Last week, Shane McMahon shook up the wrestling world when he returned to Raw after a near seven-year absence. While it was a surprise to pretty much everyone, it's quite possible no one was more shocked than one of his best friends, the man the WWE Universe came to know as Pete Gas.
Pete Gasparino first became pals with Shane-O Mac when they were teammates on the high school football team. But a few years later, he and another former teammate, Rodney Lienhardt, would go above and beyond the bonds of friendship when they served as McMahon's backup on the road to WrestleMania. Dubbed "The Mean Street Posse," the crew would talk up their toughness and run interference in Shane's matches – all while dressed in sweater vests and slacks. Joined by a third member, Joey Abs, they even managed to be featured in one of the highest-rated segments in WWE television history, when they fought Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson in a "Loser Leaves Town" match.
The three were released in 2001, but their legacy remains today. In fact, when Shane returned on Raw, it wasn't long before social media was buzzing with the possibility of an appearance by the Posse – and let's just say Pete Gas is ready. While he awaits McMahon's phone call, the man from the mean streets of Greenwich, Connecticut spoke to Rolling Stone about his memorable run in WWE, growing up with the McMahon clan and why wrestling fans were always wrong about his crew.
Let's just start with last Monday. What was your reaction when Shane McMahon's music hit on Raw?
I think I was like everyone in that arena and around the world: shocked. I had no idea that was about to happen, even though I had talked to Shane. He hadn't mentioned it at all. It was a long time coming for me. I always felt that Shane should have never left, but that's his own decision. It was electric. When I spoke to him the following day, I told him that I always knew he'd get an amazing reception if he ever came back. But even I couldn't imagine it being as great as that was. It was really special.
You have been friends with Shane since high school. What was it like to grow up knowing the McMahon family?
It was never dull. I've never once had a bad time with Shane. There was always something interesting going on. We always had a good time, whether it was hanging out at the house or going out to a bar, or whatever we did. It was always about having fun and enjoying life. He keeps you entertained, that's for sure.
Rodney and Shane went to a different junior high school than I did. High school started in tenth grade here, so that's when we met. We were all on the football team together. Shane and I both played offensive line and Rodney was the fullback. Vince would try to make as many of the games as he possibly could. I remember actually seeing him before high school, when I'd play against Rodney and Shane in junior high, and going "Wow, that's Vince McMahon."
When we got to high school, I would see much more of him, not only at games, but when we hung at Shane's house. The one thing about the whole family is that they're the greatest people you could ever meet, and I'm not just saying that because I'm friends with Shane. They really are great-hearted people. With all the money that they have, you would never know it. They're so down-to-earth. Not snobs at all. Mrs. McMahon used to cook for us. Vince would hang out and watch football with us. Even Stephanie, she was a few years younger than us, she used to hang out with us. She was just one of the guys.
A decade later, Shane starts wrestling, and he needs backup. How did the idea come about to bring his real-life friends in, instead of just bringing in trained wrestlers from developmental or elsewhere?
Shane was having his WrestleMania match with X-Pac, and he wanted to have his close friends involved. He called Rodney and I into his office and he said, "Guys, I have a favor I need to ask of you. I have this match coming up, would you guys mind doing a few vignettes about how we grew up on the mean streets of Greenwich?" We got a good laugh out of it. He had these scripts that were written. He grabbed one of them, tore it in half and threw it in the garbage. He basically said, "To hell with that, just go tell stories of when we were kids, getting in fights and doing different things." He told us to dress real preppy, and that they'd cut up the stories and that they'd be on Raw on Monday night. We were blown away.
We did the vignettes and they played them on Monday, and then they continued to play them the next few weeks. Then they brought us to Albany for the final Raw before WrestleMania. They had always kept us in the dark about everything. We had no idea what we were in for. We pulled up in Corvette convertibles, as Shane had challenged X-Pac to a street fight. We jump out of the cars, beat him up and then we take off in the cars. It was so good to draw heat towards Shane. But to go back, Shane was the one that wanted to get us involved. That's all he did for us though. After that, the writers saw the heat we were getting, and Vince Russo in particular ran with it.
So if it was just supposed to be a short-term run, what happened to make you guys regular members of the roster?
That Monday was when we found out that we were invited to be part of WrestleMania. They put us in the front row. Rodney and I were sitting next to each other, and I remember looking up and seeing these Mean Street Posse signs. We hadn't been there at all, and people actually had our names written on posters. It was really cool. [WWE] had people who followed that stuff, and who kept track of whose names were on signs. So after 'Mania, Shane calls us back in and asks us how much vacation we have from our jobs. They wanted to start bringing us on the road. You could see that some of the guys in the back were wondering what was going on, asking why they were bringing us out so much. It went for about a month, then we lost a loser-leaves-town match to Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson. We left for a bit, then came back to be part of the Corporate Ministry. At that point, the company I was working for was starting to get annoyed at all the time off I was asking for. It was right around then that they brought us in and offered us contracts to be part of WWE. I'll never forget it. It was one of the greatest moments in my life.
