Warhead proves to be Deathproof
BOB KAPUR - SLAM! Wrestling
For most people, being hit with light tubes, carved up with barbed wire, and set on fire would seem like a living hell. Not the case for Chad Gowing, better known by Ontario wrestling fans as Warhed. Compared with the living hell of a crippling mental illness, everything else seems like a walk in the park.
Now, a year after beating the illness that plagued him with constant suicidal thoughts and ultimately had him institutionalized, Gowing is back, fully focused and more importantly, embracing life again. Nowhere is this new attitude more reflected than in the name of his new hardcore wrestling promotion -- Deathproof.
"That's how I feel," he told SLAM! Wrestling, "after going through everything I did. Wrestling got me through it -- wrestling is my rehab."
Wrestling always played a big part of Gowing's life, starting when he was in grade school in his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, where he still lives today.
"Ever since I first saw it on TV," he recalled, "after that, every birthday I would ask for tickets to wrestling. I saw Hogan vs Earthquake in Hamilton in a stretcher match -- that was awesome. I was about five years old."
His love of wrestling continued to grow, and he soon started incorporating wrestling more and more into his life, frequently getting into trouble as a result.
"In Grade 8, I picked up my friend by the neck for a chokeslam and I got sent to the principal's office. He thought I did it as discriminations against Asians, but I had to explain that I was just doing a move on a buddy of mine. In high school," he laughed, "I was doing a project on Macbeth where I powerbombed a guy through a table, right there in front of the class. I couldn't get enough of wrestling."
As a teenager, Gowing was introduced to Ontario wrestler Mike O'Shea, and shortly thereafter started training to become a wrestler.
"Back then, in the early 2000s, (O'Shea's company) OPW was really the only company in town, so I was getting a lot of gigs. But I think I started doing shows too early -- I wasn't trained in a ring but on judo mats, and I didn't understand psychology, didn't know how to chain wrestle. Mike taught me as much as he could. Eventually, I switched and started training under 'Showtime' Eric Young. I was there for two months until I got hurt."
"One week, I took a move and landed straight on my head. I couldn't move my neck for days. The next week, we were doing the same move, and I saw that the same thing was happening. So I put my arm out to break my fall, and popped my elbow an inch out of place. I couldn't turn my wrist for six months." Slamming his arm down repeatedly on the table to demonstrate how his wrist stays straight, he laughed. "See how my wrist never snaps forward?" he asked. "My arm doesn't fully extend anymore, I can't get it straight."
It was around this time that Gowing gained an appreciation for hardcore deathmatch wrestling.
"Back when I was training, O'Shea and myself went to the ECW show they held in Mississauga. At the RF Video merchandise table, they had a videotape of Big Japan's greatest death matches. I'd never seen that kind of thing before in my life. I sat and watched six hours of the stuff straight after the ECW show."
While he was anxious to adopt that style himself, he was hampered by the Ontario Athletic Commission rules that governed the sport at the time. Eventually, though, those went away, and Warhed started specializing in the ultra-violence. He made his name primarily working for PWA, frequently headlining their shows in Kitchener. His violent style earned him a lot of fans, and possibly just as many injuries.
"I've never broken a bone," he said proudly while showing off some of his other battle scars. "I've popped all the ligaments in my neck. I've dislocated my thumb, dislocated my elbow, my hip, and my shoulder -- it doesn't sit right anymore, it's completely out of place. But never broken a bone."
While many would have called it quits in light of these injuries, Gowing had no intentions of taking a break.
"The adrenaline rush you get from being in front a live crowd, getting the reactions," he explained as his motivation. "Adrenaline mixed with pain, that's my favourite drug. There's nothing that I can think of that I wouldn't try. I've taken barbed wire, glass, a weed whacker, been put through a flaming table and caught fire. At some point, I want to try a razor blade chair," he said, causing his girlfriend Marisa to flinch (not an easy task, as she herself is also an experimenter in pushing the limits of pain, with multiple facial piercings, a forked tongue, and who once was suspended in the air by hooks pierced through her back). "You know the typical folding chair with the padding? Basically, you take a folding chair, and in the padding, put in a razor blade with the sharp side facing out. That's going to happen some day."
As it turned out, the only thing that came close to stopping him from continuing with the carnage -- and indeed, from stopping him from everything else -- was his own mind.
"At the end of 2008," he said, his voice choking at the memory, "something happened, I don't know what. I just started feeling weird. I noticed I wasn't feeling happy at all, even wrestling wasn't making me happy. And I had these f---ing weird thoughts going through my head. Every single day for eight months, my brain kept telling me that I wanted to die."
