AS I SEE IT - 2/11/2003:
Some real life inspiring moments in wrestling
by: Bob Magee
Despite all the backstage bickering... or the uncreative booking in certain promotions.... and despite the interpromotional politics and wrestling wars... there are times where professional wrestling gives us real life inspiring moments.
This past week gave us two of them.
The first moment occurred February 4th, when Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin won the WWE Tag Titles from Eddie and Chavo Guerrero at the First Union Center during the night's Smackdown taping.
Perhaps this was just another step in another storyline for most of the people watching live or at home on TV.
But for some of us, the fact that Charlie Haas was wrestling at the First Union Center at all, let alone that he'd had the WWE Tag Team Titles put on him in his first televised WWE show in Philadelphia... and who knew the challenges he'd had to overcome... made that night something special for all of us who were there live on February 4th.
We all knew that Charlie was fulfilling a dream that he and his late brother Russ had for years...and sadly, that only Charlie was able to fulfill.
I first saw Charlie Haas and brother Russ wrestle as the Haas Brothers for CZW in 2000 and Jim Kettner's ECWA in 2000. They also worked for Jersey All Pro Wrestling from 1998-2000, Maryland Championship Wrestling, and the Pennsylvania-based World Xtreme Wrestling; winning the ECWA Tag Team Championship in 2000, the JAPW Tag Team Championship twice in 1998 and 1999, and the CZW Tag Team Championship in 2000.
It was clear from the beginning that the brothers had something special. WWF/E signed them to a developmental deal in 2000, and they went to former WWF/E developmental territory Memphis Championship Wrestling, winning the promotion's tag titles on three occasions in 2001, and were then moved up to the then WWF/E developmental territory Heartland Wrestling Association.
But the Haas Brothers dream wouldn't happen, at least in the way they originally intended.
Russ Haas died in his sleep on December 15, 2001 of heart disease, after first suffering a heart attack months before. Just prior to his death, many felt that Russ had recovered, and he planned if at all possible to return to wrestle with his brother to Les Thatcher's Heartland Wrestling Association.
The wrestling world mourned Russ's death. WWE, in a departure from their tendency not to memorialize wrestlers...had Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler memorialize Russ in the middle of the December 17th RAW.
WWE's Kevin Kelly had this to say about the Haas Brothers:
"...Here were a couple of university-educated guys making a good living in their respective careers wanting to find out if they had what it took to make it in the World Wrestling Federation.
They never expected anything to be handed to them and when they were told to tighten up on some basics, they did just that. Russ and Charlie had toiled in the New Jersey indies for a few years...the Haas Brothers had 'it'. I could tell instantly that they had 'it.' You can't learn 'it,' you either have 'it' or you don't.
We had some great times working for Jim Kettner's ECWA. One of our favorite times was when we started a riot at St. Matthew's Parish [Center] [EDITOR'S NOTE: worked as heels in a match with Jay and Mark Briscoe].
Nobody could have ever imagined that two clean-cut college guys and a nerdy announcer could have created such a scene. The best part about the whole riot was that we got Kettner hot! Russ, Charlie and I came slinking up to Jim's office door and with our best angelic faces, we said we were sorry. Jim needed many doses of his mythical 'medicine' with Kevin Kelly and the Haas Brothers around....
As an only child, I don't know what it is like to have a brother, but in this business, we are all 'brothers'. I have spent a lot of time since Saturday -- when I learned of Russ' death -- telling people who are important to me just that, they are important. My phone has been ringing non-stop with concerned friends and family members wondering what happened.I don't know what happened, but all I know is that the road will never be the same again."
William Moody (aka Paul Bearer/Percy Pringle) also had the following to say about them:
"....To say that Charlie and Russ Haas were bound for the 'big time' in our business is an understatement. I first met these two talented individuals a couple of years ago when they wrestled in [dark] matches at World Wrestling Federation television tapings. Notwithstanding their in-ring ability, what stood out about these two brothers was what Aretha Franklin sang about many years ago, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Russ and Charlie had it. It was always, 'Yes sir,' 'No sir,' 'Did you watch our match, sir?' and 'What can we do better, sir?'
