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Pro wrestler Jesse Neal ready to judge tattoo competition

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MASSENA - A professional wrestler who most recently performed for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling says he’s looking forward to judging a tattoo competition during his June 16 visit to Massena.

Jesse Neal said he and his former tag team partner, Shannon Moore, who both sport tattoos on their bodies, had discussed holding a competition in the past.

“Shannon and I actually thought of it a long time ago - to work with tattoo companies or local businesses for house shows,” he said during a telephone interview from Florida.

When Mr. Neal was approached by Justin Berry, owner and operator of the Adirondack Pro Wrestling Federation, Malone, the subject came up again since the autograph session will be held at MoJo Rising Tattoo in downtown Massena.

“Justin and I were talking about it. That would be a great thing to do with a tattoo business. It kind of goes hand in hand with the way I look,” he said.

Mr. Neal’s looks changed dramatically over the years as he transitioned from a U.S. Navy veteran who was serving on the USS Cole when it was suicide bombed on Oct. 12, 2000, to a professional wrestler with TNA Wrestling.

He served in the United States Navy from 1998 to 2002, reaching the rank of petty officer. He has a tattoo on his right forearm of the initials of his best friend, who was killed in the attack.

“I was always a fan of (professional wrestling) since I was a little kid. I became more of a fan of it when I was in the Navy. I would always throw parties at my house, get-togethers for pay-per-views. I was a real true fan when I was in the Navy,” he said.

After leaving the Navy, Mr. Neal said he shared his story with TNA officials.

“When I went to TNA, they loved my story, obviously. If people meet me in person, they know who I am. I’m straight up with people. I think that’s what really caught their eye,” he said.

In May 2007, Mr. Neal began training and wrestling under Team 3D at their Academy of Professional Wrestling and Sports Entertainment. He signed with TNA Wrestling in 2009, making his first appearance at a Destination X pay-per-view while wearing his Navy white dress uniform. He introduced a match between Brutus Magnus and Eric Young and then confronted Sheik Abdul Bashir before singing “God Bless America.”

“I’m here to tell my story. I’m here to keep the legacy of the shipmates I lost and the shipmates who survived. When it happened, that basically violently shook me into what I wanted to do in life,” he said.

“Being introduced to the fans, I was kind of nervous. I understood basically because I was a nobody. Nobody knew who Jesse Neal was. It was kind of start from scratch. Even though I had been training for two years, I had to act like I didn’t know wrestling,” Mr. Neal said.

While dressed in his Navy uniform for his initial appearance, he said his tattoos and Mohawk haircut were creatively hidden.

“I’m really glad that TNA brought me in with my Navy uniform. My only regret was that I wasn’t in the Navy (at the time). Wearing the uniform was weird. I had not put my uniform on since I was in the Navy,” Mr. Neal said.

His first in-ring action was during another pay-per-view event.

“It was unique, it was crazy. They had me in jeans as a guy training under Rhino who was not ready for the ring yet,” he recalled.

He was supposed to make a tag with his partner, Rhino, during the contest, but ended up trying to defeat the opponent himself.

“Everybody is like, what is this dude doing?” Mr. Neal said. “The greatest thing I think from it is even the boys believed the story. I had no idea what I was doing. Because I was doing what I was told to, the boys believed it.”

He later teamed up with Shannon Moore to form Ink Inc., a reference to their tattoos.

“That was actually pretty fun. He (Mr. Moore) came in with Jeff Hardy. My first reaction was, here’s a guy with a Mohawk and tattoos. I’m out. There goes my spot,” Mr. Neal said.

“I’ve definitely grown from that,” he said. “When he came in, he and Jeff were really cool with me. He basically took me under his wing to take me to the next level of my career. I definitely respect the man. He taught me a lot and brought me to the next level where I need to be.”

Mr. Neal said Mr. Moore came to him about the possibility of forming a tag team.

“He came to me and said, what do you think about tagging? That would be cool if I could bring you up with me. Ideas just started shooting through my head and his head,” he said.

“Being Ink Inc. was a lot of fun. People really didn’t get to see what we could do. That was one thing I kind of regret, that we didn’t get to show our full potential,” Mr. Neal said.

His final TNA appearance took place on the Dec. 15, 2011 edition of Impact Wrestling, where he was DDT’d onto the concrete floor by Gunner and stretchered out of the arena.

“Right now I’ve just been healing. A lot of people don’t know it, but I literally almost broke my neck at Sacrifice (a pay-per-view event). I was dumped on my head and paralyzed for a few seconds. I went home and rested and came back a lot sooner than I should have. It was probably my fault. I was taught the show must go on,” Mr. Neal said.

“Me being so young in the business, I wanted to show not that I’m tough or anything, but that I want to be there and be a part of the show,” he said. “I think the injury was one of the best things that happened to me in the wrestling business. It basically pushed me to be me. Now I’m myself and you take it or leave it.”

Mr. Neal said that he’s “doing a few shows here and there, a lot of indy shows” these days.

“Basically when I made the decision to leave TNA in November and December and got my release in January, it was a very hard decision for me. People kill themselves over and over again to get in the wrestling business, and I’m walking away from my contract,” he said.

“I was hurt a lot. People didn’t see that. I really needed the rest from my injury at Sacrifice. Now I think it was the best decision I ever made in January to leave,” he said.

The break has given his body a chance to heal.

“I want to stay working, I needed to stay working, but I needed the rest. I’m still 32 years old, and I’m in better shape. I feel great. I’ve never felt any better,” he said.

“I put in my resumes, I’ve made some phone calls, I’ve done everything I can just like everybody else. Now I’m waiting for the phone call,” Mr. Neal said.

While he waits for the phone calls, he said he’s looking forward to visiting with fans in Massena and judging the tattoo competition. The visit was arranged by a friend, Shooter Storm.

“Shooter and I go way back. He actually hooked that up for me and got me in touch with Justin. Justin wanted to bring me up. We’ve got some autograph signings scheduled for a program called Headlock for Hunger,” Mr. Neal said.

“I just love to give back,” he said. “I’ve been on TV. I have a little bit of a name. I just want to do my part.”

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