The legend of Gregory Allen Smith, aka “Gregory Iron,” is half fairy-tale, half gritty docudrama. Born to disadvantaged circumstances in almost every aspect of his life, Greg grew up a plucky and determined kid with a fierce loyalty to his family and an ambition undaunted by the challenges he faced.
It’s probably only a matter of time before his inspirational story becomes the next sports hero feature film. Until then, we are very pleased to bring it to you as our “I Define Me” feature of the month.
Larger than Life
When Gregory Smith entered the world a month ahead of schedule, he weighed in at barely one pound. Ten months later, his father Dwayne noticed that Greg was playing and picking up toys exclusively with his left hand.
Diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy (CP), Greg spent the following eight years in physical therapy…which, to him, was simply a weekly play date in a doctor’s office. The CP affected very little of his motion, mainly limiting the strength and mobility of his right arm, so he was able to do most things that other kids his age could do.
But of course, it didn’t stop children from being cruel to him when they discovered his difference. Growing up, Greg was no stranger to the crude chest-thumping motion meant to mimic mental retardation. In the face of this offense, Gregory showed unusual perspicacity for a child his age. He simply kept to himself, and waited patiently for the school day to end so that he could go to his grandmother Ella’s house and indulge in his favorite escape: the world of WWF.
“I had one thing that made me forget about the torment I would endure at school, and the animosity that was constantly within my household. That one thing was professional wrestling.”
Where most little boys fantasize about being superheroes, Greg was enthralled by the flesh-and-blood supermen that wore bright spandex and threw each other around like rag dolls in the ring. Greg’s grandmother Ella was a devoted Hulk Hogan fan. Together they would cheer Hogan to victory during his weekly TV program. “He was that larger-than-life superhero that I wanted to be like someday.”
It was only fitting that, when Greg’s grandmother died, he tucked his Hulk Hogan action figure into the casket with her.
“Time to Work on It”
The death of Greg’s grandmother marked a heavy transition in his family life, bringing in more difficult challenges than ever before. His grief-stricken mother turned to street drugs for solace, eventually selling anything valuable in their house and even prostituting herself for money to buy crack cocaine.
After his parents split up, his mother shuttled Greg and his two younger brothers around Cleveland from one low-rent apartment to the next, while Greg’s father went to battle for custody. Greg assumed the responsibility of caring for the younger boys while his mother’s life unraveled. He even hid the baby’s formula so that his mother couldn’t sell it, until his father finally was able to rescue them.
Throughout this time, Greg was not only learning to cope with the challenges of his family life, he was also gaining insight into the how and why of bullying. The older he got, the more he became a target of other kids’ derision. It led him to a surprisingly mature conclusion:
“By the time I was 12, that’s when I started to see this condition as never going away. I was always going to be like this. I had time to work on it.”
Gregory began to use his sense of humor to make his physical condition a form of entertainment. Not only did it deflect the bullying, but it endeared him to people. By making himself the joke before anyone else could, he actually made himself look smarter and stronger than the people trying to pick on him.
“The thing about making fun of yourself before others can is, it takes all the fun out of it for the others. Especially once you find out you’re funnier than they are.”
Becoming an entertainer was the first step; the second step was being grateful for the parts of his body that did work. He began spending more and more time in the gym after school, developing a creative approach to weightlifting—unevenly gripped bench presses, pull-downs with his back to the machine—and sculpting a physique that effectively silenced the bullies.
By the time he graduated, he’d packed 30 pounds of muscle onto his frame. It was around this time that Greg began referring to himself as an “iron man.”
“I don’t need much. Wrestling makes me happy.”
“Don’t Pity Me”
A broken-down car got between Greg and the deadline for college registration. He took that opportunity to schedule a tryout for Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling. He took a beating, came back for the next tryout, and gained a spot in the ring with trainer J.T. Lightning.
Lightning had never trained a disabled athlete before, and took an aggressively negative approach—he consistently reminded Greg during their sessions that if he couldn’t complete this maneuver, his days as a wrestler were done. As with the rest of his life, Greg inverted the negativity into positive motivation. Every week, he found innovative ways to pull off the maneuver. Hip-tosses, Irish whips, bouncing off the ropes, his favorite “tuning up the band” move that led to a faked superkick and hitting an eye poke—he did them all with one arm.
