Arda Ocal is fifth from right in the second row, wearing a suit.… (@babyhebner )
This past Saturday, TNA wrestling held a live event in Oshawa, Ontario. Prior to the live event, the company held one of its “Gut Check” tryout camps, where aspiring TNA stars could pay $250 for the opportunity to be evaluated by TNA officials. “Gut Check” has quickly become one of the most popular segments on Impact Wrestling, and to TNA this is where it all begins. The likes of Crimson, Alex Silva and Jesse Sorensen have been hired by TNA from their “Gut Check” program.
When I first heard that there was a Gut Check tryout happening in Oshawa (which is a less than an hour drive from my home in Toronto), I knew I had to be a part of it, if only to soak in the experience. So, I paid my $20 deposit to apply and the remaining $230 just like everyone else after I was told I was accepted.
Most people arrived at 1 p.m. local time for the tryout (the show itself would begin around 7:30 p.m.). For me, it was a mix of familiar faces that I have seen countless times in the independent scene in Ontario, a reunion with old friends that traveled from far, and new faces I had never seen. I was told this was the largest tryout TNA has had – more than 20 hopefuls.
The day started informally. Wrestlers stretched, limbered up and mentally prepared themselves for the day. I spoke with the Flatliners (Asylum and Matt Burns), a formidable tag team who decided to sign up as such for Gut Check. They wore similar-looking camouflage attire to try and stand out. It worked, as they received early praise from the evaluators.
The ones in charge were referee Brian Hebner, TNA agent D-Lo Brown and TNA announcer Jeremy Borash. D-Lo, who enjoyed a very successful career in pro wrestling, was at the helm of the tryout. Hebner worked with referees and Borash was in charge of documenting the experience and facilitating the “promo” portion of the experience.
First, D-Lo gathered everyone together and explained the Gut Check tryout process. He explained his passion for wrestling made him very protective of the business, which many in attendance took to heart. These words would fully come into play later in the tryout. D-Lo ended by saying “if you respect me and my rules, then you are allowed to come into my ring” and everyone jumped up on the apron.
The first drill was locking up with D-Lo, and D-Lo left it at that. He simply said, “everyone will have a chance to lock up with me, let’s begin” without selecting someone to come into the ring. As “O Show” radio host Big Daddy Donnie pointed out to me (he was there to soak it all in and say hello to old friends), this was a method to gauge the hunger of the applicants. Former WWE superstar Shawn Spears immediately jumped into the ring to be the first to lock up with D-Lo, without any contention. After they locked up and separated, applicants started to catch on and jumped 3-4-5 at a time to get into the ring to be the next to lock up and show their eagerness, to show they belonged in a TNA ring.
After everyone locked up, applicants were split into two camps – heel camp and babyface camp. The next drill was chain wrestling. Once again, D-Lo asked for two volunteers and this time almost half the ring filled up before two volunteers broke through. I heard D-Lo and Brian Hebner noting that this class of potentials was among the highest level they had seen. I wasn’t surprised, having consistently seen the level of talent Ontario has.
One big lesson learned was to pay complete attention to what the leader is saying. D-Lo asked for chain wrestling, and in some cases in the ring, applicants were breaking out into spots, which was not what the drill called for. This presumably earned them negative points. One particular pairing, involving one individual who didn’t seem to fully grasp or have practiced wrestling fundamentals, or maybe was just nervous, went terribly wrong in the ring. D-Lo began to stew. Then, the next pairing saw one more sequence go wrong. D-Lo had seen enough and left the ring infuriated, ordering everyone to take 5.
Shawn Spears, the veteran of the group, called an impromptu pep talk with all of the hopefuls and urged everyone to calm down. Having been through the WWE system and working hard for several years, Spears certainly knew what he was talking about.
D-Lo returned and apologized but explained his passion for the business shines through, and things resumed.
After the chain wrestling component, the wrestlers were then asked to do a standard wrestling sequence involving a head lock, shoulder tackle, drown down and hip toss. Each pair did it twice, with each being the recipient. In some instances, D-Lo looked impressed, in others, D-Lo became a teacher, explaining fine-tuned points of the sequence to some that weren’t able to fully grasp it.