By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 16, 2007

Fifth in a series

Marc Mero, who worked for both the now-defunct World Championship and the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) during the ’90s, finds himself at the forefront of a controversy that could change the landscape of the wrestling business.

Mero has been outspoken in his call for industry reform in the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy, and could be a key player if hearings are ordered on Capitol Hill. But he doesn’t expect a lot of support from performers currently in the business. He recalls what happened to Roddy Piper the day after a 2003 report on HBO Real Sports aired. “Wrestling has a tremendous entrance plan … but it’s got no exit plan,” the wrestling legend told interviewer Bryant Gumble. Piper was summarily fired.

“It’s a code of silence. Not many guys are going to speak out,” says Mero, who retired from the business several years ago. “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.”

Marc Mero

Marc Mero

Mero has been far from silent over the past few months, however, rasing a hue and cry about the alarming number of deaths in the business. Ironically, out of four current WWE performers (John Cena, Ken Kennedy, Chavo Guerrero and William Regal) who went on television proclaiming that the company was virtually drug-free since testing was implemented in early 2006, three of them (Kennedy, Guerrero and Regal) were later reported as having ordered steroids through Internet sources.

Guerrero, 36, whose uncle Eddie died in late 2005 at the age of 37 of a heart attack attributed to a history of heavy steroid, human growth hormone and painkiller use, went so far as to claim that most of today’s wrestlers don’t even drink alcohol.

Regal (Darren Matthews), 37, whose past addiction to pain pills and other drugs nearly cost him his life, was quoted in an interview the day before his suspension as saying, “Steroids are not something that are part of my being as a performer. It’s not something I’ve relied on or anything that I’ve had anything to do with.”

Kennedy (Ken Anderson), 31, who had staunchly defended the company against steroid charges, claimed that he had only used the drug on the independent circuit before joining WWE, and credited the wellness policy with the change. The time frame he was listed as being a client of the Orlando-based Signature Pharmacy, the Internet drug distribution network that has also implicated other sports figures, followed the enactment of the policy.

All three have since been written out of WWE storylines as a result of 30-day suspensions. Kennedy, who was in line for a major push as the illegitimate son of Vince McMahon and a subsequent program with Triple H leading up to next year’s Wrestlemania, was the major casualty, putting a major crimp in long-term company plans. Regal and Guerrero were both written off with injury angles.

Mero, who is currently visiting schools as part of the Choose Not To Use campaign, isn’t surprised.

“It’s sad that Kennedy and the WWE will keep trying to defend this instead of making changes.”

The suspension of nearly a dozen wrestlers came after WWE met with officials in the Albany (N.Y.) County district attorney’s office who had been investigating the steroid supply ring out of Orlando. The company, which says it has suspended 30 performers under the drug-testing component of its Talent Wellness Program since it began in February 2006, was given names of wrestlers who had obtained steroids and/or human growth hormone from Signature Pharmacy. The meeting took place Aug. 14 which, coincidentally, was the day after former WWE performer Brian “Crush” Adams was found dead at the age of 44.

Benoit, who killed his family before hanging himself in June, also had been a client of Signature Pharmacy.

While many wrestling deaths in the past eluded the radar of the mainstream media, says Mero, the Benoit tragedy put a spotlight on the business like none before.

With a three-strike rule in effect, and WWE announcing that names of talent failing its drug-testing policy and facing suspensions will be publicly released as of Nov. 1, there is going to be greater pressure on talent to clean up, he says.

Even Mero’s hometown of Orlando, site of next year’s Wrestlemania, has cast an increasingly wary eye on WWE’s biggest event of the year.

“Vince McMahon came to town six months ago and we all laughed along. Now Orlando getting Wrestlemania 24 doesn’t seem all that harmlessly amusing,” wrote David Whitley in his Orlando Sentinel column last week.

“World Wrestling Entertainment’s big party is still scheduled for March at the Citrus Bowl. It shouldn’t be unless McMahon shows he’s as serious about getting rid of drugs as he is about making money … The WWE has roughly 160 active wrestlers, and 11 of them were fingered in one raid on an Internet pharmacy. That’s the now notorious Signature Pharmacy in Orlando. Apparently the city’s biggest Wrestlemania lure was the postage wrestlers would save by picking up their steroids in person.”

NEWS AND NOTES: HBO’s Real Sports will revisit its story on the extreme lives and deaths of pro wrestlers in its season opener at 10 p.m. Tuesday … Enrique Torres, the oldest member of the famous Torres Brothers wrestling trio along with Alberto and Ramon, passed away Sept. 10 at a nursing home in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, at the age of 85. Torres had been on kidney dialysis for several years and had a kidney transplant in 2006. He was a major star in California and held the Los Angeles version of the world title during the late ’40s. He and his brothers were headliners in Georgia throughout the ’60s and enjoyed a lucrative program with the Vachon Brothers – Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, Paul “The Butcher” Vachon and Stan Vachon (Eric Pomeroy). Alberto Torres died in 1971 after wrestling with a ruptured pancreas. Ramon Torres passed away in 2000 … The death of Sherri Martel (Sherry Russell) was ruled officially an accidental drug overdose. Martel, 49, had six different drugs in her system, including a lethal concentration of the powerful painkiller oxycodone, also known as “hillbilly heroin,” when she died last June at her mother’s home in McCalla, Ala. … WWE released former ECW world champion The Sandman (James Fullington) last week. His last bout with the company was against Santino Marella (Anthony Carelli) on Raw Monday night … Former WCW and WWE performer Bill DeMott announced last week that he will retire at the end of 2007 … The Hulk Hogan family has hired high-profile criminal defense attorney Barry Cohen to represent Hogan’s 17-year-old-son, Nick, in the wake of the teen’s high-speeding driving and an accident on Aug. 26 that has left his friend, John Graziano, fighting for his life since the crash. Graziano, who suffered a head injury, recently was taken off the medication keeping him in an induced coma. The Hogans reportedly have been paying for a hotel room so Graziano’s mom, Debra Graziano, has a place to shower and sleep. “We’ve all been grief-stricken,” Linda Hogan (Bollea) said last week. Excessive speed has been an issue for the 17-year-old Hogan over the past year. The Naples (Fla.) Daily News reported last week that Hogan was given a ticket for driving 115 mph on Interstate 75 east of Naples on Sept. 17, 2006. What makes the ticket remarkable is Hogan’s account, as told to Rides Magazine for its September issue, that he received two warnings from state troopers in Collier County minutes before he was ticketed, once for doing 107 mph and again for 113 … George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Unforgiven pay-per-view at 8 p.m. tonight. Cover charge is $7.