I've felt the need to get something off my chest recently pertaining to the world of professional wrestling.
Brief synopsis: My name is Dustin Thomas. I'm an independent professional wrestler from the Cincinnati area. Anyone who has seen me work would tell you that I'm a pretty good worker. I'm 6'6", I weigh 225 lbs., I'm athletic, have a better physique than most on the independent circuit, I can do things guys my size normally can't, and I understand the psychology of professional wrestling pretty well. Yes, I just tooted my own horn a bit, but I'm not saying anything to you that someone hasn't already told me about myself, and in order to make it in the business you need to be able to admit when you're good.
At this point in my career, I feel like I'm good enough to at least get a legitimate look from one of the major wrestling companies in the world. I've felt that way for a little while now, and last year, I received a couple. I had to pay for these tryouts, sure, but I felt like $250 was a small price to pay for the opportunity to impress some important people in the business. If you're familiar with Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA), you may have heard of their "Gut Check" open tryouts. This is the tryout I received. It's built up as a legitimate way to receive a contract with the company, I can say from experience that this is false. I went to two of these tryouts last year, one in Pittsburgh in April, and another in Troy, Ohio in July, and I want to tell you my experience.
For the first trip, I was accompanied by one of my best friends, Jake Schreiner, better known to the wrestling world as Jake Omen, who, in my opinion, is one of the best unknown talents in the country. I felt that if anyone had a chance to receive a contract at the tryout, it was him. I will preface the following by saying that overall, the trip was a heck of a lot of fun. I got to spend a total of 12 hours in a car with my best friend, exchanging stories, talking about the business, music, women, etc. We wound up getting lost in a not-so-good part of Pittsburgh, checked in to a dump right off the highway at 5 a.m., managed to get a few hours of sleep, stocked up on energy drinks, showed up at the arena about an hour early, and eagerly awaited our chance to show what we could do.
When I filled out the application for the Gut Check, it asked you to upload both promo and action photos, as well as asking you to send them links to two of your matches. This made me think that they were looking for only the best, I thought this meant they were looking for real, legitimate, professional wrestlers. Men who had been trained and had spent years on the independent wrestling circuit starving to make it big. This was not the case, however.
Not including Jake, I looked around and saw 10 other men, and 2 women, all of which I viewed as my competition. I make no joke when I say this, but out of the 14 total people that attended this "tryout," only 1 person besides Jake and myself looked like that had ever set foot in a wrestling ring before (that 1 other person being Sterling James Keenan).
The tryout was being run by D-Lo Brown, who some of you may remember as a former WWE mid-carder during the Attitude Era. It was one of the biggest boom periods for professional wrestling, and D-Lo was a notable contributor. Suffice it to say, I was determined to impress him. But, it's really hard to impress someone when you have to share ring time with 13 other people and the entire tryout is nothing more than what you would do in a normal 2-hour wrestling practice. Warm-up, do a couple spots, go cut a promo for the camera, put on a 5-minute match, get an evaluation, now get out of here. That's basically what it was. After the first part of the tryout, it was obvious that Jake and I were the standouts, as D-Lo paired us up to have a match, and insisted that we go first. I believe Jake would agree that we had the best possible match we could have in the allotted time we were given to put it together. We were the only ones who weren't stopped mid-match and given pointers, we were the only ones who weren't berated for lack of psychology, and to put it quite simply, we were the best ones there.
Following the matches, D-Lo brought us all into an office one-by-one and gave us an evaluation. When I came in, he asked me "How do you think you did?" And I was honest with him. I said "I think overall I was the best one here, I need to work on my chain wrestling, but I think it's safe to say that Jake and I had the best match." He agreed with me, gave me a couple things for me to work on, gave me a lot of compliments and some encouraging words, and sent me on my way. Leaving the office, I felt very good with what I had done that day.
The second Gut Check I can't say I felt as good about. Replacing Jake was my friend John, better known to local fans as Kyron. To give you an idea of how big John is, he's only about an inch or two shorter than me, but makes me look like tiny by comparison, the dude is massive and jacked.
Or I could just show you how big he is.
