Tag Archives: wrestling

Nick Santonastasso’s indomitable spirit

Because his stubby arm impeded him from doing high school wrestling, Nick Santonastasso amputated it.

“Can I cut off my arm?” he asked his mom and dad.

Kids told him he wouldn’t be able to wrestle competitively. He fired back, “I’ll be on the VARSITY team.”

Born without legs and only one arm, Nick Santonastasson had Christian parents who taught him to not have the mentality of a victim. As a child, he learned not only how to eat and do chores but to ride a skateboard and play football and baseball.

Today, he’s a runner-up for the NPC Iron Bay Classic bodybuilder contest and a sought-after motivational speaker because he gets people to drop their excuses and give their all.

“I was put on this earth to be an example, to show people what they are truly capable of,” Nick says on a Forbes video.

Due to the extremely rare Hanhart syndrome, Nick should have been stillborn. But all his internal organs were fine. He just had his left arm (with one finger), an underdeveloped right arm and no legs.

His mom and dad decided to flout doctors’ endless list of “limitations.” Stacey and Michael Santonastasso of Bayville, New Jersey, didn’t baby him but encouraged him to fend for himself as much as he could.

“My parents told me, Nick, the world is not going to stop for this,” he says on an NPC video. “You’re going to have to figure out to do things Nick’s way. My mom would put a plate a food in front of me and say, Nick, figure it out. Here’s clothes, figure it out. That’s why I’m a beast in my head.”

The Christian faith provided the context of honoring the sanctity of life, of believing everyone has a special purpose in life and teaching a victor’s mentality rather than a victim’s mindset.

Stacey’s website, which promotes her book Born to Break Boundaries says, “Although her faith has been strongly tested, she remains grounded in her Christian beliefs.”

At age two, Nick was left alone in the living room. He pushed his wagon next to the table, clambered onto it, and began to dance to MTV.

He learned to skateboard, riding on his stomach and pushing it forward with his hand. Once it got going, he stood up on it. He even does a handstand. He took plenty of falls while he was learning and had more than his share of scrapes. But his mom didn’t scold him for being adventurous.

He catches the football between his arm and his neck and head. He can throw it and even “runs” plays. He can connect a bat with a ball to play baseball better than his peers.

Because his parents didn’t treat him gingerly, Nick says he didn’t really realize he was “different” until he got called a “cripple” in the third grade. That was his baptism by fire into the cruel world of stares and insensitive comments that left him depressed in junior high.

But by high school he had largely overcome the syndrome of an outcast. He wanted to be on a sports team, so he got on the bowling team his freshman year.

In his sophomore year, he yearned for a bigger challenge. His older brother had done wrestling, so he decided to try out.

Immediately, fellow students felt the need to give him a dose of reality. How are you going to wrestle? You don’t have any legs and only one arm.

“And I’m going to be on the varsity team!” he shot back. Read the rest: Nick Santonastasso wrestled and worked out with one arm and one finger.

Jesus is ‘taking over’ the Undertaker

The Undertaker — WWE’s longest-running and most-heralded villain — has had a major change of heart thanks to his wife Michelle McCool who married him only after “she realized I wasn’t Satan,” he says.

Mark Calaway resisted accompanying his blonde wrestler wife to church because, after 17 surgeries, he didn’t look forward to bowing down at the altar and because he feared “the pastor’s going to see me and he is just going to throw fire and brimstone right me,” he says on a YouTube video.

“I went reluctantly, but once I got there I found myself going from being tense and pensive to kind of leaning in and like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ That started my journey.”

Mark grew up in a Catholic school with nuns enforcing the rules with cracks on the head in Houston, Texas. The 6’10” 309-lb behemoth was drawn to sports, basketball and football, and even played for the Rams in 1985-86 before donning a red mask in the ring in his original guise as Texas Red.

In 1989, he was re-christened “The Master of Pain,” with an invented criminal backstory as a recently-released killer from Atlanta, but by the end of the year he had a new name with a new schtick that stuck: he became The Undertaker, a persona that endured three decades and won 21 straight matches.

All the way, he lived “a life of excess” and cycled through two marriages before he met and married Michelle McCool in 2010. He retired from wrestling in June of 2020 after concussions and injuries made it increasingly difficult to perform on par.

When he saw Michelle McCool, he noticed her terrific work ethic and golden locks.

She wanted nothing to do with him.

“She was truly terrified of me,” Mark says. “She did not want anything to do with me.”

But he wore he down. He also proved to her that the bad guy persona in front of the camera had nothing in common with his heart. Read the rest: The Undertaker is Christian

First he got mugged, then…

mark munoz ufc fighterIn the cage, Mark Munoz is known as the Filipino Wrecking Machine who bested Tim Boetsch after Munoz recovered from a foot injury and depression-induced obesity. Outside, Mark Munoz is the nicest guy in the UFC and a Christian whose life changed when he turned to God.

“You look back on what happened and all the events that happen in your life, and I see God’s hand on it all,” Mark says in a This Is Me video. “And now I can give people hope.”

