The Tragic Death Of Matt Cappotelli

Well before WWE's NXT brand had its humble beginnings as a game show-style rookie search, the company had a show called Tough Enough, which would typically feature several aspiring wrestlers undergoing training and competing for a contract. Very few of the young men and women who were featured on this show went on to have careers working for Vince McMahon, but it was still the initial proving ground for current Superstars such as The Miz, Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Velveteen Dream, and Chelsea Green, as noted by TheSportster.

Tough Enough's third season, which ran from late 2002 through early 2003, featured two co-winners, with one of them, John Hennigan, enjoying fame under a variety of ring names, including his WWE-approved moniker of John Morrison. That wasn't the case for the other co-winner, Matt Cappotelli, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor just a few years later.

Let's take a look at Cappotelli's brief time working for WWE, as well as the health struggles that forced his early retirement from the ring and led to his death in 2018.

Cappotelli was 'on the verge' of superstardom when he fell ill

Much like many products of Tough Enough who show potential over the course of their season, Cappotelli was assigned to WWE's developmental system — at the time, that company was Ohio Valley Wrestling. In 2005, the young grappler became OVW Champion and, as the WWE website noted, he was seemingly "on the verge of Superstardom," suggesting he might have been due for an imminent call-up to the main roster. However, he was diagnosed that same year with a brain tumor and was forced to relinquish his title in February 2006. In April 2007, Cappotelli returned to OVW television and revealed the bad news that the tumor had grown to the point that he would require major surgery.

"Doctors have been monitoring the tumor since its discovery, and my last MRI revealed that it had grown a little," Cappotelli told WWE. "I had been feeling pretty good the last couple months, but recently I had some bad headaches and noticed a little change in my vision. They told me that because the tumor has grown, my optic nerves had swollen as well."

Cappotelli added that he was hoping for the best ahead of the surgery, which was scheduled to take place on May 1 of that year.

He underwent surgery again in 2017 after tumor came back

Although Cappotelli's tumor was successfully removed, WWE chose not to re-sign him when his contract expired in January 2009. According to Give Me Sport, he remained involved in the wrestling business in the years that followed, and in 2013, he was named the trainer for OVW's Beginner Program.

The job allowed Cappotelli to work with up-and-coming wrestlers despite the fact his days as an active performer were long over. He suffered a major health setback in 2017, however, when he announced that he would be undergoing brain surgery for a second time. In a statement, Cappotelli noted that the tumor that was removed back in 2007 had "come back much more aggressively" and that part of it was supposedly inoperable.

"The portion that they are hoping to remove will be sent for pathology, which will determine what exactly we are dealing with and provide insight on future treatment plans and the next steps for the inoperable portion in my brain stem," he said.

Cappotelli ceased medical intervention for the tumor a month before his death

Doctors were able to remove 90 percent of Cappotelli's brain tumor when he underwent surgery in June 2017, but the remaining 10 percent was considered inoperable because of how close it was to the wrestler's brain stem. As noted by WDRB, only five percent of patients with such tumors are able to survive another five years.

Per Variety, Cappotelli was hospitalized yet again in December of that year, and in May 2018, he had decided to stop receiving medical interventions for his tumor, as advised by his neuro-oncologist. He tragically lost his battle with brain cancer on June 29, 2018, at the age of 38, and was survived by his wife, Lindsay.

Given how he had no choice but to walk away from the squared circle at such a young age, one can't help but wonder what Cappotelli would have achieved in the wrestling business had he not fallen ill during the prime of what was then a promising career.