The following is an interview with Steve Garrou, art director at EPIC Creative and recently retired professional wrestler. For the last 14 years, Steve has embodied the persona of one of Oshkosh wrestling organization ACW’s favorite protagonists: Sadist, the Monster of the Midwest. But this role recently came to an end. Let’s take a closer look at the blossoming beginning and the emotional conclusion of this character named Sadist—plus everything in between.
So, why wrestling?
Why wrestling? That’s a super-loaded question. I wasn’t a fan when I was really young—it wasn’t until I was, like, 14 that I became a fan of wrestling. My friends were telling me that I needed to watch Stone Cold Steve Austin on Monday Night RAW. And I told them they were all lame. They kept harping on me, so I sat down the next Monday by myself and watched RAW. The first hour nothing happened, and I wasn’t intrigued by it, nor was I happy or excited. Then Stone Cold came out and it was incredible. It was, like, way more impressive than I thought it was going to be. I was hooked. The next day I went to school and told all my friends, “Okay, you gotta fill me in on the backstory. How did we get here? Tell me the story of why he is how he is,” and then we watched it every Monday from then on. I still watch it every Monday.
What is something a lot of people don’t know about professional wrestling?
That it’s more like the ad agency world than anybody could ever imagine. Each wrestler is a brand. They are trying to brand themselves and establish characters to market to people, to gain popularity and exposure so that they can sell t-shirts to them. And DVDs.
What do you say to people who call wrestling fake?
Um… Fake is a four-letter F-word. One of the things I always say is that being trained to fall flat on your back is one of the most unnatural things that a human can do. You’re always going to point an arm down or attempt to brace yourself. That being said, the ring is metal, wood, a little bit of padding and a canvas. So it’s all about falling properly and having trust in the people in the ring with you.
What goes into the training?
Just like anything, I had to go find somebody. You learn to run the ropes and understand the ring. Then you start learning how to fall and like anything you go through advancing. There’s a lot of running to start. You just run and get beat; that’s it. It’s awful but it’s worth it. But I didn’t think it was going to be easy. Everyone walks in thinking “Oh, I’m going to wrestle my first day,” and that’s not the case at all.
What’s the most gruesome injury you ever sustained?
I almost lost my left ear. It was awful. My ear was basically hanging off the side of my head until 26 stitches later. And a sidebar—that was the first show, my wife, then girlfriend ever came to. I ended up in the hospital with her, and I was making sure she was okay because she was very distraught.
Do you actually have a beef with people or was it all for show?
It’s mostly for show. It has happened—and it’s a very real thing because as much as wrestling is a show, it is also a competition. I loved wrestling my friends. It’s one of those things where beforehand we can talk about our performance and shake hands and say sorry in advance. We trust each other and are able to go out and put on a show people think is real because it mostly was.
Most notable banter in the ring?
I spent, like, 90% of my wrestling career as a good guy so, as much as we tried, we couldn’t get people to believe I was a bad guy. I was just the good guy that did bad-guy things. One time I told a guy in front of a crowd: “It’s cute that you’re back here. I want to tell you that it doesn’t matter how many times you come and try to take this from me. You’ll NEVER beat me. You’re nothing more than a mid-card wrestler and when I’m done with you, I’m going to send you back to the sea of mediocrity that you belong in.” Shit talking was my thing; I loved it so much. I think it is more genuine for anybody in wrestling to feel a moment and react. As much as we know it’s a performance when I was out there doing it, there’s no part of me that didn’t believe what was happening was real.
Sadist v. Steve?
The differences were easy. Sadist did the exact opposite thing that Steve would do in any situation. Very loud, first to throw a punch, first to start an altercation. The similarities were definitely where the crossover happened. I’ve learned more about myself from wrestling than I have from anything in my life. It taught me how to work hard and what the value of that is. I’ve got this phrase, “if you’re undeniably great, success finds you” and that’s what I’ve learned from wrestling. That crossover started to happen probably three or four years ago where I started bringing a lot more Steve into the Sadist presentation and that’s where I saw the majority of my success was by pulling that layer back and letting people know who I was.
I know you’ve said you just put the boots on and that’s how you become Sadist—but what else helped you get into the mindset?
I am a very regimented, ritualistic person when it comes to shows. I was known for having the knockdown, drag-out, half-hour matches on the show that kept people’s attention. It takes a lot of mental energy to prepare for that so I would isolate myself to think about how Sadist would act in that situation.
When and why did you decide to hang up the boots?
The biggest reason for me was self-preservation and the idea that I didn’t want to be a guy that’s out of touch, taking a spot from a kid that’s gone through training and needs ring time. I’d much rather have people say “Man, Sadist was great! I wish he wouldn’t have left so early,” as opposed to “That Sadist, he used to be really good.”
Is this truly the last time we will hear of the Midwest Monster?
I’d left wrestling once before to get married and I thought I was done. I didn’t get emotional about it when I left and that was kind of a tell-tale sign I’d be back. This time it’s been tough but bittersweet tough. There is one thing I would come back for though. Last April I wrestled against Ryback, a former WWE guy, and we had a 35-minute match that people called the match of the year. They loved it but unfortunately, the end of that match really pissed people off, like 3,000 people, because there wasn’t a finish. We had interference from two other guys. So, the one reason I would come back would be to give those fans that match back so that they can know how it ends.
What is next for Steve?
I’m going to try to become a part of my couch on Saturdays — Netflix will be super cool. In reality, I’m not going to be so far removed from wrestling. I’m just not going to perform. For example, I had a friend over from wrestling and we got him repackaged completely — new entrance music, all new graphics package, talked about character development. Beyond that, I’ve been contacted by both companies I was primarily working to do seminars and I am going to be helping my trainer train new kids as well.
Are you going to become an Instagram influencer?
No (laughs). My Instagram needs to be about singing in my car, graphic design, whiskey, and my wife. That’s all I want out of it.
Professional wrestling is not what you think it is. It is a group of guys who are friends that care about entertaining people for the 10 or 15 dollars they pay to get into the show. Legitimately putting their life and well-being on the line because they love it. And the amount of passion that you get from going to a show and understanding and getting to know people, the appreciation for what it truly is, is definitely different than expected from some dude rolling around in tights.