It’s amazing how often I get asked what it was like to work with certain pro wrestling personalities who have since become mainstream stars in either WWE or TNA, or talents who were regular television names but ultimately found themselves released (or future endeavored) and back on the small indy wrestling scene.
To be quite honest, it’s all the same to me. I guess when I was breaking into the business back in 1992, I’d get more starstruck getting the opportunity to work with my childhood heroes such as Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, etc. Afterall, how many people actually get the opportunity to live out their dream and work within a business that is so difficult to get into, let alone succeed. Achieving such goals is the equivalent of being a daily visitor of partycasino.com and one day hitting for the multi-million dollar jackpot. Everything that you ever dreamed and wished for would now be within reach.
I guess there are still times where I get “that feeling”, especially when a star is fresh off TV after a strong run and now I’m the one booking them and telling them what to do. It’s awkward to have a “name” come up to you and say, “Hey boss – what do you want me to do tonight?”
When I worked with R-Truth, he had a short yet forgettable run in the WWE. There had been speculation that there was some sort of backstage heat on him and that’s why he was released from the company. There were even rumors about a relationship with Stephanie McMahon – but he really doesn’t seem like her type, so I easily dismissed them. I saw Ron Killings as that spark that was lost in the shuffle. He had a style and a swagger that the business wasn’t ready for. And without turning this into a race infused analogy, the WWE didn’t know how to book someone that was so…black.
Truth would rap his way to the ring, and do a mixture of dance moves inspired by James Brown and Breakin’ 2: Electric Booglaoo. His energy lifted the crowd and got 17,000 bouncing bodies like a Jay-Z concert. But WWE still didn’t know how to book it. They were afraid of the color barriers and had a limited amount of African American workers, yet those who were on the roster were strong, proud and menacing. Almost felt like it was being booked out of white man’s guilt. It was apparent that WWE was out of touch with the urban community and feared doing anything that would be a blatant stereotype of what would be expected from a black hip hop style worker.
In 2004, R-Truth was competing for TNA Wrestling. He had his moment to shine as a main eventer, and was simply booked as himself. There was no gimmick needed, because the person R-Truth was everyday, was so fun and energetic to be around that it was a no-brainer to share that energy on TV. Fans immediately connected with him because he was real, he was what they enjoyed in their own daily lives, and most of all – he wasn’t trying to sell you on an amped up character, but rather he was selling you on himself.
When I arrived on the NWA Cyberspace scene, R-Truth was already their champion. He had won TNA’s NWA heavyweight title and was enough of a name to lend credibility to a small northeast indy federation. Billy Firehawk had a vision of producing a product that shared his own urban flavor. A Brooklyn native like myself, Firehawk thought it would be good business to make a champion whose look and persona mirrored the audience and local venues where he performed. It gave a sense of inspiration to young African American and Latino kids who came to the shows and saw one of their own as a champion – rather than the typical “token” player.
I didn’t write the first show that I was a part of in NWA Cyberspace. I was asked in April 2004 to come in and take a look at the product so I could tweak it for the next show and start making the much needed creative changes for the company.
At the time, I was working on small side projects with WWE Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper, and he just happened to be in town that weekend for a local convention. The only input I had on my first NWA Cyberspace show was that I brought the Hot Rod in for a special edition of Piper’s Pit. His guest…none other than champion, “R-Truth”.
But there was a problem. Piper was still active with the WWE. He had been feuding with Hulk Hogan, whose identity was being hidden under the mask of Mr. America. So when word got out that Piper was booked on the show, the internet reporters re-worked the press releases to their headline advantage saying, “Current WWE Star Roddy Piper To Conduct Piper’s Pit with TNA Champion Ron Killings”. It took only 48 hours for the WWE office to get wind of it and insist that it be changed and not promoted as a WWE star interacting with a TNA star.
