By Mike Mooneyham
March 5, 2006
Second of two parts
It had nothing to do with championships. It really had little to do with wrestling. What it did have to do with was something much more important.
On the evening of Feb. 8, Matt Cappotelli walked to the middle of the ring at Louisville’s Davis Arena and told fans of his condition. It was his first Ohio Valley Wrestling appearance since being diagnosed with brain cancer.
OVW booker Paul Heyman and co-owner Danny Davis had given the young champion an open forum to say and do whatever he wanted. Unlike the scripts, storylines and matches that preceded, this segment was for real. It was a shoot, straight from the heart, and Cappotelli was given carte blanche as the entire OVW crew gathered around the ring, heels and babyfaces holding hands in a show of unity.
Few, however, knew exactly what was to come.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Cappotelli doesn’t even remember how long his emotional speech lasted; he only recalls there being about 25 minutes left in the show. He also remembers Heyman approaching him and telling him the rest of the show was his.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” says Cappotelli, who told the audience how his faith in Jesus Christ would sustain him. “It was totally unscripted and unrehearsed. It meant a lot for me to let everyone know what was happening. It’s hard to differentiate between reality and storylines and such, but I hope there was that much of a division to where everyone could feel what was going on.”
The 26-year-old led the arena in prayer and expressed his love for professional wrestling. Members of the OVW roster offered words of support as the crowd of nearly 400 chanted “We love you, Matt.”
By the time he was finished 20 minutes later, there were very few dry eyes in the house.
“It was from the heart,” he says. “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I thought I was going to be able to hold it together, but the emotion of the whole night got to me. Just seeing everybody out there … It was a very difficult thing to do.”
Afterwards, Heyman was visibly moved by Cappotelli’s heartfelt speech, saying, “It was surreal. It was amazing. It was divine.”
“The response has been unbelievable,” says Cappotelli. “I’ve gotten e-mails and messages from all over the world. People are sharing their stories and those of family members and friends. I’ve told people dealing with things as bad as I have to keep fighting. I’ve also shared my story with people who were down and out about things they thought were big in their lives, but maybe have since put things in perspective.”
“My relationship with God is my strength,” he adds. “He’s given me complete peace and a level head at a time like this.”
As funny as it may seem, he’s even been given a sense of happiness, he says.
“I know that everything is being done for a purpose. It’s not up to me to question God’s will and decide what that purpose is. It’s up to me to do the best with what I have and to live His will as best I can.”
Keeping the faith
Cappotelli was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor a day before he was scheduled to fly to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., to shoot his debut videos.
It’s been a tough time, says Cappotelli, but he’s had a lot of support. More than anything, though, he’s got his faith.
WWE was so impressed that the company posted the entire speech on its Web site. The exposure has enabled Cappotelli to reach a far wider audience than he ever dreamed of. He sees it as an opportunity to reach many people and to make a real difference.
“My eyes have really been opened to that just from the response I’ve gotten. This is far beyond the reach that I ever thought I’d be able to have through wrestling. You don’t think about a simple video and a little spot on a Web site reaching all over the world and in countries I’ve never even been close to being in. I’ve heard from people from different walks of life who told me they appreciated what I said. A lot are dealing with the same thing I’m dealing with. People who don’t even know me are reaching out.
“From day one, I’ve wanted to make a difference and be a positive figure in sports or entertainment. I really believe I have the opportunity to do that now. And in a different way than a lot of people.”
Cappotelli is still disappointed that side of him wasn’t shown enough during the weekly airings of Tough Enough 3 three years ago. There was even a little bit of heat after the awards ceremony, he says, when he got the chance to quote the Bible and talk about his strong Christian faith.
“That’s what I’m about. It was shielded a bit during Tough Enough. If they weren’t going to let people in on that during the course of the series, it was my opportunity to do it on the live show.” The Tough Enough 3 co-winner has an even bigger chance now. Hundreds of letters and e-mails have poured in since his inspirational speech.
“I don’t want to overwhelm people with my beliefs and Christian talk, but I want people to have that option, and I want to tell them that option is available to them. There’s such peace in it.”
Cappotelli carries one particular verse in his wallet that he likes to share. It’s the one he recited in his speech, from the Book of Acts, which he paraphrases, “I will not fear anything because I know the Lord is right here beside me.”
“No matter what I’m doing, I always know that there’s nothing too big for Him to handle.”
Cappotelli invites those who are experiencing similar problems to share with him. His e-mail address is [email protected].
“I’m not alone. People get dealt whatever hand they get dealt, and they think they have to handle it all by themselves. Whether it’s an addiction or they just got in a fight with their girlfriend, they think that the burden is on them, and it’s really not. You just need to have someone to lean on and to help you out. You can’t do things all on your own.”
A greater purpose
Cappotelli also has been encouraged by well wishers from inside the company. No less than WWE owner Vince McMahon has called – before and after the speech. He told Cappotelli that he was inspired by his story and that the corporation was behind him one hundred percent.
“It made me feel great. It’s very rare that we developmental guys get a chance to speak to the ‘uppers,'” which included Stephanie McMahon, Kevin Dunn and Jim Ross also making calls of support.
“People like that have come out of the woodwork, and it means a lot to me. Paul (Heyman) has been great from day one. When I broke my leg, he kept me involved with OVW television building up my return for the entire three months that I was out. He’s always been a support for me. Jim Cornette also has been very supportive. Everybody’s on different pages a lot of times, but we’ve always found a common ground.”
His parents also have been a source of support and strength.
“They know that I’m confident in what’s going on and with what God is doing. That puts them at peace, too, to know there’s nothing that we can do except pray about it. One way or another, it’s going to be all right.”
Playing from behind is nothing new for him.
“I’ve been behind the eight ball since I was really young. I guess that’s what has driven me as well.”
Matt Cappotelli realizes that he may never be a world champion. He knows there’s a chance that he might not even wrestle again. But his faith is his strength.
“It’s the beginning of the ride. This is so much bigger and important.”