Pro wrestlers are notorious for another overused false-finish: the finish of their careers. Terry Funk, Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair...they've all retired multiple times, and they kept coming back. It has made for some special moments but, like the in-ring false-finish, it has watered down the real retirements and left fans wondering how long until we see the retiring star back in the ring.
Last week, I announced via Facebook that my comeback was coming to an end. I won't call it a retirement--I don't make a living as a wrestler--but I was going to walk away. That was the plan. And now, just days before my last match, as the referee's hand is inches from the mat, I'm kicking out.
Here's the story.
I've always been more sensitive to loud noise that most. During the last several months, however, I have had some serious issues with intolerance to noise.
While installing a home alarm days after Christmas, I accidentally set off the 125-decibel alarm just inches from my head, and the pain was different from anything I've ever felt. It felt like I'd been brained by Mike Tyson, and I could feel moderate to loud noise vibrate on every hair cell in my ears.
At a WWE event in late-January, I had the misfortune of sitting in front of a psychotic girl who screamed throughout the show (she screamed full sentences--who the hell does that?) and I had to remind myself several times that my son was with me so I wouldn't turn around and punch her dad in the throat, give the little nut-job something to scream about.
As my intolerance to noise grew, my reactions became more aggressive and, a handful of times, downright nasty. It's as if loud noise sometimes sparks a brief case of Tourette's in me, and I've felt bad for some of the things I've said in reaction to someone unintentionally assaulting my ears.
The noise sensitivity started to have a negative effect on my ability to perform my regular job. I usually didn't last five minutes in the office without choking down a few Excedrin. I finally scheduled an appointment with an ENT specialist.
The ENT specialist was a strange dude who seemed more interested in sharing his story of cancer survival than in my purpose for visiting him. He said that I have hearing loss, Recruitment, and Hyperacusis. In a nutshell, some of the sensors in my ears are dead, so other sensors are overcompensating, and the result is the amplification of certain sounds. So what is normal to the average person, in some cases, is intolerably painful to me. He said trauma from wrestling is likely accelerating my hearing loss. I left the appointment with the understanding that I could be going deaf and that wrestling could make me deaf faster.
I understand what it would mean to be deaf. It would suck. Driving, watching TV, having conversations, walking through Walmart, nothing would be the same. I'd have to learn sign language (right now the only signs I know are "F--- you" "Peace" "Devil" and "Rip 'Em"), and that would be a pain in the ass. I wouldn't hear my kid's voice evolve as he grows to become a man.
I decided it was time to step away from the ring. If it would preserve my hearing, or at least prolong with hearing-loss process, I thought it would be best if I stopped wrestling after I fulfilled my June booking commitments. To the credit of every promoter who'd booked me for June, each said he'd understand if I couldn't work his show.
The next day, I went to an audiologist for a hearing test, and the results showed me unable to hear some tones as well as I should and able to hear some tones that are inaudible to most people.
I went back to the ENT specialist for a follow-up visit the following week. The doctor came in and talked about stopping the ringing in my ears. I told him I wasn't experiencing that, he said he understood, and then we repeated this cycle several times as I became more irritated. He also didn't say a word about deafness this time and said that nothing could be done for the hearing loss, but that my sensitivity to noise might go away in a year or two. The doctor told me there wasn't much he could do for me but suggested I pick up these pills that should help with noise sensitivity and, when I went to buy them, I saw printed large-as-can-be on the box: "Stop the Ringing in Your Ears". This multiplied my already strong desire to facepunch the doctor.
Most of my life, I have handled life's curveballs matter-of-factly without a whole lot of emotional attachment. I receive the information, analyze it, and figure out if and how that information should influence my thoughts and actions. This is how I handled the hearing and wrestling issues. I bought some shooting-range earplugs to block sound above a certain decibel level and announced I was wrapping up my days in the ring.
Last Saturday night, I debuted for 3XWrestling in Iowa. I worked with Jimmy Rockwell, who I knew from Metro Pro Wrestling in KC and who I liked a lot as a wrestler and as a person. We had a fun match that he won (with a little help from WWE Hall of Famer "The Million-Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase) and I had a great time working with 3XW, one of the best independent promotions I've worked with. As I was leaving the show, I thought about how that would be the last time I ever worked a match as a heel (which I absolutely love). I thought about how I would soon no longer be able to create memories for the fans, to tell stories inside the ring, to do it all on-the-fly.
The reality of it all finally hit me, and it sucked. And as cheesy as it may sound, I felt like I was leaving a big piece of myself at Boone County Fairgrounds as we drove away.
I thought about the hearing issue and about the end of my wrestling career, which was to come in one week, for most of the six-hour drive home and most of the next day.
Monday, I talked to my wife Jessica about it. We mutually decided that, since I could lose my hearing whether I continued wrestling or not (accuracy depending on which, if either, day my doctor was sober), I should continue to wrestle because I love doing it.
Is there a chance that everything could go wrong and I could wind up deaf? Maybe, but I can't give up wrestling for maybe.
Two years ago, I would have given my right arm to get back in the ring. I'm thrilled that I had a chance to get back in the ring once again because, despite my love-hate relationship with the wrestling business, it is a big part of who I am.
Thanks to everyone who showed support when I thought I was walking away. No one wants to be the boy who cried wolf, but it's a title I'll wear with pride as I continue doing what I love.
One day I'll have to call it quits, and I truly hope that it will be on my own terms. Until then, I'm not ready to stay down for the three-count.