February 21, 1985
A mere five weeks before the inaugural WrestleMania, the ABC television network airs its infamous edition of the 20/20 news program which featured an exposé on professional wrestling and, more specifically, the World Wrestling Federation. The controversial episode shocked its viewers by taking them inside the secretive world of pro wrestling in a way that had never been done before, resulting in what was, for many years, the highest-rated edition of the once popular weekly program. Although, decades later, it is remembered for one specific event, there was much more to the 12-minute segment than just “the slap heard ’round the world.”
Eddy Mansfield (who was already out of the business when he appeared in front of 20/20’s cameras, despite only being 28 years old at the time) was a mid-card performer known as “The Continental Lover” during his wrestling days. In a gym with reporter John Stossel and an empty ring, Mansfield proceeded to divulge some of pro wrestling’s best-kept secrets. With B-roll footage of WWF matches spliced in between their interview, Mansfield showed Stossel (and his millions of viewers) how to perform several well-known wrestling maneuvers, step-by-step. From a Fireman’s Carry to a Body Slam, a Back Body Drop to a Flying Elbow Smash, how to “run the ropes” to delivering a convincing “working punch,” Mansfield laid it out for all to see, for the first time ever. After a half-hour of training, Stossel was able to perform a relatively convincing exchange with Mansfield that consisted of a Fireman’s Carry, two tackles and a Body Slam.
Mansfield was then joined in the ring by former wrestler “Big” Jim Wilson and the two ex-pros performed another series of “fake” moves, just like the ones that wrestling fans saw every week on TV. However, Mansfield (or possibly the 20/20 video editors) saved the best for last. After explaining to Stossel the concept of “red turns to green,” Mansfield proceeded to cut a razor into small pieces, forming a “blade,” and then wrapped it before concealing the gaffe in his wrist tape. From there, he nonchalantly displayed how wrestlers draw blood by cutting their foreheads as a disgusted John Stossel looked on.
From there, the focus was shifted to wrestling promoters, and how they often abuse their power over their wrestlers, whom they few as little more than “farm animals.” The topic of blackballing was addressed, with Jim Wilson repeating his oft-told claim that he was exiled from the profession due to his refusal to sleep with a male promoter. Meanwhile, former All-South Wrestling Alliance owner Ann Gunkel recounted how she had been frozen out of promoting in the San Diego market.
Then, in the main event of the evening, a smarmy, somewhat impertinent John Stossel made the ill-advised decision to confront David Schultz in the hallway outside of the wrestler’s locker rooms. Showing neither respect nor fear, Stossel cantankerously informed the towering David Schultz that “I think this is fake.” Big mistake. The notoriously short-tempered Doctor D then violently struck Stossel on the right side of the reporter’s head, asking, “You think this is fake?” As the downed Stossel struggled to rise to his feet, Schultz again asked, “Was that fake? Huh? What’s wrong with you, that was an open-hand slap…” before striking him over his left ear, even harder this time, while repeating his previous question, “Was that fake?” The segment then ended, with a frightened Stossel scrambling down the hallway as Schultz slowly pursued him before heading back to the locker room.
As a result of his actions, David Schultz was suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission and soon fired from the WWF while Titan Sports was subsequently sued by Stossel. Schultz was later quoted as saying that Vince McMahon had told him just prior to his interview with Stossel, “Dave, there’s a guy here mocking the business. I want you to blast him and stay in character.”