wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Is Sgt. Slaughter Guilty of Stolen Valor?

February 24, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Sgt. Slaughter

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Tyler from Winnipeg kicks us off with a Canadian asking about the U.S. military:

What is your opinion/thoughts on the latest reporting in which Sgt. Slaughter has been falsely claiming to be a US Vet for many, many years?

For those of you who may not be familiar with this story, you can read this very thorough article by freelance wrestling journalist David Bixenspan which compiles the long and complicated history of Sergeant Slaughter and the United States Marine Corps.

At this point, it seems irrefutable that Slaughter never served in the military and, despite that fact, he has given many out of character interviews – some very recently – in which he claims to have done so. Many people, particularly real veterans, consider this disrespectful. It’s more than just disrespectful, though. According to Bixenspan’s article, using some Marine insignia and regalia while not actually being a Marine was made illegal in 1984.

What do I think about this?

I can’t say that I’m crazy about it. Living in the middle of the United States, I do think that our hero worship of the armed forces goes a bit overboard at times, but the fact of the matter is that these individuals, regardless of whether you believe the conflicts they’ve been sent to fight in are always justified, are making incredible sacrifices and risking their lives in what we are told is the national interest. I’m certainly not doing that and, statistically speaking, 97% of the U.S. Citizens reading this aren’t doing it, which means that you probably aren’t, either.

When somebody has done something incredibly difficult and somebody else falsely claims that they have, it is disrespectful to those who have been there and done the work. That’s true whether we’re talking about serving in the military, surviving cancer, completing a doctoral program, or any number of other accomplishments.

Thus, Slaughter claiming to have been in Vietnam when he wasn’t is problematic. He should never do it again, and he should apologize for having done it in the past.

Yes, I know. Super-hot take there.

However, I will say that the reason that Slaughter has done this makes his actions a bit more understandable than if a random thirty-year-old factory worker from Minnesota were going to lie about serving in Afghanistan in 2020. He’s a professional wrestler, and he’s a professional wrestler who started in an era where kayfabe was closely guarded. You were supposed to live your gimmick 100% of the time that you were in public, whether at a show or not at a show, and that mentality is probably what started Slaughter off discussing his “military service” as though it were legitimate. Behaviors like that are difficult to un-learn, particularly when you’ve engaged in them for decades. He should certainly know better by now, but I can understand why he would slip back in to old habits.

I will also say that, even though Slaughter’s character started off as a heel member of the U.S. Military (as an aside, imagine getting away with that now), he is best-remembered as a patriotic babyface, and to the extent that you believe being proud of your country and your military is something that you ought to do, he did help engender that pride in a couple of generations of young people. I wouldn’t be surprised if he even helped to inspire some people to begin military careers of their own, despite not being a member himself.

This isn’t a simple issue to untangle. As I stated above, Slaughter continuing to falsely contend that he was a Marine is completely wrong. He should issue an unconditional apology, and he should never do it again. On the other hand, given the extenuating circumstances that I’ve mentioned, I’m not hopping mad at Slaughter about this issue, and I’m not ready to “cancel” him as I might be if somebody else started stealing valor out of the blue.

A few weeks ago, I answered a question from Stu in the UK about which world titles had been defended on the six populated continents. This week, I’m taking on another question of geography and world titles from Stu:

What’s the furthest north and south a world title has been defended?

This is a question that I’m open to being corrected on, as nobody to my knowledge maintains a comprehensive listing of world title defenses in wrestling history, so there’s not one good, clean database to search.

However, as best as I could determine, the most northern city to play host to a match for a wrestling title commonly considered to be a “world championship” is Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, sitting at 64.8°N latitude. The earliest world title match I could find record of in that city was Lou Thesz defending the NWA World Heavyweight Title against Sandor Szabo on July 6, 1957. Szabo was a popular wrestler who was born in Hungary but spent most of his career in the U.S. He and Thesz wrestled to a draw in that bout.

For what it’s worth, Fairbanks has also played host to a match for the WWF Championship, with the first such encounter seeing champion Randy Savage defending against Ric Flair on June 12, 1992. The WWF had been to Alaska a few times before that show, but this was the first time they sent the world champion.

