Nothing rolls a jaded fan’s eyes more than the tired trope of John Cena ‘overcoming the odds.’ He’s a millionaire with a clothing line that could fill most dead-space sections of your local mall. If fans were aching to witness a true slayer of life’s randomly cruel adversity, they need look no further than a 5’5″ optimist named Gregory Iron.
The Cleveland native was born one-month premature in 1986 with cerebral palsy, and weighed just one pound at birth. The condition took its most noticeable toll on his right arm, which was left withered, his fingers virtually frozen in an irregular pose.
Getting turned onto wrestling by his grandmother, herself a fan of the iconic Hulk Hogan, Iron made the daring leap toward a career between the ropes. While the giants slain by “The Hulkster” were in on the act, Iron’s organic opponent was less cooperative.
“Wrestling with a cerebral palsy, the biggest obstacle while training was figuring out my strengths and weaknesses,” Iron says, years later. “My right side has very limited mobility, particularly in my arm and hand, but it’s also evident in my leg as well.”
“Getting trained by Johnny Gargano made it more difficult in a way. Not that he was a bad trainer, but he would come to practice each week with two or three new moves, I thought I needed to do the same. I guess Johnny and I were learning together how to make my disability work. Less moves, more transitions, and a thorough understanding of in-ring psychology. It helped immensely.”
In November 2007, sixteen months into Iron’s improbable run as an actual in-ring performer, he would go over mentor Gargano in a locally-televised match on Sports Time Ohio.
Cerebral palsy had made it onerous to learn the physical trade of being a grappler. Dealing with the physical toll was an uphill battle unto itself; Iron once spent several days in ICU after a series of suplexes induced bleeding on his brain.
Still, sympathetic and curious crowds yearned to see this young man spit in the face of fate. A partnership with fellow-disabled wrestler, the one-legged Zach Gowen, has proven quite popular. Officially known together as ‘The Handicapped Heroes’, Iron and Gowen dually serve to astound and inspire.
It was on July 23, 2011 that Iron’s improbable journey would receive the most ringing of endorsements.
After tag-teaming with indy cornerstone Colt Cabana at an event in Berwyn, IL, Iron found himself spellbound. Cabana had facilitated a surprise appearance from his best friend, then-WWE Champion CM Punk, who was on a penned exodus from the conglomerate, while holding the company gold.
Punk took to the ring and professed his respect and admiration for Iron, and all he’d overcome just to be able to pursue a dream.
“It was emotional; I have admired them both for a long time,” Iron remembers. “For years, I had written Colt for advice, and he’d always assisted me, but I wouldn’t say that were close friends or anything. He orchestrated that whole moment with Punk for me, without my knowledge.”
“Honestly, that moment with Punk and Cabana in Chicago, in the center of the ring, was the crowning achievement of my whole life. It made all the obstacles that I’ve overcome over the years 100% worth it.”
Since that glorious moment, Iron received recognition from the mainstream press. FOX News Channel’s “FOX and Friends” had him on for a live interview. In 2012, Iron helped Cleveland news anchor Chris Van Vliet win a local Emmy for a profile piece entitled, “An Iron Will.”
With newfound celebrity stemming from his touching the hearts of many, Iron found his own heart warming with the inspirational tales of others.
“There have been so many fans that have touched me over the years. Many write me very heartfelt things on Facebook and Twitter, and I try to reply to every single one.”
“There are those that stand out in person, like superfan Jill Dials, a girl from Ohio with spina bifida. She’s in a wheelchair, and her dream was to be a valet in wrestling. I am happy to say that Zach and I surprised her and allowed her to manage us last December.”
For Iron, who knows all too well about unforgiving circumstances, he’s all too happy to lead others down his beaten path.
“That’s what wrestling is all about. It’s about creating those moments for people that transcend pro wrestling. Most people that view wrestling are looking for an escape from the harshness of reality. I know that feeling. Guys like Hulk Hogan did that for me as a kid, and Cabana and Punk did that for me as a 24 year old man. I just want to give that same feeling to others.”
Iron now finds himself contributing to a cause of resurrection, in the form of Extreme Rising. A spiritual successor to the long-since-depulsed ECW, Extreme Rising kicked off in 2012, morphing into a hybrid of ECW’s past (Sabu, Rhino, Stevie Richards, not to mention WWE Attitude Era mainstay Matt Hardy) and the most compelling young stars that the big companies have missed out on (Luke Hawx, Papadon, and Facade).
Beginning February 8 in Pittsburgh, Iron partners up with the closest thing to ECW that exists today, and he’s more than thrilled.
With each passing day, the 27-year-old Gregory Iron continues defying the odds, all with a playful smile on his face.
“I’m enjoying every minute of my wrestling career. Whether it’s teaming with Zach Gowen, Veda Scott, or working on my own, I feel like I’m continuing to carve out a great career in professional wrestling.”
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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