It didn’t take long for Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff and his creative team to capitalize on roster mainstay Kenny King’s sudden mainstream notoriety following several weeks as a contestant on ABC’s The Bachelorette. On July 29th, only one month removed from his run on the reality dating series (he departed willingly to spend more time with his daughter), King – a former ROH World Tag Team Champion – will face Japanese phenom Kushida for the latter’s World Television title at the promotion’s Queen City Excellence TV taping.
It’s only fitting, given King’s new wrinkle as a primetime household name. And he’s ready to milk it for every minute of it, telling Rolling Stone from his Las Vegas home that, “When people are chanting, ‘Rachel!’ or, ‘Get that rose’ at me, it would be silly not to acknowledge the fact that they know I was on this.”
Koff, for his part, is supportive of whatever outside opportunities ROH talent can seize, but views King’s several-week departure as a win-win, conceding, “The first thing I thought about was the cross-promotion we could get.” He also hopes Dancing With the Stars producers have taken note, “because Kenny would be a really great person to audition.”
Time will tell, but in the meanwhile, with both Queen City Excellence and The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All looming, King looks back at his big network breakthrough, and ahead to an entirely new chapter in a 15-year, in-ring career.
So, is it surreal being back on the road a few weeks after seeing yourself on primetime network TV every Monday?
Yeah, it’s crazy how your life can change real fast. I hadn’t wrestled for the better part of six weeks, which is the longest I’ve taken off in five or six years. It was an amazing experience. Even this morning, people are stopping me, “Oh my God, do you still talk to Rachel?” Before I did this, I didn’t realize how big Bachelor nation actually is.
If anyone had an advantage on The Bachelorette when it comes to interviews and sound bites, it would be you, given your 15 years of doing promos.
I would say the only part of my wrestling experience that helped me was the interviews and being able to sit down and correctly articulate how I’m feeling and what’s going on in the situation quickly. But nothing else could have prepared me fore the whole production.
What key insights did you get about how a reality series is produced versus a wrestling program?
You can speak to similarities and differences. You’re both producing a product and marketing to a certain fanbase you know is interested. The differences are in the product. Wrestling is a live experience. People want the interactive experience. Reality TV, the excitement comes from the buildup and the hype, so they get to see it unfold week by week. Maybe the reality producers have an easier time far as knowing where this is going, and if we don’t hit it out of the park with episode one, episode two we can do this, do that. With pro wrestling, you’ve gotta knock it out of the park every time.
Was ROH as accommodating about you taking a hiatus as Joe Koff suggests?
Listen, I could not be happier or more thankful for all of ROH with how easy they’ve made this for me. Joe Koff has been one of my biggest supporters with this, and made it literally no issue for me to miss shows. I mean, I missed Supercard of Honor shows in Orlando, the War of the Worlds shows, and I’m under a guaranteed contract. So that’s a very gracious thing for a company to do, to say, “OK, we’re gonna let you miss some of our biggest gates so you can do this crazy experience. But also, business is business. I’m sure Joe knows that when people see me and say, “Who does he wrestle for?” that comes back to the company. But they were accommodating to ABC, so big shout out to Ring of Honor.
Given your unique day job, did you feel alien among the other contestants?
In the beginning stages, when you first get to the mansion, everybody feels like that. It’s not like there were four doctors and there was a doctor’s club. For the most part, everybody was in their own lane. Once we started to know each other as people, none of that really mattered. Then once people start to get comfortable with you, they want to know everything about wrestling.
The stakes were a bit different for you though. For a lot of these guys, it’s a platform to steady TV work. You kind of already had that.
It was never about Bachelorette or bust. For me, I wanted to have this experience first. Second, present a genuine version of myself. And obviously, there’s some brand building involved. I know this is a wider audience than I generally get to reach, so it’s win-win.
If you win the Television Championship from Kushida, to what extent are you going to play up the fact that you’re fresh off this mainstream TV gig?
If you got it, use it. Initially, what we’re gonna do because of so much positive support I’ve received, at ROH they’re calling me the champion of TV. So since I’m the champion of television, I might as well be the Television Champion, and we’ll just take it from there.
On the flipside, as Joe says, you may get a call from Dancing With the Stars or something else. Should fans feel like your return to ROH could be temporary?
I’m 100-percent committed to Ring of Honor, to my fans, to beating Kushida and my training and the things I’ve been doing since this match has been announced. My focus is there. Because of how accommodating Ring of Honor was during The Bachelorette, if opportunities come that are pressing, I don’t think we’d have issues with me being able to step away for however long it takes to do that. But I’m not done. I’m not gonna turn into the Rock just yet. I’ve got a lot more to prove.
Unless Swole Mates happens.
Unless he greenlights Swole Mates, then we’re talking.
And with your faction, the Rebellion, it looks like you’re primed for a substantial solo push.
Them’s the rules. The Rebellion’s over, and every man’s got their own path right now. I’m focused on reestablishing myself as a solo star in Ring of Honor. Anybody who’s followed my career knows that when it’s just me in that ring I can do phenomenal things. It’s time to turn me loose and show what I can do. I feel like I have singles star written all over me.
Are you hoping to get in the mix of ROH and New Japan’s recent talent sharing?
Yes, that is one of my major goals for 2017 to 2018, to start to be one of those guys that they float between New Japan and ROH. I’ve wanted to wrestle in Japan for probably 99-percent of my career. It’s one of the major honors in this business, so that’s a milestone I’d like to reach hopefully in the next 12 months.
What do you think explains why wrestling’s so prevalent in mainstream pop culture again?
I think it had a lot to do with the fact that there’s four or five different places a guy could go now if he’s good enough to be a pro wrestler, and that’s like Shangri-La. When I was breaking in, you had two places to go, and if you didn’t, you had to accept the fact that you were going to be waiting tables to support your wrestling habit. That’s a testament to, I think, how strong the talent pool is.
Dudes on the independent scene are stepping it up and innovating and deciding we don’t have to wrestle a certain style to be considered superstars in this industry. And then you have promotions that are willing to back that. Look at Wrestle Circus. These are promotions that are coming out of nowhere, but they’re getting national stars, national buzz. People like wrestling, but maybe not everyone’s interested in what you see in the WWE product, and that’s why wrestling is getting to be so popular on an underground level. If you think the people at WWE aren’t very in tune with what’s going on in the wrestling scene outside of WWE, I’ve got news for you. It’s becoming a culture where there’s so much wrestling, and these guys are really pushing it to the limit, and it’s even making up north take notice, so that’s how you know.