By Mike Mooneyham

March 14, 2004

The life of a professional wrestler – even in the high-profile World Wrestling Entertainment – can be far from the glamorous one portrayed on television. The travel schedule is grueling, the time away from home can cut deeply into one’s personal and family life, and the injuries are real.

Brock Lesnar, the WWE phenom on whose broad shoulders the company’s hope for the future rested, apparently came to that stark realization last week. Just days before his dream showdown with Bill Goldberg at one of the biggest events in WWE history, Lesnar told colleagues and company officials that tonight would mark his last in the wrestling business.

Citing a number of issues, including burnout and a demanding travel schedule, Lesnar admitted that he was miserable in his current job and said that he would be quitting WWE after Wrestlemania. The 26-year-old revealed that his future plans could include trying out for the National Football League.

Lesnar had been increasingly vocal to management in recent months about the hectic travel schedule and the direction of his character. Sources say the situation came to a head in a recent meeting with WWE owner Vince McMahon that was described as extremely tense.

Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar

Lesnar’s announcement came in the weekly pre-show talent meeting prior to Tuesday’s Smackdown taping. He had erupted at a similar meeting several weeks ago where he off-handedly threatened to kill any co-worker he found out was leaking inside information to the Internet. Lesnar later apologized to the crew over the outburst and claimed he had been joking.

Lesnar, however, has been getting little sympathy from fellow WWE performers, many of whom struggle with the same concerns but pull in considerably less money than the former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ. Lesnar recently signed a lucrative seven-year contract with the company that made him one of the highest-paid workers on the roster.

Lesnar also has been upset in recent weeks over a scheduled post-Wrestlemania program with The Undertaker. The Dead Man’s expected to get a renewed push, and the reprisal of his old gimmick almost guarantees that he will be selling very little for his opponents. Lesnar felt that Taker, now in his early 40s, is at the point in his career that he should be elevating younger talent instead of having them fed to him.

Lesnar had grown tired of the constant travel, particularly the recent Smackdown tour of South Africa, where he was booked in low-profile matches with mid-carder Hardcore Holly while new champion Eddy Guerrero headlined against Kurt Angle. The travel had become so stressful for him that he bought his own private plane to get to shows earlier this year.

Moreover, Lesnar confided to friends and colleagues, the business already has taken a heavy toll on him. Likely looking at many of his fellow performers and taking note of their injury-riddled bodies, he said he wanted to be able to walk when he was 40.

The announcement left some in the company stunned, although few were said to have been sympathetic toward Lesnar’s plight. Few also believed that Lesnar, an amateur standout in wrestling but with no college football experience, could make such a transition and land a spot with an NFL team. The official Web site of Fox Sports reported Wednesday that Lesnar received offers from the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Washington Redskins back in 2000 when he won the NCAA wrestling championship while at the University Of Minnesota. Lesnar, however, turned down those offers and signed with WWE in August 2000.

Lesnar is expected to try out for the Minnesota Vikings this summer.

Speculation also surfaced that personal reasons also may have played a part in Lesnar’s decision to leave the wrestling business. Lesnar, who has a young daughter who lives with her mother in Minnesota, in recent months has been dating WWE diva Sable (Rena Mero), who split with her second husband, husband Marc Mero, last year.

Lesnar publicly thanked Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Brisco for “discovering” him in college.

“He’s a great kid. I have a lot of respect for Brock,” Ross said on The Wrestling Guys radio show Thursday night. “I like him. He grew up on a farm in South Dakota and I grew up on a farm in Oklahoma. I followed him in college. Jerry Brisco and I recruited him. Jerry Brisco primarily recruited him. Brock’s coach (his wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota), J Robinson, was a college wresting teammate with Brisco at Oklahoma State. We got Shelton Benjamin and Brock off that team. We have a lot things to say about Brock. He’s a good kid, very athletic and has a lot of opportunities in this world for him. Whatever decisions are made will be finalized after Wrestlemania, that’s our focus.”

