In the larger-than-life world of professional wrestling, suggests Aron Stevens, real people behind the characters sometimes get lost. The tragic loss of Daffney, followed closely by a Dark Side of the Ring episode focusing on the unraveling and suicide death of Chris Kanyon, says the NWA star, forced him to evaluate how wrestling impacted his own mental health.

“This is a problem in this industry,” Stevens said during an exclusive The Wrestling Inc. Daily interview. “We’re so used to these big personalities, and being something so huge, but sometimes in real life you’re not sure where you fit in.”

For Stevens, that crisis of identity and career seemingly came to a head in 2016. After a successful run with WWE, in which he won (but failed to successfully cash in) Money in the Bank before becoming The Miz’s much-beloved and comedically genius “stunt double” and WWE World Tag Team Championship partner, he was released.

“I was in a very unhealthy place when I left WWE,” he described his mental state at the time.

During the final days with WWE, Stevens says he did “a lot of questioning.” Despite multiple character changes, he found presumably unexpected success even working with the most ridiculous material. Though the company “had taken my legs out from under me creatively,” he recalls getting better audience reactions than even their champion and feeling there was “nothing more” he could do to convince those higher-up he deserved opportunities.

“On the surface, I was very much like ‘That’s fine,’ but inside it was killing me,” Stevens shares during a particularly emotional portion of the conversation, noting his “personal relationships suffered” because of his career uncertainty.

“I became someone that I hated — and I was turning into someone that I hated,” he continued. “I was angry at the business, or I was more angry at myself maybe? Bottom line, it was an unhealthy path I was on, and I recognized it.”

When “it came to a point where my life was kind of falling apart, and I couldn’t get a grip on who I was,” Stevens said he had seen too many in the business take the unfortunate paths of Daffney and Kanyon. That’s when he decided to walk away from the business instead.

For two years, Stevens happily focused on his acting career. In 2019, he was in Hawaii working on the TV reboot of Magnum P.I. when NWA called. After a conversation, he was persuaded to attend an upcoming taping of NWA Powerrr. Soon after, he says, he was pairing with long-time personal friend and on-screen “Sensai” The Question Mark for an angle which changed the way he viewed wrestling.

“I got to experience the business through his eyes,” Stevens recalls.

“For a long time, I don’t want to say I took [wrestling] for granted, but I kind of did,” the former NWA National Champion admits. “Not everyone gets this. Not everyone has the genuine appreciation from the fans. I’m not even saying ‘adulation,’ just appreciation.

That included Joseph Hudson, a journeyman wrestler working for smaller promotions before joining the relaunched NWA first as Josephus before finding tremendous fan support and love as “Mongrovian ka-rah-tay” master Question Mark. As Hudson’s character exploded in popularity, Stevens saw wrestling through the eyes of his friend, which changed his perspective.

“I was angry at the business for a while,” Stevens notes, “I said ‘Enough,’ and that’s why I left. I was in it with NWA, I but I wasn’t completely sure.”

Even before Hudson unexpectedly passed away earlier this year from natural causes, Stevens’ love for wrestling was restored. Now, he says, he “doesn’t want to waste any more time.”

“With acting and everything being the way it is, I can still wrestle full time; that’s kind of my goal now,” he notes.

“I’m amping things up and proving I can do this on a full-time basis again. It’s a wonderful thing,” Stevens concluded, “But I wish [Hudson] was here to experience it with me.”

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