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Where Are They Now? Spike Dudley

Spike Dudley’s in-ring career consistently saw the pint-sized competitor overcome the odds, toppling opponents twice his size. It’s quite representative of the uphill climb the undersized Matt Hyson had to weather to reach the top of sports-entertainment. ( CLASSIC PHOTOS | CURRENT PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)

Hyson grew up in Providence, R.I., watching WWE every Saturday morning and going to shows at Boston Garden. “I just fell in love with it,” he told WWE.com. The man who would find success as Spike Dudley described Bob Backlund as his earliest hero.

“He’d just won the title, he was the all-American boy and an amazing scientific wrestler,” Hyson said. “He captured my imagination.”

Like many children, Hyson grew up dreaming of someday stepping into the squared circle. However, as he grew older, he realized his size might work against him.

“I was a buck forty, a buck fifty, [sports-entertainment] never seemed to be a possibility,” he admitted. “I thought my chances were slim.”

After graduating from college, Hyson entered a much different environment from the ring: the classroom. Movie buffs recognize him as the crimson-covered combatant from "Beyond the Mat," quoting Shakespeare after a brutal bout. The film portrayed him as a teacher-turned-grappler, which wasn’t exactly the case.

“I was a third grade teacher’s aide,” Hyson explained. “More or less a glorified babysitter. It became a day job to support my wrestling habit.”

That habit began soon after his graduation. Hyson packed up and left Rhode Island, settling in San Francisco, Calif., around 1992. There, he saw a commercial that altered the course of his career.

“I was watching Saturday morning wrestling when a commercial came on, asking ‘Do you want to be a pro wrestler?’ ” he recalled. Hyson quickly jotted down the training center’s information, making a hasty decision to start working toward his dream.

“I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t know anyone [in San Francisco], I had no social life,” Hyson remembered. “So I said ‘What the hell? I’ll give it a shot.’ ”

The advertisement was for what would become the APW wrestling school, also featured in "Beyond The Mat." Though he thought someone of his stature would be best used as a referee or manager, Hyson’s ability in the ring convinced his trainers otherwise.

“I managed to hang with the big guys and excel,” he said. “They just threw me in there. I guess I did well and after a few months, the head trainer said ‘We’re going to make a wrestler out of you.’ ”

Hyson competed as himself on the California independent scene for several years, taking on much larger opponents. The “David vs. Goliath” aspect quickly became his hook in an industry that was short on small competitors.

He assembled a highlight reel of his best work and sent it off to every major promotion in the United States and Japan, hoping to catch on somewhere. While WWE or WCW didn’t come calling, the outlaws of sports-entertainment did.

Tazz, head of ECW’s House of Hardcore training school, saw something in Hyson’s reel and asked Hyson if he was willing to head back east and join ECW. Hyson’s answer was a resounding yes.

“I packed up into a little Toyota Tercel and drove cross country in less than 48 hours,” he said.

After settling down in Long Island, N.Y., in 1996, Hyson began studying his craft at the House of Hardcore. It wasn’t before long that he was stepping through the curtain into the famed ECW Arena in Philadelphia as the character that defined his career, Spike Dudley.

Crediting Tazz, Tommy Dreamer and Paul Heyman with conjuring up the Spike persona, Hyson knew what he was charged to do when he hit the ring.

“I was supposed to be a little maniac who wouldn’t back down from anyone,” he said.

That was exactly what he did. Thrust into The Land of the Extreme as the runt of Big Daddy Dudley’s diverse litter of children, Spike Dudley refused to be bullied by anyone, from his own brothers, Bubba and D-Von, to the giants who roamed around ECW.

Spike’s first test in ECW came in the form of Bam Bam Bigelow. The Beast from the East tossed Dudley around with ease, resulting in one of the most iconic moments in the promotion’s history. Bam Bam pressed Spike over his head and ran toward the ropes, looking as though he was going to hurl his tiny foe to the arena floor. Bigelow’s aim was off by a few feet, and Dudley went flying into the ECW faithful. Unwilling to see one of their heroes decimated, the fans passed Spike around on their hands. And while the image of Dudley crowd surfing around the arena may endure, that’s not the lasting memory in Hyson’s mind.

“Everybody remembers the throw, but nobody remembers that I beat the monstrous Bam Bam Bigelow,” he said.

“That really put me over the top and gave me credibility that even though I’m 140 lbs., I can be in there with these giants and have a chance at winning.”

Spike Dudley eventually rose to the main event of ECW, challenging Mike Awesome for the company’s World Title on pay-per-view. Though he didn’t capture the championship, he earned the love and respect of the ECW faithful, who, along with Dudley, stuck with the company until it’s dying days. For Hyson, ECW was a ride that he thought would last.

