3/29 WWE Network Special Report – “Legends with JBL” Michael Hayes Interview – Hayes talks wrestling career, Mark Henry incident, what he’s learned from his past, grateful to be alive, Rise & Fall of Texas Wrestling, Freebirds, Von Erichs, theory on Gino Hernandez’s death, next big stars, more

By James Caldwell, PWTorch assistant editor

JBL Legends Show - WWE Network (c) WWE


WWE Network Special Report
“Legends with JBL”
Guest: 2016 WWE Hall of Famer Michael P.S. Hayes
Premiere Date: March 29, 2016

The latest edition of JBL’s sit-down interview series featured Michael Hayes on the week of his WWE Hall of Fame induction in Dallas, Texas, where Hayes ran with the Freebirds against the Von Erichs in World Class Championship Wrestling.

JBL opened the Network special by hyping Hayes as one of the greatest minds in wrestling history who helped come up with the Freebirds and contributed to some of the greatest wrestling factions in history. JBL hyped the Freebirds changing wrestling and drawing lots of money. He said Hayes helped bring an old-school wrestling mindset into “sports entertainment.” JBL called him as “creative as he is controversial.”

Hayes, who was dressed in one of his wild suit and hat combos, said he’s always been different, starting with how he got into the wrestling business. Hayes said he hung out with Robert Gibson of the Rock ‘n Roll Express and was asked to be on the ring crew. “I thought I died and went to Heaven,” Hayes said.

Hayes wanted to take a step back and say right off the top that his mouth and his actions have gotten him where he’s at in his career, but also gotten himself into a lot of trouble. JBL said he can talk his way into anything – with a good promo getting him to the main event.

JBL went to a broader overview of how the wrestling business was back in the day when it was much different than today. JBL said people did things that were harmful to themselves and did not know how harmful they really were. “You look at sports, rock ‘n roll, anything, and wrestling was part of it,” JBL said. “It was part of the culture.”

Hayes said he was fascinated by the wrestling business when he was a teenager. Then, he would go to concerts and he would see the same people at concerts as wrestling shows. But, the old-time promoters did not see this connection to draw in younger fans. “The thought of rock ‘n roll coming in was just foreign,” Hayes said.

Hayes confirmed they got the name “Freebirds” from Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hayes revealed he wanted to be the “Fabulous Florida Freebirds,” but they shortened it and the song spoke to him not wanting to be a clone, but being a different.

JBL fast-forwarded to Hayes meeting up with Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy as a teenager in Mississippi. Hayes said one of Gordy’s first matches as a teenager was against Ernie Ladd and was the best worker in every territory he went to. Hayes said they hit it right off as the heel opposite Gordy as the lovable, cuddly, young babyface. Hayes recalled hanging out in secret because of their heel-face feud when it was real to the audience.

On a side note, Hayes talked about the Wild Samoans training him (creating a modern-day link to Roman Reigns).

Hayes recalled leaving his first territory and sitting in Terry Gordy’s car for about 45 minutes. Then, Gordy walked into the car and asked Hayes where they’re going. What do you mean? Gordy said he quit the territory, too, because if they did not want Michael, then they weren’t going to have him. Hayes said that meant the world to him because someone believed in him. And, they ran together.

JBL fast-forwarded to the age of 21 when Hayes main-evented the Superdome against Junkyard Dog. And, on the undercard was Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant as the outsider match. Hayes said the crowd didn’t like Hogan, but they loved Andre. Hayes noted Andre sure did not like him, though. JBL said Andre fired him once, which Hayes vehemently denied.

Hayes then talked about introducing the Freebirds gimmick. He said Jerry Jarrett went for the music idea, and Bill Watts was smart enough to put it on TV. Hayes shifted to talking about traveling from Houston down to Galveston in Watts’s territory when he heard about his foster mother dying. Hayes said he was late to the building after pulling over on the side of the road and then got fined by Watts. Hayes said he still showed up and worked the main event, and Watts did not believe his story at the time. But, Watts’s son told him it was true.

JBL transitioned to talking about Hayes’s legacy in Texas Wrestling. The discussion centered on 1982 when Dallas was ripe for wrestling with World Class Championship Wrestling ready to take off. Hayes recalled having an argument with Ole Anderson in Georgia, leading to him being fired, quitting, or both, so he reached out to Gary Hart to be part of World Class’s “Star Wars” shows.

Hayes said he always heard about Fritz Von Erich pushing his sons and older wrestlers going to Texas in the twilight of their careers. But, when he saw what World Class was doing, he told Terry Gordy to give his notice and come down to Texas with him. “We’ll come on in, turn on these Von Erich boys, and start printing money,” Hayes said.

Hayes went back to the famous Christmas Night 1982 when Hayes and Gordy turned on Kerry Von Erich with the famous cage door slam during Von Erich vs. Ric Flair. Hayes said it captured the fine line between love and hate since the fans loved them when they came in, but hated them after they turned on the Von Erichs. JBL said Hayes was the original John Cena, which Hayes wasn’t so sure about. JBL said half the crowd loved the Freebirds and half the crowd hated the Freebirds when they came in.

