Pro Wrestling & Steroids. A Dark History.
Updated: May 13
“I would tell kids to train, say their prayers and take their vitamins. But it wasn’t just vitamins I was taking…” Hulk Hogan
The focus of this video will be around anabolic steroids, commonly referred to broadly by drug governing bodies and the public as just, steroids. Told through direct quotes from industry insiders, pro-wrestling executive and the athletes who have taken the substances themselves.
Most people know little about these substances in detail, including myself as I research this topic. However, I have always had a negative perception of this side of extreme sport performance, but never given it enough time to consider why.
Why do I drink coffee every day to help me write, focus and perform, but have a negative buzzer go off in the back of my brain when I think about students taking pills to achieve the same?
Why do inject chemicals into myself in order to aid with an auto immune issue I have suffered with since birth. However, at the same time, I have ill feelings when I find out someone injects steroids in order to aid in their physical development, perhaps they were born naturally smaller, is it the same thing?
Human nature is such a wonderful, yet bemusing concept. Across almost all the breath of recorded human history,
An isolated tribe, their lives buried deep inside of the amazon rainforest, with no contact or knowledge of the outside world. You know what? They still laugh when they find something funny. Just like you or I would, they show visible signs of fear when threatened. It’s human nature. Something that most humans share.
Another is the way in which our brain provides us with positive feedback, sometimes when we put our bodies through risks and dangers in order to receive fulfilment, we can become addicted to those chemicals sent out by your brain. Imagine the concoction of chemicals surging around inside a wrestler’s body as they step out in front of a screaming crowd.
Protein on the way back from your powerful workout. Nerves and anxiety would have been racing in the time leading up to the show. Painkillers numb the nagging muscle injury. Caffeine to help you focus on memorising your role and the script. The adrenaline as you pass between the curtain, the jubilation you feel as you enter the ring. The exhaustion of the match and the beers you celebrate with afterwards. Lactic acid burning as you are now rushing back to a hotel and need to sleep, but your heart is racing, and your ears are thumping. So you take a prescribed sedative to help you dose off.
Throw on top of that, the fact that some performers in the pro-wrestling world have admitted to having severe alcohol and substance abuse issues and you can see how adding anabolic steroids to this mixture of uppers and downers could take it’s tole on an athletes body and mind.
Being in the physical condition that pro-wrestlers must maintain is inhumane. I, in no way want to discredit the unbelievable dedication shown by all the performers who spend countless hours slaving away at the weight bench and dripping with sweat for all those miles on the treadmill.
The performers discussed in this video have all put in the effort to look and perform the way in which they do on a consistent basis, regardless of whether they have used performance enhancing substances.
Coming from a man whose chubby fingers look more like Dairylea triangles as I sweat over this script – there is seemingly no magic quick fix for being in great shape. No way to skip the cardio, or cheat day your way through an entire month without gaining lots of weight.
If there was an easy way to do it – trust me, you’d know about it. Imagine the financial possibilities if a company could develop a drug which allowed you to leap over the years of healthy living and physical exertion – imagine the adverts everywhere.
However, there are a myriad of different ways in which someone can get an advantage through the use of performance enhancing substances.
INTRODUCTION TO STEROIDS
Performance enhancing substances, more commonly referred to as PED’s or performance enhancing drugs are taken in the aid of performance or other activities in the form of substances either applied as an ointment, injected or consumed via a tablet or pill.
The most well-known version of these substances called ergogenic aids are highlighted through their controversial use in professional sports, where they have given athletes the physical edge since their invention.
“Athletes are going to do them—or whatever else—to be the best at what they do.” Ultimate Warrior
Other types of performance enhancers include nootropics which are proven to improve focus and enhance cognitive function, this type of PED use has been observed in students who are preparing for big exams or slamming out huge work sessions to meet deadlines.
PED’s have also been used commonly by military across the world to manufacture a phycological and physical advantage in combat over an identified enemy and opposition.
In the modern day almost all high-level performance sports involve widespread banned on most well-known performance enhancing substances and almost all pro sporting governing bodies oversee some level of drug testing on it’s performers.
However not all performance enhancing substances pose the same level of risk, and the title covers all of what are called legitimate use & substance abuse PEDs. With constant advances in medical science changes the way we understand the human body and the effects that these substances can have, both negative and positive – it has never been less clear on where to draw the line.
As use of steroids is becoming more widespread in it’s documented use amongst younger men in the UK.
