Ex-WWE Writer Quit Over Terrorist-Linked Storyline

Vince McMahon WWE

One infamous WWE storyline drove a former writer to quit the company.

On July 7th, 2005, Muhammad Hassan led a group of masked assailants in an attack on The Undertaker before they carried off his manager Daivari, who had been decimated in a match against The Undertaker, as an apparent martyr.

The segment in itself was already in poor taste but aired on the same day 52 people lost their lives in a tourist attack in London. To make matters worse, the show had been pre-taped meaning the segment could have been removed.

The segment caused an immense backlash, with broadcaster UPN demanding an apology, as they banned Hassan from appearing on the station.

Speaking in a video released through his LinkedIn profile, former WWE writer Michael Leonardi recalled being tasked with making a video package for the match between Hassan and The Undertaker at the Great American Bash.

Leonardi explained that he wanted to make changes to Hassan’s presentation including removing mock beheadings from vignettes and other acts imitating terrorism. He even asked to be given another match to work on. However, after airing his grievances, Leonardi was demoted.

In another twist, once UPN got involved, Leonardi was reinstated into his previous position, but he was so frustrated with how the situation had been handled he left the company anyway.

I’ll tell you the other story real quick of why I left in the first place in 2005… This was voluntary. I left for a couple reasons but, I left because we had a character called — his name is Muhammad Hassan and in fact, I had helped with a lot of his vignettes which we would shoot. I think Barry Bross was the one who was doing all the vignettes.

I was actually in the vignettes. I’m actually in them but I was also… I was an Associate Producer at the time because it was ‘05, and then he had gotten into this angle with The Undertaker and at this time, this was 2005, in July of 2005, there were — I don’t know if some of you remember, there were these bombings that were going on in London.

These bus bombings and there was a lot of stuff in the news about these terrorists that were beheading people and airing it or whatever and so things like beheadings were really triggering probably to some people or whatever that was but, Muhammad Hassan would do these kind of mock-beheadings in leading up to his match with The Undertaker and stuff like that… I was like, ‘We gotta pull this, we gotta do something. Stop doing that.’

Clearly, it’s hitting too close to home right now for people. It’s probably not the best thing to do, and then I was asked to produce a promotional video promoting that match. It was the Muhammad Hassan-Undertaker match and I was like, ‘Dude, I can’t cut this. This is wrong.’ I said, ‘Can you give me something else? Can I take one of these other ones?’

And interestingly enough, I asked to cut an Eddie Guerrero versus Rey Mysterio match which involved Dominik (Mysterio) when he was a little kid which is crazy to think now that he’s like a major superstar now.

I end up cutting that promo and for that, they gave me that promo and then they demoted me. They didn’t demote me financially but they took away pretty much all of my responsibilities at the time and this was from my boss, John Gaburick, who… that’s a whole other conversation about his position in the company and how he got that position.

I think ‘Big’ is a good guy and everything else like that but, how he was put into that position and the way that he managed our department, I did not agree with at all obviously and so, for me to go in there and speak up and say, ‘Man, this is wrong. I don’t wanna cut this. Please give me another project. I’ll do one of the other pay-per-view promos,’ which they did, but then, they demoted me for it and it wasn’t until U.P.N. put all this pressure on WWE that says, you guys need to pull this, or else we’re dropping you or whatever it was. It was a very real thing.

They ended up dropping the storyline and then once that came in, like oh, so, now our network that pays hundreds of millions of dollars says this is too much, we gotta pull it and they pulled it. They ended up killing the storyline. The Muhammad Hassan character was gone forever and I was reinstated with all of my responsibilities after that. After that happened, I was like, F you guys. This is not how you treat people and so I left.”

Michael Leonardi Was Fired By WWE In 2016

Michael Leonardi returned to the company in April 2015, before being fired less than a year later. The writer revealed Vince McMahon fired him in January 2016 after clashing with the former WWE boss over a Martin Luther King-themed promo.

“When I finally got the new script and brought it in, we did not have a lot of time to shoot it and essentially, the script called for Neville (PAC) to speak up and tell everyone else that, well, he’s got a dream too and that dream is to win the Royal Rumble. I remember Neville coming up to me after he read it and he was like, ‘Mike, man, I can’t say this.”

Leonardi explained that he changed the promo to make everyone involved more comfortable, but this angered McMahon who wanted it presented in its original form.

H/t to POST Wrestling