Hayes said what he realized when he came to Texas is that Texans love Texans, their state, think of themselves as their own country, and love their flag. Hayes said he decided they were going to turn this into a college rivalry by talking up Georgia, whose flag had portions of the Confederate rebel flag in it. (Not discussed is the timing of how this drew massive heat – #2 ranked University of Texas faced the #7 ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the Cotton Bowl game in January 1984 after the 1983 season.)

JBL said Hayes’s association with the Georgia flag and flashing the Confederate imagery hurt him later on. JBL said it wasn’t considered a big deal then, but now it’s looked at differently. He asked Hayes if he understands the controversy now looking back on it. “Yes, I do. Now,” Hayes said. “Back then, I liked the rebel flag because I was a rebel. It had nothing to do with race.” Hayes said he understands how people can view it as hateful now, but he doesn’t understand how people can retroactively look back on it and conclude that he wore it “for this or that reason.”

JBL introduced a topic that Hayes has a black daughter, which people do not know about. Hayes said his second ex-wife has a daughter from a previous relationship who is half-black. He said she is still in his life today. Hayes said he does not bring that up because he doesn’t want to use that information to satisfy people’s thinking that he is a racist.

As part of that, Hayes addressed the Mark Henry Incident from several years ago where he used the n-word around Henry. Hayes said that when he and Gordy were on the road, they listened to a lot of Richard Pryor, who used the n-word in a casual way. Hayes said he did not have the sense enough to understand that it could not be seen that way by other people.

“I was wrong for doing it. I was intoxicated when Mark and I had that incident. I never called Mark that. I just said that I was more ‘n’ than he was. But, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that hurt Mark Henry. And if you say something that hurts somebody, especially when you didn’t mean to, then you need to own up to it. I did that,” Hayes said.

“I went to take care of that. I met with Mark and his wife. To Mark’s credit, it was up to him whether I kept my job or not. Mark did not want to see me go. Mark had a lot of power in that decision. I was in the room with him, Stephanie (McMahon), John Laurinaitis, and some legal counsel. Mark was asked point-blank – ‘Do you think Michael is a racist?’ He said no.”

Hayes said the good that came out of the situation was it humbled him and made him learn that he can’t go around saying what he wants. “I needed to learn. I needed to be broken down and humbled at that time,” Hayes said. JBL noted Hayes lost a lot from that. Hayes said he lost his VP position, three months of pay, and bonuses. “And that’s nobody’s fault but mine,” he said.

The interview cut away to JBL bringing up the Von Erichs and their heyday with the Freebirds. Hayes said one of the big reasons why the Von Erichs were so successful is they had such a strong rival. To use the sports analogy, Hayes said the audience knew it was going to be a “good game.”

JBL brought up David Von Erich dying in 1984, starting the downfall of World Class. He said World Class was ahead of their time with production and wrestling presentation, so would things have been differently if David did not die? Hayes said they will never know, but there’s a good chance Fritz and Vince McMahon would have merged in 1984.

“David had this grandeur ideas,” Hayes said. Hayes said David did not want to be part of the good old boy system and was not afraid of going into other guys’s territories. Hayes said he would have led the national expansion as the top star of World Class. JBL said it was just a matter of the technology growing for someone to emerge as the national leader.

“They definitely wanted to,” Hayes said of the Von Erichs wanting to go national. But, he doesn’t think some of the boys, like Kerry Von Erich, realized the magnitude of what they had. “David did, and David would have been able to handle the business side,” Hayes said.

JBL said Fritz tried to go national in 1986, as did others, but it was too late by that time. Hayes said UWF did big TV ratings with Terry Gordy on top, which led to Hayes discussing the importance of Buddy Roberts to the Freebirds group. Hayes talked about linking up with Buddy since they were boys in a man’s world, which Buddy understood. Hayes called Buddy the MVP of the Freebirds because of how much heat he could get. “You could beat him, but the audience wouldn’t be satisfied because he wasn’t dead,” Hayes said.

JBL shifted to the World Class/Dallas roster. Specifically, Gino Hernandez. Hayes got emotional thinking about Gino, calling him special. “He had some talent that superseded his personality,” Hayes said. “I don’t think the person and the character were that far off.”

Hayes said he has a real hard time believing that Gino over-dosed. “I don’t think he od’ed,” Hayes said. JBL asked if Hayes thinks someone killed him. Hayes said he can’t say what happened, but he had been around Gino enough to know that Hernandez knew when enough was enough. JBL tried to get deeper into whether Hayes had a name in mind if someone killed Gino or laced Gino’s drugs of choice. “I do not think it’s someone in the wrestling business,” Hayes said. He said his theory is he was hanging with the wrong crowd, ran his mouth too much, or all of the above. JBL asked if he’s saying he was murdered. “Your words, not mine,” Hayes said.

Hayes said Gino’s death was another nail in the coffin for World Class. He said the epidemic of deaths was not just related to the Von Erichs anymore. JBL said a list of terrible things happened in Dallas, then the Freebirds did a final appearance on the tribute show to David Von Erich that essentially ended Dallas’s big run.

