Professional wrestler Hassan Assad first got into the sport while serving time in prison for robbing a cruise ship casino. A correctional officer named Daryl Davis who was also an independent pro wrestler would bring in videos of matches for the inmates to watch. When Assad was released, Davis contacted him and asked if he wanted to train with him. This led to an almost two-decade career that has seen Assad, better known by his ring name MVP, brought into the WWE, and later to New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
On this week’s episode of VICELAND’s The Wrestlers we learn about Assad’s journey from teenage gang member to wrestling superstar, and hear about his unique perspective on the next generation of talent. Ahead of the episode, VICE spoke with MVP about his incredible life story and what he thinks is next for the sport.
VICE: I guess we should talk about how you found yourself incarcerated?
MVP: My life is an open book. As a teenager I was into gangs and guns and nonsense. I was all about robberies. I used to say the world was my ATM. I ended up doing six-and-a-half months in the juvenile facility for robbery, armed robbery, aggravated assault, grand theft auto, resisting arrest. It was a nice little crime spree I was on.
I stayed out six months and then I went back in for a heist that made national headline news. I robbed a casino on a cruise ship. It was like some Ocean's 11 type shit. Nobody involved was over 21 at the time, and I had just turned 16.
One of my co-defendants had put together a plan because he used to work as security on the ship. I was looking for that one more lick. I went on the cruise, I checked it out and thought, You know what? With a little refining this actually could work. We reconfigured his plan and pulled it off. We made off with fucking over 100 grand. One of my co-defendants, dickhead, left $80,000 behind.
Then I was on the run because this dude snitched. My father, who was a cop, facilitated my surrender. I turned myself in. I didn't know I was facing ten counts of armed kidnapping, but I was because there were ten people in the casino we locked in the closet.
I refused to give a statement. I wouldn't cooperate. For that reason I ended up getting the most time. They said: “OK, you want to be a tough guy? We'll show you!” After sitting in a county jail for a year, I ended up pleading guilty to one count of armed robbery and ten counts of armed kidnapping in exchange for an 18-and-a-half year sentence with a three-year minimum mandatory for the sawed off shotgun, of which I served nine-and-a-half.
By the age of 16 you had gone through more harrowing and cinematic experiences than most people will in a lifetime.
Yeah, probably. I mean, by the age of 16 I had buried a couple friends, I'd been in shootouts, and just all kinds of ridiculous shit. When I went to prison, again, people were like “Oh, you were young, you made a mistake.” No. Do you know how much planning and effort went into pulling that shit off? That wasn't an accident. I didn't slip and wind up with a shotgun in my hand. No, it was a decision that I made. I didn't make mistakes. I made bad decisions, and I take responsibility for those bad decisions.
You came out of prison after doing nine-and-a-half years and managed to carry on with your life. You achieved a dream that people who have every opportunity handed to them are unable to attain.
When I was in work release that's where I met my buddy, Prime Time Daryl D, aka Daryl Davis, who is a correctional officer and was also an independent pro wrestler. He used to bring in videotapes for us to watch in the morning before they'd release us to go to work. Pay-per-views or he'd bring in tapes of local indie shows that he was on.
I asked him one day, “How do you guys do this shit, man? I grew up a wrestling fan. How do you guys do that and not break each other's necks for real?”
He said, “I see you out there playing basketball. You're pretty athletic. I want to start my own independent promotion soon and if you're still interested when you get out look me up and I'll teach you.”
And then you ended up climbing to the uppermost heights of the industry.
I look back and I say, OK, from where I was to where I am... shit is still surreal for me. I remember sitting in my prison bunk as a teenager with who knows how much time left in prison wondering what could I do for a living as a convicted felon. Fast forward and I’m standing in the wrestling ring at Wrestlemania across from Chris Benoit, my favorite fucking wrestler, and I'm looking around like, this is not really happening, man. Any minute now a prison guard is going to kick my bunk and tell me to wake the fuck up_._
As Booker T once told me, "Naw, little brother. You wide awake. Live it.”
Tell me about your decision to leave WWE for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Do you think having to work as hard as you did influenced your decision at all? You were high up on the card, prominently featured, certainly a household name among wrestling fans and you left to follow your dream.
Yeah, Japanese wrestling is my favorite wrestling. Wrestling for New Japan Pro-Wrestling at the Tokyo Dome, that was my dream. Wrestlemania and the WWE was a goal. After having been at WWE and being somebody who was being groomed to be a world champion, I ran afoul of some politics and spent three months on a losing streak. I had a confrontation with one of the executives. He came out of his mouth to me, sideways. I told him, “Man, you don't talk to me like that.” He told me to go fuck myself.
At that moment I decided OK, I'm done here. I said, “No, you go fuck yourself.”
He stood up and he stammered, “I’m not afraid of you.”
I leaned in and said, “Man, do you want to do this here in front of your coworkers or do you want to go outside and do this like men?” He didn't want to fight. He wasn't expecting me to respond that way. Because of his position, he was thinking that I was just going to say “OK” like so many guys do, but I was done. Mentally, I was done.
I asked to be released so that I could go follow my dream in Japan. I always wanted to wrestle in Japan, and I expressed that. They said, OK, we'll give you a release. Come back in a year, two years, and the door is open. You'll be a bigger star when you come back, and I never made it back.
The Wrestlers airs Wednesdays on Viceland at 10 p.m. est.
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