Monday, September 19, 2011

Pro Wrestling: Living With The Knowledge That Pain Is Inevitable.

There are two truths about being a professional wrestler that everyone should know before ever stepping foot in a ring: 1) Telling a woman that you’re a pro wrestler will definitely get you laid at least once in your life, and 2) you will get hurt.  I’m 26 years old, and I’ve been wrestling for nearly eight years now, and my body often feels much older than 26.  I grew up playing sports.  Baseball was my first love, and I began playing at the age of 5.  When I was around 11, I broke my tailbone during a game.  I don’t remember how I did it, I just remember having excruciating pain in my lower back for the rest of the day.  I thought I had just pulled a muscle in my back at the time, it wasn’t until I had been wrestling for a couple years that I went to the doctor and got x-rays.  They asked me if I knew I had a broken tailbone.

“You mean I broke my tailbone?”
“No, it’s an old break.  Do you have back problems?”
“Every now and then.”
“That’s why.  The tailbone is shaped like a C, yours is shaped like an L.”

And with that, I realized that back pain was going to be a regular part of my life.  It’s not a constant thing by any means.  About once a year I’ll sleep on it wrong and it’ll hurt for about half a day, but for that half a day, I hate my life.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot that can me done for a tailbone break.  I broke my foot in high school and had a pin put in with surgery to repair it, but there’s nothing like that for the tailbone.

In my wrestling career, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid major injuries thus far.  That’s not to say that I haven’t witnessed some pretty bad ones.  I’ve seen some of my best friends get hurt.  I’ve seen Ed Gonzales break his ankle, I’ve seen Jay Donaldson mess up his knee, and I’ve seen my childhood friend Jerrod almost die from getting dropped on his head, and that’s not an exaggeration at all.  I’ve had lots of bumps and bruises, a lot of cuts and scrapes, and a few sweet scars to show for it.

You have to be crazy to be a professional wrestler.  Only a handful of professions require you to put your life on the line every time you go to work.  Stuff like our military (and I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate your service), police officers, firefighters, and other similar professions.  Yet, professional wrestlers do the same thing, but receive nowhere near the same amount of respect.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Hulk Hogan deserves the same respect as General Patton, but at least the military doesn’t have to put up with people calling their profession fake.

The late Andrew “Test” Martin’s chiropractor once told him that every bump a wrestler takes is the equivalent of getting hit by a car going 25 miles-per-hour.  I don’t know how true that is, but what I do know is true is that every bump definitely takes its toll on the body.  The human body was not meant to fall on steel and wood, that’s why God gave us a center of gravity, so we could avoid doing so.  Yet, here I am, willingly doing it on a regular basis.

I don’t know if it’s because we’re fearless or just dumb.  As a child, Chris Jericho approached Jesse “The Body” Ventura and told him that he wanted to be a professional wrestler.  The first thing Ventura told him was “Be prepared for a life of pain.”

At my first day of training, before I even took my first bump, I knew it was going to hurt.  Then I took my first bump, and sure enough, it hurt.  Then I took another bump, and another bump, and another bump, and another bump, and they all yielded the same result.  But when I woke up in the morning, despite feeling like I had been hit by a train, I couldn’t wait to go back to training that night.  I’ve never understood it.  I hate pain.  I’m not some sadomasochist and I receive some weird pleasure from getting hurt.  I avoid confrontation at all costs because, well, to be honest, I don’t want to get hit.  I’ve been flicked in the balls, I’ve been hit with a baseball, and I’ve had my nipples pinched, and none of that feels good.  Pain is terrible.  But I still love getting into a ring and I still willingly do damage to my body, even if the damage isn’t immediately apparent.

If I happen to make it big one day, and wrestle the kind of grueling schedule that a star has, I know that eventually I’m going to break a bone or tear a muscle or get a concussion.  It’s a part of the business that’s unavoidable.  It happens to the best wrestlers in the world, and it often results in amazing careers being cut short, like Steve Austin and Edge, who both had at least a few good years left in their tanks before their careers had to end.  Shawn Michaels, a man who many consider to be the best wrestler of all-time, lost four years of his career because of a broken back.

