Devon Nicholson calls it the biggest fight of his career: a three-plus year court battle with wrestling legend Larry Shreve—a.k.a. Abdullah the Butcher—that began with a hidden razor blade on a warm spring evening in a small Alberta town.
Back in May 2007, Nicholson, then an up-and-coming wrestler grappling on the minor circuits under the stage name Hannibal, squared off against Shreve—who has been playing a blubbery villain for more than 50 years—in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd in Cochrane, Alta. Their bout ended the way Shreve’s matches always seemed to, in a bloody mess.
The 70-something native of Windsor, Ont., has long been famed as a “bleeder” in the trade, routinely spilling what pro-wrestlers call “the juice” by surreptitiously slicing both himself, and often his opponents, with a razor. Shreve and Nicholson had fought on several occasions before, almost always spilling blood. But on this occasion, Nicholson says it was done without his permission, and in a manner that had grave consequences for his health and career.
In the spring of 2009, Nicholson was close to achieving his dream—a contract with the sport’s biggest promoter, the WWE. After a tryout in Tampa, Fla., he was offered a three-year contract as an entry-level bad guy. That offer was rescinded when Nicholson was diagnosed with Hepatitis-C.
After researching the disease and retracing his steps, Nicholson came to believe that he contracted it from Shreve, when he sliced both of them with the same blade on that spring evening in Alberta. In June 2011, he launched a $6.5-million negligence suit in Ontario Superior Court against the man who had been both his idol and his mentor.
Today in Ottawa, Justice Toscanao Roccamo came down squarely on Nicholson’s side, awarding him $2.3 million in damages and legal costs. “I’m so relieved and happy,” he told Maclean’s. “This whole experience has been a nightmare.” Outside the court, Nicholson celebrated by hoisting one of his lawyers over his head in his signature move, the Sacrifice Power Bomb.
Shreve, who lives just outside of Atlanta, initially contested the court action. “Devon’s the promoter. He’s the one who told me what to do,” Shreve told Maclean’s back in 2011. “I’m a professional. If somebody did not want to do nothing, then I did not do nothing to them.” He later produced medical records that indicated he and Nicholson were both suffering from the same rare Genotype 2 strain of Hep-C, and participated in a December 2012 mediation session. In recent months, however, the old wrestler has gone silent, parting ways with his counsel and refusing to respond to calls and letters. He has 30 days to launch an appeal.
Nicholson, who now works in a group home and spent more than $140,000 of his own money pursuing the case, vows to continue on and collect the judgment. “He should realize by now that I’m a fighter and I definitely finish things. I’ll take it as far as I can go.”
Things are looking up for Nicholson these days. After a brutal 36-week round of experimental drug therapy, he was pronounced cured of his Hep-C last December. And with the clean bill of health, he has been able to restart his pro career. This summer he has a bout scheduled against the champion of the biggest Japanese circuit. And in mid July, he will get another shot at his dream—a tryout with the WWE during a show in Iowa.
“I’m definitely on the way back up,” he says. “But the most important thing is that I’m cured.”