I want to see what effect pop-culture and in particular pro-wrestling has had on public perception of the human body and the acceptance of anabolic steroid use and in return, how the fans expectations of larger than life athletes has informed pro-wrestlers decisions to take these PEDs, despite their widely alleged dangers in order to succeed in WWE.
STEROIDS IN WWE
However, as we dig deeper, we see a history of controversy and debate over the prevalent use of anabolic steroids in WWE dating way back to Billy Graham and the old regional days of wrasslin’
“It is absolutely the nature of the beast of pro wrestling, I have always taken the heat for my own steroid use in the WWE and never blamed anyone except myself. I wrestled around 330 times in a year. It was absurd. I had my dependencies, there was no way that I personally could have travelled, could have trained, could have dieted, and could have done the exhausting scheduling without chemical help. It’s a horrific, destructive thing on your system…” Superstar Billy Graham
“Back in 1980, you know, steroids then were not that prevalent as they are now. They were just coming out. If you didn’t use them, then the other guys using them had a jump on you; Superstar [Billy Graham] or these other guys had an edge on you…” Ivan Putski
The current day owner of World Wrestling Entertainment is muscled clad billionaire, Vince McMahon, an abnormally hard-working and dedicated man who’s ripped body would lead you to believe that he wasn’t in his 80s, having been at the helm of WWE since 1982.
A man with a historic appreciation for bodybuilding and physical extremities – even founding the WBF, his own bodybuilding competition, a failed endeavour which only goes to prove Vince McMahon’s passion for exhibiting the human form in it’s most physically impressive form, has on many occasions been accused of pushing wrestler’s too far in their search for muscular perfection.
“I’ve never encouraged anyone at any time to have steroid use in the WWE…You have to understand back in the 1980s what the wrestling business was. Some wrestlers had difficulty dealing with success in an ego-driven business. We are in the entertainment business and I would suggest in that era, it was literally sex, drugs and rock and roll. You could compare us to a rock and roll band in the early ’80s.” Vince McMahon
Spearheaded by Vince McMahon, the late 1980’s and early 90s were certainly a time in which the performers in pro-wrestling were at their most physically ballooned, industry icons such as Lex Luger have spoken out about the pressure of being an athlete or a performer in pro-wrestling;
“In sports, the saying is: ‘The ends justify the means.’ We are taught that since we were little. ‘Do whatever you got to do to win; to be the best; step over, step on and step through…’ That is how all these performance-enhancing drugs got into our culture. And that leads to guys wanting to take shortcuts. And then, cheat until you get caught. And then lie…” Lex Luger
In 1991 the use of steroids in pro-wrestling came into the zeitgeist in the US when, on The Arsenio Hall show, WWF’s biggest icon Hulk Hogan was forced to sweat and squirm through an uncomfortable televised interview about his involvement with substance abuse and PEDs.
“I trained twenty years, two hours a day to look like I do…I am not a steroid abuser and I do not use steroids…” Hulk Hogan
Hogan decided to lie his way through the interview, stating he had never taking steroids and that the only way to make it to the top like him, was through hard work. Oh Brother.
David Shults, a fellow pro-wrestler and a companion of Hulk Hogan said : “I injected [Hogan] well over 100 times. I regularly gave him shots in the triceps, where he couldn’t reach himself, and also a few times in the butt…”
Another who before his death was outspoken about steroid use in pro wrestling and his involvement was The Ultimate Warrior, Jim Hellwig.
“If I had to relate anything to the lifestyle it would be to point out how the demands of being a pro-wrestler differ from the lifestyle of other organized sports pro-athletes. There is no ‘Season’ – you go year-round. And with the travel you do, you can fall into a bad habit of burning the candle at both ends… It’s easy to fall into the habit of abusing stimulants and painkillers to cover up for lacklustre energy… Bottom line is, there are differences between use and abuse – and it’s obvious that many guys crossed the line…” Ultimate Warrior
As the Ultimate Warrior seemingly struggled to balance his unrealistic expectations of his body, his public perception and the pressure from WWE, fractures began to appear between Jim Hellwig and the pro wrestling behemoth.
Vince McMahon in since Hellwig’s passing commented: “Warrior experiments with growth hormones were the reason but the steroid use was another big factor [for Ultimate Warriors death.
In 1993, Hellwig’s relationship with WWE was further tarnished when Vince McMahon was charged with “routinely obtaining anabolic steroids” by the U.S Attorney in New York.
The pro-wrestler’s use of performance enhancers was put under a very public spotlight for the first time as witnesses from the wrestling world were called to the stand to testify.