As he entered the competitive circuit, Greg’s determination led him into dangerous territory. At one point, a head slam from an opponent sent him to the ICU (which he resisted every step of the way) with a concussion so bad that he couldn’t even remember the match that had put him there.
But when opponents would hesitate to go full force on him, Greg was adamant: “Don’t pity me.” Furthermore, he never answered those who taunted him for his physical condition. He simply got in the ring and gave it his all.
“I loved every second of it, and kept coming back for more punishment,” he says.
The audience loved him for it. Pro wrestling, as Greg acknowledges, is essentially a drama. Audiences love a good story, and they are always looking for an underdog to get behind. The more the bullies ragged him for his injury, the more the audience chanted his name. It was a magic strength serum—no matter how nervous he might be, as soon as he heard his fans chanting “Iron! Iron!” he would feel his energy rising.
“I found that wherever I wrestle, I had a chance to work on the story I tell, and on giving the fans a show.”
Something Special in the Ring
The twelve months between that summer and the following summer proved to be another trial-by-fire for the Iron Man. Following his mother’s death, Greg lost his day job thanks to his manager throwing down the gauntlet in a scene right out of the movies: “It’s the job or your dreams—take your pick.”
At this moment, the family and friends to whom Greg had been so loyal all of his life pitched in to help him keep going. His father bought him groceries, his landlord waived his rent, and Gregory’s younger brother lent him the entrance fee for the event Greg had been working toward all year: the All-American Wrestling show in Berwyn, Illinois.
The AAW saw Greg partnered with renowned wrestler/comedian Colt Cabana. That in itself was a big step forward for Greg, to be linked with one of the biggest names in the indie wrestling circuit. But what happened after the match was truly game changing for Greg. He was toweling off and preparing to leave the ring when Cabana stepped back in, accompanied by WWE superstar CM Punk.
Punk quieted the electrified crowd, turned to Greg, and launched an expletive-laden speech paying tribute to Greg’s determination, strength and inspirational attitude. “You’re f—-in’ awesome,” he told Greg, who was weeping with emotion. “I saw something special watching you in this ring.” Then Punk and Cabana lifted him into the air and carried him around the ring. Video footage of the moment immediately went viral.
“There was the newborn in the incubator now pointing to a rowdy audience in appreciation, the kid they called a gimp hoisted on the shoulders of greats.”
“The fact that he battles this disease daily and still performs at a higher level and with more dedication than most workers in this business is a testament of his true character. His matches are something to look forward to now, more than just a novelty act. [He is] not ‘for a guy with CP’ good but legitimately good, with or without the disease.”
“You Can Overcome Anything”
Since that moment, Greg’s star has only continued to rise. He still competes tirelessly in hopes of winning a spot in the WWE. He partners with other disabled wrestlers, widening the respect for physically challenged participants in the sport. His story has been featured in an Emmy Award-winning documentary. And he now participates in another national circuit—speaking at schools on the subject of bullying and how to excel in the face of physical challenges.
During a recent live appearance on Reddit, Greg encouraged many participants with his hard-earned wisdom.
Some wanted his advice for sticking with a workout regimen; “Be patient,” he responded. “Results don’t come overnight! If I can do it with one arm, you have no excuses!”
Others wanted to know if he felt exploited by the wrestling world. “I wouldn’t call it exploitation,” he said. “My affliction has given me the opportunity to not only find success as a wrestler, but to be unique and different. If it wasn’t for CP, I’d be just another 5′ 4″ dude!”
And to the people with CP who asked specific questions about how he found the strength to keep going despite his challenges, Greg offered his personal email address.
“I hope people take from my story that you can overcome anything if you keep working hard,” he told ESPN magazine. “I used to think of my disability [as] a curse, but I found out how to make it a blessing.”
For his determination, his positivity and his eagerness to give back to friends, family and fans, we are proud to designate Gregory Iron as our I Define Me award winner of the month.