Q&A with Shane Douglas
I conducted a phone interview Thursday with Shane Douglas. The former WWE, WCW, ECW and TNA star discussed his battle with addiction, his involvement with the Ultimate Death Match movies, trying to get wrestlers into the Screen Actors Guild, and his thoughts on the current wrestling scene.
Douglas will be wrestling in the main event of tonight’s Adrenaline Championship Wrestling show at the Annapolis Boys and Girls Club against Maryland independent star Pat Brink.
Except for a very brief stint in TNA a couple months ago, we haven’t seen you on TV in quite a while. What have you been up to?
I’ve been working on my autobiography. I’m about halfway done with that. I’m taking a little hiatus. I cranked out 13 chapters pretty quickly and realized I hadn’t even really gotten to the bulk of my career yet, so I figured I’d take a break from it for several months and let the batteries recharge and let the memories build back up again. Then I’ve got to book the Hardcore Homecoming because I’m behind that. I’m also getting ready to start working with a producer on some movies, choreographing some fight scenes for him, helping him post-produce them. Actually, it’s something I’m most excited about right now because we’re attempting to do something that wrestling had always been averse to and avoided like the plague. We’re aiming to shoot a movie in December and we’re attempting to make it a SAG production, which will give the wrestlers who are involved the option to join the Screen Actors Guild, which would get them health benefits and optional 401K. That’s something that for 27 years in the business, I could never understand how we weren’t with SAG. It costs no additional money to do it, but you do have to relinquish some of the control – a very minimal amount. But it’s like most typical unions – you aren’t allowed to work over a certain amount of hours per day, that sort of thing. I think the benefits that come from being part of SAG far outweigh the negatives from the wrestlers’ standpoint. From the business standpoint, I’m sure that there are things that SAG would be willing to negotiate on. I say that without any knowledge of it. But I would think that SAG being able to get several hundred wrestlers – top performers – on their roster would be something they’d be interested in, but I don’t know if wrestling would be interested in. Again, I think they would negotiate with wrestling to make allowances for time, for travel and what not. It’s something that we’re shooting to do because we feel it’s the right thing to do. When I found out the nuts and bolts of it, I thought it would be moronic not to do it. Right now we’re looking at doing six of those Ultimate Death Match movies – each one being a stand alone, so it wouldn’t have to have a story line or a string drawing all of them together, although there would be some overlapping story.
As far as wrestling, that was something that I stepped away from some years ago, but I realized that after almost four years away from the business, I was erroneously wrapping the business together with the addiction problem I had with OxyContin. It wasn’t until last year when I was contacted by wrestlingmarx.com about coming in to do a convention for them. I had told them no three times before they finally convinced me to come in and do it. I’m so glad I did, because I saw guys that I hadn’t seen in years, and it was that day that I realized how much I did enjoy being around the fans and being in this business, and realizing that it wasn’t something that I had to stay away from. At that point I began to realize that wrestling and the addiction were two completely separate issues.
Then I started watching the business with my son, and I realized that there’s a big need for somebody who can talk; a big need for guys from my generation who know how to tell a story. The question is, will the Big Two – which aren’t so big anymore – makes the changes that are necessary. I think there’s a huge need to change the way business is done. Whether they do or not will remain to be seen, but I think TNA, especially, is at a fork in the road to whether Dixie Carter will be prescient enough to make those changes or she has the guts to make those changes. I don’t think she does, but I hope she does for the guys’ sake, for wrestling’s sake, for her father’s money’s sake. There’s no doubt in my mind with the talent they have there that they can turn it around and they can do big business. My advice to Dixie right now would be for her not to be content with being called the No. 2 company in the United States, because being the No. 2 company in the United States doesn’t mean what it used to. She should be striving to be the No. 1 company, and I think she can do that, but it remains to be seen.
What do you think TNA needs to do to achieve that?
In a nutshell, I think the first thing they have to do is capitalize on the talent that they have. They have a deep roster of young talent, but in seven years they haven’t produced one money-drawing star. That’s a huge black eye for them. I think they’re trying to rely far too heavily on “established guys,” none of whom have drawn ratings for them yet. So I think the first thing they have to do is concentrate on establishing some new stars. I also think they have to put some semblance of realism back in their product. It’s my fervent belief that’s what made ECW so different from other companies. Go back and watch the tapes of ECW, and don’t watch the wrestlers, watch the fans, and you’ll see the fans’ reactions on their faces because they can hear the smacking of the flesh and the wrestlers’ hitting each other without the pulled punches and the missed dropkicks that had been so prevalent in wrestling forever. And that’s what sold ECW. The fans weren’t sure if we were a shoot, a semi-shoot or some amalgamation. They did know that we were far, far different from anything else being offered.
