As he awaits a record-equalling second induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, Yaz Jung recounts talking to Scott Hall about a remarkable career marked by success, addiction and recovery.
If Boxing is The Sweet Science then Wrestling may be The Misunderstood Art - enjoyed by millions globally as a multi-billion dollar industry that seemingly defies conventional rationale. In 1992, billionaire founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon Jr. chose Scott Hall to be at the forefront of what he called “ The New Generation”. With a character inspired by Al Pacino’s Scarface, for the next decade, Hall worked alongside some of the most memorable names in Entertainment, including Dennis Rodman, Jay Leno, Hulk Hogan, Jerry Springer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Steve Austin and even the multi-platinum Insane Clown Posse, forging a career that forever re-defined the industry-wide pay-scale for Professional Wrestlers everywhere.
Hall’s surprise Memorial Day 1996 appearance on TNT triggered a television ratings-war lasting 5 years which is today remembered as it’s own golden age, hence his second induction as part of an all-star Rat-Pack style group that drove combined pro-wrestling viewership to highs of upto 9 million viewers every week - figures that have never been replicated since. Hall played the Dean Martin role with Hogan as Sinatra and 7ft tall Nash as the muscle.
The establishment of the group as a counter-culture to WWE, is a moment so romanticised by WWE today, it evokes Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill Cutting wistfully reminiscing over worthy opponents decades later in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Even international Hip hop artist Drake has been spotted proudly wearing his vintage Scott Hall merch.
I am sitting in a conference suite adjoining a regional Stadium in the United Kingdom. The local promoter enjoys an excellent reputation for attracting Hall-of-Fame names to the area, much to the delight of the many fans waiting patiently outside in the cold.
Scott Hall arrives. He is much taller in real life. We share barely a glance as he heads up to his dressing room. The promoter winks “Don’t worry, I’m going to sit you down with him as soon as he freshens up…you’re going to be my distraction..” I look quizzically at the bronzed athlete in his metallic green jacket “Distraction?” I ask, “Yes” he says, “You can talk to him while I sort out his money after the show, that way he won’t feel like he’s waiting too long..”
Sitting with Scott Hall is a legend of British Wrestling, Marty Jones - a former World Champion from the halcyon days when Wrestling was broadcast on the UK’s second largest free-to-air channel, ITV. Under the World of Sport banner, it offered talents such as “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, “The Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington, William “Regal” and “Big Daddy” their humble beginnings. When ITV aired a much-loved tribute series to World of Sport in 2018, Marty Jones was invited especially back to Granada Studios to oversee the British athletes of today - a number of whom have gone on to find global success under the WWE NXT:UK banner based in Enfield. With a reputation as a legitimate tough-man off-screen, one cannot help but think Marty Jones was probably the only man hardened enough to keep an eye on Scott Hall.
“Hello young man…” peers Jones over his glasses “Mr. Hall’s not doing any interviews.” he states suddenly and matter-of-factly, as Razor stands with his back to me checking his bag. I feel my lungs collapse in a perilous vacuum. “I’m sorry Mr. Jones, I didn’t mean to intrude. I’m actually very pleased to meet you and was hoping for a few moments of your time, I’d very much like to talk to you about some of your work in the World of Sport days..”
Modesty appears to soften the older man’s expression - albeit for a moment, “Aye, that’s alright..” he says “But Mr. Hall isn’t doing anything right now and you’ll have to wait outside.”
I am crestfallen.
As I turn to leave, a thick booming voice pushes forward “It’s OK”. Razor smiles to himself at my unwitting display of respect towards the golden-age veteran beside him. Perhaps he had been quietly testing me all along. Wrestling is a world replete with backstage etiquette stemming from a bygone era. Requisite esteem for the ‘Old Timers’ is mandatory. “Sure Kid, I’ll give you five minutes”. I’m All-In. “Mr. Hall could we possibly make it ten? I’ve come ever such a long way to meet yourself and Mr. Jones..” Hall smiles around the toothpick which seems to perpetually adorn an endless sneer “OK, but don’t push it…Chico.”
