Bobby Lashley: The Early Years – Trump, ECW, and Vince McMahon

Over a decade before becoming the “CEO of The Hurt Business,” Bobby Lashley was at the genesis of his wrestling career. His initial stint in WWE between 2005-2008 was packed with exciting feuds and many meaningful matches, including one with the 45th President of The United States. However, it almost all came crashing down after a terrifying bank robbery derailed his amateur career. Had it not been for an Olympic gold medalist, he likely never would have found professional wrestling.

Bobby Lashley during his WWE debut on SmackDown, September 23rd, 2005.
Bobby Lashley during his WWE debut on SmackDown, September 23rd, 2005.

Bobby Lashley and the Freak Accident That Derailed His Amateur Career

As a 3-time National Amateur Wrestling Champion, a 4-time All-American, a 2-time Armed Services Champion, and a 2002 silver medalist at the Military World Championships, Bobby Lashley was on the fast track to success. That was until a terrifying freak accident took place.

In an interview with Corey Graves on After The Bell, Bobby Lashley spoke about how he became the victim of a bank robbery while depositing some cash.

“I walked into the bank,” Lashley recalled. “Now, first off, before I walked into the bank, I saw three guys out there. I didn’t think anything of it and got into the line. As soon as I did, not more than a minute after, there was this boom boom right away! I could see the tellers all screaming, and I dove down to the ground.”

According to Lashley, his life flashed before his eyes.

“When I hit the ground, there was a lot of pain. I didn’t know where it was coming from. I felt like my face was kind of burning. I felt like my head hurt, my legs hurt, and I was just sitting down on the ground like holy crap, what’s going on? I was freaking out there for a second. And when I kind of relaxed a little bit, I was like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god!’ The whole thing that was going through my mind was it’s not supposed to end like this.”

Throughout the horrific ordeal, he stayed calm and composed, and he did not take any action that would put his life in danger. Fortunately, he wasn’t hit by any stray bullets. However, in a bid to protect himself during the shooting, he jumped to the ground hard, leaving himself with a knee injury that required surgery. This forced an unfortunate climax to his amateur wrestling career and Olympic dream.

The Olympic Champion Who Inspired Bobby Lashley to Become a Professional Wrestler

In an interview given three months after asking for his release from WWE in February 2008, my co-host and I spoke with Bobby Lashley on how he came to find professional wrestling.

Kurt Angle was the first person to kind of find me,” Lashley reveals. “He came down to the Olympic training center when I was down there training, and he was shooting a vignette or a promo for WWE. We talked a little bit, and he said, ‘Man, have you ever considered the WWE?’ I was like, ‘I’m a big fan of WWE, but right now, I’m really geared towards making this Olympic team and winning an Olympic title.'”

Lashley continued, “We talked a little bit more, and he said, ‘How long have you wrestled?’ I said, ‘About seventeen years.'”

Angle then suggested that he should be getting paid for all of the work that he was putting in.

Not long later, Gerald Brisco got in touch. This led to Lashley receiving a WWE tryout, and soon later, a developmental contract. His drive, work ethic, and talent meant his stay at OVW was only a short one.

“I’ve done a lot in my life, whether it was amateur wrestling, college, or school, and I’ve always worked my way up to the top,” Lashley explained to me in 2008. “I’ve always found stardom or success in whatever I did. I knew coming into professional wrestling that I wasn’t going to settle for being a lower-ranked guy. I had to make it to the top.”

Lashley continued, “In OVW, I dreamt all the time of making that main-event match, being in the spotlight and being in the top position.”

Bobby Lashley WWE Debut

A spot on the SmackDown roster for Bobby Lashley beckoned, and his introduction to WWE viewers took place on September 23rd, 2005, with a debut win over Simon Dean.

Bobby Lashley during his WWE debut against Simon Dean.
Bobby Lashley during his WWE debut against Simon Dean in 2005. [Photo: WWE Network]
His white trunks and wrestling boots were plain; however, his physique was a different matter. Carved out of stone by the wrestling gods, Lashley looked like a beast, and that unquestionably helped him stand out from the pack scrambling for their shot in the big leagues.

 

Lashley would soon again defeat Simon Dean in less than two minutes on his pay-per-view debut at No Mercy 2005. He looked imposing, albeit a little green around the gills, which was forgivable considering his scant time spent within the business.

A steady build on the blue brand included high-profile appearances in 2005’s Survivor Series Raw vs. SmackDown elimination bout, the 2006 Royal Rumble, a WrestleMania Money in the Bank match, as well as a notable feud with JBL. This all led to Bobby Lashley’s entrance into the 2006 edition of WWE’s King of the Ring tournament — the first KOTR since Brock Lesnar was crowned in 2002.

Wins over Mark Henry and Finlay culminated in a final clash with Booker T at Judgment Day 2006. Although he would lose due to Finlay’s interference, working in a big match on pay-per-view against a grizzled veteran was invaluable for his career growth.

The King Booker gimmick was born, and a lengthy feud with The King’s Court was initiated when Lashley speared Booker through the throne during the King’s coronation.

