ON THE MAT: WKU’s Newcom grateful for chance to try out with WWE

Published 3:24 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

By Micheal Compton, Bowling Green Daily News

The wrestling world gathered in Philadelphia earlier this month with WWE’s annual Wrestlemania.

The two-night event drew more than 150,000 fans who came to see Cody Rhodes finish his story and claim the undisputed WWE Universal championship after a two-year quest.

While that story was culminating, Kenlee Newcom’s potential WWE story was just beginning.

A redshirt junior defender for the WKU soccer team and an Owensboro native, Newcom was one of about 60 college athletes invited to participate in a WWE tryout, with the wrestling promotion looking to find perhaps the next superstar.

The tryout was part of WWE’s “Next in Line” initiative, designed to “provide a clear pathway from college athletics to WWE through collaborative partnerships with college athletes from diverse athletic backgrounds.”

Since it began in 2021, the program has been a launching point for current WWE NXT North American champion Oba Femi and Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson.

“It was really cool,” Newcom said. “It was very unexpected. It kind of came out of the blue. If you would have asked me a few years ago if I would have been doing this, I would have been like, ‘What in the world? There is no way. That’s crazy.’ I’ve never been to Philadelphia, so getting to go there and see the city alone was actually really cool.

“It was a really cool experience, getting to go there and meet a bunch of other athletes from other sports and schools all over the world.”

Newcom said she was contacted by a direct message on her Instagram account from a WWE recruitment account who asked if she would be interested in a tryout. She said she was skeptical at first, but as she read on, she started to realize the message was real.

“I clicked on it and read it and was like hold on, they actually want me to try out,” Newcom said. “This is crazy. At first I was like, no way. This isn’t me. I don’t know anything about WWE. I sat down and talked to my parents and they were like, ‘This is an awesome opportunity. You should 100% do it.’”

Newcom decided to accept the offer, beginning a process that began several months before her trip to Philadelphia.

Being unfamiliar with the current product, Newcom watched videos from the WWE to get a feel for what she was able to be a part of.

“Whenever I was younger, I would watch some stuff,” Newcom said. “My brother, my dad would watch it, but we were never huge fans. I just kind of knew of it. It was shocking. It was cool though.”

Newcom had to go through medical screenings and send in clearance notes from her doctor. She was also sent two videos from the WWE, one video showing Newcom rolls and flips she needed to learn before going to the tryout and another video with neck exercises to help you prepare for it.

“You watch the video and they do it so smoothly,” Newcom said. “It looks so easy. You are like I can do that. Then you actually do it and it’s actually really hard.”

According to Newcom, the tryouts were basically a two-day elimination type setup to see who would be the last person standing from about 60 invitees, who could go through it and stay committed.

“The atmosphere the whole time was nothing I have ever experienced,” Newcom said. “You are sitting here going through something hard, basically like boot camp with people you have never met. You quickly become best friends with them because you have no other choice. Whenever you go through something that difficult, it just forms a bond with everyone.”

One bond formed had Bowling Green connections, former BG Lady Purple basketball player Keely Morrow.

Morrow was invited to try out last summer but was unable to do it due to a knee injury, but received another invite to come to Philadelphia.

“My experience with wrestling was at the county fair when they have the wrestling ring set up,” Morrow said. “I am aware of some of the big wrestlers – The Rock, John Cena, Randy Orton – those type of people. I knew older wrestling, but as far as new wrestling, I haven’t watched it that much. Going in, I was kind of new. I didn’t know too much. I definitely didn’t know the basics of wrestling and all the stuff that it took to be a wrestler. It definitely made me respect it a whole lot more.”

Newcom said she was surprised by how physically demanding the whole process was. One invitee tore an ACL during the tryouts. Newcom, who had ankle surgery last June and was unable to play soccer last season, had to be pulled from physical activity when she tweaked her ankle.

“Everyone is always like it is fake,” Newcom said. “It is scripted, but at the same time, nobody understands the physicality that goes into it. The work they have to put in and how hard it is on your body. Coming from a D1 college athlete, it was some of the hardest work that I have ever seen done or put in. It was wild.”

In addition to physical stuff, the invitees had to work on promos both individually and with a group – bringing outfits you wanted to wear to flesh out your character.

“It was difficult for sure,” Newcom said. “It was different. You went into this room and everyone was sitting there and there was a camera on you. You had to go up on stage and you had a microphone. You had to talk about why you were going to be the next big thing.

“We weren’t given very much information going into that, so you were able to prepare, but at the same time, they wanted to see what you could do up there on the spot. It was intimidating for sure.”

While Newcom was unfamiliar with everyone involved on the WWE end, she did know that those in attendance included some current NXT wrestlers and some WWE wrestlers including CM Punk.

“It was really cool to get to meet them and be in the same room with them,” Newcomb said. “For me, I didn’t know a lot about WWE going in, so I didn’t really know who people were. I knew of them, but didn’t know the extent to who they were.”

Morrow has already heard back from WWE, being informed that they are not interested at this time.

“Honestly, I’m thankful for the experience,” Morrow said. “I feel like going and being around that group of people was so uplifting and encouraging – getting in the trenches with them and getting to know them as people. On top of that, WWE is hard. Getting in front of people and doing a promo is hard. I feel like that experience will follow me for the rest of my life.”

She added she thinks this program recruiting college athletes is a smart tool for the WWE.

“I think WWE is really headed in the right direction using former college athletes,” Morrow said. “There is a certain characteristic, a certain personality trait that comes with being a college athlete. You look for camaraderie. You cheer on your teammate. You want other people to do well and that is what the energy was like in that room. The whole two days we were in there dying together.”

Newcom has yet to hear back from WWE, waiting to see what the next step is.

She said if WWE is interested, she would move to Orlando, Florida, to train at the WWE Performance Center with hopes of eventually becoming part of the NXT roster, which is the developmental brand for the WWE.

“I’m open to any opportunity,” Newcom said. “It was so out of my comfort zone and something I never saw coming, but it was a lot of fun and it’s really cool because a lot of college athletes – it’s tough to just be done with your sport – just cut cold from it. Getting to do WWE or NXT or something like that, it is cool because you are still able to be an athlete.

“It’s crazy because it puts you in a different spot. I never saw this coming, but then if they offer you it’s like ‘man, maybe I would actually do this. This could be really cool.’ It’s a lot of fun.”{&end}