That’s what TNA has not done at all. They’ve been nothing more than WWE Lite, and to be quite honest with you, I’m not a big fan of WWE, but if I had a choice of WWE, with their superb production qualities, their big-name talent, their big-business feel, or a company trying to be them with guys that I don’t know, second-rate production qualities, and quite frankly, a cheap look, I’ll go with the slick-looking product. Those are the big things I think they need to concentrate on. They must be different. There are almost 10 million fans that have tuned out from wrestling in the last 10 years. Nobody is playing to them. The same 1-point rating for TNA and the 3-point-whatever for WWE I would say are pretty much the same fans. Go for the bigger pool. If I’m selling toothpaste, I’d rather sell to 10 million people than to 3 million. That’s what I don’t think WWE is doing, or else they’ve forgotten how. For some reason, Vince McMahon has some belief that wrestling is Podunk or redneck or beneath him, but those fans’ money is just as green as anybody else’s and there a hell of a lot more of them. That’s what TNA should be doing, but they have not and will not. That’s what I mean when I say I hope Dixie has the guts to make the changes that she needs.
You and Raven came back to TNA to shoot angles on TV and work the Slammiversary show. How was that presented to you? Was it a one-off or was it supposed to turn into something more?
I think it was offered to both of us to turn into something more. I probably wouldn’t have taken it if it was offered the way it came out, and I don’t think Raven would have either. The interesting thing about that is if you go back and look at TNA blogs at the time that that happened, the vast majority of their fans were talking about a team extreme coming in and were very excited about it, and they turned their backs on their own fans. I think ECW did two things extraordinarily well: First of all, we listened to our fans and tried to give them what they were looking for. But with that said, whenever they thought we were going left, we always went right – or we tried to. We always tried to keep them off-balanced enough that it keeps it exciting and the product was something they had to tune in to catch. With TNA’s show, you can see what’s coming a mile away and there’s no excitement to it. There’s nothing edgy about the show whatsoever. They don’t listen to their fans. They try to follow the WWE route of, “We’re going to come up with an idea and we’ll just shove it right down our fans’ throats, [and] they’ll take it or they won’t take it.”
You had as much to do with building ECW as anyone, so what do you think of WWE putting on a show on Tuesday nights called ECW?
(laughs) Well, to be honest with you, I haven’t seen three seconds of the new ECW, so for me to give my personal opinion would be off base. But I’ve heard from scores of fans who have told me that it sucks and it ain’t ECW. From the stuff that I’ve read on the Internet, the finishes and the matches and the story lines don’t sound to me to be anything near ECW. I think they missed a huge opportunity, because with their resources, had they been willing to reach out to Shane Douglas and Raven and the core pillars of ECW – and they had Paul Heyman, too, so they really had all the ingredients – and they never did that, so that to me just doesn’t seem to be a very intelligent move. ECW was far and away the hottest independent wrestling program that’s ever been seen in this country, and did begin to rival the upper organizations. Too bad that Paul did know how to balance a checkbook. Had that been the case, I think every argument can be made that we would be one of the two big companies, if not the No. 1 company. Now there’s a lot of ifs thrown into that, but I’m certain of Paul Heyman’s ability as a writer and a booker and certainly confident enough in the ability of all the talent – Terry Funk, Raven, Sabu, Sandman, Taz, Tommy Dreamer – that if Paul had been able to keep it financially together long enough, who knows what the outcome could have been. I do know that there’s no ECW in this ECW, and it’s a real unfortunate use of the name.
When WWE started the new ECW, they did have some of the original cast of characters – RVD, Heyman, Dreamer, Sabu, Sandman, Balls Mahoney – but they didn’t stick with that direction. Did you truly believe that they were going to try and make it work with those guys?
