Former WWE champion Big E considers himself "grateful" that doctors have said he will make a complete recovery from a broken neck he suffered during a March match despite a recent setback that will keep him out of the ring for at least a full year.
Big E, whose real name is Ettore Ewen, elaborated on a tweet he sent last week, when he wrote that the C1 vertebra he fractured is not ossifying, or forming bone. He told ESPN on Wednesday that his neck will be evaluated at the six- and nine-month marks but that doctors do not believe they will have a clear answer on how long he will be out of the ring until he gets checked one year after the injury, in March 2023.
On March 11, Big E fractured two cervical vertebrae, C1 and C6, during a sequence with fellow wrestler Ridge Holland. Big E landed on the top of his head after a suplex by Holland, and it was immediately clear something had gone wrong.
Big E said doctors have told him that his kind of fall could have "led to stroke, paralysis or death."
"It's very sobering to hear that," the 36-year-old said. "... I think to be great at something like [pro wrestling], or at least to be competent, you can't spend all your time worrying about possibly fatal injuries or breaking your neck. You have to go out there and be free and in the moment. I think a lot of us as performers don't spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff. I never thought I would be."
Big E did not suffer any displacement to his spine and didn't have spinal cord, ligament or nerve damage. He did not need surgery, and that continues to be the case, he said.
During his recovery, Big E said he is using a bone stimulator machine, has gotten stem-cell treatment and is taking calcium supplements. Other than that, he is living basically a normal life and waiting to find out how long until he will be able to wrestle again.
While his neck heals, Big E will be working with WWE later this month at a talent tryout for current and recently graduated college athletes. Big E, who played college football at Iowa, will join the likes of WWE executives Paul "Triple H" Levesque and James Kimball in evaluating potential future WWE stars.
WWE will host more than 50 athletes from sports such as football, basketball, track and field, wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, cheer and dance July 27-29 in Nashville, Tennessee, the site of SummerSlam on July 30. Some of the athletes at the tryout attended NFL rookie minicamps this year. WWE signed more than 20 athletes to developmental contracts from a similar tryout during WrestleMania weekend in April in Dallas.
Big E said that he wished WWE had done something like this when he was playing college football and that he is relishing the opportunity to chat with athletes like him who were looking for a path after school is over.
"I wish there was an exit program for college athletes, because you spend so much of your time on campus studying for your sport or participating for your sport or practicing for your sport," Big E said. "You devote so much of your life to it, and then when it's gone, it is such a distinct drop-off. It's so hard to prepare for that. That was something that was really hard for me mentally too."
Coming back from the injury, Big E said, has not been overly tough on him mentally. He said he has been doing a lot of meditating, is still working out and is down to 245 pounds, with the goal of being leaner. The 5-foot-11 athlete said he is not as strong as he was but is beginning to show abs.
"Honestly, it hasn't been a dark period," Big E said. "I'm so thankful for all the people who checked in on me and reached out, who have concerns. I'm not saying I'm perfect. I'm not saying every day is the greatest ever for me. But I really haven't struggled with that type of stuff."
Among the people who have reached out are pro wrestling legends such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Kevin Nash. Big E said he has heard from Holland, whose move caused the injury, and that there are no ill feelings. Big E said with a laugh that Holland sent him a big package of red meat, which he doesn't eat, as a way to say sorry. Big E gave the meat to a friend, and "he and his family had many nights of great feasts."
"I have no issue whatsoever with Ridge," Big E said. "He's reached out and said some very kind things. ... What we do is dangerous, and there are inherent dangers. And to that degree, we all kind of know what we sign up for, and it was unfortunate that it went down that way. But I'm not dead. I'm alive. I'm doing well."