By now we are all familiar with the shortcuts that VICE’s Dark Side of the Ring takes to tell a story within a condensed period of roughly 45 minutes. Whole swaths of a life are eliminated, overlooked, forgotten simply so the “dark side” aspect of the subject comes to light.
Which brings us to “Abdullah the Butcher: Legacy of Blood” that dropped on July 18.
I could fill my own 45-page story with all that was left out.
His early days in Windsor, Ontario, were told in excellent fashion through the stories of Larry Shreve, and his brother Ralph — who has a shrine to his brother in his home — and sister Josephine Hearon. There were eight in the Shreve family, growing up in a two-room war-time house, two kids to a bed, and Ralph sleeping in the bathtub.
Dropping out of school after second grade (and Ralph said that he himself only went to third grade), the future butcher does anything but cut meat to earn money for himself and his family: he ran a second-hand store and would go door to door to get clothes; shined shoes; worked as janitor; owned a junk truck; did landscaping; and trained seniors in judo for self-defense.
Abdullah and his siblings talk about how, even at a young age, he was hustling to help his family make ends meet and how one of these odd jobs led to him entering the wrestling business.
— Dark Side of the Ring (@DarkSideOfRing) July 18, 2023
It was that last gig that got him noticed. “I was down at the Windsor Arena doing karate and stuff like that. A manager at that place said, ‘Hey, you should be a wrestler.’ ‘I don’t want to do that crap.’ He said, ‘You could make some money.’ ‘Oh, okay,'” shared Abby.
From there, they make the ridiculous leap that he met The Sheik (Ed Farhat) and began wrestling at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Left at the wayside is the role that promoter Jack Britton and his son, the future Gino Brito Sr., played in Abby’s life. George Cannon too was another key figure.
Every wrestler has to find their way, and young Larry was “Zelis Amara” for a while until the gimmick that we all came to know and fear came to be. But that was through years and years on the road, especially out in western Canada. All skipped over. There was a clip from Stampede Wrestling but no context.
Instead we get buckets of blood, and not one, not two, but three different points where blading — using a razor blade to draw blood, since red means green — was shown. The first time it was explained was unique enough to last the episode. Just starting in the business (as the story had been fast-forwarded), Abby told his father about wrestling, and Dad didn’t like the violence and didn’t want his son wrestling. Larry showed his father how easy it was to bleed, showed him the blade; his father said, “Now I know you’re crazy.”
Like a money-hungry, bloodthirsty fox, sure.
A lot of time was also spent on the real versus gimmick. Constant talking head Mick Foley — the show really could be “Mick Foley’s Dark Side of the Ring” — said it was hard to know who Abby and Larry were; “As someone who rode with him for hundreds of hours, you get to know the real guy, or what he wants to show you of the real guy,” said Foley, adding, “He was in character most of the time, especially when we went in public.”
Tony Atlas was also featured, and definitely went along with Dark Side’s storyline. “He was a big draw. Wherever he went, he drew money … Abdullah was the best heel that the world ever saw,” said Atlas. “It got so it wasn’t a gimmick.”
Aside from his family, who I wanted to hear more from, it was Hugo Savinovich who stood out. He was Abby’s first manager in Puerto Rico, and Abby was the first person that Hugo managed. “Managing him was just a crazy, crazy way of earning a living,” he said. Savinovich noted that Abby, circa 1983 in Puerto Rico, was making “gigantic” money, especially with his epic battles with local promoter Carlos Colon. “He lived really like a rich guy.”
You know who I didn’t want to hear from, but it was inevitable? “Hannibal” Devon Nicholson.
The whole lawsuit over whether or not Abdullah the Butcher gave Nicholson a unique strain of Hepatitis C has been settled in civil court in Canada and the U.S. Shreve was ordered to pay $2.3 million in a 2014 court order.
Apparently Abby hasn’t paid a cent. “He never paid anything, hasn’t paid a penny,” said Nicholson.
Nicholson said that he considered Abby a mentor (make your own conclusions with that on finding a suitable figure to admire). “There will always be some people who will hate me for exposing him, but whatever, I don’t care. I stopped him from wrestling,” monotoned Nicholson.
Then comes the way-too-often-repeated story, where Nicholson gets a WWE developmental deal, that is pulled because a blood test shows the Hep C. In Nicholson’s telling, he was always destined to be a WWE superstar. Again, draw your own conclusions.
Now it’s a He Said/He Said show, where Abby claims he never learned to read or write, and never saw the actual request to show up in court, a claim backed up by Jocelyn Malikah Marshall, Abby’s caregiver. A number of people argue each side. Then there’s the various Abby financial deals and businesses, but again, nothing really is explored in-depth, like why his Atlanta restaurant closed, or the later sale of his 2011 WWE Hall of Fame ring.
Also left out completely was whatever family Larry Shreve himself had through the years, wives and kids. Perhaps their narrative wouldn’t have helped the way that Adrian Adonis’ family did last week? Or they wouldn’t talk since it’s all a work? Who knows.
To Dark Side‘s credit, they showed Nicholson’s 2021 Bloodhunter incident in Texas where he sent a referee to the hospital. “They were looking for someone to bleed from the spike, so the promoter found this referee that was a known bleeder to take the spike. It hit him several times, and did some damage,” said Nicholson. “The promoter for that show did not have any medics on site. It went on longer than it should have. It was bad communication all around.” Since then, no US promoter has used Nicholson, to the best of my knowledge, and I have no idea why anyone would use him at all.
Airing the Bloodhunter incident immediately deflates any of the “victim” status that Nicholson had with a non-knowledgeable audience. There’s a feeling that both he and Abby got exactly what they deserved from the wrestling business, twisted and cold-hearted as it is.
After all, in Abby’s world, they are all out to get him anyway. He lives in squalor, his health and finances gone. “I was dumb. I didn’t have the schooling. … everybody shafts me,” he said. “I should have went to school to learn how to read and write. I studied money. But I needed more than that. I got shafted. All the tapes, what I made for many, many years, I got nothing.”
TOP PHOTOS: Abdullah the Butcher, young and in his prime. SlamWrestling.net archives
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- Slam Wrestling’s Dark Side of the Ring story and review archive