Zach Gowen

Zach Gowen Got DESTROYED By Brock Lesnar, Wrestling Vince McMahon, Beating Addiction

Zach Gowen (@zachgowen) is a professional wrestler and motivational speaker known for his time in WWE and IMPACT Wrestling. He sits down with Chris Van Vliet in Hollywood, CA to tell his inspirational story of losing his leg to cancer at age 8, becoming the first one-legged WWE Superstar when he was 19-years old, making his debut with Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Shawn O’Hare, feuding with Vince McMahon, getting beat up by Brock Lesnar in front of his mom, having Brock Lesnar push him down the stairs, his battle with drug addiction and how he beat it, being a father of 4, sharing his story as a motivational speaker to students around the country and much more!

Quote I’m thinking about:
“Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you react to what happens to you” – Epictetus

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On what he’s doing now:

“Your story parallels mine a lot in the sense that I was already doing my dream job as a professional wrestler, making a living, travelling all over the country all over the world doing that. And then on the side, I started speaking, doing motivational talks, going into schools, working with different speakers and trying to get better that way. And it was kind of a side hustle. And then at a certain point, the scales tipped, the teeter-totter tipped, and then all of a sudden, I’m on the road full-time as a motivational speaker, over the past 10 years working with over 200,000 parents, teachers and students from all over this country, sharing a message trying to plant seeds of inspiration, kind of like how you’re doing here by you doing your dream job, you’re affecting other people impacting other people in ways that maybe they wouldn’t have been impacted hadn’t you stepped into this space? You know, and it’s kind of interesting to me.”

On getting clean thanks to the WWE Wellness Policy:

“That is, and what’s funny is that we don’t understand the real meaning behind what we’re doing when we’re going through it. It’s only in retrospect, yeah. Because if you’d have asked me at 19, 20 years old, like, alright, you know, what’s the end goal here? What’s the ultimate goal? It’s man, to stay a WWE Superstar forever. And that’s all I can see. Because that was what was in front of me, you know, and that’s what was interesting to me at the time. But no, that planted the seeds to allow me to tap into the WWE wellness policy for them to pay for my rehabilitation at 26 years old, literally saving my life. Because when I was 26 years old, and I was at rock bottom, and I was at the most miserable I’d ever been in my life and the most hopeless I’ve ever been in my life. I didn’t have the resources. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have any connections. I didn’t know anybody who was sober. I didn’t know anybody who walked that path before. And it was those letters that I got every six months from WWE that said hey, listen, if you were ever under contract with WWE, and you’ve reached a position in life where you need help, we are willing to help just call this number, that’s all I had to do was call that number. And then within three minutes they’re booking flights and putting me in rooms and at the you know, world-class treatment centres and all of this stuff and you know that that was the foundation of everything that is that is good in my life now is a direct result of my sobriety.”

On his WWE debut:

“You know the Vince McMahon gulp he does? I had a real one when they told me about that. It became insane at that point, like it was surreal, even signed the contract and for them to fly me to New York and then go to the headquarters and meet with the writing team and do all of that. Like this is wow, this is surreal. This is insane. And then when they told me that the following week, we’re going to tape SmackDown and I’m going to be with Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. I wish I could go back and just relive that and just enjoy that moment. Because I wasn’t able to really appreciate or enjoy that moment because of how big it was and how like life-changing that moment was, you know, and how much pressure that is on you and it’s your debut. You want to make a good first impression and you want to man, but it was wild. It was wild just walking into the locker room and seeing Vince McMahon to my left or Roddy Piper to my right, and Hulk Hogan coming out of the shower all at once. Like okay, here’s my childhood literally in this one space. Hello. Nice to meet you. Glad to be here. How are you? You know.”

