At 32 years of age and some 13 years into his career, Michael Hutter is on top of the professional wrestling world.
But the road to the top for the man better known as Ethan Carter III has been a long one, one that has shaped the young man into the person he’s become, humbled him beyond his years and tested him every step of the way.
In many ways, his still relatively new-found success has been a lifetime in the making. It was as a boy that Hutter first found himself drawn to colourful and offbeat world of pro wrestling.
“I was a Hulkamaniac up until the Ultimate Warrior showed up and then I was a Warrior through and through,” Hutter said of his earliest wrestling influences.
Later, he said (and not surprising when you consider he’s among the top heels in all of wrestling nowadays), he drawn to the bad guys. “When I became sort of a depraved little child, I always found myself kind of enjoying the antagonist side of it, guys like Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, stuff like that.”
And, like an entire generation, Hutter’s love for professional wrestling became an obsession when World Wrestling Entertainment’s Attitude Era came to the forefront.
“My real love came in the late 1990s, early 2000s with the Attitude Era,” he said. “It never left me after that. I was a big fan as a kid, but instead of it going away as a kid, it only ever increased.”
Oddly, it wasn’t a particular match, or performer, who ultimately spurred the young man to dream of becoming a pro wrestler for a living, but rather it was a book. A damn good one, too.
“I really think (my desire to become a pro wrestler) came from reading Mick Foley’s first book (Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks). “(Foley) going through (what he did), his stories … that’s what pushed me to say, ‘I’m going to the gym every day.’ It kind of pushed me forward to pursue this as a career.”
Foley’s New York Times best seller, and his unlikely emergence as a top star in the business, inspired many, Hutter included.
“I knew that if I was going to do it, it was going to be a completely different circumstances, but I think the passion that (Foley) had for it, coming through the pages, with his words, the descriptions of stories on the road, stories about in the ring … it just seemed way too cool to not give it a shot.”
Hutter set out on his journey, with the blessing of his supportive parents.
“Ironically enough, it was never an issue with my parents because they had kind of fulfilled their dreams,” Hutter said. “They always wanted to own a restaurant one day”—which he confirmed they eventually did.
That said, he wasn’t exactly forthcoming off the get-go with his pursuit of his own dreams.
“I started training but I never told them about it until they found out I was up to something,” Hutter recalled.
Like any good parents, Hutter’s mom and dad eventually got into his corner, and even attended his debut match.
“My very first show, it was in a parking lot in Cleveland, Ohio; my entrance music came from a car stereo; there were 20 people there and they were two of the 20 people who came to the show,” he recalled. “They’ve been very supportive of me. Even through all the hell I’ve been through, injuries, firings and stuff of that nature, they never told me to stop. They never said, ‘Hey, maybe you should try something else.’ They knew to fully pursue your passion. I lucked out with that support.”
What would transpire in the years that would follow would have sent a lesser person charging out of the wrestling business and into the security of a Monday to Friday job. But not Hutter.
Wrestling tested him, big time.
After spending the first four years of his wrestling career on the independent circuit in his native Ohio, a chance encounter with one of the most influential men in wrestling altered the landscape of his career.
“This will be an ironic tie-in considering the show I’m promoting,” Hutter said, referring to this weekend’s House of Hardcore shows, where he makes his HOH debut. “I was an indy guy in and around the Tri State area, but one day Tommy Dreamer was on the same show I was on and he had a bit of a seminar before the show that I did and I caught his eye. At the time, he was part of talent relations at WWE, so I eventually got hooked up with a couple of extra bookings here and there, which got me kind of into the system. Tommy Dreamer is responsible for me being in wrestling. And now, at House of Hardcore, I get to fight him in ECW Arena, so it’s come full circle.”
Hutter’s rise through the WWE, however, didn’t develop as he had planned or hoped. He signed with the company in 2006 and remained in its developmental system, flirting with success and watching several of his friends in the same system being promoted to the main roster as he waited patiently for his success. In May 2013, Hutton was released by WWE, never having realized his potential in the biggest wrestling company on Earth.
In seven years of fighting and scratching and hoping to catch the right eye, it was, Hutter admitted, hard to stay optimistic.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “I don’t even recall how I stayed patient because seeing me now, and what I know I can do and who I am and what I’m capable of, the only thing it could do was, I guess, (try) to be as successful as you possibly could, which was my goal. Patience was very hard. It was trying.”
Wrestling, which is well known to be as much about timing as it is skill, had overlooked one of its brightest young talents.
“It was a weird system at times and it was never the right place or the right time for me there,” Hutter said, adding that he was happy for many of his friend who have gone onto major success with WWE. But make no mistake, Hutter believes he’s every bit as talented as any of those guys. “I fully believe I can be at the very top of this industry and I plan on being there.”
