Anthony Bowens has spent the last several years chasing his dream of making wrestling his full time profession. After a WWE tryout in 2015 didn’t go his way, Bowens took the feedback to create his character – ‘The 5-Tool Player’
Following his recent debut on AEW Dark, Bowens sat down with Inside The Ropes‘ own Kenny McIntosh to chat about his career so far, how he got involved in wrestling, how his coming out story had a positive effect on his career and much more.
So, I guess the first question I was going to ask you was, we saw you in AEW on Dark recently with Lee Johnson against the Chaos Project. How did it come about, you getting the gig with AEW, and what was the experience like?
That was a long time coming because I don’t know what the original plans were, but I do know I was supposed to be at the Blood and Guts show back in March, in Newark, when they were doing the Search for Spears, I just came in the top three in the voting when Tully and Shawn Spears were searching for his tag partner.
Then as obviously the pandemic hits that never end up materialising. I was supposed to go back down in June right around, I think it was Fyter Fest. That then ended up getting scrubbed because Florida was on the rise again. So that was twice I had the rug pulled from underneath me. So I kept in touch. And then we finally found a week where we made it work. I went down and it was fantastic, it was such a good time. I was excited to finally debut. I was actually supposed to do two Dark shows.
We were actually five minutes away from starting off Dark two weeks ago or three weeks ago at this point, one of the two and there was an injury which ended up pushing the match back. But eventually my opponent didn’t get cleared and that match was cancelled. So three times in a row, I had the rug pulled from me – but finally we got the match.
One of the only, I guess, positive COVID stories – you finally got your gig! What was the experience like being there? I mean, like you say, if you’ve had all these kind of times where you thought you were going, it was going to happen and finally it does. Talk me through the experience of the day.
It was a bit nerve-racking, I tend to not get too nervous because I’m pretty confident in my skills and everything that I’ve been working on over the last eight years. So it was just more like nerves of excitement to just finally hurry up and get out there and get the debut over with. But it’s a cool environment working over there.
Everyone there….. I wrestled with most of those guys on an independent show. So I felt right at home right away. It was fun. It was really, really fun. I’m happy with the way it went. I came out with a lot of good feedback. Social media got a lot of good feedback, so I was happy.
Do you feel we’re going to see you in AEW again? Did you get the vibe that, you might be heading back to Jacksonville anytime soon?
I have no idea. Honestly, I’m trying to take things day by day. So, if the call comes, the call comes. If not, then I’m going to keep moving on.
I said a long time ago that, I kind of lost the fun aspect of wrestling, because I felt like I was just wrestling to get signed as opposed to the way I came in, which was enjoying pro wrestling, because I love it. It was my passion. And once I really dropped that vibe of it you know the, “I got to do this because this might get me signed. This might get me here.” Once I kind of got rid of that mindset, everything started to happen for me and I started having more fun again.
I just want to keep having great matches. I’m going to keep entertaining people and want to keep finding ways to get better. And if that means AEW, if that means just doing more independent shows, I’ll do it because I love professional wrestling.
So how did you cope with the pandemic? I know indie shows are starting to take off again and have been brought back but initially when there wasn’t any shows apart from WWE & AEW what do you do as a wrestler to make sure there’s no rust, that can keep yourself ready for when opportunities come up?
It was brutal. I was going nuts trying to figure out ways to stay in shape. In the beginning, I was finding cases of Poland Spring water and I was bench pressing those, I was doing cardio in my living room. Anything to keep me going. I ended up begging a a weight company, Power Block, to just sell me dumbbells.
I was able to get their last dumbbells set in the warehouse shipped to me. That kind of held me over for a couple of months. Then as the pandemic started to lighten up a little bit, I was able to train at Create-A-Pro Wrestling Academy in Long Island because they were making sure they did everything to keep the students safe, temperature checks and COVID tests to make sure you’re negative. So, I got a little bit of training in there so I have been finding ways to stay in shape.
You mentioned earlier about wrestling being fun when you go into it and that you were just wrestling for the fun feeling it gives you. What made you get into wrestling growing up? What was your story and your influences to get you to where you are now?
I was a fan since I was six years old. I was watching TV and a commercial came on and it was this Sting/Hogan vignette for the promo for the Starrcade ’97 match. It was things like that. I guess it’s like a warehouse and it’s like raining, and Sting steps on the Hogan poster on the ground. I was like, “Wow, who’s this dude?” I started checking out WCW every single week.
