It’s that time of year. The NFL Draft is right around the corner, and getting the call on draft day is a huge moment for any NFL prospect.
Thomas Kingdon actually got ‘the call’ in November, but the former Traverse City West High School defensive end won’t be strapping the shoulder pads nor fitting a helmet. Rather, he will be grabbing the trunks and lacing the boots for proper pro wrestling/sports entertainment training at the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando.
WWE doesn’t have an annual draft like the NFL, but it does periodically recruit talent, and when that time comes to answer the WWE call, accept the NXT challenge, that moment is just as big as walking the stage to shake hands with the NFL commissioner -- maybe even bigger since the chances are less of being part of the WWE team.
Kingdon is one of WWE’s 11 newest hopefuls. Covering seven countries, the ensemble features four domestic recruits (one being Kingdon) and seven international, making it the most international and diverse class in NXT history. Former collegiate athletes, bodybuilders, indie wrestling talent and more, they are now with the largest pro wrestling/sports entertainment company in the world.
“I was in Northern Michigan, visiting my mom [Terri], when I got the news, and she was just as ecstatic as I was,” said Kingdon, a champion bodybuilder. “They wanted me to keep it quiet and not tell too many people. I did contact Ed Connors, the person who helped me get the tryout [with WWE].”
Connors, the former owner of Gold’s Gym during its heyday, is a bodybuilding aficionado who helps athletes.
Kingdon’s journey began in Traverse City, Michigan. Growing up there, he did some powerlifting and participated in track&field, but he garnered his most success playing defensive end for the Titans of Traverse City West High School, a football team ranked first in the state.
“I wasn’t the biggest guy,” he said. “I’ve put on about 80-plus pounds since then, but at the time, I was one of the best players as far as technique.”
A Detroit Lions’ fan, Kingdon realized he wasn’t the next Alex Karras, Bubba Baker or Ndamukong Suh.
“I had to come to terms with how the competition was going to be,” he said. “I loved the sport, but I just figured out as the competition got better from high school to college to pro, I was not going to be elite in it.”
Undersized for a defensive end at the next level, Kingdon found a new passion.
“I moved to bodybuilding, and that’s what I really loved,” he said. “Being able to be more than a physique, being able to achieve glory from the drive of basically being a living work of art, being able to sculpt yourself and the amount of dedication it took to do so, it turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but also one of the most promising.”
After graduating high school, Kingdon moved to Petoskey, a smaller town in Northern Michigan. That’s where he met Mark Dee, owner of Center City Gym. They became friends, and Kingdon worked out there, learning and weight training.
“I became a pretty good personal trainer,” he noted, “very well-known throughout the state of Michigan.”
Kingdon encountered years of vigorous training, seven days a week, to compete in his first National Physique Committee competition in 2013. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder not only took first place in the Super Heavyweight Division but first place overall at that prestigious event -- the NPC Central States Championship Bodybuilding competition -- in Bellville, Michigan. That success led to a unique opportunity.
“I was picked out by my physique by Ed Connors,” Kingdon said. “He flew me to [Las] Vegas to train with a couple of pro bodybuilders, and once he really met me, got to know me, he told me that especially by my personality and me as a character as a whole, he thought I would be perfect for [WWE].”
Powerlifter turned football player turned bodybuilder turning to pro wrestling...history is on his side. Powerlifters, football players, bodybuilders are cut out for pro wrestling as a lengthy list online reveals.
Now is a good time for Kingdon to discuss what makes a successful bodybuilder.
“It’s more than just being able to go on stage; it’s more than just being able to put on a pair of trunks to compete. It’s living, breathing, sleeping, dreaming...every supplement, every type of food, every workout. It’s an all-day, every day type of thing. You’re preparing yourself to look perfect. You’re being judged on perfection. You’re being judged on your flaws, if any. Your ideal physique has to be perfect.”
The dedication, the look, the spotlight. Sound familiar?
“Comparing the two [bodybuilding and WWE], how I got myself a little prepared for it, I was comfortable on stage with very little clothing and posing to a music routine in front of a crowd...What kind of personality you have, what kind of music you chose...”
Personality, music, more important aspects for bodybuilding and sports entertainment.
Kingdon, who can be intense, who can be funny, continued: “Being in front of a crowd, you do a sequence to where you want to show all your attributes.”
That also describes a WWE superstar.
Did that make his three-day WWE tryout easier?
“It was an eye opener,” he said. “I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. I say that because there is no real way to prepare yourself, unless you’re experienced in it. Bodybuilding, football tryouts, no; it’s completely different. The conditioning, the diet, the stamina, the amount that you had to learn, especially in a little amount of time, it was a real eye opener of what the [WWE] superstars really put themselves through.”
Kingdon will now be putting himself through it on a more regular basis, learning from a plethora of coaching talent, including 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.
“I have been given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said, “and my main dream now is to become the next superstar.”
Kingdon respects the past and present NXT and WWE superstars.
“I look at people like The Rock, who would be in the ring, and he would be electrifying, and then outside of the ring, people would flock to him, want to be around him. Then you have someone like John Cena, who also started in bodybuilding, and he became much more than just a physique. He is charismatic. He’s a whole persona. I give so much respect to him for becoming much more than just someone who competed.”
Kingdon said stepping inside the ring one day with John Cena, the former bodybuilder and current WWE superstar, would be an honor.
For now, though, for Kingdon, it’s one step at time.
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