Lesnar’s decision has put the finish of tonight’s match with Bill Goldberg in question, although Lesnar is still expected to be put over. Officials feverishly convened last week to rework booking the bout. With both headliners on the way out, the likely plan will have special ref Steve Austin grab the spotlight and stun both men at the end.

Goldberg’s fate after Mania remains uncertain, although most expect him to finish up with WWE after tonight’s match and don’t expect him to re-sign with the company when his contract expires later this month.

According to an article in The Winnipeg Sun, Goldberg has been signed to appear as an color commentator for the upcoming Battle of the Hockey Gladiators pay-per-view where hockey players will fight on the ice for a $100,000 prize. Hockey Gladiators also is in discussions with Jesse Ventura about providing commentary. The PPV is scheduled to tape in August at the Target Center in Minnesota.

Goldberg also has more filming to do on the movie “Santa’s Slay” in Canada.

– Big Show (Paul Wight) has emerged as the newest locker-room leader on the Smackdown side after challenging WWE agent Johnny Ace (John Laurinaitis) during a recent talent meeting.

Ace lectured the crew about inappropriate behavior on the recent South Africa tour, although sources claim Bradshaw (John Leyfield) instigated the ruckus by making inappropriate remarks near a security checkpoint. APA partner Faarooq (Ron Simmons) and road agent Dave Hebner also reportedly objected to the process in which the wrestling crew was checked by hand with a metal-detecting wand. The situation was accentuated later on the plane when several wrestlers, including Bradshaw, asked and were served drinks, although WWE had not paid for an open bar.

Show, who told Ace that he shouldn’t chastise the entire crew for something one man had done, later exchanged words with Simmons, who told him to shut up.

– Sable and Torrie Wilson also were involved in a backstage screaming match at Tuesday’s Smackdown taping in Atlantic City, N.J., that went on for at least a half hour. The spat reportedly started at a Playboy party that the women attended last weekend. Sources say Wilson instigated the argument.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Wrestlemania pay-per-view tonight beginning at 7 p.m. Cover charge is $5. Only valid ticket-holders will be allowed after 6:30 p.m. I’ll be on hand 6-7 p.m. signing new paperback editions of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks.”

– Matthew’s Sport’s Bar & Grill, 613 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., also will air Wrestlemania tonight. Cover charge is $5.

– Several performers pulled out of Ring of Honor’s show this weekend in Elizabeth, N.J., due to recent allegations surrounding former company owner Rob Feinstein. Among those who withdrew from the event were Roddy Piper, Bobby Heenan and Abyss. ROH announced Wednesday that Dusty Rhodes would replace Piper at the show.

Ring of Honor booker Gabe Sapolsky has repeatedly denied reports that Feinstein may still be involved behind the scenes at ROH.

– Former wrestling star Hercules Hernandez passed away March 6 at the age of 47. Hercules, whose real name was Ray Fernandez, died in his sleep at his home in Tampa. Fernandez, the father of six, died of heart disease, said his wife, Debbie.

Besides stints with regional promotions in the early 1980s and in New Japan Pro Wrestling during the 1990s, Fernandez is best known to mat fans for the seven years (1985-1992) that he spent working for WWE.

The muscle-bound powerhouse, who draped chains around his neck, was one half of the Slick-managed “Power and Glory” team with Paul Roma during the late ’80s. The two enjoyed programs with such teams as Legion of Doom and The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty).

Fernandez, who worked Wrestlemanias 2-7, including Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome in a bloody chain match with Billy Jack Haynes, turned babyface after being “sold” from Bobby Heenan’s heel stable to Ted DiBiase. Fernandez also feuded with Hulk Hogan, including a high-profile title bout with the Hulkster on NBC’s Saturday Night Main Event, and joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in the early ’90s where he teamed with Scott Norton as The Jurassic Powers.

