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Jeff Bearden is a hall-of-fame professional wrestler who now gives motivational speeches to teens.

Wrestling career highlights

* Jeff Bearden has wrestled all over the world, including in Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the United States, England, Puerto Rico, Germany and India.
He defeated Barbarian for the National Wrestling Association title in 1993 in front of 75,000 in Bombay, India. It was the largest crowd in Indian history to see such a match.
On June 7, Bearden was inducted into the Iconic Heroes of Wrestling Excellence Southern (originally the Texas) Hall of Fame.

Standing 7 feet tall and weighing in at more than 350 pounds, it's hard to imagine Jeff Bearden being pressured into doing anything he didn't want to.

But, even as an adult who made a living as a professional wrestler and later as a bouncer, Bearden says it was peer pressure that got him hooked first on alcohol and later drugs. He even contemplated suicide.

Wrestling under such names Giant Warrior, Big Tiger Steele, Colossus the Gladiator and Butch Bonner, Bearden had no trouble entering the ring to battle guys like Abdullah the Butcher, Viktor Kruger or The Barbarian. It was after some of those battles, when his fellow ring warriors would get together socially, that he found trouble.

"When I got into wrestling, it was a different creature," the 51-year-old says. "It was a very select group and one of the ways you were tested was how much you could drink. I developed a drinking problem."

He overcame that with help from his parents, he says, only to later get hooked on cocaine while living and working in South Africa as a bouncer.

"Kids grow up wanting to be bouncers there," he says. "The more people you beat up, the bigger your reputation becomes, and cocaine was something I felt like I needed to do to fit in. You don't escape peer pressure once you get out of high school."

That's one of the messages Bearden now delivers when he speaks to teens and Christian groups as a professional motivational speaker. Bearden is traveling the South this month with his wife, Brittany, looking to relocate his base of operations. He will be in Chattanooga on Sept. 21, talking to school principals and the media while house-hunting.

In June, during an interview on "On the Way with Paul Ridgeway," a radio show in Minneapolis, Bearden said that, as hard as he wrestled in the ring, "I wrestled God just as hard to prove that I could do things my way."

"The Bible verse that always sticks very close to me Philippians 4:13: 'I can do all things through Christ that strengthen me,'" he said on the radio program."You've got to have faith in God and know that he's not going to lead you to something that he's not going to lead you through."

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Jeff Bearden is a hall-of-fame professional wrestler who now gives motivational speeches to teens.

Bearden says he tailors his talks to the group he is addressing, but topics range from peer pressure to bullying to drugs to finding ways to feel good about yourself. He also stresses to kids that high school only lasts a few years, and that self-image can be the key to happiness.

Sometimes in their own minds, young people create a misperception of what others thinks of him or her. He did the same. The son of a high school teacher and football coach in tiny Canyon, Texas, Bearden says he was never invited to the parties of the cooler kids because they were afraid he'd rat out their bad behavior. In his mind, he was an unpopular loner.

"I was 7 foot and 300 pounds in high school, so I was made fun of for being skinny."

Years later, however, he got together with some classmates who went on and on to his wife about how popular he was.

"I said, 'Are you talking about someone else?'" he recalls. "Sometimes what kids feel others think of them is just not the case. I also try to tell them, 'If you are not being invited to the movies or a party, have you reached out and invited others to go with you?' You've got to be proactive. Somebody has to take the first step."

Bearden offers kids a relatively simple — but he says effective — way build self-esteem.

"It sounds corny I know, but I tell them to talk to themselves in the mirror. People need to hear positive things, so every day you should look in the mirror and tell youself that you are beautiful, you are intelligent and worthwhile. The mind starts believing it."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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