I often hear about how the average career for a player in the NFL is about 3 years, therefore, players hold out for larger deals with more guaranteed money, and most of them still wind up broke shortly after their career ends.  When it comes to professional wrestling, I’ve been told “It’s not about how much you make, it’s about how much you save.”  That couldn’t be more true.  In most cases, pro wrestlers have to pay for their own food, gas, hotels, etc.  You think Tom Brady ever has to worry about food, gas, or hotels when the Patriots play a road game?  Maybe he pays for his own food, but when you make Tom Brady money, you can afford it.  Why do I bring up money?  Because there’s no retirement plan for professional wrestling.  That’s why you still see former huge stars wrestling on the independents.  Did you ever see the movie The Wrestler?  A lot of that movie is pretty accurate (and if you haven’t seen it, you really should).  If I were to ever make big money in wrestling, I’d like to think I would be smart enough to learn from the mistakes of others and be smart with my money, because I have no idea when my career will end.

Every time we step into the ring, we are literally putting our lives on the line.  Not only that, but we are entrusting our lives to someone other than ourselves, which is often a scary thought.  That’s not to say I don’t trust the guys I get into the ring with, because for the most part, I do.  But the idea of putting your life in someone else’s hands is a terrifying one for almost anybody.  After any match, I could wake up the next day in a hospital, unable to move my legs.  I could wake up at home and not be able to get out of bed, and even with this knowledge, I still do a swanton bomb in almost every match.  For any non-wrestling fans reading this, it’s basically doing a front flip off the top rope and landing on your back.  There’s no way I’m not going to pay the price for that at some point in my life.

I’m not much of a thrill-seeker outside of the ring.  For the most part, I’m a pretty laid back guy.  I’m much more of a “night at home” kind of guy than a “night on the town” kind of guy.  So why do I have such a dangerous hobby?  Why do I want to make that dangerous hobby my livelihood?  The honest answer is…I don’t know.  Why does someone grow up wanting to be a police officer or firefighter?  Some things you just feel you are born to do, regardless of how dangerous it is, and I like to think that I was born to be a professional wrestler.  That being said, I don’t intend on being a wrestler until I die, I do eventually want to retire and enjoy life without having to worry about things like money.  I just turned 26, and I’ve given myself until the age of 30 to make it in wrestling.  That’s not to say that I’ll never wrestle again after my 30th birthday, it just means that I’ll stop taking it as seriously, I’ll wrestle when I want to and enjoy it when I do.  But right now, I still have a few years left to fulfill this dream of mine, and I go out there every night and try to have the best match on the card. All I know is that I love professional wrestling, even though it's killing me.

1 comment:

  1. I remember, back before TheDustinThomas existed, having these very same conversations with you and Ed on the road, coming back from some podunk (sp.?) town, wrestling our asses off just to cover gas for the trip. That's one thing I never thanked you for, the memories from our years and hundreds of miles spent on the road. The same memories I fall back on when I forget that life can be fun. The memories of running from a huge double-wide that a show was in so we wouldn't get jumped by the "locker room" (outhouse).
    The memories of the two of us wondering if we could get enough money together to bail Ed out of jail because he has a big mouth. And the memory of how it felt the first time we ever sat in a ring together, Mr. Gonzales on the floor looking in, 7 other guys in the ring with us, wide-eyed, scared, anxious, excited, as we prepared to embark on the scariest, most influential journey of our lives. There is not a day that goes by I don't reflect on a thought or replay a memory from something wrestling related, from Roku finding out he kicked out AFTER the time had expired, to being sidelined from the head injury, to one of the hardest things I've ever had to do...tell my brothers I was leaving the business.
    I still watch my tapes every once in a great while, and sometimes, I still think I can run the ropes and chain like I never left, but, more often than not, I wake up everyday, climb out of bed and into a bottle of Advil. The rain makes my knees, shoulder, and back scream, and my neck acts like it's full of broken glass. But through it all, I have some of the best stories to share with people, and it's because of you two.
    Thank you to you and Ed both, brothers.