Most Extreme Player for 12/28/07

Most Extreme Player for 12/28/07

The final MEP of 2007 is ECW Original Stevie Richards.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Stevie for almost 15 years and we have always been good friends. So much so, that my home has always been open to him. Stevie visited me, Mrs. Styles and 4-year-old Joey Styles Jr. over the holidays and unfortunately the first thing the three of us noticed was the long, thick, pink surgical scar across Stevie's throat.

What many of our fans don't know is that in May 1997 while wrestling for the original ECW, Stevie suffered a broken neck. Stevie was competing in an Anything Goes (we didn't call it Extreme Rules back then) Four Man Elimination Match in Buffalo, N.Y., and just pinned Sandman, leaving Stevie and future Hall of Famer Terry Funk as the final two competitors in the matchup. Immediately after eliminating Sandman, the Hardcore Legend, Funk, dropped a steel guardrail on top of Stevie, which struck him right in the back of his neck. Stevie lay motionless with no feeling in his arms and legs for over 20 minutes.

With no health insurance, Stevie continued to semi-main event ECW events with herniated discs in his C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae. On Dec. 22, 1997, unable to endure the pain any longer, he underwent an Anterior Cervical Fusion. During the surgery, one of Stevie's vocal cords was paralyzed.

Stevie, who rose through the ranks of ECW by virtue of his microphone skills as well as his in-ring abilities, was rendered unable to speak above a raspy whisper for three months until March 18, 1998 when he had a thyroplasty implanted in his throat to enable him to speak again. Intense voice therapy followed and Stevie was able to speak again, but his voice was still very raspy and expected to remain that way for life.

The surgeon and Stevie's personal physician both advised Stevie to hang up his wrestling boots and find a new profession … immediately! Not exactly the merriest way to spend Christmas. As we all know, Stevie refused to relinquish his lifelong dream of wrestling for a living and returned to the ring as soon as he found a physician to reluctantly clear him to compete again.

Fast-forward nine years to April 2007. Still hoping to regain his original voice, Stevie had an injection into his throat. Having hemorrhaged his surgically repaired vocal cords in the ring months earlier, the treatment was unsuccessful and surgery was necessary again as Stevie had difficulty breathing while working out, let alone wrestling.

Stevie's difficulties breathing worsened weekly until finally in October, Stevie endured the first of five surgeries that would continue through the remainder of 2007. The purpose of these surgeries was to open up Stevie's airway, which had slowly and steadily been closing since April, and then to attempt to restore Stevie's voice to the way it had sounded prior to the initial injury in 1997.

Fortunately for Stevie, these delicate procedures were performed by Dr. Steven Zeitels of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical Center. Stevie is still recovering from his last surgery and his voice almost sounds as it did when I first met him in 1994.

I expect Stevie to return to the ring in early 2008 with little fanfare, if any. However, Stevie himself, his family and his close friends will know what he endured to once again resume his dream of being a WWE Superstar. Win or lose, every match is a personal victory for Stevie Richards.

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