wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Is Gable Steveson’s WWE Signing the First of Its Kind?

September 14, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers

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Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane:

With the recent signing of Gable Steveson to a name, image, likeness contract, is this the first time a wrestling promotion has signed someone from a legitimate sport while they are still competing there? Of course, there is a history of pro wrestlers with backgrounds from legit sports and even brief crossover matches such as Lawrence Taylor versus Bam Bam Bigelow or Big Show versus Floyd Mayweather, but with the new NCAA policy, is this unprecedented?

No, not really.

I’m sure others could come up with additional examples, but one name immediately sprung to my mind when I read this question:

Mark Henry.

As most people reading this will know, Henry was signed to the WWF shortly after competing in the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. However, there’s not much discussion of the fact that the World’s Strongest Man continued to have a powerlifting career even after he was under contract to the wrestling organization. His first WWF contract actually allowed him substantial time off every year to train for lifting competitions. In fact, he won the 1997 U.S.N.A.P.L. National Championships for his weight class, a competition he previously came out on top of in 1995. Repeated injuries prevented his lifting career from going much further after that, though he did come back and win a strongman competition at the 2002 Arnold Classic.

Aside from Henry, it’s worth noting that professional wrestling has a long history of legitimate athletes having full-time wrestling careers during the off season of their primary sports. One of the earliest examples that I am aware of is professional football player Bronco Nagurski, who played for eight years with the Chicago Bears in the 1930s and stepped in between the ropes when not on the gridiron, including several World Heavyweight Title matches against Lou Thesz. However, this technically isn’t an answer to Daniel’s question, because this was all happening in the era before wrestling promotions signed wrestlers to contracts.

Tyler from Winnipeg may be from Canada, but he’s asking us about the U.K.:

Twice recently you’ve underlined the discrepancy of the Pontiac Silverdome’s WM3 actual attendance which is obviously justified. Have you heard the attendance number of 80,000 being inflated for SummerSlam in England for Bulldog/Bret or is that the real number?

Absolutely. The rule of thumb is that, if WWE announces an attendance figure on television, it’s inflated. I should note that’s not just exclusive to the E, either. Most major Japanese promotions have done the same thing over the years. It’s the same sort of mentality that results in a couple of inches and twenty to thirty pounds being added to just about every wrestler’s announced height and weight.

As it relates to the Summerslam 1992 card that Tyler has directly asked about, according to the April 14, 2014 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the announced attendance was 80,355, whereas the legitimate number was 78,927. You’ll note that the legit Summerslam 1992 figure actually beats out the 78,000 Wrestlemania III figure, which means that if you accept these numbers, WWE actually had to spend several years hiding the fact that its biggest crowd of all time was, in fact, its biggest crowd of all time, all to maintain the mythology of Mania III.

King Crimson is here . . . but whose side is he on?

It seems like, when it comes to dissatisfied wrestlers leaving the company, WWE is finally catching on that to be more edgy these days, you need to give the IWC more to bite on. And that means blurring the lines of reality when it comes to employees threatening to leave, or hinting that they might leave because it gets more buzz in the media. It gets people talking, and when a guy like Dean Ambrose is allegedly leaving but still featured prominently on RAW, people are wondering what they’ll do with him. I could be wrong, but it feels odd to me that so many different superstars are coming out of the woodwork to express their unhappiness to only end in a prominent spot on the card. A lot of people are assuming that Vince is catering to their needs because he doesn’t want to look weak in losing talent to the indys or AEW. But you can only throw a title at so many people . . . and I just feel like the timing is suspicious and that it’s possible that this is a new tactic to generate buzz for the company. What are your thoughts?

I do think that, on the whole, WWE has been featuring wrestlers who are on their way out the door more prominently than they would have been featured in the past. I think back to the 1990s when Razor Ramon and Diesel left the company. On his way out the door, Razor spent a month putting over Triple H and Jerry Lawler on house shows, while his last pay per view appearance was a fairly unimpressive loss to Vader. Nash suffered a similar fate, though his regular opponents at this point were Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker.

Meanwhile, guys like Dean Ambrose and Daniel Bryan were treated like top guys to the very end, even if Bryan did drop the fall in a loser leaves town match on the way out the door.

Is this a mechanism to get more hype for the company as the King speculates?

