An infamous incident occurred on December 28th, 1984 when Dr. D David Schultz was invited onto 20/20 for a report on the legitimacy of professional wrestling.
Host John Stossel had a type of reporting at the time that was known to expose untruths in all types of businesses, and on this occasion, he had targeted professional wrestling. Unbeknownst to Stossel, the tables would be turned and he would soon become the target of the burly ill-tempered David Schultz, a legitimate 6’6″, 260 lbs tough guy — a person that few would want to provoke. This was a case of trying to preserve kayfabe in late 1984 and it led to serious consequences.
A Tough Start for Dr. D David Schultz
Many fans are familiar with the incident or have at least heard something about it. But David Schultz, after leaving the wrestling business in 1987 and becoming a very successful bounty hunter with over 1700 captures, insists that people know very little of what really happened.
“When you see the tape with Stossel,” says Schultz, “you don’t see all the interviews. He tried to do several of them with me that night, three or four. You see the one they wanted you to see.”
David Schultz grew up under impoverished surroundings in Western Tennessee and was obligated to fight for everything he had from an early age. He was first trained by Herb Welch whose first lessons in professional wrestling were more focused on dissuading a young Shultz by taking him to the brink of exhaustion and dispensing plenty of pain by stretching him. Schultz could barely walk after the brutal sessions with Welch, and he would regularly have to be gingerly helped out of the car by his wife. Despite the punishment, the future Dr. D did not falter and continued on with his lessons. Welch, who would fight people on oil rigs and carnivals (or Athletic Shows), was one of the last pillars of the old guard of rough grapplers who learned from the earliest pioneers of the sport who practiced the dangerous art of catch-as-catch-can (wrestling in which all holds are permitted).
When starting out, David Schultz was not smartened up to the intricacies of professional wrestling. Instead, he was mostly taught hooking maneuvers that could legitimately cripple an opponent if needed so that he would be able to hold his own in and out of the ring. Later, a befuddled Schultz was told he “wouldn’t make a dime” in the business like that and was eventually taught to actually “work.” Welch would also tell him, “Don’t go outside and talk to the fans and sign autographs because you’re a heel. If you do and people see you doing that, they’ll say, ‘He’s not that bad of a guy.'”
Schultz debuted in the small Missouri town of Malden for very little money and sometimes wrestled up to five times per card, earning $10-$15 for three hours of work that was supposed to cover gas and other expenses.
He rapidly found success in Stampede Wrestling in Canada owned by Stu Hart, as well as various other NWA territories like in the Pacific Northwest, Tennesee, Florida and later main-eventing with Verne Gagne’s AWA and Hulk Hogan. In the WWF, he was portrayed as “a tough backwater hick with a (hired) inbred family, and a passion for shotguns,” according to The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels by Greg Oliver and Steve Johnson. In a segment on Tuesday Night Titans, Schultz says he got a lot of heat for the way he treated “his family” and received a lot of hate mail including people calling child protective services. The children on the segment would start crying and had to be reminded that Schultz wasn’t really mad at them!
Watch: Dr. D David Schultz and “his family” on Tuesday Night Titans
According to David Schultz, being a heel was a perfect fit. “It was natural for me. I loved being a heel. I would not ever be a good guy. I’m a bad guy at heart, I don’t like anybody. Everything’s wrong with me. I bitch and complain about everything. If you give me the world, I want a turnip patch on the outside.”
“What you saw on TV is what you got,” said “Playboy” Buddy Rose who worked with Schultz in an intense feud in the Pacific Northwest in 1981.
According to Tracey Smothers, “Dr. D was a bad dude.”
Leo Burke, who worked with Schultz on top in Stampede Wrestling and the Maritimes, once remarked, “He was very, very temperamental. If he liked you, he liked you. If he didn’t like you, he’d let you know.”
