Zach Gowen Exclusive Interview: “My biggest opponent wasn’t the Big Show or Brock Lesnar, it was the man in the mirror”

Many wrestling fans will be aware of Zach Gowen’s run in the WWE’s attitude era. The young man who lost his leg to cancer in his youth became a huge star aged 19. However, many will not be aware of the struggles of his life, and how he turned it all round to ditch alcohol and drugs to devote his life to spreading messages of inspiration and hope. In an emotional interview with WrestleList, Gowen tells us about the experience of working with some of the biggest stars, going to terrible places with drugs and alcohol, and his plans for the future, as a 34 year old who now views life in such a positive way.

Listen to the full interview below:

On being a 19 year old in the WWE locker room:

Well first I want to say that it was a complete honour to share time and space with those wrestling legends – not only wrestling legends but cultural legends. Vince, Piper and Hogan – I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s so these are guys that I watched every single Saturday morning on my television. It was an absolute staple in my life. I grew up as the world’s biggest wrestling fan, so to me, these weren’t just wrestling heroes, they were the Mt. Rushmore of my life up until this point. So to have an opportunity to work with those guys at such a young age was an absolutely incredible experience. What got me through losing my leg, and almost my life, to cancer – what got me through that hardship was my love for professional wrestling.

On meeting WWE Creative:

They asked me “Where do you see yourself? How do you see your character?” And I’m this underdog guy that’s just kind of grateful to be there and to show people that what they think are their limitations we can exceed those through hard work and dedication. And it’s kind of this feel good story. Everybody seemed to agree with me and then I fly home and Bruce Pritchard calls me and he’s like “So we’re going to have you on Smackdown next week with Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper! So I said “Great!” (laughs)

On struggling mentally with the WWE:

I was so completely insecure – the way I acted was to overcompensate for that. And I think that’s where people get that I have an ego from, or I was arrogant, because my actions reflected that. Truth be told, I wasn’t emotionally ready to receive the gift that they were giving me. I was 19 years old and I’d had about 20 matches before the WWE signed me. There were guys there that had been wrestling 10, 15 or 20 years. I didn’t have enough respect for the art form coming into the place. Mixed with immaturity and insecurity and that comes across as an ego.

On struggles with drugs and alcohol:

I left WWE and I don’t think getting fired caused me to turn into an alcoholic and an addict – I think it definitely propelled me towards that direction. I think I was headed towards that path whether I was in WWE or not. If you look at the studies, they say alcoholics and addicts have pretty much two things in common which is childhood trauma, and a close relative with a strong genetic trait or disposition to alcoholism. And I had both of those things, and so I think I was on that path already.

But the thing is, I thought I was going to be a WWE superstar forever, and then that gets taken away from me, and then once that gets taken away from me then the fame of being recognised gets taken away from me. Once that’s gone, and then the money dries up, and the girls stop coming around, and then all of a sudden everything is gone and I’m left with myself. And at this point I don’t like myself at all.

My biggest opponent wasn’t the Big Show or Brock Lesnar, it was the man in the mirror. There was some kind of void inside of me. And drugs and alcohol work really really well to fill that. That was my constant and that was what I turned to. I pursued that high aggressively for a long time and it took me to a lot of deep, dark places.


Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachGowen

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