When I started working with out talent development department about a year ago, I got to know the brothers fairly well. I followed their progress through the Memphis area, and I was so happy for them when they were promoted to Heartland Wrestling Association in Cincinnati.
I was certain it wouldn't be long until they would both cross that bridge to working full-time in the World Wrestling Federation...
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that he would be crossing that bridge into eternity so much too soon."
In an interview on WWE's Byte This in January 2002, Charlie had the following to say about his partnership with his brother: "Russ and I thought we'd had all our dreams fulfilled when we signed our contracts with the WWF," says Charlie, "but God had other plans for Russ. Well, Russ may be gone, but when I'm in the ring, I'm not alone. There are two Haas brothers still in that ring."
After taking time off...even considering not continuing, Charlie finally returned to wrestling with Heartland Wrestling Association. He then had to endure another challenge, as he injured his knee, requiring time out of the ring.
He again met this challenge, and as the WWE developmental system lineup changed yet again, Charlie continued on with Jim Cornette and Ohio Valley Wrestling.
Haas joined the WWE roster earlier this year as part of "Team Angle" along with Minnesota collegiate star Shelton Benjamin. Teaming for the first time with someone other than his late brother had to be difficult. Even to this day, Charlie has written his late brother's name on his wristbands when working. But Charlie smoothly made the transition into this "shooters stable" gimmick.
Then, on February 4th (taped for airing on February 6th), Charlie achieved the dream that he and his brother had...defeating Eddie and Chavo Guerrero to become WWE Tag Team Champions in an excellent match at Philadelphia's First Union Center.
A number of people in and out of the business who know Charlie and knew his late brother were in the stands as this special moment happened. It was special for all of us....and it was certainly special beyond words for him.
The other real-life inspiring moment occurred the next night...as wrestling fans saw Zach Gowen (aka Tenacious Z) wrestle on NWA-TNA's weekly PPV. He might be just another rookie working indies in the state of Michigan...except for one notable thing.
He wrestles with one leg.
In 1991, Gowen lost his left leg to an osteogenic sarcoma, a bone cancer that had invaded his left thigh, a cancer so virulent that it left doctors with the options of amputation or risking the cancer spreading to the eight year old's vital organs.
Goweb received visit from Hulk Hogan during a visit set up by the Make-A-Wish foundation. In a recent interview, he described the visit as "awesome. [Hogan] was so cool and....a huge idol of mine."
Two years later, Gowen's father took him to the Pontiac Silverdome for Wrestlemania III, and he admits to be hooked from that point on.
Zach Gowen is entering his second year in the business this March. He wrestles for Michigan indies such as Independent Wrestling Revolution, Xtreme Intense Championship Wrestling, Thunderzone Wrestling, and participated in the recent Brawl 4 Braxton Memorial show in Detroit.
In a way that seems unusually modest for someone the wrestling business, he has explained how he deals with his physical challenges this way:
"...I don't see myself as an inspiration, I don't even think I'm that great of a worker. People ask me all the time, 'Hey man, how do you do it...how are you able to get in there with just one leg'?
My response is a simple, 'I dunno'. You see, all I can do is do what I know I can do (if that makes any sense). I really don't have anything to compare wrestling with one leg too... Actually, if I had two legs, I'd be just another small cruiserweight indy worker...I wouldn't have a try-out with TNA, and I'm damn sure you wouldn't be reading this. So, having my leg amputated has really been a blessing for me, it's helping me reach and achieve some goals that no one thought were possible."
Gowen wrestled Brian James (aka Road Dogg, BG James) in a match that was remarkable in seeing him able to do moonsaults, leg lariat, and dropkicks... and help carry James to a watchable match, even if it was largely used to further the Brian James storyline with brother and referee Scott Armstrong.
So here you are... two real life moments that took us beyond the usual wrestling political BS (whether in Philadelphia, Florida, the Midwest or elsewhere), beyond promoters egos, beyond people being pushed because they date the boss's daughter, and beyond the usual nonsense that masquerades as news in wrestling...to something that actually made a few people smile... even if for a few moments.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com)