This day and age it’s virtually impossible to pull off a genuine surprise in pro wrestling. However, buzz-worthy promotion All Elite Wrestling found a way to do just that by bringing Awesome Kong for its first event Double or Nothing in Las Vegas.
The person behind the imposing figure is Kia Stevens, who has been getting high marks for her turn as Tammé on the Netflix hit series GLOW. She recalls talks for the Memorial Day weekend appearance really getting started around February. To keep Chief Brand Officer Brandi Rhodes’ big addition to the women’s showcase under wraps, she was too nervous to train in anybody’s ring for fear of tipping anyone off. Stevens even turned down bookings.
“I was worried that people had forgotten about me because it had been forever and a day since I had appeared on TV as a wrestler in Kong’s gear and her braids and everything,” she recalled. “I was extremely worried about it.”
A few minutes before walking out trepidation was still there. If it weren’t bad enough, she had the ear worm Baby Shark stuck in her head. A quick interaction with the motivational Diamond Dallas Page ended up making all the difference.
“I mean he squared me up shoulder-to-shoulder. He looked me dead in the eye with his piercing blue eyes and gave me this pep talk about positive thinking,” Stevens said. “How I should read his book, and how I am who I am, and I know who I am.
“He told me I was going to go out there and kill it. It was exactly what I needed. This was not even three or four minutes before I walked out there. I was like, ‘Yes!’ This is what I needed to summon Kong. She is finally here.”
Kong didn’t win the match, but she made an undeniable impact. The MGM Grand Garden Arena erupted in shock. She sees something special in AEW and wanted to be part of history.
“I’ve always kind of been that rebel in wrestling. This promotion is kind of that exciting rebel in a way,” Stevens said. “This force that will not be denied. I think it was the perfect portal for me to re-enter the wrestling world.”
Despite the warm reception Stevens confirms she is still a free agent. However, the star teases you may see more of her from time to time. The powerhouse sees a whole new generation of women who deserve to mold the product the way they want to.
“It’s something women have always been capable of,” Stevens said on the recent revolution taking place within the industry. “I feel right now the road has been paved in such a way they can finally display what we’ve already known. Which is the women are entertaining, athletic and can do it all.”
The former champion is looking to have it all in her entertainment career. Along with GLOW and other projects in Hollywood, the grappler turned actress is looking to make a run at stand-up comedy.
“It’s something I not only wanted to do, but all my life, from even high school my friends have told me I’m funny,” she said. “One of my best friends so badly wants to see me in the Groundlings. For a long time it seemed like something that contradicted what I was in the ring.
“A lot of people, when they meet me, they see such a contrast. I didn’t want to dispel that illusion for them, but since I had been out of the ring so long, I thought it was time to pick up and show that other side of me.”
There are many in the GLOW cast who have shared their advice for the budding comedienne including the likes of Jackie Tohn, Marc Maron, Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson. One particular night a chance meeting at The Comedy Store was a game-changer.
“They said, ‘All the comedians need to sit over there.’ I guess they recognized me from the show, and there was an area where the comedians sit,” Stevens said. “I went over and sat down and met Jihan Sabir. She is an up-and-coming comic. She is the one who really has taken me by the hand and shown me the ropes.”
Much like pro wrestling, Stevens is prepared to start from the bottom in the small, dark rooms paying her dues. She plans to work her way up to those standing room only crowds.
“I’ve done some open mics trying out some material and getting used to speaking in front of a crowd because it’s different,” Stevens said. “Kong doesn’t speak. I got away with wrestling for like 17 years by doing maybe five promos maybe my entire career. This is a new thing for me, especially since I have a bit of speech impediment.
“So I’m working on that. It’s just so different learning how to handle hecklers. I have to juggle being Kong and Kia at the same time. So if I do have a heckler, what do I do? Do I beat him up, body slam him, what do I do?”
Stevens is a bit more seasoned thanks to working on GLOW, which is entering season 3. She is impressed with how much the ladies have progressed in the ring.
“They are regular old pros now,” the “Welfare Queen” said. “Our first and second season we would have a wrestling boot camp for a whole month beforehand. This year we kind of cut that in half. It was really a matter of dusting off the ring rust and getting back into the groove.”
Familiar faces return for the next round as the eclectic group set their sights on the bright lights of Las Vegas. Adding to the glitz and glamour of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is Geena Davis playing former showgirl and entertainment director Sandy Devereaux St. Clair.
“She brings so much value to this season. It’s incredible,” Stevens said on the Academy award-winning actress. “When she walked on set day one, she never came on set with an ego. She came very humble. I learned a lot from her about how to conduct myself in showbiz. She is one of the hardest working women I’ve ever encountered. I feel so lucky that we got her because she gives a tremendous performance. It’s so easy to play off her because she gives you so much.”
On hard-working mom Tammé and what we can expect for season 3, Stevens doesn’t reveal too much. And if there is one thing we learned from her out-of-nowhere AEW appearance, she is good at keeping secrets.
“ Tammé always has a plan. You saw her acting aspirations trying to get her own show and be the next Whoopi Goldberg. That was her goal. You’re going to see her work on that this year,” Stevens said.
“This season we really get to see how everyone is adjusting to working so much. When you have a show in Vegas, it’s constant work. So now we get to see how they adjust to having a show basically every night. See how they adjust mentally and physically.”
GLOW, Season 3 available Friday, August 9, Netflix
AEW Fyter Fest, Saturday, June 29, 7:30/6:30c, Streaming on Bleacher Report Live