Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get, but once you bite into it, you know, and then you decide what to do.
Kenneth Crawford decided to make something good of his life, and he was just announced as one of WWE’s newest NXT recruits.
“With all the resources here at the WWE Performance Center, if I don’t succeed, it will solely be on me,” he said. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and by far, it is the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
“It’s surreal. I don’t think it’s really hit me, yet, but I know for a fact that the amount of effort that I’ve put in my life to this point will multiply two-fold here. I’m ready for everything it has to offer.”
Crawford experienced his share of adversity, growing up in Chicago. Through difficult times, he evolved into a stronger person -- emotionally, mentally, physically.
“It might be the point where you just shut down and quit,” he said, “because usually it’s a test of will...but to survive, you keep doing what you need to do -- educating yourself, praying harder, discipline yourself, manage, prepare -- so when that next opportunity comes, then you’re fully prepared mentally and physically.”
Crawford, 24, who made his family and his country proud by serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, is a recruit once again, looking to make another mark, but this time as one of WWE’s newest NXT recruits.
Eleven WWE prospects from seven countries -- with seven international and four domestic including former collegiate athletes, bodybuilders and indie wrestling talent -- make it the most international and diverse class in NXT history.
They will learn from top-notch coaches/trainers, like Matt Bloom, Robbie Brookside, Billy Gunn, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Taylor and Norman Smiley, based at the WWE Performance Center, the building block to NXT success and WWE superstardom.
With a successful background in track & field, Crawford is not relying on the fast track to pro wrestling/sports entertainment superstardom. He wants to listen, learn and work hard, something he’s been accustomed to.
Raised by a single mom, she moved the family from South Side, Chicago to South Carolina and then North Carolina where he attended South Piedmont and Anson high schools, setting track records in the 200-meter run, 400-meter run, 800 relay and 1,600 relay. He earned Anson High School Bearcats Athlete of the Year honors in 2007.
“That part of Chicago was really rough at the time, so our mother moved us down South,” said Crawford, who still cheered for the Chicago Bulls, Bears and White Sox. “I did [amateur] wrestling out of middle school and at the beginning of high school, but my mother wanted my grades to stay high, so during that transitional period of keeping my grades high, track was something I went out to do. I started as a long distance runner and eventually started to add speed, and the rest is history.”
Crawford, who was also in the R.O.T.C. program throughout high school, entertained a couple of college scholarship offers but opted for military service.
“My mother was going through an intensive divorce at the time, and she was also sick,” he said, “so I used the money that I had to move her back to Chicago, and I joined the Marines.”
Parris Island, South Carolina (Sgt. Slaughter country) housed his boot camp. He continued his military career as a Corporal at Camp Pendleton in California.
WWE is very supportive of the U.S. military, including traveling throughout the country and overseas for its annual Tribute to the Troops shows.
“I think that’s fantastic,” he said. “WWE is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest supporter of the military. I have yet to see another company support the military like WWE. Retail stores from Walmart to Wendy’s have programs to try to get veterans jobs, but I don’t think the support is nearly as much as what WWE does.”
Before getting a chance with WWE via the WWE Performance Center and NXT, Crawford worked for another military outfit as a contractor for the U.S. Navy.
“WWE discovered me through their online application process,” he said. “I submitted my entire background and history, along with the photos and some small press that I had.”
The online application process landed him a first tryout with the biggest pro wrestling/sports entertainment company in the world.
“Who knows how long it would have actually taken without the advancement in technology -- just to get a glimpse of how I look or the amount of history from my military and track background,” he said. “Who knows if they could have seen any of that.”
Crawford did not get signed, but WWE still kept him on its radar.
It’s difficult enough to attain one tryout with WWE. Crawford was fortunate to get a second chance.
“I learned not to hold back anything,” he said. “In the first tryout, I felt I didn’t give WWE everything that I could offer. I was just taking it all in and making sure that I did everything right. They made it specifically clear at the tryouts to let it all out, lay it all on the line, and the second time that’s what I did.”
And then it happened.
“I was in San Diego, California. I was working at my contracting job for the Navy. I was driving home, and I got the call from [WWE’s] Canyon [Ceman] saying that I made it. I literally had to pull over to the side of the road, before I caused anymore traffic that already is in San Diego.”
Canyon Cemen is the senior director of talent development for WWE.
“The first person I told was my mom [Dara],” Crawford said. “I told my mother simply because it was something I grew up on, that I was embedded in. This is stuff I got in trouble with as a kid. Everything.
“She’s seen the struggles that we went through. From the hardships -- without a father figure to the passing of my sister [Kenesha] in 2000; she was also big on wrestling -- to my own family that I have. Everything was full circle at that point.”
A longtime fan, Crawford and his sister enjoyed watching WWE with their favorites like The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Kurt Angle.
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