Courier Staff Writer
Pat Kenney’s days in the professional wrestling ring are over, he says, but the man once known as Simon Diamond can still execute a perfect hip throw.
He was coaching seven focused, in-shape and hopeful fans on both wrestling technique and showmanship. The experience, part of TNA Impact Wrestling’s popular “Gut Check” program, allows amateurs who think they have the right stuff to go pro.
“They pay a fee and get, what, two hours for us to evaluate them,” Kenney said Saturday. “They’re wrestling for a chance to be on our Gut Check segment on our national television show — and earn a contract to wrestle in the TNA. The stakes are high.”
Now a producer for TNA, he started professional wrestling around 1991 and had to break down doors just to get someone to watch him. So this audition experience is almost unheard of, he said.
The last city this team of producers did a Gut Check in was embarrassing, he said — a debacle. These guys were better, but Kenney is looking for that undefinable gift that draws fans.
During one part of the training and evaluation, he shouted, “Don’t wow me with fancy dance moves. Wow me with a character!”
They started with drills which, despite the muscle definition on the participants, soon had most out of breath and covered in sweat.
During the promo recording part of the afternoon, Kenney told them “You have one minute to sell your character.”
One wrestler began ticking off, one by one, some of the exercises he does to get so ripped — and why no one else is worth watching.
Kenney and TNA official Brain Hebner told him that the public has no idea what those exercises are — and probably doesn’t care. The wrestler was on the right track, yet the promotional video was lacking something, Hebner said.
Wait, said Kenney. He went over and whispered a tip to the wrestler.
This time, still with a lot of energy, the wrestler dropped to the mat and began performing his grueling exercise routine, including pushups, while simultaneously staring into the camera to tell the TV audience why he’s the best.
It instantly lent an air of crazy energy that had been lacking just a minute earlier — and the fighter thanked Kenney, grateful for the tip from “Simon Diamond.”
If they do find someone they think has the right combination of qualities for the TNA — and it’s rare — Hebner said the next step could be TV. He and Kenney thought perhaps one of the ripped group in front of them might have a chance. Maybe.
“This is like an audition,” said Hebner, who is also a TNA referee. “And so is the next [step], on the Gut Check segment.”
If a wrestler does well on both, he said, then they’d be sent to TNA’s training school.
“No one is going to come out of [a regional search] as polished as we need them to be,” Hebner said.
In training, they learn more than just the moves. Because again, besides athleticism, there’s a show business side to televised wrestling. Producers say they are looking to present an image to the fans.
Fans get to see their favorites up close
A group of four of dedicated fans pulled into the Bridge View Center parking lot early.
“I grew up watching Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Sting,” said Nickolas Rozenboom of Ottumwa. “Now I just want a chance to tell Cowboy James Storm he rocks!”
He may get that chance.
The friends were there at 1 p.m. The show started at 7:30. They wanted to be first in line, and they were. But they also were VIPs Saturday night. With the higher-priced VIP ticket, they were to be invited to a meet and greet at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
In the meantime, they waited.
“I want to tell them I’ve been a fan since I was knee high,” said Erik Rozenboom, who was there with his brother. “I admire the way they present themselves in and out of the ring — they’re really generous with the fans.”
“I’m happy to see my favorite wrestler Jeff Hardy come through town,” said fan Shane Penrod. “Even when he wasn’t a big name, I watched them.”
“We needed something like this in Ottumwa,” said another fan, Ricky Shepherd.
Ever since he started watching wrestling as a child, he’s wanted to get involved. His enthusiasm for professional wrestling is so great, he said, even if he can’t get into the ring, he’d be thrilled to work as a security guard for TNA.
Now, he gets to see the show in his hometown.
“I’m just glad it’s here, and I hope they come again,” Shepherd said.
The guys are aware that professional wrestling isn’t to everyone’s taste. In fact, Shepherd said he’d been wondering, would Bridge View ever have things that would be of interest to him and his friends.
Nickolas and Penrod both designed their own signs to wave during the event, with a nod toward one of the sayings associated with TNA, that wrestling matters.
As they entered the lobby of Bridge View Center, Penrod said, “It matters to me.”