His debut championship was garnered in July 2006 when relieving Finlay of the United States Championship. He then became embroiled in a saga that saw several SmackDown superstars pulled, at very late notice, from the 2006 Great American Bash pay-per-view.

It was reported by WWE that “During his annual exam, Bobby Lashley was found to have elevated enzymes of the liver; therefore, he is not cleared to wrestle until further evaluation.”

Bizarrely, Great Khali and Super Crazy were also taken off the card with the same mysterious condition.

Fortunately, this setback didn’t stop Bobby Lashley’s momentum, and a rematch with King Booker for the World Heavyweight Championship was booked for October 2006’s No Mercy pay-per-view.

Batista and Finlay were added to the match in the weeks leading up to the show amidst rumors that these additions were made to boost lagging ticket and pay-per-view sales.

Bobby Lashley Finds His Place in ECW

Although he found himself in a lofty position of the main-event scene on SmackDown, Bobby Lashley insisted a change of direction was needed to continue moving forward. The relaunched version of ECW would be his desired new home.

“I actually requested to go there,” he told me in 2008. “I was on SmackDown, and different things were going on at the time, and I requested to go there several times until it was actually granted.”

Lashley continued, “There was a couple of different reasons; I’ll talk about the more positive reason why I wanted to go over there. I think Paul Heyman is an excellent person to be around, especially in the wrestling business. He has a great mind, a lot of great insight, and a lot of great ideas of what he wanted to do. I just wanted to go over there and do something different. Another thing was getting the chance to wrestle The Big Show.”

A program working against the villainous Paul Heyman at the top of the card was initialized, and a shot at the ECW World Title at the ill-fated December to Dismember pay-per-view loomed on the horizon. Not only that, but the match was to be the inaugural Extreme Elimination Chamber match.

Big Show, Rob Van Dam, Lashley, Test, Sabu (later replaced by Hardcore Holly due to backstage issues), and CM Punk would take part with the ‘extreme’ tagline relating to the fact that a weapon accompanied those superstars inside each chamber.

Lashley entered at #5, despite Heyman’s goons’ unsuccessful attempt to permanently lock him in the pod.

He would pin both Test and the champion going into the event, The Big Show. Bobby Lashley was the new ECW World Champion.

ECW Champion, Bobby Lashley.
ECW Champion, Bobby Lashley.

He became the ultimately doomed third WWE brand’s face but looked comfortable carrying one of the primary straps into 2007. He would defend his gold against Test at the Royal Rumble, winning by count-out, and against Mr. Kennedy at No Way Out, losing by disqualification. The odd booking seemed to make little sense considering Lashley was being groomed for an even bigger push within the company.

“The Battle of the Billionaires”

That predicted push arrived at WrestleMania 23. It was billed as the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ and would pit representatives of the WWE chairman, Vince McMahon, against a future U.S. President in a Hair vs. Hair match.

Trump would pick Lashley, who he accidentally referred to as “Lindsay” on one occasion on WWE TV, and McMahon chose Umaga.

Stone Cold Steve Austin was drafted to provide the bout with yet more star power as special guest referee. It created a buzz within the world of celebrity and garnered a huge amount of publicity.

Interference from Shane McMahon failed to incapacitate Lashley, who speared Umaga, after an Austin stunner, to win the match.

As Lashley explained, Trump hilariously clotheslined McMahon outside the ring during the match and seemed to enjoy his time at WrestleMania.

“[Trump] was actually cool to work with. He was somewhat of a wrestling fan because when he got in there, he was really amped to get involved. He wanted to go out there and fight a little more than he should have! Any time you have a cross-promotion bringing someone outside of the wrestling business in, you know it’s going to be a good time, and I think he did really well. He brought a lot of publicity to our match. It was a great time working with him. He was a really cool guy, also.”

Per the stipulation, McMahon had his head shaved in the middle of a WrestleMania ring, his creation. He was “humiliated at the hands of Bobby Lashley,” as noted by Jim Ross on commentary.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon has his head shaved by Trump and Bobby Lashley after losing a bet in the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania on April 1st, 2007 in Detroit, Michigan. Umaga was representing McMahon in the match when he lost to Bobby Lashley who was representing Trump.
WWE chairman Vince McMahon has his head shaved by Trump and Bobby Lashley after losing a bet in the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania on April 1st, 2007 in Detroit, Michigan. Umaga was representing McMahon in the match when he lost to Bobby Lashley, who was representing Trump. [Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images Entertainment]
Lashley again embarrassed the boss at the post-WrestleMania edition of Raw and Vince was desperate to gain vengeance. The wheels for a McMahon/Lashley feud had been set in motion.

Bobby Lashley vs. Vince McMahon

Shockingly, revenge was served when, less than a month after having his hair and pride taken, Vince McMahon stole the ECW title after pinning champion Bobby Lashley in a 3-on-1 handicap match at Backlash, thanks to Shane McMahon and Umaga’s able assistance.

ECW Champion, Vince McMahon.
ECW Champion, Vince McMahon. [Photo: WWE.com]
The theme was repeated in slightly differing circumstances at Judgment Day 2007 when Lashley pinned Shane with ease to seemingly claim back his title.