At the time, Hutter’s WWE release left him feeling something he hadn’t experienced before—doubt.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any semblance of doubt, but you know the old saying is everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that.”
Heartbreak and determination were the mixed bag of emotions Hutter felt following his firing from WWE.
“At the time, I wasn’t happy. Leaving, it sucks. It sucks to get fired,” he said. “The first thing I said is, ‘I’m going to one day shove it up your ass.’ That was fully my intention, to live and die by that, and, I guess I kind of have.”
Following his WWE departure, Hutter was scooped up by rival Total Nonstop Action and put on the fast track to superstardom, quickly becoming one of the top talents in the company, eventually winning the ultimate prize, the TNA World Heavyweight championship.
These days, Hutter said, it’s less about proving people wrong and more about proving himself right.
“Now that I’m older, wiser and have had success, I worry less about proving people wrong and just doing the best I can for the people who believe in me.”
So turbulent and character testing was Hutter’s path to greatness that he no longer believes he even has the ability to look back and appreciate how far he’s come.
“It’s pretty incredible to come from that to this,” he admitted, “but I’ve been through so much for so long that any bits of success are completely desensitized by having gone through the worst of it.”
And though he’s currently on top of the wrestling world, he’s not forgotten the place he was, a place he has no desire to go back to.
“It’s hard to enjoy success because you’re so driven to keep having more, at being different, at making more of yourself. I can’t really rest on what I’m doing, I’m always looking toward the future of what I can do and do better.”
TNA’s faith and belief in Hutter, which was instant, was vindicating for someone having been overlooked so often, Hutter said.
“It wasn’t satisfying as much as it’s something I believed I could do and now that the opportunity had presented itself.”
Hutter was out to prove everyone wrong who’d ever overlooked him, doubted him or not seen in him what he knew he possessed, a work ethic like few others.
“It was full tilt, I have to do it to the best I possibly can, and work the hardest I can, to be the hardest working guy they have and be worthy of being given that, especially because in my mind I’d been through the ringer and proven to myself that I could do it, but I had yet to prove anything to anybody who was watching any product of wrestling.”
Rather than a sense of entitlement, Hutter had a sense of self-awareness and a new motivation.
“My focus was to make sure that what they were giving me was deserved by me.”
Hutter took the proverbial ball handed to him by TNA and he ran with it. He ran through obstacles like a star running back runs through a weak defence. He ran that ball all the way up the pole and found himself standing atop the TNA roster, its world champ.
It was then, and only then, that Hutter allowed himself to take a short breath and reflect on how far he’d come.
“It was a culmination of a life’s work, so to speak,” of grabbing that TNA world title the for the first time, the true face (or in his case, a heel) of a company. “A lot of things went through my mind. I’d kind of seen the worst of it and the best of it to get to that moment. As you’re holding it up, there’s kind of a sense of gratitude and satisfaction. When I got to the back and there was applause and congratulations for me, the one thing I said was, ‘Alright, now the real work begins,’ because that’s what it looks like to me, that’ s the next step.”
Hutter wouldn’t have been blamed for feeling like that honour was long overdue. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to keep proving himself.
“Having faith put into you by people, that means a lot,” he said. “Your peers respecting what you do, that means a lot, but you have to work harder than you worked before to get there to keep that respect and gratitude. Everything they gave to me, now I know I have to work harder to make sure it was worth it for them.”
That said, Hutter admitted he took an instant to savour his success.
“I probably did take that moment, but it was very brief because again, if you want that moment to keep going, if you want that to last, knowing other guys who want to be where you are and they’re vying for what you have … it’s wrestling, it’s not the World Series, I’m not defending the World championship for real every time I go out there, but I’m defending what I do as a professional and what I do being proud of myself. Yeah, you take that moment. I had a couple of those moments, a nice little celebration, a couple of shots JD for the fellas, a round of cigars for some of the guys in TNA who really helped me get to where I was and the next day we’re back to work.”
Asked if becoming a world champion nearly 15 years into your career is humbling, Hutter admitted it was, but not nearly as humbling as laboring through more than a decade while awaiting an opportunity that would never come.
“I think my ability to be humble has been completely destroyed by wrestling because I’ve been so humbled through so many things that I feel like I’m playing with house money every time now,” he said. “Anything cool I see or get to do, is thanks to this business now. I put in the work to get there and now it evened out by becoming a world champion and the rest of it, it’s all gravy.”
This weekend, Hutter will once again showcase his skills to the man who helped bring him up the ranks in the business when he debuts at House of Hardcore in Philadelphia. Hutter speaks passionately when the subject turns to Dreamer.