A few days later, Firehawk called me about the buzz he was getting for having Roddy Piper on the show. He asked me if I could get anyone else. The first call I ALWAYS make is to my brother, Diamond Dallas Page.
DDP had retired with a neck injury, but was about to start taking limited bookings on the indies. The only stipulation was that in order to protect his neck (not in the Wu-Tang Clan way), there were only a few people he’d be willing to work with. After a few minutes, we decided on Chris Kanyon as his opponent, and we worked up an angle that would run for three shows. I also figured a good way to get some heat on Kanyon and a HUGE pop for DDP would be to involve the champion.
I met Ronnie for the first time at that April show, and was asked by Firehawk to work with him in building up for his title match against local beast Sinister X. As a perfectionist, I was already pissed that WWE screwed up my plan and wasn’t about to let them dictate our small indy show. So I came up with the idea of still having them interact…but in the match itself. The way I saw it – yeah, I couldn’t promote a Piper’s Pit with a TNA star as a guest to sell tickets. But fans already knew Piper was going to be there and tickets sold on his name alone. So why not have Piper interfere in the match, still interact with TNA talent, and by the time the WWE office hears about it – the show will be over. And that’s how it worked.
To get things kicked off for the eventual DDP/Kanyon match, we had a hooded character named Darkbird attack Ron after his title defense. He laid Truth out with a VERY sloppy diamond cutter and then did the infamous DDP diamond sign with his hands before running out of the building. The fans went NUTS! They knew something big was in the workings.
A few days after the event, Truth called me on my cell. I was surprised because we didn’t know each other at all. We had just met at that one event and kept or discussions strictly business. For one, I didn’t want to look like a mark. And in all honesty, I didn’t know how involved I was going to get with the organization, let alone how long they were going to last.
Truth called Firehawk and asked for my number. He wanted to tell me how much enjoyed working with me and how impressed he was with how I handled the situation yet still pulled it off regardless of the heat from Vince’s office. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing considering that we had only worked briefly and this was a small indy show that only drew less than 200 people. He started asking me what I thought of his match, and in my head I thought – “Who the fuck am I to tell you how your match was?” But I realized that Ron appreciated my honesty, and somehow he knew I had a knack for finding solutions to problems. Our conversation was 30 minutes long. We talked about the match, I filled him in on the layout for the next two shows with DDP and Kanyon and how he would be involved, working indies, music, music videos and his goals of being a rapper. I didn’t expect him to open up to me the way he did. Little did I know, it wouldn’t be the first time as numerous other talents followed suit in opening up to me during me tenure as booker (some of those stories will be revealed here in future articles).
I developed a strong appreciation for Ron, not only because he sought me out and opened up to me, but because I sensed that there were things he wanted to talk about that most other people wouldn’t listen to. The TRUTH was, Ron was looking for an ear to vent to. He was never insecure about his work, but he wondered if he was the type of persona the business was interested in. Perhaps the short run and lack of creative effort in the WWE made him question his decision to be a wrestler? Perhaps he wondered if TNA would be a legitimate opposition for the WWE? Perhaps he was bummed out that he was working shows in front of 200 people?
I wrote numerous press releases building up the next show for Killings to defend his title against the mysterious masked assailant Darkbird – who would b revealing himself to the audience on the night of the event. Most people thought it was a build up for a heel DDP to take on Truth. But the plan was for the hood to come off and reveal Kanyon.
The day of the show, I get a call from Firehawk informing me Truth never got on his flight. Firehawk called him. Other TNA workers on the card called him. The TNA office called him. I called him. But there was no answer. We got worried but the show had to go on. We shuffled things around and Firehawk made the decision to strip Truth of the title. For the sake of the story that we were building, I pleaded with him to think again and just tell the fans that he missed the flight, but Firehawk was adamant about taking the title off him. He said that the champion needs to be on every show and the main title needs to be defended on every show. But we were a small indy company that was barely drawing, so who really gives a shit? Things happen, we can make up for it. If you strip a champion, then what do you do with the vacated title?
