I woke up early to make the hour commute to the Ring Of Honor Tryout Camp: Day Two. As I wove in and out of the Philadelphia traffic, the only stress I felt was the stress of “making it” in professional wrestling.
For the second day in a row, I am the first person at the ROH Dojo, and, again, I wait nervously as the narrow hallway, outside of the locked door leading to success or failure, fills with others who share my ambitions and fears.
One participant says, “I don’t know about the rest of you f__kers, but I’m here to get a job.”
Yes, I do believe that’s why we’re all here, kind sir.
Day two saw my split-group of twenty-five of fifty participants going to the promo room first, again.
That day’s talking assignment was to “sell a specific match”; I called out Jay Briscoe.
Again, I poured my soul into my words. Again, I went back to my seat on the floor to looks of, “Holy s__t. I didn’t expect that from him.”
I sat there, half paying attention to other’s promos, half formulating what I was going to do to impress in the ring.
Once the last promos were done, and it was our group’s turn to have the ring, my split consciousness continued. Part of me walked to the ring like it was “the green mile” to the electric chair, part of me walked to the ring like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin about to confront Mr. McMahon.
Once more, head-trainer Delirious said, “First two.” Once more, I was on the apron before he had finished speaking.
This time three of us jumped up at the same time. While the other two awkwardly looked at each other and me, trying to figure out what to do, I just wiped my feet off and got in the ring; as if to say, “You guys work it out amongst yourselves, because I have claimed this ring.”
One guy dropped down to ringside and I had a solid five minute “warm-up match” with the guy that stayed. It wasn’t amazing, but I showed what I could do and improvement based off the advice from the day before; I was moving “zombie slow” between the moves.
If there was a post-match critique, it was slight enough that I don’t remember it.
With the odd numbered grouping, there was an opportunity to go twice. When an inexperienced female wrestler was left in the ring without an opponent, I jumped up on the apron like Brock Lesnar, while other guys were checking their bootlaces or whatever.
Because she was inexperienced, I went full “Lord Steven Regal” and put myself in holds to reverse out of them only to put myself in different ones.
The previous day, I had allowed a greenhorn to impede my ability. This time I used my ability to transcend a greenhorn’s impediments. As I worked, I watched the trainers. Their faces telling me, “Not too shabby, kid.”
As we took our lunch break, I was telling myself, “Good enough, but ‘good enough’ is not good enough!”
After the break, a line up for the camp’s last matches, the real-deal-job-interview matches, was presented. I was happy to see my name across from J.T. Dunn, a young, talented veteran that I hadn’t had the honor of sharing the ring with, yet.
Just as day one, the format was to my detriment; five minutes to put together a five minute match. But, at least, this time, I was prepared for it. “I can’t really show the level of creativity that I want to, but I can give ‘em enough of a glimpse that they might come callin’ for more.” I thought to myself.
While J.T. and I were waiting for our turn, a young man that I had previously known as Li Green entered the ring with a new alias: Lio Rush. As soon as his match started the energy in the room changed. Everyone stopped thinking and whispering about their own matches and became transfixed on the ring. Lio’s lightening fast, yet precise, movements wowed the jaded, could-be jealous minds of the other ROH hopefuls. A whole room of guys who may have been competing for a single opportunity to live out their dreams, got behind this guy. It was clear to us all that he was special; that he was undeniable. How could you hate on that? It seemed to me that none of us even attempted to.
After the matches, the trainers would give you a “yea” or “nay” based on your performance and look. Lio, with his mere one year of in-ring experience, of course, got a resounding “yea”.
My match came up. J.T. and I put everything we had into it and had just about the best match we could, under the circumstances. For the second day in a row, I showed wrestling experts things that they had never seen or imagined; this time with better execution.
I was still as nervous as Batman at Ozzfest as we stood in the center of the ring, all eyes on us, and awaited judgement on whether it was thought that we could perform on the stage that was known for “creating excellence”.
After a moment of eternity, “yea”s started coming forth in my direction from the trainers. A warmth began to emanate from my heart.
When the “yay” or “nay” torch was passed to Delirious, who had final say, there was hesitation. The warmth in my heart froze. He stroked his beard and moved his head slowly from side to side; international body language for undecided weighing of pros and cons.
By the look on his face, I could tell that his scale of resolve seemed to tip, but I couldn’t tell which way.
His poker face held strong as he began to speak, “Hmmm… Yeah, I think you could, maybe, be utilized in some segments on ROH TV. Stay on our radar.”
It wasn’t exactly a rave review, but, considering that this wasn’t the best environment for me to shine in, I was glad to get it.
I had just barely passed this first test to wedge my pinky toe into the door of the promotion that was my first goal when I started wrestling thirteen years previous. I had wanted to ace that Mother___er, though.
I drove the 479.4 miles back home to West Virginia with a strange, bittersweet feeling of slight disappointment and raging motivation. I made a resolution to use any scrap of opportunity that they may be willing to throw me to show that I have the potential to be one of the greats.
And when that time came, I sure as hell gave it my best damn shot.