Fighting

Brother, daughter changed life, tone of Impact Wrestling original

Sonny Siaki wrestled in TNA’s first match as part of The Flying Elvises, before ditching the jumpsuit for a solo career.
Sonny Siaki wrestled in TNA’s first match as part of The Flying Elvises, before ditching the jumpsuit for a solo career. Photo Courtesy Sonny Siaki

When Total NonStop Action launched on June 19, 2002, the very first match was a six-man tag that featured a young wrestler with a huge upside. He had the look, the size and the swagger to someday be a superstar.

Sonny Siaki was 26-years-old when he debuted to the world that night in Huntsville, Ala. He couldn’t have possibly known that just six, short years later, his promising wrestling career would be over.

Siaki had been an athlete his entire life before landing a spot in TNA. He emerged from the football field, after a solid career at inside linebacker for East Carolina University. He eventually found his way to WCW’s Power Plant and made a few television appearances for them in their waning days.

After that initial episode of TNA, he advanced quickly in Jeff Jarrett’s upstart company, eventually shedding the hokey gimmick of an ‘Elvis impersonator’ and evolving into a force in the company’s singles division.

Along the way, while winning championships and establishing himself, Siaki continued to flash the potential for greatness.

With his Samoan heritage, movie star looks and bold attitude, he also drew some inevitable comparisons to The Rock. It was a similarity that Siaki says the company tried to incorporate.

“They wanted me to act a little like The Rock,” Sonny Siaki, 42, said. “Vince Russo was the head writer at the time, and he kind of wanted me to be like The Rock. I didn’t really want to do that. I just wanted to be Sonny Siaki.”

After a few years, Siaki was auditioning for the grandest stage of them all, World Wrestling Entertainment. Signed to its developmental territory, Deep South Wrestling in Georgia, he was getting closer and closer to being a headliner.

Then, a family tragedy struck.

His brother, Bernard, was diagnosed with severe kidney disease and needed a transplant.

Sonny was his only option.

At that moment, the brash, young wrestler realized that his commitment to family carried more weight than chasing a dream.

“When my brother got sick, at the same time, I also found out that I was going to be a father,” he said, “and everything changed.”

He continued: “I was young. I was naive and stupid at the time that I was a wrestler. Being older, being a father and having to make real decisions... things change.

“Any Samoan family, we’re all very close. Even though we live all over the country, especially my immediate family, we’re super, super close. There was really no choice. No other way. I had to be there to help save my brother’s life.”

It’s been eight years since the transplant. Siaki’s brother, Bernard, is living healthy and happily in North Carolina.

After the surgery, Siaki was advised by doctors that he shouldn’t compete anymore. The physical risk of wrestling with only one kidney was far too great. One bad bump or an awkward fall could have potentially fatal consequences.

He currently lives in Atlanta and has worked for UPS the past nine years. He says that he enjoys the benefits and reliability that come along with a simpler life.

“I still get fan letters and people asking me what happened and why I left wrestling,” Siaki said. “I thought about going back before, and talked to my doctors about it. At the end of the day, I couldn’t have taken a chance of ruining the one good kidney I have left.

“I have a daughter now, and being a father, I couldn’t take that risk. I couldn’t take the chance of her ever having to grow up without a father, so I just quit.”

He’s found redemption in retirement. No longer a champion in the ring, he’s now a champion as a man.

“At first I felt a void,” he said. “My daughter was here, though, and anyone who knows who I am, knows that my daughter is my life... my everything.

“When I was with TNA, they gave me that ‘cocky Siaki’ thing because of who I was in real life. I was arrogant. I was cocky. I was selfish. I just wasn’t a good person at all.

“But ever since [his daughter] Sanaa was born, things changed. I’m not even close to the person I was before; so there’s no void anymore.

“I have my daughter, and she’s the one who makes life exciting these days.”

On Father’s Day, Sonny Siaki attended a family luau with his favorite little girl in the world. He probably spent a lot of his time catching up with his brother, and the rest of the family he adores.

He might have even hit the beach.

But wherever he goes from here, Siaki is a long way from his days in TNA wrestling and that first night in Huntsville.

On Sunday, July 2, the company he helped christen (now re-named Impact Wrestling) will celebrate its 15th year of existence, with a pay-per-view appropriately titled “Slammiversary” at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando.

It's a lineage that began with Sonny Siaki standing right there in the middle of all the bright lights and big slams.

“I loved my time there, but I’m busy with so many things now,” Siaki said. “I’m always staying active. I do cross-fit, and I’ve been involved in some cross-fit competitions. I’m also doing some boxing and ju-jitsu. I’m still really conscious of my health, especially the older that I get.

“That’s basically how I spend my time these days -- staying in shape, staying outdoors and spending time with my daughter.”

For information on organ donation and transplantation, visit

https://www.organdonor.gov/index.html

- Pro Wrestling On The Web

http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/fighting/

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