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Ottawa pro wrestler Devon Nicholson continues his battle against Hepatitis C
By TIM BAINES - Ottawa Sun


Ottawa pro wrestler Devon Nicholson (Tim Baines, Ottawa Sun)

Devon Nicholson has been hit in the head by chairs too many times to count.

It took 52 stitches to patch up his face when he was cracked with a coffee pot, he's had concussions, plenty of aches and pains ... but all the hurt the world of professional wrestling could lay on him pales to the battle he's now fighting.

Nicholson, who lives in Orléans with his girlfriend Laura, has Type 2 Hepatitis C, a virus that could kill him. He says he got it in the wrestling ring, maybe as a result of being "bladed."

This isn't a stunt to promote a storyline. There's no nudge and wink involved.

Nicholson, who wrestled as Hannibal, says it's very real. Nearly four years ago, June 23, he found out the virus was active. A bit more than a year later, he was told the 24-week treatment, cut short after 19 weeks because of side effects, had failed. He was devastated.


"Wrestling is a contact sport," he said. "It's an athletic performance, working with your opponent to put on a show. It's rough, but you're not trying to hurt the other individual. You're not going into a match consenting to the risk of death. And you're not going into a match expecting to be cut with a razor blade with (your opponent's) blood on it."

Nicholson has filed a $6.5-million lawsuit against Larry Shreve (Abdullah the Butcher), who has denied being responsible. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Initially, Nicholson was told he couldn't get any new treatment for five years. On the advice of former wrestler Superstar Billy Graham, he kept looking for anything that could help. He got a liver biopsy.

"It was torturous," said Nicholson, 30. "The doctor had one of those giant needles you see in movies. They inject freezing into your liver and they pull two chunks of your liver out of you. It basically feels like you've been shot, then like you've done a couple of thousand situps."

He began another round of treatments, kicking it off with Incivek, a drug that left him reeling.

"The first 12 weeks with Incivek was probably by far the most horrible 12 weeks of my life," said Nicholson. "It causes horrible itching. It feels like there's a bug under your skin. The last two weeks on Incivek, I don't know how I did it. I was to the point where I was thinking, 'I cannot take this anymore.' The only thing that prevented me from taking drastic measures was the knowledge it was almost over."

When he began treatment, he was more than 280 pounds -- he's now in the 230s. This round of 36 weeks of treatments is supposed to end at the end of June. Now on Interferon and Fibavirin, he's been testing negative for seven months, but won't know if he's cured for a few more months.

He knows there are risks in wrestling -- guys wrestling for $20 in front of a hundred fans want the bright lights and fame that goes with WWE. Performing in the big-league of professional wrestling was long a dream, almost an obsession. Over 10 years, Nicholson had 14 tryouts, one that included half an hour in the ring with The Undertaker.

In a match against Abdullah, in front of 4,000 fans at the Civic Centre, in his hometown, Nicholson agreed to have a coffee pot smashed into his head.

"It felt like someone had taken a blow torch and blasted my head with it, then poured a bucket of hot water on top of it," said Nicholson. "I was young, it was a big crowd, I wanted to entertain. Wrestling is more real than people understand. Risks are accepted."

Nicholson hopes he's beaten back his death sentence.

"I can't think, 'Why Me?' I think, 'How the hell can I fight through this?' I couldn't do this without my family, girlfriend and the doctors."

If ... when ... he gets through this, Nicholson, who worked as a personal trainer and in a group home, has something to prove.

"I know I'm going to accomplish greater things," he said. "I have to do something great in athletics to show people that you can be down, but you're never out. If you fight hard enough and believe in yourself, you can accomplish great things and overcome obstacles. If I get cured, I can guarantee I will do something great. I am driven."

MAT MATTERS

Fight Game: Nicholson has wrestled Sycho Sid, Terry Funk, Honky Tonk Man, Kevin Nash, Tommy Dreamer, Brutus Beefcake, Lanny Poffo and James Storm.

Movie Star: This is Hannibal, a film about him, won three awards in the documentary short category at the Los Angeles Movie Awards.

1-on-4: Nicholson was 17 and the Canadian amateur wrestling champ when he had his first pro match in Calgary, taking on four opponents in a handicap match.

RELATED LINKS

  • Hannibal / Devon Nicholson story archive

    Ontario Newspaper Award-winning Sports Columnist Tim Baines has been with the Ottawa Sun since its birth in 1988. The Sun's long-time Sports Editor, Baines moved into the Sports Columnist job in April of 2012.