Going Ringside Ep. 10: The Redemption of Marc Mero

The former pro wrestler and now motivational speaker talks changing lives, his ex-wife Sable and being “Blackballed” from WWE

It was the early 2000′s when Marc Mero was working as a personal trainer at a Gold’s Gym in Florida. The glamour and celebrity of the pro wrestling world were years behind him, his marriage to Rena (who wrestling fans knew better as Sable) was over and someone at the gym asked “Oh my gosh! Marc Mero, what are you doing here?”

Mero didn’t mind his job at the time, complacent helping people and trying to get his life back together. Everything changed when he received a phone call from the football coach at Melbourne High School. “He says, ‘Hey Marc, can you come talk to my team?’. I said ‘Sure, I’d love to.’” What Mero never expected were the letters he received from members of the football team that his speech had changed their lives.

Now, almost two decades later, the 62-year-old is one of the most well known motivational speakers in the country. Mero founded his company Champion of Choices in 2007.

This unexpected journey all started in a wrestling ring in 1990.

“Anybody ever tell ya’ you look like Little Richard?”

Mero entered the pro wrestling game in 1990 by joining World Championship Wrestling (WCW). At the beginning Mero was simply a punching bag for the more established talent. He recalled one match against a team called Doom which was comprised of wrestlers Butch Reed and Ron Simmons. Simmons is likely a familiar name to Florida State fans because he’s a football legend at the school and had his jersey retired. “They beat the crap out of us. I mean, I’m being really honest with you,” said Mero.

But it was a very high profile wrestler who was booking the matches at the time named Dusty Rhodes who approached him and asked “Anybody ever tell ya’ you look like Little Richard?”

That conversation led him to developing a gimmick that became very memorable to a national audience. That would be the character of Johnny B. Badd. The new character was really a caricature of the legendary musician. Mero began to dawn pink trunks, wear makeup and act like the flamboyant singer. The character quickly got “over” with the fans (”over” is wrestling slang for popular). He said the veteran Rhodes taught him how to walk and talk to really develop the character. But he had some trouble personally wearing the makeup because even back then he was speaking to schools and a lot of children would ask him why he wore makeup. “So, I said ‘Dusty can I drop the makeup?’ The character is really over and he said ‘Yeah, let’s take it slow’.”

Along the way Mero worked boxing into his gimmick and took characteristics from another great, Muhammad Ali. Mero had won a New York State boxing title in his past and incorporating Ali just added to the character.

MORE EPISODES: Going Ringside with The Local Station

“I always looked at Wrestlemania as ‘The Dance’”

Mero spent about five years in WCW before being able to work out a deal with Vince McMahon and finally get a spot in WWF (today WWE). He felt historically to that point WWF was the pinnacle of the wrestling industry and he was able to work out a contract with McMahon. “I always looked at Wrestlemania as ‘The Dance’. If you ever wanted to feel like you made it in professional wrestling then wrestle at Wrestlemania. The Super Bowl of wrestling,” he said.

Mero said he was the first wrestler in the history of the company to get a guaranteed contract. Wrestlers in WWF to that point were paid by every show in each city and the wrestlers would be paid based on how much fans paid for individual events. But there was a downside to that business model for wrestlers if they were injured, they wouldn’t get paid. So he negotiated with McMahon to make sure his contract was guaranteed. “He said ‘You’re going to be the first one to get one,’” said Mero.

But Mero ran into character problems in WWF. He couldn’t legally bring his Johnny B. Badd character over to WWF because WCW owned the copyright on that character. So Mero had to invent a new character. He went with “Wildman” Marc Mero. A character he said didn’t really do that well with the fans. “I think Vince felt that he was getting Johnny B. Badd,” Mero said. “And when we found out that obviously we would be sued and so we found a new gimmick and we came up with this ‘Wildman’ Marc Mero. And I just couldn’t connect with the character.”

Brawl For All

In 1998 WWF tried a new idea that for decades has been discussed as one of the worst ideas in pro wrestling industry. It was a tournament called “Brawl For All”. Unlike pro wrestling which was pre-determined matches where the wrestlers go to great lengths to not severely injure each other, “Brawl For All” were legitimate fights. Mero, a mid-card wrestler at that point was one of the 16 participants. “So many guys got hurt. I mean career ending injuries,” he said.