On hitting Roddy Piper:

“[I] hit him with a flagpole that way literally this thing must have weighed like 35 pounds. Right and so I had to sit there in the front row as a fan and waited for like a half hour before my shoulders were on fire five minutes in but I’m like, I gotta keep doing it. And then so this thing was heavy and it hurt. And I told Piper I go listen, I go I don’t know if I can swing this without like hurting you. I don’t know if I can work this heavy-ass flagpole. He looked at me. He goes, kid, you better hit me as hard as you f*cking can. You know? Like, okay, all right. Roddy Piper tells me to hit him as hard as I possibly can with this heavy flagpole, I’m gonna do it. And so that’s what I did and the thing bent man and then Sean O’Haire Spears me across the ring, which was wild because he was such a large man. incredibly large, fast and strong. And but the moment the key moment for that debut, was the look on Piper’s face after he ripped off the prosthetic leg. It was a look of horror, a look of disgust, a look of regret, remorse, guilt, like all rolled into one. I don’t think there was a wrestler on that roster that could have pulled off, pardon the pun, that angle other than Roddy Piper.”

On his time in WWE:

“It was, um, and you have to think about this. I had less than 20 matches before I had that match with The Big Show, which was my first official WWE match. I have one leg. I’m 20 years old, less than 20 matches before I have my first official WWE match. So what you’re watching is a live experiment of like, can we make this work? Do we have enough WWE magic? Is Zach enough? And can we come together like peanut butter and jelly to make this thing work? And so it was a wild time. I wrestled Vince one-on-one on PPV. A 53-year-old non-wrestler, okay, versus a 20-year-old kid with one leg who has been in the business about a year at this point. And Vince is catching Asai moonsault to the outside, you know, in the match, and he’s bleeding all over the place. And it’s, it’s something that you will never ever, ever, ever see again. Because now they have a system. Right now they have the NXT in Florida and you come up and you learn. You learn how to work, you learn how to work the cameras, you learn what production, there’s a lot that goes on when you’re a wrestler on TV, right for AEW or WWE. You have to think about the lights, you have to think about the crowd, you have to think about your time cues, you have to think about where the cameras are, you have to think about what commentary is saying about you. You have to you have to do something that you have gone over before in the production meeting. And you have to allow commentary to talk about it, allow it to breathe, while not getting the live crowd bored. You have to do all of this. And so they have a great system now with NXT right? You do the exact same thing you’re gonna do on Raw you have the same cameras, you have the same commentators the same setup. I did not have any of them. They said go out. And like the like the clip you just posted they said cut your forehead with a razor blade and have Brock Lesnar F5 you in front of your mom twice, Like and figure it out live, you know, and so there was no coaching. There was no like, hey, why don’t you do this for six months or a year, whatever. We did it live and all of that considered, it’s kind of hard to look back and watch those matches, because I’m like, man, it would have been so much better if we did this, this that and the other hindsight, you know, but considering all of those variables, I think we did a very, very good job. And I’m very proud of myself. And I thank WWE to this day.”

On facing Vince McMahon on pay-per-view:

“Vince did not carry me through that match at all. Listen, I’m not going to speak ill of the man because I love Vince McMahon. And he saved my life literally. And, and he put me in that position and gave me that platform, which launched me into the rest of my life, you know. But we did that. And it might have been one of the first ones to do that style of match. It’s the way that Logan Paul does his matches now. So it’s move for move figured out 2, 3, 4 weeks beforehand. They fly me to New York. I’m in a warehouse with the ring. It’s me it’s Vince. And this is like three weeks before a match in the agents. So you got Bruce Prichard there and you got Pat Patterson’s there and there were all this huddled around Mike Chioda, is there the referee? And we just talked about Alright, well what can we do? You know? What can you do Vince What? Zach, what can you do here? Well, I can do that. Okay cool and then we piece it together move for move for move for move. The day before the pay-per-view they fly me to Denver early. They rent a local community college gymnasium. They set up a ring me and Vince again go over it the day before move for move with the agents there and in the referee.”

