This issue, professional wrestler Colt Cabana (aka Deerfield native Scott Colton) agreed to be the Deerfield Review's guest editor.
Below, Cabana talks about growing up in Deerfield, the politics of his theatrical sport and NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nonprofit that Colt is championing as guest editor. You can listen to the entire exchange by finding “The Big Questions” on iTunes, YouTube or SoundCloud.
Q: You used your bar mitzvah money to fund your wrestling career. Give me a tour of Deerfield, the places that formed you.
Cabana: It was the only thing I knew growing up. It is a typical, great, fun community. I think food is always a big thing for everybody. We have a lot of memories of growing up, like Judy’s Pizza. And The Commons was always there, and we’d ride our bikes to Deerfield Commons uptown. Dear Franks and Il Forno’s, and there’s just all these places that we would all go as kids.
Q: You also played football.
Cabana: I was a big part of the sports program. I played two years baseball and two years of basketball also.
When you go to any school, you think about the legacy and about the great sports [players] that came before you. Guys like Lindsay Knapp were my heroes, and you look now and he was just probably some dude. But he was the guy who played on the Green Bay Packers. And I went to school with a guy, Trent Jurewicz. I think his brother was Bryan Jurewicz. He played on Wisconsin, and they were like the big-time champions. Back in the ’70s and maybe the late ’60s, there was Coach Adams, and he led the Deerfield Warriors to a state championship. And so as a high schooler, we were like, these guys were legends!
I wonder now, as a 33-year-old, how legendary they really were. But when you are stuck in one little community, the folklore and the stories continue.
Q: And I think it is important to still to have heroes.
Cabana: Just make sure you don’t meet them. Which happened to me. A lot.
Q: OK, so tell me one of those stories.
Cabana: I was signed with the WWE. A lot of these guys were my heroes. That is what I wanted to do as a kid and I worked very hard and I got there. And then in that system are all these guys who, when I was a child, they were [heroes]. Now, they are the people in charge, the producers, the ones telling you what to do and how to do it. I’m not much of a corporate man, and I don’t really like people telling me what to do, especially when they hold their authority over me. And that’s happened a lot in my life, people holding authority over me for — oh, I wouldn’t say the wrong reasons — but with negativity.
As someone who was a camp counselor in Deerfield, and someone who held a position of authority sometimes as a teacher at Shepard Junior High School for two years, I just see so much out of being a positive role model shedding positive light to somebody instead of using negativity.
And the WWE, when I was there, there was just a lot of people who were my heroes who I watched on television and they weren’t the legends that I saw on television. It is sad, but you just realize, “Oh, these poor guys, I feel bad for them.” I know in my heart of hearts, I’m a good guy and I have good intentions, and these poor guys are sad people.
Q: Who broke your heart in that way?
Cabana: Let’s talk about a recent thing. Kevin Nash and Roddy Piper have recently been at war on Twitter against each other. Just the negativity bothers me that they are making this stuff so personal and putting it out there for everybody to see. It is not my thing. So I can sit here and I can tell you about the people who were mean to me and who were influences in making me a better person because I knew what I didn’t want to be or who I didn’t want to be. But then I don’t want to give them the publicity.
Q: Part of me just didn’t buy it with Nash and Piper. I thought: “Is this them doing the pre-match chatter?” It just made me doubt the sincerity of that fight.
Cabana: Usually, back in the day, they would use the television to get people interested in them and now they are using social media; it’s their outlet. I guess it got pretty personal, so maybe it is not them. But when people start taking digs at people and, especially if you take a dig at someone who I know is a good person, it’s just like — what kind of person are you? It is not in my heart to do it.
I like to focus on the great people that were there. The Norman Smileys of the world, Dr. Tom Prichard and the Billy Kidmans, the great mentors who were great to a young, aspiring WWE superstar.
Q: “The Art of Wrestling” is up to 196 episodes now. I am wondering, what lessons have you taken away? And how has it improved your game in and out of the ring?
Cabana: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say interview, I just say I “converse.” Bruno Sammartino was on my podcast. Wrestling legend. That was more of an interview, but that was cool to have him on.
But yeah, I basically have sat down with 196 professional wrestling people, and I guess the most important thing that I’ve learned is that we’re all just people, and we all have fears.
I don’t think anyone’s said one specific thing and boom — changed my career. I had always wished that I had that mentor that I really never [did]. ... People have given me great advice over the years: “Save your money.” Right? That’s a good one.
Q: I heard one on your podcasts: “If you can walk, you can wrestle.”
Cabana: “If you can walk, if you can run...” and “It’s not gay, it’s wrestling.” That’s a famous one. Yeah, I guess one that I have heard that I use a lot, I don’t know where I heard it — I’m sure I heard it from somebody — is that, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”
Q: You taught at a junior high for two years. How did your sense of humor serve you and what did you teach?
Cabana: I was teaching the system with special needs kids. And it is funny, when you talk about a sense of humor, I worked specifically with a kid with Down syndrome and also a kid with autism. The kid with Down syndrome was just like the funniest kid, ever. He was high functioning. He was always laughing. I thought a lot about it. Maybe it sucks that he has Down Syndrome, but the way that he looked at the world ... everything was funny, everything was amazing. He would laugh at anything.
He would, I don’t know, he is walking down the hallway and he farts and he’s cracking up about it. To me, it is the best. You look at a guy in that situation ... maybe he doesn’t know, but that’s all he knows. And he knows just to laugh about it. It taught me a lot just to make the most and enjoy yourself. There’s just two different ways to look at everything, and I choose the lighter side.