As a heel, David Schultz quickly learned how to take fans to the boiling point but almost paid dearly on many occasions. “I’ve had people get so mad, they’ve come out and cut my tires, set my car on fire, even tried to kidnap my daughter once in Calgary while at school.” He also remembers when starting out in Missouri early in his career that the policemen would hit them with blackjacks and the women would even try to cut them with scissors. “It gets bad, it gets real bad.”
The Business Exposed
Before Vince McMahon exposed the business by admitting to the Athletics State Commissions in 1989 that professional wrestling was predetermined, wrestling had clung to kayfabe. This was the notion that what was presented to the public was a true athletic contest between individuals that bore a grudge that needed to be solved in the squared circle. John Stossel, with the increasing mainstream popularity of wrestling in the ‘80s, decided to try to divulge its secrets to the world in 1984. In this particular TV piece on the program 20/20, he had also spoken to wrestlers “The Continental Lover” Eddie Mansfield and Jim Wilson. Both were upfront and very candid saying that they were unhappy with what they saw as unjust pay and unfair treatment from unscrupulous wrestling promoters of the time. Mansfield and Wilson blatantly admitted that the wrestling matches had predetermined outcomes. According to Stossel, as told to Barbara Walters in the 20/20 segment, this led to Mansfield losing his job.
Stossel even got into a ring with a very willing Mansfield who showed him various wrestling holds. Stossel noticed that they indeed required teamwork for them to work and that with enough cooperation and selling, seemingly anybody could do what wrestlers did on television. Mansfield also sickeningly demonstrated the technique of “blading” — the act of cutting your forehead with a razor blade to open a horizontal slash across it (the sure way to have permanent scarring) — as Stossel stared on in disbelief. As real blood dripped from Mansfield’s forehead, John Stossel was shocked by the fact that it wasn’t caused by blood capsules as he had earlier suspected.
Years later, with his wrestling career behind him, Mansfield reflected on his 20/20 interview, having this to say in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “When I did that, I did it for all the young guys out there night after night busting their butts who were being taken advantage of by some of the promoters. Do you think wrestling stars of today would be making the huge dollars they are if I had not stepped up and said what I said? I think not.”
Jim Wilson, on the other hand, took it up a notch in his exposing of the business when he went on to co-write a tell-all book with Weldon T. Johnson entitled, Chokehold: Pro Wrestling’s Real Mayhem Outside the Ring, published in 2003. Wilson claimed that his promising career came to a screeching halt after he refused sexual advances from a wrestling promoter. In his book, he claims that it was Jim Barnett, but this was never proven.
The Slaps Heard Round the Wrestling World
With Vince McMahon’s consent, a man who John Stossel saw as the biggest promoter in the business, Stossel gained what was, at the time, unprecedented access backstage at one of the WWF’s wrestling events at Madison Square Garden. David Schultz admits that he wasn’t a fan of anybody snooping backstage, and kicking non-wrestlers out of the dressing room was his modus operandi. “I didn’t care who it was, TV, producer, building owner… if they didn’t have a license for that state, I’d kick them out,” he states. “When they went into buildings, they didn’t even come near or around me.” As we’ll see later, this may have been part of his undoing with the company when he did it to the wrong person in Mr. T, who was very popular at the time.
In a recent interview, Schultz defended his actions against Stossel and even tries to put himself over in the process while seemingly never breaking character. “When I went out that door, I did not know who John Stossel was. I made John Stossel. Nobody knew who John Stossel was, and after that night and after that TV show and all the whining this guy did, crying like a baby, going out there on Barbara Walters…”
He continues, “John Stossel last year on his TV show said that his injuries were ‘euro somatic.’ That means, according to him, that after he got his money, he didn’t hurt anymore and that he didn’t hurt at all after that. On his depositions, he said that he had permanent ear damage, but the doctors at Madison Square Garden said that they could find no damage to his ears at all. And by the way, I did not touch his ears. If you slow down the tapes and look, you will see that. He went to one of his brothers who is a doctor and he said that John Stossel had permanent ear damage.”
