By John MIHALY (WWE)
Thirty years ago, a young man set foot on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach to begin a career that destiny had chosen for him in childhood. In that span of time, he’s traveled the world over, and faced an encyclopedia’s worth of opponents. He’s cheated death and overcome some of life’s most insurmountable obstacles. What he hasn’t accomplished in his profession means little compared to what he’s given — and continues to give. He is a voracious student and a patient teacher; he is an in-ring technician and ever the comedian; he is a diabolical villain and a true gentleman.
“I started wrestling when I was 15. In England at that time, if you were a working-class person, you left high school when you were 16, and anything else was further education. If you were a working-class kid, in those days, it was leave school, and go into an apprenticeship of a trade, or work in a factory or whatever industry the area you lived specialized in. I found they were all bricklayers [in my area].
“I knew from my earliest memories that I wanted to be a wrestler, and I certainly was never going to be a bricklayer. I just knew I was made for different things. I felt that way from the beginning. Even as a child I knew I was going to be an entertainer. I always wanted to be a wrestler or a comedian or a clown, and I sort of got involved in all three, which is why I enjoy doing this. There wasn’t even a question if I’d do something else.”
“When I was a kid, up until I was 10 years old, I didn’t know what a good wrestler was. I knew what I thought was a good wrestler and they were the entertaining ones who pulled faces and made me scream and shout. When I got to 10, I started watching some incredibly skilled wrestlers, but it wasn’t until I got to be about 15 when I started working in this business that I found out who was really good and who wasn’t. It still didn’t change my views. I’ve always understood that this isn’t about who’s the greatest wrestler.
“You know, we joke about who is the greatest, but it’s got nothing to do with that. It’s got to do with who the people want to come and see. They’re the greatest. They’re the ones who matter. The people like me who can do anything technically good, that’s not of any use if the people don’t want to pay to come and see you get in the ring. I’m just part of the show. The fans will let you know when you’re doing the right thing.”
“There was a point when I was 17; I was put through a hard time getting into this job, and I don’t look back on it like, ‘Woe is me.’ Absolutely not. You had to earn your spot in the wrestling business when I started, because you were basically taking someone else’s job. It made you have some character. It’s hard to understand this, but we used to do 12 to 15 shows per week. I had the lunch knocked out of me where I used to leave the ring and go and find a hole I could crawl into and cry. I’d be bleeding through my ears and my nose and my mouth every single day. I almost couldn’t take it anymore. I was so beat up, I had pains shooting through both legs, and I was making no money.
“It was an odd life, and I got to the point where I didn’t know if I could carry on. Then I had one match with a gentleman from Manchester named Ian Wilson who was a postman all his life and also wrestled. He was this wonderful old English villain. He made me look like a million dollars in the ring, and think there was light at the end of the tunnel. I remember that one match kept me in this business. It was the one point where I physically didn’t know if I could keep going. I remember coughing up blood for weeks before that. I was just a little boy planning on being a wrestler. When I do look back now, though, it’s ridiculous.”
“I think what’s different about me than a lot of fellows is that I have no competitive spirit. I never played any sports, let alone watched them. No interest in it at all. My life was wrestling and entertainment. I never competed with anybody. Maybe my career would have been better if I had been more that way. I’m not a politician, just the furthest thing possibly from that. It’s just not my way: I am what I am, and luckily I’ve managed to get this far by just sticking to it, doing it and being around something that I’ve always loved to do. It makes me very proud watching Daniel Bryan. I can see that he’s made it, and he’s overcome a lot of odds. I never think about me that long. I don’t know, I just don’t really have a thought about that, I do what I do, and it is what it is. And I know it could all end tomorrow.”
“I had a full career before I even came to America when I was 24. I literally traveled the world and wrestled all the best people out there. Then I came here and started all over again.
