Pro wrestling produces many talented individuals. They come and they go. Very rarely does one stand the test of time and last a lifetime in such a physically and mentally challenging business. There’s a myriad of reasons one leaves, whether it be by choice or by force. Either way, anyone that enters pro wrestling will be faced with adversity that makes one ask themselves the question, should I continue wrestling? Personally, I’ve asked myself that question many times. There’s been some very serious injuries, there’s been losing a job as a full time performer on television and also personal issues that have hit me hard. Now, these problems aren’t unique to me, rather they are common for anyone that has made a living in this profession. So, whatever it may be, one always sits back and assesses the landscape and finally asks, should I continue wrestling?
Well, what is my answer? It takes a lot of searching within to come up with the appropriate answer. And for some of us, the answer isn’t the right one, but it is the one we would prefer to answer it with. It’s hard to consciously make the decision to leave something we all have worked our entire lives to attain. Each story is different. Each situation is different.
I can only assume that Chris Sabin as asked himself the above question many times over the past two years. Chris has faced incredible adversity and if there wasn’t for bad luck, he’d have none at all. As cliché as it is to say, a man is really defined by how he answers to adversity. We’ll get into Chris’s specifics a bit later.
Chris and I go back to 2003 when I first met him upstairs in the Nashville Fairgrounds. Nashville, Tennessee was as about as opposite of a place as you could get when compared to where I came from and my personality. Hell, the same could be said for Chris. Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Chris knew little of the southern way of life that Nashville was known for. But we would quickly have to adjust, as it became our second home. The Nashville Fairgrounds was probably as close to Detroit as Chris would get. It was grimy, dingy and built by strong, working class Americans. The Fairgrounds had quickly become the home of TNA Wrestling during this time. Our “locker room” was upstairs where a dimly lit strip of bleacher sat. We would be there every Wednesday as we taped a live PPV telecast that barely anyone watched. But, to us, it was the most important thing we had going on. Well, professionally. Personally, the most important thing to me at the time was graduating from college.
But for two 21 year olds such as myself and Chris, being on PPV every week and being contracted to the second largest pro wrestling company was the dream we both had since we were young. We were literally living out our dreams and the question then never was, should I continue wrestling? Rather it was, when will I wrestle next?? I recall gravitating to Chris quickly during the fall of 2003, soon after I debuted for TNA. He had already been with the company for some months by that time and was familiar with the landscape while I was the new guy. I really didn’t know many people there, as this was very early in my career and to be honest, I always felt out of place during the first year or so with TNA. Being new and still being a full-time student in college, my mind was always other places. I have never been a “going out” kinda guy, so I was different from the jump. But, being around Chris I felt comfortable and we soon had hit it off. Our similarities were endless. We both were the same age and relatively new to pro wrestling. We both loved wrestling and video games. Plus as Chris would always say, we were part of the drug free class of 2000. At the time, we were the youngest guys in the company so it was natural that we could understand each other better than the slew of veterans that had crowded the small Fairground’s “downstairs locker room”. Being so young, we both quite literally matured together through our time on the road. As we matured, as did our interests and we steadily stayed parallel. Who would have thought that years later we would be discussing our current favorite book? Through the early years of our time in TNA, other guys with our same interests and age group started with the company. So once, Alex Shelley, Petey Williams, Jay Lethal and Jimmy Rave came, we were instantly a crew.
Chris and I would see each other literally every week from 2003 to 2009 and quickly became very good friends. I still consider Chris one of my best friends in and out of wrestling. As many wrestling fans reading this will know, Chris is tremendously talented. I always thought that Chris was extremely underrated. His accolades speak for themselves and if you steadily watch his body of work, you could say he’s destined to always have a full time job in pro wrestling. Not only was his in ring work superb and at times the best in the company, his attitude and demeanor outside of the ring was and still is top notch. He is what some would call the model employee. Chris is the type of person who rarely ever gets upset. I can’t even count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever seen Chris lose his cool. And if you ask him how many times he’s seen me lose my cool, that’s a different story. It just isn’t in his nature. He’s the perfect kind of personality that you need by your side when traveling on the road for weeks at a time. He was always that glue that kept our crew together. And who knows, maybe this attitude was because he hadn’t yet faced his life’s two biggest curve balls.
And, even though he had multiple runs with the X-Division title and continually had great matches with a variety of opponents, I don’t feel that Chris was truly given the ball to run to the end zone with. Sure he was given the ball many times, but it would soon be taken away from him by no fault of his own. Later on, Chris and Alex Shelley formed a very successful tag team. I always said that their tag team was easily the best tag team in the world. They both had created an entirely new style of tag team wrestling. In a business where everything has been done and no idea is original, these two were copyrighting a brand new style. As much success as Chris had attained as a singles wrestler, his success as a tag team wrestler was tenfold. His influence on young aspiring wrestlers is undeniable as you can still see young wrestlers emulating the style that Alex and Chris popularized during their time as a team.
