ECW Legend Sabu Talks His Drug Addiction Battle, First Meeting Paul Heyman, His First WWF Tryout, His Unique Wrestling Style and More

ecw legend sabu

ECW Legend Sabu was the recent guest on Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast and below are some interview highlights:

On the Original Sheik’s Influence On Him:

He was my uncle, not my father. He lived 30 miles from me, you would see him every Sunday, but wrestling would be on at my house every saturday where we would watch it on television– it was different if I were to live with him.

On Paying His Dues Before His Professional Training:

We didn’t get in the backyard for a while. I had to set the ring up and all that stuff. I had to set the ring up and cut wood and do these other chores and not even train in the ring at the time–just set it up while other people trained. I did that for a year before I even got into the ring and trained myself. My uncle lived on a farm, and there was woods right behind his house, and I had to chop wood during that time.

On His First Wrestling Name:

I wrestled as Terry Essar. I’m not sure what it means. My uncle never told me–I never asked him, but anybody else would ask him what it would mean, he would respond with, mind your own business! So, I knew better than to ask him. My aunt thought it could mean Seek Revenge or Super Race, like the Arabs are a super race. I have had a lot of names–but not by choice. I didn’t care about any name, and even when I was named Sabu, I go, man, why do you name me a crummy name like that? Couldn’t you think about something better than that? Superfly Terry Sunka, I was in the ring one time and my cousin was the Ring Announcer. Captain Ed was his name, and he goes, we have a special guest tonight, and I’m in the ring, and he goes, the brother of Jimmy Superfly Snuka is here, and I go, oh really…and he goes, Terry Superfly Snuka. I go, oh my god! You’ve gotta be kidding me!

On Being the King of the Independent Scene Before ECW:

King of the Independence only means you are the King of the broke guys. In all seriousness, it made my career when I went to Japan. It was 7 years before I got my break to go to Japan. I was just doing independent shows every now and then, not even very many. I would be  lucky if I can find 3 or 4 a month. It was scarce to find any shows. The Sheik was trying to find me shows but there was none in the area; everything was a 12 to 15 hour drive or a plane ticket. You’re not going to go get a plane ticket from someone named Terry S.R the Superfly! My uncle was then in his older years so he wasn’t working as much anymore, and he lost a lot of his power in the business–the business passed him by. He didn’t have the power anymore, and when I came around video tapes just started, and not many people had them. It was hard to get your name out there and you had no place to really go; Vince was killing the territories when I first started. This was around 1985, and Vince was starting to kill the territories. I just figured that eventually I would get a break and get to the top somehow; I didn’t even know where the top was. I didn’t care about NWA, and I didn’t care about WWF. I just wanted to be the best and just wanted to wrestle. I

On His First Trip to Japan:

When I started, I didn’t really have a place to wrestle–other than the shows where he would wrestle and then I would find other shows to wrestle for free. In FMW [Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling] and then Japan, they called my uncle to come to a tag-team tournament. They said, bring anybody you want, and he goes, ok I will bring my nephew Sabu; I just started being Sabu right before that around 1990-91; I was Sabu around 1989-1990 or something like that. This was 1991, and wanting him to come for a tag-team tournament and said he would bring his nephew in, and they didn’t care who I was–they just wanted a body. They just wanted Sheik, so I came in and got over my very first night; I wrestled Mark Starr & Horace Boulder. It was me and the Sheik vs. those two. Got over big my first night; then they go, is he really your uncle? You don’t wrestle anything like him. I go, yeah, he is my uncle, but he didn’t brag about me, he just said, watch him…and it was great.

On His Crazy Style of Wrestling:

I didn’t ask for a hardcore match, it was given to me. I didn’t ask for a barb-wire match it was given to me. I didn’t ask for any of the stuff, but if I am paid for something, even if I don’t like it, I’m going to try my best at it. Now, I could have not done it, and chickened out and not touched the barbed wire, or could have gone gung-ho like I did and that made me; it just made people realize what I already knew and what my uncle already knew. My first one was in Japan, in FMW, and they said tonight is a Barbed-wire match, and I said, ok! They said, be careful with this and be careful with that, and I said, ok! This was a couple months that I was there. I had gotten over and they brought me back solo. I got over and went back on my own tour and came back with my uncle and then they brought me back without him and it was a barbed-wire match.

