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Beacon of hope: Chris Melendez fulfills dream

Amputee Chris Melendez Chris Melendez gets his arm raised in victory by referee Earl Hebner.

When I saw Chris Melendez on TNA Impact Wrestling a few weeks ago, I was driven to tears.

You see, Melendez is an amputee with a prosthetic leg.

With 23 days left in his tour of duty in Iraq in 2006, Melendez, a US Army veteran and a non-commissioned officer, lost his left leg to an IED while on patrol. After the explosion, Sgt. Melendez thought that one of his Army buddies was injured and his first instinct was to rush out and help. Unable to move, he then realized that he was the one hit by the roadside bomb.

Within 40 days, he was already walking due to the prosthetic limb inserted where his left leg was amputated.

Last year, despite his disability, the native New Yorker finally pursued his dream of making it into professional wrestling despite his disability working with Team 3D, the tag team duo of Bully Ray and Devon Dudley.

Last August 27, Melendez appeared on TNA Impact Wrestling where Executive Director of Wrestling Operations Kurt Angle as well as Team 3D and US Army veteran-turned-pro-wrestler Mr. Anderson welcome him to the six-sided cage.

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Melendez is the latest in a long line of military veterans to take up pro wrestling. Before him there was Road Dogg of the New Age Outlaws, Zeb Colter who now works as manager of Jack Swagger, there’s the late Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Randy Orton, Sgt. Slaughter, Freddie Blassie, Kevin Nash, Perry Saturn, Verne Gagne, Corporal Kirchner, current TNA Heavyweight Champion Bobby Lashley, Ken Anderson, Jesse Neal, Brian “Crush” Adams of former WWE tag team champions Demolition, Sgt. Craig Pittman, Baron Von Raschke, Arnold Skaaland, Capt. Lou Albano, Manny Fernandez, Dick Hutton, Konnan, and Professor Toru Tanaka.

It was a moving welcome as the crowd at the Grand Ballroom of the Manhattan Center in New York City erupted in cheers and chants of “USA! USA!”

Then last Wednesday, September 10, on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy that inspired Melendez to enlist, he made his wrestling debut on TNA Impact Wrestling. With his girlfriend and father, a Vietnam veteran, in the audience, Melendez went up against the former X-Division champion, the mohawked DJ Z.

Truthfully, I wondered how he would wrestle against top opponents. Would it be legal to kick at his prosthetic limb? What happens if it breaks?

DJ Z opened the match by twisting the Spanish Harlem, New York native’s arm. Then he mockingly slapped him behind the head. Z kicked him at the midsection then put the Sarge in a side headlock. Melendez escaped the hold and put locked up Z in his own side headlock.

But the ally of the tag team duo of the BroMans likewise broke it by slamming the inexperienced war vet on the mat.

This is where it got dicey. Melendez looked awkward for a moment trying to straighten himself up (I was wondering if his prosthetic limb was built to take the punishment) then dodged a clothesline by shoulder blocking Z. He then nailed Z with a neckbreaker that sent him scampering outside the cage to gather his wits.

With Melendez’ back turned, Z raced back inside the cage and chop blocked Chris’ right leg sending him down to the mat in pain. Z kicked at his back and choked him on the ropes before veteran referee Earl Hebner forced him to break the illegal move.

With Z repeatedly taunting him (with a mock salute) he used the ropes as a spring to drive his knees into the back of Melendez.

Looking to finish off his foe, Z went for a high-risk maneuver on top of the ropes. Melendez threw up his legs but Z was wise to it. He attempted an elbow drop but missed as Melendez rolled out of the way. He war veteran hit Z with a clothesline then picked him up for a sideslam.

Z countered with an elbow block and looked to knock the Sarge on his butt but Melendez turned it around to put his foe away with a fallaway Samoan drop and the 1-2-3 for his first pro wrestling win!

Melendez was pretty athletic for a competitor with one leg. However, there were moments when he looked like he needed a minute or two to right himself up. But he took down Z in his debut which was still impressive. Yet the worry is how his prosthetic limb will hold out especially against tougher and meaner foes who might not be as respectful.

Nevertheless, it was an impressive start for Chris Melendez and it was a solid beacon of hope for those with disabilities.

Bravo, TNA!

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