Wasted Opportunity – A Look Back At Steve Bradley

Kevin Kelly

Wasted Opportunity

Thursday afternoon in New Hampshire, police found Steve Bradley’s body in his car. Steve was dead at the age of 32. Steve was a son, a brother and a friend. He was part of a fraternity known as the wrestling business that respected him. But Steve died alone… addicted to heroin. How could someone who had so much promise, talent and drive wind up dying a death usually associated with the lowest level of junkie?

Steve was excited. I could hear it in his voice. In his familiar, rhythmic style I heard "K-Kaaay. Steve Bradleyyy" Steve had an idea. It was for a gimmick for one of his stable of wrestlers for his promotion he created. It was called Wrestling Federation of America and he was going to do this right. He had gotten f***ed over by the WWE and he was going to create the coolest but hottest company since ECW. 2004 seemed like the right time to elevate the level of violence for indy wrestling in New Hampshire,

Steve was right. They drew great. Steve’s knee was a wreck and he said his work was the "shits" but it was better than 90% of guys in the WWE, even on one leg. Steve could work the blade and the microphone and he hotshotted the hell out of those towns. Sold out little buildings and started a few riots. Steve learned about riots in Puerto Rico.

It was cold in the warehouse in Stamford, CT in 1997 when Steve Bradley tried out for the then-WWF. Jim Cornette had found Steve working for Tony Rumble at a bought show held at a car dealership and Cornette was right for bringing him in for a shot. Bradley was a pudgy kid from New Hampshire who looked and worked like Rob Van Dam.

The company told Steve to lose the baby fat and be ready when they called him. Bradley waited for what felt like years but eventually, the program was ready and they called him.

Bruce Prichard was in charge of the Talent Development roster for the WWE when the program started in 1999. With groups in Memphis, Los Angeles, Louisville and Puerto Rico, the company signed talent to deals between $500 to $750 a week and assigned them to work for those promotions. Steve Bradley had done his job of getting Kurt Angle ready for TV but something was missing. Bradley was just a kid, 22 at the time and he needed to get tougher… learn to fight…

Bruce’s face turned ashen when I told him that Steve Bradley was on the phone and he wanted to know when he could come home. Prichard realized that the company had left Steve Bradley in Puerto Rico for way too long. Steve was sent down to work for Victor Quinones and Savio Vega for the IWA in Puerto Rico after a stint in Memphis and then was forgotten about. The start of a new century and no one knew who Steve Bradley was.

Steve’s knee was killing him but he didn’t want to complain, afraid he would get fired. Back in Memphis again for the WWE but Steve was different, bitter. Drinking too much, too many pills, getting fat. Forget about working out. Nobody cared about him in Stamford anyway. Somewhere along the way in Puerto Rico, Steve screwed his knee up. But it was on the island that the "Mofo" was born – Steve’s anti-hero character. But how could the kid who looked and worked like Van Dam fly around with a ruined knee? 2001 and the 25-year old Bradley was scared.

All Steve Bradley ever wanted to do was wrestle. His first promotion was called "Kids Wrestling Federation". Not in a backyard but in a school gymnasium. Not on a trampoline but in a real ring that the teenage Bradley built with the help of his contractor father. He dropped out of high school to wrestle. Never went to college because of wrestling. His life was wrestling.

Steve called me in the office and he had an idea for a gimmick. �<80><9c>KKaay�<80>� Steve Bradley�<80>�. He pitched and I typed. Then I emailed it to him because his typing was, in Steve�<80><99>s words, the shits. Then, he sent the idea to Stephanie and the writers. This was going to be it. How big would the �<80><9c>Mofo�<80>� character become? Mofo was a street kid from Boston, who wore ripped jeans and looked like a white thug. He was the anti-hero�<80>� could be the next Austin, I said.

Steve had gotten motivated again after spending a long time feeling sorry for himself in Memphis. Now, he was in the best shape ever. Sure his knee needed surgery but Steve was afraid to say anything for fear of being fired. But he looked good and was ready. Stephanie talked to Steve when we brought him to TV to do a dark match. She had seen his emails and wanted to get to know Bradley. Steve had sent in many different ideas but hadn’t heard a peep until now.

Stephanie McMahon wanted to know if Steve had ever done anything besides wrestle. Steve told her no. Ever go to college? No. Play any sports? I wrestled. On the wrestling team? No I started working at 15. This wasn’t going well. Steve was finding out that he couldn’t do what he always wanted to do because he never did anything else.

Steve Bradley finally reached out for help. When the WWE offered any talent who had ever worked for the company at any time help with substance abuse, Steve made the call. After bouncing from Memphis to Puerto Rico, back to Memphis, then OVW and then finally HWA, Steve finally got released from the WWE after being under contract for six years.

By the time Steve reached out for help, the Wrestling Federation of America was done�<80>� towns were burned with the hotshotting. His wrestling school was gone�<80>� he was too f***ed up to seriously train guys. 2006 was Steve Bradley�<80><99>s time to finally ask for help but it was too late.

He even asked for more help and went back for a second stay in rehab.

On a cold December day, police found Steve Bradley’s body in his car, parked in front of his former wrestling school. The once promising career of the next Van Dam was a distant vision in the rear view mirror of the car they found him in.

But the "Mofo" gimmick made it to the WWE, at least I think so. There are many similarities between what Steve and I talked about that day and who John Cena became.

The lessons to be learned by the death of Steve Bradley are many. Young wrestlers need to learn to ask for help and not be afraid of getting fired. They also need to do something else besides wrestle. Steve only knew wrestling and wasn’t prepared to do anything else with his life.

Gripped by addiction to opiates and a broken spirit, Steve Bradley died alone but he didn’t have to.

As always, feel free to email me at kevinfsu90@yahoo.com.

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