One of the most controversial gimmicks in WWE history has to be the portrayal of Muhammad Hassan.
In 2004, he debuted as a sympathetic heel, who complained about racism and discrimination he suffered in the United States.
Despite being a newcomer in the business in 2004, he was placed in some huge matches and feuds, as soon as he debuted.
Muhammad Hassan’s Original Character Was More Nuanced
When he debuted in the company in 2004, Muhammad Hassan was immediately pushed as a big deal, even though some backstage didn’t think he deserved it.
He was great on the microphone and good in the ring, which earned him a host of mic time and matches with stars like Hulk Hogan, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.
His first match was against Jerry Lawler at New Year’s Revolution, and he had a segment with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 21.
Clearly, the WWE were high on him.
As they should have been. Muhammad Hassan’s character was a nuanced, tasteful look at the treatment of Arab-American’s in a post-9/11 world.
He regularly complained about how fans booed him for his ethnicity, and that being an Arab-American still meant he was American.
However, he was still a heel and made a living attacking other wrestlers from behind, and cutting promos insulting the crowd and their favourites.
It was nuanced, however, until WWE decided to go all in or a terrorism angle on the exact same day an actual terrorist attack happened in London, England.
During the July 4th, 2005 taping of Smackdown, Muhammad Hassan had a segment with The Undertaker.
After The Phenom defeated Hassan’s manager Daivari in a match, he attacked Hassan and forced him out of the ring and onto the ramp.
Here’s where the trouble stars.
Muhammad Hassan began to pray on the ramp, which summoned an army of men in black ski masks to rush the ring.
They attacked The Undertaker and strangled him with wire, as Hassan laughed maniacally outside the ring. He ended the attack with his Camel Clutch (which caused controversy with Eddie Guerrero back in the day), causing Undertaker to pass out.
This would not have been an issue. Was it slightly tasteless? Of course, but its wrestling.
However, the segment aired on the same day of the 7/7/ bombings in London, where four bombs exploded on public transport, killing 52 and injuring over 700 commuters.
The segment aired, to much dismay from the USA Network. A promo by Muhammad Hassan justifying the act was removed from next week’s Smackdown.
After the show was aired on the date of the 7/7 bombings, Muhammad Hassan drew the brunt of the criticism, despite only doing what he was told by creative.
The WWE Superstar was immediately taken off TV, and his character was completely dropped from the programming.
He was originally set to defeat Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship, in what would have been a huge statement of intent by the WWE.
Muhammad Hassan actually commented on this, in an interview with Chris Van Vliet. He revealed that he was told that the plan was to beat Batista at Summerslam 2005, which would have made him the youngest World Champion of all time.
He revealed this in an interview with Chris Van Vliet, which you can read about below.
“It was but I don’t know if it was told to me after or at the time. My memory on it’s a little fuzzy, but it had to have been because I remember it was kind of supposed to be the big f*** you to the country that the Arab defeats the hometown boy in the nation’s capital, um, because Batista is from there.
But as in anything in wrestling, that could have changed. I mean, that could have been the plan, and that could have changed within that month or whatever span it was to get to SummerSlam, so who knows? So you could have possibly won the WWE Championship without ever winning the Intercontinental or the U.S. title or any of the other mid-card titles.
I think I actually won the Intercontinental title for like 15 seconds, and it was reversed. Benjamin, right? Yes, I think that counts. I think that should count in the books. I’m not sure how it goes down, but I think I might actually have the briefest Intercontinental title reign in the history of the WWE, so I’m in the record book somewhere.
My apologies, yes, your 15-second champion, but you would have been in the record books as the youngest WWE champion. Yeah, by 15 days, I think, younger than Randy. That would have been great what-ifs and what-ifs, but you know that that is not the way life works. You don’t make plans like that.”
Why Did WWE Fire Muhammad Hassan?
After the controversial segment that got Hassan removed from Smackdown aired, the writing was on the wall for Muhammad Hassan.
He only appeared once more in the WWE after that day. This match came at The Great American Bash, where he wrestled against The Undertaker, in a match to end their feud.
The Deadman won the bout cleanly, putting an end to their rivalry. However, it was the post-match attack that would end his career for good.
After winning the match, The Undertaker got an extra measure of revenge against his opponent. He hoisted Muhammad Hassan in the air and hit him with the Last Ride off the stage, sending him crashing onto the concrete floor below.
He suffered an unnamed injury after the attack, and was rushed to hospital immediately following the show. He was removed from TV, and his WWE career was over.
Muhammad Hassan was released from his WWE contract on September 21, 2005 and announced his retirement from professional wrestling. He came back for a select few matches in 2018, but remained functionally retired from the ring.
What Happened to Muhammad Hassan?
After being released by the WWE, Muhammad Hassan left the wrestling world beyond, and began to go by his real name of Mark Coppani.
He went back to college, using the money earned from his stint in the WWE. While he would not be entertaining the kids in the ring anymore, he instead decided to help them by training as a school teacher.
He worked his way up over the years to become the principal of Fulton Junior High School, after training as a world history teacher.
Hassan has claimed that he would like to return to wrestling, but not as a full-time career. Maybe a surprise Royal Rumble return for the former WWE Superstar could be on the cards next year?
Johnathan Coachman On Muhammad Hassan
Former WWE commentator Jonathan Coachman has recently spoken about Muhammad Hassan’s treatment in the WWE.
In a recent Tweet, he revealed that “I have never felt worse for an incoming talent than this man right here. Certaij people (not everyone) made his life a living hell. So glad to see he got out and is doing wonderful it looks like.”
WWE long-time producer Kevin Dunn also commented on the situation at the time, claiming that they always try to be “sensitive” regarding their characters.
“We’re very proud of our product,” says “Smackdown” executive producer Kevin Dunn.
“We try and be sensitive with everything we portray, but there’s got to be protagonists and antagonists on our TV shows.
“We just happen to reflect the politics of the world sometimes — especially with these Arab-American characters.”