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Some cable advertisements for SummerSlam, the wrestling event being held at the MCI Center on Sunday, tease a title match between Batista, the local tattooed behemoth and current champion, and Muhammad Hassan, World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) first post-9/11 Islamic terrorist character.
That bout won’t be taking place, however. Darned if the same sort of real-world events that inspired the character didn’t doom it.
Ever since Hassan’s debut last fall, viewers and nonviewers have demanded WWE shelve the character, who during Smackdown and other wrestling broadcasts routinely spewed anti-American views in his interviews, or “promos.”
Arab-Americans, for example, voiced displeasure with the wrestler playing the character.
“He’s really Italian,” says Laila al-Qatami, spokesperson for the D.C.-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, of Mark Copani, who originated the Hassan role.
The fact that Hassan’s allegedly Arab sidekick, whose nom de rasslin’ is Khosrow Daivari, was in fact a Farsi-speaking Iranian (real name Shawn Daivari) didn’t sit well with the committee’s constituency, either.
After the London terrorist attacks of July 7, objection to the character really took off. But, characteristically, Vince McMahon’s organization squeezed a whole lot of juice out of the pickle the organization found itself in.
On a Smackdown episode that was broadcast nationally on the very night of the train and bus bombings, Hassan ordered his sidekick into the ring to face the much bigger, meaner wrestler known as the Undertaker. Hassan convinced Daivari that he needed to be sacrificed “for the greater good.”
While the Undertaker was pounding most of the life out of Daivari (wink wink), Hassan led a crew dressed in matching al-Qaeda-looking outfits into the ring and garroted the Undertaker with wire. Hassan and his cellmates then carried Daivari’s prone body out of the arena over their heads, martyr-style.
That wasn’t the sort of scene viewers surfing over from London subway footage wanted to see on their TV screens.
In response to the outrage that followed the Smackdown episode, WWE issued a statement announcing that Hassan would be taken off the air. The statement, however, also explained that the characters causing all the controversy were in fact meant to portray the angst of Arab-Americans living in post-9/11 world.
Nobody bought it.
“That WWE [statement] might have worked if the characters had been good guys portrayed in a sympathetic manner,” says Pat McNeill, a Fairfax lawyer who doubles as a pro-wrestling columnist for the Pro Wrestling Torch newspaper. “But from the moment they came on TV, they were portrayed as whiners or bad guys, doing an anti-American routine and complaining about the treatment of Arabs.”
Then Hassan resurfaced in time for the Great American Bash, a pay-per-view event held just two weeks after the London bombings. But the continued fallout over
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the July 7 broadcast sealed the character’s fate.
So Hassan had to go. In his final match, the character—who WWE only weeks earlier had claimed was meant to bring sympathy to Arab-Americans—was sent into retirement with a brutal beating at the hands and feet of the Undertaker as the Great American Bash crowd roared.
“WWE called and told us they were going end the character,” says al-Qatami. “They didn’t say they were going to wait until he got thoroughly pummeled.”
According to many wrestling-gossip Web sites, Copani has been sent off to Ohio Valley Wrestling, a minor-league WWE affiliate in Louisville, Ky., to learn a new gimmick.
“It’s sort of the tragedy-plus-time-equals-comedy rule, and here the timing for this character was just really bad,” says Bob Mould, the former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman who briefly left rock-and-roll to become a scriptwriter for World Championship Wrestling. “And that’s a shame for the kid in the role, because he was really good, and he was getting over. But Vince was just stubborn on this one and didn’t edit out…the scenes with the piano wire, even though he had enough time to do that. They didn’t need to show that on that night.”
The elimination of the Hassan match hasn’t hurt the buzz surrounding SummerSlam. Other than obstructed-view seats, the event, with tickets priced between $30 and $300, is sold out. Mould, who will leave his D.C. home in two weeks for a tour of Europe and the United States, says he intends to take a break from travel preparations to watch SummerSlam on pay-per-view, a $34.95 proposition.
The reshuffled SummerSlam card still promises to be full of objectionable content. Hassan’s place in the title match with Batista will now be filled by John Bradshaw Layfield, who plays a rich, tough-talking Texan in the GWB mold. JBL was booted out of Germany in June 2004 for goose-stepping around the ring and flashing the Nazi salute during a WWE show in Munich. Such conduct is against the law in the Fatherland. Since Layfield’s stunt took place on the anniversary of D-Day, he took a lot of flak back home, too. The Sieg Heil bit cost him a job hosting a financial-tip show on CNBC, but McMahon had a different reaction: He bestowed the WWE title belt on Layfield during a pay-per-view card shortly thereafter.
There’s also former U.S. Olympian Kurt Angle taking on Eugene, a mentally retarded character who for years has been mercilessly picked on by other WWE characters because of his condition. And Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero, two fabulously popular Mexican wrestlers and former tag-team partners, will battle for the custody of Dominic, a young boy who was raised as Mysterio’s son but found out just in time for SummerSlam that he was actually fathered by Guerrero. Also expected to appear are the Mexicools, a posse of gang-sign-flashing Hispanics dressed as landscapers, who drive up to the ring on ride-’em mowers called “Juan Deeres.”
In real life, wrestler Matt Hardy was fired by WWE and broke up with his longtime girlfriend—Amy Dumas, who wrestles as Lita—earlier this year. He had disclosed on his Web site that she was having an affair with Adam Copeland, a married man who wrestles as Edge, while Hardy was recuperating from a knee injury suffered in the ring. Hardy has since been rehired.
And now, according to the backstory that sets up their SummerSlam match, Hardy wants a piece of Edge to get back at him for having an affair with his girlfriend while he was recuperating from a wrestling injury.
Who says this stuff’s fake?—Dave McKenna