Ringmaster: Vince McMahon And The Unmaking Of America (Book Excerpt)

On the night before a nonprescription drug ban, two WWF legends turned to weed gifted from a fan to kick off one final party at a strip club

The following passage was excerpted from the chapter Heat, Act II in Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America by Abraham Riesman. It is reprinted below at the approval of Atria Books.

On December 3, 1991, before a show in San Antonio, Vince once again called his wrestlers to a meeting. With the FBI and the media scrutinizing the promotion, wrestlers would now be tested for all nonprescription drugs, including marijuana.

“My hands are tied,” Bret remembers Vince saying. “I can’t have any more scandals. I hate to do this to everybody, but I have to do it in order to protect the company.”

The wrestlers all knew what this meant: one last epic party.

Bret’s little brother, Owen, was in town that night. He’d wrestled for the WWF briefly a few years prior: Vince had stuck him with a gimmick where he wore a mask and cape and fought against evil as a superhero known as the Blue Blazer. Owen hated the gimmick almost as much as the crowds did, so he left to seek career advancement as a journeyman in Japan, Mexico, and Europe. Now Owen was back to try out again.

Bret had a big bag of Mexican weed some fans had given him the night before, at a show in El Paso. So he rolled his brother a joint. Owen didn’t usually smoke, but Bret told him this was his last chance, so they lit up.

By the time the brothers made it to the venue, a strip club near the airport, they were both pretty high. The place was packed with wrestlers, all discussing the oncoming drug cutoff. Some of the guys—the ones who had gotten deepest into steroids—had a “panicked look in their eyes,” Bret recalls to me. “It was like steroids are more important than their job.”

Bret was feeling pretty mellow himself. It was a high-end club—“like, really good-looking girls”—and he was catching up with Owen, who had been wrestling the European circuit. Owen was telling him how big Bret was in Germany, which was nice to hear. But Bret’s anxiety spiked when, around midnight, Vince strolled in.

This was extremely unusual. As a rule, Vince never hung out with his employees, and Bret was nervous the boss would notice that he and Owen were stoned. Then he realized that Vince was way more fucked up than they were.

“Shit-faced” was how Bret would describe him later; “slap-happy drunk.” Vince’s tie hung loosely around his neck as he made his way over to them, Pat Patterson clutching at his arm and trying to walk him back out. But Vince shook Patterson off. Tonight, he was going to party with the Boys.

The boss’s presence changed the mood. “When we realized Vince was drunker than any of us were, it was like, ‘Okay, we don’t have to worry about anything, because you can’t reprimand us when you’re in worse shape than we are,’” Bret recalls.

Vince grabbed a drink and settled in beside Davey Boy and Brutus Beefcake (Edward Leslie). Over in another corner, though, Bret could hear Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) and his tag-team partner Animal (Joseph Laurinaitis) joking about trying out their finishing moves on Vince.

They were joking, that is, until Hogan told them, “You guys don’t have the balls to do that. You’re not gonna do it.”

Well, Animal and Hawk couldn’t let that stand. They had to impress Hogan. Suddenly they were marching over to Vince.

Bret recalls that Animal came up on Vince from behind him. “[He] goes between Vince’s legs and picks Vince up like a bean bag, and Vince almost falls off his shoulders,” he tells me.

This was the opening move of the Doomsday Device, Hawk and Animal’s ballistic two-man finisher: Animal would lift the opponent onto his shoulders and Hawk would launch himself off the ring post to clothesline the unfortunate victim in midair. It’s not something you want to try in a strip club.

“It was cement floor with carpet on it, so it’s like, you can’t do your finish on Vince in this bar,” Bret says. “We’re all skeptical, but we’re all watching, everyone follows it like magnets, we gotta watch this happen.”

Hawk cleared a stripper off one of the poles and climbed up on the dance platform. Holy shit, he really was going to do it.

“Hawk jumped off and gave [Vince] the most pansy, delicate clothesline,” Bret says. “Vince sort of gently fell backwards.” Beefcake and Hogan caught him and set him on his feet. There was a sigh of mixed disappointment and relief, and a round of polite clapping.

Bret rolled his eyes at Jim Neidhart. Neidhart yelled out, “The Hart Foundation would have had the balls to do it!”

Bret chimed in with “Damn right!” and turned back to keep talking to Owen. Then what he’d just said caught up with him. He looked back and Neidhart had Vince up in a fireman’s carry, ready for the Hart Attack—a less aerial cousin of the Doomsday Device.

“I just remember Hulk Hogan looking at me like, Have you got the balls to do it or are you gonna do it like Hawk?” Bret says. “I remember I put the shot glass on the bar and I clotheslined Vince as hard as I could.”

It was the first time Bret hit Vince. It would not be the last.

They hit the carpeted concrete floor hard. What have I done? Bret thought.

Bret and Vince lay together on the floor, both winded. Then Vince looked down at Bret. “You owe me a drink,” he said.

“Whatever you want,” Bret told him. “Dewar’s on ice.”

They staggered to their feet. Bret ordered Vince the Dewar’s. Vince drank it down.

“He got more and more drunk after that,” Bret recalls. “A few minutes later everyone’s doing their finish on Vince. I remember Davey Boy Smith and Beefcake running around the bar power-slamming Vince onto the carpet.”

Everything was hilariously out of control. Vince was laughing, goofier than Bret had ever seen him.

Closing time came and went. The lights went on, but no one would leave.

Finally the club owners called the police, and bemused law enforcement officers slowly herded a crowd of drunken wrestlers toward the exit. As they shuffled into the parking lot, there was suddenly a rumor, Bret recalls: “There’s a party in Ric Flair’s room, everyone’s invited to Ric Flair’s for a party.”

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