If you are an aspiring pro wrestler, or a grappling fan who has ever wondered how an individual goes from hopeful student to signed-up superstar, the process of trying out for the big bucks is often shrouded in mystery. Fortunately, for those who want to find out more about the process of going from costume […]
If you are an aspiring pro wrestler, or a grappling fan who has ever wondered how an individual goes from hopeful student to signed-up superstar, the process of trying out for the big bucks is often shrouded in mystery.
Fortunately, for those who want to find out more about the process of going from costume to contract, I can pull back the curtain on a process that is very real to those who are brave enough to throw their hat in the ring.
Retired since 2011, I made one last return between the ropes at 44-years-old, and while my days of chasing a full-time pro wrestling contract are fondly behind me, the benefit of my hard-earned wisdom should make for a valuable blueprint for those who are still chasing their dreams.
A bit of background: I first started training to be a professional wrestler at 18 years of age by making a weekly, eight-hour roundtrip from my home in Loughborough, England, all the way down south to Kent, where I trained under the legendary Andre “Sledgehammer” Baker, a wrestler-turned-promoter that carried the National Wrestling Alliance banner and taught an athletic and believable style of pro wrestling.
In 2005, I had a tryout with WWE, and in 2011 I had a tryout with TNA (also known as IMPACT! Wrestling). While I was unsuccessful in landing a contract with the big leagues on both occasions, I went away having learned the lessons of what I needed to work on in order to become a better prospect.
During my bone-bending career, I trained in the infamous Hart Dungeon in Calgary, Alberta, and I wrestled in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Ireland. Still, as I turned 30, and earning a degree in multimedia journalism, as well as starting a family with my wife and growing baby daughter, I decided to hang up the wrestling boots for good.
Thankful for the many adventures I’d enjoyed in wrestling, I had no desire to get in the ring ever again, until I got a call from a longtime PR friend who explained that TNA was returning to the U.K., and that I should consider pulling up my knee pads, one more time, to cover a mass-tryout that was taking place before the shows. In October, TNA held its “Gut Check” tryouts in Glasgow and Coventry, with the winner set to be offered a developmental contract that included $2,000 and tuition from some of the world’s top wrestling minds, like company president Scott D’amore, Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley, and Josh Alexander.
With only three weeks to prepare for the tryout (six would have been better!), I tracked my calories with more scrutiny than ever, and was able to drop seven pounds. I hit the weights harder, and swam farther in order to look and feel like I would be able to hang with some of these upstart wrestlers that I would be sharing the canvas. I even updated my ring gear and, now that it’s all (thankfully) over, here’s what I’ve learned from my time on the mat, and these observations should stand any aspiring pro wrestler in good stead.
Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Sting, and John Cena are some of the most successful pro wrestlers of all time, and each has an individual look that makes them exciting to audiences while translating perfectly to toys and video games.
If you don’t have a great look, you are just another wrestler lost in the shuffle. As I signed my life away to TNA via a waiver that would allow grapplers half my age to take turns stiffing me with strikes and submission moves during the tryout, I took a look at the group of around 100 wrestlers in the room and quickly cut the serious prospects down to around 25 percent. That means 3/4ths of the people in the room had potentially lost out on the possibility of a contract before even getting in the ring, because they didn’t stand out from the crowd.
Of course, all judges are different, and at this tryout, the judging was carried out by the likes of Scott D’amore, Gail Kim, and Joe Hendry. All of these aforementioned individuals have earned their own stripes as wrestlers, and are qualified to sort the wheat from the chaff. And, there was no denying the instant appeal of a female grappler named Harley Hudson. Dressed all in pink, with hair to match, Hudson made an attention-grabbing impact right from the start.
A great look will get you through the front door, but you won’t be invited to sit at the table if you can’t hang as an athlete. Pro wrestling requires strength and formidable cardiovascular conditioning. It also requires control and precision timing, so the first task for each hopeful on the tryout was to get in the ring, introduce themselves (great mic work is essential, too!), and do a forward roll into a standing position.
Then, the wrestlers would criss-cross each other with more forward rolls, proving to the judges that they had the agility and timing necessary to roll across the ring without accidentally colliding with another body. In the three weeks before my participation in this tryout, I had practiced my forward rolls over and over, managing to arrive vertical on my feet on every occasion. Of course, when it came time to execute this before the judges, I was unable to get enough momentum from the forward roll in order to propel myself to my feet.