Then one day, I came home, there was a WrestleMania XIV VHS tape sitting on the table. I put that in. I was like, “I’m hooked.” And then at that point, it was back and forth between WWE and WCW. The fandom just grew from there and it never left.
How do you go from being a fan in 1997-1998 which was a great period to watch pro-wrestling and to decide that you want to do it as a career?
Well, I played baseball most of my life from Little League all the way through college, and once I stopped playing in college, I had this gap of time where I was used to being on the baseball field where I was just doing nothing and I couldn’t fill the time. Then my friends and I were bored one night before a hurricane and it had delayed their movement to college or university. They said, “Let’s make a wrestling video” So I thought, “OK, cool.” So we did like almost like a backyard comedy thing where we brawled through the house and it caught on locally on YouTube. So we had like a little mini series that people would follow. The feedback I would get from that was, “You kind of look like a pro wrestler, like you should probably think about doing it.”
That’s when the seed was first planted. So I started looking into different wrestling schools. I thought about moving up to Canada to go to Lance Storm’s place, or I thought I would be able to go down to FCW, I didn’t know what I was doing at the time… *laughs* ..so I’ll join us FCW and train there, little did I know how difficult that would be.
Anyway, one particular day, when WWE were in the area, they go to the gym that I happened to lift at and I called in sick with my professors. I was in college and I went over there and I met a bunch of the roster. And then the last person that I met who actually wasn’t going to even bother because he was doing ABS was Santino Marella. I was like, “I’ll never see this guy again. I might as well just say hello.” So I respectfully asked for a photo and as I was walking away, he stopped me and said, “You look like a pro wrestler. Ever thought about becoming one?” I was like, “Yeah.” He pulled out his phone and gave me the number to Pat Buck, who’s the current WWE producer and owner of Create-A-Pro Wrestling Academy, or WrestlePro in New Jersey. One week later, I went down there to check out the school and I was there for five minutes, and I was like, “This is it. This is what I want to do.”
That was the beginning part of your story. I think it’s pretty fascinating that you had a WWE tryout in 2015. Obviously that didn’t maybe go the way that you’d hoped it was going to go, but you turned that into a positive. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and turning that into a positive that ended up getting you to where you are now.
So, yeah, I had two tryouts in 2015. I was at the first Arnold Classic, the first live tryout, and then I did well enough there that they invited me down to the Performance Center for three days and I think I did really well physically. I definitely blew it on the promo. It was terrible. It was awful. It was embarrassing. So, I think that really killed me. But the feedback I got was, “You have four of the five things we need to make you something here, go out and work on your personality” – because, at the time, I was in the closet, I didn’t have a character. I was like a vanilla babyface kind of thing. So there wasn’t really much to me as a performer, other than just being like this blue chip athlete, that would make a company jump on and be like, “Hey, this is, like, a big megastar.” S
o I took that advice and I started to do anything I could to make myself a better performer. I started doing improv classes, acting classes. I did sketch comedy shows. I ended up signing with an agency and I was doing commercials. I was doing print work. Anything that would make me feel more comfortable in front of a camera make me just come out of my shell, not be so uptight.
I think my coming out helped that process even more because being in the closet, you kind of have like these these walls built up around you that you don’t even realize are there and once you break them down and you just feel comfortable and more free to be yourself, I think I started finally connecting with people more. I think you saw my matches got better because I was just free to be myself. And then I was using, as I say, with the character, sharpening all my tools because I’m the 5-Tool Player just doing all these little things. And then the YouTube channel came along and I was on a camera every single week.
So, now, I am used to speaking a lot better in front of cameras. So I did all these little things and kind of put them together to try and make myself a better performer. And I think it’s worked out pretty well.
I think you’re doing just fine! But you talk about coming out. It’s interesting because the other day was National Coming Out Day and I posted a story about my experience and you’ve talked extensively about yours as well. I guess for people who are reading this, who are not part of the LGBT community, they might be thinking – why was that such a big deal for you to do it? Or why was why were there such big walls? Can you kind of explain, from your perspective, why it’s so important and why that was such a big moment for you?