Initially, yes. But quickly after that, I began to realize that what they were doing, in business vernacular, was using the old talent to give the rub to the new talent. I think WWE missed the lesson of their own company. Undertaker has been there for approaching 20 years; Shawn Michaels has been there for a very long time. I think their company has proven that a piece of talent if used properly and written the right way and pushed the right way can have a very long shelf life, and it doesn’t necessitate that because The Undertaker is 40 years old now, we have to move him to the back burner and push this kid on top of him. I think that their feeling was, we’ll have this kid come in and beat Sandman, and that will make him a bigger star than Sandman. It certainly could have been done over the long haul, but I don’t think they had to just give the fans a brief glimpse of The Sandman or Tommy Dreamer and then just shove them aside. There’s a reason that the fans even today – although much less – chant ECW. It wasn’t a gimmick and it certainly wasn’t a flash in the pan considering that ECW lasted nearly a decade.
I think that Vince has proven again as he has many, many times that if he didn’t create it, he ain’t going to push it. He didn’t create ECW, and looking back now, I think they got sick of hearing that ECW chant. They couldn’t just shove it in a box and hope it died out and went away, because that wasn’t happening. And they couldn’t step all over it because that would just [tick] ECW fans off. So about the most brilliant way to achieve what I think was an erroneous goal was to create a new ECW that was just so bad that the fans wouldn’t want to chant it – and they’ve been successful at that. The money from that company was still going into WWE coffers and Vince McMahon’s bank account, so to me it would have made much more sense for them to bring back the old ECW, give it its own time slot, see if it can stand alone on its own. With Vince’s backing of it, I think it could have, but that’s just my humble opinion.
You alluded to your problem with OxyContin. I know that you speak openly about it, so can you talk about your addiction and how you overcame it?
Sure. For me, drugs were never part of my vernacular in high school, college and certainly my career. It was just something I never needed. I had suffered a multitude of injuries as most guys in the business do. Most of them came at the end of my career. I think after the 11-year mark was when I really started ramping up. It was around 1998 or ’99 that it was taking the better part of 25 minutes to get out of bed in the morning. At 35 or 36 years old, that wasn’t something that should have been happening to a professional athlete like me that was in great shape. A friend of mine suggested that I see a doctor that his wife, who had chronic fatigue syndrome, had seen. He told me that she hadn’t been off the couch for over two years, and after seeing this doctor she was playing golf, working out again and basically had a miraculous turnaround. So I went to see this doctor, and he gave me a very thorough physical, without really looking at my past injuries with the broken bones and ripped tendons and ligaments and things. He diagnosed that I had severe arthritis and chronic pain syndrome, which was not a surprise to me. He prescribed OxyContin, which at that time was being hailed as a miracle drug. I distinctly remember the doctor actually using that phrase. Where that came from was that prior pain medications had a wealth of Acetaminophen, which is very toxic to the liver. Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan all have a huge amount of Acetaminophen, and that was something that OxyContin had none of. Plus, OxyContin was a time-release drug, so it necessitated only two doses a day as opposed to six. So on paper, OxyContin does appear to be a “miracle drug for chronic pain sufferers.
I started taking it, and I vividly remember the very first dose that I took. I was at the gym and benching almost 400 pounds again, left the gym, went home and washed and waxed both my vehicles, cut the grass and then went downstairs and started painting the basement. I had no pain and just felt incredible for the first time in a year and a half. After three or four months of taking OxyContin, I remember getting up one morning and I felt fine, so I didn’t take that dose. Within eight hours I was experiencing withdrawal for the first time in my life. It was incredibly excruciating. The amazing thing about withdrawal is that you know within minutes of the onset of the symptoms that all you need to do is take one of those pills and they’ll be gone. It’s an amazingly insidious disease and very cunning. For almost five and a half years I searched high and low for a way to get off that stuff and literally mounted almost monthly attempts. In December of 2005 when my second son was born, I knew that I either had to stop taking it or it was going to kill me, because at that point I was taking doses that the doctor later told me I was exaggerating. I certainly wasn’t exaggerating to brag; I was telling the truth as to what I was taking. They said that should have killed me. For whatever reason it didn’t, and I’m thankful to be here today and say that I beat it [by checking into an outpatient rehabilitation center] and got beyond it. But to tell you it was the most difficult thing in my life would be a monumental understatement.