The Art of Wrestling
They say prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, yet paying to watch a fight cannot be far behind. The motivation for spectators differs vastly between fans and today’s streaming landscape caters to both those seeking the raw competition of MMA, as well as those looking for Sports Entertainment. It is the latter to which Scott Hall has dedicated the majority of his life in a career spanning four decades. “In MMA, if you’re a badass, it’s because God and your parents just made you a badass…” says Hall “…But Pro-Wrestling is different. Sometimes the tough guys beat up the other guys, but sometimes, you’re tougher than the guy you’re wrestling, and you can wipe the floor with him, but he sells more merchandise, the fans like him, the Office likes him - so they’re gonna go with him.”
It is an exceptionally simple way of explaining the competitive exchange underlying Professional Wrestling that many still struggle to grasp. Since the art of wrestling lies in forging the illusion of violence without truly injuring the players, strength, size and skill are not always the paramount arbiters of industry success, but rather, an often innate ability to captivate the crowd with a story. “Sometimes you’re job is to make the other guy look good..” states Hall “..I made a good living doing that.”
In a multi-billion-dollar industry, Hall exemplified the importance of honing character, craft and choreography. After having been successful in regional companies, Scott spent a year calling the eventual $6 billion-dollar World Wrestling Entertainment franchise - to finally receive an audition which led to a burgeoning international career and a drastic make-over.
Whilst The Road Warriors derived their fearsome war-painted gimmick from Mel Gibson’s late 1970’s dystopian mega-hit Mad Max, a striking resemblance to 80’s heart-throb Tom Selleck previously saw Hall perform under the moniker Magnum Scott Hall after Selleck’s hit series Magnum P.I. (recently re-booted by CBS) but when it came time to pick a new character for Vince McMahon and the WWE, Hall had a clear idea of what he wanted to do. “I told him - Vince, if you want me to be a G.I.* Joe (type character) I’ll be the best damn G.I.* Joe I can be - but have you ever seen Scarface? - Say Hello…to the Bad Guy..”
It was the Al Pacino-inspired character of Razor Ramon drawn from Oliver Stone’s Scarface alongside a crushing move-set that perhaps made the greatest impression on fans. The importance of a well choreographed repertoire is one Hall remembers “Vince always told guys to use their face, that’s where the money is…You have to keep an eye on the camera, so in my entrance, I’d usually go and look right to the hard-camera side”. Hall is of course referring to his trademark ring-side taunt, an aggressive Rumba-like step sometimes known as the ‘Razor Cha-Cha’ or ‘Razor Stomp’. “You could see in the nWo days - I’d just look right at the camera and go ‘I’m the SH*****T!” Such mannerisms are just one of the many things that have changed over time due to WWE’s adoption of PG-ratings standards.
Success in the industry is a product of more than just mere show-boating. While pyrotechnics and music play their part, nothing works better than well-executed, convincing stunt-work that leaves the audience suspending disbelief. In a genre which has played itself out countless times, it seems virtually impossible to conceive of a new dance-step, yet Hall managed to do just that. In the late 1980’s he innovated a manoeuvre still used today, known as the Crucifix Power-bomb or Razor’s Edge, which planted opponents directly onto the back of the neck from a devastating 7ft drop - yet could be performed safely. “I was just thinking of cool, unique moves to do.” he described “..and I first started doing it when I was working in Puerto Rico.”
Nicknamed ‘The Bad Guy’ Razor was overwhelmingly popular in the famously hardened Latin territories where he continued refining his craft before headlining with WWE. “There was another move, the Fall-away slam, that some people started calling ‘Hall-away Slam” recounted Hall “…but I actually called it ‘the Sack-of-sh*t’ cause I was working with (WWE Hall-of-Famer) Carlos Colon at the time in Puerto Rico…” For the World Wrestling Council I ask? “Yeah” smiles Hall ”..and I told him ‘Duck-the-clothesline-then-cross-body’, I caught him and just thinking of cool moves to do, just -BOOM - I threw him back over my head. We got back to the locker-room and he told me ‘Amigo! What the hell? You threw me like a sack-of-sh*t!’ - So that’s how I named it…but it’s great to see the young guys still using it.”
