Former pro wrestler reflects on 21-year career news register-herald.com gas 78

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“I always loved wrestling,” he says, noting that he started out as a high school wrestler long before getting into the entertainment end of the sport as a pro. While attending high school in Virginia, he placed 13th in the state in his division. “I loved that kind of wrestling too — one on one,” Canterbury adds.

His first pro wrestling match was staged in 1989 in the since-demolished Union High School in the county where he now makes his home. “It’s ironic that it starts there and ends there,” he says, noting that in many ways his life has come full circle with his return to Monroe County.

Canterbury started his 21-year pro career billed as “Mean” Mark Canterbury, soon forming a tag team with Dennis Knight. The two men moved on to Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, where the late Dusty Rhodes recommended that Canterbury — having adopted the ring name Shanghai Pierce — wear a mask to enhance his appeal as a member of a “heel” (villainous) tag team.

In the WWF, Canterbury took on the persona of Henry O. Godwinn and was given the gimmick of being an Arkansas pig farmer who carried a bucket of slop into the ring to throw onto opponents. He kept that character when, in 1996, he was reunited with Knight, who took on the ring name of Phineas I. Godwinn, Henry’s “cousin.”

While wrestling in 1997 against another well-known tag team — The Legion of Doom — Canterbury suffered a cracked C7 vertebra. Although he continued to wrestle, that injury led to a herniation of the vertebra, a pinched spinal nerve and spinal fusion surgery, effectively signaling the end of his career.

“The doctor said it was a clean break,” Canterbury says of the initial injury. “He told me to lay around for 10 weeks and ice it. But six weeks went by, and I was back on the road, lifting weights and getting back in the ring too soon. I wrestled for seven weeks with a broken neck.”

Highlights of that career, according to Canterbury’s reckoning, include winning world tag team belts in Madison Square Garden and participating in four days of activities at Fanfare in Nashville, where he performed in a video with country music artist and comedian Cledus T. Judd. He had his picture taken with country music legends Charlie Daniels and Willie Nelson — two of Canterbury’s heroes.

Shane, a 29-year-old who shares his father’s athletic prowess and physical stature, played Arena Football in Knoxville and wrestled professionally for a short time in Tampa, Fla., before deciding “it wasn’t the right time for him,” Canterbury says. Shane now works as a personal trainer and licensed massage therapist, obtaining a psychology degree that can be put to good use in both professions.

“It was around 8 (p.m.), already dark, when you get that November mist settling down on the road,” he recalls. “I just didn’t have anywhere to go. I veered, overcorrected, and (the truck) flipped four times. By the time it quit flipping, I was pinned in my truck, and that’s what saved my life.”

He explains that the way he was crushed inside the vehicle put enough pressure on the trunk of his body below his heart to cut off the blood supply to the femoral artery the accident had severed. Without that pressure, he says, he undoubtedly would have bled out there on the side of the road.

A lengthy recuperation followed, but Canterbury had much to live for as he battled back from the devastating injuries. He’d found love in the hills of West Virginia, and he and his wife, Tracey — who works in the office of the United Technologies Corporation’s Union plant — tied the knot in September of 2013.

Canterbury is looking toward the future in other ways as well, saying he feels he has something to share with the youth of today. “I’d like to visit some schools — do talks on things like gun safety and drugs,” he says. “I saw plenty of drugs when I was on the road — some really tragic stuff.”