clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Former wrestler, MMA fighter and kickboxer Sean O'Haire dead at 43

New, comments
Wikipedia Commons

Sean Christopher Haire, a gimmick MMA fighter better known by his pro wrestling name of Sean O'Haire, was found dead Tuesday morning by his father at the family's home in Spartanburg, S.C. 

TMZ reported that Haire was found in his bedroom with a red rope tied around his neck and connected to the bedpost, next to his bed. It reported the death as a suicide, although neither the Spartanburg police nor the Spartanburg County Medical Examiner's office would confirm any details, past saying it did not appear foul play was involved, and that the investigative process on the death has only just begun. Haire was 43.

Known professionally as Sean O'Haire, he held a unique distinction in that he not only fought for both the Pride Fighting Championships in its dying days, but also for K-1 in Japan as a kickboxer, with very minimal training, and was better known as a pro wrestler for both World Championship Wrestling, where he was the 2000 Rookie of the Year, and for World Wrestling Entertainment, where he was briefly part of a tag team with the legendary Roddy Piper.

As a pro wrestler, he had something of a reputation as a tough guy.  Billed as 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, although he was actually a few inches shorter than that, but heavily muscled, Haire won a number of Tough Man fights in the 90s, prior to getting into the world of theatrics. He was well known at that time as a bad apple in Spartanburg and Hilton Head Island, S.C., who got into a lot of trouble, usually street fights in and outside of bars, before his wrestling days.

Once, when talking to Hilton Head Island authorities after one of his escapades, an officer said that everyone knew Sean Haire, and his getting into fights where police were called, was hardly an irregular occurrence.

His MMA and kickboxing career came after being released by WWE in April of 2004, which ended a relatively short career as a major league wrestling star. The irony is that with a little bit of luck and timing, his wrestling career could have been very different.

When WCW was going down the tubes in 2000, management decided to take a new approach. Trying to cut costs because of a company that was projecting record losses, the decision was made to focus on new talent as opposed to many of the huge names that ushered in the company's boom period from 1996 to early 1999, after which the company had a free-fall in popularity.

O'Haire, then 29, was a physically impressive big muscled up guy with surprising agility, and was brought to television and given a major push. The belief in late 2000 and early 2001 was that WCW would be sold to a consortium that was headed by Eric Bischoff, who ran the company for all of its big years and was also there as it collapsed. There was even a press conference announcing the sale of WCW to Fusient.

Bischoff, who was the man in charge during the Bill Goldberg phenomenon in 1998, had earmarked O'Haire for a similar type of superstar push once he got control. But things didn't work out. A new person was put in control of programming the Turner networks, who hated pro wrestling. With WCW no longer on television, Bischoff's partners saw no value in buying the company. Instead, it was sold to Vince McMahon's WWE in a fire sale for a paltry $2.5 million.

O'Haire, taught a different style of wrestling at the WCW school, didn't adapt quickly to the WWE ring style. Because of his size and physique, he got chances, but ultimately didn't succeed with them, and was let go.

At that time, O'Haire hooked up with Rick Bassman, a wrestling and MMA promoter in Southern California, who had connections with Pride and K-1. In those days, both groups loved the idea of putting a former WWE wrestler in real fights.

So O'Haire got thrown to the wolves. On Dec. 31, 2004, he was part of K-1's annual New Year's Eve spectacular, before 35,000 fans at the Osaka Dome, in a kickboxing match billed as pro wrestling vs. K-1. O'Haire had never done a kickboxing match. His opponent, the Japanese fighter named Musashi, had weeks earlier, gone to the finals in the K-1 World Grand Prix tournament.

The fight went about how one would expect. O'Haire came out swinging wildly while Musashi evaded and waited for him to tire, and then took him out early in the second round.

It was the era of freak show fights on New Year's Eve, on a show where UFC's Yoshihiro Akiyama armbarred former highly ranked heavyweight boxer Francis Botha in 1:54, and the best wrestler out of the Olympics that year, Karam Gaber, got knocked out by Japanese MMA star and wrestler Kazuyuki Fujita.

O'Haire did two years in kickboxing, going 0-4, losing all four fights by knockout.

His MMA career was more interesting, because he went from pro wrestling right into it, and won his first two fights via first-round knockout, the second on a K-1 promoted show in Honolulu. His luck ran out as he was thrown to the wolves, this time in Seoul, South Korea, facing Min-soo Kim, a South Korean who won a silver medal in the Olympics in judo, who also later was Brock Lesnar's first MMA opponent. O'Haire lost that one via guillotine.

Without a doubt, his most high profile fight for U.S. fans was on the Oct. 21, 2006, Pride 32 show from Las Vegas, where he faced gimmick boxer turned MMA fighter Butterbean.

The fight was originally scheduled as Butterbean vs. Mark Hunt, but Hunt had a visa issue. Pride was aware of the potential of a problem, so offered O'Haire $3,000 and all his expenses paid, to be on stand-by. O'Haire took this as an excuse to party in Las Vegas, never expecting to fight.

Bassman, on Facebook, writing about the death of O'Haire, said that when O'Haire ended up in the fight, he was then approached by Nobuyuki Sakakibara, the President of Pride, who told him that fans expected a stand-up war from Butterbean vs. Hunt, and figured that O'Haire would try and take the fight down. Bassman figured that was logical, given O'Haire would have little chance of winning otherwise.

Describing the meeting with Sakakibara and Yukino Kanda, who booked fighters and headed the U.S. operations for Pride, Bassman wrote, "It's immediately apparent that I'm being asked to make sure Sean keeps it standing up. I mildly protest, saying that doing so will eliminate his only true hope."

Pride, known for paying big money at the last minute to get what they wanted, asked if a $5,000 bonus would be enough. Bassman negotiated it up to $10,000, and went to O'Haire with the proposal.

At first, O'Haire was thrilled. His $3,000 weekend just became a $40,000 weekend. Then he thought about it more, and it wasn't as great a proposal as he first thought.

"I'm gonna get killed, aren't I?" he said to Bassman. "Could you just ask Bean not to break my face?"

Bassman, friends with Butterbean, said he went to the 300-plus pound boxer, who agreed with one stipulation, that he hates getting kicked in the face and will lose his cool if that happens.

O'Haire was then given the message, don't try to kick Butterbean in the face.

So O'Haire went out celebrating his good fortune before the fight.

The match started. The first thing O'Haire did was kick Butterbean in the face. Twenty-nine seconds later, O'Haire was knocked out.

O'Haire's MMA record is listed at 4-2, with his final fight in 2007, although he fought a couple of other times in an era were record keeping was far from complete. He suffered left eye damage, the result of a bar fight, and his MMA career ended shortly thereafter.

After fighting, he at one time owned a barber shop and worked as a hair dresser in Hilton Head Island. He continued to have brushes with the law. Most recently, he was working as a personal trainer in Spartanburg, S.C.