As far as southernmost championship bouts are concerned, I believe that distinction goes to the city of Invercargill, New Zealand, which is at 46.4°S latitude. In 1979, Harley Race toured New Zealand as NWA World Champion, where he defended the belt on on September 15 against, of all people, Mr. Fuji. NWA World Champions had been coming to New Zealand for several years by that point, but Race is the only one to have a recorded title defense in Invercargill, which is on the southern tip of the country, quite a bit below the cities of Auckland and Wellington, who normally got the biggest wrestling shows in NZ.

Somewhat ironically, Pat O’ Connor, NWA World Champion from 1959 to 1961, was born in New Zealand and started his wrestling career there, but he never returned home to defend the belt.

IMissMarkingOut is blasting the original version of “Sexy Boy”:

Where does Sherri Martel rank on your all time best valet/managers list? It’s subjective, but there is no denying the impact she had on acts such as Macho King, HBK and Harlem Heat.

First, I’d put her more on the “manager” side of the list and less on the “valet” side, because in my mind a valet is basically just a piece of arm candy, whereas a manager is somebody who plays a much more active role in a wrestler’s career from a kayfabe standpoint.

In my opinion, Sherri isn’t a Ter 1 manager, which would include people like Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornette, Paul Heyman, Freddie Blassie, and Ernie Roth. I would put her more in Tier 1a, just outside of that group.

The main difference between Sherri and the elite group is that, in order to be a top flight manager, you need to have the ability to cut an excellent promo. Though Sherri’s abilities on the mic were perfectly serviceable – I might go as far as to say above average – she wasn’t top flight in that category.

However the reason that I put her in to Tier 1a as opposed to Tier 2 is because, even though she wasn’t a legendary interview, she brought something else to the acts she was part of which she did just as well as anybody else, if not better. I’m referring to her physicality. When it came time to run interference or take a bump, she was a virtuoso. (Though Cornette and pre-neck-injury Heenan were excellent in that regard as well.) In fact, I think that is why she was often paired with acts like Michaels, Savage, and Ted DiBiase, who were already capable of handling their own promos. They didn’t need her for that aspect of their act, but she still added something and managed to elevate them beyond what they would have been otherwise.

In short, Sherri definitely qualifies as a hall of fame caliber manager, though she’s not quite a good as some of the others who fall into that category.

As an aside, if you want to look at some excellent work from Sherri’s career that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should in my opinion, check out her brief run managing Ric Flair in WCW in 1994.

HBK’s Smile calls him Mr. Wonderful:

I was always under the impression that as soon as the Hogan-Orndorff feud ended, Orndorff went on hiatus due to an arm injury, costing him a spot on the immense WrestleMania III card. However, I recently rewatched the Saturday Night Main Event leading into WrestleMania III and Orndorff was prominently featured in that night’s battle royale. So, what was the exact situation with Orndorff’s injury and ability or inability to appear at WrestleMania III?

Orndorff was definitely injured during his feud with Hogan, but he refused to have it addressed because taking time away from wrestling would have cost him the biggest paydays of his career. The result of that deferred treatment was the significant atrophy to Mr. Wonderful’s right arm that became obvious later on in his career.

However, Orndorff was still definitely in the mix around the time of Wrestlemania III, though his schedule may have been reduced somewhat when compared to other members of the roster. That edition of Mania took place on March 29, 1987, and Orndorff had several matches that same month, including a house show bout against Hogan on March 19 and a six man tag with Harley Race and the Honky Tonk Man against George Steele, Jake Roberts, and The Crusher on March 20.

So, why wasn’t Orndorff on the Wrestlemania card despite arguably still being the promotion’s number two heel?

Dave Meltzer answered this question on a 2015 episode of “The Lapsed Fan” wrestling podcast, indicating that Orndorff was intentionally kept off the Wrestlemania III card so that he could be the backup opponent for Hogan if Andre the Giant’s failing health kept him from wrestling the scheduled championship match.

This theory is lent some credence by the fact that, after WM3 took place, Orndorff vanished off of the WWF’s cards, not appearing again until early June. The pattern of his matches for the first half of 1987 makes it appear that Orndorff knew he was injured but needed to keep in some semblance ring shape in case he was needed for Mania but limited his schedule somewhat so he wouldn’t hurt himself even more. Then, once the biggest show of the year passed and he was not needed for it, he took the necessary time off to heal.

