GALESVILLE — It wasn’t like Madison Square Garden, or any of the thousands of arenas in which Sean Waltman has performed.
But a cabin that served both as locker room and lodging at Champions Riverside Resort this weekend would do. Waltman’s days as a professional wrestler are done, but the man many fans know as X-Pac has a body that shows what he’s been through.
Sitting on a couch, wearing a D-Generation X shirt, jeans and clean LeBron James sneakers, Waltman shifts his weight at many points in a 25-minute conversation so as not to put too much pressure on any one part of his back. When he walks, his weight is on his toes and his knees slightly bow out, like a veteran cowboy who took one too many falls off a bull.
But give Waltman a crowd to entertain, people from which to draw a response, and he’s bounding around the ring like a younger man.
“I was always pretty good at knowing what the people wanted to see,” Waltman said.
It’s a rush that Waltman has chased his entire professional life.
Even Friday, underneath a large tent and seated next to former NFL defensive lineman and WCW wrestler Steve “Mongo” McMichael, Waltman signed memorabilia and heard fans’ memories of his exploits in both the WWE and WCW.
His career spanned nearly 30 years, peaking in the late 1990s and early 2000s as members of both D-Generation X and the nWo, the two most popular groups of wrestlers in their respective companies. He spent a majority of his career on the road for 300 days a year, wrestling across the world, yearning for that feeling.
“That’s the best drug in the world,” Waltman said of drawing crowd reactions. “If you haven’t experienced it, it’s like nothing. Anybody who says it is, hasn’t really done it.”
While he had success in the business — including being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in the spring — he also fell into the darker trappings the life of a professional wrestler often discovers. Self-medication led to substance-abuse issues and addiction, issues which he’s discussed publicly on his podcast, “X-Pac 12360.”
He said Friday that part of his addiction came from not handling the adjustment from being a full-time wrestler to a more normal life.
“Even the person who’s got their (stuff) completely together in this business, the ones that could get through this without falling into those things, it’s hard for them to decompress,” he said.
But, as pro wrestling is wont to create, Waltman is on his a redemptive path.
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He’s clean now, and he’s been making a life for himself with his podcast and attending shows like the RCCW one he was at in rural western Wisconsin. Both of those outlets, he says, allow him to create different connections with people.
“Some people I’ve known for many, many years, I’ve never sat and had a conversation with them like I do when they come on the show,” Waltman said. “Even guys I’ve shared a locker room with, it was all small talk. So to have a real conversation with them is just great.”
The next step in Waltman’s life might be the most interesting to watch.
As a wrestler, X-Pac and his cohorts in D-X and nWo were the anti-establishment, taking the quasi-rules of the medium and throwing them out the window at a time when the industry trended toward edgier content.
Now, though, Waltman has accepted a job teaching at WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., and the RCCW show he attended will be his last road trip for a long while. Waltman has D-X running mate Shawn Michaels — one of the greatest WWE wrestlers ever — as a coaching colleague in Florida. Paul “Triple H” Levesque, his longtime friend and fellow D-X member, is his boss and WWE’s vice president of talent, live events and creative.
The rebels have taken control.
Waltman isn’t surprised, though. Especially that Levesque is taking charge and has ascended to where he is.
“We didn’t have the exact scenario in our heads, but, yeah. Especially with Paul, he’s brilliant. That was his deal. There’s this laser-sharp focus he has in life; he’s the epitome of having your (stuff) together,” Waltman said.
“So you just kind of knew he was going to be that guy. The industry, not just WWE, is very blessed to have him in that position.”
Coaching the next crop of WWE performers is something Waltman calls “a duty.”
He was given guidance and training on his way up, and it helped him reach the top of the business, so he believes he needs to pass along what he can to the next generation.
It also helps to, in a way, feel that rush of the live audience’s cheers once again.
“When we watch (trainees) go out there and apply the things we teach, and the crowd responds accordingly, that’s the next best thing,” he said. “We live vicariously through them.”