Abdullah the Butcher, a WWE Hall-of-Famer, continues to wrestle the indy circuit into his 70s. And his gimmick remains the same: He bleeds, and he makes his opponents bleed, and they tend to bleed all over each other. That's a big problem when he's carrying around a blood-borne disease.
Abdullah, real name Larry Shreve, has spent more than 50 years in the industry, mostly with regional promotions but with notable stints in the NWA, and in Japan and Puerto Rico. He also has hepatitis C, and rumors have long dogged him that he's infected countless other wrestlers. (It led Superstar Billy Graham to blast the WWE for his HOF induction.) But there'd never previously been any proof, until yesterday, when Canadian wrestler Devon (Hannibal) Nicholson won a $2.1 million (USD) negligence suit against Shreve in Ontario court, successfully arguing that he contracted hepatitis C during a 2007 match.
During that match in Cochrane, Alberta, Shreve sliced them both open with the same blade. According to Nicholson, Shreve had not revealed he carried hepatitis C, which is usually treatable but can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure, and is highly contagious. Nicholson says that WWE offered him a contract in 2009, but rescinded it after he tested positive for the disease. It's those lost earnings that led him to sue Shreve, although it's certain that Shreve doesn't have that kind of money. If he did, he wouldn't be, as noted, still wrestling the indy circuit into his 70s.
Nicholson was able to produce court records showing that he and Shreve carried the same rare strain of the disease, making it highly unlikely he picked it up somewhere else. Shreve's defense was that it was Nicholson who gave it to him, and when he bladed Nicholson, he was only following orders.
But in a taped interview that same year (note the permanent blading grooves in his forehead), Shreve denied ever slicing Nicholson. "I have never cut you," he says, though the photo at the top of this article shows Shreve using a fork on Nicholson's forehead in a separate 2007 match.
Nicholson's story isn't an isolated one. Nigel McGuinness, who at one point was supposed to be the next big thing, contracted hepatitis B early in his career, he presumes during a bloody match. He revealed this in a 2012 documentary he produced, and said his diagnosis may have been partly responsible for torpedoing his chances with WWE—he agreed to a contract but failed a physical—and it definitely ended his in-ring career with TNA. Now working in the front office for Ring of Honor, McGuinness has banned the practice of blading in that promotion.
"I think [blading] is outdated," McGuinness said on a podcast interview last year. "And I think the risks far outweigh the rewards. I hope, eventually, in time, wrestling fans will look at it the same way. Much the same as 10 years ago, when you saw somebody hit somebody else in the head with an unprotected chair shot, the crowd popped. Now when you see it, the majority of wrestling fans are turned off by it."
Last year, Nicholson starred in a documentary on his career and his quest to get to the WWE. It's melodramatic and at times completely over-the-top, but he's almost made a second career out of his hep-C saga. He's reportedly been ejected from outside a WWE show, and last year made headlines claiming that his hepatitis had been cured by an experimental treatment. (While recently developed drugs show promise in curing the most common strain of the disease, no medication has yet been FDA- or Health Canada-approved for treating Nicholson's rarer genotype 2 hepatitis C.)
His court win and $2.1M judgment (he had been seeking $6 million from Shreve) is a vindication. "I'm definitely on the way back up," he said yesterday. He celebrated by setting his lawyer up for his finisher.