Missed 3:16: If It Weren’t For UPN, Muhammad Hassan Could Have Been A Star

ormer wrestling journalist Andrew Khellah defines the terms “3:16 moment” and superstar as such: 3:16 Mo·ment (mmnt) 1. The rise to superstardom 2. A particular period of importance, influence,...
Muhammad Hassan
Former wrestling journalist Andrew Khellah defines the terms “3:16 moment” and superstar as such:

3:16 Mo·ment (mmnt)
1. The rise to superstardom
2. A particular period of importance, influence, or significance in a series of events or developments
3. The wrestling promo that can make you a legend
su·perstar (spr-stär)
1. A widely acclaimed star, as in movies or sports, who has great popular appeal.
2. One that is extremely popular or prominent or that is a major attraction.

In essence, the 3:16 moment represents the small window of opportunity a wrestler has to connect with the crowd and ultimately
make the impact that is going to cement his status at the top of the card.

Vince McMahon has famously stated that WWE grants opportunities, not promises. It is the job of the talent (and to a degree the writers) to make the most of the opportunities they are afforded to climb the corporate ladder and reach levels of success they only could have dreamt of.

Steve Austin’s tirade after King of the Ring is perhaps the best example of what a 3:16 moment is, considering he coined the infamous phrase, “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” Other notable 3:16 moments include Shane Douglas throwing down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to usher in a new era of extreme, CM Punk’s pipe bomb, and Hulk Hogan cutting a promo on Hulkamaniacs everywhere when he joined the Outsiders in WCW.

For as many 3:16 moments as there have been however, there have been nearly ten times the amount of 3:16 moments that never were. This new series of columns aims to take a deeper look at missed 3:16 moments with an open mind as we think about what could have been.

The Fourth of July, the most patriotic of American holidays, has came and went. Still, in the spirit of the holiday, I could think of no man more fitting as the first subject in this new series than Muhammad Hassan.

I don’t think WWE has ever produced a more racist theme song.

But back to Hassan.

Both he and his associate Shawn “Khosrow” Daivari debuted in December 2004. While Daivari was ethnically Iranian, Hassan (real name Mark Copani) was actually born to Italian-American parents and came out of OVW, the company’s developmental territory at the time, with no experience playing the character. Vince McMahon and his writing staff at the time wanted to play off of the aftermath of 9/11 by introducing an Arab-American character as something of a modern day Iron Sheik.

When OVW booker Jim Cornette offered Copani the Muhammad Hassan character, he accepted, viewing it as an opportunity to make it to television.

Hassan and Daivari debuted in a series of vignettes played on Raw, citing pro wrestling as an outlet for relief from the increase in prejudice following the 9/11 attacks. He wore a turban, had all of his promos translated in Persian by Daivari, and would praise Allah on the way to the ring.

Accompanying the heel persona was a terrific athlete at the core. At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Hassan had good size and a lot of potential in the ring. His arsenal included a reverse STO and the key ingredient in any Middle Eastern wrestling character starter pack—the Camel Clutch.

Part of the problem with Hassan was his youth. He was just 23 years old for the duration the character was on television and it would appear that he was simply too much, too quick. This is evident in his actions backstage, which were encouraged by locker room pranksters. Aside from disrespecting Sgt. Slaughter backstage before their match on Raw, Daivari revealed that Hassan once told Eddie Guerrero to stop using the Camel Clutch, causing Guerrero to become incensed. The reason? Guerrero’s father Gory innovated the hold.

Eventually, Hassan and Daivari would enter a program on SmackDown with the Undertaker that is known for its highs and lows.

Hassan’s last notable deed on television came on the July 4, 2005 edition of SmackDown, when he “sacrificed” Daivari to the Undertaker so he could summon a group of masked terrorists to attack the Deadman with clubs and a steel-piano wire while Hassan directed traffic. Hassan would then put his lifeless foe in the Camel Clutch to finish the job.

If that doesn’t generate heat, then I just don’t know what does.

Unfortunately, this is the point in time where the network, UPN, had seen enough.

While the angle garnered the company tons of mainstream media attention, it turned out to be a prime example of bad publicity; so bad that UPN had already set the wheels in motion to put the kibosh to Muhammad Hassan.

The very next Smackdown, Hassan delivered a promo to the live crowd that responded to the media assault he and the company received throughout the week.

It was logical and really quite good:

But alas, the network refused to show the segment so WWE posted the video to their website, further infuriating UPN. Instead, we got the television debut of Thomas Whitney, better known as former Ring of Honor Television champion Tommaso Ciampa, who posed as Hassan’s lawyer. Whitney came out to inform the Undertaker that Hassan refused to appear until the Great American Bash, due to the way he was treated by the media.

At the Great American Bash, Hassan was originally scheduled to defeat the Undertaker in a Number One Contender’s match. Instead, the WWE had no choice but to kill the character off right then and there or risk losing a television deal.

After taking the Last Ride from the Undertaker through an open stage ramp, Hassan was written off television for good and sent back down to OVW to alter his gimmick. The WWE, fearing that Hassan would never be able to shake his old gimmick, released him in late September of 2005.

But the fact remains that the company had big plans for the Muhammad Hassan character. After defeating the Undertaker at the Great American Bash, he was scheduled to go on to SummerSlam, where he would defeat Batista in his hometown—the nation’s capital—to win the World Heavyweight Championship.

This would have resulted in nuclear heat for Hassan, who after that, would have no doubt gone on to become one of John Cena’s greatest villains. At the tender age of 23, he could have had a long and fruitful career if UPN weren’t so quick to cut the cord.

So where was the missed 3:16 moment?

One aspect that hampered the Hassan character was that Copani himself was not Arabian and as a result could not relate to the actual struggles his character was facing, though this may have changed a few months after the character had been on TV.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that he had, by the point of the “terrorist” attack on the Undertaker, been able to correctly embody his character. The purposeful promo itself was about as well delivered as it could have been. The timing, however, was not quite right.

The response promo was exactly that: a response delivered the week following the aftermath of the “terrorist” attack angle, when it really should have been delivered immediately following the attack to play off of the public’s immediate reaction. Instead of applying the Camel Clutch right away, Hassan should have spoken from the heart (as best as he could) about the struggles of his race and used the Undertaker, still laying lifeless on the canvas, as a symbol for the assumptions people make about Arab Americans.

It is at this moment that Hassan should have applied the Camel Clutch, putting the exclamation point on what would have been a dynamite segment.

A great heel is a logical heel after all, and the Hassan character was logical in the sense that many of the things he said about Americans and their prejudices were true (and still are). What’s more is the athletic ability of Hassan could have given him some serious longevity in wrestling.

Ultimately, the world was not ready for Muhammad Hassan and it’s hard to say if it ever will be ready for another character to come along and push the boundaries of what is in good taste.

Hassan’s missed 3:16 moment came nine years after Austin took matters into his own hands in 1996. Following his failed wrestling career, Copani retired from the profession and went on to work in Hollywood before moving to New York and becoming a teacher. Today, he is still only 33 years old and would no doubt be a fixture in today’s wrestling landscape had he seized his window of opportunity. Instead, he is merely an afterthought and while not all of what happened was his fault, it’s certainly fun to think about what could have been.

Wrestledelphia.com staff writer Jack Goodwillie can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter at .

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