I recently spoke with former WWE and TNA star Shawn Daivari, whose new professional wrestling school with Ken Anderson, The Academy: School Of Professional Wrestling, opened this month. In the second and final part of the interview below, Daivari discussed Stephanie McMahon proposing a George Bush gimmick, the end of his WWE run, working for TNA, Dixie Carter, why he disappeared from Lucha Underground, his brother Ariya working with WWE and more.
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Is it true that Stephanie McMahon wanted you to do a gimmick where you'd change your name to George Bush or something like that?
"Yeah, I don't know if it was Stephanie's idea. Stephanie was the one that told me about it. When I hear it, it sounds totally like a Vince thing. She could have just been translating Vince's message. But yeah, she told me…"
When was this?
"This was the day they told us that me and Marc [Copani, a.k.a. Muhammad Hassan] couldn't do the Arab characters anymore and we're being pulled from UPN. I forget what day it was, but our last SmackDown! obligation was Great American Bash, so we were able to do that one because it wasn't on UPN obviously, it was on pay-per-view. So then, the SmackDown! after Great American Bash, I was supposed to come out as George W. Bush, in an over-the-top, red, white, and blue 'I love America' thing. Almost, like, patronizing the whole thing being like, 'hey, I can be patriotic too. I'm not an Arab. I'm American. I love America! My name is George Bush!' and that kind of s--t. And then, I told her it was a bad idea. A) it doesn't have any longevity, you can only do it for so long. And then, B) it's not going to work because people… it just doesn't sound like a great idea and she agreed with me. And she says, 'yeah, I don't think it'll work either.' And that was that."
That must be tough, saying 'no' to an idea that's pitched or is that something you're able to do throughout?
"Absolutely, everybody is able to do it. Some people are afraid to do it, and the other one is a lot times people just say 'no' and don't give an explanation or an alternative or whatever. From my experience the top people, Steph and Hunter and Vince, if you said, 'no, here's why' or 'no, here's an alternative', and if they agreed with you, it was never an issue. And she did agree with me in that respect, so it was not an issue to say 'no'. And I've done it a few times."
Did you have an alternative for that one?
"No, I didn't. I just had that explanation. I said, 'here's why it won't work. Okay, it gets us out of the situation that the f--king Arabs can't be on TV.' I said, 'no, here's why' and she agreed with it, so it was kind of like an okay thing. If I said, 'no, here's why' and she didn't agree with it, it maybe not worked out. Or maybe, if I said, 'no, I don't want to do it' without an explanation, it might not have worked out either."
Yeah, and so were there any ideas that you pitched that you thought could have been really big that didn't go through?
"I'm sure there was. I can't think of any off the top of my head. I know anytime I brought up a case specifically with Vince, he always did it, so it was one of those things where I don't know if I should have done it more often or if it was one of those things that every time I did it, I had a valid point. He happened to agree with me. That's why it happened, but I think I went to him maybe three or four times with things that I had to say or things I wanted to do and every time, he agreed with me and literally in less than two weeks they happened."
You also had a stint in TNA. How would you describe your time there?
"When I was there, it was great except for the tail-end. So, from the day I got hired, not even the day I got hired, from the first conversations I had with them. This was after WWE, mind you, not when I was trying to get my foot in the door or doing the weekly pay-per-views. Jeff [Jarrett] was the guy. Jeff was the equivalent of Vince McMahon. Dixie was paying the bills and everything, but she wasn't involved with the show at all. And Jeff was the guy and he was the same was as Vince, kind of. If he agreed with you, he had no problem in doing what you wanted. And a lot of times, he did agree with me. And then, from whenever they took him out of his position of power till pretty much the day I quit, it wasn't good. It wasn't an open forum where you could kind of expression yourself. It was kind of an open forum: 'here's what you're doing - go f--king do it.' And that was kind of s--tty and it was especially s--tty for me because I just renegotiated a contract at that point.
"I was actually planning on going back to WWE and then, we came to an agreement on a contract that was, I was happy with it, they were happy with it because it was really performance based and incentive based. If I did well, I made a lot of money. If I didn't do well, I wouldn't make a lot of money. And then after we negotiated that contract, three, four months, it was a long negotiation, and everything, from when I signed that contract, when Jeff got removed from power, it was awesome. Probably, artistically and financially the best s--t I ever had at TNA. And then, when he got pulled from there, it was Vince Russo with input from Dixie, were kind of the ones deciding everything, that contract was worthless to me because, yeah, it was incentive and performance based, and Jeff saw a lot of potential in my character, Vince Russo didn't, so I wasn't performing very much and what I was doing wasn't that great. I never was compensated for it."
