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In 1993, my last wrestling match in the United States was at SummerSlam in Detroit against Razor Ramon. I could have stayed as long as I wanted in World Wrestling Federation; Vince McMahon and everyone in the company had treated me with the utmost respect. But the travel schedule was wearing on me and I wanted to spend more time at home with my family. I missed my wife and my three sons, Michael, Teddy Jr., and Brett. So I chose to leave to pursue other wrestling opportunities.
After taking a few weeks off to rejuvenate, I lined up some bookings with Sohei "Giant" Baba's All-Japan promotion. I first met Baba when I was playing college football at West Texas State; Terry Funk introduced me to him after a match in Amarillo. When I got into wrestling, Giant Baba invited me to work for a four-week tour, and I continued to work for him over the next two decades.
The schedule in Japan was lighter and I would be able to spend a lot more time with my family. Baba also gave me a great financial deal. Besides the money, I was issued round-trip first-class airfare and guaranteed all accommodations. The only thing I had to pay for was my food.
My first night back in Japan, I was immediately teamed up with my good friend and West Texas State alum Stan Hansen. Stan was the most popular American wrestler in all of Japan. Even though it was my first trip back since 1987, I was put right to work in the main events. My first match was in the Budokan in Tokyo; in front of thirty thousand fans, we captured the tagteam titles.
During the match, I took a basic bump. When I landed, a razor-sharp pain shot down both my arms. I got up and immediately tagged in Stan, and he could tell something was wrong. But somehow, through the pain, I managed to finish the match and we became the new champions.
The pain subsided and didn't return until after about three more matches. After I took a simple body slam, the sharp twinges once again pulsed down my arms, and the pain continued for the next few weeks. All I could think of was finishing out the tour, but the pain was getting worse. The bottom line was that I knew something wasn't right. So I finished the three-week tour and headed home.
A few days later, I went to see my local doctor. He referred me to the best neurosurgeon in the state of Mississippi, Dr. Glenn Warren. He ran some tests and scheduled me for an MRI. The results showed that I had two herniated cervical disks in the base of my neck, which was where I had landed when taking the bump. Dr. Warren said, "Ted, you have two choices. Undergo surgery, which would consist of some dissection of your muscle and tissue, and a bone graft procedure, or try a course of rehabilitation using a traction machine.
"Either way, I suggest you retire from professional wrestling." I was blown away. Sensing my disbelief, he added, "The pain is just going to get worse. You can try the traction, but inevitably you are going to need the surgery. And even after the surgery, if you get dropped on the area just right, you could be paralyzed for life or even killed." I was stunned. I understood what he was saying, but I couldn't believe it. At the time, I guess I just didn't want to go through what I thought was unneeded surgery.
I also was in denial. At this point, I needed to get my life back on track. For years, due to World Wrestling Federation's demanding road schedule, I'd conducted myself in a very immoral and unprincipled manner. Not only was I drinking and using drugs, I was unfaithful in my marriage. Although I'd been happily married to Melanie for more than a decade, my overinflated ego led me to womanizing.
In 1993, shortly before WrestleMania IX, Melanie found out about this behavior. I begged for her forgiveness; the thought of losing everything that I loved my wife and children scared me to death. Luckily for me, Melanie agreed to give me a second chance. In the interest of saving my marriage, I decided that wrestling in Japan was the best thing to do.
Needless to say, I was very concerned. Giant Baba had just given me a generous contract and I needed the money to support my family. Before I left the doctor's office, I explained my situation to him. I told him I had to go back and give it a try out of respect to both Baba and my career.
So, I chose the rehabilitation. The doctor gave me this traction device, which I was required to wear for about thirty minutes a day. A week or so later, I packed the device with my bags and headed back to Japan for another three-week tour.
After only three days in Japan, I was in so much pain that I couldn't wrestle. The next evening, I spoke to Giant Baba in the dressing room. I respectfully explained to him the entire situation and that I needed to go home to have the surgery. Baba knew exactly what I was talking about it turned out he had the same medical condition. He told me that he would meet me at my hotel in the morning to pay me for my three days of work.
That next morning, Baba told me that I was welcome back to All-Japan anytime. He then opened a briefcase full of cash. I was expecting him to pay me for only the three days, but Baba proceeded to count out all the money he had guaranteed me for the entire three-week tour. I was flabbergasted. Baba was all class, and the gesture showed me just how much he respected me. We shook hands and I left for the airport to catch my plane back home.
Although I put surgery off for a few more years, I took the doctor's advice and never wrestled anywhere again. When I went back to work for Vince as a commentator and manager, and even later as a producer, I never wrestled. I wasn't taking any bumps, so I didn't think I needed surgery. I kept holding off because I thought I could tolerate the pain, and also that the rehab would ease the pain. But nothing worked, and at times the pain was unbearable.
It wasn't until 1996 that I checked into the River Oaks Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, for my herniated cervical disk surgery. After I was prepped and had my vitals checked, I was given anesthesia. The doctor proceeded to remove a portion of the herniated disk that was pushing on the nerve. He made an incision in the front of my neck in order to reach the spine, then removed disk material from the nerve and fused it with two bone plugs taken from my hip. Some four hours later, I woke up in the recovery room. I spent only one night in the hospital, but it took me about a week to recover. Although the surgery was a success, the scars on my hip and on my neck are a daily reminder of the incident that eventually forced me into retirement. Copyright © 2008 by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.