By Mike Mooneyham
March 12, 2006
World Wrestling Entertainment may have done sellout business during its recent tour of the Philippines, but an ugly incident has left a major blemish on the trip and one of its most popular performers possibly banned from the country.
The Manila Standard reported last week that the Bureau of Immigration is studying a move to place WWE star Mick Foley, an unidentified wrestler and tour security officer Barrie Knight in the blacklist order for allegedly insulting a reporter at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Raoul Esperas, a reporter at a local radio station, complained about verbal abuse he claims he and fellow reporters received from the three members of the WWE entourage, which visited the country and performed live at the Araneta Coliseum on Feb. 24-25.
According to Esperas, he and other members of the Naia Press Corps were about to approach Foley and the unidentified wrestler when their security, led by Knight, prevented them from taking pictures and videos.The arriving wrestlers reportedly were accommodating their Filipino fans’ requests for photographs and autographs while waiting for their checked-in luggage to arrive on the baggage conveyor belt minutes after stepping off the flight from Los Angeles at around 5 a.m.
The reporter said he drew the ire of the wrestling contingent and was called a “brown monkey.” He also claims the crew hurled invectives at him in front of passengers, employees and fellow journalists.
“Any person who is verbally and racially assaulted will retaliate just to point out that we Filipinos will fight for our dignity and honor,” he said in his complaint.
Foley and WWE, however, paint an entirely different picture of what actually happened.
Foley, who called the accuser a racist journalist, expressed amazement in a recent blog that the incident had garnered such media attention.
“It seemed odd to us that our little incident at the airport became front page news in the Philippine Star, a national newspaper. The country was about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the overthrow of the corrupt Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship – and up to 1,800 bodies were still buried in a mud slide near Leyte – yet an unfortunate incident involving a completely unprofessional, racist journalist hit the front page.”
Foley said he and his fellow wrestlers were extremely weary after undergoing a grueling trip that took more than 30 hours from start to finish and included a seven-hour layover in Los Angeles.
Esperas, who was shooting footage of the wrestlers with his video camera, reportedly ignored requests from Knight to step down from his perch and join his colleagues at an assigned place for the media to take photos. “We entered the baggage claim area at the Ninoy Aquino Airport about 31 hours into that journey at approximately 5 a.m. Apparently, this journalist had attempted to climb onto the baggage claim carrousel to shoot video footage of our wrestlers. He had been asked to step down by our security man, who happens to be black,” noted Foley.
For his part, Esperas admitted hurling insults but claimed he was the one provoked by the bodyguards. “How can I provoke them? I only stand five-foot-five,” the reporter commented.
Foley claims the journalist dropped a barrage of “F” bombs on the security man as he extended both middle fingers – including the hand he held his camcorder in. Making matters worse, says Foley, was the journalist liberally throwing racial slurs into the mix.
“It was at this point in the proceedings that I became involved,” said Foley. “I read in the paper that several wrestlers got involved and that physical restraint was required to resolve the situation. As far as I know, I was the only wrestler who actually spoke to the jerk, and the only restraint that was required was self-restraint as the guy should really have been smacked around for his behavior.”
Foley said in his blog that he used words to the effect: “You are ruining this trip for us. You are the first thing that we are seeing, and you are ruining the trip. You don’t use that type of language when you talk to people. You don’t call people those words. I have been to the Philippines before. I know how nice the people here are. But the rest of the guys haven’t been here. All they’ve seen of the Philippines is you. And you are ruining the trip for them.”
Aside from the raised tempers, the incident also angered passengers and their relatives who had come to the terminal to meet the wrestlers. Many said the pleasantness of the troupe’s arrival was marred by the incident.
“Despite the incredible travel demands, an international incident at the airport and the near overthrow of the Filipino government, I think everyone had a great trip,” said Foley. “The fans were incredibly enthusiastic, the two shows were sellouts and we were treated extremely well by the promotion. Of course, for me, the trip was especially memorable as I was able to spend two full days with my sponsored child, Herma Grace, and her family.”
The Many Faces Of Foley
The likable Foley seems an unlikely candidate for Filipino hostility.
The 40-year-old Long Island native, in fact, has a soft spot for the country and its people, and has sponsored a pair of young girls under the Christian Children’s Fund. One child was sponsored by Foley from 1992 to 2001, when she graduated from the program.
On the recent tour Foley met the newest girl along with her three siblings and her parents. Although he also sponsors children from Ethiopia, Senegal and Sri Lanka, he says he feels closest to the one from the Philippines. “She is about 14 now and she writes me all the time,” Foley recently told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “I write to her more often than I do anyone else in the world … She always asks God to bless me and she thanks me for helping people.”
Foley has been working through the CCF and helping people from the Philippines since 1992. An ad he saw about what the organization was doing in the Philippines piqued his interest, and he became actively involved after being shown pictures of children who needed help.
Aside from sponsoring the two children in that country, Foley became a partner of CCF in its early childhood development program, which addresses children’s basic development needs, including health and nutrition, so they will be better equipped to start school.
That partnership gave birth to a childhood center in Quezon province under the Southern Luzon Bright Future Program, that was financed partly by the proceeds of “Tales From Wrescal Lane,” one of three children’s books he has written.
“The center helps children aged three and younger and I have been told that it benefits some 3,000 people from seven different communities there,” Foley told the newspaper.
The daredevil wrestler-turned-author has set his sights on helping build another center in Pasig City and committed to donating all of the money he earned from the WWE Raw tour to completing the center. “I have been wrestling for over 20 years,” Foley said, “and the reaction from the Philippines has been the most phenomenal.”
– Mid-Atlantic wrestling legend Blackjack Mulligan (Bob Windham) will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 1. The ceremony will take place the evening before Wrestlemania 22. Others scheduled to be inducted include Bret Hart, Mean Gene Okerlund, Sensational Sherri Martel and the late Eddie Guerrero.