In 1981, the late Elizabeth Glaser - wife of Starsky & Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser - tragically contracted HIV through a contaminated blood transfusion. During a tour of the National Institutes of Health Maryland in 1987, Mrs. Glaser met the now renowned AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent. Hydeia was only 5 years old at the time and had been born addicted to heroin and cocaine whilst later being diagnosed with Paediatric AIDS. Elizabeth encouraged Hydeia to speak out about her experiences as she underwent many of the earliest pharmaceutical trials ever conducted for AIDS research. This led to television appearances alongside Oprah, Magic Johnson and Larry King. The Jerry Springer Show went on to pay tribute to the courage of Hydeia and her friend Tyler, whom was also living with the same condition. Perhaps not knowing what else to do, the former Mayor of Cincinnati arranged for Hydeia and Tyler to be visited by their favourite Television Hero, the perhaps unlikely figure of Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall.
“Man, at that time, nobody knew anything about HIV or AIDS..” Hall told me “They thought of it as a death sentence, so we were just there thinking - Man, I gotta do what I can to help these little kids.”
Scott’s appearance on the show was tempered with a remarkable humility. Instead of lecturing the children, he offered a simple message “I want Tyler and Hydeia to know this - and I think they already do know this - that where I come from, it ain’t how many times you go down, it’s how many times you get back up. You ain’t beat, till you quit, so if you don’t quit, you never lose.”
Over a quarter-century later, the old grappler once dubbed “Handsomer-than-ten-movie-stars” appeared moved by the memory
“At the time, because nobody understood anything about HIV, some people came up to me and said ‘Oh you kissed the little girl?’ but I didn’t think about it like that, to me she was just a little girl.”
Hall invited the brave young pair for a family-vacation to attend WrestleMania after gifting them his prized Championship title “They’ve come so far with research now, that both of those kids are still alive..” he said. “..I still stay in touch with Hydeia - and Tyler? - I gave him my belt - he still has it.”
In a later catch-up piece with WWE, Hydeia said of Hall
“…He embraced both of us…Even though he had a bad guy persona at the time, he was really cool…He really seemed to care…and he genuinely wanted to make us happy. I think having the support of a public figure that was a big part of such a huge organization set a tone for people to really take the time to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS and to show compassion themselves…That was really a big step…”
Scott Hall’s encouragement of young people like Hydeia and Tyler has proved despondently prescient in his own life. While some of his colleagues suffering from substance-abuse have eventually recovered - often with help from WWE - perplexingly, despite almost universal acknowledgement as one of the most creative minds in the industry, Hall never seemed to be able to get clean.
In 2011, ESPN’s highly-rated E:60 documentary ‘The Wrestler’ - inspired by the Mickey Rourke movie of the same name - revealed Hall had been admitted to rehab on successive occasions paid for by his former employer. WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon confirmed “Without giving too many particulars, it’s in the six-figures, of how much money we spent sending Scott to rehab, it’s the most amount of money we’ve spent on anyone.”
In a later interview with one of Canada’s oldest newspapers, Hall detailed how he believed Vince McMahon suspended his residual payments during his addiction, partly for his own good. “I didn’t get royalties..” remembered Hall “..But he still was showing me love. He wasn’t going to give me money that I could do bad things with.”
