Zach Gowen is one of the most entertaining performers to have ever stepped in a professional wrestling ring.
I recently spoke with Gowen on my show Wrestling Reality on TribLIVE radio sports talk radio in Pittsburgh, where he talked about the ups and downs in his life.
He performs with one leg, and the immediate curiosity grabs your attention. Gowen lives up to the curiosity when you see what he's capable of in the ring.
Because he was an 18-year-old kid when he was signed by WWE, it was a blessing and a curse all at once.
Gowen changed his professional life forever before being able to legally drink, gamble in a casino or rent a car.
Arguably, the most memorable match Gowen had in his run with WWE was a high-profile match on pay-per-view against the boss himself, Mr. McMahon.
A match against his billionaire boss 38 years his elder, Gowen says he didn't really have any nerves for the match because it was the most rehearsed, produced match he has ever had in his career.
“They flew me in, like a week or two before, to the headquarters in New York and they have a ring set up there. This match was the most scripted match I'd ever been apart of in my life. Literally, we went over it, step by step by step in the ring multiple times. They even flew me out a day early, to Denver, where the pay-per-view was and set up a ring in a small college arena. They had me and Vince go over it with the agents, over and over and over.”
Ironically, as scripted as every moment of the match was, perhaps the highlight of the match wasn't scripted. Gowen dropkicked a steel chair to McMahon's head. The dropkick was expected; the blood that came pouring out of McMahon's head a second later was not.
“I did bust him open and that wasn't planned before hand. I got kinda scared at that point. He's the boss, he's Vince McMahon, and blood is shooting out of his head. I'm thinking my career is over but I guess after the match he loved it, he thought it added to the match.”
Gowen changed his life for the better at a young age, but things went south when he ended his WWE run. Gowen talks about his immaturity at the time being what he feels ended his his run with WWE.
“They all welcome me with open arms, they were all great. Not only was I green in terms of my wrestling career, I was green in terms of life. I was a 19, 20 year old kid, basically bagging groceries. Two weeks after that, main eventing with Hulk Hogan on Smackdown. It was certainly a wild ride. At that time, I wasn't, liked very much by the locker room towards the end of my run. I attribute that to my immaturity at the time. Certainly it was my fault for the way I acted. I didn't know any better. Iwasn't trying to piss people off or step on toes. I just didn't know how to handle myself or conduct myself like an adult basically in a professional work environment. That's what WWE is. A professional work environment. Its a very hard job to have to be on the road 4 to 5 days a week―to be away from your family. Its incredibly stressful, live t.v., performing in front of thousands of people on a daily basis. When I came in, there is an unspoken protocol on how thing work and how things operate. I wasn't aware of that and the unspoken protocol.”
WWE parted ways with Gowen in early 2004. After this, he faced his greatest battle―drug and alcohol abuse
Gowen's battle with addiction was a long struggle—even friends began noticing a change in him. But WWE ultimately saved Gowen.
In 2010, Gowen entered a rehab program which was paid in full by WWE. A month later, he left the rehab center clean and sober.
Back and better than ever, Gowen's best days could still be ahead of him. The talent is there. He's continued to grow as an in-ring performer. Now, he can proudly say he is an older, wiser and more mature professional.
Gowen returns to a pay-per-view format this Sunday afternoon—August 19th, 3pm eastern time for Prime Wrestling's Wrestlelution 5. The event takes place in Cleveland but can be seen anywhere in the world via internet pay-per-view for $14.99 with unlimited replays when you order.
Gowen will be going up against someone who looked up to him as a hero when Gowen was battling Mr. McMahon on a national stage. Gregory Iron, who suffers from cerebral palsy, will go one on one with Zach Gowen as one of the headlining matches of a card that features Rhino, Petey Williams, Jimmy Jacobs, Johnny Gargano, Matt Cross (from WWE's Tough Enough) and more.
Iron was publicly endorsed in the summer of 2011 by WWE Champion CM Punk and Colt Cabana at an independent show where Punk proclaimed Iron was awesome. Of course the straight edge start had said it with a little more attitude.
Certainly, the battle between Gowen and Iron is a must see given their backgrounds, endorsements and natural talent despite their physical obstacles.
Today, WWE campaigns aggressively with the anit-bullying “Be A Star” initiative. It doesn't take a booking genius to realize this would be a natural storytelling fit for someone like Gowen to demonstrate overcoming the odds, no matter if the opponent is a bully or yourself.