Everyone is dealt a unique deck of cards at birth. Unfortunately, some decks are stacked more unfairly than others. Despite living with cerebral palsy for almost his entire life, Gregory Iron hasn’t let his disability snuff out his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.
Iron, who is scheduled to team up with Rocky Reynolds and square off against Vince Valor and Marcus Knight during today’s “A Fair Amount of Insanity: Chapter 18” at the Crawford County Fair, was diagnosed shortly after his birth with the disease that has affected the use of his right arm, hand and fingers. However, he has become an inspiration to many, including those in his profession, in his fight to compete in the ring.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy is a “group of disorders that affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture” that is cause by “abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control his or her muscles.” Some of those diagnosed with the disease experience seizures, vision, speech or hearing problems and, in the most devastating cases, are wheelchair-bound. Iron considers himself fortunate for being spared from the most unfortunate effects of having the disease.
“In my case, I got a little lucky where it doesn’t limit me too much,” Iron said. “It’s mostly just in my (right) arm. I walk a little bit with a limp, but, for the most part, I can run, jump and lift weights.”
Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy about 10 months into his life, Iron didn’t see himself as different relative to the other children his age while growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He did things that every other kid did, such as watching Saturday morning cartoons, like the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Power Rangers.”
It wasn’t until elementary school, where Iron was bullied and teased, when he got the “sense that (he) was different.”
“I dealt with a lot of bullying,” Iron said. “Kids were calling me ‘retarded,’ ‘a gimp’ or ‘cripple.’ That obviously had a very negative impact on me, and I took that to heart. On top of that, I didn’t have the best home life. My mom and dad were constantly at odds. I was basically bullied from a young age, and was trying to figure out this disability that makes me different.”
Even with all of the negativity surrounding him, coinciding with his fight with cerebral palsy, Iron was able to find solace in pro wrestling, which was introduced to him by his grandmother. The two shared a mutual love for the sport and Hulk Hogan in particular. However, their bond transcended wrestling, as Iron credited his grandmother with helping him “escape” from his troubles at school and at home.
“My grandma was a big Hulk-a-maniac, and she knew the situation at my house with my mom and dad,” Iron said. “She got me into drawing, which helped me unleash my artistic side. She really kept me focused, as far as needing to get good grades and not pay attention to what people say. I think more important than anything else, just knowing that I had her love and support really kept me going through a lot of bad stuff in my life.”
Bone cancer tragically ended his grandmother’s life when Iron was just eight years old. At her funeral, Iron placed a Hulk Hogan action figure in his grandmother’s casket as a symbol of their shared love, and he made the commitment to keep her legacy going.
“It sucked because she was kind of the glue that held my family together, and I know that she was the glue that held me together, for sure,” Iron said. “I remember a lot of the older people looking at (the Hulk Hogan action figure) like it was weird or something, or looking at me like I was weird. But, I don’t think anyone understood the bond that we had as far as wrestling goes. I think that was the moment where I really latched on to wrestling. I didn’t know how I was going to be a part of it, but I knew that it was something that my grandma felt very strongly about.”
With his grandmother passed away, Iron found another source of inspiration when he was 16 years old. In 2003, Iron came across WWE wrestler Zach Gowen, who made it in professional wresting despite losing one of his legs to cancer. Figuring if someone could thrive in the sport with only leg, Iron believed he could do the same with essentially one arm.
“When I saw (Gowen), it was the first time in my life that I thought that I could do something athletic with having cerebral palsy,” Iron said.
Iron began to get his body into shape and seriously pursued professional wrestling, despite the doubt and skepticism surrounding him from the people closest to him. Nevertheless, Iron began training at a wrestling school in Cleveland under Johnny Gargano. Most of his sessions with Gargano were one-on-one due to many others students not showing up to class. Because of that, Iron and Gargano’s student-teacher relationship evolved into a brotherhood.