“I didn’t think it was ever going to end,” he said. “A lot of people there did. It was my family, where I worked for about five years. I didn’t want it to end, so I just refused to believe it.”

ECW was on its last legs by 2001. The promotion shut its doors early in the year. However, Spike Dudley wouldn’t be unemployed for long. He rejoined his brothers in WWE by March of that year, which came as a surprise to him, since he didn’t actively pursue a job with the company.

“I got a call. It was as simple as that,” Hyson said. One phone call from Jim Ross led to the debut of Spike Dudley on Monday Night Raw, helping his Bubba Ray and D-Von win the World Tag Team Titles.

Even though he’d been fighting larger opponents his entire career, Hyson was still surprised at the size of his colleagues in WWE.

“Everybody was enormous,” he recalled. “There were a few big guys in ECW, but not the whole roster.”

Larger competition aside, the runt of the Dudley family fit in perfectly in WWE. In fact, one of Spike’s most memorable stories was told not long after his debut.

In "Beyond the Mat," Hyson quoted Shakespeare’s "Henry IV." In WWE, he was part of sports-entertainment’s own Romeo and Juliet story. And while the Dudleys and the Hollys were a far cry from the Montagues and the Capulets, Spike and Molly Holly were star-crossed lovers in the middle of warring families, which was exciting for Hyson.

“It was a very innocent romance,” he recalled. “We were the two most average people in WWE, which I think normal people could relate to.”

Spike and Molly’s whirlwind romance even led to a bout with one of the biggest Superstars of all time: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The paranoid Texas Rattlesnake was trying to petition his way out of a WWE Title defense, getting signatures in hopes of swaying the powers that be.  Austin made the mistake of calling Molly a bimbo in front of her beau. “Stone Cold’s” poor choice of words sent Spike into a rage, tearing up Austin’s petition and leaving him flustered. ( WATCH)

The Texas Rattlesnake regrouped and faced Dudley in the squared circle. Though Austin came out victorious, Spike, still relatively new to WWE, had once again earned the respect of the WWE Universe.

“Getting the rub off a star of his magnitude was so much fun,” Hyson recalled. “It’s the kind of thing you dream of as a wrestling fan."

Dudley’s dream run continued for three more years and included a stint as a World Tag Team Champion with Tazz and a spell as European Champion.

Spike even showed his nasty side, beating Rey Mysterio for the Cruiserweight Championship with the help of his brothers. ( WATCH) That led to Spike becoming the “boss” of the Dudley Boyz. In a bit of role reversal, the littlest Dudley got to push around his big brothers and make them do his bidding.

“It was a lot of fun for them and it was a lot of fun for me,” Hyson recalled.

By 2005, though, Hyson’s dream run came to an end. He was released from WWE, which was devastating to him.

“It’s kind of like getting kicked out of your family,” he said. “When that call came, it was a blow to the stomach.”

Hyson returned to the independent scene, traveling around for several years and even operated a wrestling school for a brief time. Eventually, though, he realized that the wear and tear was no longer worth it, especially for such a physical competitor. Having a real-life romance helped factor into his decision to hang up the boots.

“I met a woman who I fell in love with and we wanted to start a family,” he told WWE.com. “I said ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ ”

Instead of waging war inside the squared circle, Hyson now works as a financial planner with MassMutual, helping people plan out for their future, including retirement, college and taxes.

“I’m helping people live a better life and take care of their families,” he said. “It’s beyond rewarding.”

The former Spike Dudley also wants to use his financial know-how to give back to sports-entertainment and help today’s Superstars and Divas prepare for the inevitable.

“A lot of the guys have gone through what I’ve gone through,” Hyson explained. “You’re on top of the world, making decent money and then, when that money stops, what do you do?”

“You hear stories all the time of athletes that made millions being broke. I want to become an educator, to show people there are ways to plan for the future.”

When he’s not helping people figure out their finances, Hyson is all about his family. He and his wife, Vikki, have a 16-month-old daughter, who he dotes on. ( CURRENT PHOTOS)

“It’s between work and coming home and playing with her,” he said. “As soon as she goes to bed, we go to bed. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The change from sports-entertainment to home life has rejuvenated Hyson.

“I’ve never been happier,” he told WWE.com. “I’m proud of my career, but I’m in a new phase and it’s about my wife, my daughter and my new career.”

For more information on Matt Hyson's financial planning services, send an e-mail to mhyson@financialguide.com.

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