By Ryan K. Boman, Editor in Chief
When Total Non-Stop Action launched on June 19th, 2002, their very first match was a six-man tag team contest 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, Alabama. 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 play off of.
“They wanted me to act a little like The Rock,” Sonny Siaki, now 42, says today. “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 had moved on from TNA and was auditioning for the grandest stage of them all, World Wrestling Entertainment. Signed to their developmental territory at the time, Deep South Wrestling, 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 recalls. “And, everything changed.”
“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,” he says. “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, and 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.
Today, he lives in Atlanta, and has worked for UPS for the last 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 says. “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.”
Today, 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 remembers. “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 will likely be spending the day with his favorite little girl in the world. He’ll probably pick up the phone and call his brother in North Carolina, and he might even hit the beach. Wherever he’s at, he’ll be a long way away from his days in TNA wrestling and that night in Huntsville.
The very next day, on Monday, June 19th, the company that he helped christen, now renamed Impact Wrestling, will celebrate the fifteenth year of its existence. One that got kick started with Sonny Siaki standing right there in the middle of it all.
“I loved my time there in TNA, but I’m busy with so many things now” Siaki says. “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.”