On Being Able to Make a Career in Wrestling:

When I went to New Japan, they paid me the most I ever made and I thought, I cannot believe they are paying me this. I went to New Japan around 1995-96. Normally, you weren’t allowed to work for FMW and New Japan, but I was given the blessing to do that. I jumped from FMW to New Japan. I had my blessing because I asked first, I didn’t do it in a hostile way and they gave me the okay to do so and their blessing.  New Japan was great to work at. They took care of us great and they paid us great. New Japan was the biggest houses; we had around 60,000 there and the biggest house in FMW was 55,000…

On His First Meeting with Paul Heyman:

We were talking for some reason. He had another project he was going to do–World Wrestling Network [WWN]. We were talking about that and then one day this dude, Dennis Carluzzo called me and said, call Todd Gordon, he is a sucker. You can get $500 off of him. I go, I called him, hi Todd Gordon, this is Sabu. I go, hi, can I come in, he goes, how much do you want? I go, $300, he goes, ok, come in. I happened to start the same day Paul E started and when I came in to ECW, Paul E goes, what are you doing here? I go, nothing, what are you doing here? We just happened to be on the same show. We had only spoke over the phone prior to this, and he knew my uncle, but I only knew him over the phone and we were talking about this other project and then all of a sudden Saturday comes around, I go to Philadelphia and he happens to be at the same show as I am, and he happened to take over the same day Eddie Gilbert had gotten fired, and it was that day I came in.

On His First WWF Tryout:

When I first got into ECW, I had a trial with Vince after about 6 or 7 months with ECW..well, not Vince himself, J.J Dillon called on Vince’s behalf, and said that they wanted to come see me. I come in and Vince had offered me a job right there and I said no, because Paul E had some other balloon other dream that he was feeding me. This was around 1994, or 1995, around the Max Moon era. I said no in the dressing room even before I had a tryout. I wrestled Scott Taylor one day, and Owen Hart the next day and then Scott Taylor the next day. Right before the Owen Hart match, he had offered me a job and I said no, and I wrestled Owen, and they said that Vince wants you to stick around another day; I stuck around another day. I couldn’t do a table. Vince didn’t buy that, and I couldn’t use a chair, but I can do all of my out of the ring stuff and all of my crazy moves to Owen. Owen had understood them; Scott Taylor I had to do a basic match with because he didn’t quite understand them. I tried to explain a little bit, and then I would say stay or move. Vince tried to get me to explain my moves to him, and I didn’t want to. I wanted them to watch it and then they explained what they had seen. They wanted me to explain everything I do before I do it, but if I don’t do it the way I explained it, they think I messed it up or something, but they don’t realize that I don’t know what I am going to do before I do it–I don’t know. I know some of what I am going to do, an idea, but no idea how or when I’m going to do it; but obviously they were into it since they offered me the job, and I said no. Vince even said, how can you say no to us, we have been here for 30 years to go to a company that hasn’t even existed yet? He goes, we will be here when you get back–he was right!

On His Offer Letter from WCW:

I had also went down to WCW; they offered me this huge contract, J.J Dillon, who had left WWF, and Kevin Sullivan, before I signed it, I said that I have to go to the hotel and read it. Kevin [Sullivan] goes, Terry, just sign it. I go, I’m just going to go to the hotel and read it. It was a couple of million dollars for several years, and what I wanted to do was tell my mom first; when I went to tell my mom, she had a heart attack over the phone, before I could tell her because my dogs were giving her trouble; someone was knocking on the door and she got all panicky, she ended up having a heart attack before I can tell her, so I didn’t sign the contract–I flew right home, and when I got into the hospital, there was nothing I can do, so I called Kevin Sullivan back from the hospital and said ok, I will fax you over that contract now, and he goes, too late, we are already being sued. This was a matter of 6 hours; because someone stooged me off, saw me in the hotel, told Paul E that I was there and he threatened to sue them for contract tampering; I wasn’t even under contract, but the only thing was, I can never prove that I wasn’t under contract to ECW. The only way that I could prove it was if I could have taken them to court.

On His Drug Addiction Battle:

I ended up getting hurt for years and years, 10 to 15 years before I took my first pain killer, but when I did take my first pain pill I never stopped; and I go, why would I stop taking them? These things are so good. My drug use is blown up way out of proportion. I wish I was a drug user since everyone thinks I am. I would be a lot of fun then.

You can listen to the entire interview online by subscribing to the Art of Wrestling Podcast on iTunes!