Posted on 5/16/123 by Mike Informer
LIVONIA, MI – On Thursday, May 15, 2003, Zach Gowen sat
inside the empty 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore, preparing
for the biggest night of his life. In just a few hours,
Gowen would be making his debut with World Wrestling
Entertainment, the largest wrestling company in the world
and as part of his debut, Gowen would be working alongside a
childhood hero and arguably the most recognizable name in
WWE history, Hulk Hogan.
As a kid, Gowen, who was just 20 at the time, had watched
numerous wrestling matches televised from the historic venue
-- formerly known as the Baltimore Civic Center. Sitting in
the stands that day, Gowen, now 40, says he was just trying
to contain his emotions.
“It was insane and overwhelming and awesome all at the same
time,” Gowen said. “I get to the arena and I’m sitting in
the stands, and I’m just trying to take it all in, at 20
years old, to the best of my ability.”
Gowen didn’t have long to soak in the moment because shortly
thereafter it was time to speak with Hogan, WWE owner Vince
McMahon and WWE Hall of Famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper about what
was going to happen on that night’s broadcast of “WWE
“I follow the producer to the dressing room, I walk in and
then to my left I see Vince. I introduce myself and I say
‘thank you for the opportunity, it’s amazing to be here,’”
Gowen said. “And then Roddy Piper is to my right. And I said
‘Roddy Piper, I’m such a huge fan and so nice to meet you.’”
A legend in his own right, Piper was gracious to the young
Gowen and was happy to be working with him.
“He was very enthusiastic,” Gowen said. “And that’s so cool,
because sometimes you meet your heroes, and you know they
can let you down a little bit. But Roddy Piper is Roddy
Piper, and the enthusiasm that you saw from him on
television, he lived that.”
It was now time to meet Hogan.
After what felt like an eternity, Hogan emerged from the
shower in his locker room. Gowen had daydreamed of meeting
the wrestling icon, but none of those dreams ever played out
as they did in real life.
“He walked out of the shower, wearing only a towel and flip
flops, but the towel is not wrapped around his waist. It’s
wrapped around his neck,” Gowen says with a laugh. “He walks
straight up to me, naked as the day is long and says ‘How
you doing? Nice to meet you, brother.’
“And I’m like ‘Thank you for ruining my childhood. Nice to
meet you…’ And that was my first hour of being a WWE
On that night, Hogan wouldn’t be coming out in his
traditional yellow and red attire, Hogan would instead be
portraying a character known as Mr. America, even though the
entire audience knew it was actually Hogan.
That night Gowen would make his debut as a diehard fan of
Mr. America who was sitting in the crowd waving a giant
American flag. Gowen was supposed to be such a big fan that
when Piper and another wrestler, Sean O’Haire were beating
down his hero, Gowen would jump the guardrail to try to save
Piper would then attack Gowen, leading to a shocking
discovery and one that helps Gowen stand out in the
wrestling world to this day. Piper was going to rip off
Gowen’s prosthetic leg.
A cancer diagnosis at 8 led to Gowen having his left leg
amputated and in turn led him to becoming a lifelong
wrestling fan and eventually a wrestler.
After Piper pulled the prosthetic off, a look of shock came
over his face and fans rained down boos as they realized
what Piper had done. The normally unsympathetic Piper was
befuddled and had a look that conveyed even he knew he’d
done something horrible.
Following the segment, Gowen returned to the backstage area
and was surprised at the reaction.
“When I got when I walked through the curtain, I got a
standing ovation from Vince and from Bruce Prichard and from
all the agents. That segment was great. Not because of me,”
Gowen said. “It was a testament to the greatness of Roddy
Piper. Because I don’t think there’s another wrestler alive
who could have, pardon the pun, pulled that segment off.”
Gowen’s friends and family also reached out to congratulate
him on a successful debut. But for Gowen, it took him a long
time to fully understand and appreciate the moment.
“It took about 15 years if I’m being honest with you,” Gowen
said, adding that his age didn’t allow him to handle it in a
mature fashion. “I really couldn’t fully process the moment
or the gift that was being handed to me.”
Unfortunately for Gowen, his time working with Hogan and
Piper would be limited as those two would each have a
separate falling out with McMahon in the weeks following
Gowen’s debut. However, Gowen would eventually get to work
with a pair of now top-tier WWE stars who were also just
getting started in the company in Brock Lesnar and John
The match with Lesnar took place at Joe Louis Arena on
August 21, 2003 with Zach’s family and friends – including
his mother – in attendance. But instead of the feel-good
moment fans may have been expecting, Gowen would spend the
night being beaten up by the 6-foot-3, 285-pound former NCAA
wrestling and UFC heavyweight champion.
For Gowen, it’s one of his favorite matches ever as the goal
was to make fans hate Lesnar because of what he did to
“What’s the worst thing that Brock Lesnar could do? Let’s
have him beat up the one-legged kid in his hometown, in
front of his mother and his grandmother and his little
brother,” Gowen jokes. “I got excited because I knew that we
were going to create a moment or something special or
something outside of the ordinary.
“That’s the goal for any performer is to create a moment
that that people will remember forever or talk about
Lesnar beat down Gowen right in front his family that night,
including hitting him with a chair multiple times. Despite
how it appeared on TV, in Gowen’s mind Lesnar kept him safe
“I love Brock Lesnar. He could have killed me that night
easily and he wouldn’t have gotten in trouble,” Gowen says.
“He didn’t have to take care of me as much as he did. Brock
went above and beyond.”
By that time, Gowen had developed a bad reputation backstage
and hurting Gowen may have been met with enthusiasm.
Instead, the massive Lesnar made sure everything looked
great, but caused no real damage to the young Gowen.
A few months after that match, Gowen would be released from
WWE due to his continued backstage problems, which he admits
were the result of drug and alcohol abuse, combined with the
immaturity he had at such a young age.
However, in 2010 Gowen was able to go to rehab thanks to a
WWE-sponsored program that helped him kick his addictions
and remain sober.
Gowen hasn’t wrestled for WWE in the 20 years, admitting
that he’ “burned every single bridge in the wrestling
business” at the time.
Since getting sober, Gowen has remained busy as an
independent wrestler, but as he gets older, he admits to
slowing down in the ring. In recent years, Gowen formed a
tag team with his best friend Gregory Iron – who was
diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child – to form a team
known as the “Handicapped Heroes.”
The duo uses their platform to inspire those looking to
overcome their own odds and to motivate fans to live out
their own dreams.
Aside from working the occasional wrestling match, today
Gowen works as a motivational speaker, traveling the country
with CoolSpeak to reach students and youth organizations to
discuss a variety of topics.
Looking back, Gowen acknowledges that he may have missed an
opportunity during his limited run in WWE, but says he
wouldn’t change a thing.
“There are absolutely zero regrets. Because if I don’t go
through all of that, then I’m not in this place now,” Gowen
said. “Which is living a life that I never even knew was
possible in real life. It’s indescribably wonderful and I
wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”