[Drug addiction] is something this business has to address. Sweeping it under the table isn’t going to fix it, and band-aiding it like offering the guys rehab after the fact like Vince has done – which is admirable – but it’s still band-aiding it. There’s just no way you can burn the candle at both ends and the middle like you have to in this business for well in excess of 250 days a year. You can’t beat your body up for prolonged periods. There may be a case here or there that doesn’t need it, but well over 80 or 90 percent of the time, when you do what we do to our bodies for the length of time that we do it, it’s inevitable that addiction is going to follow. If it’s not the pain pills, it’s some illicit drug – heroin, cocaine, crack, fill in the blank. It’s like I told the FBI agent that called me after the Chris Benoit tragedy, there’s no way you can run that schedule for a prolonged period and not eventually need something for the physical and emotional pain of being away from your family and loved ones and the mundanity of being on the road. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a limousine, a leer jet or a Motel 6, you’re still on the road and it gets incredibly mind-numbing. So for all those reasons, you need something to numb your mind from it, whether that means smoking something, popping something, snorting something, shooting something or drinking something. In this business, the real double whammy is that we beat our bodies to hell, and that leads to pain medication, which is incredibly addictive.
The reason I went public is that I felt very strongly that if I tried to hush this up, it would inevitably leak out at some point, thereby giving the impression that this was something that I was embarrassed of. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I don’t hide my head in shame because I got addicted to that drug. I felt very strongly that if I spoke openly about it that maybe there might be other people out there that would be able to find a path it took me five years to find. Since I’ve done that I’ve had scores of people come up to me and tell me that after reading my story it helped open their eyes. So from that sense I’m very proud of it.
I know you’re getting back on the indy scene now. How regularly are you working?
It’s something that I’m easing myself back into. I set a pretty high bar for myself in my career because I always worked extraordinarily hard at what I did. It never came easy to me. Chris Candido – besides loving him like a little brother – I used to sit and watch him in awe because it was so effortless for him. He could wake up from a nap and go out and have a five-star match. For me, I had to really work hard at it. I think it was part of the work ethic I learned from Dominic DeNucci and Bruno Sammartino, and certainly from Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk. I always thought the fans deserved the best I can give them. So I wanted to make sure first of all that I wanted to come back. I didn’t want to jump back into it because I had a good time back in October, and get six months into it, get 10 or 15 matches a month under my belt and then in five or six months realize this isn’t what I want to do. I’ve really had an enjoyable time, except back in the beginning of June I fractured my ankle and it set me back and really killed my cardio and my ability to perform, but now physically I’m getting back to where I was and I’m getting back into better shape. I’m nowhere near where I want to be but I’m in much better shape than I was six months ago. The one thing I can say is that it’s much more difficult at 45 than it was at 35 or 25. But I’m confident that I’ll get to where I want to be, and if at that point I’m still enjoying myself, I’ll start to take on more dates. Up to now I’m having a really good time with it. The fans have been phenomenal to be back in front of, and they’ve really rekindled the reason I got back in the first place. I really did miss performing and being in front of them.
You have a couple Baltimore area appearances coming up. Friday night you’re wrestling for ACW in Annapolis, and then in November you’re coming in for the Baltimore Pro Wrestling Expo. What can you tell me about those?
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Baltimore. Baltimore is one of the towns where we used to have a wonderful time every time we went. I can’t even tell you the last time I was there. It’s been probably approaching a decade. So when they contacted me from Adrenaline Championship Wrestling, I jumped at the opportunity because I’ve got a lot of friends in Baltimore, and l looked at the card they were bringing in – they had Axl Rotten and some great young talent. That’s one of the things that is really fun for me going back out now – sitting back and watching the young talent, kids that are doing it not because they’re getting a big payday, but because they love professional wrestling. You see the hearts as big as mine and Mick Foley’s were when we were kids breaking into the business. I’ve missed seeing that hunger for the business and the love of the business, and you see that in spades when you go to independent shows. By taking a look at what Adrenaline Championship Wrestling had on the bottom of their card – in the opening matches and the mid-card – there are some pretty hungry kids, girls and guys. That was something that was really attractive to me. Plus, I’ll be able to see guys like Axl Rotten that I haven’t seen in some time, old friends from ECW. In November we’ll being doing the signing convention there, which will give us a lot more time to sit down and interact with the fans, so I’m really looking forward to that as well.