Hulk Hogan in his book, Hollywood Hulk Hogan, written by Michael Jan Friedman, says that he suspected early on that Stossel was not there just to interview people, but instead, he was trying to expose the business. “I called up Vince and I said, ‘Red Alert, pal. This guy’s not out to do a story on how popular Hulk Hogan is. He’s trying to reveal whether wrestling is fake or not.’”
After inundating Schultz with questions (most not seen in the final version that aired to the public, according to him), Stossel’s line of questioning seemed to increasingly annoy Dr. D. He forcefully let him know that “yes, it’s a good business because only the tough survive” and that was the reason neither Stossel, his “punk cameraman,” nor the “redneck fans” were in it, because “it’s a tough business.”
Stossel, who at this point had previous experience dealing with uncooperative people in his various interviews as a TV reporter, seemingly tried to neither seem impressed nor intimidated by Schultz’s tough-guy attitude. He almost immediately and sarcastically answered, “That’s terrific.”
An angry Schultz shot back asking, “What, is that all you got?!”
Stossel continued to stand his ground and answered, “I’ll ask you the standard question.” [“The standard question,” echoed Schultz]. But then he didn’t ask the question but instead looked at Schultz and flat out asserted “I think it’s fake.”
A half-second passed, and an angry Schultz with fury in his eyes responded to the unwelcome outsider’s assessment of the wrestling business with a vicious open hand slap to the left side of Stossel’s head, and then when Stossel got up, he was taken down once more, this time with another brutal slap but on his right side near his ear. Schultz claims that he had heard, “I think you’re fake.” And that he never hit Stossel on his ears, but instead he simply “bitch-slapped” him.
Hogan in his book adds, “I said ring-a-ding-ding, there’s a lawsuit right there. Sure enough, we got sued and Stossel said that he suffered severe ear damage.” Hogan continues, “I believe it. I saw the hits and I know if anybody hit my ear like that they’d break my eardrum.”
Someone Else Pulling the Strings
Hitting a person as David Schultz did John Stossel will usually bring the law into play, but Schultz has for years insisted that his boss Vince McMahon ordered him to do it, and basically “set him up” because they couldn’t get rid of him any other way. He says that Vince pulled him to the side with other heels like Afa and Sika of The Wild Samoans, the Iron Sheik and Mr. Fuji witnessing the whole conversation. He says that Vince explained that there was this guy that was trying to expose the business, “trying to make a joke of it,” and he wanted Schultz to go out there and do an interview with him, but to stay in character. “Be Dr. D and blast him. Tear his ass up.”
Schultz says that after the scheduled match with Antonio Inoki that night, he was told by Vince McMahon in the dressing room that he had done a “great job” with Stossel but he needed to go back to the Howard Johnson because maybe people would be showing up to try and arrest him. He was later sent to NJPW in Japan so that things could blow over in the States. In Japan, the promoters wanted him to do what he had done to Stossel, but this time everything was truly a work, with signed documents from everyone.
Marvin Kohn, the deputy commissioner of the New York State Athletic Commission at the time, who had been on the premises during the assault, stated, “I have been with the commission for 33 years, and in 33 years I have never known a wrestler to attack anyone outside the ring. I immediately suspended the wrestler, which I have the right to do.”
Schultz, in turn, admitted to the allegations in a letter he wrote to them and apologized to the commission but added that he never intended to hurt Stossel.
Stossel is reported to have received more than 1,000 calls inquiring about his health and believed that the suspension by the commission was insufficient. “I think something should be done to encourage him not to go around assaulting people.” Stossel and the WWF (Titan Sports at the time) settled for $425,000 out of court. Other sources say that it was $450,000 with $275,000 paid directly and their insurance covering the remaining $150,000.
“Maybe fake violence breeds real violence and not just amongst the fans,” Stossel said in his TV piece for 20/20. “It seems to egg on bullies like 6’6”, 260 lbs Dave Schultz.”