Q: Was that teaching gig just a stop off, because you have a degree in marketing?
Cabana: Yeah, so basically I graduated from Western Michigan with a degree in business marketing, and at that point I had been wrestling for about three years and I was traveling all around. I figured when I graduated I would just go to the WWE, but that’s not how it works. So I had to get a real job. And I didn’t want to get like a real, real job because I knew eventually, I was going to get a real job as a professional wrestler, so what was the point? I didn’t want to jump into some kind of corporation or anything, so I worked basically eight years as a camp counselor in Deerfield, as part of the Park District.
Some of the people who worked at the Park District, who were camp counselors ... their other job [was] as a teaching assistant, where you needed a college degree. The hours are easy, the weekends are free. It is great for a wrestler. There’s benefits. The pay was awful, but I was 22 years old. I really needed money to support my wrestling habit. So, yeah, I loved working with kids, so it just made a lot of sense. Everything kind of came together.
Q: I think your marketing prowess is evident as we sit in your apartment — you are surrounded by boxes of DVDs and T-shirts. What did you take from your marketing degree and apply to your podcasts and your career?
Cabana: Nothing. I went to college, but my education came from wrestling. It came from going on the road. It came from doing, from putting in thousands upon thousands of miles and immersing myself into the world of professional wrestling, especially those first three years. I wasn’t worried about money. I wasn’t worried about fame. I was worried about putting myself in that world and getting to know the whole world — learning it, getting better, to become the best that I can.
It wasn’t about selling merchandise, it wasn’t about podcasting, it wasn’t about finding a brand or anything. It was about learning the job, and that’s what I learned. When I started making money with merchandise and T-shirts and DVDs, and the podcasting, I guess I was 10, 12 years into wrestling.
And what happened was I had learned a job, I had learned a skill, I had learned a trade and I started applying it for myself. What happens in the world of professional wrestling is we all depend on other people. And this isn’t just a wrestling lesson, this is probably a life lesson for everybody.
Q: I grew up in the ’80s with Hulk Hogan and fans would have fights on whether wrestling was real or not. There seemed to be the shift in which WWE decided, “OK we are going to give interviews about the stagecraft of it.” So when did that shift happen? What have we gained from that?
Cabana: [WWE founder] Vince McMahon, because he didn’t want to pay much money for the regulation of sport was like, “I won’t have to pay as many taxes if I declare this an entertainment” — so that’s what he did.
That’s when it all opened, where could talk about if it was fixed, etc. He allowed it. He’s the Godfather of professional wrestling.
I don’t enjoy breaking down the scripts, necessarily. To me, it is more about our sacrifices to live this life and less about the tricks of the trade, I guess. When you listen to the show, I try not to talk about the magic behind professional wrestling
Q: Now we have more professional athletes coming out as gay. Has that happened in the wrestling world?
Cabana: Yeah, Darren Young just came out with the WWE.
Q: His character is as well?
Cabana: I don’t think so. ... You know what’s funny? One of the Japanese fans told somebody who interpreted to me they thought maybe I was gay, and so I said that Scott Colton, me, definitely heterosexual. Definitely. The character Colt Cabana might be gay. I don’t know.
I am influenced by Dusty Rhodes or by Jimmy Valiant. And then also by exotic Adrian Street and some of these guys. I think Adrian Street, it never was really known whether his character was [gay]. I guess because you are not having sexual relations on the camera, you are just wrestling. But I don’t think Darren Young, the character, is a homosexual.
When they’ve had that before. I mean, Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo got married on television. And whether later it was all a ruse or whatever might be, at that moment they were portrayed as gay guys.
Q: Do you think that’s going to be less of an issue?
Cabana: I hope so. You know, Darren Young came out and no one seems to care. And I think they are all super proud for him. I’ve been in locker rooms and the WWE locker rooms, and I think it is wonderful. I think that as society we are all becoming smarter, and it’s just idiotic that it is even an issue. I am all for it.
When Stone Cold Steve Austin is on all the trades— did you hear his rant? Oh, it was amazing. And he is just like, “You know, if a dude wants to marry a dude, let him do it. I don’t care.” That’s Stone Cold — beer drinking, flipping off your boss — that’s Stone Cold Steve Austin. He’s all for it, so do whatever you want.
Q: What does wrestling road life do to personal relationships? Are you even able to date? Like, how is that to sustain?
Cabana: Yeah, well, it is funny. I went on a couple of dates with this girl before. She was like, “What are you doing this weekend?”
“I’m going to South America.”
And then she is like, “Oh, all right.”
And then I got back and we went out again, and she was like, “All right, when do you want to meet up again?”
And I was like, “Well, I am going to Japan for three weeks.”
And so that has been the story of my life, I guess. You hope to date and maybe you hope to find a wife and have a child and have kids and have a family, but I have made great relationships around the world.
Q: Speaking of relationships, you have a relationship with NAMI and they are the charity that you’re choosing to champion. So, can you tell us a little bit about them and why you chose them?
Cabana: My father has depression and bipolar disorder, and he treats it every day. My dad tried to take his own life. He was very sick and diagnosed with bipolarism at a young age, before I never really knew about it. He had depression issues and he stopped taking the medication and he tried to take his own life. And it was more a cry of help than trying to take his own life. He got sent down to a place for rehab to figure out this stuff and started working with NAMI.
NAMI kind of saved his life. He has been working with them, I’d say, for the past five years now. They’ve helped him build a life — knowing about the sickness and disease of mental illness. If I can help awareness any way I can, it’s very close to my heart, obviously, and it is the least I can do.