By Mike Mooneyham
Nov. 24, 2002
Few would argue that professional wrestling doesn’t exact a heavy toll on the mental and physical state of its performers. The rules are fast and hard, and the ax can fall heavily upon those who don’t keep pace.
Far too often those in the business become jaded, cynical and even paranoid. The politics played behind the scenes can be fierce and cutthroat, and those who play the game are master manipulators.
So it’s always refreshing to come across someone who has yet to be tarnished by the harsh realities of the profession. I had lunch last week with a pair of WWE performers who fit that bill, and just listening to them talk about their profession reminded me just how alluring the business can be to those with fresh eyes and innocent exuberance.
It was also nice to see a pair of youngsters (they’re only 25) like Molly Holly and Maven connecting with their fans in ways that don’t routinely get a lot of ink. The two WWE stars aren’t into tooting their own horns, nor do they cause problems backstage or create fodder for the tabloids. While they may not generate the headlines that some of their bigger-name colleagues do, what they do accomplish is something very important.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]So when I asked Maven (real name Maven Huffman – no relation to “Booker T” Huffman) about some of the more controversial topics of the business, such as the recent bottom-of-the-barrel necrophilia and HLA angles, he understandably seemed a tad disappointed. I asked him to explain.
A Division 3 baseball star at Eastern Mennonite University in his hometown of Harrisonburg Va., the clean-cut Tough Enough 1 winner humbly replied that he was rather saddened by the fact that the good things his company was doing for the community sometimes got lost behind the more scathing and salacious headlines.
“Very rarely do I get asked about how the Get Real program or the Smackdown Your Vote program are going,” says Maven, “where other performers such as myself, D-Von Dudley, Kurt Angle and Albert go into schools and encourage kids to read and make a difference in their communities, and where we encourage folks to go out and vote and choose the leaders of tomorrow. Too many times people want to focus on the bad aspects of wrestling. Nobody seems to want to talk about the Make A Wish Foundation kids.”
Molly, who also is involved in a number of charitable and worthwhile activities, nodded.
I had to agree that they had a point. Not that the business shouldn’t be held accountable for some of its questionable actions, but young performers like Maven and Molly Holly deserve credit for the difference they’re trying to make.
“I get to have fun with my job, and still be around kids and try to be an inspiration,” says Maven. “Believe me, I came from the smallest town in America. I grew up in a trailer park. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
“There’s nothing like seeing a smile on the face of a child,” says Molly. An attractive Minnesotan who loved the Lowcountry so much she decided to make it her home (especially after reading in Fortune magazine that Charleston was one of the top three investment sites in the country), Molly isn’t your average WWE diva. She has the looks, but her wholesome image has, ironically, landed her in the role of a heel in the ring. Fans also aren’t likely to see her in any storylines that some might consider demeaning.
“I believe they (WWE officials) respect all the wrestlers’ values,” says the former WWE world champion, a devout Christian. “Although they have not yet asked me to do anything that I feel uncomfortable with, I’m sure that if they did I could discuss it with them and we could work around it. They want everyone to be comfortable with the show.”
And if they pressed the issue?
“If there was something that I really felt uncomfortable with, then I would say no. If it meant losing my job, then I’d move on to something else.”
“Stephanie McMahon asked me if they could do an interview with Trish where she said I had a big behind, and if I would mind. It was no problem with me. It was like pointing at someone wearing glasses and joking that they had poor vision. So what? It doesn’t matter to me. God gave me two legs to walk on and I’m healthy, so why should I be offended if someone criticized my physical appearance when God created me this way. It would almost be a slap in the face to God to say that I’m not happy with the blessings he has given me.”
“Nobody asks the girls to get implants,” she adds. “Each girl decides how they want their hair, what they want to wear, how they want to look.”
“I’m not anywhere near the biggest guy in the locker room, says the 6-2, 225-pound Maven, “but I’ve never been told once to be on a special weightlifting program. They might advise you to work your back a little bit more, or work your legs a little bit more, but they understand that if you just let yourself go, you’ll be taken off TV. And there goes your livelihood.”
“They just stress that you take care of your body,” says Molly. “It’s also a role model thing. We’re setting an example of being athletes and wanting to look like athletes.”
