come from the same school of thought when it comes to the psychology of wrestling.
“I was real close with Jim Duggan and Jake Roberts. We all came out of Mid-South, so we all had that in common. I had just met Jim after he played a year of professional football with the Atlanta Falcons. One of his first tag team matches was a match against me and Tommy Rich. When I locked up with him, I thought somebody had grabbed me with vice grips. I felt like asking, ‘Has anybody told this guy that we’re out here working? That it’s not real?’ When the referee broke it up, just as a rib, I tagged in Tommy Rich and told him, ‘He’s all yours.’ Jim and I are great friends, and he became a great star working for Bill Watts.”
The 1989 Survivor Series took place on Thanksgiving Day, and DiBiase recalled Vince McMahon putting on a lavish spread for the wrestlers. The only drawback was that the meal had to be eaten early since the show kicked off on pay per view at 8 p.m. ET.
“The catered meal was plush since it was Thanksgiving, it was over the top,” said DiBiase. “Of course, we were doing a pay per view, so we had that meal around noon.”
The Hall of Famer DiBiase is still active at 62. He now works as a minister, but still contributes to wrestling. DiBiase is appearing at a fundraiser for a wrestling event in Canada before Christmas with Chinlock Wrestling, and he was honored to be part of the “Nine Legends” documentary.
“It’s an honor to part of the project,” said DiBiase. “David [Sinnott, who produced the documentary] did an incredible job, and I still have a hard time thinking that I am one of the nine legends he chose. I’m going to turn 63 in January, and I haven’t been in the ring with a pair of tights on since 1993, when I was just about to turn 40, but people still recognize me— even when I went to New Zealand for a youth conference—from the WWE Network. I give a lot of credit to Vince McMahon. The guy revolutionized the wrestling industry, and he’s a genius at marketing his product. I’m thrilled to share my story with Nine Legends.”
DiBiase admitted that timing was a key part of his success, and expressed how grateful he is to have been at the top of the hierarchy when wrestling exploded in the 1980s. Although he is now synonymous with the WWE, DiBiase once wanted nothing to do with Vince McMahon’s product.
“Initially, when I saw some of the things Vince was doing, I thought he was killing the business. There was the comedy stuff, the wedding on TV. My dad was a wrestler, so I grew up old school. Looking at it from where I am now, he dressed wrestling up and made it family entertainment.”
There was a slight chance that DiBiase could work for the WWF in 1984, but he decided against it because the timing was not right.
“I talked to Pat Patterson, who was Vince McMahon’s right-hand man, right before the WWF was going to go into Atlanta in 1984,” said DiBiase. “Then Ted Turner and Vince had their big fallout. I remember a meeting with Patterson when he came to TV on a Saturday, when we were on TBS, and he made an announcement to all the wrestlers. He said, ‘Here’s what is happening—WWF has come in and we’re going to be on this network. Don’t worry, nobody panic, everybody has a job.’ So I got Pat off to the side and said, ‘You and I both know there is a difference between having a job and having a position. Right now, all the positions are taken. I’m going to go back to work for Bill Watts in Mid-South, and when the timing is right, I hope you guys give me a call.’
“That was in October of ’84, and three years later, in ’87, was WrestleMania III. I was staying in Baton Rouge, and I opened my door for the morning newspaper. The front page said, ‘WrestleMania III sets indoor world attendance record.’ That was the moment that it dawned on me—if I’m going to stay relevant in this industry, that’s where I needed to be. I’d had a great deal at the time—I was going back and forth to Japan and I’d been teamed up with Stan Hansen, who was one of the biggest names in Japanese wrestling as far as a foreigner, and I was working with Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling. I was getting ready to go on a trip back to Japan right after WrestleMania III, and Bruce Prichard—who was working for Bill Watts—was leaving to work for Vince, so I said, ‘Throw my name out there and see if anything bites.’”
Prichard called DiBiase almost immediately after he arrived in Japan.