Schultz further explains, “People just haven’t read the whole story. They haven’t dug deep enough. Vince McMahon paid [Stossel] $425,000 without asking me anything, without going to court, and I was never sued by John Stossel. I was never arrested for anything. I was never charged with anything, but Vince McMahon [Titan Sports] was. And then Vince McMahon comes back and sues me for $25,000, and now I had to fight a well-known millionaire in court. Don’t try and fight a millionaire in court unless you are one too, because they got all these slimy-ass lawyers ripping them off for everything they can get. But that’s the way the world is. If you got money, you can do whatever you want.”
He has also said that Vince McMahon, in an attempt to recover the money he believed was rightfully his, placed leans on properties Schultz owned.
Listen: Bruce Hart believes David Schultz was unfairly disposed of by the business.
There is another school of thought that claims Vince McMahon knew John Stossel would ask the “standard question” which is: “Is wrestling fake?” And with Schultz “blasting him,” this would cause a lot of press to pay attention.
Wrestling scholar Sharon Mazer points to “wrestlers’ potential for actual violence when confronted with an outsider’s skepticism” and suggests that Stossel surely knew what the reaction might have been to his pressing inquiry.
Speaking with Barbara Walters after the exposé was aired, Stossel claimed that his doctor (who was his brother, according to Schultz) said that he suffered ear damage and that it was probably permanent. He goes on to say that it made him mad because he was hit on each ear and that they hurt when there were loud noises, when buses would go by or when people talked loudly in the ER.
The Wrestling Career of David Schultz Takes a Nosedive
John Stossel did admit when speaking with Barbara Walters that David Schultz was an idle case in the wrestling world. “This guy is the exception. Most of these wrestlers are hard-working guys who know it’s an act and keep it to the act. I make a living confronting crooks and people who are fakers, and the one time I get hit is confronting someone where it’s obvious that it’s fake.”
Before being sued by Vince McMahon, Schultz had an altercation with a fan a couple of months before in September of 1984. Later, he got into a spat with Mr. T where “T” and his entourage wanted to go backstage at a WWF show in L.A., but Schultz wouldn’t let them and even challenged Mr. T to get into the ring with him saying, “I’ll make you shine my shoes, boy.” He says that the National Enquirer ran with the story of Mr. T backing down to his challenge.
The next time they were in L.A., the police hog-tied Schultz because he claims that Mr. T was scared he was going to beat him up or something. “They threw me out of the building with guns drawn to my head.”
He was eventually let go by the WWF, and his wrestling career fizzled and ended by 1987.
The fact that he claims that Hulk Hogan complained to Vince that he was a little too stiff in the ring when working with him and feared that he might try and forcefully take his title, certainly didn’t help matters. This is one of the reasons he believes that he was “set up” by Vince McMahon with the John Stossel incident so that they could get rid of him. This was after the two had main-evented in the AWA and later the WWF. Schultz had considered Hogan a good friend and even says that he had given him a place to stay when Hogan was having financial problems and living in a van when he first started in the business. “Later on he acts like he don’t know you,” Schultz laments. “To me, he’s a piece of garbage.”
Life After Wrestling
Dr. D claims that Vince McMahon was the main person responsible for him not being able to work anywhere in wrestling after the Stossel debacle. So out of necessity, he changed careers and became a very successful bounty hunter where he says he made more money apprehending people on the run who had skipped bail than he ever made in professional wrestling. Sometimes the fugitive would even recognize Dr. D and want his autograph. Schultz further says that he never had the opportunity to apprehend any of “the boys” though!
David Schultz became so good at bounty hunting that John Cosper, the author of the book, Don’t Call Me Fake: The Real Story of “Dr. D” David Schultz, while writing the book and speaking with various bail bonds persons says that if given the choice of sending Dr. D or Dog The Bounty Hunter, that “there’s no comparison.” Schultz, having chased people all over the world, says, “I’ve brought in government officials, town mayors, bankers, murderers, rapists… all walks of life.” He continues, “I got big bonds. Some of my paydays were $40,000 for bringing people in, but you don’t get those overnight. It takes 6-8 months to track these people.”
Watch: Dr. D David Schultz in action as a bounty hunter
What Did the Peers of David Schultz Think About The Stossel Incident and 20/20 Report?
