WWE Writer Fired For Changing Racially Charged Promo

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Former WWE writer Michael Leonardi has detailed how he was fired for altering a problematic promo.

Leonardi was working in the creative writing team in 2016, and an incident on that year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day led to him being let go from WWE.

Speaking on a video released through his LinkedIn profile, Leonardi explained how he was given a racially insensitive segment to shoot with PAC (known in WWE as Adrian Neville), R-Truth, Titus O’Neil, and Mark Henry, but the wrestlers were uncomfortable with what they were being asked to do.

“I was fired over a very particular segment which quite frankly still rubs me the wrong way and I think about it all the time. I always think about what I could have done better if anything to have not gotten fired.

“So, essentially I was given a segment and this had already gone through a couple of rewrites and this was one of the days where there was a lot of late-minute rewrites, there was a lot of backup with shooting segments.

“My segment though was involving four talent; three African-Americans. It was R-Truth, Titus O’Neil and Mark Henry and Neville [PAC], a Caucasian guy. So this happened to be the Martin Luther King edition of Monday Night Raw. It took place in Columbus, Ohio and it was on a Monday, whatever.

“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 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.’

“For anyone that is trying to understand this, trying to compare — these things are comparable and some face, he was a good guy, a wrestler who wants to one day win the Royal Rumble to one of the most iconic speeches in American history about civil rights and how important that was. To try to play on that was dumb. It was poor writing and I’ll tell you why, number one, it doesn’t make Neville look like a face. That would be something that a heel would say, right? That would be something that a bad guy would say in that way to undermine the importance of that speech at the end of the day.

“So not only was Neville not comfortable saying it, the other three guys in the room, Titus and R-Truth and Mark Henry were like, ‘Yeah, this is f*cking terrible and so we did not have time to go back and get rewrites and I was not comfortable at all, nor did I even think this was an option quite frankly to try and get them to do it as is. The talent didn’t wanna shoot it that way.

“So what do you do? So, we worked together and we tried to find a way that we could pull this off and it not come off racially insensitive or to basically mock, to some degree, one of the most prolific speeches of all-time by a guy who’s supposed to be a good guy too. There was no way that was gonna be pulled off. So we ended up having R-Truth say it who R-Truth is a Hall of Famer. He is so incredible about delivering things and so we had R-Truth say it for Neville in a way that made it fun and warm and not insensitive in any way or not basically making light of just an — on the day of MLK. Day!

“So we shot it that way, we shot it that way, we are running out of time and everybody — my boss, Dave Kapoor was in the room and he approved it and afterwards, Dave said to me, ‘Hey Mike, why don’t you just go down to Gorilla and tell Vince what we did here, and just give him a heads up.’ I said, ‘Okay.’

“So I go down to Gorilla and Vince (McMahon) is sitting in Gorilla where he always used to sit. I mean he’s got his headphones on and I said, ‘Hey, Vince, just wanna give you a heads up. We shot this thing. Talent had a little bit of an issue with how this was written and so we had R-Truth say the line as well. We think it felt good, we’re happy with it. I know it’s my responsibility. But, just wanted to let you know,’ and I’ll never forget this. He’s staring at the screen, he takes off his headphones and he turned to me, he said, ‘So you didn’t give me what I wanted?’ And my eyes got big and I’m like, ‘Umm…’ and I said, ‘Yes sir, I know, I understand.’ I explained it again, what we did, the circumstances around it, the limitations that we had. I took full responsibility for it and then he just chewed me the f*ck out, pardon my French. Chewed me out…”

Road Dogg was standing next to Leonardi as Vince McMahon berated him, and the former writer says the star had been in the same position himself.

“When he does that, when Vince does that, what do you do? There’s nothing you can do to even — it’s clear that [Road Dogg’s] been in that position before. I’m not the only one that was on the other end of a lashing. But yeah, so Vince was just chewing me out and I’m saying to him, ‘Yes sir, yes sir.’ I’m just trying to tell him I acknowledge, I’m listening, I’m trying to learn and man, he goes, ‘Stop saying that! You’re only saying that because you just wanna get out of here!’ And I’m like, what do you want me to say? I’m just listening, I’m acknowledging you.

“It was a disaster and you know, I remember the next day, we were at SmackDown and he had given me another thing with Titus. The assignment was, Titus has to say this and do this whole segment literally word-for-word. Not one word in the two paragraphs that he had to memorize and say, he had to deliver it. Every single word exactly the same. Every word that was written on that paper had to be said. It ended up taking us two hours to shoot it.”

“He Was Just Really P***ed Off That The Script Was Changed” – Michael Lombardi On Why Vince McMahon Fired Him From WWE

Leonardi went on to explain how there was a double-standard as other people often got away with ad-libbing lines. However, he had not reached a point in his relationship with McMahon where the Chairman would give him leeway like he might with others.

“I think it was something that I think he was just really p***ed off that the script was changed and even despite explaining the circumstances and the fact was, we were all just trying to protect the company. We’re trying to protect the company from putting out a segment that was racially insensitive that just was poor, that just put us potentially in a bad light, over nothing.”

In hindsight, Leonardi thinks he might have avoided getting fired if he had shot the segment as Vince McMahon envisaged, but also the rewritten version to present an alternative. Even if he had thought of that at the time, though, it was unlikely to happen with the way the wrestlers felt at the time.

“But, when you have a talent that is like, ‘I’m not saying this. I’m not comfortable saying this’ and you have three Black guys on a racially insensitive thing, they’re like, ‘This is terrible. We can’t put this out’ and you have no time to go back and get rewrites or anything else like that, you gotta make calls on the fly sometimes and what did we do? We collaborated, we all put our heads together, my boss included and you know, we put together what we thought was the best possible thing. But, Vince thought that was a major, major no-no and I got fired for it, and it is what it is.”

While Vince McMahon is no longer part of WWE, he still has a surprising amount of power in the company. It has recently been reported that McMahon still retains 20 million shares in TKO, the company formed when WWE was merged with UFC in 2023.

H/T to POST Wrestling for the above transcription.