“We started traveling the roads together,” Iron said. “We pushed each other in the gym, at wrestling shows and he really became a big motivating factor for me. Johnny always told me that if I couldn’t figure out a conventional way of doing something because of my disability, to see if there’s a way to do it a differently. That always pushed me to keep going. He was the one who really motivated me to keep traveling and doing shows, even when we’re both losing money, he had such a positive mindset. Eventually, the cream will rise to the top and that’s very true. Now, he is in WWE and, I’ve been able to work with some of the biggest superstars of all time.”
Although it took Iron five years before he started making a profit from wrestling, Iron kept his nose to the grindstone. He trained, watched hours of film and became a true student of the sport.
Iron experienced what he describes as “the biggest moment of (his) life” in July of 2016 during a show in Chicago. The WWE champion at the time, CM Punk, made a surprise appearance at the show and went into the ring to publicly endorse Iron. The champion told Iron that he was “nothing but an inspiration.” CM Punk and fellow wrestler Colt Cabana then hoisted him on their shoulders for a lap around the ring, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd. In that moment, Iron couldn’t hold back the tears, feeling that his pursuit of professional wrestling and his entire life had been “justified.”
“It was very surreal,” Iron said. “It wasn’t just a culmination or just a big career moment, it was the biggest moment of my life because it really proved to me, and, I think in a lot of ways, the world, that if you do love something and you are passionate about something, eventually, things will turn out okay. To have the best wrestler in the world, at that time, come out and say that I was good justified every struggle that I had ever been through, the disability and the bad childhood. I think that was the moment that I knew for sure that this was it for me. This was going to keep me going.”
With CM Punk’s endorsement, Iron’s career began to take off. The video of the endorsement went viral, which led to feature stories written by ESPN and Sports Illustrated. Iron has since been on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s podcast multiple times, and has toed the ring with many WWE superstars, including the Crawford County Fair headliner, Gangrel.
More importantly, Iron has been given the platform to help those who struggle with not only cerebral palsy, but any sort of obstacle in life. And the best part is, he’s been able to do so alongside his childhood hero, Gowen.
Iron first met Gowen at a show when he was 19. As Iron recalled, he asked Gowen for advice but his hero was “very mean” to him which “threw him off.” After Gowen heard of CM Punk’s endorsement, he reached out to Iron to apologize for his actions in their first encounter and offered to team up in the ring.
“What I didn’t understand at the time (of their first encounter) was that Zach was very much addicted to drugs,” Iron said. “Somehow Zach got my phone number gave me a call. He told me that my story really affected him in a positive way. He felt so bad about how he treated me that it made him cry. He apologized to me and said that he was in a different place in his life at that point. He just got out of rehab and he was trying to turn his life around. As a kid, when I was feeling my lowest, Zach inspired me to be a wrestler. Then, as an adult, when Zach was feeling his lowest and thought that maybe he couldn’t continue with wrestling, my story inspired him to keep going.”
Known now as The Handicapped Heroes, Iron and Gowen not only perform together in the ring, but they also travel around to schools, corporate events and more to share their stories and help others who may be experiencing any sort of struggle in life.
“The sum is greater than the parts,” Iron said of working with Gowen. “What he can’t do with two legs I can, and what I can’t do with two arms, he can. Putting that together and being able to translate our story physically and verbally to crowds, allowed us to feel a stronger connection than anything we had individually. We go into schools and work with youth and share our stories of overcoming the odds and drug addiction and bullying to become the superstars that we’ve become.”
Iron is excited to return to the Youth Show Arena ring today at the Crawford County Fair. When he competed in the main event against Bill Collier a few years ago, he believes he had “one of the best matches” of his career.
Now, in teaming up with Rocky Reynolds, he is confident that the duo will be able to give some powerful takeaways to not just wrestling fans, but everyone in attendance.
“All in all, top to bottom, I think it’s going to be a great card,” Iron said of today’s show. “I think there is something for everybody. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, I think there are going to be some stories and some messages that transcend wrestling.”