Firehawk decided that a new champion would be crowned that night. Darkbird (Kanyon) was granted an immediate title match stemming from his attack, and Slyck Wagner Brown was the recognized number one contender. They would battle it out to determine a new champion.
I didn’t know Slyck at all. So I wasn’t sold on the idea. I fought against it, but little did I know he was a crowd favorite and in his history with the company, fans were waiting for him to have his moment as champion. I’m glad I was overruled that night, because the right decision was made to put the strap on Slyck. I guess I was still a little biased after having an in-depth conversation with Truth. But it was a business decision, and a tough one at that.
Later that night, we finally heard back from Truth. He apologized and said it was a family emergency. I didn’t doubt it, but was left with the task to tell him that we stripped him of the title and had to make a decision to go in a different creative direction. He understood and said he would do the next show for free and pay his own airfare. That’s something you never hear, and he stuck to his word.
In my mind, it was all good. But nobody had told me this was a regular thing for Truth. There were days he woke up and just didn’t want to wrestle anymore. His heart was in his music and not the ring. Early in 2005, we built a story for Killings to work against Lex Luger…he no-showed again. It happened another time or two and I made the decision that I couldn’t build anything around him anymore. I hated telling the fans that as a booker and promotion, we couldn’t deliver – especially when I had no control of the talent getting on the plane. I was disappointed in Ron and thought he only had himself to blame for not making it any bigger in the business.
I ended up going to Orlando to catch a live TNA PPV, Ron was working the show, but he was no longer in the title picture. He was a mid-carder in an urban group with Konnan and Road Dogg Jesse James. He was doing his thing but you could tell he was on performing on auto-pilot. The body was moving but the heart wasn’t beating. His passion for wrestling was lost.
After the show, he had a few friends backstage, but secluded himself from the other wrestlers. I approached him to see how things were going, since it had been a while that I had last booked him. The first thing he said was, “I have one of my CDs in my bag. You wanna listen to the song I just recorded? Maybe we can do a music video?”
I knew where his heart was. The industry wasn’t showing him the love. His talent was going to waste. I asked him, “What about wrestling?” With the most sincerest look in his eyes, “If I can get a record deal, I’m done.”
Truth faded away from TNA. I stopped booking him because it was more of a creative liability. We lost touch as I was over my head in running the growing indy promotion (basically by myself). Truth was off the radar, and in my estimation, I questioned if he’d ever be back. As dark as it may sound, what use would I have for him if his name could no longer draw? Why invest in his fee, air fare and hotel if my business wasn’t making a return? And why risk losing all that money if he no-showed? And…why book him to wrestle if his heart wasn’t in it anymore?
Then one day, guess who pops up on RAW? With a mic in hand, singing and dancing his way tot he ring making the people bounce in their seats with his new phrase, “What’s up?”
Ron Killings, now known as R-Truth was back. But he was invigorated with new life and sense of importance. We haven’t spoken since that last time in Orlando, and there is no reason to remind you what he has become. From main eventer, to Little Jimmy, to tag team champion – R-Truth finally found his passion again. I don’t know how, or why, or where… but it clicked for him again.
It’s been about six years since we last spoke – and I’m guessing the music business was as bad to him as the wrestling business was. But perhaps Vince and the WWE gave him a platform to perform and record his music? Perhaps they saw the magic that I saw years earlier? Perhaps Ron found another ear to listen to him, who was actually able to put him in a better position.
He’s a key figure on the roster. His energy is celebrated by all demographics and safe for young kids. He’s living the dream he thought would never become a reality. His body is moving and dancing, while his heart is beating harder than ever before.
R-Truth, it was a privilege to work with you, but it was a better experience to speak with you and understand the person who drives the celebrity shell. I wish you nothing but the best my friend and I hope that our paths cross again one day. Until that day, “WHAT’S UP!… WHAT’S UP!…WHAT’S UP!”