By Mike Mooneyham
Feb. 23, 2003
Zach Gowen is a lot like your average 19-year-old. He enjoys listening to music and playing video games. His favorite TV shows are The Man Show and MTV Cribs, and he’s a big wrestling fan.
There are, however, a couple of major distinctions that set him apart from most other teens.
Gowen, whose ring name is Tenacious Z, is the newest, and youngest, member of World Wrestling Entertainment’s grappling troupe, having signed a three-year contract with the company last weekend.
Like many of WWE’s high-flying cruiserweights, Gowen is a risk-taker and can execute hurricanranas, moonsaults and shooting star presses with the greatest of ease.
But there’s one other major difference.
“Tenacious Z” Zach Gowen only has one leg.
The Michigan native lost his left limb to osteogenic sarcoma, a bone cancer that invaded his left thigh, when he was only 8. Fearing the cancer might spread to other parts of his body, doctors were forced to amputate his leg all the way up to the hip. A visit to the youngster from Hulk Hogan on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation provided fuel for the spirit and the inspiration that eventually led Gowen to taking his first steps as a pro last March.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]The 5-10, 140-pound phenom, dubbed the “one-legged wonder,” doesn’t wrestle with a prosthesis, although he routinely uses one when walking to the ring, removing it before his matches for an element of surprise. Once the bell rings, he combines solid mat skills with the style of a daredevil.
Gowen, who literally hops around the ring during his matches, got his first big break only weeks ago when he was invited to compete in a dark (non-televised) match for the Nashville-based NWA-TNA. Only two weeks into his stint, however, Gowen got the call from WWE and within days signed a three-year developmental deal reportedly worth $52,000 a year.
Until last month, Gowen had worked exclusively for independent promotions in his home state of Michigan. His first pay-per-view bout, a victory over B.G. James (former “Road Dogg” Brian James) on an NWA-TNA show Feb. 5, was a breakthrough match. His third and final outing with the company was in a six-man bout on Feb. 12.
Before he had time to consider an offer from NWA-TNA, which was poised and primed to give him a substantial push, Gowen was snatched up by the Fed. A mere coincidence? Not likely. WWE owner Vince McMahon saw the potential mainstream publicity an inspirational story like Gowen could generate, at the same time deflecting that positive ink away from a rival, albeit much smaller, company.
Certainly no one can fault the youngster for jumping at a chance to make the big show. Gowen truly is an inspirational figure, especially to others with disabilities, and has proven himself thus far in his short career. His link to Hogan gives WWE a natural storyline.
No harm done, say NWA-TNA officials, who posted the following on their official Web site: “Everyone involved with TNA Entertainment wishes this courageous young man the very best of luck as he continues to pursue his dream.”
Some skeptics, however, have already begun pointing fingers at WWE, claiming that company will turn Gowen into a novelty attraction and are using him for a cheap publicity stunt. “It’s all about PR (public relations)” said one WWE source, who added that it would be interesting to see who be assigned to put over the one-legged newcomer.
What happens from here will say a lot about WWE.
THE “WRONG” ONE-LEGGED GUY
WWE officials apparently jumped the gun in their rush to sign Tenacious Z. Smackdown writer Paul Heyman reportedly informed Vince McMahon of a tremendous one-legged performer that he wanted on Smackdown, and the WWE boss gave his blessing to sign him.
According to sources, road agent and Jim Ross understudy Johnny Ace made the connection in Florida with the one-legged grappler. Problem is, it was the wrong one-legged grappler.
Ace mistakenly approached Florida-based independent wrestler Steve Chamberland, a New England native and product of Killer Kowalski’s wrestling school in Maulden, Mass., about signing a three-year contract with WWE.
Heyman, knowing a few vital stats about the 140-pound Tenacious Z, understandably was shocked when he got wind that the company had been negotiating with a 6-4, 280-pound one-legged wrestler. In addition, the 30-year-old Chamberland is 11 years older than “Z” and works in the ring with a prosthetic limb (his right leg was amputated below the knee after a driver ran a stop sign and struck him on his motorcycle three years ago).
It could not be immediately verified whether Chamberlain, a current trainee at Steve Keirn’s wrestling school in Florida, had signed the contract before the faux pas was discovered. If so, the company would likely attempt to buy out the contract.
“I guess they could always use them as a tag team,” offered one observer. WWE invited Gowen to a house show last Sunday in Detroit where Ace was able to sign the “right” one-legged wrestler.
WWE officials have been understandably mum on the situation.
NEWS AND NOTES
– Tonight’s No Way Out pay-per-view features the return of three of WWE’s biggest stars – Steve Austin, The Rock and Hulk Hogan.
Look for Austin (in the words of “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes) to stomp a mudhole in Eric Bischoff in that highly anticipated slaughter. “Austin will be a hero to the dressing room,” predicted one WWE performer, citing the locker room’s disdain with the former WCW boss, who unceremoniously fired Austin via Federal Express several years ago.
Also look for Vince McMahon’s interference to cost Hogan a victory in his match with The Rock, setting up McMahon’s showdown with the Hulkster at Wrestlemania.
– Austin is expected to make his first Raw appearance on Monday since leaving the company months ago.
– George’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the No Way Out pay-per-view today beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.
– Negotiations between WWE and Bill Goldberg have taken a positive turn, and a signing appears imminent.
The remaining hurdle has revolved around scheduling. The company wants Goldberg to work 10 dates a month, while Goldberg has insisted on no more than five (four television appearances plus the monthly pay-per-view).
w The WWE locker room is buzzing over the recent (but anticipated) engagement of Triple H (Paul Levesque) and Stephanie McMahon. “It’s the real thing,” a WWE star confided. “I’ve never seen a guy so much in love.” The two, who have already been married and divorced as part of the WWE storyline, made the announcement on Valentine’s Day.
– Test (Andrew Martin) and real-life girlfriend Stacy Keibler were pulled from tonight’s pay-per-view after missing Raw last week. The two had made it to Columbus, Ohio, for Raw, but left for Baltimore for a publicity shot and were snowed in. Since they had been warned about that possibility, the disciplinary action was meted out.
– WWE suffered a big blow last week when a full medical evaluation by neck specialist Dr. Lloyd Youngblood determined that Edge (Adam Copeland) will need to undergo surgery that could sideline him for up to a year. Rhyno (Terry Gerin), who is coming off a serious neck injury that put him on the shelf for a year, is being considered as a possible replacement for Edge in tonight’s six-man match at No Way Out.
Other WWE performers who have undergone similar surgery include Steve Austin, Chris Benoit, Lita and Bob Holly. w Plans for the returning Rhyno to be a part of the Ric Flair-led Evolution group have been scrapped.
– Booker T appears to be headed toward a world title match with champion Triple H at Wrestlemania.
– Tommy Dreamer has joined the writing team for Raw. He will continue to work as an in-ring performer.
– Di-Lo Brown is WWE’s latest cut. The company had already released Bull Buchanan, Raven and Justin Credible in the past month.
– Kudos to WWE for a nicely done tribute to the late Curt Hennig on last week’s Smackdown.
Among the more than 2,000 attending his funeral Monday in Coon Rapids, Minn., were Vince and Linda McMahon, Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Jesse Ventura, Verne Gagne, Greg Gagne, The Road Warriors, Rick Steiner, Ken Patera, Masa Saito, Barry Darsow and Baron Von Raschke.
– Tony Altomare, who teamed with Lou Alabno during the ’60 and ’70s as The Sicilians, passed away Thursday from an apparent heart attack at the age of 74.