On Brock Lesnar:

“He was he was a very mean man to me on camera. And he’s a very sweet man to the off-camera. I love Brock Lesnar so much. He’s the type of dude that I get along with the best just the salt of the Earth shows up, respectful, does a great job. And that’s it. There’s not a whole lot of accoutrements around Brock Lesnar with this too, and genuine. And there’s no like ulterior motives and there’s no like sales many type of hey, I’ll shake your hand here and then stab you in the back later. It’s like what you see is what you get exactly like you said, and those are the type of guys that that I get along with most not only in wrestling, but in real life.”

On the wheelchair spot:

“So the wheelchair spot that wasn’t a wheelchair spot to begin with. The original idea. I don’t know if we’ve talked about this. The original idea was for Brock Lesnar to F5 me off of the SmackDown fist through the stage. That was the original idea. Do you ever the smackdown fist? So we were going to be on top of this SmackDown fist, Brock Lesnar was going to toss me off this bad boy and I was gonna Go through the stage but okay that we had to and that was the plan for like two or three weeks, we had to a pivot so to speak to the wheelchair spot down the stairs because creative we couldn’t figure out a plausible way for me and Brock Lesnar to be on a reason for us to be on top of the fist. Like how do we get up there? Did he drag me up there? Did he climb up? Is there a secret ladder like we couldn’t figure that part out? I was really excited about that. Because you remember back in the day dude Shane McMahon falling off the set Jeff Hardy doing all this crazy stuff and I’m like, Man, I could I can’t wait to you know, to me like that doing that stunt was was exciting.”

Using a stunt double:

“They brought in this Hollywood stunt double and this dude look just like me. He was like my twin, man. And how we did it was I was wearing my prosthetic leg. And I had my real leg in a brace because of because Brock broke it in a couple of places. And so the whole idea was that I was wearing my prosthetic leg I had black pants on so it looked like I had two legs. The stunt guy had two legs. They shoved him down. He took the bump, one take done boom. And it was brutal. It was a wild, it was a wild bum to take. Right before we did it. The stunt guy did it. Vince pulled me aside and he goes Zach, you know, you can take the bump if you want. And I said what? He goes yeah, if we you know, we can make it real. You know, we can do it one continuous shot you taking that bump all the way to and I’m like, Vince. I’m not taking the bump. I’m all for everything that we’re doing and all of that, but I don’t know how to fall down stairs was a was a 40 pound wheelchair following me. Like I have no experience in doing that.” 

On nearly signing with TNA:

“Truth Martini, the guy who trained me. You know, like, there was a lot of like, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, but the opposite of that. I’m the one-legged Forrest Gump. I’m not very bright. But I’ve done a lot of cool che and I’ve been in a lot of cool situations. Yeah, they handed me they wanted me to sign at the taping. So they handed me a physical contract and I go listen, I mean, I was dumb, but I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a contract right there. And I go, I’m going to take a home and look at it. And then on that road trip home Truth Martini said loan Listen, man, like I’ve never seen this in wrestling before. Like there is a serious buzz about you. From all over he goes do not sign that contract. At least reach out to WWE before you do it tell WWE that that TNA is offering this and if there’s anything that you know if they’re interested, and before I can call WWE. The next day, WWE called me Johnny Ace called me. And so that was a surreal, surreal phone calls. And they’re talking to Johnny Ace, about coming to work for WWE, you know, and I loved everything that he said, great salesman, but also I was a 19-year-old mark, too. So he could have said anything to me out of it. Like, yeah, let’s do it, of course. But then I called Jeff Jarrett, because they just offered me the deal. And I told him about the phone call I had with WWE. And Jeff said, listen, Zach. We can’t match that money that you’re gonna make in WWE. We can’t. But what we can do is protect you as a talent as a young talent, as someone who is an attraction. He goes, I can’t promise you that WWE is going to do the same. So it was kind of like money versus creative versus like, what’s best for me moving forward, you know, so I had to weigh those options out. And ultimately, I chose WWE simply because I didn’t know if that opportunity would ever be offered again.”

What is Zach Gowen grateful for:

“My relationship with God, my sobriety and the life I get to live.”

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