I’m going to go with a “no” on that one. I think that, instead, what we’re looking at is just another result of the company’s changing philosophy regarding the importance of star wrestlers. In the 1990s and earlier, the company believed that there were particular wrestlers who could move the needle in terms of business, and as a result it was to their benefit to minimize those wrestlers’ abilities to do so when they were on the way out the door. Now, WWE appears to be under the impression that, aside from legends from prior eras, people just tune in to watch WWE because it’s WWE as opposed to tuning into watch particular performers. Based on the numbers that are out there, it’s hard to say that they’re wrong – though you can question how much of that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you don’t view a particular talent as one that might actually draw viewers to a wrestling product – whether yours or your opponent’s – why not use him at the top of the card right up until the bitter end?

Francesco is trying to decide if he prefers apples or oranges:

Who is more important for pro wrestling history between Kofi Kingston and Mark Henry?

I’m a bit hesitant to answer this question, because one of the two men is still an active competitor as I write this and neither is totally done with the wrestling industry, so their respective legacies are still being created. However, if we were to pretend that both men’s careers totally ended today, my pick would probably be Kofi. Though both men held versions of a world title in WWE, Kingston held the more prominent of the two and won it in a more prominent manner, taking the belt as part of a Wrestlemania card, albeit in an era where that doesn’t mean half as much as what I used to. Granted, his ensuing title run was not the most awe-inspiring, but Henry does not have much if anything that compares to it.

Michael from Vancouver Island has intruded on the column:

Throughout the last 30 years in WCW and WWE there have been several times where a fan has jumped into the action from the crowd. There was the fan at the infamous Bash At The Beach in 1996 but I remember a couple others as well. 1999 WCW Nitro where Randy Savage had to beat down a fan and in 2000 at WWE RAW where HHH had to take out some guy heading for Linda McMahon. My question is was there any aftermath on any of these occurrences? Have the fans ever been interviewed or sued? Or even ever named? Have there been any lawsuits from either party? Has any company ever made an example out of someone to discourage others?

I just ask because I have never heard of any fallout from any incident. I’ve also attended my fair share of live events (even Nitro, Raw and Smackdown) and there never has been any kind of vocalized or written warning about doing so. I guess they just bank on the audience being respectful, but there are a lot of idiots out there.

First off, back in the territorial era of wrestling, no fans who charged the ring were facing criminal charges or being sued, because they were being beaten to the point that they would never even consider doing something like that again. At many venues, there was a designated area called the “kayfabe room” where any unruly audience members were taken for purposes of having a crew of angry professional wrestlers teach them a lesson, typically while law enforcement turned a blind eye because they figured justice was being done.

Of course, in more recent years, things have changed, and while a wrestler might be justified in getting in a shot or two under the guise of self-defense, they probably would not be able to get away with a continued beating that is not in the heat of the moment. Thus, legal action after the fact is going to become more likely. Also, thanks to the advent of social media and more widespread reporting on wrestling, the names of fans who have hit the ring as well as reports on subsequent prosecution are more likely to come to the public’s attention than they were twenty or thirty years ago.

The earliest reference that I could find to there being legal action taken against fans who got out of line at a pro wrestling show came in the December 29, 1997 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which was covering a December 15 WWF show in Little Rock, Arkansas. The show is a bit infamous for having an unruly crowd, which apparently stemmed from a variety of different factors, including some in the crowd thinking that the city was hosting Monday Nigh Raw when the show was actually un-televised and also previously advertised matches not occurring or running remarkably short.

Fans were throwing trash and other debris at the ring throughout the evening, including during a special ceremony meant to honor legendary wrestler Danny Hodge. (Having Shawn Michaels, a major heel at the time, in the ring for the ceremony probably did not help.) When Michaels and Triple H were headed out for the main event that pitted HHH against Dude Love, Michaels became so agitated by trash being thrown that he called an audible and told the crowd over the house mic that the main event was off. Moments later, the ring announcer confirmed that the show was over.

This lead to a small-scale riot. According to the Observer, by the time law enforcement got everything under control, thirteen fans were arrested, mostly for offenses related to consumption of alcohol – with several of the arrested individuals being minors.

Disturbingly, this incident in Little Rock happened the same week that WCW Nitro was disrupted by a similarly unruly crowd. Fans were so aggressively throwing things in to the ring that the angle that was supposed to run in the final segment of the show was canceled midway through. I’m not aware of any arrests coming out of that show, though.

I would never participate in a riot of that nature. I would also never rush the ring during a wrestling show. However, IF I were to rush the ring during a wrestling show, one of the last guys I would ever try to make my move on is Randy Orton, because he strikes me as having enough of an old school streak that he would have very little compunction about taking the hardest shot that he possibly could. In fact, he had the chance to do just that on July 30, 2013, when WWE ran a house show in Cape Town, South Africa and a then-20-year-old named Tshepo Sekhabi hit the ring during Orton’s victory celebration. Sekhabi ran up behind the Legend Killer while he was standing on the ropes in his classic pose, ultimately giving him a low blow. Orton was initially taken off his feet by the shot but recovered quickly and well enough to drill Sekhabi in the face as security was trying to escort him from the ring.

