A Scar is born

Matt "Scar" Haugen loves the pain of local extreme wrestling

He had a high tolerance for injury, he found, after spending a childhood filled with needles and hospital stays. "Every time it hits me it's kind of like a turn-on or something. It satisfies me. It's my addiction," he says.

Scar was born with a respiratory system so damaged, doctors only gave him a 50 percent chance of survival. The infant's lungs acted as if he was still in the womb. Fed antibiotics and other drugs through an umbilical catheter, the newborn spent his first seven weeks in the intensive care unit. His lungs eventually healed, but the intense regimen of drugs had a severe side effect: a loss of 85 percent of Scar's hearing.

"Life was more important than hearing," Scar's mother, Stephanie Haugen, says as she flips through a family album that documents her son's ordeal.

Doc Fairday sends Scar to the mat in a training match.
Doc Fairday sends Scar to the mat in a training match.
Turning a folding chair into a weapon.
Turning a folding chair into a weapon.

But the Haugens' nightmare wasn't over. Three years later, Stephanie says she was horrified when, one morning in 1986, blood began gushing from her son's mouth. It was like the infamous pea-soup vomiting scene in The Exorcist, Stephanie says. Close to death, young Scar was airlifted to Phoenix Children's Hospital.

The umbilical catheter that had saved his life as an infant proved to be the source of another problem: a blockage to a key vein in Scar's liver, which provides 75 percent of the organ's blood. The blockage had caused a backup of blood along the circulatory systems of the stomach and intestine. Blood had also been forced into paper-thin veins lining the lower esophagus. Physicians had believed Scar would outgrow the condition, but instead the veins had ruptured, causing blood to flow out of Scar's mouth. The boy was so critical, Stephanie recalls, the doctors dubbed him "the nightmare on the eighth floor."

After two months of treatment, Scar recovered. But over the next three years, the situation repeated itself as the blood vessels would rupture again, leading to hospital stays just a week or several months after the last.

Eventually, Scar's surgeon constructed prosthetic shunts in the veins around Scar's liver to restore proper circulation. Three months later, the shunts failed. So the physician created an effective bypass through a different set of veins. Scar's spleen was also removed, leaving him with a lifetime susceptibility to infection.

Each time Scar was rushed to the hospital, death loomed. His mother remembers being told several times to say her goodbyes to her son.

Scar remembers "traumatic" and "horrible" moments of being drugged and immobilized after his surgeries so he could heal. Visiting hospitals today, he says, triggers flashbacks of the trauma, so he avoids them whenever possible.

Adjusting to school after his legacy of surgeries was difficult. He was held back a year, which made him a social outcast to classmates since he was a year older. He had few friends and was teased unmercifully because of his hearing loss. Scar could read lips fluently, but his parents wanted him to use a hearing aid, which brought more taunts.

"I wish sometimes I could take a fucking drill and just drill out my ears," Scar says, explaining that he'd rather be completely deaf so he wouldn't have to ask people to repeat themselves.

In his adolescence, Scar looked for a way to channel his frustrations over being a school oddity. He tried football his freshman year at Horizon High School, but quit after half a season.

The sport, he says without irony, was "too dangerous."

In the documentary The Backyard, director Paul Hough found that many of the amateur wrestlers he met were the misfit sons of shattered homes. One set of brothers in Nevada enacted an elaborate three-part blood fest because, said one, he found it the only way to relive the "love" he felt being savagely beaten by his now missing father.

It seems surprising, then, that Scar is the product of such a radically different environment. His mother, Stephanie, is a teacher at Horizon High School. His father, Mark, is principal of Navajo Elementary School in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Neither seems thrilled about Scar's career. But Stephanie says that when her son became an adult, he was entitled to make his own decisions.

Mark Haugen says he was apprehensive, but after watching Scar and friends in the family's backyard, he was reassured by the cooperation and practice involved. "I was from the beginning determined that if Matthew wanted to do this I'd support him 100 percent and that's what I did. At some particular point, I started enjoying watching Matthew enjoy himself. Because . . . I didn't get a chance to really see him smile and enjoy himself much when he was growing up."

It's little different, he says, than if Scar had taken up another contact sport, such as martial arts or football. But Mark admits he worries that Scar might injure himself or die.

After trying out their first moves in backyard matches, Scar and his friend Outrage made their first step toward organized wrestling in 1999 on a trip to Tucson. Scar had learned about Ryan Van Horn and his circuit, High Impact Wrestling, through the Internet, and Van Horn invited the two wrestlers down to see a match. The two ended up entering the ring themselves, and Van Horn was impressed enough to ask them to join.

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