Yet Hall always remembers the camaraderie that saved his life and what it felt like to meet sick children, even at the height of his fame and addiction “I was doing Make-A-Wish when John Cena was still in diapers..” he tells me, referring to the world renowned Make-A-Wish Foundation that supports acutely unwell children and their families by helping arrange experiences including meeting their favourite Film, Television and Sporting heroes “Cena’s good at it too..” he adds “…But the thing is…the parents know, the staff knows, everyone knows you’re coming, but the little kid doesn’t. Sometimes I’m round the corner, trying to work myself-up in the hallway like ‘Oh man, this is tough’ - but it’s not about that. You turn that corner and you don’t know how tough it really is. A lot of these kids are dying, but when you’re there and the kids go ‘Hey what’s up Razor? How ya doing Bad Guy?’ -they- lift -you-.”
While in recent years Scott Hall has been able to largely overcome his addictions with the help of his revered colleague, “Diamond” Dallas Page - who helped Scott learn Page’s own system of DDPYoga - growing old gracefully has proved to be a challenge for many of Hall’s once golden generation. One in particular whom paid a severe price for his choices was Britain’s Dynamite Kid. A merciless bully outside the ring, Tom Billington came from a long line of hard-drinking British Gallowsmen going back to his Thrice-great grandfather, Hangman James Billington (1884). Often said to be pound-for-pound the best Western wrestler to have ever lived (Japan and Mexico have produced their own Masters), Billington’s fast paced technical accuracy changed the face of wrestling forever. With successive generations of performers across the world emulating his quick flowing manoeuvres, the grappling technique’s Dynamite learned in the dungeon gyms of Ted Betley and Stu Hart in Lancashire and Calgary now form a foundational part of the very fabric of the art, particularly in Japan. Sadly Billington’s addictions led to a debilitating early death in an isolated Manchester care home, yet his contributions continue to subsist.
Forming one-half of the famous British Bulldogs tag-team with his cousin Davey Boy Smith and with Davey Boy being inducted the same year as the group formed by Hall, Hogan and Nash, does Razor ever see Billington being honoured with a Hall of Fame induction? The Bad Guy seems to hint that WWE may have perhaps tried whilst Tommy was still alive “Sure, I don’t see why Dynamite wouldn’t go in..” replies Hall, “But sometimes the WWE reaches out to guys and for some reason or another they don’t want to be inducted..”
With the current trend of stars coming out of retirement for large stadium shows overseas, does he think his close friend Shawn Michaels might suspend retirement for one more “dream” singles performance, perhaps opposite recent world number-one A.J. Styles? “I’ve worked with A.J.” continues Hall, “And when it comes to anything to do with retirement or the Hall of Fame - never say never, but, I think, we (Triple H, Hall & Nash) saw Shawn in his ring-gear last year and we’re like - let’s just say - I think that’ll be the last time..” grinned Hall teasingly of his old friend.
When told how rewarding it is to see him finally look so well once more, Hall glances sideways and smiles, breathing a self-deprecating sigh as if to say “Aw shucks”. For that brief moment he is not ‘The Bad Guy’ anymore but a grateful man.
“I’m not where I want to be but I am a lot better than where I was.” he reflects. The somber timbre of his voice belies a love of his craft “I’d love to go back and do more with the young guys at the (WWE) Performance Center. I’d love to come back to the UK again. The fans have always been good to me here.”
Alongside the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Owen Hart, and “The Yellow Rose of Texas” David Von Erich, Scott Hall forms part of an elite group of performers who despite never having held a major ‘World’ title, are still forever joined in name with the best to have ever favoured the ring.
Yet Hall’s contribution has been less inclined toward title belts and more towards re-defining compensation for performers across all levels of the industry. It was the acquisition of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash away from WWE by Turner Broadcasting that first introduced guaranteed salaried contracts into Sports Entertainment. This replaced the original on-target earnings model where performers would receive a minimum based on gate receipts and a commission relative to their position on the card.
