By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 2, 2007

Fourth in a series

The thinning ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment grew considerably thinner with the announcement late last week of nearly a dozen major suspensions due to violations of the beleaguered company’s wellness policy.

WWE issued suspension notices based on independent information from the prosecutor’s office in Albany County, N.Y., which has been investigating illegal distribution of steroids and other drugs by the Orlando-based Signature Pharmacy.

WWE refused to release the wrestlers’ identities, but the list apparently includes some of the top names on the roster.

A number of media outlets has since released lists of WWE performers who were clients of Signature Pharmacy. That company was busted by authorities in February for the distribution of steroids and other prescription drugs to clients who had not been examined by a doctor.

Sports Illustrated reported that among the wrestlers who illegally received drugs through the network were Randy Orton, Mr. Kennedy (Ken Anderson), Edge (Adam Copeland) and John Morrison (John Hennigan). Other names mentioned on the various lists included King Booker (Booker Huffman), Umaga (Eddie Fatu), Chavo Guerrero, Chris Masters (Chris Mordetzky), William Regal (Darren Matthews), Gregory Helms (Shane Helms), Charlie Haas, Santino Marella (Anthony Carelli), Sylvain Grenier, Simon Dean (Mike Bucci) and Funaki (Shoichi Funaki). Sources have reported that Bucci, who was the company’s manager of Developmental Talent Relations, has been terminated.

Former WWE stars Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Brian Adams, who have all died since 2005, also were named as customers. Police say Benoit had high levels of testosterone in his system when he killed his wife, son and himself in June. Guerrero received the steroids testosterone and nandrolone, along with the estrogen-blocker anastozole, on Nov. 2, 2005, just 11 days before he died of heart disease.

Under the wellness policy, which requires tests for steroids and other drugs, a wrestler faces a 30-day suspension for a first violation, a 60-day suspension for a second violation and firing for a third violation.

In recent weeks WWE, at the request of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, turned over documents relating to its drug-testing policy.

The wrestling industry is expected to be pulled further into the national debate over steroids. Congress, which investigated major league baseball several years ago, has threatened to go the same route with pro wrestling. At least one committee already has planned hearings for later this month.

More alarming to Congress, though, is the profession’s disturbing mortality rate.

Marc Mero -

Marc Mero

Former pro wrestler Marc Mero has been leading the charge for industry reform ever since the double murder-suicide involving Benoit and his family in late June.

Mero hopes the initial interest and concern surrounding the Benoit tragedy will not wane over time. He also hopes other voices will emerge in support of change. But garnering support from inside the business will be difficult, he admits, since the livelihoods of the participants depend on their loyalty to the company.

“It’s a code of silence,” says Mero. “Not many guys are going to speak out. It’s sad because I’ve gotten so many wonderful e-mails from people who say, ‘Way to go Mark,’ but don’t want to publicly come out and say they support me. But I understand. It’s the nature of the business.

“It’s the kayfabe mentality. We’re brought up with the code of silence that you take your lumps, and that’s the way it is. But that’s not the way the world works. You’ve got to remember that there are a lot of guys who picked up a lot of bad habits that didn’t necessarily die at WWE. They died later on. But they were allowed to continue these bad habits and live a lifestyle that was conducive to their deaths.” “It’s almost like there’s an omerta,” a Mafia-like code of silence among wrestlers, pro wrestler Carlos “Konnan” Ashenoff recently told the Washington Post. “You don’t snitch on each other. But it’s just gotten to the point where enough is enough.”

Hulk Hogan, who claimed he took steroids almost daily for 16 years during his career, recently added his voice to the debate, demanding an end to steroid abuse in the business.

“Steroids have been around forever in other sports too, but if we have to pick on somebody now then let’s pick on wrestling,” Hogan said in a recent interview with the United Kingdom’s top-selling newspaper The Sun.

WWE, he says, “ushered in the era of wrestlers playing ‘hide and seek’. “If they can get away with things then they will. But now I think we’re at the 11th hour. We can’t have hide and seek being played any more.

“The WWE say they are drug testing, but if they are then it’s not good enough. Because these guys have to stop dying … I’m glad the business is in the spotlight because they’re probably the only ones smart enough, after being able to dodge it for so long, to know how to fix it.”

Even Joe Laurinaitis, brother of WWE Talent Relations head John Laurinaitis, has come out in defense of Mero. The former Road Warrior Animal said Mero is only doing what’s best for the industry, and that he didn’t expect current WWE performers to publicly back him for fear of losing their jobs.

Mero says it’s no secret that the big guys get the big push, and you’re not likely to get that push without the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs. “The top three guys in the industry look better than their action figures,” he says. Mero also advocates change in the status of professional wrestlers as “independent contractors,” noting they’re treated like second-class citizens in a company that recorded a $47 million after-tax profit last year. Unlike the “guy who sweeps the arena floor or works in the company office,” WWE performers have no health insurance or pension plans.

NEWS AND NOTES: ACW Pro Wrestling will hold a special wrestling show Sept. 8 in conjunction with the Bikers Helping Bikers organization. The event starts at 7 p.m. and will be held in the former Food Lion shopping center behind Gilligan’s restaurant in Goose Creek. The event is free, but donations will be accepted. Featured will be a special midgets match pitting Justice against Blixx and and a women’s bout with former WCW personality Daffney vs. Stephanie. Also on the bill will be The Gambler, Big Hoss, Johnny Z and Mack Truck … John J. Graziano, the 22-year-old who was riding with Nick Hogan (Bollea) in the front passenger seat when he crashed his car into a palm tree last Sunday night in Clearwater, Fla., remains in critical condition. Graziano, a Marine who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, possibly faces brain damage, according to his grandmother. Hogan, son of Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea), has yet to be charged, but eyewitnesses claim they saw him racing a silver Dodge Viper prior to the accident. Hogan, 17, was treated for minor injuries and discharged Monday. Police say the accident was a result of excessive speed. Hogan, who has a history of speeding, has had three speeding tickets in the last year, according to Florida state driving records, along with a fourth speeding speeding offense on Aug. 10 that has not yet appeared on his record due to its pending court status.