How was it working with Vince Russo?
"I loved working with him when he was a member of the creative team. I didn't like it when he was the head guy and we had a lot of heat for a long time. And, actually, just not too long ago, we patched things up because I told him, 'this is stupid'. I disagree with a lot of people. I disagree with my business partner, Ken Anderson. I disagree with my dad, I disagree with Vince McMahon, and I disagree with Vince Russo. Just for some reason, his became personal and I don't know why. I think it was just because his decision affected me financially, I really disliked the guy for years. And then, I guess, not too long ago, maybe June or July, I [thought], 'this is stupid - I disagree with almost everybody on wrestling. Wrestling is an art form. It's like disagreeing with someone about music or what's the best movie. Of course everyone is going to have a different answer. There's no reason I should dislike him as a person just because we have a different point of view on things, so we patched things up and we get along great now."
How was Dixie Carter as a boss?
"I don't know. I didn't really work for her. I don't want to say I never worked for her, but our, any business dealings we had to do was all through a third party. So, I was negotiating my new contract. My first contract was through Jeff and Terry Taylor and then my second contract was through Taylor via Dixie. And then, creatively, everything was through Vince Russo or the creative team before that got to Dixie, so I never really got to talk to her directly about business. I don't know."
You were also on the first season of Lucha Underground, but didn't come back for a second or third. What happened there?
"So I was on season two. Season one wrapped up. We finished the season the finale with me, Big Ryck, who was Ezekiel Jackson, I think, in WWE. And in between season one and season two, he quit. So that angle that we kicked off, it was kind of like the seeds were planted the whole season one. And then, we officially jump started the angle at the end of the season finale of season one. He quit, and then, when season two started, they were kind of like, 'sorry, man, the angle we were going to put you in… Zeke's not around anymore.' So I was like, 'okay, cool.' I was kind of waiting for something else to come up and nothing did. They just didn't figure me into anything else.
"So Lucha is another one that I was very happy about my deal because my deal was all about me being able to work. Season one, I worked a s--t ton of episodes, I got a s--t ton of money. And season two I worked no episodes, so I got no f--king money. And then, when they called me in to do the season finale, just with no explanation, no rhyme, or no reason, I did it and then later on, the match got cut from the season finale for whatever reason. I don't know. And that's when I quit. I was like, 'look, this isn't working out for me. If we could figure out a weekly salary regardless of my performance, great, but if it's like a have to work to get paid thing, you either have to figure me in or let me go'."
During this time, had you spoken with WWE about a possible return?
"Not since Lucha Underground. I talked to them recently about NXT stuff, but not directly around Lucha Underground. The last time I talked to them, I think it was around my first deal with TNA was up and they knew I was negotiating a second deal and it was taking f--king forever to hammer out. And then, I just buzzed them, 'hey, if I become available, would you guys be interested in having me back?' And then, I went to a SmackDown! somewhere, I think, in the middle of 2012. I did a dark match for them because apparently, they don't have footage and they forgot what I wrestle like, so I went there. I wrestled Ted DiBiase, I think. And then, I got the thumbs up. Everybody was happy with it. And by thumbs up, 'oh yeah, you're exactly the same way you were last year. And then, things panned out with me and TNA."
Your brother, Ariya, is in the Cruiserweight Classic, just made his RAW debut recently. That must be really exciting.
"It's kind of one of those things. I very rarely get excited in wrestling anymore because a lot of things aren't big deals. There's not a lot of big things I can do anymore, so I haven't had that really rush, like, 'I'm so excited; I'm so happy; this is happening; that is happening'. There are very few new things I get to do these days, but this is something.