“He’s a true student of the business.,” Hutter said of Dreamer. “He sleeps, breathes it, he knows every little nuance of it, he knows every person who’s ever done it. He loves it more than I could and I love it as much as I possibly can. It’s crazy his passion for wrestling. It’s crazy what he’s done, but he’s always done it at the benefit of wrestling, it’s never been about himself. I respect that a lot.”
Hutter also points out that his HOH debut was to come last year, but was derailed by injury.
“Ironically enough, this is a year in the making,” he said. “A year ago, I was supposed to wrestle Tommy Dreamer in the ECW Arena. That was something I was going to get an opportunity at, but that was taken away from me because I got injured right before the show. A year later, here we are, going back to Philly, I’m a year better, a year wiser, a World championship under my belt…”
Making his debut, combined with the opportunity to work in front of the legendary Philly wrestling crowd, is something Hutter is looking very much forward to.
“Going into House of Hardcore, I’m very excited because the fans (in Philly) are wrestling fans, through and through, and if you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere. That’s still another contingent of the wrestling audience I have to show what I can do to.”
The character EC3, as he’s known, suddenly emerges for the first time during the interview.
“Plus, they probably hate me, which is good,” he said, excitement evident in his voice. “I like being hated. That’s my job, if I do it the right way. Going into that atmosphere, being a villain or an antagonist, that’s the stuff that I look for, that crowd response, that interaction. They’re jeering, they’re pissed off, they’re throwing their own beers and urine at me. I live for that and I’m very excited. What’s cool about House of Hardcore is you get that environment that you might not get at a mainstream wrestling show.”
Dreamer’s “no politics, no BS” approach is also something that draws the ire of EC3.
“From EC3’s perspective, no politics, I’m not on board with that because politics is what EC3 does best,” he quipped, before Hutter again emerges.
“In the reality of it, he’s been in the business longer than I have,” Hutter said of his friend Dreamer. “He’s been in offices at major wrestling companies. He’s been at production meetings, booking meetings, he’s done all of the behind-the-scenes stuff. From a talent’s perspective, to have the opportunity to go to a promotion, which is based on just what we’re doing in the ring, the characters that we are, the performers that we are, being allowed to showcase that without any restrictions or apprehensions from the people in positions of power – mindless suits telling me how to do something that you know how to do because you’ve done it at very high levels – that’s exciting. It’s a creative outlet really for anybody like me who enjoys that, really expressing yourself the way you want to do, the way you grew up watching it and envisioning it. House of Hardcore provides that for talent so it’s pretty cool.”
Asked if he has any regrets, Hutter pauses.
“Yeah, lacing up a pair of boots in the first place,” he quipped, before turning serious. “I guess you can look at mistakes made or things that didn’t go your way and consider them regrets, but if I look at failures as regrets, then I didn’t learn from the failures to get better and become who I am today, so I don’t really have any regrets in that respect. Everything I did, whether it was right or wrong, whether it worked out or it definitely didn’t work out, it made me who I am today and I’m very proud of who I am today and what I do today. So no regrets.”
In many ways, Hutter has taken a page from Foley’s book, by overcoming every obstacle in his way, with an iron will and a ferocious drive to succeed. That’s ironic given that Foley’s book inspired it all.
Hutter does admit to one regret, not chronicling much his arduous yet triumphant journey.
“I’m pretty good at putting words down, and I wish I would’ve kept those because I get hit in the head and you forget more than you remember,” he said. “My one regret was not writing things down to write a book.”
Unlike Foley, whose career in wrestling is over and his legacy forever chronicled in his autobiography, the book hasn’t closed on Hutter’s career just yet. Far from, he said.
“I’ve written part of it,” he said when asked if he’s written his own book along the way, “but right now we’re still in middle of the second act so there’s a lot of pages left to fill.”
House of Hardcore 10
When: Friday, Nov. 13
Where: 2300 Arena, 2300 South Swanson St., Philadelphia.
Meet and greet: 6 p.m.
Belltime: 8 p.m.
Main event: Tommy Dreamer and Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Ethan Carter III and Eric Young.
Also featuring: Rhino, Abyss, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, Chris Hero, Lance Hoyt, Tommaso Chiampa, Colt Cabana and others.
Tickets and information: houseofhardcore.net
House of Hardcore 11
When: Saturday, Nov. 14
Where: Elmcor Center, 107-20 Northern Blvd. Corona, N.Y.
Meet and greet: 5 p.m.
Belltime: 7 p.m.
Main event: Tommy Dreamer vs. Ethan Carter III in a New York Street Fight
Also featuring: Yoshihiro Tajiri, Sabu, The Wolves, Abyss, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, Chris Hero, Jade, Colt Cabana and others.
Tickets and information: houseofhardcore.net FBI), Thea Trinidad, Jade, Justin Roberts and more!