Molly says her best friend in the business – “without a doubt” – is WWE referee “Little Naitch” Charles Robinson. “I love Charles to death,” says Molly, who adds Trish Straus and Ivory to her list of wrestling buddies. “But Charles is definitely one of my best friends. I like everything about him. He’s just a nice person to be around. He doesn’t talk badly about people and he’s like … a breath of fresh air.”
Molly credits a number of performers with helping her throughout her career – wrestlers such as Dean Malenko, Prince Iaukea, Tracy Smothers, Buddy Lee Parker, Paul Orndorff and Steve Keirn. Her first big break in the business came when WCW hired her in 1999 to be part of “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s entourage. Along with Madusa and Gorgeous George, Molly, under the name Miss Mona Madness, accompanied Savage to the ring for his matches and sometimes got a chance to display her considerable mat skills.
Molly made her WWE debut in November 2000. Billed as Molly Holly, “cousin” of Crash and Hardcore Holly, she parlayed her role into one of the company’s most popular characters. Pairing with Spike Dudley and later transforming into The Hurricane’s (Gregory Helms) counterpart, Mighty Molly, she eventually made a heel turn.
“There are some things that I like about it (being a heel), and some that I don’t. My preference is playing the good guy’ because I like to do a lot of fancy moves. But Vince (McMahon) let me be the champion, so it’s definitely been a huge boost for me.”
Both Molly and Maven, who will be part of the WWE’s Raw show Monday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, agree that concentrating on their profession gives them little time for outside relationships.
“I’m just glad that I haven’t had any strong desire to get married,” says the 5-4 beauty, one of the most athletic females on the WWE roster. “I don’t think about it that much. I’m so happy with my job and what I’m doing that I just haven’t thought about finding that Mr. Right.’ I’m sure someday I will. It may happen next week. I don’t know. But it’s not something that I go out of my way to look for.”
“I find time to date, but not as much,” says Maven. “I don’t dare let one other human being tell me what I can and can’t do. I know in this business it’s a lot easier not to have to answer questions and get grilled about what it is you’re doing on the road. That’s something I’ll never put up with. I’ve seen people who have had to put up with it, and that’s not something I’m interested in.
“But I still have the same friends I’ve always had. I lived with my best friend back at home during my last year at college. It was during the late 90s wrestling wars. We had two TVs set up in our house so we could watch both shows. We’d have the sound on the WWF until something good would happen on the WCW show. We’d watch both programs at the same time and just alternate the sound.”
Both also emphasize that they’re happy to be in the WWE where they say they are living a dream.
“I want to do this as long as I’m healthy and as long as I’m enjoying it,” says Molly, who worked as a magazine telemarketer prior to her wrestling career. “If years down the road it’s not as exciting or not as fun as it once was, then I’ll maybe go on to other things. Even if I’m not a performer on the show, I like the atmosphere so much that I may just want to do stuff with production and that side of it. It’s hard to say. I may wind up a homemaker and have 10 kids. I don’t know.”
“That pop, that adrenaline rush … it’s the best drug in the world,” says Maven. “There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s so addictive. And when you’re off, when you’re injured, it definitely keeps you up at night. I guarantee you that.”
Things, though, weren’t always as easy for Maven, whose parents were killed in an automobile accident on Christmas Day when he was only 2 years old.
“I’m not too big on Christmas,” he explains. But he’s not looking for sympathy. The winner of the WWE’s first Tough Enough contest on MTV was raised by his aunt, whom he calls “Mom,” and considers their relationship the impetus for everything he has accomplished.
“I tell people not to feel sorry for me, because I have the greatest mother in the world. I honestly couldn’t imagine life without her. She means that much to me. I honestly believe that when God takes something away, he gives something in return. I love my mom with all my heart.”
Maven’s close connection with his mother, who suffers from bone marrow cancer, was evident during the airing of Tough Enough, particularly during poignant scenes where he visited her in the hospital.
At one point during the competition, he was ready to quit and return home to his mother, who had gone back into the hospital for three weeks.
“I was ready to leave,” he says. “I told her they let me come here and that they gave me a choice, and that I was going to leave. I felt at that time I could still walk away from it. But she wouldn’t let me do it. She could see the passion in what I wanted to do.”
Maven says he has been heartened in recent months by her improving condition.
“She can’t really go into remission,” he says, “but she has improved with a new experimental stem-cell procedure. It’s doing phenomenal. She has been chemotherapy-free for over a year now.”