As much success as that team brought Chris, on April 20th 2011, it brought Chris the complete opposite. In a tag team match against Team Mexico, he suffered a torn ACL. To be exact, he needed a complete ACL replacement with a cadaver graft and lateral meniscus repair in his right knee. After 11 years in wrestling, this was as serious as an injury as one could sustain. Chris had been virtually injury free during his career. While I had my share of tears and missing teeth, Chris had made it up that point in his career unscathed. I can recall Chris rolling his ankle and spraining his knee during the years we wrestled in TNA together. Coincidentally, he and I were tag teaming in both matches. Those were tough injuries, but nothing compared to tearing his ACL. Chris would be out for a total of 11 months. I can’t stress how mentally draining suffering such a serious injury can be. When making a living in pro wrestling, your body is everything, I mean EVERYTHING. And to put it in simple terms, Chris was out of a job for 11 months. As soon as I heard of the news, it tore me up inside as I knew how serious of an injury it was and how tough the road ahead was going to be. I was not with TNA when this happened, so I kept in contact with Chris through phone calls and texts and guess what? His happy, upbeat personality was still in tact. I was shocked, but at the same time I wasn’t. I know Chris was anxious to get back in the ring and return to the only life he had known during his adult years.
At that point in time, I don’t think Chris ever asked himself, should I continue wrestling. He took it in stride and made the best of the situation. There’s two ways one can react to such a predicament and Chris did his best to take it down the right path. After 11 grueling months of rehab, pain and surgery, Chris returned to TNA. And after eight matches back…it happened again. He tore his ACL. This time in his left knee.
Was this really happening? Was this real life? It was June 14th 2012 and as I watched TNA Impact on TV at home, I saw Chris take a nasty spill to the outside and immediately grab his knee. Right away, it appeared that something was seriously wrong. Chris had grabbed his left knee, which was his good knee. And soon after, it was clear that the match was beginning to fall apart. I still held hope that it wasn’t that serious and he would be ok. I texted him and soon after got a reply that said that the TNA doctor’s opinion was that it was a torn ACL. After Chris obtained his MRI, it was official. Chris needed a second surgery in the span of a little over a year. This time he had an ACL replacement with hamstring graft and lateral and medial meniscus repair in the left knee.
I was baffled. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to Chris. There are so many whys to this situation and I can only imagine Chris going through all of them in his head. As strong of a human being as Chris is, was this something that would finally break him? Would this be the catalyst for a life altering change in a man that had been absolutely drained. I can’t imagine how hard those 11 months were for Chris. After going through one year of hell, he had another year of hell to look forward to. Chris is the only person that can truly know what one goes through in a situation like this. Back to back ACL tears, back to back years of rehab and physical therapy, back to back years of uncertainty. So, a man is defined by how he handles adversity? Then Chris has proved to be the definition of perseverance, determination, integrity, and tenacity.
I went to visit Chris the day after his latest surgery in July of this year and as he lay in a hotel bed with an enormous cast with a contraption attached to it, I couldn’t help but notice that he was the same Chris. Nothing in his demeanor had changed. I’m sure internally, Chris has asked all the whys and questioned things and thought of what could have been done different, but externally he has proved that he is not a quitter. Currently, Chris is still going H.A.M at rehab and determined to resume his life as he once knew it. Now, does that count wrestling? I can only assume that internally, he has posed to himself the question, should I continue wrestling? Is it possible to return and return to the level that Chris was at before he was forced out due to injury? Of course, the human body can achieve anything, but does Chris have it together mentally to get himself back to that physical condition? I know him as well as anyone and I say yes. But, hell, maybe Chris doesn’t want to continue wrestling. Maybe this is too much, I know it would be for me. Maybe he IS determined to return to wrestling. These internal struggles face every wrestler, it’s just the situation that is different. I don’t want to take any guesses on if Chris will continue his career as a wrestler, but I know that the industry as a whole and TNA specifically, needs Chris to return. But only Chris knows if that is what is really best for Chris. Chris is one of those good guys you always hear about and selfishly I wrote this so that everyone reading still remembers Chris and all the great moments he has given the fans of pro wrestling. Out of sight, out of mind is never more true than when it comes to pro wrestling, so as Chris works hard to fix his body, hopefully this blog will remind you all of how great of a wrestler he is, because at the end of the day, my story aint the only one I’m tryna to tell.
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