ROH stars Kenny King and Shane Taylor discussed race relations in pro wrestling and what needs to … [+]
Coming off their heralded ROH Black Lives Matter Roundtable, alongside Caprice Coleman and Jay Lethal, ROH stars Kenny King and Shane Taylor recently joined me for a conversation about race in wrestling. As complex, racially charged discussions continue to permeate throughout the wrestling community and the nation at large, Taylor and King have offered very valuable perspective and advice when it comes to the genre’s many pitfalls in its presentation of black wrestlers.
Among many issues, King and Taylor spoke at length about the importance of owning your wrestling name and likeness and whether or not the right people are in charge of the major national promotions to begin enacting inclusion, representation and racial equity in pro wrestling.
During the ROH BLM Round Table, Kenny mentioned how national wrestling promotions tend to have very limited airtime for black wrestlers. Has this caused you to be resentful of other incoming black talent? Have either of you caught yourselves becoming territorial in that regard?
Kenny King: Not necessarily. When they first paired me and MVP together (in IMPACT Wrestling)—and that wasn’t necessarily because it was a black talent—I just felt like, initially, I felt like our gimmicks and our styles were too similar to work together and it ended up being fantastic. But you know, it’s just one of those things where I always you know, when I see somebody trying out or I see somebody getting a look, I always mentor or at least open my arms because like I said, I know if you’re there, I know what you went through.
Shane Taylor: I think it 100% depends on the individual person as to how they feel about it. A lot of that changes based on generation, and as we’re seeing more and more, it seems some of the old-school cats kind of feel that way. Whereas myself and Kenny, you know, once I first got to ROH Kenny was one of the first people to pull me aside and say ‘You know what? Let me show you how to avoid these landmines. And let me show you how to avoid this, this and that. One of the first ones to always come and offer advice or give you a foot in the behind if you need it. So it depends on the person, you know what I mean?
One thing I really love to see is “Shane Taylor Promotions,” because one issue that is discussed within the black community is ownership. When it comes to pro wrestling, I think independent wrestlers have a way better sense of ownership than somebody who goes through a national promotion because you’re responsible for selling your own merchandise, getting on social media, promoting yourself that sense of ownership has become more valued. What kind of advice would you guys give in terms of ownership?
Shane Taylor: Own your image, own your likenesses. If you want to make yourself an LLC, you can do that. That depends on your tax bracket. It’s beneficial the more you make, so that’s a catch 22, but doing all of that when you get to these major promotions—then instead of them owning everything and owning you—you can lease your name and all of the things and your trademarks to them, they pay you for that. And then once you leave, you take all your stuff back. So you’re still making money off of who you are and they can’t.
When you see so many guys that have done those deals, like Samoa Joe, when he went up to New York and all that stuff, he kept his name and now they’re paying him for his name. And then if he decides to leave, he keeps his name. You know, that’s how it’s like owning your masters in music, right? Like you set that and then you’re able to carry on and keep that income for yourself and build that wealth that you’re trying to accrue for the next generation.
Kenny King: That’s beautiful. Just building on what Shane said—intellectual property. Owning your intellectual property. Not just your name, but your slogans, your catch phrases, your style. Make sure that all of that that’s you, that you own that. Build your brand. Everything that you do should be coordinated toward building your brand. Everything should point fans in your direction, whatever you do. This is something that took me awhile to learn: Whatever you do, coordinate it towards your brand.
Don’t just think ‘Okay, I’m gonna wrestle.’ If you’re a wrestler who can also make dope-ass cabinets, do that and build all those things together. When I was breaking in, the one thing that was the most coveted thing to do was a name, right? ‘Oh, you gotta be a name. If you want to do this, you gotta be a name.’
Nowadays, you’re more in charge of building your name and you can be more of a name not just through your opportunities, through your other things that you do well also. So think about the top three or four things you do well along with wrestling and use that to build your brand.
Is there anything, specifically, in mainstream wrestling—any concept, anything going on right now that bothers you as a black man? That you feel needs to change?
Kenny: How much time we got?
(Laughter) I’m just talking modern day, because I know there’s a whole gravity behind this, but just something you see today that you feel they should have canceled
Kenny: I’ll be petty and I’ll stay here. Everybody who knows me knows how I feel, but they been should have cancelled Jim Cornette’s ass. Full stop.
Shane Taylor: And to go along with that, man the cookie-cutter black stereotype characters for me should have been done in the eighties. Like, it’s only proof that those at the top continue to be willfully ignorant of what’s going on. Because if you have more people at the top in creative, in marketing that were aware of different cultures and things of that sort, you would be able to then find unique things with your talent that make them different than everybody else you have on your roster. You’ll be able to bring those personalities out of them.
Because, while being black is roughly the same everywhere, all black people aren’t the same. So if you grew up in Houston, you’re not going to do the same thing as someone grew up in Cleveland like myself. If you grew up in Vegas, you’re not going to be like a dude from Philly. Like it’s just not one blanket statement and everybody else walking like us, talking like us, you know, moving like us, doing the things that we do, it continues to be this case of, okay, we love the culture. We love your athleticism. We love the way you dance. And we love the way you do.
We just don’t love the package that it comes in.
Kenny King: They write us as pimps or as shaman, bogeyman, all this other nonsense. Triple H gets to be The Game. He gets to be the cerebral assassin. He gets to be all of these things. And the emotional attachment is what you need to believe in a world champion. So you have to care about someone’s world, someone’s wellbeing, in order for you to get that push.
It’s all about how we’re being represented and the people who are literally just kind of pulling the trigger.
Shane Taylor: And it’s this weird catch 22 that the black fan is caught in. Because they’ve been sort of disenfranchised for so long that it’s hard for them to believe that there’s going to be a change. So it makes [mainstream wrestling promotions] hesitate to support someone.
Do you feel the right people are in charge of the top wrestling promotions when it comes to WWE, AEW and IMPACT Wrestling?
Kenny King: I do, because I believe that wrestling needs younger companies, especially like an AEW. There’s a lot of younger generations either in charge or moving into positions of power in some of these companies, and a lot of these people are a lot more comfortable with multiculturalism and have a lot more access to different cultures and different styles.
Shane Taylor: Damn, man, what a pivot you did. That was Hall of Fame, Barry Sanders-style what you just did there and I’m here for all of it! And the hope is, because most of these people are younger and they’ve been surrounded by and are more comfortable with people of color, maybe their mindsets are a little bit more open to going forward with these ideas. And that’s going to be what we see here in the next few years, and we’re going to see what they do.