After the incident, Sekhabi went on record claiming that he was an independent wrestler who used the name “Jozi the Wrestling Machine.” (I was not able to find any reference to him wrestling that is not just a repost of the Orton story.) He apparently went after Orton in some sort of ill-conceived effort to kickstart his own career. The plan did not work. Instead of a WWE contract, Sekhabi was handed criminal charges, as he was prosecuted by local authorities and received a three-year suspended sentence in addition to being barred from future WWE events in South Africa.

2015 was a pretty active year for audience members rushing the ring and having their identities revealed. The first such incident occurred at WWE Smackdown tapings at the O2 Arena in London, England on April 14 of that year. Prior to a match that pitted John Cena and Daniel Bryan against Tyson Kidd and Antonio Cesaro in tag team action, several “fans” hit the ring and did not go after the wrestlers but instead went after each other, with two of them getting past security and one of them hitting a Rock Bottom on the other and going for a cover. (If you watch video of the incident, you can actually see Cena, from a safe distance, making a three count for him.) It does not appear that there were any negative consequences for these fans, perhaps because they were actually pretty popular YouTubers, working for a channel called Trollstation that focused primarily on prank videos. Trollstation remained active for several years after the WWE incident but does not appear to have produced any new content since 2020.

Later the same year – specifically on August 8 – an incident occurred at a Victoria, British Columbia WWE house show that saw a fan throw a replica Money in the Bank briefcase towards the ring, pegging Roman Reigns in the head while he was wrestling Bray Wyatt. The aggressor went unnamed in follow-up reporting, but it was noted that there were no criminal charges filed against him. WWE, however, did issue a lifetime ban prohibiting him from attending future events.

Rounding out the string of 2015 incidents, at the Night of Champions pay per view that year, a gentleman by the name of Oscar Ramirez thought it would be a good idea to climb into the ring after Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose had made their entrance for a match against the Wyatt Family. Ramirez did not seem to have an eye on assaulting any of the wrestlers. Instead, he just stood around until security caught up with him and hauled him away. He was prosecuted and pled guilty to a misdemeanor trespassing charge which resulted in him spending ten days in jail. In exchange, more serious charges that could have had a sentence of up to six months were dropped.

Though this incident seems to have largely been forgotten due to all of the weird twists and turns 2020 took, Bret Hart was jumped by a fan during the 2019 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony while he was giving his acceptance speech related to the induction of the Hart Foundation. The assailant was an amateur MMA fighter by the name of Zachary Madsen, who had a 2-1 record prior to the incident according to Sherdog. Madsen was jumped by several members of the WWE roster, Davey Boy Smith Jr., and MMA fighter Travis Browne (who was in attendance with partner Ronda Rousey). Frankly, Madsen is lucky that security was able to get him away from the wrestlers, because I envision him being stomped into an oil stain on the mat had that not occurred. Madsen was eventually charged with a variety of criminal offenses including assault and trespass, though I have not found word of the outcome, if there has been one.

And, most recently, on the July 7, 2021 episode of AEW Dynamite, a rather portly fan managed to get on the entrance ramp and headed towards the ring during a Chris Jericho segment. Jericho took a swing at the guy that appears to have largely missed because the fan was also in the process of being taken down by security. Y2J actually looked a bit disappointed that he couldn’t get in a couple more licks, and I can’t say that I blame him. As near as I can tell, the real name of this individual has never come out, but he used the moniker “Fat Bastard” on Twitter and other social media platforms and tweeted quite a bit about the incident after it occurred, saying that he felt “disrespected” by AEW for unspecified reasons and also claiming that he made the move for Jim Cornette and Vince Russo, both of whom are vocal about their dislike for AEW. Of course, Cornette immediately disavowed any connection to the fan and went on a rant about what would have happened to him if he tried this in the good old days. In some of his tweets, the so-called “Fat Bastard” claimed that he was banned from future All Elite events and that criminal charges were being pursued against him, and, while neither of those things would be difficult to believe, I also have a hard time with the notion that this individual is a particularly reliable narrator.

Should you have more information, feel free to share it in the comments – though keep in mind that this is not an open invitation to discuss ALL fan run-ins and instead is meant to be focused on those in which the identities of or consequences for the individuals who crossed the line have come out publicly.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.