Maven recently fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams when he bought a house in his native Virginia and moved his mother in with him.
“She used to hint that one day I would buy her a house when I made it big. She gave me everything I could possibly want when I was growing up. She worked two jobs so I could play college baseball and still have enough money to not have to work. I’ll never be done repaying her.”
Maven says his “father” recently retired from Dupont after 28 years.
“He’s been a devout Christian since I was 11 years old. When I was 10 he and my mom had a pretty messy divorce chock full of infidelities. As a result a lot of his relatives just pushed him away. One night he just got on his knees and asked if there was God that he needed him. It’s been a steady climb for him, but in my eyes he’s just a very godly man and a role model that I can look up to. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on things, although he is very happy with what I’m doing. He’s really involved with prison ministries. He’s a man. He’s a handyman who builds log cabins. He and his pastor recently started a new non-denominational church. He’s very active. I don’t get to see him often, but he’s someone I highly respect.”
Maven was in Oregon teaching sixth-grade math, social studies and science and playing semi-pro baseball when he signed on for the Tough Enough competition. Baseball had been his first love, but he said he realized it was time to hang up his cleats and pursue another dream.
“I was halfway decent,” says Maven, all All-Conference player. “I was a centerfielder. Great for the team I played on, but major league average. Average speed. I could hit really well, just not for power. I could send them over the fence all day at practice when they were being lobbed over. I’d get in the game and it was a different situation. I accepted my limitations and moved on. I tried out for the (Arizona) Diamondbacks after college. I was so nervous during my first pro tryout that I forgot my glove. The scout had to give me his glove to go shag fly balls. Obviously I didn’t get drafted by them.”
After a rigorous schedule of teaching school and playing semi-pro ball in Oregon, he knew his baseball career had come to an end.
“I realized then that my baseball career was over and was able to let it go. I was working and getting paid, and baseball was just taking up too much recreational time.”
Maven said he never really believed he would get picked for, much less win, the Tough Enough competition.
“I actually sent my tape in as a joke. Let’s be honest. Who in the world thinks they’re going to be picked for one of these shows? It took me and my friend 10 minutes to make the tape in the kitchen one night before we went to the gym. I sent it in on a whim. A couple of weeks later I got a call from a girl saying she was from the WWF and MTV, asking me to come to New York. I hung up on her. I thought it was my buddy playing a joke on me. I called him back and told him that it wasn’t that funny. He told me it wasn’t him. And now here I am.”
Maven says he was blessed by being part of the first Tough Enough.
“It was a great experience. It put me where I’m at today. I look at three things that’s helped me get to the point where I’m at today. That’s Tough Enough, Al Snow and The Undertaker. I’ll be honest. There are thousands of independent wrestlers who could wrestle circles around me. But the power of television is tremendous. It’s been a dream come true. Al has been someone who I can always depend on. I love him like he’s a member of my family. The Undertaker is the true phenom. He’s put more butts in the seats than anyone over the years. And he really helped me early in my career. It’s the best gimmick ever.”
Maven said one of his biggest thrills in making it to the big show was when 16-time world champion Ric Flair first approached him and shook his hand.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s a humbling experience to just meet someone like that, a man who I watched in my first-ever wrestling match at the Richmond Coliseum. He worked Magnum T.A. Just for him to go out of his way and come up and shake my hand is mind-boggling.”
Maven has almost fully recovered from a broken leg that kept him sidelined for nearly nine months. The injury was originally diagnosed as a broken fibula that would have keep him out only several weeks, but it was later determined that the injury was more serious when his ankle grew to the size of a basketball.
“They found out that the bones I broke were the least of my worries.”
How far does Maven want to live this dream?
“God willing, I want to ride this for as long as I can. I don’t want to ride it to the point where I’m someone who doesn’t want to let go. You look at Flair, and he’s still tremendous. But he’s a rare exception. I want to be able to walk away from it satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. I’d always like to be a part of it. I’ve still got a lot to learn, just in the aspects of working and psychology. I have a lifetime worth of information to learn. But I like what I’m doing, and it’s fun to learn. It’s entertainment to me knowing that I’m entertaining other people.”
“Maybe someday,” he jokes, “Molly and I will be trainers on Tough Enough 28.”
– “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels defends his world heavyweight title in the main event of Monday night’s Raw at the North Charleston Coliseum. It will mark Michaels’ first Raw appearance in five years.