By Kenny King
Long before I was Ingobernable, before I beat Jay Lethal best 2-out-of-3 or carried Rhett Titus to a championship, I was just a fan. I’ve been watching wrestling for as long as I can remember. From my first wrestling VHS in 1986 all the way to skipping a live fire drill in college to stay in my dorm to watch Bradshaw and Farooq. Back then, watching wrestling was easy, but nobody I knew had any idea of how to be a wrestler.
That all changed one night when I turned on the TV and saw a new reality show that took 13 athletes -- eight men, five women -- and trained them to be pro wrestlers. All competing for just two open spots. I remember my eyes being glued to the screen. My emotions split between “these guys aren't even athletes, I can do that,” and jealousy that they even had the opportunity to try.
A year later, trying to pursue my college football career took me to UNLV in Las Vegas. One day walking around campus I opened a student newspaper and there it was: a full-page ad asking if I was “Tough Enough” to try out for the second season of the wrestling reality show. I felt that this was my opportunity to put up or shut up. My chance to show these guys what a real athlete looked like. Mostly, I just wanted to be on MTV. I borrowed my mom’s camcorder and asked a buddy to film what I remember now as the worst promos of my entire career. They must have been pretty good at the time, because a few weeks later I was invited to come to the auditions right here in Las Vegas.
I arrived at the tryouts what I considered to be early. At 5 a.m. there was a line already wrapped around Caesars Palace and the call time was 6. After the traditional “hurry up and wait” that usually accompanies entertainment auditions and registrations, I walked around to meet and scout my competition. I ran into a familiar face, an insanely athletic guy that I’d met in Tampa during my breakdancing days. It was his very first attempt at pro wrestling also. You now know him as John Morrison. Another young lady that I met was shy, reserved, but confident. She knew that all she needed was that one shot. She became the international phenom known as Awesome Kong.
When it was my time to audition, I was led into a boxing ring in front of a table with a panel of familiar faces. I instantly recognized Good Ol’ JR's Voice and saw faces I’d seen on TV for years in Al Snow and Chavo Guerrero. With the pressure on, I gave an electrifying, completely engaging interview that left every member on the panel with a smile on their face. Needless to say, I was on to Round 2.
Having narrowed the field from tens of thousands of video submissions, to 2,000 auditioners, to now 25 semifinalists, we were getting down to the end. Twenty-five would be cut to 13 by the end of the second round, which consisted of interviews and an unknown physical challenge. The Interviews were straight forward. They wanted to see who had charisma, who had the presence that needed to be featured on television. For the physical challenge, however, they just wanted to see if they could make us quit.
We were taken 45 minutes outside the city to a place called Red Rock Canyon. They informed us that we would be going on a little run, 3 miles. The first mile and half was competitive, with everyone in shape and doing their best to impress the judges. Halfway, they pulled us to the side and informed us that not only would we be switching routes to a much steeper incline, we would also be finishing the run in backpacks filled with 20 percent of our bodyweight in sand. They say in near-death experiences your memory gets fuzzy, which is why I probably don’t remember much from “Death Mountain.” What I do remember is not giving up, and crossing that finish line.
I was chosen to be one of the 13 contestants that day. It was the literal first step on this incredible journey in pro wrestling that has now spanned 18 years. So, the next time you say in your head, “I know I can do that,” don’t be afraid to try it. You never know where it might lead.