The first time I met Andrew "Test" Martin was backstage at Madison Square Garden at some point in late 2000. I was hoping to interview him for a story I was working on for Raw Magazine about the Spanish announce table, focusing on his match with Shane McMahon at SummerSlam 1999.
Upon approaching him, he seemed aloof and self-involved, and I got the distinct impression he only agreed to talk to me because I'd already talked to Shane for the article, and he thought it might be a good political move for him to talk too. As we talked, he made little eye contact, and gave short, pointed answers.
Maybe he had something on his mind, or maybe he was just really, really busy. But that was my first impression of Test.
At some point about a year later, I was working on content for the WrestleMania X8 magazine previewing the Skydome show coming up in March 2002. I remember Test being high on my list of interview subjects, since the biggest show of the year would be in his hometown (Toronto) on his birthday (March 17).
The moment I brought up that WrestleMania was to be in his hometown on his birthday, his face lit up. I don't remember exactly what he said, but I remember seeing the pride in his face and the hope that he would be included on the card.
Seeing his honest reaction and hearing his heartfelt words, suddenly I was starting to like the guy.
If memory serves, he wound up wrestling a six-man on Heat before WrestleMania started. I think he might have even picked up the win for his team. It must have been a memorable moment for him.
When I joined creative in the summer of 2002, Test was working with Christian and Lance Storm as the Unamericans, and the group wasn't taking off the way we liked, which we found out later was because of hesitation to take the "anti-America" card too far so close after 9-11, especially with the flag-burning angle at MSG. The group was disbanded and Test went on to the "Testicles" storyline with his then-girlfriend, Stacy Keibler.
I remember the night during that storyline (I think it was in Boston) when Test got his hair cut -- the women backstage were going nuts they thought he looked so good. Yet another reason he got heel heat so easily: he looked like a million bucks, he was dating Stacy Keibler, the women loved him -- he seemingly had it all.
From a creative standpoint, the knock on Test was that he was more interested in being famous than in becoming great. I can't say that's an uncommon trait among a lot of the talent, but I think that was the main thing that held him back from true greatness in the business.
Test had serious neck surgery in 2004, and in yet another classy WWE move, they cut him loose shortly after surgery. It was around this time that I actually started gaining a lot of respect for him, as he was one of the few in this era to truly speak out about wrestling's ills. I remember this memorable post from Test shortly after Eddie Guerrero's death:
"I'm actually wondering who's next? Who's next to die? I can think of at least 15 to 20 people who have died from various things - mostly prescription pain killers. For all you wanna be wrestlers who wanna get in this business, especially now when WWE doesn't pay you anymore than you would make at a 9 to 5 job, let me break some things down for you. When I started wrestling I had never seen or heard of Vicodin or Percocet or Soma. How come so many wrestlers die from these medications and football players and hockey players don't? The answer is simple - wrestlers, especially WWE wrestlers, work five days a week all year long taking bump after bump in the ring. A doctor explained it to me like this: Every time you take a fall in the ring it's like getting rear-ended by a car going 20 mph, so how many bumps in the ring a night do you take? Multiply that by how many times a week you work all year long. That's a hell of a lot of whiplash and pain. I can remember hearing a conversation from some unnamed WWE head guys talking about how this certain person needs to go to rehab but they couldn't send him because he was to important to the show. That's the reality people that is how we are treated."
Around that time, he also wrote this:
"Look at me. I break my neck in the ring had to have two discs taken out of my neck and a steel plate put in and was told at the time by Johnny Ace when I asked if my job would be in jeopardy, 'We don't fire people with injuries like that.' Hmm, that's funny, because two months after surgery I got fired because I wasn't working. My seven years of busting my *** for them and putting over the boss's son while my foot was broken in a cast was all forgotten about.When Johnny Ace called me and told me they were releasing me - which of course he put all the heat on Vince - I said to him, 'What kind of message are you sending the boys that if they get hurt they are going to get fired?' So all the guys who don't want to lose their jobs, what do they do? Pop a couple of Percocet or Vicodin and mask the pain because god forbid they say they are hurt and lose their job. I'm not going to name any names, but I know at least a dozen or so wrestlers who are addicted to these things for that very reason. Get hurt, lose your job. I just turned 30, my back aches everyday, I have a metal plate in my neck, and yes I got in the business at the right time and have a lot of nice things, but is it all worth it? You guys don't see the ugly side of this business. Yes, wrestling is entertainment, but the bumps and bruises are real and sometimes they don't go away. So think long and hard before you get in this business because I can tell you first hand that if you're not working or making them money they don't give a ****."
Shortly after these statements came out, I tried to contact Test for a story we were working on in Newsday about the trend of wrestler deaths and addictions. After some brief contact with one of his associates to try and set up an interview, one day the associate just stopped writing back to me -- and a little while later I found out why. Test was suddenly back on WWE TV, looking bigger and more muscular than ever.
It's a sad reflection on the true nature of wrestling addiction -- that the business itself is the ultimate addiction, and that high of one more run in the spotlight enables whatever is needed to get through the day.
Reports indicate that at the time of his death, Test was going through WWE-sponsored rehab, but no matter how much the WWE statements try to push the fact that he hadn't worked there in two years, make no mistake about it -- Test IS another victim of WWE and their bogus wellness policy.
WWE can say whatever they wanted about how "The Wrestler" and other problems are indicative of how the business "used to be," provided no one bothers to point out that how the business "used to be" ended around 2005 or 2006, if even then. But -- my opinion here -- I defy you to look at Test's physique during his most recent run (and his own words in his posts from above) and tell me different.
So again, to WWE, this becomes another guy where they'll wipe their hands of any wrongdoing and point to the fact that they tried to help him through his problems, a guy they made sure was dumped from the payroll before something like this could officially happen on their watch again.
So nothing will come of it, much like nothing came of the deaths of Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Ray Traylor, Curt Hennig, Mike Alfonso or Mike Lockwood -- the other guys I worked with who died way too young.
I'm sorry, but I still don't buy that wellness policy for even one second.
Noble as it might be for WWE to have helped Test through rehab, it would have been more noble had they not fired him after neck surgery, or encouraged what seemed to be -- in my opinion -- an unnatural look, or any of a million other things that no doubt contributed to his state.
WWE, once again, has blood on its hands.
I wish I could say that wrestling deaths still surprise me, but to be honest, they don't. The thing that surprised me most when I heard about Test yesterday is the fact that it had been as long as it has been since the last major wrestling death.
My heart goes out to Test's family and friends. No 33-year-old should ever die. Especially one with as much talent and potential and passion as Andrew Martin had.