JBL said Hayes left World Class, then went to WWF and that’s where he got fired by Andre the Giant. Otherwise, history might be different because Hayes would have been doing the Rock ‘n Wrestling associated with the first WrestleMania. Hayes said they got a huge $250,000 record deal for the Freebirds, mainly to record “Bad Street USA.” So, they came to WWF and they did not fit in.

“We thought our stuff didn’t stink because of all the success we had,” Hayes said. But, the culture of WWF/E is that it doesn’t matter if you did it somewhere else, you have to do it all over again. Notably, Hayes was still 25 years-old at the time. Also, Hayes thinks McMahon just wanted him, not Terry or Buddy. Plus, Terry didn’t want to leave Texas because he met the first love of his life, so his heart wasn’t into the new WWF gig. “It wasn’t working,” Hayes said. One night, Terry woke up in a bad mood sleeping on the grass by the pool. So, one day they showed up at the building “highly out of it” and bumped into Andre, who was an agent for the night. Hayes recalled Andre pointing out that he was drunk, Hayes saying he was not, and then Hayes falling over on the floor. Andre was upset because he had put in the good word for them, and they were blowing their chance in WWF. “I did the wrong thing for a friend,” Hayes said. But, he was able to reconcile with Andre before he died. “He never did fire us,” Hayes said. “We quit and went home.” Hayes said he realized later that the decision to quit and walk away was not the right decision. So, they returned to finish their bookings and he had a talk with Vince McMahon. Vince also decided that he could not trust Hayes, so he was fired on the way to Japan.

JBL transitioned to Hayes being part of the opposing promotions against WWF. Hayes said they had Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Jerry Lawler, and other big names on super-cards with better in-ring work, but there was Vince McMahon charging through the territories.

JBL shifted to their shared experiences in the mid-1990s finishing up the Texas territory at the Sportatorium. JBL recalled Hayes ending up in WWF as Dok Hendrix doing commentary. Hayes talked about having to get his haircut and how badly he wanted the job. They flashed to footage of Hayes as Dok Hendrix trying to do a good job dropping his old rebellious persona despite not like the character. But, he learned so much about television – what to do and what not to do.

JBL transitioned to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s famous 1996 King of the Ring promo that Hayes contributed to. Hayes said there is some belief that Vince Russo contributed to the promo, which he said is not true. He said Austin “went with what he felt.” WWE cut to footage of Austin doing the promo as Hayes/Hendrix held the mic. “My credit was giving him the info (about Jake Roberts’s promo), and then he did what he did with it,” Hayes said.

JBL asked Hayes about Raw losing for months and months to WCW Nitro in the TV ratings. Hayes said it bothered him that Eric Bischoff wanted to put WWF/E out of business. He said WWF’s thinking at the time was that the crew they had down in WCW would make the place disintegrate because they did not have a roster leader guiding the ship.

JBL jumped to Hayes becoming head of Smackdown Creative. He asked if Hayes gets as much enjoyment out of creating storylines, characters, and PPV matches as moonwalking as a Freebird. Hayes said he thinks he enjoys the behind-the-scenes aspect more because of getting to create and take the audience on a ride and tell a story. Hayes said being part of the storytelling for the Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker WM25 and WM26 matches was special. Hayes said when you go back and watch HBK-Taker at WM25, it’s so satisfying. WWE cut to footage of Hayes hugging Michaels backstage after the match.

JBL asked Hayes what he wants his legacy to be. Or, whether he cares. Hayes put it like this – every morning when he wakes up, he gets on his knees and thanks God for another day. He said when he goes to sleep, he gets on his knees and thanks God for the day he had, and hopes that he gets another one.

JBL asked Hayes if he feels like the sole survivor with half of the Freebirds gone, almost all of the Von Erichs gone, and Gino Hernandez gone. Hayes said he did not think he would live past the age of 30, but here he is at 57. “I don’t know that I feel alone,” Hayes said. “I am so fortunate to still be in the business and contributing. I know we’ll all see each other again.”

As part of the legacy discussion, there was no follow-up on what being part of the WWE Hall of Fame this year means to him, or what emotions he will feel when the Freebirds are collectively inducted.

JBL closed with a “No Bull” rapid-fire topic segment…

– Favorite piece of clothing: black underwear.

– Favorite music group: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

– Favorite all-time manager: Bobby Heenan.

– Most crooked promoter: Jimmy Kilshaw, who worked for Bill Watts.

– Best Faction: three-way tie between the Horsemen, DX, and NWO.

– Next Big Superstar or Diva: Roman Reigns and Sasha Banks.

– Greatest Life Accomplishment: “Still here.”

JBL ended the 45-minute interview by reflecting on what Hayes means to him. JBL said he got to tag with the Von Erichs and watch The Freebirds make their entrance at the Sportatorium. “To this day, I can picture every moment of that,” JBL told a smiling Hayes. They shook hands to close the interview.

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