If he wasn't my friend, I would be terrified of him, and I thought John, much like Jake, had a good chance of impressing the higher-ups in the company. We assumed that given our sizes that it was an inevitability that we would be paired up when it came time to put on matches. We were wrong. John was paired up with a very friendly, athletic black guy, who was about 5'4" and weighed about 120 lbs. I was paired with someone only slightly bigger, but understood professional wrestling considerably less. I wasn't pleased with my match, we wound up going longer on time than we were given, and trying to work this match out was more than a struggle.
During our evaluation, I was again given some kind words about my work, and was told that I'm "almost there." I walked away from this tryout disappointed. I woke up that morning with the mentality that this was my day, I know what to expect, I'm going to show D-Lo that I've improved, and I'm walking out of there with a contract. Needless to say, that didn't happen.
In the months that have passed since then, I've realized that the Gut Check is nothing more than a way for Impact Wrestling to pick up a little extra dough. I don't feel like spending a total of $500 improved my chances of earning a contract. I feel like all it got me was two really expensive t-shirts. I probably should have known it was a scam, because everything in wrestling is a work, and this was no exception.
There are positives to these experiences, but the negatives far outweigh them. I went in assuming this was an open tryout where they only accepted legitimate wrestlers. Here's a list of just some of the things I saw over the two sessions that prove that the Gut Check is nothing more than a cash-grab:
- People who didn't know how to run the ropes.
- People who didn't know how to properly lock-up.
- I saw a man put a headlock on to the right side, which would have worked if this were Mexico, but it's not.
- People freeze during their matches because they had forgotten the spot.
- People getting dropped on their heads.
- Someone work another person's right arm (again, this isn't Mexico).
- A lot of "Superman" Irish-whips.
- Little to no match psychology.
- Jeff Jarrett reading a newspaper the entire time.
The list goes on and on.
Remember how I told you that putting my match together was a struggle? I'll explain that as well. We were given 4 minutes to put together a 4 minute match. The man I was working with (who was half my size, and also the heel in the match) wanted to bump me all over the place, which I immediately shot down. He said that during the heat, he was going to "go for a gimmick." I looked at him like he had three heads and said "No, you're not." He decided to throw in a random springboard-dropkick and two rest holds into a 4 minute match. When D-Lo asked me how long I think my match went, I responded "I don't know but it was definitely over 4 minutes." He said we had gone 4:32. Gee, I wonder how long the match would have gone if you didn't throw in one of those completely unnecessary rest holds. Look, I'm not trying to say that I know everything there is to know about professional wrestling, but I do know that when someone tells you that your match is 4 minutes long, you don't put on two rest holds. I also know that when you're in the middle of a tryout match for the second largest wrestling company in the United States, you don't want to go over on time, you don't go outside of the ring, and you definitely don't incorporate a "gimmick" into your match. The match itself was solid. Outside of the rest holds, it was fast-paced with a lot of action. Is it the kind of match that I would send out to potential bookers? No. But am I embarrassed by the match? Not at all.
Apparently, Impact Wrestling is doing some kind of on-air deal with Gut Check. I honestly couldn't tell you what it is because I watch Impact so infrequently. At the first tryout, when it came time to do promos, I had to ask Jake "Sting is still the champion here, right?" But after these experiences, I will say this: the Gut Check was a waste of my time and money. I won't pay for another tryout ever again, I feel like I'm good enough to deserve a legitimate tryout match in front of your live crowd. If I were to get a tryout match, whether it be at a house show or an Impact taping, give me 5 minutes with one of your contracted guys, and I guarantee you will be impressed.
I'm not saying that I have the skills of Kurt Angle, the charisma of Jeff Hardy, or the psychological understanding of Abyss, but when I look at the Impact Wrestling roster or catch an episode of their television programming, I see at least a handful of guys I'm better than. Perhaps I'm shooting myself in the foot here in terms of blackballing myself from Impact Wrestling, but if anyone from the company ever happens to read this, I challenge you to give me a legitimate tryout. One that I don't have to waste money on. I have proof that I'm good. There are matches of me on the internet that are easy to find. Here, watch this match I had with Abyss and try to tell me that it's not better than some of the work that I've seen from some of your guys.
If anyone would like to help this cause, send a Tweet to @impactwrestling and tell them to give @TheDustinThomas a legitimate chance with a #gutcheck.