In 1994 The WWF’s biggest star, industry icon Hulk Hogan testified not only that he had tried steroids, but that he had in fact been a regular steroid user for over 14 years, his defence was that he had been told the substances were above board as a licenced doctor had given them to him.
HOGAN: “I think the mindset changed around ’90 when it became illegal. There was an era when it wasn’t just steroid use in the WWE but it was predominant in every single sport across the board… every sport in the world was doing it. The mindset was, ‘It was safer than taking sugar’…”
MISSY HYATT: “At that time every wrestler I knew was taking part in steroid use in the WWE. I’m sure Hulk Hogan in his head thought if he denied extensive steroid use in the WWE in 1991, the media would move on. Who would have ever thought his denial would cause a steroid media buzz which attacked wrestling so fierce with major ramifications. Desirable TV time slots were lost. Merchandise died in retail stores. Sponsors left in droves. The fan base dwindled…Did you take a shower? Yeah. Did you brush your teeth? Yeah. Did you take your steroids? Yeah. That was the deal. It was how I lived…”
Another charge brought against Vince McMahon was his involvement with the doctor who has prescribed the steroids to so many wrestlers who were employed by WWE. Dr. Zahorian was well known in the sporting world for supplying anabolic steroids to some of the world’s top performers, Zahorian was well-known at this time for regularly shipping drugs to WWE’s headquarters in Connecticut.
Zahorian would also routinely meet with wrestler’s in his office in Hershey in Pennsylvania, Rowdy Roddy Piper recalled: "The doc was an extremely nice and very popular urologist who would supply various drugs to the wrestlers."
During the trials of McMahon & Zahorian the Justice Department went on to uncover heaps of evidence linking the two saying Zahorian: “sold steroids and drugs to 43 pro wrestlers, 37 of whom were employed by McMahon's WWF when deliveries were made,"
– most of which were later proven to not even have a prescription attached.
Zahorian originally came to the attention of the authorities when he alerted them with his open bragging about his connections to some of the world’s most recognisable pro wrestlers. Zahorian then unknowingly sold $650 worth of performance enhancing drugs to a federal informant, whilst bragging about the potency of the substances in question on a secret tape.
Maybe most incriminating for Zahorian was when, in 1991 federal officers kicked down his front door only to find Zahorian huddled over in the corner of his office, frantically running documents through a paper shredder.
At the trial Zahorian stated that: “WWF secretary Ashley Feinberg, regularly arranged for drug shipments.”
During the 1994 trial, Vince McMahon was questioned as to why, with all of this shady behaviour occurring in the public eye, and with WWF having zero chance of not being aware of Zahorian’s malpractise – their company continued to be affiliated with the dodgy doctor for so long, especially close connections were recognised between Zahorian and Vince McMahons right-hand man and his wife Linda Mcmahon during this time.
Perhaps not fair or balanced. But certainly fitting for the entertainment goliath, that the legal trial was turned into a media spectacle, with all involved from WWF putting on a performance infront of the crowds, something that comes so naturally to these men and women who have spent most of their lives entertaining the masses.
And even with Anita Scales a WWF booker at the time testifying that they spoke to WWF’s Pat Patterson & Vince’s wife Linda McMahon another executive in the company at the time. Anita claimed to have warned the pair of Zahorian’s involvement in the sale of illegal drugs, to which Pat Patterson allegedly retorted, Keep working with him in Pennsylvania so the performers can get their “candy”.
The proceedings were drawn to a close after countless attempts by WWF’s lawyers, Jerry McDevitt to prove that the accusations against the company were little more than petty revenge from scorned ex-wrestlers who “had an axe to grind and little else”.
Several wrestlers toed the line and claimed they had never spoken to Vince McMahon about steroids and had never seen him use PEDs. Whilst others spoke about the connection between Zahorian, McMahon & WWF.
This was met with claims of evidence mishandling of the 2 key witnesses and it led to Vince McMahon being acquitted and walking away with little more than a stern talking to and the push to put an end to the use of steroids in WWF.
THE COVER UP
Zahorian did not get off so lightly, he had always been the focus of the evidence and he was charged with 15 counts for drug trafficking. Aside from a long stretch in prison, Zahorian’s only other option was to spill the beans and co-operate with the federal investigation into further accusations against WWF.
