Josh Alexander was worried about coming out of retirement because of how it might be perceived by others.
Speaking with the Wrestling Perspective Podcast, the IMPACT X Division Champion detailed his injury history and how two neck injuries forced him out of the business. Luckily, a misdiagnosis on a second instance allowed him the opportunity to return to the ring.
The story begins at Kevin Steen's [now Kevin Owens in WWE] farewell show for Ring of Honor, where the crowd was amped and ready to see another Canadian in action. Here is what happened according to Josh Alexander:
“So the headgear thing happened in 2013. Now we work our way up to 2015 and I was close to getting a contract, or so I thought. Petey [Williams], you actually saw the match in Detroit for Ring of Honor where they just chanted “headgear” the entire time. It ruined Kevin Steen’s retirement match at Ring of Honor because they were chanting “we want headgear” throughout him and Steve Corino. It’s just something that sticks out in my mind. It was wild. It was a crazy night."
It was at that show, however, that a DDT from Kyle O'Reilly "rocked" Alexander. It wasn't until two days later, though, after moving his neck in a different way that an agonizing pain set in. He said the following:
"Anyway, I was working Ring of Honor and they were talking about signing myself and Ethan Page, we were the Monster Mafia at the time as a tag team. They kept stringing us along, booking us all these matches, and we’d always deliver. So we thought we were close. In that match, I took a DDT from Kyle O’Reilly and just all of the sudden something felt a little off in my neck. I didn’t think I was hurt but I knew I got rocked. Two days later I moved my neck a different way and all of a sudden it just felt like somebody poured hot coffee down my arm. It was agonizing pain. I kept thinking I pinched a nerve or something. I’m just trying to sleep with my hand above my head."
While it took two months to get an MRI, The Walking Weapon made the inadvisable error of continuing to wrestle. He would eventually have an operation to fuse the vertebrae in his neck just one day after facing off against The Young Bucks in a cage match. Whatsmore, feeling he and Page were close to being signed, Josh Alexander didn't tell anyone aside from his partner that he had had surgery. Here is what he said:
"Took me like seven or eight weeks to get an MRI in Canada and that whole time I had been wrestling for Ring of Honor and other promotions as well just not realizing my arm was completely atrophying the entire time. I remember I flew to California in September. I flew back after wrestling The Young Bucks in a cage match and had surgery the next day on my neck and we cancelled all of my bookings for five weeks. Six weeks after neck surgery, neck fusion, C4/C5, I returned and I kept wrestling and I didn’t tell anybody except Ethan Page that I had neck surgery because we thought we were so close to that contract and I was like, ‘Maybe I can work around it.’ People call me tough, I think I’m just stupid sometimes. I have this weird thing where like - it might be a combination of both - I just never wanted that to slip away because I thought I was that close."
Alexander returned to action six weeks after surgery and was doing well for seven months, but the "hot coffee" sensation reemerged during a PWG show where he faced Chris Sabin and Matt Sydal. Not surprisingly, Alexander's doctor was unimpressed and informed him that he would need to retire.
"After returning six weeks after neck surgery I wrestled for seven or eight months before I really had any issue and I was in California at PWG and I fell on my head again with Chris Sabin and Matt Sydal in a match and I instantly this time it was hot coffee," said Alexander. "So I went back to the same surgeon, he scheduled an MRI. By the time he looked at it he said, ‘Yeah, you broke the level above it. What the hell are you doing?’ I told him I was wrestling and he was just like, ‘What the [expletive].’ He told me I had to retire. You can’t fuse so many levels in your neck, it’s just too dangerous to even step foot in a ring at that point he was saying."
Having heard the prognosis, Josh Alexander decided to retire. However, after waking up from the second surgery able to move his neck, he was informed that he hadn't broken anything, but had just experienced complications from the first operation which hadn't been done properly. He said this:
"So I recently became a father and decided to just retire and see if I could find something else and the only issue was when I woke up from that second surgery in July of 2015, I had no neck brace on this time. From the first surgery, I knew what to expect. I woke up and I was like, [moves head from side to side] ‘I can move my head in every direction, what’s going on?’ I had a scar across my neck, so they went in but I didn’t know and I had to wait for the surgeon. It was like two days, he finally comes in, he goes, ‘Yeah, uh, it was just complications of the first surgery, we cleaned it up, we opened up some pathways for the nerves that weren’t properly done the first time and we didn’t have to fuse the second level. So if you rehab, you can totally wrestle again.’"
Retirements in wrestling generally don't tend to stick and Alexander was worried that people would be mad and feel taken advantage of if he returned to wrestling. It wasn't until a drunken night with his best friend that he finally made the decision to return to the business he loves. Alexander says that this long and winding road is the best thing to ever happen to him, professionally, as it motivated him to be better than before. Here is what he said:
"First thing that went through my head is ‘Terry Funk retired four times and that’s all you hear about. Wrestlers retire and it never sticks. People are going to think I took advantage of them, the fans, wrestlers, all this stuff and this is just a ploy to make money.’ I was just like, ‘I can’t return. People are going to be pissed.’ It took six months for me to get drunk with my best friend and tell him that whole story about how I could still wrestle and he was just like, ‘Oh, you’re coming back. You’re completely miserable. What are you doing? You have to come back. Wrestling’s all you’re good at.’ Well, thanks.
So I rehabbed for nine months, came back and just -- I say it in every interview I’ve ever done because it’s especially true, breaking my neck and having that surgery and having to retire was the best thing that ever happen in my career because before that I had that crazy ‘I want to wrestle all the time’ thing, but I never had the drive outside of the wrestling ring; the dieting and the work ethic in the gym. It just re-wired me to be -- I think I’m a complete animal now. I wake up at 3:30 in the morning to go to the gym and then go to the gym again in the afternoon. I’m on this crazy diet. It’s just the thing that motivated me to be better and make up for all the mistakes I made before that.”
Alexander is set to defend his X Division Championship against Bullet Club's El Phantasmo at IMPACT Under Siege. Fightful will have live coverage of the event beginning at 5 p.m. PST with a post-show review by Denise Salcedo immediately following its conclusion.
If you use any of the quotes above, please credit the Wrestling Perspective Podcast with a h/t and link back to Fightful for the transcription.