I found it a little ironic that the sad story of the downfalls of someone else's career helped launch my own, but that's what Muhammad Hassan did. I covered him in a story earlier this year, perhaps out of selfish reasons, because I was as curious as anyone else of the absences of such a promising star.
It was probably the best thing I'd ever written to that point. For years, the character of Muhammad Hassan was one that intrigued me. His rapid ascension as a pro wrestler and even quicker disappearance was puzzling. He rarely did interviews, hadn't made wrestling-related appearances in years, and didn't seem interested in getting back into the business.
Some of that changed after I spoke with him in January. I wrote a piece called Finding Muhammad Hassan. I lost sleep over it. Wrestling isn't always the best place to find long-form features. Would the audience accept it? Was I wasting my time? For probably a month straight, I never slept before four AM.
Marc Copani, better known as Muhammad Hassan seemed a little hesitant to open up to me at first, and rightfully so. He didn't know me, had never heard of me, and had only interacted with me electronically after my numerous requests for interviews. I'd kept in touch with Copani here and there since publishing Finding Muhammad Hassan, and he told me he was pleased with how fair the article was.
When I was given the opportunity to help launch Fightful, I wanted it to be associated with me the way that the Muhammad Hassan name had been. I reached out to Copani, basically to call in a favor. He was much more receptive this time around. He's been much more receptive to a lot of things related to wrestling since January.
I interviewed Copani's former partner Shawn Daivari for Finding Muhammad Hassan, and his manager had me send along Copani's number. The two hadn't spoken in years. That same manager later gave me the news that Copani would be joining Daivari at WrestleCon on WrestleMania weekend, making his first wrestling-related appearance in years.
“It's always good to see Shawn. We hadn't really talked in a while, so it felt like old times,” Copani said of Daivari convincing him to do a couple of appearances.”WrestleMania weekend was great. A lot of people I knew and hadn't seen in a while were there. I met a lot of great new people. I got to hang out with Carlito, Rob Conway Chris Masters, Mickie James – I got to meet her husband Nick Aldis, Magnus, and their little boy. It was great to reconnect with some people in a long time.”
WrestleMania weekend in Dallas was originally assigned to me. As it turned out, I covered the week's events remotely, and wasn't able to meet Copani and Daivari.
While Copani said that he enjoyed himself during his couple of appearances, it also reinforced his decision to walk away from wrestling.
“It was also kind of scary. I saw some of my friends who aren't doing fantastic after wrestling. A lot of them have some head injuries. It was a little weird, a little troubling. Some of my friends weren't doing as good as I thought they'd be,” Copani said, concern clear in his voice. “It could have been worse. It makes me thankful I got out when I did. Not to say I didn't have any issues after wrestling – I did. Seeing some of the guys and the things they go through – the memory loss, the struggles – it did put in perspective that I got lucky and kept most of my wits and abilities. It's been 11 years since I've been in the ring, and it's been 11 years since I've seen some of these guys and a lot has changed.”
Speaking of changes, the landscape of wrestling has changed. Tommaso Ciampa served as Hassan and Daivari's lawyer in a 2005 segment at only 21-years old. When I told Copani that he was signed to WWE's NXT brand, he was shocked. Copani hasn't followed wrestling regularly since leaving.
“That was ten years ago! I had no idea. I don't remember him looking so young. Good for him,” Copani said, as we joked that Ciampa looks younger now than ten years ago.
Even though his former manager Daivari and former on-screen lawyer Ciampa are still in the ring, Hassan isn't. If he chooses to step back in the squared circle, there are offers out there.
“Yeah, but I'm just not wrestling,” Copani told me. “It's not that I don't want to, it's that I don't think that I'd be able to perform at the level I'd want to. When you're out of the ring for six months, you have a lot of rust, let alone ten years. I'd probably break my neck.”
Copani doesn't seem optimistic about returning to the ring, and the prospect of managing Daivari for appearances don't seem much brighter for the busy school administrator.
“There's a slight chance of that. It's hard for me to take time off. I work 50-60 hours a week. I'm not too eager to get out there and make appearances for awhile,” he said.
Of late, WWE has been contacting several former talents, many over the age of 40 for potential returns. Along with the WWE Network's use of talking heads, legends and former talents, it was natural to ask Copani if WWE had reached out.
“No, they really haven't. It doesn't (surprise him) really. They broke ties with the character. You look at Carlito, MVP and Chris Masters. They're still active and I'm not. I'm not really surprised by that at all,” He said.
Even when Copani was contacted by the WWE and called up to the main roster in 2005, he knew he wasn't ready. His trainer, the colorful Rip Rogers, knew it too. When I asked Copani if he had any 'crazy ass Rip Rogers stories' (something I ask all OVW alumni) he spoke of the unique comfort the eccentric Rogers provided him.
“Right before I got called up, I said to Rip 'I'm not ready,' and he said 'Fuck! Of course not! You're never fuckin' ready! Just throw you into the fire!' He said it in such a way that nobody ever is (ready),” Copani said.
Copani was ready, if reaction and success was any indication. So much so that he was rumored to have been penciled in to become WWE Champion just 8 months after his debut.
“I heard that. I can't remember who (told him). The idea was a screw job win over the Undertaker at Great American Bash – he's one of the most over wrestlers ever, and I think the big 'FU' was going to be the Arab guy winning the title from the hometown guy in the nation's capital. I can't confirm that 100 percent, but as far as I was told, that was what was supposed to happen. That's what I was told before it went south with the character. It'd be cool to have my name in the history book of champions, but it's not something I dwell on,” Copani said.
One of the reasons I opted to publish the original Hassan article was due to timing. Donald Trump was running his campaign largely based on targeting the same demographic that the Hassan character was designed to infuriate. Copani was fearful of how a character of that nature would play out today.
“I think today especially how things have escalated with Orlando and Donald Trump, and it being such a hot-button topic – I don't think they could do it. I think it would get out of hand. It would depend on the person playing it. I would think that in this moment in time, it would not lead to debates, it would lead to potential violence. It would lead to things that aren't in compatible with WWE's line of programming," said Copani.
On-screen, Trump and Hassan would be mortal enemies, polar opposites. Today's audience is either more sympathetic to Hassan's complaints, or more enraged by them. If the two were face-to-face in a WWE ring, Copani told me that he doesn't think it'd go well for the Hassan character.
“I think Donald Trump would get cheered,” Copani said with a laugh. “I think he's done a great job of figuring out who his audience is and what he has to say to appeal to them. I would hope that a lot of what he says isn't what he plans to do, because a lot of it is not how a President of a United States should conduct himself. I think in a wrestling ring, Donald Trump would get cheered a lot of the time, because that's his demographic and who he's trying to reach. I don't mean that in any negative way, but he knows who he's catering to – gun toting, xenophobic, red-blooded Americans who feel like our country has taken a turn to the left. I think Donald Trump would be over.”
Since conducting this interview, Copani's name surfaced in a lawsuit filed in relation to CTE. It made me think back to our original interview where Copani told me he couldn't shovel snow in his driveway without feeling his professional wrestling career. It seems as if Copani's decision to leave wrestling when he did was the right one for him.