Part of this new evidence, was the claim that WWF’s lead attorney Jack Krill was informed of a federal investigation against Zahorian by “an unnamed state official”. This has since lead to a memo being uncovered from Linda McMahon to her partners at WWF which states:
"Although you and I discussed before about continuing to have Zahorian at our events as the doctor on call, I think that is now not a good idea...Vince agreed, and would like for you to call Zahorian and to tell him not to come to any more of our events and to also clue him in on any action that the Justice Department is thinking of taking."
A phone call was also said to have taken place over a pay-phone between Pat Patterson & Zahorian around this time, which some believe may have been the call that tipped Zahorian off and led him to destroy so much of the evidence linking WWF and his medical practise, this is all alleged of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that years later when all of this information was relevant in the federal trial, so much of it was missing.
A TIME OF TRANSITION
In 1995 WWF had pulled through the dirt which had been the national-wide sensationalised legal trial and had suffered huge financial loses as it looked to build towards a new generation of pro-wrestling, in an attempt to shake off the shadows of negativity cast by the steroid scandal.
From the time of the trial, the next few years would see a mass-exodus of performers from the WWF, the majority of whom were larger than life, super human torsoed beta-gods.
The likes of Hercules Hernandez and The Ultimate Warrior have both stated since how when the rules became more strict and the laws changed, they had a tough time transitioning away from certain chemicals and found it easier to move away from WWF.
PRESSURE FROM SOCIETY
Societal pressures extend beyond pro-wrestling and infect all aspects of daily life. Some pressures are for the greater good. For instance, I’d like to societally pressure you into washing your bum regularly and spraying yourself with deodorant before attending wrestling shows, that’s for the greater good.
However some societal pressures can lead people, especially younger more malleable people into actions that are stupid and sometimes in it’s extremes, dangerous.
“A lot of people didn’t know about steroids then. Nowadays little kids go, ‘Oh that guy’s on steroids…’ But back then, nobody knew. What really prompted me was when I started noticing the attention that these guys got from women…like when they walked through the mall. you know, I’d be behind them and girls would be whispering ‘Did you see that guy…’ And I thought, ‘Wow…I want that…" Scott Hall
Athletes of all types are pressured heavily into consuming performance enhancers to aid in their development, seemingly from a younger and younger age. In the UK there has been a large increase in recognised PED abuse amongst 15-16 year olds.
Film stars and television icons are no different, most leading roles given to those in perfect condition, with ripped abs and chiselled jaws. Some wrestlers who have taken the transition away from WWE such as Dwayne The Rock Johnson have grown dramatically in-size since leaving the world of random drug tests, The Rock himself even stating that he had tried steroids early in his career.
Burt what happens when The Rock comes back to WWE after shooting a film where he needed to be as muscular as possible in as short amount of time as possible? What about Brock Lesnar coming back from UFC with their completely different set of rules on substance abuse.
This trend has led all the way up to the modern day where wrestlers still fail the tests under dubious circumstances and others have even discussed the idea of some favourited performers being exempt from the WWE’s wellness policy.
“Their Wellness Policy is a political issue. A lot of people have addictions. And if they don’t have the willpower to control it, that’s when it becomes a problem…” Scott Steiner
Another issue is that some forms of PEDs can be physically and mentally addictive and it is not always as easy as stopping the consumption of these substances ‘cold-turkey’ as it can lead to detrimental effects of the body. But the dispute over WWE’s wellness policy and it’s use over the years is a much more complex issue than that alone.
Following the death of Eddie Guerrero and the medical complications surrounding the tragedy. WWE imposed it’s Wellness Policy in February on 2006.
As outlined on it’s corporate website;
WWE’s General Drug Policy states: “The “non-medical use” and associated abuse of prescription medications and performance enhancing drugs, as well as the use, possession and/or distribution of illegal drugs, by WWE Talent are unacceptable and prohibited by this Policy, as is the use of masking agents or diuretics taken to conceal or obscure the use of prohibited drugs.”
List of banned substances in WWE:
10 wrestlers were the first major scandal for performance enhancing after the new policy came into place;
Edge publicly admitted to taking steroids on the television show Off The Record.
Johnny Nitro who said that the substances he used were Stanozaolol and Testosterone.
Randy Orton, who’s name was printed amongst a list of other wrestlers who were supplied steroids from a Pharmacy which was published in 2007 by Sports Illustrated.
Rey Mysterio and Mr Kennedy, who said on the incident: "We do not take drugs. We have a drug policy in place, and get tested regularly. I do not take steroids."
All of whom were amongst those suspended from WWE.
Since then there has been a whole number of different reported users of performance enhancers in WWE with many athletes serving suspensions for banned substances since the Wellness policy was introduced.
