Muhammad Hassan: How A Network Brought A Gimmick To Its Knees

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Brian Damage

Professional wrestling has had a history filled with wrestlers going on a meteoric rise to the top early in their careers. Goldberg went on an undefeated streak of 173 wins and no losses…The Giant (Paul Wight) won the WCW World title in his pro debut match…Tommy Rich won the NWA World title at age 24…Brock Lesnar won the WWE title at age 25..etc, etc…

Such was the case for a brash, young 24 year old wrestler named Mark Copani. An 100% Italian American born and raised in Syracuse, New York who was bestowed the gimmick of an Arab American named Muhammad Hassan.

The gimmick itself, was the brain child of Vince McMachon and Jim Cornette. An Arab American character that would play on the prejudices and fears of most Americans in a post 9/11 world. He wasn’t just a stereotypical Anti-American character like the Iron Sheik…rather someone whose anger and hatred was fueled by people’s own ignorance. As an added layer of authenticity to the Hassan character, independent wrestler Dara Daivari (Renamed Khosrow) was brought in as a sort of reverse interpreter…who would speak in nothing but Persian.

The gimmick immediately went on the “hot seat” as Arab and Muslim groups protested the character…believing it was an unfair portrayal. In early vignettes, Hassan would “Praise Allah” and in some dark matches would bring with him a rug and in the middle of the ring start praying. Those aspects were later eliminated due to pressures from outside groups protests.

In just one short year’s time…from 2004 to 2005…he had a verbal sparring with Mick Foley…intimidated Jim Ross…had a Wrestlemania moment with Hulk Hogan…beat down Shawn Michaels…went on an undefeated streak by defeating the likes of Chris Benoit, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Chris Jericho…challenged John Cena for the WWE title and Batista for the World heavyweight title and assaulted the Undertaker.

All that in less than a year as a pro wrestler on the WWE roster. Hassan was destined for greatness….that is until real life tragedy got in his way.

Smackdown taping: July 4th, 2005

The Undertaker easily defeated Khosrow Daivari…afterwards…Hassan called out 5 masked men dressed in black and camouflage to attack the phenom. The unidentified masked assailants were Val Venis…Paul Birchall…The Shane Twins (Later known as Gymini) and Mike Knox. On any other Smackdown…this would have been looked at as ordinary…the problem was, this taping aired in the U.S. and Canada on July 7th….the same day as the infamous London bombings terrorist attack.

Instead of totally scrapping the segment like they had done in the past…ie..The Darren Drozdov injury…they aired it and as expected a firestorm of disgust came from all over the mainstream media such as Variety and TV Guide. The backlash was so severe, the UPN network decided to get involved.

They gave the WWE an ultimatum…either the Muhammad Hassan character goes or face cancellation of Smackdown. In a surprising move…instead of moving the Hassan character to their cable outlet on Raw or repackaging Copani…..the WWE released Mark Copani outright.

Mark Copani…frustrated and disillusioned….quit pro wrestling altogether…instead…opting for the bright lights of Hollywood as an actor and screen writer. He also teamed up with another former WWE wrestler…Shad Gaspard ( Cryme Tyme ) to create a graphic novel entitled “Assassin & Son.”

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Copani then finished his education and is now a high school Social Studies teacher in New York. He has done only a small number of interviews since his WWE release…but has stated that he looks back fondly with little regrets over his time in the WWE. It is interesting though…Tragedy created the Muhammad Hassan character and tragedy destroyed him.

4 thoughts on “Muhammad Hassan: How A Network Brought A Gimmick To Its Knees

  1. Vince has always had a hard-on for the anti-American characters. He blew a potential LA Coliseum crowd for WrestleMania in 1991 because he was insistent on pushing Sgt. Slaughter at a pro-Iraqi character during the first Gulf War (instead of the obvious Hogan-Ultimate Warrior rematch from the prior year). The Hassan character was no different during a sensitive time for many folks. And WWE officials wonder why they can’t get top ad dollars compared to other sports.

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  2. i just want to point out that despite the last name both of his parents were Jordanian immigrants. while he might have some Italian ancestry he is definitly not Italian

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  3. What annoyed me was they aired that in the US on the same day as the London bombings showing contempt for the UK (does anyone think they would have shown that if it had been a US city bombed that day?). Sky in the UK understandably did not show it but whoever made the decision to show that in the US (if it was not Vince) should have been fired. Feel sorry for the guy who played him though. Apparently he was going to beat the Undertaker and then win the World Title at SummerSlam but instead lost his job through no fault of his.

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