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Road to Canton: Reflecting on Steve McMichael's pro wrestling career


Road to Canton: Reflecting on Steve McMichael's pro wrestling career

In Part 3 of's 5-part series on Steve McMichael ahead of his Hall of Fame induction in August, senior writer Larry Mayer chronicles Mongo's brief but memorable second career as a professional wrestler.

READ: Part 1, Part 2

Pro wrestling legend Ric Flair roars with laughter recalling when he had Steve McMichael travel to Florida for a grand opening of a Gold's Gym that Flair owned.

"I had Rose Limousine pick him up," Flair said last week during a sit-down interview at Halas Hall. "One of the owners walks into the gym the next day at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and says, 'Do you have any idea when your friend is going to bring my limousine back?' He never went back to his hotel."

Flair discussing McMichael's penchant to party is like Mike Ditka lauding someone else's mustache. Nicknamed the "Nature Boy" in honor of wrestling legend Buddy Rogers, Flair famously describes himself as a "stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' and dealin' son of a gun." One of the most prolific pro wrestlers of all time, Flair thought he was the world's No. 1 partier—until he spent time with McMichael.

"He's one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life, and wilder than me—and that's saying a lot," Flair said. "Steve used to say to me, 'I've got more money than I've got time. What do you want to do tonight?' I never slept, but he slept less."

That was especially true on one occasion.

"The wildest night I've ever spent in my life was with Lawrence Taylor and Mongo in Las Vegas on Lawrence Taylor's birthday," Flair said. "I can tell you in all my years of wrestling I have never had a night out like that."

Flair politely declined to provide details, shaking his head with a huge smile on his face. It's no doubt a story that Flair recounts during his regular visits to see McMichael, who is bedridden due to the ravages of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).

The highlight of McMichael's time as a pro wrestler from 1995-99 was when he teamed with Flair as part of the famed "Four Horsemen" in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1996-97.

"He was just a great guy to be with, a lot of personality, fun, congenial, got along with everybody," Flair said. "You'd never know that he was anything special—which he was to me and to any football fan—but he was just a regular guy.

"He liked wrestling, he wanted to do it and he caught on really quick. If you're not afraid to try something, which he wasn't, and if you're a good athlete, it's not that hard to pick up. And obviously he was used to the physicality his whole life, so the physicality didn't bother him at all."

In honor of Steve McMichael being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2024, take a look at photos of the former Bears defensive tackle over the years.

McMichael's first foray into pro wrestling came with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), which is now known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 1995—the year after he retired from the NFL. During an episode of Monday Night Raw, McMichael served as a commentator alongside WWE honcho Vince McMahon and tangled with wrestler Kama Mustafa. McMichael later appeared ringside at WrestleMania XI during a match between Taylor, the New York Giants Hall of Fame linebacker, and wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow.

Longtime Bears teammate Tom Thayer remembers that McMichael's indoctrination into pro wrestling was a painful one.

"He went down to a wrestling school in Atlanta and the day he got back we went out to dinner," Thayer said. "He said, 'Tommy, take a look at this,' and he lifted up his shirt. He was badly bruised from his waist to just below his shoulder because he was learning to bounce off the turnbuckle and bounce off the ropes."

Thayer attended four or five of McMichael's wrestling shows.

"I always got to go back into the locker room, and I was always amazed at how 'Ming' held court with all the wrestlers," Thayer said. "It didn't take him a while to get acclimated to the room. Ming was always a dominant alpha male in a football locker room, and it carried over because he went in there with plenty of street cred with his look and his physique and what he was able to accomplish in the NFL. It wasn't like a guy trying to climb the ladder. Ming walked in there with a lot of cachet."

McMichael signed with WCW in 1995, working as a commentator and wrestler before joining the Four Horsemen in 1996. His first singles match came against wrestler Joe Gomez at "Bash at the Beach" July 7, 1996, in Florida.

Gomez became close friends with McMichael and always accompanies Flair during his visits to McMichael's home in suburban Chicago.

"No matter how much it hurts me, and I cry my eyes out—Ric and I both are very emotional—but if you could make him forget the situation for 10 minutes, that's the least we could do," Gomez said. "It kills me. But then I always think, 'What's it like for him?'"

During their most recent trip last week, McMichael was in a jovial mood.

"It was the first time Ric and I didn't break down crying because [McMichael] was too upbeat and happy," Gomez said.

Gomez, who played football at the University of Louisville, knew how accomplished McMichael was before the two even met.

"I remember watching the '85 Bears in college at Louisville dismantle the Patriots and I was like, 'Wow,'" Gomez said. "And to think 10 years later I'd be wrestling Mongo in his first singles match."

Gomez feels that the same attributes that made McMichael a Hall of Fame defensive tackle enabled him to fit in perfectly as a pro wrestler.

"He was fearless, he was colorful, larger than life and just loved it," Gomez said. "He was having fun. It's what made him one of the greatest linemen of all time."

Flair and Gomez are both planning to attend McMichael's Hall of Fame induction ceremony Aug. 3 in Canton, Ohio. They hope that the former Bears defensive tackle is able to make the trip, and if he is, they envision a powerful moment akin to the "Never Give Up" speech that former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano delivered in 1993 when he was dying of cancer.

"It's going to be a huge deal," Flair said. "They're going to have a hell of a party and Mongo's going to be right in the middle of it. He's an unforgettable personality. If he makes it to Canton, I'm looking for like a 'Jimmy V' reaction if they get him up on that stage."

"Mongo squeezed every second out of life," Gomez said. "He's one of those special people … He really did everything, and he did it in Mongo style."