"Imagine having a thought like, 'I can't wait to go home and have a beer.' Now imagine having that thought three times a minute, for every minute of every hour of the day. Now imagine having that same thought, but the thought is, "I need to buy a gun and kill myself with it.' I had no fucking idea why I was having those thoughts," he said, blinking back the tears. "Who knows why my brain did that?"
The doctor's diagnosis was that Gowing was suffering from major depression and was bi-polar. This came as a complete shock to Gowing, given that he had no history of mental illness in his family. More frustrating was that the doctors could not determine what had triggered the illness, so finding a cure would prove to be difficult.
The problems got so bad that Gowing wasn't even able to escape the mental stress by doing what he loved to do in the ring. Getting through every match was problematic given his constant suicidal thoughts.
"I still wrestled, but my heart wasn't in it. I wrestled Bill Skullion, and, honestly, I was hoping that he would kill me right there."
Ultimately, he hit rock bottom.
"I was in the garage, standing on a chair with a noose around my neck. I guess there was this small part of me, maybe 2% of my mind that was telling me not to do it. I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what Eddie Osbourne is up to'. I called him up and told him that I really need just to hang out with someone that night. There was that single beam of light. 98% of my mind was saying to go through with it, what else do you have to live for?".
Shortly thereafter, Gowing checked himself into a mental institution to try to exorcise the demons that had been plaguing his mind for the past eight months. Only a few hours after checking in, he found that experience to be just as unpleasant as what he had been going through.
"The room they put me in, it looked like a jail cell. It was small, with a bed and a desk, a door with a small window with bars on it, and outside all I could see was a brick wall. The doctor kept telling me that I had to take this medication. There was this medicine called Novoflaxine which made me want to kill someone. It made me extremely violent. Of course, I'm violent as Warhed, but that's controlled violence, everything that I do is safe, for the most part. But with this, I told my doctor, ‘Fix my problem, or I'm going to murder someone.' He said, ‘If you murder someone, you'll go to jail.' And I told him, ‘At least I'll get the help I need.'"
"My family doctor had said that if he could have prescribed me medical marijuana, he would have, because that was the only thing that could distract my brain. It made me happy -- instead of thinking of killing myself, my brain would be like, ‘Hey, a video game! Sweet!' But this guy said I couldn't smoke pot, all I could take was the medication, and then he even tried to triple the dosage."
Faced with that option, Gowing decided to take matters into his own hands.
"I didn't even stay there for one night. I walked out, headed over to my buddy's place, smoked a bowl, and called my mom to come and pick me up. After that day, I stopped taking all of the medication -- I was on five different things that were supposed to stabilize my mood. As soon as I stopped taking all of that, and after withdrawal for about three weeks, everything went away. All the suicidal thoughts disappeared."
Free of the madness, Gowing decided to take his family doctor's advice and celebrate. From there, the idea of Deathproof Wrestling was born.
"I told my family doctor that I had left," he beamed, "and he said, ‘That's great. That's great that you're feeling better. Now go out and celebrate. Get your friends and have a party, do something that you really want to do.' We started thinking about that what meant. Wrestling and beer. I remember, it was a Tuesday, and I got the idea to run the show on the following Sunday."
With little time to plan it, Gowing and his friends managed to pull off what has been reported by the 20 invitation-only fans who attended as a stellar deathmatch offering. More importantly for Gowing, the show was such a good time, he decided to run two more in the following few months.
Tonight's show, which takes place at the Cowboy Bar in Guelph, Ontario, marks the company's first public show. While Gowing won't reveal everything that fans will have in store, he does promise that it will be a thrilling night worthy of the ‘Hardcore' billing. If history is any indication, fans can expect a healthy dose of violence (during one of the previous shows, one competitor suffered three cracked ribs, a concussion, and a fractured thumb), and sex (a billed match is an extreme pillow fight featuring female porn stars).
"Sex and violence ... what more could fans want?" hyped Gowing. "There's going to be a barbed wire match, a six-way tables match, and the porn stars. It's a 19-plus show, and that's what those fans want to see."
"I know it's controversial," he acknowledged about the planned graphic nature of the show. "But I know that there's a market for hardcore wrestling. I know there are people out there who want to see this. High spots for no reason, crazy action with weapons. I just want to bring that to the market, and prove to all the naysayers that it can be done. I've been (crapped) on my entire career, but it hasn't stopped me yet."
"Bloodthirsty" Bob Kapur will be attending the Deathproof show tonight. E-mail him at email@example.com.