Glorious triumphs checkered by failure: Remembering Sean O’Haire

Sean OH 4

By Dan Murphy, OWW Columnist
Photo by Ballpark Brawl

 Another wrestler dead before the age of 50.

I have literally written this story more than 30 times over the past 15 years. Hell, there are websites and wiki pages devoted entirely to the topic.

As a writer, this should be an easy column to write; God knows I’ve written it enough. Open with the stark details of the death, talk about how he got his start in wrestling, add the quotes from friends and family reeling from the loss, and end with a note about “untapped potential” or “personal demons.” It’s all boilerplate, just switch out the names and call it a day.

I don’t want to follow that script this time.

According to reports that surfaced Tuesday evening, Sean O’Haire was found dead in his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He was 43 years old.

I’ll let others write about his wrestling career, his time in WCW, and his brief – but memorable – run in WWE. I want to share two memories of the man.

In early 2002, I did a phone interview with O’Haire for Pro Wrestling Illustrated. One of my editors had set up the interview through Jim Cornette. O’Haire had a reputation for being a bit of a loose cannon, and he wasn’t shy about speaking his mind. Cornette asked that I fax him the transcript of the interview so he could review O’Haire’s comments before they went to press.

As much as I love Cornette, I never believed in running my stories by a third-party for approval. O’Haire never said anything inflammatory or controversial. He talked about his career, his move from WCW to the WWE developmental system, and how he was growing an improving as a wrestler. We spoke to for about half an hour. I wrote the story and filed it, without getting Cornette’s OK first.

I got some heat for that but my editor, Brandi Mankiewicz, was able to smooth things over with Jim. Cornette was probably being a bit over-protective, but what struck me at the time was that O’Haire didn’t seem to need the micro-management. He was soft-spoken but genuine; friendly, candid, and professional. He wasn’t a raging prima donna, unlike some others who came out of the WCW locker room at the time. He had his head on straight.

A couple years later, I had the opportunity to work with Sean when we brought him in for Ballpark Brawl 2, a wrestling card held at Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo, New York. O’Haire, seconded by Roddy Piper, faced Abyss, managed by Jimmy Hart. I was running the backstage and being an agent for some matches. Though he was a year removed from his WWE run, O’Haire still had a superstar aura about him.

After the show, we had an after-party for the workers and crew at a nearby restaurant. As it turned out, O’Haire and I shared a table, a bit removed from the group. O’Haire was a quiet guy and wasn’t joining in the celebratory post-show atmosphere.

We talked about martial arts. I was training in Aikido, with some Arnis, kickboxing, and submission grappling. Sean had experience in kickboxing and MMA. “So,” he said, “how do you know if you’re any good?”

I explained that I wasn’t actively competing. I was training for conditioning, maybe a bit of self-defense. The first rule of self-defense is to avoid a conflict when possible, I said.

“I don’t agree with that,” he replied. Sean told me he would actively try to start fights when he went out. He would eye up the biggest guy in the room and see if he could instigate a confrontation. He won more fights than he lost, but every loss was a learning opportunity – if he got surprised with a sucker-punch, he wouldn’t get surprised again.

His ideology was fundamentally opposed to my own, but it also made sense in some twisted way. O’Haire always thought he had to prove himself – if not to others, maybe to himself. A 6’6” guy weighing 270 pounds of muscle doesn’t need to start fights; it was like some strange reverse-Napoleon complex. Maybe he lacked self-confidence. Maybe he just felt the need to be the alpha male in every situation. I wasn’t surprised to hear when he was arrested on assault charges a few years later. That was just how he was wired.

How does a guy with that kind of mentality ease into his 40s and settle into a quiet life running a barber shop, of all things? How can a huge fighting machine remove that chip from his shoulder?

In the course of our conversation that night, I pulled out a scrap of paper from my wallet. I had heard a quote from Teddy Roosevelt once and I wrote it down and carried it with me. I read it to Sean.

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure … than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Sean digested the words, his right hand rubbing his chin. “I really like that,” he said after a moment. “To dare mighty things … yeah, I like that a lot.”

I remember Sean O’Haire’s quiet intensity. I remember him asking how to know “if you’re any good.” I remember Cornette being afraid of what he might say or how he might come across. I remember him sitting apart from the pack, reflecting on a quote from Teddy Roosevelt.

And I’m sorry that I won’t have another opportunity to talk to him again.

— Dan Murphy