Adam Bueller, who has spent recent years competing in brutal deathmatches for promotions like Independent Wrestling Association Mid-South and Resistance Pro Wrestling, took the time to speak with Wiggy Wigowski about the moment he discovered he was HIV-positive. Bueller also went into detail about how he has personally handled his diagnosis as he looks toward the future.
What originally started out as a growth in his armpit quickly unraveled in to a collection of serious health issues for Bueller. Upon getting the growth examined, Bueller was told by doctors that he was suffering from a cancer of the immune system called Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He immediately began radiation chemotherapy to combat the cancer cells, however, unusually low numbers of white blood cells prompted concern from doctors.
"I noticed a very large growth in my armpit that got to be probably about the size of a baseball," Bueller began. "It wasn't going away on it's own. Went and got it checked out, they told me that I had Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is cancer essentially in the immune system. So, I had to pretty much immediately undergo treatment for that. That, for obvious reasons, kept me out of wrestling for a long time. Right as things were starting to look good, I got through chemo and now I was moving on to radiation, my white blood cell count wasn't getting to where it was supposed to."
As Bueller's health depleted, he was moved to a new hospital for further tests. There, they told Bueller that the state he was in could be attributed to a case of pneumonia that had also developed in his time battling cancer. One final series of tests revealed that he was actually HIV-positive. For Bueller, the most devastating part of this information was realizing that his career in wrestling was coming to an end.
"So, they couldn't continue radiation because my body couldn't handle it, and then I started getting short of breath almost to the point where I couldn't breathe," Bueller continued. "I could barely move around and it just got worse, and worse, and worse...they tested me for a lung infection at first, and then they found out through the testing that, 'Hey, you have pneumonia.' I mean, that explains some of it, but then they said, 'Just so you know, the type of pneumonia that you have is commonly associated with this other thing that we're going to test you for now.
"The next day, they came up and they told me officially that I was - in addition to having pneumonia, in addition to having cancer - that I am also HIV-positive," Bueller revealed. "So, that was in the mid-December...you would think I'd be bummed out about that but that's my favorite thing about being HIV-positive, is getting to do that [South Park] joke. So, when I found out, my first thought was, 'Thank God this isn't the 90's anymore,' first of all. And second of all, 'Oh my God, I can't wrestle now. That's it, I'm done now.'"
Although it may very well be the case in other independent wrestling promotions, Bueller revealed that he never once was required to submit a blood test to the companies he has worked for. Furthermore, Bueller stated that the proposition of providing a blood test to compete was never even brought up to him during his time competing in the squared circle.
"I have never given anyone a record of a blood test. Ever, at all, ever - no promoter has ever gotten blood test results from me," Bueller emphasized. "And I know that there are places where it's like, 'Oh, we make sure that we blood test everyone. We make sure that they don't wrestle in that type of environment if we can't prove their blood is clean.' I've never even so much have been asked to submit a blood test. Like, it wasn't one of those, 'Hey, we need a blood test from you. Oh, shoot, there's not enough time? Oh, I'm sure you're fine. Anyway, nevermind.' No one ever even asked me for [my blood test]. But then again, people who may not know me personally, ironically enough, I'm just as at risk for having something in me as you would think that I would, which is very minimal. I'm about as nerdy as they get, I'm not social, I don't do drugs, so really, what could I have? So maybe it wasn't a concern."
Bueller thinks that the state he is billed from, Indiana, has a lot to do with this reckless booking of stars. He notes how the State and Athletic Commission of Indiana has absolutely no rules or guidelines for the sport of professional wrestling.
"I think, for a long time, Indiana didn't have a State Athletic Commission," Bueller explained. "They have one now but I know Indiana, they don't govern pro wrestling at all. So a lot of places, the State and Athletic Commission has no involvement in the pro wrestling side of things. That's another thing, is not having any kind of guidelines on that short of either set by the company itself or people just kind of policing themselves. It's very possible that things like that could exist in that world."
At the end of the day, Bueller remains uncertain about where the roots to his HIV-positive diagnosis lead. He is under the impression that it wasn't contracted in any situations involving pro wrestling.
"I still don't really know for sure where this really came from," Bueller said. "It could have come from wrestling, it could have come from me being involved with someone that I shouldn't have and I'm kind of leaning more towards that. From what the doctors said, there's a possibility - now, this might be terrifying for a lot of people, which is something that I said in the video - that the doctor said that they found my blood counts, that I may have had this for years before they found it. It may have just been dormant. I didn't get in to deathmatches until 2015, so, it was just the last three years of my career. So, I never really gave it much thought because of that...I don't think I got it from someone in wrestling. But then again, I'll also never know."
Because of his experience with local promotions, Bueller admits that he held on to some hope that maybe he could be booked on some non-deathmatch, local wrestling shows following his diagnosis. He even established a plan to go to a quick finish if something like a busted nose or cut lip were to occur.
"I actually considered, when cancer was fully treated and everything, to continue to wrestle, at least non-deathmatches of course, but locally," Bueller explained. "And the reason I decided to stay local is entirely of the stigma, because doctors told me flat out, 'There's nothing your HIV would prevent you from being able to wrestle without the blood involved'...Of course, promoters would have to be comfortable with booking me. Wrestlers would have to be comfortable working with me. And part of the reason that I wanted to remain local and continue to do this is, for one, I have built up a rapport with people in this area. I am a trustworthy guy and they would know that I'm not doing anything for selfish reasons, like continuing to still wrestle, that will put them in jeopardy whatsoever. I wouldn't even consider it if there was a possibility of something happening."
To Bueller, traveling outside of local promotions doesn't seem worth the potential risk of tarnishing any company's name. Even with advances in medicine and a greater knowledge of the virus, there still remains a stigma around HIV that Bueller fully recognizes.
"If something happens where, ya know, busted nose, busted lip, or something? Well that's an easy, okay, we just take it home immediately," Bueller continued. "Like, roll-up right then and there regardless of what's going on. And then clean up the mat and business as usual, nobody's at risk. Pretty much everybody that I've talked to, which isn't many people, but everybody is, like, 'Yeah, I wouldn't see anything wrong with that.' A number of people I have asked said that they would still be comfortable with working with me. Even people after I did the video reached out to me and said, 'Man, you just name the time and place, I'll get in there with ya.' Which I thought was very cool, and all of the local promoters that I've worked with out here, they were comfortable with working with me or continuing to book me. I wouldn't necessarily do traveling shows because, again, the stigma. All it takes is for me to go out and work for VOW again or work for GCW, or something in a non-deathmatch. Somebody gets wind of, 'Oh, hey, this place is booking guys that are HIV-positive.' Next thing you know, their reputation is completely ruined because of what people misunderstand about HIV."
You can listen to the full interview below. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Wiggy Wigowski with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Debbie Mitchell contributed to this article.