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A Georgia judge has smacked down wrestler and actor Hulk Hogan’s claim that a WCW official’s televised tirade about him was defamatory. World Championship Wrestling creative director Vince Russo claimed his bad-mouthing of Hogan, after a bout at the July 9, 2000 “Bash at the Beach,” was scripted. Hogan, however, claimed that it was reality TV — a personal smear that had nothing to do with the fictitious story lines of professional wrestling. Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, sued Russo and the now-defunct WCW in Fulton State Court three years ago. The Atlanta-based WCW was purchased in 2001 by its former rival, the World Wrestling Federation. Fulton State Court Judge Susan B. Forsling, in an order issued Aug. 6, found that Russo’s remarks were simply part of the make-believe of wrestling — directed toward the stage character of Hogan (not Bollea) and referring to ongoing fictional story lines and other fictional characters. She granted summary judgment to WCW on the defamation claim. Bollea v. World Championship Wrestling, No. 00-VS-007671-F (Fult. St. Aug. 6, 2003). CONTRACT BREACH CLAIM RETAINED Forsling did, however, leave intact another Hogan claim-that WCW had breached its contract with him by not making him the featured wrestler at the Beach Bash, not giving him creative control over the outcome of the event and not making him the featured wrestler at in at least six pay-per-view events. One of Hogan’s lawyers, John L. Taylor Jr., said he couldn’t comment because he had not yet reached his client. Taylor, Otto F. Feil III and C.J. “Jack” Spence, all of Chorey, Taylor & Feil, represented Hogan. Troutman Sanders attorneys James A. Lamberth, Joel P. Howle and Jaime L. Theriot represented Russo and WCW. Lamberth couldn’t be reached by press time. Hogan, sometimes known as “Hollywood Hogan,” has been among wrestling’s most popular figures. The blond-tressed wrestler is also an actor — he made his screen debut in 1982 as Thunderlips in “Rocky III”. According to Forsling’s order, Hogan was involved in numerous story lines during his years with WCW. Sometimes he played the good guy in the ring, other times the bad guy. He participated in weekly events broadcast on TNT and TBS cable networks, as well as pay-per-view events and live events at arenas around the country. Russo also was part of the story lines at WCW events, playing a member of WCW management under his own name. Russo, according to the judge’s order, would help some wrestlers and hinder others, according to the script. Forsling noted that it wasn’t unusual for characters in wrestling to make speeches to the audience, including “unpleasantly sharp and bombastic attacks on the created fictitious characters of the professional wrestlers.” At the Daytona Beach event, Hogan was paired with Jeff Jarrett, but during the match, Russo ordered Jarrett to lie down in the ring. The defense claimed that was just part of the story line. When Hogan won by default, Russo began his rant. He said Hogan was “playing politics.” He also accused him of holding back other wrestlers, including blacks. Hogan’s lawyers argued that the context of the speech made it clear Russo intended the remarks to be taken personally and that they had nothing to do with the current story line. Forsling, however, found that Russo was speaking “in a fictional context and asserted at best pure opinions” that couldn’t be proven false and amounted to hyperbole that couldn’t be reasonably interpreted as fact. The judge went on to say that “even assuming that these statements somehow crossed over into reality TV and/or were capable of being proven false, the Court finds that the Plaintiff has not come forward with sufficient evidence to create a jury issue on his burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the statements were made with actual malice.” There was no dispute, Forsling found, that Russo believed his rant was made “in a fictional context by his fictional character about the fictional character Hulk Hogan. As such, there is no evidence that Russo intended to make a false factual allegation regarding Mr. Bollea.”

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