Jesse “The Body” Ventura remembers when the 20/20 report aired, the WWF drew even more fans than before and some arenas even had banners that said “20/20 sucks.” In his opinion, Stossel picked one of the worst guys in the locker room to accuse of being a fraud.
“John Stossel was an indifferent asshole who worked for 20/20, trying to take cheap shots [with wrestling],” says Bruce Hart. “My father [Stu Hart] would say that Schultz was the only one who stood up for the damn business and for that he should’ve been commended. My father admired him for that and was pissed off at wrestlers who didn’t support what he had done to Stossel. I remember Hogan being criticized for not backing him up.”
Billy Jack Haynes, in a shoot interview with RF Video, said, “I loved it when [Schultz] slapped John Stossel on his ass.”
Bob Orton Jr. says that he saw when Stossel was told by Schultz on several occasions that he could ask him anything EXCEPT “Is wrestling fake?” and Stossel reassured him that he wasn’t going to ask him that. So, did Stossel lie about his promise? Orton believes that hitting Stossel was the sole reason for his firing from the WWF.
Bret Hart recounts in his book Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, “When the WWF granted John Stossel backstage access, it was to get more hype for WrestleMania. The wrestlers were preparing for their matches and didn’t welcome the intrusion. The more he pushed his microphone in everyone’s faces, the tenser the boys got. I can’t say it was right for Schultz to do, but I think wrestlers everywhere have always respected Dave for protecting the business.”
In a later interview with Steve Austin, Hart feels that Stossel did deserve to get slapped and that he crossed the line by a long shot. Austin is in the opinion that Stossel picked the wrong person, the wrong place and the wrong time to conduct that interview.
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, who prided himself for being believable in the ring, hated the exposé done by 20/20 and says that he wanted to kill Eddie Mansfield for what he did and that nobody liked what Stossel had done either.
The Honkey Tonk Man, who as Wayne Farris had worked and traveled with Schultz many times, has a suspicion that because Mr. Fuji is seen in the hallway (along with the Iron Sheik) with a big smile watching the whole incident develop, he thinks that maybe Schultz might even have been egged on to slap Stossel, maybe even with some money involved between the boys like a bet or a dare.
Mr. Fuji gave his opinion. “I was there laughing, we all laughed. He made trouble on his own, and David just protected himself and the business. He was a hero, you’d better believe it. He’s a good man who protected the business.”
Dr. D David Schultz, Never Out of Character
Even in his mid-‘60s, David Schultz seems to never waver too far from his former in-ring persona and still lives up to the aura of the tough guy brawler who was never afraid to challenge anyone or take BS from anybody. “I ain’t gonna say that there’s none out there that can beat me, but there’s a very few, and they’re dying quick!” says Shultz as he cackles maniacally. “Every time I read the paper, there’s another one gone.”
Bruce Hart is convinced that if Schultz would not have had that incident with John Stossel, Dr. D would have been one of those iconic heels everyone talks about today. Schultz answers, “I hate to tell Bruce that he’s mistaken but I was the best heel. NOBODY compared to me. They all loved my interviews because I was a rich woman’s lover and a poor girl’s dream! I turned down nobody. I wrestled everybody: their brother, their cousins, their sisters. The only one I turned down was Stu [Hart], I didn’t want to get in the ring with Stu!”
Watch the 20/20 exposé on Professional Wrestling including David Schultz slapping John Stossel:
To this day, David Schultz is adamant at saying that he never hit John Stossel on his ears, even while being inducted into the Cauliflower Alley Club in 2019. He took an envelope with supposedly Stossel’s deposition (a sworn out-of-court testimony) and also called out “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for continuing to “lie” by saying that Schultz hit Stossel on his ears. Dr. D says that he still has “one fight left in him” and wants Steve Austin “face-to-face.”
You can learn more about Dr. D David Schultz in his book, Don’t Call Me Fake: The Real Story of “Dr. D” David Schultz.
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