Did you face any of the infamous locker room heat, especially since, as you said, you were taken off the street and started getting a lot of screen time?
Absolutely, especially because we were friends with Shane. There were plenty of guys in the back who would smile to our face but didn't like us because of how we got into the business. The wrestling business is all about respect and paying your dues. We always showed respect. We always made sure we said hello to everyone, and we never took for granted what we had. We couldn't help how we got into the business. We had no control over that. Once we got in there, we took advantage of that situation. We could have been like, "We're Shane's buddies, we don't have to go to the gym, we don't have to train. We're good." That's not our way of thinking. We wanted to help the McMahon family. When Shane called us in ten days after WrestleMania, he handed us both envelopes. He said it was our pay for the show! We were stunned. We didn't expect to be paid. We were doing it as a favor to our buddy, and we were excited just to be on the show. To be paid? That was amazing.
It's easy for fans to shit on the Mean Street Posse. It's easy to just say that we sucked. The true thing is, the guys who are tough guys on the Internet, who are sitting in their basement, I'd love to see them if they were just taken off the street and thrown into the ring like we were. I'd love to see how they would survive. It's not easy. We paid our dues, but we did it in our own way. We didn't do the indie circuit hoping to be discovered. I can't help that. We took advantage of a situation that was given to us. If we had just sucked and didn't care, and there was no heat...we would've been gone. At first, we were just trying to put on a show, without really knowing what we were doing. Once we realized they were going to start using us more, that's when we started really focusing. We still had our jobs, and at night, we would go to the ring at the studios in Stamford and train. Then after that they sent us to Memphis [to WWE's developmental territory]. We would train down there from Wednesday to Sunday, and then fly out to the shows. People who knocked us had no clue what our situation was, and how we handled everything.
When you were eventually let go by WWE in 2001, did you think about staying in the business and working the independent circuit?
Actually, I was told by Jim Ross and another writer that we were going to be contacted by Dr. Death [Steve Williams] in Japan. They said that because we improved so much in so little time, we were going to be called and given an opportunity to wrestle in Japan. I didn't want to say goodbye to the business. I always wanted to do it, so once I had an opportunity to fall in love with the business from the inside, I didn't want to say goodbye. We never got the call from Dr. Death. I got a call from Jeff Jarrett, who was starting up a new venture, which I guess would eventually turn into TNA. But this was something where he wanted to do a tour of Australia, New Zealand and then eventually go to Europe. They wanted to bring me in, and I told them I was in. Then 9/11 hit and after 9/11, that tour got canceled. A lot of indies got canceled. After that, promoters didn't want to spend as much money. The economy got shitty so businesses couldn't spend as much. The whole wrestling business took a dip after that. I always wanted to stay in it, and keep the door open. It never came to fruition.
So what are you doing now?
Currently I'm a senior sales executive for W.B. Mason. I love it. It's a great job. They treat me well, they treat me fair. It's not wrestling. I have to get up every morning and work. I never considered wrestling work. Going to the gym and training; that was fun. I'm also writing a book. I signed with a publishing company out of New York City about a week and a half ago. More than half the book is already done. We thought it was done, but they want to add to it, add more stories. The co-author and I are going to go back to work, and it's supposed to launch in March of 2017.
Do you still watch WWE regularly, and if so, what do you think of the current product?
I do. I watch it religiously. Right before the New Year, I started to feel really bad for the McMahons. All the stars were getting hurt: Rollins, Orton, Cena. Those were the guys who put butts in the seats, and they're still not back. Besides that, personally, I like the longer storylines. I feel like the storylines are shorter now than they were in the past. Like, for example, a story that I was involved in. Shane and Stephanie had the storyline with Test, and they had the "Love her or leave her" match. That thing started in June of 1999, that thing went on through SummerSlam and then even evolved after that SummerSlam match, when Shane sided with Test to fight his childhood friends. I don't get that same feeling out of the current storylines. To me, the best part of wrestling is the storylines. To be honest, it might even help with these guys' bodies if there were more storyline segments, and a little less wrestling.
It's a different era than when I was there. The storylines were edgier. They're in a tough position though. Right now, it's more kid-friendly, and because of that, they're getting sponsors like Coca-Cola and Snickers. If they were OK with losing the bigger sponsors, they could go edgier. And it's not like they can make the decision on their own. It's publicly owned now, there are shareholders. It's a whole different ballgame. I really don't know how much edgier they can get.
What do you think of Shane facing the Undertaker at WrestleMania?
This is the biggest event of the year. It's even bigger for me as Shane's friend, and as a Shane McMahon fan. I know this is special for him and his children. His sons have been wanting to see him perform live. They haven't had that chance. Declan is the oldest, and he doesn't remember his dad performing. This is something that's pretty special for Shane and his family.
We know that their Hell in a Cell match is no DQ – any chance the Mean Street Posse's music hits in Dallas?
I'm honestly not sure. I haven't heard anything yet, but Shane knows that all he has to do is call, and I'll be there in a heartbeat.