Interview: Matt Cappotelli (Tough Enough 3 Winner)

Nearly 14 years ago, World Wrestling Entertainment aired it’s third season of its ground-breaking reality series on MTV titled “WWE Tough Enough”. The show mixed elements of “The Real World” with that of a professional wrestling training school. Trainers Al Snow, Bill DeMott and Ivory put 13 inexperienced hopefuls through the grueling process of learning to become a professional wrestler. The contestants lived together in a large house by night and trained in the ring and the gym during the day.

Matt on Tough Enough 3
Matt accepting his Tough Enough 3 trophy.

As the final season in the initial trilogy of the series, Tough Enough 3 was known for being the only season to feature two male winners, with most of the females in the competition being eliminated early on in the competition. One of the most talked about moments of Tough Enough 3 featured eventual winner, Matt Cappotelli being involved in an incident in which trainer, Bob Holly took advantage of him during a match, causing intentional injury. Matt’s resolve was tested as he questioned what had happened to him and if he wanted to continue to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Despite being a solid performer throughout the competition, Matt Cappotelli wasn’t featured much until later episodes. After a number of eliminations, it eventually became apparent that although he was one of the smaller contestants, Matt was probably the most well-rounded on the show: he had a great look, was likable and had tremendous passion.

While Matt’s resolve was tested during his time on Tough Enough, it proved to be nothing compared to what he would be tested with in the years following the show. Being a cancer survivor, Matt Cappotelli is living proof that if you take the good with the bad and realize that there is a reason for all that we go through, you can still come out the other side of it as a success.

What was life like for you growing up?

I grew up in a very small town in western New York. I grew up watching professional wrestling with my dad. I was a three sport athlete in high school, but primarily excelled in football and went on to play collegiate football at Western Michigan University. My childhood was great and full of a lot of wrestling matches with my younger brother in the basement, backyard football games, and bloody noses.

What’s your earliest memory when it comes to wrestling? Who were some of your favorites growing up?

I can remember attending WWF events at the Rochester War Memorial when I was a kid. I loved Savage and Warrior at that time. Pretty sure I painted my face like warrior a couple of those times.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a professional wrestler or did you have other aspirations?

I had the desire to be a professional wrestler, but I had no clue on how to get into the business. Instead, I turned my focus towards football, which I continued through college. That’s where I met Colt Cabana my freshman year, who slowly introduced me to independent wrestling. I had no idea those promotions existed.

What were you doing just prior to Tough Enough?

I was in my junior year of college at Western Michigan University. I had just finished my third year of playing football and required surgery on both of my knees. So while I was recovering, I worked for the strength and conditioning staff at school.

What motivated you to try out for Tough Enough and did you do any professional wrestling training (or consider it) at all prior to competing on the show?

Tough enough was the first actual avenue into professional wrestling for me. Going back to what I talked about earlier of not knowing about how to get into professional wrestling or that independent promotions even existed, I thought this is my one shot. So no, I never considered training, because I didn’t know there were schools or anything.

Where is your Tough Enough III trophy currently sitting?

Up until last year it was sitting in my parents house back in New York. Last year they brought it down with them when they visited. It’s now sitting in the closet of my house because I haven’t figured out where to put it yet.

The biggest controversy surrounding Tough Enough III involved Bob Holly taking liberties with you in the ring during a match. I know that you struggled coming to terms with what happened at the time, but did you ever fully accept the explanation given? Also, what’s your take on how much the business has changed in that regard in recent years?

I’ve been at peace with that situation for a long time. It’s pointless to hold animosity. I can’t speak on how the business has changed too much since I have not been in there many years. With the guys there (WWE) that I know and some other guys now being gone, I can’t imagine it not being a better environment.

You had a successful run in Ohio Valley Wrestling just prior to being diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor—Were there any discussions about you moving up to the main roster at this time and if so, what ideas did they have for you?

There were several times that I was supposed to be called up to the main roster. Prior to each time, some random injury popped up to prevent it from happening. One time, I was supposed to debut as a cruiserweight when Chavo Guerrero was doing the open challenge–I suffered a concussion the week before that was supposed to happen. Another time, I was supposed to debut with The Miz as a tag team. The week before that, I was knocked unconscious, which subsequently revealed that I had a brain tumor.

I understand that it has been a long and arduous fight with cancer—Have you been declared cancer-free? If so, how long has it been since you’ve beaten it?

My last official chemotherapy treatment was in November 2009. I’ve had yearly scans and MRIs since then which has shown no sign of cancer.

You have come full circle in the business and are now running a training camp for Ohio Valley Wrestling. How did that arrangement come about?

When my career abruptly ended, Danny Davis tried to convince me to run the beginners program at OVW. It was a transition I was not ready for for several years. I wasn’t at the point where I was ready to go from player to coach so soon. After a few years of consideration, I thought the time was right. Nick Dinsmore was in the process of going back to work for WWE and Danny once again approached me. The time was right and I was at peace with my situation; it felt good and it’s one of the better decisions I’ve made in my career.

What else have you been up to since Tough Enough?

Well thankfully, while undergoing my chemotherapy treatments, I was able to re-enroll at the University of Louisville to finish my degree. I left Western Michigan a year early to pursue this dream of professional wrestling and promised myself, but my parents that I would finish my degree at some point. Now, having my bachelors degree in exercise physiology, I’ve held several management positions with a local gym since 2009. I’m also a certified strength and conditioning coach.

Are there any contestants from the show that you still keep in contact with or did after the show? How about the trainers?

I’m friends on Facebook with a lot of the contestants, trainers and production crew from the show that I keep up with. John (Hennigan) and I are still really close and consider him one of my closest friends.

You’ve been through a lot since your days on Tough Enough and have become an inspiration to a lot of people. What do you want your legacy to be and what do you want people to take from your story?

I don’t really need a legacy per se, but I do want people to find inspiration in my story. We are all going to face different struggles at different times in our life when we don’t expect them; the difference is whether you keep fighting or fold your cards and give up. There’s purpose in our lives and every situation we face; we have the power to make it a positive or negative example based on how we react to the adversity.

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Gary Liebler

My name is Gary and I am the founder of Since 2001, I have been creating websites, graphics, games, videos, podcasts and more on the internet. Most people know me from my ADuelGet! YouTube channel or Pro Wrestling Nexus.

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