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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- "The last 18 months of my career in OVW have been pretty awesome," said Michael Hayes.
His career with Ohio Valley Wrestling helped save his life.
In the ring he's not just the good guy hearing the shouts of, "Michael! Michael! Michael!" He's a real-life American hero.
"Once the ball started rolling," he said, "it just took off and became amazing really fast." He said he, "got to do so many awesome things, so many awesome matches, have so many in such a short amount of time, have so many awesome moments for Ohio Valley Wrestling, which is really cool for me."
He added, "I think fans can tell how much I love wrestling, period....Once they found out the story, then that went to a whole new level, because I still could have been anyone's cousin, brother, or nephew, and have what happened happen to me."
WDRB News first met Hayes in May 2011. The Fort Knox soldier was the only survivor of an IED explosion in Iraq that killed three other men. The powerful blast left burns over 40 percent of Hayes' body and forced doctors to amputate his left leg.
He told us wrestling pulled him out of the darkness of post-traumatic stress. He said, "That's not so much sadness as it is frustration."
The triumphant story of a soldier chasing his childhood dreams against all odds has taken another twist. Hayes learned earlier this month that he has to have more medical work. It involves, he said, "scar tissue on the back of my knee from my old skin grafts....It was thick and tight and keeping my knee tight and reducing my range of motion because I was tearing it open more."
Doctors already performed one surgery to redo skin grafts on Hayes' good leg. There's at least one more to come.
It involves, he said, "Lots of just sitting around." Ordered to stay off his feet and heal, Hayes said the isolation offers plenty of time to think: "What will I really be doing to myself if I keep going, and weighing is it worth it to do what I'm doing, and then risk my actual health in the long term."
The same war injuries that threatened to take away his life are now threatening his livelihood. He said, "I watched the stuff that I liked as a kid, so I can stay into it."
Hayes said he's not done yet, but is still chasing the ultimate goal. "I want to have my own Wrestlemania moment," he said.
Ever the champion, he uses his time to study footage, waiting for the day he steps back into the ring -- staying away from the darkness and depression that once weighed him down. "It's just a bump in the road," he said. "Every once in a while you have to take a step back....There's only so many things I can control in this situation, so if I can control those it will all work out."
He added, "Yeah, I get mad, but that's why I wrestle....There's no point in sitting around on it -- what's it going to do? But if you can step into the ring and be positive and beat the crap out of someone because you're mad about something, and win and have 400 people stand on [their] feet while you do it, that's usually a good way to get rid of that anger."
It's also motivation to stand through yet another battle, another fight. "It's not a job to me, you know," he said.
Ohio Valley Wrestling is the developmental training program for TNA Impact Wrestling and formerly the WWE. Big-time names like The Rock, Brock Lesner, and John Cena all trained to wrestle there.
Michael Hayes wants to become one of those esteemed graduates. He's looking at eight to 12 months down the line, if he's able to step back into the ring again.