 

However, the chairman revealed afterward that Lashley had indeed won the match, but alas not the title, because Lashley needed to pin the champion himself instead of Shane or Umaga physically.

Order was restored at the One Night Stand pay-per-view as Lashley became a two-time champion by defeating McMahon in what was billed as a ‘street fight’ yet played out in a suspiciously similar fashion to the two preceding handicap matches.

“I enjoyed working with Vince,” Lashley noted. “Vince is an incredible person, and I think I had a great time working with him, Shane, and Umaga. It was just a great time and a big boost to my career. I didn’t realize how tough he was (laughs), but he likes to go out there and scrap.”

A Transfer to Monday Night Raw

Following that program’s conclusion, Bobby Lashley was drafted to Raw and was sadly stripped of his ECW strap. Nevertheless, his push didn’t cease, and he was immediately placed into the title picture on Monday Night Raw.

He would unsuccessfully compete for the WWE title at 2007’s Vengeance pay-per-view in a five-pack challenge against Randy Orton, Mick Foley, King Booker, and John Cena. He was working with esteemed company.

On a side note, the ECW title was stripped off Lashley due to be contested by CM Punk and Chris Benoit, a match that never materialized for shocking and well-documented reasons.

At the next pay-per-view, Bobby was again booked in the main event. This time he would challenge John Cena, one-on-one, for the biggest prize in sports-entertainment at the Great American Bash.

The title match was being promoted as one of Cena’s most challenging to date, and it was clear that Lashley was still being pushed to the moon by top brass. Talking heads, including Mick Foley, Ric Flair, and Stone Cold, spoke in a pre-match package warning Cena of the difficulty he might face challenging Lashley. It was booked well with both superstars coming out of it claiming raised stock.

Bobby Lashley takes John Cena for a ride at 2007's WWE Great American Bash pay-per-view.
Bobby Lashley takes John Cena for a ride at 2007’s WWE Great American Bash pay-per-view. [Photo: IMDB]
Cena won after a top-rope ‘F U,’ and they shook hands post-match.

A Devasting Injury Derails Bobby Lashley’s Time in WWE Followed By His Departure

Bobby Lashley suffered a devasting torn rotator cuff in his match against John Cena and was written off television for the foreseeable future. He would not wrestle for WWE again until 2018.

In a move that shook the pro wrestling community, Bobby Lashley asked for his release from WWE in February 2008. His wife Kristal Marshall had also been released the previous October, while Lashley was on the shelf. We were unsure if his release was mutual, requested, or forced, so we put this question to Lashley in 2008.

“I didn’t leave WWE for selfish reasons or anything like that,” he said. “There are all kinds of rumors floating around that I left because I didn’t get paid enough. Let the speculation die. I left because… let’s just say I wanted to pursue other interests.”

Lashley continued, “I’m training for MMA. I have a fight coming up towards the end of the summer, so that’s what I’m gearing towards. I think I owe the wrestling fans at least one more run to go out there. I’m kind of up in the air right now, maybe TNA, but definitely fighting (MMA), and I’ll probably be doing some more wrestling.”

The interview concluded with a mention of Michael Hayes, suspended just days earlier for making illicit remarks about Mark Henry. It had been rumored that Lashley and Hayes had clashed and did not see eye-to-eye.

“I’m in a good mood today, and I’d rather not talk about Michael Hayes at all if you don’t mind? There are so many other positive things that we could talk about versus bringing in any kind of negativity into this interview. I don’t want to talk about him.”

It is unknown whether or not the relationship between Michael Hayes and Bobby Lashley has been repaired.

Following his departure from WWE, Bobby Lashley went on to have 17 mixed martial arts bouts, winning 15 (6 by knockout, 6 by submission, and 3 by decision), with two losses (1 knockout, 1 by decision).

After a short stint in AAA and two runs in TNA/Impact Wrestling, Lashley returned to WWE on the April 9, 2018 episode of Raw, one night after WrestleMania 34.

After a few pursuits of the Universal Championship in 2018-19, he won the Intercontinental Championship for the first time in his career from Dean Ambrose in a triple threat match involving Seth Rollins. It was his first title reign in WWE since June 2007.

The Hurt Business, featuring Bobby Lashley, MVP, Cedric Alexander, and Shelton Benjamin.
The Hurt Business, featuring Bobby Lashley, MVP, Cedric Alexander, and Shelton Benjamin. [Photo: Pllana Productions on YouTube]
After an on-air relationship storyline with Lana, Bobby Lashley has found his stride alongside MVP, Cedric Alexander, and Shelton Benjamin in the formidable faction, The Hurt Business. We are excited to see where his career goes from here.

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Ian Aldous
Ian Aldous is a boxing writer and contributor to Pro Wrestling Stories. He has covered boxing for BoxingNews24.com since 2011 and represents the International Boxing Organization as a publicist. He briefly covered pro wrestling in the late 2000s for WrestlingNewsWorld.com and the PWB Podcast. He can be reached on Twitter: @boxing_writer and by e-mail at ian_aldous@yahoo.co.uk.