After the fans left as the Skydome maintenance staff began to clean popcorn and the ring crew disassembled the ring, Vince McMahon must have felt like he was on cloud nine. Yes, his relationship with Hogan was on the rocks, but thanks to a hugely successful WrestleMania he had his new star on his hands.
As I’ve talked about in my Warrior article, WrestleMania VI was a financial success breaking records that wouldn’t be matched for a long time. Vince could sit back and laugh as his competition consistently fell on its face and those who once opposed them were breathing those last painful breaths. There must have been concerns about whether the company would make it without Hogan, but The Warrior had been so over so what was there to worry?
To quote every clichéd action film from the 1980’s and on, storm clouds were on the horizon.
Part One: The Impending Steroid Controversy (Which goes all the way back to pre-WrestleMania VI. If this was a video game, I could charge you 17 bucks to read this stuff.)
That previous month, George Zahorian who worked for the Pennslyvania State Athletic Commission as a ringside doctor for WWF cards was busted for distributing anabolic steroids and various other drugs after they were declared illegal. The FBI had been building a case against Zahorian for quite a while using former football coach William Dunn as their informant. Dunn bought 700 dollars’ worth of steroids and other illegal drug.. In that case, Zahorian threw in a one-liner that would damn the torpedoes towards McMahon.
“I’m giving you better prices than the wrestlers” the doctor said after agreeing to throw in a case of syringes for free.
Dunn was wearing a wire by the way.
It should be noted that the WWE knew about the investigation and would take various measures to distance themselves from Zahorian. In-fact, the person who spearheaded the effort was Linda McMahon who stumbled onto the information that the doctor was being investigated and then arrested by the FBI at a party in the summer of 1989
Linda sends a memo to high ranking officials in the company that Zahorian should no longer be involved with the company and that Zahorian will be notified of the investigation.
Linda and the company would employ a hatchet man to sever the relationship from Zahorian; the man would be Pat Paterson. In what must have been a scene similar to the opening of Aargo, employees of the company destroyed any documents linking them to Zahorian, Zahorian kept his documents in a storage facility. Patterson contacted Zahorian by pay phone and terminated any relationship between the company and the doctor. Zahorian was told that the investigation wasn’t that bad and once it was over, the company and Zahorian could do business again. If that wasn’t a sign that may Zahorian should close up shop, I don’t know what is. It’s like standing underneath a falling anvil and everybody is screaming that you should move and you don’t. Oh well.
Patterson was also tasked with telling most of the talent that they should sever ties with Zahorian, including Zahorian’s biggest client, Hulk Hogan. If the feds found out that Hogan had ties to Zahorian, the empire that Vince built would cease to exist in a blink of the eye. While the company would presumably give little care if some of the lower card talent (Dan Spivey, Rick Martel, B. Brian Blair) were caught, they could claim that they had no idea they doing it. Yet, if the golden boy of the company was caught that would be bad news (Barrett). Those in the media that pointed at Hogan and called him a big fat phony, those who made jokes about Hogan’s upcoming vitamin line being oral or injectable and ex-wrestlers who told sordid stories of Hogan would be proven right. Hulk, did not listen however. After the conversation, Hulk would place a call of Zahorian a few days later, presumably to set up an order. In what must have been a lucky twist of fate, Zahorian didn’t answer.
William Dunn would make one last purchase in, $25,000 worth of the good stuff. Agents came in after Dunn, ready to do as Steve McGarrett would say: Book ‘em dano. Zahorian pleaded with agents to call his attorney and they took mercy on him. Zahorian quickly left and headed to the nearest shredder. The agents nabbed him as he was shredding documents for shipments to Roddy Piper and Alfred Hayes. One of those things is not like the other, and I thought that Hayes was always all natural.
Theodore Smith III was the federal prosecutor assigned to Zahorian and a grand jury slammed Zahorian with fifteen counts of distributing controlled substances, steroids being the big cheese. Most of the wrestlers on Zahorian’s lists were placed as vague John Does types and Zahorian inadvertently put his foot in the WWE mouths by hinting that two of them were Piper and Hogan. McMahon was also a buyer, getting hooked on the product while filming the Oscar winning, coming soon to the Criterion Collection class No Holds Barred. Heck, Hulk even got some product for Tiny Lister.
Part Two: WAR!
August 2nd, 1990
Yes, the Ultimate Warrior has struggled as champion, but the light is at the end of the tunnel. Hogan is back from his movie and 19,304 Philadelphians are going to pay $338,452 a record for a wrestling event in Pennsylvania and at that point in just a few weeks, the biggest gate for a card in the US. It was another PPV success with 581,284 buys netting the WWE a nice five million dollar share. Yet, headlines in the newspaper weren’t about whether Hogan could overcome the Earthquake or Rick Rude’s Rocky-esque training for his cage match against The Ultimate Warrior. Newspapers around the world were reporting that Saddam Hussein’s forces were invading Kuwait. People all over the world were horrified and Vince McMahon must have seen the news and dollar signs must have appeared in his eyes.
McMahon had already taken advantage of the fall of communism (AKA Rocky IV) by taking Nikolai Vokoff from being an evil Russian to being a happy go lucky Lithuanian. He was being teamed up with former enemy Jim Duggan, beating up enemies of America such as still Russian Boris Zhukov and The Orient Express. McMahon had also brought back Sgt. Slaughter, now a heel claiming that he detested America for embracing the former Communist heathen. While the feud may have never reached any major levels, McMahon had an idea.
August 27th, 1900
As the obnoxious yet catchy Brother Love theme played throughout the Spectrum, Slaughter cut a promo about how weak America had become. He presented Love with a medal and then claimed that Saddam Hussein’s forces would destroy the US in a war. Vince had found a way to use the invasion to his advantage and Slaughter was perfect for the role. Vince also knew that Slaughter really couldn’t say no to the role, the days of him netting huge money for appearances were gone. With one mention of the war, the WWE had its new top heel as hated for Iraq ramped up in the states.
Slaughter would continue his feud with Volkoff, picking up the former Sheik Adnan Al-Akassie from the AWA, now dubbed “General Adnan” as his manager. Slaughter’s pro-Iraq agenda was pushed even more as Adnan waved the flag and Slaughter saluted it. Slaughter had so much heat that the company gave his feud with Volkoff a much-coveted spot on NBC’s primetime Main Event special. The media began to take notice, condemning the WWE for exploiting the angle. While Warsploitation wasn’t some new concept in wrestling, evil Nazis and Japanese workers littered the wrestling world after the war. As the war became an afterthought in the 60’s and 70’s and the Russians became the bad guys, Nazi’s became bible thumping Texans. The cycle continued as Russians were being billed from Lithuania and Mongolia after the fall of the USSR.
Over the holiday break, it was announced that Sgt. Slaughter would receive a title shot against The Ultimate Warrior at the 1991 Royal Rumble. With the war heating up, many in the wrestling industry wondered if Vince would do the unthinkable. He already had Slaughter cut a promo telling the world that Saddam Hussein would be sending him a special pair of boots to wear. Would Vince really do the unthinkable and put the belt on Slaughter?
While, we do know that answer, this is where we end part one. Part one just covered the insanity of 1990 and part two will go over the four month period from January to April, a period that would see Vince’s dream build for WrestleMania VII fall apart. Until then, I’m Robert Goeman playing Robert Goeman, have a good night.
[amazon_link id=”B00HRYH7G2″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ] Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate Collection DVD[/amazon_link]
[amazon_link id=”B0009E32TI” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]WWE: The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the ’80s[/amazon_link]