The use of Performance enhancers and steroids in sports in such a wide-spanning and complex topic, with seemingly countless varied opinions on their historical and continued use.
Some performance enhancers as we spoke about previously are perceived by the mass-public in very different lights due to their history of use in different cultures and accepted different levels of threat from the substance’s consumption.
Is it wrong to have a doctor inject you with a chemical which you’ve been told is totally legal, albeit with some risk of side-effects, in order to heal quicker from an injury sustained in the ring, and get back to earning money for yourself and your loved ones? What about when that substance becomes banned due to new research, what happens then?
Not all in sports and pro-wrestling are negative about the use of steroids in a controlled way, rather seeing their potential as an aid to their performer’s health.
Tough Enough winner and Undertaker punching bag Maven said about his use of steroids:
“When I started with WWE in 2002, I needed to get bigger, and I had to get bigger in a short period of time. Naturally, I wasn’t going to get there. It paid my bills and helped me survive for a living. I’d do it again. People think it’s the worst, but if it’s done with doctor supervision, it aided my career…” Maven Huffman
Others who are involved in the industry see the perks of steroids beyond it’s health benefits, from a financial stand-point. Jim Ross, now head commentator os All Elite Wrestling, spent a huge chunk of his career as the voice of WWF & later WWE:
"Look, it’s a performance art. It’s not the NFL, and I’m not so sure it makes a s**t even in the NFL…It has the same negative baggage that marijuana has. It has not been accepted widely, The bottom line as Stone Cold would say is a lot of money is going to the bottom line of these State coffers that need the money for school books and things of that nature, As long as that money is being put to good use for the children and educating our people for one thing and for health care, things of that nature, then hell yeah. Let’s create new money, new revenue.” Jim Ross
EFFECTS LATER IN LIFE
These world class athletes subject every muscle, joint and bone in their body through hell in order to achieve their success. Working your body to the point of exhaustion on a regular basis, with little to no recovery time, years of substance abuse and late nights have played havoc on the minds and bodies of pro-wrestlers over the years.
Industry legend Sting said: “A lot of the guys I ran with all those years continued to take steroids year after year – those guys are having their knees and their hips replaced [now]. I’m not saying everybody who gets their knees and their hips replaced took steroids. I just noticed that the guys who did that were too big, too bulky, too heavy, and the body couldn’t handle it and it took its toll…”
It is hard to say to exactly what extent steroids and PED’s have played on those that have abused them. What is not hard to correlate, is the huge amounts of deaths caused in pro-wrestling from heart attacks and other means, spurred on by pushing their bodies to the maximum and past their limits.
"Everybody including myself was convinced there were no issues, despite co-workers having health issues when they got older. Many of us rationalized it as if we got a prescription, it was legal and ethical. We convinced ourselves that it was no different than getting any over the counter prescription. Deep down we all knew the truth…” Missy Hyatt
I think there is too much pressure on all young people today. Too much pressure on people in general to achieve some kind of physical perfection. Being fat and un-healthy is neither cool nor should it be accepted, but what post-apocalyptic dystopia do we live in where 16 year old boys are stealing money from their mum’s purse in order to fund their need to inject semen derivatives into their bum cheek.
When I say that out loud, it really brings in to focus the sad situation which admittedly a very small number of people are going through. These are extreme cases I appreciate that, but fuck me – what a terrible dystopian image that sentence alone lays out for us.
Too much pressure on athletes to perform at the highest levels, whether it be the top athletes performing at the Olympics in strides to obtain a gold medal, or athletes in pro-wrestling performing in arenas in strides to obtain a title belt.
I find myself intrenched in hypocrisy as I ventured on this journey to discover more about anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs, I found myself only becoming more stead-fast in my opinions.
As I sip my second cup of black coffee, I write: Coffee isn’t good for you if you consume it all of the time and cannot manage day to day without it.
I watch pro-wrestling and find myself being drawn to the more physically impressive members of the roster, and see myself disappointed when my favourite athlete gets injured and is off television for a month or two. I’m impressed when they rush back and admire their will to pull through physical and mental pain to do so.
I find myself wanting to watch larger than life monsters slug it out to the death in the ring. But don’t want to see any of the real life people die in the search of entertainment.
Ultimate Warrior: “Talking about steroids is always a Catch-22. They aren’t all bad and they aren’t all good. But, let’s face it, bodybuilding and wrestling are more circus-like—people want to see the ‘freaks’…”