Frequently recognized by fans, Fernandez’s family said he preferred to live as a “simple Tampa guy who never took himself to be as big a star as he was,” Debbie Fernandez told the AP. Fernandez regularly talked to students about staying in school and avoiding drugs. He also visited terminally ill children in hospitals.

“It was great! We went to matches and took friends, meeting people like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man (Randy Savage) and Bret Hart,” Fernandez’s oldest daughter, Nichole, 25, said. “I was very proud that after all these years, people remember who he was.”

Fernandez, who initially was managed by Sir Oliver Humperdink, began his career in 1982 in Florida and Texas. He worked under a mask as Assassin No. 2 for Jim Crockett Promotions during the early ‘80s and also appeared in Bill Watts’ Mid-South promotion as the masked Mr. Wrestling No. 2 when the original No. 2 simply became Mr. Wrestling. Hernandez later joined forces with DiBiase to form Devastation Inc. under the management of Gen. Scandor Akbar.

Fernandez worked briefly in WCW in 1992 as The Super Invader and was managed by Harley Race.

– USA Today published a lengthy article on drug deaths in professional wrestling in its Friday edition. The story has been researched for several months.

“USA Today’s examination of media documents, autopsies and police reports, along with interviews with family members and news accounts, shows that at least 65 wrestlers died (out of 1,000 wrestlers 45 and younger since 1997), 25 from heart attacks or other coronary problems – an extraordinarily high rate for people that young, medical officials say. Many had enlarged hearts,” the article stated. “In five of the 25 deaths, medical examiners concluded that steroids might have played a role. Excessive steroid use can lead to an enlarged heart. In 12 others, examiners in medical reports cited evidence of use of painkillers, cocaine and other drugs.”

– Vince McMahon told The Associated Press last week: “I’m always making mistakes. Some years are better than others … You always have to give the audience what it wants, and what it wants is constantly changing. Really, we are like any good Hollywood studio, except with maybe a better track record.”

– Ricky Morton vs. Greg Valentine in a cage match with special ref Tully Blanchard headlines a Carolina Championship Wrestling show April 3 in Lenoir, N.C. George South vs. Bobby Fulton also is on the bill.

– Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka won’t be in the corner of The Rock and Mick Foley as had been teased Monday night on Raw.

– Mick Foley told the Stamford Advocate last week that he had dropped 50 pounds (down to 292) for Wrestlemania because he didn’t want anyone to think his match and work is sad.

– The highly anticipated Jack Brisco autobiography, “Brisco – The Life & Times of National Collegiate and World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco,” has been released.

The 286-page softbound book, published by Culture House, is available for $24.95 and can be ordered on-line at www.wrestlingmuseum.org or calling Culture House at 641-526-8836 or the International Wrestling Museum at 641-791-1517.

Brisco is regarded as one of the greatest pure wrestlers in the history of the business. An NCAA champion at Oklahoma State University, Brisco went on to become one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling, winning the NWA world heavyweight title in 1973.

– The latest issue of Wrestling Perspective newsletter features an excellent interview with Ricky Steamboat.

Steamboat discusses the series he and the late Jay Youngblood had with Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle and Jack and Jerry Brisco in the Mid-Atlantic territory, his problems with Dusty Rhodes and why he quit the territory, his relationship with Vince McMahon and the WWF, and many other subjects. The issue also includes a controversial look at the top 100 wrestlers of all time.

Wrestling Perspective is available by subscription for $2.50 per issue up to $30 for 12 issues. Checks should be made payable to Wrestling Perspective. The address is: Wrestling Perspective, 3011 Highway 30 West, Suite 101-197, Huntsville, Texas 77340.

– Ken Mihalik is selling his collection of Wrestling Observer newsletters from 1990-2000 (nearly 500 issues in all). He’ll also throw in three Wrestling Observer Yearbooks (1988, 1989, 1990) plus a unique WWF trunk that he’ll send them in. Minimum bid starts at $575. For more information, contact him at (843) 795-0590 or e-mail at [email protected]

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment,” which was recently released in paperback. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.