NOTE: Originally published on Sept. 18, 2004 in The Kingston Whig-Standard. All rights reserved.
For the second time in less than three years, Charlie Haas has been left to fend for himself.
On Dec. 15, 2001, Charlie’s brother and tag-team partner, Russ, died of heart failure at the age of 27.
The following month, Charlie had this to say about his brother’s death: “Russ and I thought we’d had all our dreams fulfilled when we signed our contracts with the WWF, but God had other plans for Russ. Well, Russ may be gone, but when I’m in the ring I’m not alone. There are two Haas brothers still in the ring.”
Yesterday, in an interview with No Holds Barred, Haas said this: “When I viewed him for the last time as they closed the coffin, I promised him that I would continue and finish what we started together. I know that if the roles were reversed, he would do the same thing. I always know he’s out there with me in the ring, spiritually, and always within me. I can feel him at times. His life I use as inspiration.”
Earlier this year he lost his second tag-team partner, although under far less devastating circumstances.
Haas, an all-American and two-time Big East champion while attending Seton Hall University, joined the WWE with fellow collegiate standout Shelton Benjamin. After a stint as Kurt Angle’s sidekicks, Haas and Benjamin became a successful tag team, twice winning the WWE tag titles. They called themselves The World’s Greatest Tag Team. They may not have achieved that distinction but were well on their way to it when, without warning, Benjamin was shuffled to Raw during the roster draft.
“It was a real shock,” Haas said. “We didn’t know it was coming. When it happened, it was hard because we worked so hard together in the ring. People don’t understand how hard we trained together to become a really good tag team, working with [WWE agents] Arn Anderson and Gerry Brisco, and just really trying to come up with different ways to be different, to be unique.
“And when they split us up, we felt like we never even scratched the surface with what we could do.”
Haas took it further.
“It’s like losing a brother,” he said. “[Shelton] was like one of my best friends … really a brother to me. [I’d] travel with him every day and all of that and all of a sudden he’s gone. He’s still there by phone, but I see him like four times a year now. It was tough.”
But don’t think that Haas is looking for sympathy. The tone in his voice is not that of a tortured soul but an optimistic young man who’s ready to take on the world.
And now, he’s doing it solo.
Haas was asked about transforming from a bona fide tag-team star to a performer in the singles division, which has eaten up more than a few tag-team specialists over the years.
“Breaking in [as a tag-team competitor], I really worked at it,” he said. “So now doing singles … it’s taken a lot to learn the psychology, learning how to pace myself, learning how to keep the match going, keep the fans into it. I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
Indeed. Like Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar before him, Haas has an impressive resume in the amateur wrestling ranks. It’s only a matter of time before he enjoys the same success Benjamin has found on Raw, where he’s competing in main events again after recovering from a hand injury.
Haas, whose finishing move is called the Haas of Pain, also has the benefit of working alongside some of the best technical wrestlers in the business on SmackDown! Angle, Eddie Guerrero, The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, John Cena and others will see to it that Haas establishes himself as a star in that division.
In fact, Haas is quick to point out the help he’s already received, most notably from Angle.
“We talk all the time,” Haas said of Angle, a decorated veteran of both amateur and pro wrestling. “We’re really good friends. He helps me out, watches my matches and tells me what I could do, should do. He’s really been beneficial.”
Unlike Angle, who won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Haas never considered the Games. But he quickly paid tribute to Angle’s accomplishments.
“He was phenomenal,” Haas said. “People don’t understand … For him to win the gold medal and the world championship in the same year … is one of the hardest things to accomplish in amateur wrestling. He was the real deal.”
So, too, is Charlie Haas.