Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring returned last night (Sept. 16) to start the second half of the documentary show’s third season.
The episode (embedded above) focused on the infamous charter flight back to the United States after WWE’s 2002 European tour, known as “The Plane Ride From Hell”. The May ‘02 flight after the Insurrextion PPV in London was delayed for hours due to weather conditions at its destination in Connecticut. During that time the passengers took advantage of an open bar on the plane. What followed was a lot of bad, possibly criminal behavior from the men aboard. That resulted in fines, suspensions, firings, and lawsuits that WWE settled before they went to trial.
Over the past almost 20 years, “The Plane Ride From Hell” has been the focus of a lot of reporting, shoot interviews, and even WWE’s light-hearted Story Time animated series. Two things set Dark Side of the Ring’s accounting apart. One was the lack of WWE influence on the production. The other was the involvement of Heidi Doyle, one of two flight attendants who filed a lawsuit against the company for how they alleged they were treated while working the flight. The company settled out of court with both women.
Allegations that Brock Lesnar and Scott Hall sexually harassed women before and during the flight are mentioned in the latest Dark Side of the Ring (Dustin “Goldust” Rhodes was named in Doyle & Taralyn Cappellano’s lawsuit, but this episode only focuses on Rhodes drunkenly serenading his then-wife Terri Runnels over the PA system). But the most damning allegations are against the legendary Ric Flair.
Flair has repeatedly denied that he harassed or assaulted anyone on the flight, and when asked about the upcoming Dark Side of the Ring episode recently told Renee Paquette, “We’ll see how it plays out, because I was there and I don’t care whose name I gotta drop if the heat falls on me. I know who was where and what and who and what took place. I know the whole story.”
Doyle’s account is that Flair, wearing only his signature robe, cornered her in the plane’s galley, exposed himself, and forced her to touch him: “He had me back against the back door and I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get away from him. I couldn’t - I couldn’t move. He was spinning around his penis and he wanted me to touch it. He took my hand and put it on him.”
As disturbing as that story is (and it obviously is still a traumatic memory for Doyle), almost as disturbing is how accepted this behavior seems to have been. Vince and Linda McMahon were on this plane. Jim Ross, Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer & PJ “Justin Credible” Polaco were all interviewed for Dark Side of the Ring, and none deny that what Doyle says happened actually happened. JR, then the head of talent relations, says that Flair should have been punished, but wasn’t because he was a “made man”.
The most upsetting take, and the one drawing the most criticism today, came from Dreamer. The former ECW star and current Impact producer downplayed Flair’s behavior as a rib, dismisses criticism of it as essentially “people are too sensitive these days”, and infers that if Doyle was as shaken by the incident as she says, she should have filed criminal charges (she says in the episode that her husband encouraged her to take the settlement from WWE to keep the matter from becoming public, and to protect their daughter).
“He’s just flaunting...stylin’ and profilin’...like the Ric Flair stuff where everybody’s going to laugh about it. Obviously, somebody took offense to it...
“I feel this is trying to portray someone as a sexual predator, and it’s not. It’s a joke, it’s a gag. And today? One thousand percent inappropriate. My hairstyle is inappropriate right now. I am somehow offending someone right now with my double ponytail. How dare I have two ponytails? And my answer is I’m 50 years old I’m happy I have hair. But if you’re asking me, I’ve hung out with Ric Flair, I’ve never seen him try to force his will against anybody.
“If that’s how she [Doyle] felt, maybe she shouldn’t have taken a payout and went to the fullest extent of the law to then put this heinous person in jail. My opinion.”
Trending on Twitter since the episode aired, Dreamer (real name Thomas Laughlin) has also now been suspended by Impact as a result of his comments in Flair’s defense. The company issued a statement to Post Wrestling’s John Pollock:
“We are aware of Mr. Laughlin’s (Tommy Dreamer) comments on Dark Side of the Ring. The views expressed by him in the interview are completely unacceptable. We can confirm Mr. Laughlin was suspended this morning with immediate effect, pending further action”.
Wrestling Observer also reports Dreamer’s “future on SiriusXM’s Busted Open Radio is also in question” after his comments on Dark Side of the Ring.
The consequences for Dreamer will certainly fuel more debate about cancel culture, and other buzzwords. As that plays out, it’s also worth noting that his comments are emblematic of the views which eventually led to last summer’s #SpeakingOut movement - and a reminder that moment was long overdue, and prompted by attitudes which still exist in wrestling locker rooms and society at large today.