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Matt Cappotelli (1979-2018)

There are wrestling matches that take place in the ring or in the arena: the sort that comes with the illusion of a real fight, the chair shots, the death-defying moves that make up the myth of the squared circle. And then there are the wrestling matches that take place outside the ring: when people grapple with real fights, with real shots, when "death-defying" takes on a far more real meaning than its typical use as metaphor. In both matches, we can't help but cheer for the good guys, for those who put up the good fight. And like any wrestling match, the result is often an icing on the cake for the true reward: the stories we would tell for generations to come.

One of those wrestling stories reached its bittersweet end today, as Matt Cappotelli passed on at the age of 38.


Billed at six feet and 225 pounds, Cappotelli had all the physical tools needed to succeed in professional wrestling. He entered Tough Enough III, in what was to be his highest-profile role as an active performer in pro wrestling. The competition became an infamous part of WWE lore:  Cappotelli was beaten up for real by Hardcore Holly, to demonstrate how physical and real the wrestling world was. Cappotelli won the hearts of many viewers and the judges, enough for him to win the competition alongside John Hennigan (known to many as John Morrison/Johnny Mundo).

After winning Tough Enough III, Cappotelli made several appearances in WWE shows, mostly on Velocity and Sunday Night Heat. To further hone his skills, Cappotelli was sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling, winning the OVW Southern Tag Team Championship along with Johnny Jeter, as "The Thrill Seekers." He reached the pinnacle of his career in OVW by winning the OVW Heavyweight championship in 2005.

In 2006, Cappotelli vacated his championship after announcing that he had a brain tumor. There began one of the most inspirational narratives ever told in modern professional wrestling, as the Thrill Seeker grappled and wrestled with brain cancer. The could-have-beens of his wrestling career took a back seat, as people rooted for his success outside of it. In 2007, Cappotelli's operation was a success. For a time, things were looking up for him as he continued to train himself, and his passion for wrestling eventually netted him a position as a trainer for OVW.


Just last year, Cappotelli was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of brain cancer there is: a stage IV GBM. He was unique in a way: rather than shy away from the public eye, Cappotelli was public about his illness, in the hopes of inspiring many others to keep fighting. Cappotelli continued to fight for almost a whole year, until he finally succumbed to the cancer on June 29, 2018.

It's easy to sit back and speculate about who and what Matt Cappotelli could have been had things worked out the other way: he had all the tools and education needed to be a successful, top-ranked WWE superstar. Yet it was his battle outside the ring that endeared him to so many fans, and earned him a place in a venerable hall of inspiring wrestlers, who showed grit and perseverance both inside and outside the ring.

Cappotelli the sports entertainer definitely made an impact to those who watched him on Tough Enough III, surviving a cutthroat competitive environment to win him a spot in the WWE roster. Yet Cappotelli the man fought one of the longest matches and rivalries that people of weaker wills would shirk away from. And while the records may show that Matt Cappotelli lost a long, hard-fought battle against the worst of cancers, he won the hearts and minds of fans forever. And in that telling of the story, Matt Cappotelli emerges not only as a victor, but a legend.

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