Professional wrestling fixes its matches. We know so because celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal beat established stars, right?
The WWE perfected the art of scripting storylines involving legends like Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as well as injecting celebs into the action. Outcomes in all the major wrestling outfits are pre-determined, and the finishing moves are carefully choreographed.
But in a startling disclosure this week, wrestling fans learned that the production crew crossed a line this year with a stunt that potentially endangered O’Neal’s life.
Shaquille O’Neal decided to dive into pro wrestling
O’Neal has long been an avid follower of pro wrestling. One of the perks that Turner Sports used to entice the Hall of Fame player to sign a contract extension as a TNT basketball analyst a year ago was to offer him a role with TNT’s All-Elite Wrestling franchise.
Some may have assumed that the role would be office work, anything from developing storylines to promoting AEW. That might still be true, but Shaq also embraced some hands-on work.
A November 2020 airing of AEW Dynamite teased O’Neal’s impending participation. He showed up the following month for an interview that ended with Brandi Rhodes dousing him with water after O’Neal suggested she take lessons from Jade Cargill, who’d recently broken Rhodes’ arm.
Naturally, that set up a grudge match: O’Neal and Cargill vs. Cody Rhodes and Red Velvet.
Shaquille O’Neal foolishly believed a lie that risked his safety
O’Neal and Cargill prevailed over Rhodes and Red Velvet in their hyped and entertaining showdown on AEW Dynamite on March 3. Along the way, O’Neil proved himself as a natural performer by delivering a power bomb on Rhodes and tossing his opponent aside like a rag doll during an attempted pin.
In an unexpected twist later, Rhodes threw a cross-body block at O’Neal as the 7-foot-1 star stood outside the ropes. The stunt sent the pair through two tables at ringside and onto the concrete floor. Shaq took the brunt of the blow, and it looked brutal. He played it to the hilt, faking a knockout and requiring aid from an ambulance crew.
The sequence might have been child’s play for a professional stuntman or your average drunken fan at a Buffalo Bills tailgating party (yes, that may be redundant), but it would have been impossible to pull off without prepping O’Neal. That’s where QT Marshall came in.
Marshall, a wrestler by trade but also the co-owner of a gym that trains aspiring grapplers, took on the task of preparing Shaq. But what he told his student and what happened during the taping were two entirely different matters.
It turned out that O’Neal fell for a big, fat lie.
Shaq believed safety measures were in place
O’Neal was an eager participant in the AEW Dynamite show, owing to his love of pro wrestling. Marshall, who trained Shaq, told Digital Spy that O’Neal picked up on the inner workings of the match quickly.
“He already had a whole list of things that were in his mind that he was going to do to somebody,” he said, “and it was just about teaching him the right way to do it without hurting himself.”
According to Marshall, it was O’Neal who raised the possibility of crashing through tables, a staple of wrestling shows for years.
“I told him, ‘Oh, it won’t be that bad, we’ll put a really thick pad underneath,’ which was not true,” Marshall admitted. “I just didn’t want him to back out of it.”
Obviously, it didn’t play out that way. O’Neal fell from the ring, about three feet off the floor and onto the tables. The tables gave way, and he landed on his back on the concrete floor.
“As he came in the back (room), right away, he said, ‘You lied to me! There was no pad under there!’” Marshall said. “That’s wrestling, welcome to wrestling.”
Yes, that’s wrestling. Maybe someone should let the Turner Sports people who are paying Shaq a large salary to analyze basketball know the foolish chance their wrestling people took with their star.