“Bruce said, ‘Two things have happened: Jimmy Crockett bought Mid-South Wrestling, which had been Bill Watts’ company.’ Bill Watts was who I had worked for during the better part of the first 12 years of my career and a guy I highly respect as one of the best minds in wrestling. So Bruce told me that Bill Watts had sold his company, and he said, ‘Vince McMahon is very interested in you. Whatever you do, when you go back to Mid-South, do not a sign a contract with Jimmy Crockett until you’ve had a chance to speak with Vince.’
“I fly back, and Vince called me. He said, ‘I want to fly you up here to discuss an idea.’ So I went to New York, and he told me everything except for what it was. He said, ‘Ted, you grew up in this business. Everything has been re-done and repackaged, and it’s very seldom that something is fresh and new and different. This is it, and you’re the guy for the job. I can’t tell you what it is, but you’re going to have to trust me.’ I needed to talk it over with my wife, so I called Terry Funk, who was one of my best friends and a mentor to me, and he said, ‘Teddy, if Vince McMahon has an idea that is tailor-made for you, you pack your bags and don’t look back.’
DiBiase, naturally, packed his bags.
“I called Vince and told him I was his guy, but he wouldn’t tell me his idea over the phone. He flew my wife and I first class to New York, and he laid out the whole idea behind the ‘Million Dollar Man.’ He said that the one thing everybody hates is the man who, by virtue of his wealth, thinks he can buy anyone or anything. Then Vince said, ‘In order to make the public believe you’re really rich, we’re going to fly you first class, you’ll have limousine service every day, and every time the public sees you, they’ll see the appearance of wealth. He even went so far to give me ‘lash cash.’ I’d pick my spots and go into a restaurant, announce myself, and tell everyone it was their lucky day because the ‘Million Dollar Man’ had arrived. Virgil would pick up everyone’s check, I’d slap down the hundred bills, and the WWE office would replenish me after I gave them the receipt.”
DiBiase is forever remembered by his peers as one of the greatest workers of all time in wrestling, yet he is often recognized solely for his distinct laugh.
“The laugh is an extreme exaggeration of the way I laugh,” said DiBiase. “I have an extremely deep voice, and I was locked in a room with Gene Okerlund doing interviews for about an hour about each town we were about to visit. I just happened to end a particular interview with that laugh, and Vince happened to be walking by—he stuck his head and the door and said, ‘That’s it. That’s the ‘Million Dollar’ laugh, and I want to hear it every time you cut an interview.’ I had a 19-year active wrestling career, and I’m remembered for my laugh.”
DiBiase expressed gratitude for his time in wrestling, yet stressed that he is most thankful for the fans of the business.
“Wrestling fans are some of the greatest fans in the world,” said DiBiase. “They’re so loyal. It’s incredible the people who come up to me, and I hear stories constantly, about sons and dads and grandfathers who would sit together and watch wrestling. Once you’ve got a fan, you’ve got a fan for life. I would like to wish everyone reading this an extremely happy Thanksgiving, but just remember one very important thing—everybody has a price for the Million Dollar Man.”
Five Questions with… Hector Guerrero
Hector Guerrero is a proud member of the legendary Guerrero family, and perhaps best known for his work under the mask of the Gobbledy Gooker. He debuted as the Gooker on Thanksgiving Day at the 1990 Survivor Series, but the 62-year-old also enjoyed a long and fulfilling wrestling career. Guerrero now teaches elementary physical education in Florida.
SI.com: There were 13 years separating you and your younger brother, Eddie. Despite the gap in age, how do you describe your relationship with Eddie?
