If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the saying “Don’t meet your heroes, you’ll just be disappointed” isn’t always correct. Recently, at an independent wrestling show in Rahway, NJ run by Pro Wrestling Syndicate (PWS) I was fortunate enough to meet someone I’d definitely call a hero of mine – Zach Gowen. I met one of the Handicapped Heroes.
(Gowen, in his WWE Days)
Now, some of you may have a limited memory or idea of who Zach is based on what portion of his career you remember him from. Do you think of TNA? WWE? The independent circuit? A year ago, if you’d asked me about Zach Gowen I’d have probably talked about his run in the WWE. Now, if you ask me about him, you’ll get a fan-girl rant about how amazing he is, all the battles he’s faced and how he continues to work hard every day to improve himself and help uplift those around him.
When Zach was eight years old he felt a pain in his left leg, one that did not improve as doctors said it would and a pain that was ultimately an overlooked symptom of the cancerous tumor growing there. Zach had broken his leg and the doctor’s attributed the pain to that, even though it hurt more and more as time went on, even while in the cast.
So, because doctor had failed to recognize his complaints as something to look into further when the day came for Zach’s cast to be removed his leg swelled up tremendously and, only then, did the doctor’s believe Zach’s complaints. This lack of belief in the words of a (self-admitted) hyperactive eight year-old meant that when it was finally found that there was a tumor in Zach’s leg it was, for all intents and purposes, too late. Zach’s left leg was amputated shortly thereafter.
At eight years old Zach himself says (on his DVD) that he was lucky to have this happen to him so young, so that he had his entire life ahead of him to learn how to live and thrive with only one leg. Zach’s diagnosis and the result of the amputation and rounds of chemotherapy did not dampen his spirits but challenged him to only be better than before.
Growing up, with his parents divorced, Zach found solace from his feelings of not fitting in by watching wrestling, a sport he was determined to become a part of. He would watch wrestling whenever he could and his love for the sport grew and he told himself that he could, and would do it.
Zach found an ally in Truth Martini, who helped train him and in March of 2002, Truth helped put Zach over in his first professional wrestling match as Zach picked up the win over his mentor. Truth’s contribution’s to Zach’s success cannot be oversold, he is someone who saw Zach’s potential and desire and worked with him to improve his craft and to find ways to pull off moves most people would say a one-legged wrestler never could.
Zach was given the chance to wrestle in a TNA dark match (along with Truth Martini) in an effort to get his name out there to the big promotions. The pair put on such a spectacular match that TNA wanted to sign Zach immediately but Truth gave Zach some advice – wait. Truth said that the way people were talking about the match WWE would hear about it soon. Sure enough, WWE came knocking and after signing a deal with WWE Zach made his debut as a “planted fan” on the May 15, 2003 episode of SmackDown!.
When Mr. America (Hulk Hogan) was being attacked by Rowdy Roddy Piper and Sean O’Haire the camera’s zoomed out as Zach jumped the barricade and entered the ring, striking Piper and O’Haire with a large American Flag before being tackled to the mat. Piper went to pull Zach further into the ring when, shocker, Zach’s prosthetic came off. Piper’s face is priceless as he stares around, shocked at what he’d done, and O’Haire (disgusted with Piper) departs the ring. Piper lays the leg on the mat and exists quickly. (See the moment here.)
At Judgement Day, 2003, Zach appeared in his first pay-per-view. With Piper and O’Haire in the ring Mr. America walked out, carrying a chair to the ring. Mr. America would hype up the crowd and take a microphone as he looked at Piper and O’Haire, staring them down, daring them to get into the ring. Then, Mr. America began to speak.
“You know something, Piper? This chair is for a very good friend of mine. I want all the maniacs out there to welcome a real American and his name is Zach Gowen, brother, come on out!” – Mr. America, Judgement Day, 2003
Zach would join Mr. America and sit ringside for the match. Mr. America would pick up the win, with the help of Zach who kept Mr. McMahon from entering the ring and interrupting the pin fall. This would lead to Zach’s own feud with Mr. McMahon.
McMahon told Zach that if he joined McMahon’s “Kiss My Ass” club that Zach would be given a WWE contract. Instead of joining the club Zach low-blowed McMahon in retaliation. This would result in Zach teaming with Stephanie McMahon against The Big Show in what Mr. McMahon called the first “real” handicap match (because of Zach’s amputation and the two vs. one stipulation of the match). The deal was that if Zach and Stephanie won, Zach would have a contract. However, with some help from Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, Zach hit The Big Show with his trademark one-legged moonsault to pick up the win.
(Zach, with Stephanie McMahon, after winning his contract)
Zach would battle with Mr. McMahon for a while longer before facing other challengers and a brief feud with Matt Hardy before facing off with Brock Lesnar who would (in storyline) break Zach’s right leg, confining him to a wheelchair. This lead to Lesnar pushing Zach (wheelchair and all) down a flight of stairs before being off television for a month before returning in October where he would reignite his feud with Matt Hardy. This would culminate in Zach winning over Hardy at the No Mercy pay-per-view. Zach would then begin a brief feud with Tajiri and his friends before being injured and pulled from television. He would not return to WWE programming before being released from his contract.
(Author’s Note: Part 2 of the Career and Legacy of Zach Gowen coming next week.)
Tags: Brock Lesnar, Gregory Iron, Hulk Hogan, Hush, Kiss My Ass Club, Kurt Angle, Matt Hardy, Mr. America, Roddy “Rowdy” Piper, Sean O'Haire, Stephanie McMahon, Tajiri, the big show, The Handicapped Heroes, Throwback Thursday, Truth Martini, VInce McMahon, Zach Gowen