“Dr. D” David Schultz slapped ABC’s 20/20 reporter John Stossel in December 1984 in an attempt to keep kayfabe, or protect the wrestling business behind the curtain. Schultz altered his career trajectory with “The Slap Heard Round the World,” this week’s topic on Dark Side of the Ring.
Opening the episode is Schultz and his backstory in wrestling, where he claims he was trained as if it was real by Herb Welch, a story given some validity by Jim Cornette acting as a wrestling historian in one of the best ways to utilize him for these documentaries. Schultz becomes friends with Hulk Hogan in the territories and that carries him into the WWF, where he looks set to be one of the main villains against Hogan going forward.
On the other path, John Stossel and 20/20 are looking to run an exposé on professional wrestling and Eddy Mansfield is their subject piece. Mansfield claims that insufficient paydays and dirty promoter tactics ran him out of the business and he went to ABC as a way to expose the alleged shady practices.
This leads to the infamous slaps from Schultz when Stossel asks if wrestling is fake. Schultz claims he was coached by WWF owner Vince McMahon to play the interview in character and the slaps were what his character would have done. A lawsuit from Stossel against the WWF and McMahon, Schultz’s refusal to claim liability for it, and a supposed confrontation with Mr. T lead to Schultz fading out of the wrestling business.
The fundamental question the documentary grapples with is whether Schultz was justified in protecting the wrestling business by keeping character, or maintaining kayfabe. Schultz even seems to be playing to his character after all these years in his talking head segments.
Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t have much to offer outside of this relatively minor story. A whole fourth of the episode is dedicated to a rather needless look into Schultz’s life post-wrestling as a bounty hunter, which even his colorful interviews can’t make interesting.
One of the other major faults of the episode, outside of a story that doesn’t pack a lot of punch outside of the ones Schultz threw, is the unbalanced tone of wrestling as a business. While a major overarching theme of this season has been that wrestling is a place where injustice tends to prevail and things generally just get worse as the WWF entrenches more and more power, Eddy Mansfield gets shellacked from Cornette and Schultz for going to 20/20 to expose unfair business practices in wrestling. Cornette paints Mansfield as a jealous “never-was” out for himself, while Schultz talks negatively about Mansfield while claiming WWF and McMahon would never look out for wrestlers in another part of the show.
Additionally, a segment where Hogan goes on to commit a similar assault on Richard Belzer during a TV appearance.with no repercussions like the ones Schultz faced from the WWF is given just a passing glance.
The episode even ends with WWF getting deregulated as a “sport” by athletic commissions and evolving into the self-regulated sports entertainment business we know today, a fact that likely delights John Stossel just as much as his aforementioned settlement.
There always seems to be a larger, more interesting thread to pull coming from almost all the non-Benoit episodes this season and this week’s episode was no different.
Nolan Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions or comments.