Where Are They Now? Steve Blackman
In May of 1989, Steve Blackman was days away from beginning his career with World Wrestling Entertainment. A week later, he was in sub-Saharan Africa on the brink of death.
"I was supposed to start with WWE, but I promised this guy I would go over to South Africa for three weeks," Blackman told WWE.com. "I went over there to keep my word and I wound up getting dysentery and malaria and was on my death bed."
At the time, Blackman was a rising star in Calgary's Stampede Wrestling. A physical powerhouse, the Pennsylvania native had set an east coast record by curling 315 pounds as a 19-year-old. He was also a dangerous martial artist, highly skilled in Shotokan karate, jiu-jitsu and various other disciplines. But a single bite from an Anopheles mosquito was enough to nearly kill him. (PHOTOS)
"It was a nightmare," Blackman remembered. "But I said, 'I'm not going to die in this country. I'm not going to make my family fly halfway around the world to come retrieve my body.'"
Crippled by intense abdominal pain, exhaustion and dehydration, Blackman made a harrowing 46-hour journey to his home in Florida. Then, with no other choice, the competitor opted out of his contract with WWE and returned to his parents' house in Pennsylvania where he began a grueling recovery process that lasted for six long years.
"For the first two and a half years that I was sick, when I went to bed at night I didn't think I would wake up in the morning."
It would take three years of intense physical therapy, doses and doses of antibiotics and endless hours of sleep before Blackman began to feel even close to normal. Eventually, the big man was able to take a job as a prison guard and slowly started his training routines, preparing himself for a return to the ring.
It would be a long journey for Blackman to get back to where he had once been. Originally trained by Tony Altomare, a former tag team partner of Captain Lou Albano, Blackman had truly cut his teeth in the rough-and-tumble rings of Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling where he competed with some of the most talented performers of the era.
"Dynamite Kid and The British Bulldog were up there with us in Stampede," Blackman recalled. "Brian Pillman was there. There were a lot of good [wrestlers], so it was a good place to learn."
Despite this great background, the 6-foot-2 grappler hadn't set foot in the squared circle in years and needed to get back into fighting shape. Setting up a ring in his backyard, Blackman spent a year training aspiring wrestlers in the Pennsylvania area until he felt he was ready to return to the big leagues.
"I started getting better as long as I trained hard and ate healthy," Blackman said.
Finally, in 1997, a revived Blackman contacted an old friend and asked for a favor.
"I called Brian Pillman and some of those guys and they put in a word for me with [Mr. McMahon]," Blackman remembered. "He was hesitant, but they gave me a shot."
In November of that same year, Blackman finally made his WWE debut after an eight-year hiatus, jumping over a guardrail on Raw to help Vader in a brawl against Bret Hart's Hart Foundation. The act would inject the martial artist directly into a rivalry between WWE's Canadian and USA factions, but the grappler had some difficulty bringing the fight to his rivals.
"The first year on the road was tough for me," Blackman admitted. "I still fought relapses of fatigue, but I would just fight through it. I felt pretty rotten a lot of the time."
It wasn't until Blackman began to butt heads with Ken Shamrock that he started to find his footing in the ring again. A former star in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Shamrock could match Blackman in the tough guy department and both men were more than willing to show the other how hard they could hit.
"We would lay into each other," Blackman admitted. "I know one night I had one of my brand new sticks, I had bought it that morning, and I actually broke it over his ribs in the ring."
This use of dangerous weapons, including nunchucks and rattan sticks used in the Filipino martial art of eskrima, earned Blackman the nickname "The Lethal Weapon."
"I did a lot of martial arts training," he said. "Using the weapons, it just came natural to me."
Blackman's martial arts skills would also serve him well in WWE's controversial Brawl for All tournament. Held during the summer of 1998, this unique contest pitted Superstars against one another in matches that were more akin to mixed martial arts brawls than traditional WWE bouts.
"They put me in the first match with Marc Mero," Blackman recalled. "Now Marc Mero has always had good boxing skills, I think he won the New York Golden Gloves for five years, but I took him down like 13 times in three minutes."
Although he won the match, The Lethal Weapon would have to withdraw from the tournament when he suffered an injury during a training session. After sitting on the sidelines for several months, the deathly serious Blackman returned to the ring in a much different light, teaming with the bizarre Al Snow in a mismatched duo known as Head Cheese.
"Al and I were so different," Blackman said. "He was always laughing and outgoing and I was so straight-laced. It just made it comical."
Snow, one of the most oddball Superstars in WWE history, was infamous for talking to a disembodied mannequin head and once wrestled himself. Looking to bring out the same zaniness in the stoic Blackman, the strange Superstar dragged The Lethal Weapon on memorably wacky trips to places like a cow farm and a retirement community.
"Some old woman in there, she was like 90-years-old, and every time I would say something she just started yelling, 'Blackman...you suck!'" the former Superstar said with a smile. "Al and I kept laughing like hell because we couldn't believe this woman kept yelling at me."
While the team became fan favorites due to their odd couple appeal, they failed to capture the WWE Tag Team Championships and split up in 2000.
"I felt like some of the tag stuff, some nights it clicked and some night it didn't," Blackman admitted. "But the vignettes were hard to beat, because it was pretty funny stuff."
With the Head Cheese jokes now behind him, Blackman returned to singles action with a newfound focus. Dusting off his kendo sticks, The Lethal Weapon prepared for war. Things were about to get hardcore.
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