The viewer loyalty and recognition commanded by Scott Hall and Kevin Nash lay at the heart of the Monday Night War as the two unexpectedly took their act to TNT following a highly successful career with WWE, in a move that WWE protested on-air and at-law. In Titan Sports v. Turner Broadcasting (1997) WWE Chairman Vince McMahon essentially attempted to sue billionaire founder of CNN Ted Turner because Hall and Nash had the temerity to appear on prime-time Turner Network TV allegedly in the same likeness and get-up as characters he owned. Turner promptly counter-sued in World Championship Wrestling v Titan Sports (1999) arguing that McMahon’s disparagement of him on WWE programming had somehow resulted in diluting the goodwill of WCW trademarks. McMahon’s motion to dismiss under Section 12(b)(6) of the Federal CPR was dismissed as the court found wrestling to be “..a hybrid of expressive performance and advertisement.” that defied existing case law and required further examination. With both sides relying upon the U.S. Federal Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. 1946), things soon descended into a raft of vexatious litigation from which perhaps the only useful point of law to emerge, was the rule in re Madden (151 F.3d 125) where Mark Madden, a well-regarded Turner wrestling commentator and Sports Radio host, was denied journalistic privilege, thus establishing what is now known in law as “The Madden Test”. Ironically McMahon bought out Turner’s WCW at rock bottom price when the former went bust after the AOL/Time-Warner merger of 2000. This allowed WWE sole-ownership of content libraries spanning several decades which now enables the corporation to magnanimously celebrate the achievements of their once-rivals, whilst selling access to part of this catalogue on their own streaming network internationally and through NBC’s digital Peacock service in the United States.
Respective “Favoured Nation” clauses in their contracts, negotiated by highly respected entertainment agent Barry Bloom ensured Hall and Nash earned millions without being paid less than virtually any other star except for Hulk Hogan himself.
The Television Executive and Producer responsible for securing their move away from WWE some 25 years ago - Eric Bischoff - is himself being rewarded with a WWE Hall of Fame induction this year as the the 2020 and 2021 Hall of Fame ceremonies are twinned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, instead of decorating the mantelpiece, Scott Hall has always just been happy to take the money and when asked, sums up his career with disarming humility
“If you can make other guys look good, you can always get a job, even if you’re a little bit of a jerk.”
To celebrate over 25 years of WWE’s flagship programme Monday Night RAW airing on one of America’s largest TV channels, NBC’s USA Network produced a 25th anniversary spectacular from the site of the very first RAW telecast. With the Manhattan Centre decorated to look just as it did in 1993, a handful of select stars that had appeared on the inaugural edition of the show were invited back. As Legends and Hall of Famer’s filled the ring, including current WWE Executive Vice-President Paul “Triple H” Levesque and former World Champion Shawn Michaels, only one man seemed missing. As his peers stood applauding, Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall came slithering down the aisle once more, almost as if time had stood still. To complete the moment, some of the leading stars of today, led by Ireland’s Feargal “Finn Balor” Devitt, came down to pay their own personal tribute to Hall and his colleagues. It was a mark of respect he was unable to forget as he told the camera moments later
“I can’t believe 25 years went by so fast” said Hall “I was on the very first RAW broadcast and it’s an honour to be included in this…It’s great to be here and see a lot of old familiar faces and meet a lot of the new talent, I just feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”
It would perhaps be trite to say Scott Hall has survived Professional Wrestling or that Sports Entertainment has somehow survived him. However, at great personal cost, ‘The Bad Guy’ has managed to come full-circle in a career that has, at times, confounded expectations. Perhaps it is the memorable words from his first Hall of Fame induction speech in 2014 that ring most true, that sometimes, “Bad times don’t last, but Bad guy’s do.”
Soon, it is time to say good-bye. Hall does not know he was my favourite wrestler as a boy or I was once scolded by my grade-school teacher for “swanning around” class biting on a tooth-pick. When I ask in closing, if I may call him Scott and if he will ever write a book “Sure..” he says then placing a giant hand gently on my shoulder adds “ ..but I’m still looking for my happy ending.”
Well, with his record-equalling second induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, he may well just have found it.
Scott Hall will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame alongside Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith on April 6th 2021. For more details please visit NBC Peacock and WWENetwork.com