December 1, 2013
by Trapper Tom, Ring Announcer/Wrestling Journalist
At the ripe old age of 20, Zach Gowen was out of a job. It wasn’t any ordinary gig. He had been on television with “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan and Pittsburgh’s own Olympic hero Kurt Angle. The greatest wrestling villain of all time (as per a WWE poll), “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, had pulled Gowen’s prosthetic leg off in front of a horrified packed house and countless fans watching at home. That dastardly move put Gowen was in various high-profile matches with some of the biggest names of that or any other era. Then, in early 2004 he lost to Tajiri and was soon gone from WWE.
For many young wrestlers who had so much so soon, chances are fans would never see someone like Zach Gowen again. Then something remarkable happened. “I found myself unemployed and depressed and lost,” said Gowen in an email conversation recently. “By 26 I found myself living a lifestyle I couldn't maintain any longer and some drastic changes had to be made or I was going to die, plain and simple. I didn't want to die. So I got the help I so desperately needed and dove back into my passion and love (wrestling) and have been open to any and all possibilities since.”
Gowen had his left leg amputated at age 8 due to cancer. As many young men do, he loved professional wrestling and decided at 16 he was going to enter the sport, despite the perceived disability. At first he tried to use the prosthetic he uses in everyday life, but ultimately found it too cumbersome in the ring. After training in and around his hometown of Detroit, he made his debut on March 16, 2002. Under the name Tenacious Z, he made his way to TNA a year later. Less than a year after that he was on WWE TV. Just as suddenly, it was all gone.
By his own admission, drugs and subsequent homelessness knocked him down a few pegs, but Gowen was never out. Since that time, Gowen has cleaned up his life, has worked constantly on the independent pro wrestling scene and has made a different anywhere he’s gone.
In the January 6, 2013 edition of the New York Times, Gowen was credited with helping to inspire Otis Hampton, a 22-year-old with cerebral palsy. It’s a scenario often echoed for Gowen. “I've done stunt work on major motion pictures and more recently have launched a public speaking career where I go into schools and I share my story with kids in hopes of planting some seeds of inspiration. Life is incredible.”
Gowen will face the zany and unorthodox “Jester” at KSWA FanFest/Toy Drive on Saturday, December 7 at the Home of Professional Wrestling in Pittsburgh, the KSWA Arena. Bell time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are only $5 and fans are encouraged to bring a new toy benefitting the Allegheny County “Holiday Project.” Since the partnership began six years ago, thousands of toys have been given to needy children throughout the region.
“I love Pittsburgh because the city has always been incredibly kind to me and receptive to my story and message, he said. “I love that fans bring some many toys for the needy. That speaks to the quality and character of the Pittsburgh fans. I believe we are here on Earth not to dominate or impose or will in every situation, but we're here to help each other. I've certainly received more help than I deserve throughout my life, so to me it's an obligation to give back to maintain that sense of gratitude and oneness with the universe. I feel like the KSWA fans and I are cut from the same cloth.”
It was during one of those Pittsburgh-area visits that Gowen was nearing another milestone in his life. On April 29, 2012 Gowen was in town for the last Deaf Wrestlefest, fretting over his fiancé’s pregnancy. Nolan Matthew Gowen was born May 7, 2012. “Being a father has been an experience. Having a baby teaches you a lot about yourself. Lots of very important lessons on patience, responsibility, love. So many opportunities for growth. I'm grateful I can be a present dad of sound mind, body, and spirit for my son. Something I never had growing up. It's beautiful.”
Gowen continually finds positives and isn’t afraid to speak openly about his faith. “Faith to me is everything. I've lived my whole life with this softball sized knot of fear in my gut and I gotta tell you, that's no way to live. It's awful. The opposite of fear is faith, the more faith I have, the less fear I'm filled with. So the most important thing I can do on a daily basis is to maintain that spiritual connection I have with God because I get my faith from that connection. I'm of no good use to myself or anyone when that connection is lost, that's just the facts.”
While Gowen is one of the busiest, most in-demand wrestlers on the Independent scene in the country, fans inevitably ask him about a return to the WWE. He sees bigger aspirations. “I don't see myself going anywhere. And by that I mean, God has more in store for me than my little mortal designs and plans. Every day I do the next right thing, whatever that looks like, and I'm taken care of. Trust God, clean house, help others. That's where I see myself going from here.”
Gowen is also eager about meeting “Luscious” Johnny Valiant at KSWA FanFest this Saturday Night. “I can't wait to meet the legend himself. He's had an amazing career and I hope some of his shine rubs off on me. I couldn't be more excited. This is the best part of wrestling for me...to be able to interact and work with my childhood heroes. It's going to be an amazing event!” You can follow Zach Gowen on Facebook and Twitter @zachgowen.
Also at FanFest, a Four-Corners Tag Team match (winners get a tag team title shot also that night), the Five-Star Gauntlet Match for the 5-Star Title, and the KSWA Heavyweight and Golden Triangle Championships are on the line with “Dr. Devastation” Lou Martin defends the most important Single’s Title in the Commonwealth against “The Future” Shane Starr. Card subject to change.