By Brad Carroll
Over my years as a newspaper sports writer and editor, I've had the opportunity to interview some big names in the world of sports, and some of my most enjoyable and favorite interviews have come from the world of professional wrestling.
So, with WrestleMania 33 just days away, I thought it would be a good idea to look back on those interviews and let our loyal readers have a peak inside the world of professional wrestling from some of the biggest names ever. We're talking guys like Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Kevin Nash, Kurt Angle, Jerry Lawler, Christian and Jimmy Hart.
We'll break it down into seven parts, each focusing on some interesting tidbits to come out of each interview subject, which for many was exclusives for the time.
Part 6: Kevin "Diesel" Nash
Nash was likely the best of all the interviews I did with pro wrestlers during this time period. Heck, he might have been the best interview I've ever done. All subjects were on the table, including his use of steroids, a subject Nash had strong feelings on. This was another exclusive interview that ended up getting national attention.
Here are some of the interview highlights:
While most of the current superstar wrestlers today built their name from the bottom up — starting on the independent circuit and later catching on with a major promotion — Nash’s first career match was in front of 10,000 people at WCW’s Clash of Champions in 1989. A short while later, he was in the WWE and found himself on the cusp of superstardom.
“Genetics,” Nash said of his quick rise. “I was big.”
It didn’t hurt that he was really good friends with one of the biggest tag teams in wrestling before breaking into the business. And that friendship with Rick and Scott Steiner led to his first big break.
“When the Road Warriors left WCW, I got thrown in as a replacement for them — not really a good idea. But it got my foot in the door.”
While he wasn't a technical marvel in the ring, there is no disputing Nash was at the top of two different promotions during an era of immense wrestling popularity. While he may have been knocked by critics, he was still one of the biggest draws of all time. That is something Nash has tremendous pride in.
“As beat up as I was, I’m really proud of what I accomplished. When I broke into wrestling I was half-crippled. I already had eight or nine knee surgeries. I did what I could do in the ring. If you asked me if I could have the career of a critically-acclaimed actor or be Sylvester Stallone, I’m going with Stallone. I want to be that guy that brings in the blockbuster money.”
While Nash says he isn’t bothered by what the critics say, he did take exception to a comment made in former WCW boss Eric Bischoff’s book (“Controversy Creates Ca$h”) that called him “Big Lazy.”
“When Bischoff called me lazy, I was 7-foot and 300 pounds. When he gets to that size, he can let me know what lazy is.”
Nash debuted as Steel with WCW as one-half of the tag team Master Blasters. From there, the promotion created the persona Oz for him before they finally settled on the name Vinnie Vegas. While none of those characters caught on with fans, it was that last persona that ended up drawing interest from one of the biggest wrestling stars of all-time and changed Nash’s wrestling career forever.
Shawn Michaels saw Nash on television and went to WWE owner Vince McMahon and said he should bring the big man aboard immediately. “Shawn was a little guy and he saw me as the perfect complement to him because I was a gigantic big guy. The combo of the two of us was pretty much unstoppable.”
Nash debuted in the WWE as Diesel and was Michaels' bodyguard that would interfere in matches on his behalf. While he didn’t find himself wrestling all that much in the early going, Nash still ended up getting one heck of an education.
“I ended up learning from the best ever. It was on the job training.”
Nash soon skyrocketing to the top of the promotion and, after just a year and a half with the WWE, he won his first world championship with an eight-second victory over Bob Backlund.
While it was an exciting time for Nash, it was also a difficult time for everyone in the wrestling business, especially in the WWE. At the time, the federal government was cracking down on steroids and the WWE became their target.
“We would have an afternoon show at The Spectrum in Philadelphia and they would test us. We would then go to Hershey (Penn.) that night and they would test us again. After one year of killing the company, they finally got off us.”
Those unfortunate circumstances did give Nash a shot at being the face of the promotion. “I was lucky. I was the biggest guy that was clean. At that time, bigger was still better. I was in the right place at the right time.”
Steroids continued to take over a big part of the conversation, from what I remember, 20 or so minutes alone on the subject.
Nash did use steroids in small doses before the government intervened, but he said it had nothing to do with people pushing the drug on him in the business.
“That was just the era and the look. No promoter told us to take them. Vince never mentioned them. We did it to compete. Now I don’t think it’s a big deal because it’s a different era. Look at Samoa Joe; nobody thinks he takes steroids. There’s always going to be a genetic freak, and people are going to question him, but steroid use is very small.”
“With our financial state in this country, do you think senators should be giving Roger Clemens the better part of a week to appear in front of them? Does he deserve it? But it’s all steroids, steroids, steroids. These senators need to worry about paying their taxes, not steroids. Honestly, cigarette smoke is just as bad. If cigarettes were developed today, the FDA would never approve it. But it’s entrenched. Maybe if there were steroid lobbyists things would be different.”
Nash, who was one of the leaders of the NWO, one of the greatest wrestling factions of all time, talked about The Kliq, one of the most talked about groups behind the scenes in wrestling history.
Anyone who followed wrestling closely back in the late 1990’s was aware of a group of wrestlers that collectively became known as “The Kliq” backstage in the WWE. The group consisted of Nash, Michaels, Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), Sean Waltman (X-Pac) and Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H).
At the time, wrestling was still driven by bad guys vs. good guys and that was supposed to be carried out at all times, including traveling together.
“To keep up appearances, the last thing you wanted to do was drive to a match with a guy you were feuding with,” Nash said. “But me, Shawn and Scott Hall decided we would drive with who we wanted to. We were on the road so much that we just decided to make it as enjoyable as possible. Sean and Hunter came in later and the five of us traveled everywhere for two years together.”
Nash said the controversial group was just a bunch of guys that loved the business. “It was just a collaboration of guys that lived wrestling.”
Obviously, it will be hard to ever duplicate this conversation with one of the best. But, if any could rival it, the next wrestler on our interview list could do it, as he is considered one of, if not the, greatest wrestlers of all time, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.