Lev is playing the name game:

For a period of time WWE was adamant about changing a wrestler’s ring name from what they were known as on the indies to one they could copyright – often coming up with mockingly bad names. Colt Cobana to Scotty Goldman, Low Ki to Kaval, Giant Bernard to Tensai, etc. But what are some examples of successful name changes, where the WWE name is better than the indie name? And what, in your opinion, is the best name change of them all?

Though WWE has generated some truly terrible names, there are probably more circumstances in which these name changes were an improvement than fans really want to give them credit for. A few examples follow.

When she was wrestling on the independent scene, Sasha Banks was known as Mercedes KV, which was a poor choice for a couple of different reasons. First, the “KV” is very reminiscent of “KY,” and you know what sorts of bad jokes that can result in. Second, there was already a very prominent Mercedes on the independent women’s wrestling scene at the time (Mercedes Martinez), and cribbing her name would be the equivalent of somebody showing up in the WWF in the late 1980s and calling himself Bill Savage.

I’ve also always preferred Adrian Neville to PAC. Though I understand that there has been some confusion over whether to pronounce PAC as “pack” or “pock,” when I first became aware of the guy it seemed like most people were saying “pock,” which always seemed derivative to me because wrestling already had an X-Pac. (Of course, that itself was derivative of Tupac, but I digress.) Giving him a more original-sounding name was a definitive improvement.

Claudio Castagnoli is not necessarily a bad thing name (and it’s the wrestler’s real name), but I think it fits better with the wealthy, Million Dollar Man-esque character that Castagnoli was originally playing during his first few years in the sport with CHIKARA. If he’s going to be more of a badass European superman as he has been in WWE, Antonio Cesaro is an improvement.

In Japan, Kairi Sane’s original ring name of Kairi Hojo was just fine, but in the United States “Ho Jo” is associated with a chain of hotels (and a now-defunct chain of restaurants) called Howard Johnson, so that was going to have to change.

Also, though these two had WWE careers that you missed if you blinked, I much preferred “Abbey Laith” to “Kimber Lee” and “Ryan Braddock” to “Brad Bradley.”

You want to know what the absolute best WWE name change of all time is, though?

Some might say that I’m cheating by giving this answer, because it goes way outside of the time period that Lev referenced in his question, but I still think it qualifies and that it’s an easy #1 on the list if it does. That name change:

Sterling Golden or Terry Boulder to Hulk Hogan.

Sterling Golden sounds like somebody is trying too hard to come up with an outlandish professional wrestling name, and it also doesn’t work because the word “sterling” is far more closely associated with silver than it is with gold. Terry Boulder isn’t a terrible ring name, but it lacks the panache of “Hulk Hogan,” which was reportedly selected by Vince McMahon, Sr. to help the wrestler connect with the Irish immigrant population in New York City the same way that he used Bruno Sammartino to connect with Italians or Pedro Morales to connect with Puerto Ricans.

This serves as a reminder to us that, even though some people act like WWE changing wrestlers’ names is a new phenomenon, it’s gone on for quite a while – sometimes with impressive results.

Let’s stick with the general theme of ring names, thanks to HBK’s Smile:

Is there any connection between Vinnie Vegas (Kevin Nash) and Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction? I know it’s a reach but those names are just so similar and they both came about during the early mid 1990s.

According to shoot interviews with Kevin Nash, the name and character of Vinnie Vegas was inspired by the character Vinnie Antonelli, played by Steve Martin in the 1990 comedy film My Blue Heaven. It couldn’t have been inspired by Pulp Fiction, because that movie came out in 1994, and, by that time, Nash was already in the WWF and wrestling as Diesel.

That leaves the question of whether the reverse is true, i.e. whether the Pulp Fiction character’s name was inspired by the pro wrestler. The odds of that seem low, because, though WCW technically had national exposure at the time, it is unlikely that it would have been on Quentin Tarantino’s radar as a guy based primarily in Los Angeles. I also don’t know that we have any indication that Tarantino is a wrestling fan more generally.

For what it’s worth, there has been at least one independent wrestler who took on the name of Vincent (or Vince) Vega after Pulp Fiction came out. He’s not really broken out anywhere that I’m aware of, but he’s had a decently long career and managed to crack the PWI 500 in 2011, for whatever that’s worth.

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].