“I had a helluva first few years here in WCW. I wouldn’t change anything about the time period I was in. Most of the guys going forward who are going to become big stars are only going to wrestle the same 20 guys in their entire careers. For somebody who’s not a big star, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s wrestled a different array of people than I have. That was the thing I was known for. I used to go out of country like a lot of British wrestlers, because we could wrestle anybody and make them look like they were very good, whether they were or not. I wrestled Antonio Inoki. Who can say that from my age group?
“I don’t care what anyone says, nobody has wrestled in more countries than I have — 44 countries and islands, if you add them up. I hear some crazy numbers about what people have done. I know what I’ve done. Some of my passports are great. The opportunities this company has given me to travel are incredible. I haven’t been to Russia or China, but if I never go anywhere again, I certainly can’t complain.”
“As much as I’ve had things go wrong or made things go wrong because of things that have been my own fault, I’m still in one piece. Obviously, I’m not a body guy, but I do the kind of physical training that keeps me injury free. There’s only one routine I have, which is where I go through all of my joints and move them 10 ways in one … and then about 10 in another direction. There’s one specific sequence that takes about 15 minutes; I don’t feel right when I don’t do it.
“I’m not superstitious really. I used to have a rabbit’s foot, but it started off as an ingrown toenail. When you’re in this job long enough, there’s always something, a chronic problem, like your knee is bad. But then one day it’ll be gone, but then the next day, your neck hurts. You just deal with it. There’s never a perfect day, but you get on with it. I’ve been very fortunate to have 30 years doing what I like to do. I love what I do, I love being around it, I love the whole concept of it — and I’m happy to be in it.”
“I’m forced to eat a certain way because I have all sorts of food allergies. I have no interest in eating, though. If I consume just a speck of gluten, I can swell up like a balloon. I literally put on 10-15 pounds overnight in fluid. You never know what other people are doing, like using the same utensil and causing cross contamination. A tiny pinch of flour that rubs against something I eat can be a real pain. No dairy, either. It’s a pain in the backside sometimes. You deal with what you have to deal with, and I’m certainly not complaining. It’s just what you have to deal with.”
“Over the years, I have never thought I wouldn’t be doing this. I’ve never questioned it. When you get looked in the eye by a top cardiologist and told you have to have a heart transplant, and never do anything again — never mind wrestle — it never once crossed my mind that I wouldn’t still be doing this.
“That’s what has kept me going all these years. I chose this life and everything that comes with it. That was it: that didn’t change, and I never faulted. Nope. I’ve never thought about not doing this. It got to the point where, a few years ago, I knew I couldn’t keep wrestling full time the way I was. It’s probably too late now, but I could happily still do it. I know that I could go back to it. But it’s not in the plans for me, which I am totally fine with.”
“I used to be a long-term thinker. And it just never worked out for me, so I don’t worry about it anymore. You can just eat your mind up about ‘What ifs?’ and ‘I could’ve done this, I could’ve done that.’
“Since 9/11, I haven’t looked at a newspaper or watched the news because it’s just less stress. I’m going to deal with what I have to deal with, and I’m going to look after the people I’ve got to look after. Otherwise it would drive me nuts. Some people think that’s incredibly selfish and it probably is in a way. But it’s just what works for me to keep my head in the game. To be able to deal with what I’ve got to deal with.”
“WWE NXT is something incredible and special. It’s just great to see the fellows get there and work hard and do everything that they’ve got to do. You get to see them flourish. When it gets down to brass tacks, the same people who are making it now, if they had been around in my generation, would have made it just the same.
“I’m not one of those guys that goes knocking everything and everybody saying, ‘Back in my day … ” I can safely say at this point in my career that I’ve done as much, if not more, than anybody in this job. But there’s nothing I hate worse than all that nonsense. The ones who make it now; they earn it. They all earn their spots. They all work hard, they all create. They all have to be really good at this. You could coast through this a few years ago by just looking a certain way or genetics, but not anymore. You look in that ring now and these fellows can all go, and go as good as anyone.”
I very much recommend his autobiography Walking A Golden Mile.