Did WWE HOFer Abdullah the Butcher give a fellow wrestler Hepatitis C?

With Larry "Abdullah The Butcher" Shreve about to be inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame as part of Wrestlemania 27 weekend and getting mainsteam publicity for it in his native Windsor, Ontario, Canada, a much less cheerful story involving him has popped up and is slowly getting some semi-mainstream publicity in Thunder Bay, Ontario's Net News Ledger and a wrestling blog on the website of the Phoenix New Times.

Devon Nicholson, who wrestles in Canada as Hannibal, was offered a WWE developmental contract in 2009 after he attended a Florida Championship Wrestling tryout camp, but the offer was rescinded after tests revealed that he has Hepatitis C.  Yesterday, a fifteen minute teaser for a documentary about his situation called "Don't Bleed On Me" was uploaded to YouTube.  If you can, you must go watch it right now.

In the documentary, Nicholson says that when he tested positive, he looked back on the period between his last negative test and the positive test, looking for and kind of risky behavior.  The only possible means of transmission he could come up with was working with Abdullah the Butcher in a series of matches in 2007 as well as another in 2009 before he was diagnosed.  In a match that is excerpted in the documentary teaser, Abdullah used the same blade to cut himself and then cut Nicholson (already bleeding, presumably from blading himself) without his permission.  He claims that his lawyer has asked Shreve to provide him with paperwork proving that he doesn't have Hepatitis C, but they haven't received any response.

In the documentary, Abdullah's habit of cutting people (wrestlers or otherwise) without their permission is discussed.  Roy Wayne "Honky Tonk Man" Ferris talks of seeing him cut up a ring announcer in Chattanooga, Tennessee who was in tears afterwards.  A clip from 2009 is also shown where he  cut up a Canadian talk show host.  The host and TV station were not happy, and a copy of an angry letter they sent to Shreve was shown.  These were far from the only times he's done this.  There have been numerous tales of it happened over the years.  In Heath McCoy's excellent book "Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling," Keith Hart spoke of an encounter with Abdullah that occurred when he was 18 years old and selling programs at his father Stu's Stampede shows:

"I happened to stroll by Abdullah when he was getting into the ring.  He grabbed me by the hair, put his arm around my throat, cut me, and started chewing on my forehead.  He said to me [whispering], 'Sell it, kid, sell it.'  It wasn't planned at all.  I've still got the scar.  He was the scariest thing."

Keith's brother Bret Hart told a similar story in his own book, "Hitman: My Real Life In The Cartoon World of Wrestling."  While Bret was a wrestler at this point and didn't get cut, he had injured his knee and was on crutches at ringside during a match between Abdullah and Jerry Morrow when Abdullah tried to brawl with him:

"Then Abbie came toward me and I gave him a look.  I can't!  My knee!  As much as I tried not to, there I was bashing him over the head with a crutch.  He whipped his bladed thumb across his forehead.  Blood poured.  'Hit me again!'  So I did.

What a strange business where bloodletting could be offered and appreciated as kindness."

There have been a number of strange stories about Abdullah The Butcher over the years.  In the YouTube video, Ferris and Wayne "'Superstar' Billy Graham" Coleman posit that he's straight-up mentally ill and that's why he cuts people without their permission.  He's been accused of surgically having the blade scars on his forehead deepened.  He's done "shoot interview videos" where he demanded more money than previously agreed upon while on camera.  When being interviewed by phone for McCoy's book, he snapped that "You're costing me a lot of damn money on this telephone" ten minutes into their chat.  In Bret Hart's book, he wrote about witnessing Abdullah's preparation for a big match in Japan with Antonio Inoki:

"Before the main match, Abdullah's massage guy worked on him and then an ancient-looking Japanese doctor injected him with adrenalin."

Generally speaking, referring to him as eccentric and/or odd would be putting it kindly.

Anyway, as far as Hepatitis C goes, there are only a few reported cases of it in pro wrestling, one of which stirred up some major controversy.

Wayne "Billy Graham" Coleman was on his deathbed thanks to the disease when a liver transplant saved his lift.  His health has declined recently, though, and his new liver is declining.  He believes he contracted the disease during a match where both wrestlers bled. From the excellent profile of him that was just published in the Phoenix New Times:

Graham claims he caught hepatitis C in the 1970s, from rolling around the ring in other wrestlers' blood. He downplays any possibility that he could have caught it from his steroid injections or from a promiscuous lifestyle.

For a long time, I didn't believe him.  As someone who injected himself many times, it seemed ridiculous to bring up "double juice" matches as the culprit since one would expect many more wrestlers to have the disease if that was the case.  That may have been ignorance on my part, as it's explained in the YouTube video that the disease can lay dormant for decades, plus the idea that blades were being shared never crossed my mind as much as the idea that it seemed unlikely that these small cuts, which usually clotted quickly, couldn't have been an effective means of transmission.

Hepatitis C laying dormant for decades was at the center of a scandal within WWE several years ago.  Randy Orton feuded with The Undertaker for several months in 2005, culminating in a "Hell in a Cell" cage match at the end of the year.  Orton's father, "Cowboy" Bob Orton Jr. got involved with the feud and ended up being actively involved in the cage match, where he bled all over the place.  After the match, 'Taker found out that the elder Orton had Hepatitis C, and head of talent relations John Laurinaitis knew about it, but for whatever reason didn't tell him and allowed Orton to blade himself in the match and bleed all over the place.  Orton didn't think much of it because he had the disease for decades without any symptoms, and because of this mess, he was fired not long afterwards.

It's also worth noting that Japan's Jumbo Tsuruta's career was basically over (save for some occasional comedy matches) after he contracted Hepatitis B, a related disease which is spread by the same transmission routes as HIV (to the point that it's called "the Hepatitis B model") as opposed to just blood.  He eventually developed kidney cancer, which spread to his liver, and he died in 2000 of complications from Kidney transplant in the Phillipines.

Right now, we can't know for sure if Devon "Hannibal" Nicholson was infected by Larry "Abdullah the Butcher" Shreve.  If he's telling the truth about not participating in any other risky behavior that could have put someone else's infected blood into his bloodstream, then it seems like a strong possibility.  We do know for sure that Shreve used the same blade on himself before cutting Nicholson with it, and if he was willing to do that, I doubt it was the first time in 50 year career that he did so.  He also has a infamous history of cutting people against their will.

If he did infect Nicholson, then I worry for just about every wrestler who ever worked with him.  That includes Terry Funk, who's inducting him into the WWE Hall of Fame tomorrow night.  Not only have they faced off in bloodbaths in the past, but the rumor mill is buzzing that Shreeve wants to stay in character tomorrow night, refusing to speak before cutting open Funk's forehead.  With WWE's current anti-blood policies, it's unlikely, but if he does it, I hope he uses a fresh blade.

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