There have been numerous allegations against WWE‘s Vince McMahon and his family within the wrestling business for screwjobs over the years. While none have ever been proven definitively, it’s perfectly understandable people would be skeptical of the McMahons given what storylines he’s endorsed within his company’s scripts. At the end of the day, he’s a businessman and corporate tycoon, which is why people love hearing his purported role in Bret Hart’s Montreal Screwjob and are now fascinated about his role in the backstabbing of Bart Gunn after Brawl For All.
But while these events made the ’90s so dramatic and provided fodder for gossiping wrestling fans, the docuseries Dark Side of the Ring alleges McMahon pulled an equally nasty screwjob in the ’80s and ruined David Schultz, aka Dr. D, for being the then-WWF’s most loyal wrestler and perfect heel.
Dr. D was WWF’s most effective heel in those days after moving up from the indie circuit in Memphis with his friend, former roommate and in-ring rival Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster was grooming himself as America’s face while Dr. D did the opposite, living his life as a heel so fans would hate him. He never broke kayfabe, even if it meant he pissed off the locker room and anyone backstage who wanted him to act like a regular human. To Dr. D, you had to live the gimmick and become that persona if you wanted fans to truly believe it, thus he never broke character.
And it worked, as McMahon and the fans lapped it up, with many expecting him to main event the first WrestleMania against Hogan in 1984. But when ABC’s 20/20 reporter John Stossel came into the picture, things fell apart as McMahon made Dr. D the scapegoat for a brutal assault. Stossel didn’t like how people thought wrestling was real, and was doing an expose on the business — so McMahon sent Dr. D to rough him up in an interview. In a stunning turn of events, Dr. D would slap the reporter multiple times in an on-air interview when Stossel asked him if wrestling was fake.
Now, Dr. D has said in many interviews, including his 2018 book Don’t Call Me Fake, that McMahon wanted him to physically assault the reporter. While this hasn’t been corroborated, McMahon must have known his biggest live-wire wouldn’t just try to mince words with Stossel, he would hit him. So, even if McMahon didn’t give Dr. D explicit orders, he had to know he was bringing the lion’s den to the reporter. While Dr. D’s actions shouldn’t be condoned, as they weren’t part of the program and were indeed illegal, it does seem he was goaded into the battery under the mistaken belief that Stossel would let the incident go.
Instead, a bitter Stossel would sue the company and settle out of court for over $400,000. Dr. D fell into McMahon’s doghouse as the lawsuit was against WWF, whereas McMahon wanted the wrestler to take full blame and leave him out of it. Dr. D wanted no part of it, however, so McMahon chucked him on an exchange to Japan hoping things would blow over. But while he was gone, Hogan continued his ascent and WWF forgot about Dr. D. Upon his return he wasn’t involved in ‘Mania again, and allegations that he had an altercation with Mr. T — brought into the Show of Shows for a Hollywood spectacle — led to him getting fired.
By then, WWF had gone mainstream and worked the scripted aspect of the company into what’s known now as “sports entertainment.” McMahon used the Dr. D incident to course correct the trajectory of the company and even later on, after Hogan assaulted Hot Properties host Rich Belzer in ’85 with a sleeper hold, McMahon kept him as the golden boy. It felt like a double standard because while Belzer got money in a settlement, Hogan remained the face of the company without even a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, Dr. D was relegated to working the indie circuit again and eventually became a bounty hunter.
It’s a bitter pill for Dr. D to swallow, as both he and Hogan were on the same path before he was used as a sacrificial lamb for WWF to shift its public image. All he did was defend the business, his fellow wrestlers and the purity of wrestling. He stuck to the code and sadly, he paid the ultimate price for his loyalty.
VICE's Dark Side of the Ring just revealed WWE ruined its biggest heel and most loyal wrestler following an assault on a reporter in the '80s.