Guerrero: I didn’t care about the difference in years. Eddie was my brother and I loved him. A lot of people think of Eddie as family. My father, Gory Guerrero, had Eddie on a Monday night. He was announced on a Monday night, and he was pronounced dead to the public on a Monday night. My brother Eddie was a beautiful person. He had a beautiful heart. He went through some rough spots in his life, but his family was with him. Eddie made his mark, and now, in wrestling, he’s like a martyr. People still chant his name, and I love that they still chant his name. Eddie was a little bit of all of us. He had my dad’s command and ring presence, Chavo Sr.’s tenacity and aggressiveness, Mando’s creativity, and my charisma—and then he had his own and added to that to make himself his own man. I remember him so much, and I know he’s in heaven—I’ve communicated with him in dreams—and I miss him.
SI.com: The Gobbledy Gooker is remembered for all the wrong reasons. What went wrong? And, during your debut, you hatched out of an oversized egg – how long were you in that egg?
Guerrero: The Gobbledy Gooker is called the biggest flop in professional wrestling history, but it wasn’t meant for the adults. It was for the children. Vince wanted to do something noble, which I take my hat off to and respect. But the circumstances were not favorable. I couldn’t see. The eyes were outside and they were bubbled out—it was almost like they drilled holes through golf balls.
I had to get in the egg early before the show. There was a box under the egg, and I had a fan down there to keep me cool. I had a light, I had a monitor, and that’s where I was. As soon as I came out, you heard the boos—the real bad ones, and a lot of them. Gene Okerlund went through our routine, and he worked really hard, even going in the ring with me. I was flawless and didn’t miss a cue, but the stares and looks from the crowd made me feel like the biggest flop in the history of wrestling. That’s just the way the people reacted. I was in a bad situation, and you don’t blame the boss. You blame the performer.
SI.com: You continued to tour as the Gobbledy Gooker after the Survivor Series, including a trip to New York City at Madison Square Garden. Did the crowds ever warm up to the character?
Guerrero: We went to Madison Square Garden two months after the Survivor Series flop. We shouldn’t have showcased the Gobbledy Gooker at Madison Square Garden. I came out cold turkey, and they told me they’d spotlight me when I walked out. The building went black and they shone the lights on me, and all I could see was white. I couldn’t see down, up, left, or right. I tried to feel my way to the ring. I handspringed into the top rope, but I couldn’t see the floor. I landed on my bottom, and then they finally turned the lights on and I went through my routine—cartwheels, high-fives, a little jiggle-jiggle-jaggle, and dances with the kids. I get back into the dressing room, and they were giving me the dirtiest faces. Vince wouldn’t even look at me and then he walked away. I started to undress, and Gorilla Monsoon walked in and said, ‘We finally figured it out. You couldn’t see, right?’ You think? Everything was wrong. They wanted to put me in a spot, but I was blind and couldn’t see.
SI.com: Do you share a unique bond with second-generation wrestling families like the Hart, Rhodes and Von Erich families?
Guerrero: My father, Gory, got his start in wrestling in 1937 in Guadalajara, Mexico. I have so much admiration for my father. He always dealt honestly with people. Any second-generation family—the Harts, Von Erichs, Rhodes, the Blanchards, Windhams, and Jarretts—has that special connection. Our fathers and grandfathers helped build this business and supported our families through wrestling. Even Vince McMahon is a third generation promoter. There is a lot of respect between the families. Bret Hart is one of the greatest wrestlers I’ve ever seen in the ring. I have nothing but respect for him and his whole family. The Von Erichs had so much talent.
SI.com: Your distinguished career in wrestling, including your work as Lazer Tron, extends far beyond your work as the Gobbledy Gooker. How would you like to be remembered?
Guerrero: As far as my legacy, I don’t want to be remembered as the Gobbledy Gooker. It is what it is, but if someone wants to judge me for being the Gobbledy Gooker, they need to understand the circumstances that I was held under. The circumstances weren’t very favorable. When I went in the ring, I gave it my all. I didn’t just give 100 percent, 200, no – I gave it my all. My dad said I had a tenacity to excel. My dad made generals in the ring, and that’s what all Guerreros are in the ring. You can see our matches, we take over the matches. We were brought up to excel in the ring.
Tweet of the Week
Who knew David Otunga had a fan? Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.