Awesome Kong believes in herself
GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
|Kia Stevens hosts her "What It Takes To Make It" seminar at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion. Photo by Greg Oliver
Kia Stevens is nothing like her intimidating Awesome Kong character, and that's a good thing when she is called upon to be a pseudo-motivational speaker.
But there was the former TNA star hosting the final seminar at the recent Cauliflower Alley Club in Las Vegas, "What It Takes To Make It," preaching to a varied collection of indy wrestlers and fans from across the continent.
Instead of the guttural grunts and menacing looks she delivered on a weekly basis on Impact, Stevens shared wisdom in bite-sized tidbits:
- On behind-the-scenes politics: "There are politics everywhere you go" in any job. ... "Close your mouth and open your ears in any job ... you might learn something." ... "We're in the wrestling business, which is a lot of people in their underwear."
- Do the unexpected: "Be prepared to make an ass out of yourself." ... "Be comfortable outside your comfort zone." ... "Be a good listener."
- Reputation: "Don't bring your drama to work." ... "You will never know your reputation." ... "No one's going to hire a drama queen -- unless you're really good in the ring."
- Networking: Make contacts, friends, and follow up ... "the fortune is in the follow through."
- Money: "I want to encourage people not to just rely on the wrestling business for income."
- Life after wrestling: Have something else to rely on -- "I can't stress this enough -- wrestling is fickle ... be able to step away if you want to."
After the seminar, Stevens admits that she is a reader of motivational books. Twice a day she recites her "Definitive Main Purpose Statement," which helps establish her goals, giving her "10 minutes of thinking and wanting."
The 32-year-old Stevens grew up in Carson, California. Her little brother used to put the Camel Clutch on her, and she went to her room to watch wrestling and learn how to put him in moves. Her first bump was at Jesse Hernandez's School of Hard Knocks, and she was recruited to go to Japan.
It was a tough decision for Stevens to drop everything she had worked for -- she owned vending machines in high schools -- and quit to go to Japan. "People thought I was insane," she recalled. "All the odds were against me, but I still quit that good job."
Those closest to her were the biggest naysayers. "I was told I was too big to ever make it," she remembered.
To make ends meet, she asked friends and family to invest in her. "I asked people to invest money in me when the money ran out after selling my vending machine business," she said, adding that she took money from her retirement fund as well.
In Japan, the first week of training was so hellish, she thought they were trying to kill her. "I just woke up every day after a night of nightmares," she admitted. Determined to stick it through, Stevens did the extra work even though as a gaijin she didn't have to. "Everything a young girl did, I did. That helped build my reputation."
By her fourth match in Japan, Stevens was main eventing. From there, her career path continued to where she was the biggest American female name abroad, independent of WWE or TNA. When TNA did finally come calling, she quickly became the dominant heel for the Knockouts division, often delivering incredible bouts against the likes of Gail Kim.
However, getting up and talking to a roomful of people -- assisted to a small degree by Melissa Anderson, her former manager as Raisha Saeed -- was something new to her. "I like to help people," she said. "And I do love to inspire, because I feel if I did it, you know, anybody can. Just put your mind to it."
It becomes obvious that she is a positive person. "It doesn't mean I'm positive all the time. There are times I'm (pretends to cry), just sad. Like I told them, pick yourself up and dust yourself off and try all over again."
Stevens has had some dark times recently. She abruptly departed TNA while still half of the Knockouts tag team champions.
"Right now, with what I'm doing and what I'm going through, I know people can only speculate what I'm going through. I'm just in a process of personal development right now," she started, before launching into a more complete explanation on her decision to leave TNA.
Awesome Kong at the 2009 Cauliflower Alley Club reunion. Photo by Howard Baum.
"There are times when you're going to realize that what you want to create is not going to happen in the place that you are. I finally realized, especially with all the [sighs], I don't want to say, I appreciate how TNA wanted to grow their company, I appreciate that," she said. "However, I could create what I wanted to create in my life if they wanted to take everything that we earned for them and do other things with it, instead of reinvesting in the talent they have. So, knowing I couldn't create what I wanted to create in life, I felt I had to move on."
Though many will jump to the conclusion that the regime change behind the scenes, with long-time supporters of the Knockouts division such as Dutch Mantell and Scott D'Amore departing, and Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff arriving, had a lot to do with it.
That's not the case, said Stevens, who said she had been debating her own move for almost a year.
"That was a hard decision because I didn't want people to get the impression that I'm leaving the company because of this. No. In fact, it's my opinion that it's a lot of people's dream to work with somebody like Hulk Hogan. It got to the point where it was clear I wasn't going to be able to create what I wanted to create there. Being there with Hulk Hogan, this is the analogy I use: You know how people climb Mount Everest or wherever, and the guy tells them, 'If your oxygen is at this point, no matter if you are 10 feet from the summit, you have to go back down.' Well, that's what I felt like -- I was 10 feet from the summit, but I've got to get out, I've got to go back down. But it was good to work with him as much as I did. It was just time for a change right now."
Amazing Kong double clotheslines Cheerleader Melissa and MsChif at the SHIMMER tapings May 2-3, 2009 in Berwyn, IL. Photo by Ricky Havlik, RickyHavlik.com.
There are lots of opportunities ahead for Stevens. She has taken on a little side business pushing Nu Skin's skin care and nutrition products. As for the wrestling, she figures she will be traveling more than she ever did with TNA.
"I'm doing Ring of Honor, going back to Japan, going back to my roots. I'm going to the Dominican Republic, I have an Australian tour coming up. So there are things ahead. Things aren't, you know, things aren't just cauterized with me and TNA. There's always been -- from what I've been told -- the opportunity to come back if I want to. Right now, I just know that I have to shake things up, that's it."
After meeting her at the Cauliflower Alley Club, both Jim Ross and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin made comments that Stevens would be an "amazing" addition to WWE.
"I'm more than open to it," she admitted. "This is going to bite me in the ass later, but I have won basically every belt there is out there. I'm the only female to hold the NWA and AWA titles simultaneously. There's only one belt I haven't won, or attained, or held. [She laughs when reminded that WWE have two women's titles now.] ... there it is."
For a role model, she cites Steve Corino, who made his name in ECW for a short while, but through selective bookings and a wealth of international contacts, has managed to make an excellent living as an independent professional wrestler.
Awesome Kong's time on TV with TNA will help her, but it's not the only thing that helps, said Stevens.
"I'll tell you this, I came into TNA making substantially less than what I was before there, abroad," she said. "My name, Amazing Kong, Awesome Kong, was known and respected in the wrestling community. Now it is to the masses, and that's great, and that's nice. And it gets me momentum. Steve Corino was also on television with ECW. So, television does propel you, but it doesn't mean that unless you stay there you're not going to progress and go somewhere else. I may have to. This little ride that I'm on now might stall out [laughs] and I might have to go back to TV to crank it back up again. I'm happy with the decisions I've made, and it's just a new chapter."
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Greg Oliver has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. His fifth book, SLAM! Wrestling: Shocking Stories from the Squared Circle has just been released. The four previous books are Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport (with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy and Irv Muchnick); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels (with Steven Johnson); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams (also with Johnson) and The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians. Order them all from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at email@example.com.