"It actually started with me talking to Albert at NXT about coming back to do a guest trainer spot and then I was like, 'oh, maybe teaching or coaching was always something in the back of my mind, something I want to do, and so when Albert said, 'yeah, we'll bring you in as a guest trainer,' I started going to different wrestling schools around where I live and just started helping guys out. It was really rewarding at a super small level. It felt like something new, something I haven't done before. And then, I was like, 'oh, maybe this training thing can be cool.' And then, that started snowballing the idea that me and Ken have been talking about for years, about having our own wrestling school, which we're doing now with The Academy. And then, my brother was kind of, sort of my first trainee whenever he started, like 10 years ago. And then, that [has] been the most [rewarding part]. Of course, I'm biased because I love him and I'm happy to see him succeed, but I get such enjoyment out of seeing him progressing. Like what more can I do? I can't think of much else I could do that I haven't done before, but this is new to me. A) because I'm biased because he's my brother and I love him and I want the best things in the world to happen to him, but I'm seeing, like, it's weird. I don't know. I can't explain it. It's something new again. It's something new in pro wrestling that I haven't been able to do. And then, every step of the way, to he was booked to his first set of dark matches to WWE, I was really happy. And then, when they called him to do the Cruiserweight thing, I was super happy. And then, after that was over, it was just a one-off deal, like 'we need you for this tournament' and then they called him back and said, 'hey, you know what? Why don't you just come down to NXT and do matches on NXT TV.' And then, they called and said, 'hey, come on RAW next week.' I was like, 'man, this is great!' I'm so happy for him and I'm getting a new feeling that I haven't felt probably in a handful of years because I haven't done anything new."
Your wrestling academy, how long have you been thinking about doing that?
"The finalized idea now has been fairly recently, but me and Ken have been talking about having a wrestling school for at least five years. The whole thing started, probably, when they contacted me about doing the NXT guest trainer thing. It kind of, like, relit… like I said, it has been an idea for years, on and off, we'd talk about it. Then I kind of said, 'okay, lets put some real thought into this.' And then, knowing what the Performance Center was doing, because I had no idea until the first time I got my little brother down there. He went and he told me what they were doing. And I was like, 'wow, these are great, amazing, outside-of-the-box ideas'. And then, like, and then, the more I learned about it, the more I thought about it, I'm going, 'f--k, these are great for guys under contract. What about the guys that don't have contracts? Like, why aren't they allowed to have this kind of training?' And we said, 'well, there's really no reason for it.' Obviously, they can do it bigger and better because they have unlimited bank account, but, like, we were thinking about it and it's really financially feasible for me and Ken to do it. There's nothing that they're doing that can't be done by anyone else as long as don't have a secret formula they aren't letting out. We said, 'f--k it! We should just do it.' And that's kind of what we're modelling our camp after."
With The Academy, are you looking to kind of slow down on your pro wrestling career, kind of put that to the side or are you going to be doing both?
"I'm going to be doing both. That's kinda the point of having the staff instead of just being one guy running it and then operating it and training. I mean, is that me, Ken, obviously not Nora anymore, but Arik Cannon, and my little brother. We're still keeping our full-time schedule. If certain situations come up where it's going to be counterproductive to The Academy, obviously, we're not going to take the booking. But for the most part, we plan on just maintaining the schedule we already have."
How can people learn more about it?
"So if you go to TheAcademyProWrestling.com, all the information on there that you would need and it also has a contact page where you can call us or email us if you have any questions that aren't answered on the website. And then, what we're doing right now for our first class, is tuition is regularly $3,000, but we're knocking it down to just $1,000 because if there is someone that could leave a positive mark on the pro wrestling business, we don't want finances to be the reason that they're not able to because I remember Austin Aries, for example, when we started training, I think training was the same with Eddie Sharkey . It was like $2,500 or $3,000 or something. But there [were] a lot of times at the time Austin Aries didn't have it. He was just in a financial bind. He graduated [from] college. He was up to his ears in student loans. And then, he had to move to Minneapolis, so he had to get a new place, get a car, all that s--t, and sometimes he didn't have money to go to camp and his education or his training progressed a little bit slower because he didn't get to participate as much. And knowing what a positive mark he has left and at the time knowing, 'this guy [has] got it - he's going to be successful,' it's really, really s--tty because he didn't have money in his pocket, he didn't get there sooner or he couldn't progress as fast as everybody else did because he couldn't participate as much. So me and Ken are like, 'that's bulls--t.' If you have something to offer this business, if this is something that you could do, and leave a positive impression on the pro wrestling business, anything could get in the way: injuries, life, drug problem, whatever. But we don't want finances to be the reason. That's stupid. Just for this first class we're doing it for $1,000, which is like [a good deal]. We looked around. I mean, you can go to some backyard, piece of s--t wrestling school that's more than $1,000."
Click here for part one of the interview below, Daivari discussed getting his start with WWE, his hot WWE run, working with Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and more. For more information on The Academy, click here.