Originally Mero said WWF was hoping every member of the locker room would participate. That would have been a very bad idea from a business perspective for the top talent who the company was portraying as some of the toughest men on television. If they lost in a legitimate fight, it would have ruined the credibility of many of the performers they invested heavily in. “Many guys didn’t want to ruin their reputation,” he said. “Think about a guy like ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin getting his butt kicked. He was our main player. So you have to protect certain guys.”

Mero pointed to one wrestler who was negatively affected possibly more than any other and that was the winner of the tournament a wrestler named Bart Gunn. The WWF tried to portray Gunn as a legitimate tough guy because he won the tournament. They did this by booking a match between him and the very famous and successful boxer Butterbean at Wrestlemania XV in 1999. Unfortunately for Gunn, Butterbean was one of the best boxers in that world and knocked Gunn out in seconds. That essentially ended his wrestling push and his wrestling career faded quickly after that.

Bringing in his wife “Sable”

In the 1990′s Mero was married to his now ex-wife Rena. He had discussed with McMahon bringing her to ringside as his on-camera valet. They gave her the on-camera name of Sable. Sable had movie star good looks and immediately became incredibly popular with fans. As the months and years went by while Mero’s career was flailing, his wife’s was quickly becoming possibly the most well known female performer in the history of pro wrestling.

In character he acted as a “heel” and was mean to her on camera. He would often berate her much to the ire of fans who were really liking Sable. Despite the on camera antics Mero said their marriage remained strong at that point. “Now, I’m seeing my wife at the time doing phenomenal. And her merchandise is selling second to only ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin at this point. And they’re backing the Brinks Truck up to our house. And I was so proud of her.”

Sable’s mainstream crossover appeal into the entertainment world was considerable as she was on the cover of TV Guide, Muscle & Fitness and Playboy several times. “She was becoming very, very well known. So that wasn’t the strain on our relationship. It wasn’t until after we left wrestling that we really fell apart.”

Eventually the couple left WWF when Sable sued the WWF for millions of dollars alleging sexual harassment. That essentially ended Marc Mero’s time with the WWF. The couple eventually divorce in 2004 and Sable eventually remarried to current WWE star Brock Lesnar.

The Chris Benoit murder-suicide and being “blacklisted”

In 2007 tragedy befell the world of professional wrestling with WWE star Chris Benoit killed his wife, small child and eventually took his own life. That tragedy shocked the wrestling world and brought a lot of mainstream scrutiny to the industry of professional wrestling due to concerns over brain damage. One of the things to come out of the Benoit investigation was that he had suffered several concussions during his career and there were suspicions that the brain damage contributed to his rampage.

When this news came out it was a top story on all the major news networks for days. One of the most outspoken critics of WWE during that time was Mero. At this point Mero had been out of WWE for several years. He said he felt he needed to speak out about the health of wrestlers in light of the Benoit tragedy. Mero said he focused on drug use of wrestlers and that was a concern in the Benoit investigation in addition to brain damage.

“To this day, I’m kind of blackballed from WWE. I can’t go to any of their events. I’ve never been invited to anything,” he said. “But I stood up for what was right. There was so many guys that was dying. With the steroids, the drugs, the pain medication. It just got to be too much. So I just stood up.” Mero said his speaking out helped lead to changes in the industry and stricter drug testing.

A new future for Marc Mero

Around the time of the Benoit tragedy, Mero started his organization Champion of Choices. Mero said following financial and substance abuse issues he decided to start telling his story to audiences. And he was constantly getting booked for various organizations all over the country. His website reads: A family and youth advocate, and sports celebrity, Marc has conducted hundreds of media interviews and made appearances on several national TV shows. Marc’s inspirational videos have been seen by millions, and his influence both online and on stage is worldwide.

Many of his recent appearances have been in Northeast Florida. One was with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.

He also had another recent Northeast Florida visit where he appeared with Governor Ron DeSantis. “When the Sheriff’s had a winter conference with Ron DeSantis in Jacksonville, in St. Augustine. They said ‘you gotta’ have this guy be the keynote speaker.’ And I was blessed to be the keynote speaker for that.”

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.