“A cross between Little Richard and Muhammad Ali” is how Marc Mero, better known as Johnny B. Badd, described himself in 1992 when I talked to him. The description was quite apt for the muscular, tanned wrestler who wore lipstick, rouge, and skimpy wrestling tights. Mero was a newcomer to wrestling in 1992 but off to a strong start in World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Mero’s success in WCW continued into the mid-1990s until he left the promotion for the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), where his less-flamboyant WWF identity failed to propel him to the top.
Mero: I was born in Macon, Georgia. I grew up in New York, and I became active in sports when I was younger. I played football and hockey, and then I moved on to boxing. I won five state titles in New York, including the New York Golden Gloves Tournament and the Empire State Games. Then I became a member of the U.S. Boxing Team. I fought for six years. After I retired from boxing, I decided to go into professional wrestling. I went in as Johnny B. Badd, the most flamboyant wrestler in the world. I was the 1991 Pro Wrestling Illustrated Rookie of the Year. I hope 1992 will become a year where I win a belt. That’s what I’m shooting for right now.
I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in boxing, other than going into professional boxing. Boxing always kept me out of trouble when I was growing up. It really disciplined me. I more or less got tired of it. I wanted to go on and do something else, to accomplish something else, and wrestling was a really big opportunity for me. I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did, because with the opportunity I have now, I travel an awful lot more than I did when I was boxing. I’m going all over the world. In fact, next week I leave for London for my fourth trip over to the United Kingdom. I’ve only been wrestling for a year and a half, so I’m really looking forward to that. I meet people all over the world. I’ve done a show with James Brown in London, I’ve done a show in Dublin. I meet numerous stars. I just did a banquet with Jim Varney, the actor who plays “Ernest.” And I just did one with Louis Cheek, who plays with the Green Bay Packers. So I get to meet a lot of people from professional sports, and professional actors, and I really enjoy that. I really like meeting people. It gives me the opportunity to do a lot of things with kids. I love kids.
Boxing and wrestling both have their risks. I do something off the top turnbuckle called a sunset flip. Once I landed on my face and I broke my nose, and a couple of times I came within an inch of breaking my neck. Wrestling is very dangerous, and there’s a lot of physical abuse. Boxing is more head abuse, constantly in the face. Wrestling is more like tendons, knees, your ankles. It’s more joints. They’re both very dangerous. But look at the four sports I was very successful in: boxing, football, hockey, and wresting. All major contact sports. So I always like to rough it up a little bit. It’s just part of me. In boxing, you always have a manager, and you’re dealing with trainers, and a lot of people are involved in the paycheck. In wrestling, I get my own paycheck, and I decide where my money goes, too. I don’t have a lot of people standing over me that get a cut out of my money, where I end up with nothing. I like the freedom of being in wrestling a little bit more.
I started off in Florida for Sun Coast Professional Wrestling, just for a few months. Then I got a lucky break and started with World Championship Wrestling. It was almost like getting thrown out to the lions. You’re out there with some big boys, and it’s kind of fend for yourself. There’s a lot of jealousy, and a lot of guys out trying to get you, for a start. You hang in there. Having that boxing background, having that tough, tough background that I had growing up in New York, I had no problem. No one bothered me, and I did my own thing, and that’s why I was Rookie of the Year.
We just got a new vice-president in WCW, Bill Watts. I’m really looking forward to working for him. He’s tremendous. He’s got a whole new attitude that he’s bringing to World Championship Wrestling. He’s a lot stricter with a lot of the wrestlers being late for shows, not making personal appearances. I’m really behind that, because the one thing you hurt when you miss personal appearances is the fans. When a wrestler doesn’t show up for a certain meeting, or time, or place, it hurts the fans. And I don’t want to see the fans get hurt.
Bill Watts wants to call WCW “The Real Deal.” He doesn’t want cartoons, like other wrestling organizations. He’s sick of the bullshit, so to speak. He just wants to get down and dirty. When people come to a wrestling match, they want to watch a wrestling match, not a Hollywood play. But you don’t want to put your foot in your mouth, because you never know where you’re going in a year [laughs].
As professional athletes, we are so blessed to be in the position that we’re in. If it weren’t for these fans, we wouldn’t be here. If we can’t give something back to these people, we don’t deserve to be in the position we’re in. I’m really an avid supporter of the fans, I do a lot of charities. I travel all over, and I go to children’s hospitals, I go to schools. I have an anti-drug campaign that says, “Stay clean, if you know what I mean.”
I also tell the kids, “Don’t be a fool, stay in school. If you’re not on the honor roll, you’re not going to be on a payroll.” I make up little rhymes for the kids. They’re catchy, and the kids remember them.
I hope I’m with WCW for a long time. I’m real happy here. There were some problems with my negotiations a couple of months ago in my contract, but we got it all straightened out. They’re happy with me, and I’m real happy. After being here for the first year, I felt that I had a little bit more to offer the fans, because I go out of my way. I’m involved with so many organizations. I don’t have any days off. My days off are always booked. I pay for my own plane tickets to see people in the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I’ve gone out of my way because I love these fans. I love being in the position I’m at. I want the fans to have good things always to say about me, that I was there for them. I answer all my fan mail personally. I spend one day each week answering my fan mail. I really believe that I have a lot to offer WCW because what I do reflects on them. So when it came to contract negotiations, I felt like I deserved a little bit more than what they usually pay a second-year athlete, and they weren’t willing to budge. It came down to dollars and cents, and we did finally come to an agreement. I’m real happy.
There’s no type of insurance in pro wrestling. Let’s say I break my leg tomorrow. I’m only really covered until the end of my contract, which is only a year. So what happens if I can’t wrestle anymore? It’s a short-lived sport. For me, I’m trying to just save my money so I can plan my future, so I can have a family and some kids, without having to really struggle. I’d like to get to spend time with my family and watch my kids grow up. That’s what’s sad about so many families, the parents are out working two jobs trying to make ends meet. Not that it’s the parent’s fault, but just the way that our system is set up, that we have to work that hard and don’t get time to spend with our kids. Most things I hear, when I talk to these kids, is that the kids wish their parents could spend more time with them. They need help with their schoolwork. If the parents don’t spend that time with their kids, the kids grow up and they’re out of the house, and the parents say, “Where did all that time go?” They didn’t get to play catch with their kids or anything. So I really like to see families come together more.
My ultimate goal right now is that I’d like to be an actor someday, go into Hollywood. I really feel that I’d like to stay in wrestling for about five or six more years, and wrestling is kind of a good launch pad for acting, because you’re in front of the cameras and you’re in front of people an awful lot. It gets you used to being comfortable in situations where you’re doing interviews and you’re talking and so on. So if I did have a career-ending injury, I would really like to stay active in a charity I’m doing work for–Special Olympics and different organizations–and hopefully get into acting.
Thoughts from 2023: Johnny B. Badd was such a colorful character that he was featured in the WCW comic book published by Marvel Comics in 1992-1993. The author of that comic book, Mike Lackey, will be the Professional Keynote speaker at Wrestleposium IV this Saturday, April 1, where he likely will share his encounters with wrestlers including Marc Mero and Scott Hall.