CLARK, NJ — Two weeks before Marc Mero’s first professional boxing match in New York, his nose was shattered in a sparring session.
The doctor said Mero would need reconstructive surgery before he could get back into the boxing ring.
“I had never trained harder for anything in my whole life,” Mero told students in the Arthur L. Johnson High School Auditorium on April 25. “I was about to be champion of the world.”
In the days after the surgery, the boxer’s world turned upside down and Mero — who would later become known as “Johnny B. Badd” on the professional wrestling circuit — told Clark high school and elementary students about the lures and dangers of drugs and alcohol.
With no chance of becoming a boxing champion, “my one-year recovery period had turned into 10 long years of drug and alcohol addiction,” Mero said in his presentation.
“After the surgery was over, I had all of this free time on my hands, and when you have a lot of free time, life presents you with a lot of choices,” he said. “I made really bad, life-changing choices.”
Mero started hanging out with the wrong group of kids, and told students that he was “drinking and doing drugs week after week, month after month.”
As a drug and alcohol addict, “the only job I could get was in construction as a laborer,” he said.
“We become who we surround ourselves with,” he said. “Your friends are either going to take you up, or take you down.”
After years of abusing drugs and alcohol, Mero eventually decided to pick himself up, and entered the realm of professional wrestling.
Following months of training and getting his life back on track, Mero began his career with a Florida-based wrestling circuit.
Finding success dressed as the Little Richie look-alike character Johnny B. Badd, Mero gained fame and notoriety for his work with World Championship Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
Initially cast as a villain in the scripted events, he climbed the ranks against the likes of Maxx Payne, Firebreak Chip, Cactus Jack and Rick Rude, eventually getting his chance at “world championships.”
He was surrounded by a world of fame, celebrity and money.
“I got off the drugs, and I made it in professional wrestling, but I resorted back to my old ways,” he said.
Once again mixing with drugs and alcohol, Mero said he became addicted to prescription pills, and “I now had the all the money in the world to pay for it,” he said.
“My world started spinning out of control with alcohol, drugs, addiction, pills, bad choices. I had never been so empty in my whole life.
“And because of my bad choices, I lost it all. My wife of 10 years walked out and divorced me, and I lost 30 friends from murder, suicide and with most of friends dying from drug overdose.”
Recalling three instances where he too had overdosed on drugs, Mero noted that he should have died years ago.
But he found a way turn his life around a second time and in 2007 created his organization Champion of Choices, devoting nearly 10 years of his life to influencing the lives of schoolchildren. Travelling to schools across the country, Mero shares with students what really matters in life, encouraging positive life decisions, being kind to others and ending bullying.
“Change your life before it is too late,” he said. “The reason why I find joy and happiness in my life now is because every day I try to make someone else feel special. I now make a life rather than a living.
“Guys, I made millions of dollars, and I was so empty inside. You make a living about what you get, you make a life about what you give,” Mero said.