CADILLAC — For more than 30 years, Eric Breden has been chasing a dream.
If that name doesn’t sound familiar maybe this one will, Electric Eric Freedom. Breden has been in the wrestling business since 1990 and this has taken him to various places across the country. It has included times in the biggest companies including World Wrestling Entertainment and World Championship Wrestling, but also various independent companies.
In 2003, he started his own wrestling business, UWE Pro Wrestling after he relocated to Northern Michigan from the Chicago area. He has been hosting monthly live events in Cadillac for several years and while that will continue in 2024 and beyond, the Dec. 9 event, Christmas Karnage, is taking on personal significance for Breden.
Recently, Breden found out he likely has chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which is a progressive brain disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries, including concussions and repeated blows to the head. Armed with that knowledge, Breden said the Dec. 9 event will be the last time he gets in the ring as a professional wrestler.
A diagnosis of CTE can only be made after death when an autopsy can reveal whether the known brain changes of CTE are present. When CTE is suspected, a thorough medical history, mental status testing, neurological exams, brain imaging and more may be used to rule out other causes for the experienced symptoms.
It was about three months ago that Breden found out that he likely had CTE. Breden’s wife Tracy said she has suspected for years that he had CTE.
“The diagnosis came about three months ago, but I noticed a change in Eric about 10 years ago,” Tracy said.
Symptoms of CTE can include impulse control problems, aggression, mood swings, depression, paranoia and anxiety. There also are four stages of CTE.
According to McKee’s CTE staging scheme, in stage I, a typical CTE patient is asymptomatic, or may complain of mild short-term memory deficits and depressive symptoms. Mild aggression may be observed.
In Stage II, the mood and behavioral symptoms could include behavioral outbursts and more severe depressive symptoms. In Stage III, patients typically present with more cognitive deficits, including memory loss, executive functioning deficits, visuospatial dysfunction and apathy.
In Stage IV, patients present with advanced language deficits, and psychotic symptoms, including paranoia, motor deficits and parkinsonism. Breden said he is believed to be in Stage 3 but is hopeful that it won’t get worse or lessen with some of the changes he has made in his life.
“Short-term memory loss is a big thing for me. For example, I might be sitting on the couch watching television. Nothing is going on and I might have the urge to go to the bathroom, I might need something to drink and I might be chilly, so I decide to turn off the fan,” he said. “I get two out of the three with the bathroom being the first one I do.”
He said it wouldn’t be until he sat down and started watching TV that he remembered he was thirsty. He said there also might be times when he goes to the kitchen to get that drink and he will forget why he went in there. He said things like that happen daily and are aggravating to him, but he doesn’t let it get him down.
He knows it’s not his fault, it’s CTE.
To combat that, routine is vital and Breden said he is a creature of habit. He likes certain things done in certain ways and he won’t bend on that. When he gets outside that routine, that is when he gets anxious and/or nervous.
Too much unfamiliarity is too much stimulation for his brain to handle due to the CTE. Breden said Tracy even has to drive him to his job taking the same route or he can get anxious.
“The anxiety could turn into depression. I’ve had days, early on in this, where I would just be sitting at home watching TV and I’m just crying,” he said. What am I crying about? I don’t know but I’m doing it. I feel better when I’m done but it’s just weird sitting in my house crying about something I don’t know about.”
Breden doesn’t have regrets about the life he has lived or the path professional wrestling has taken him down. He doesn’t regret the chair shots, the power bombs or all the bumps he has taken over the years. Instead, he is hopeful he can help shed light on CTE, while also still participating in his business outside the ring rather than inside it.
“After 33 years, my body has had enough. When I get up out of this chair you are going to think someone is pouring a bowl of Rice Krispies and it’s not. It’s this (as he gestured to his body),” he said with a laugh.
Although some would say he shouldn’t be in the ring, Breden said he wants to go out the way he wants to. He admits that as he has gotten older he really hasn’t done anything too extreme, but he still wants his last match to be fun for the fans.
He also trusts the people he will be wrestling to keep him safe as they all know he is dealing with the symptoms associated with CTE. He also said when it gets to be Dec. 9 and he’s not feeling it, there is a chance they will cut out some of the things they have planned. At the end of the day he wants to give the fans a show, but he also wants to keep himself safe.
“I’m going to go out on my terms and I guess these are my terms,” he said.
While there is an unwritten rule in professional wrestling to not show emotion in the locker room, Breden said when the three count of his final match has been given, there will be tears and a lot of emotion.
“Yeah, I’m gonna cry,” he said.
The final match for Eric Freedom will be against Project Max. The team, led by Max Morrison with his henchman Kyzyle, will face off against Freedom in a Cadillac Street Fight. In the match fans have the opportunity to get involved by bringing the weapons the wrestlers can use. Other matches on the card include BMI brothers “Breathtaking” Mike Idol and “The Bruiser” Jamie Race facing each other for the UWE Heavyweight title. Will the BMI team and friendship last the match?
WWE Superstar Hornswaggle also will be at Christmas Karnage and will join up with the Demons of Dublin, Kavan O’Reilley and Meathooks O’Bannon, the Irish Pub Army. The trio will square off against The Conflict Crew, including Christopher Headford, Tommy Macabre and the Masked Marauder.
Tickets can be purchased online through UWE Pro Wrestling’s Facebook page or www.uweprowrestling.com. Tickets also can be through one of the ticket outlets including Biener’s Pizza, Wargames North in Downtown Cadillac and Out the Door Rent to Own on 13th Street.
Tickets also will be available at the door, but if bought before the show, fans can save $5. General admission tickets are $15 in advance/$20 at the door, Kids/Seniors are $10 in advance and at the door and family four packs are $40 in advance and $45 at the door.