Mark’s introduction to professional fighting came by way of getting mugged in the 8th grade. Five kids shoe-lace-tackled him from behind, beat and kicked him and stripped him of his Jordans. He walked home barefoot and, ashamed, faked sickness for as long as he could to not go back to school.

“What happened to your J’s,” a friend taunted.

Mark didn’t want to recount his humiliation on the street. But eventually word got out. That’s when a friend, wanting him to learn how to stand up to bullies and young thugs, invited him to train in wrestling, but Mark wanted no part of it.

mark munoz chris weidman“Nah man,” he retorted. “You guys wear tight leotards and touch each other in funny places, man. I’m good.”

His buddy wasn’t going to be denied so quickly. “I bet you I can take you down in 10 seconds,” he challenged.

“Yeah right,” Mark responded. “I’m 150 pounds, and you’re barely 100 pounds. There’s no way you’re going to take me down.”

Mark broke into a fighting stance.

With two seconds, his friend darted in, picked him up and slammed him on his back.

“I’m like, if wrestling gives you superpowers, I want it,” Mark surmised.

What started in the eighth grade carried through to his senior year in high school. Mark became state champion twice, placed second at junior nationals and second at junior worlds, he says. He earned a full-ride scholarship to Oklahoma State University. He was on the national team twice and tried out for the Olympic team.

“But God had different plans,” he says.

He returned to California to study at UC Davis and met Urijah Favor, who introduced him to MMA. At first, Mark wanted no part of professional fighting; he was coaching and had a wife with four kids while getting his master’s degree.

Filipino Wrecking Machine“And probably my wife won’t allow me to do it either,” he told Urijah.

Just like the wrestling friend in eighth grade, Urijah wasn’t going to be denied so quickly.

Mark wound up going to a UFC practice. The “Who’s Who of UFC” at the time were all there. Spontaneously, he got in the ring to spar with Randy Couture, a legend in UFC and former Army sergeant with training in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Mark didn’t know what the MMA techniques were and was trying to learn and incorporate them in the ring.

“I end up snapping Randy Couture’s head back a little bit, and Urijah smacked into my chest and said, ‘See bro, I told you homie, you can do this,’” Mark remembers. Read the rest: Mark Munoz Christian UFC fighter.

Raised in Appalachian family fighting culture, he found peace with God

usa_today_10392817.0Once, Cody almost sliced off his brother’s finger with a knife. On another occasion, his brother punched his ear so hard, it swelled and became a “cauliflower ear.” Another time, they took their squabble outside city limits where they wailed on each other for 45 minutes. This is how Cody Garbrandt became an MMA champion.

But he almost lost a battle with depression until the same brother intervened.

“I almost hung myself,” Cody says on an I am Second video. “He busted down the door and came in and saved my life. He gave me the biggest hug and sat there with me and cried with me. He said everything was going to be all right. That day was a changing point for me in my life. That brought us even closer, you know, attending church together.”

cody-garbrandtCody grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Ohio in small towns where people are as proud of their hometowns as they are poor in the economically depressed areas of Uhrichsville and Denison.

Fighting is a way of life there — especially for the Garbrandt family.

“From both sides of my family, we were fighters.” Cody says. “We had a last name to uphold. Oh you’re from Garbrandt clan or the Mease clan. You don’t mess with those guys.”

He watched his uncle fight, while his grandfather, drunk in the stands, fought with a spectator.

With his brother Zach Garbrandt

“We’d just be sitting there watching it,” he remembers. “That was normal for us.”

Since fighting was “normal,” Cody and his brother Zach made grappling a normal part of sibling rivalries.

“Out of the womb, I was fighting over the bottle,” Cody jokes. “Zach was my fierce competitor. My brother was always bigger, stronger, faster, meaner than me growing up, so that’s why I was always quick to fight: I had something to prove.

“Me and Zach, we fought so many times in our lives. We had some pretty violent fights.”

Once when Zach provoked him to punch him, Cody grabbed a knife in the sink and slashed him, nearly cutting off his middle finger.

0_1218_SPO_LDN-L-UFC-GARBRANT-HG13“I remember he looked at me, wrapped his finger in a paper towel, punched the stove and shattered the whole glass stove and went back to bed,” Cody remembers.

In their last fight, Cody was 17; Zach, 18.

“We ended up fighting over a Subway sandwich,” he recalls.

After Grandma intervened to stop, the brothers jumped in their cars and drove to “the pump house.”

“That’s where we would take out-of-towners to fight,” he says. “We would take them out of city limits where cops wouldn’t go.”

The fight lasted 45 minutes.

“It was always a knock-out, drag-out fight with Zach,” he says. The fights were so fierce it was possible someone might die.

“My knuckles were all cut up, my lip was bloodied, my teeth were all busted up,” he says. “I hit with a right-handed, overhand right. He had the stanky legs like he was walking in potholes. He looked at me with this crazed look, like, ‘Alright, awesome. Cody finally hit me with a nice shot that hurt me.” Read the rest: Cody Garbrandt’s toughest fight.