Without waiting to be asked, I went for another attempt, just as Gail Kim encouraged me to give it another shot. I thrust myself forward and mercifully got to my feet. “Again,” bellowed Scott D’amore. I went again and got to my feet as hoped. “Again!” he shouted. One more time, I gave it everything I had and proved that three out of four ain’t bad. “Okay, join the group,” called D’amore, meaning that I had secured myself some further time under the spotlight.
As I stepped between the ropes to take part in a tag match that would give each grappler some precious seconds to show off what they can do, I had the stark realization that I hadn’t wrestled on this kind of scale in nearly 12 years. Fortunately, my years of treading the boards meant that I had a great arsenal of moves to draw upon, but if you don’t know a wristlock from a wristwatch, then a tryout with the big leagues is a big mistake.
Get your technique down first.
When I finally got tagged into the match, I launched myself into my opponent with a flying elbow that was a bit clunky to say the least. Fortunately, as I dug-deep into my years of experience, I was able to shake off the ring rust and throw a pretty mean flying elbow the second time. I hit my opponents with splashes, suplexes, and an intricate pinfall attempt. It was all coming back to me now, but to pretend that I was polished enough to out-class some of the other performers would have been a delusion that I was too self-aware to consider. It was a thrill to be back in the ring and hanging with individuals half my age, however!
My body is sore but my heart is so incredibly full. Officially retired at 44 in an @IMPACTUK ring. What an incredible day. Thank you #IMPACTUK @ScottDAmore @SiRothstein @joehendry @Myers_Wrestling pic.twitter.com/z1mO0QeveF
— Scott “Future” Felstead (@scottfuture) October 30, 2023
To be “over” with the crowd means to elicit a passionate response, to show that people are entertained and care about your existence in the pro wrestling ring. It doesn’t matter how great you look or what finesse you may have as a technical wrestler or high-flyer if you can’t attract engagement from the fans. A promoter will simply kick you to the curb if all you can draw is apathy.
“I think we just know, as wrestlers, what we are looking for,” said Gail Kim of the talent scouting process. “It’s overall presence, it’s presentation of their character, their gear, and how they move in the ring.” Once again, in Coventry, Harley Hudson shone like a star, gliding around the ring and trash talking her opponents. She wasn’t just “over” with the handful of fans that had gathered to watch the tryout, she was “over” with her fellow wrestlers, and the judges to boot. Here’s no better sign of a wrestler getting over than being able to force a reaction from their peers.
Life as a pro wrestler requires an individual to deal with physical pain in the ring and the mental anguish of constant rejection. Still, D’amore believes that those who chase their dreams are a special breed. “Anybody who gets into the wrestling business, the first day they walk into a training center, whatever, they’ve already done more than just about anybody does in their lives,” he told those on the tryout. “Cuz, everybody in this world grew up dreaming of doing something, and they never do a f***ing thing about it. You are like, one percent, of one percent.”
With my own training, preparation, and experience doing me proud, I was eager to see which of the young prospects would be offered the developmental deal, totally at peace with the fact that this was now someone else dream to chase. Officially retiring as a pro wrestler at the age of 44 in a TNA ring is pretty cool, but when the results were called out in Glasgow and Coventry, only two athletes could win, the rest would pack up their spandex and try to figure out how to come back better and stronger in order to earn their next big break.
In Glasgow, the developmental deal was awarded to Mike D Vecchio, a German pro wrestler known as “War Machine.” ( ) His imposing presence and hard-hitting style had apparently been impossible to pass up. Here in Coventry, the top honor went to the girl who had the perfect combination of look, technique, and resilience all along. The winner was, of course, Liverpool’s own Harley Hudson.
“There’s no words to tell you how I feel, to be honest with you,” said an emotional Hudson on learning that she had beaten one hundred other wrestlers to secure a spot with TNA. “… But it’s just been my life’s work since I was 19, to be a wrestler, and feel like now it’s all come together for me. And I know there’s still so much more work to do, but I’m so, so happy!”
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) November 4, 2023
Reassured by the fact that I’d given a respectable showing of myself, I also felt like a winner when TNA management offered me the chance to take part in the show later that evening. I’d done enough to demonstrate that I still had more than a flicker of technique, and could elicit a reaction from the audience. And so, before the live crowed, I resumed my day job as a content creator in order to be “assaulted” in a shocking ringside segment with Bryan Myers. While wrestler’s come in all shapes and sizes, it’s undeniable that mastering a great look, learning an unrivalled technique, and creating a unique bond with the fans is the perfect combination for earning a pro wrestling contract. I can’t wait to see what these 2023 Gut Check winners do from here on out.
Catch TNA’s next big pay-per-view; “Hard to Kill” on January 13. Tickets are on sale now Here!