I mean, in regards to the walls, it’s just you carry around… There’s this heavy weight, this heavy secret that you don’t want anybody to know because obviously you don’t want your life to change. You don’t want people to judge you and your mind races. It goes through all these crazy fears and creates all these crazy scenarios. So all that stuff kind of weighs on you and it affects you even if you don’t even notice it. And I think just having the ability to be yourself and to just freely express yourself helps it just really, really help. So I had met my boyfriend Michael in May of 2016. We dated for six months secretly – which, when I look back, I hate that that happened. But I also respect the fact that he liked me enough to put up with that for six months. I promised him that it wouldn’t have been forever. It wasn’t going to be forever. I just needed to find the right time.
But weeks after, I realised I had support from my best friends since I came out to all of them, I had support from my family. I had this wonderful relationship. I have this career where I could have this unique platform to reach out to people and be someone to look to, to be a positive role model. So, like, I have all these things going for me, I need to say something. So I want the decision to be my own, which I think it should be. I don’t think you should be forced to come out of the closet. I didn’t tell my boyfriend, I didn’t tell my parents or my friends. I just figured I wanted the decision to be mine. And I came out in January of 2017, I actually came out in parts. I came out on Facebook with like a little message in January of 2017.
And then that was just within the people who I was friends with. And then a couple of months later, I was approached by Outsports.com, which I had never heard of, and they said, “Would you like to write about your story?” So I said, “Sure.” And I wrote up a little thing about it, sent it in, not thinking twice about it. Then I woke up the next day and it was like viral everywhere. I was like, “Oh, my God.” It’s like I came out once and then I came out to the world a couple of months later.
I feel like in 2020, obviously it’s not like 1985, where, like, there was nobody who’s really out. Have you gotten any messages and support from I guess maybe other young wrestlers coming up or people who watch wrestling who are kind of inspired by the fact that you’ve been able to come out and, you know, it’s a good thing that something positive can come from it?
I get messages from people in the LGBTQ community, I get messages from, I guess, straight people, I get messages from everyone, some from like, “Hey, I can relate to your story about my sexuality or I’m just straight and I’m proud of your story and I’m proud of what you represent, I’m proud of what you’re doing.” So I get all kinds of positive messages.
Of course, you get some negative stuff sprinkled in from time to time, but that’s the kind of stuff you ignore, have thick skin and just move on because you just don’t allow hate or people airing those vibes into your life and just stay positive. So, yeah, I get messages from all kinds of people from all over the world.
So the 5-Tool Player gimmick – can you explain that to people who, if they’ve not seen you before, what are the five tools? And I’m guessing that WWE tryout maybe facilitated the desire to call yourself a 5-Tool player?
Yes, It did kind of stemmed from that piece of advice that I was given, but also is a play on…. “five-tool player” in general is a major….. It’s a baseball term for a superstar. They can hit for power, hit for average, hit for run, throw and field.
I’m wrestling’s 5-Tool Player, the perfect combination of power, athleticism, intelligence, the look and the IT factor. It basically started when I had done a Power Ranger gimmick for a couple of years, which was fun. But I was trying to find something that was more me that I can sink my teeth into because I don’t run around my town as a Power Ranger yelling, “It’s bonus time!” *laughs* That’s just not… It’s not real.
So I was sitting down with a buddy of mine, I consider him my little brother, Casey Navarro, who I mentor, and he was like 15, 16 years old and we were doing tape study and he was listening to commentary to one of my matches. And one of the promoters who was on commentary said, “Here comes Battle Club Pro’s resident five-tool player.”
Casey goes, “Boom. Oh, that’s it. You’re the 5-Tool Player. You’re a baseball player. For 11 years, you had that piece of advice from WWE. You do all these cool things inside the ring. You do all these things outside the ring, you’re the 5-Tool player.” I thought, “Oh, my God, you’re right.” So then we kind of sat down, we hammered out everything. What the character would do? What he would say? If he’s heel or babyface.
So we put it together, we did it. Then like a day or two later, I didn’t really have, like, a hand on anything. I then did a match for IMPACT. So I debuted the character on IMPACT, not really knowing what it was, but I was trying to figure it out. And I just as time went on, I slowly but surely slipped into the character and just kind of fit like a glove.
I mean, you know, we started this chat by talking about the AEW experience, What are the goals and wrestling for you in the near future? What what are you going to do for people?
Well, hopefully the pandemic continues to go in a more positive direction, and it goes away eventually and things normalise so that there will be more independent bookings. I think I was picking up a lot of momentum in the beginning of 2020, hopefully I kept that with the AEW thing. I’m hoping to just continue to have really good matches. I’ve been having so much fun lately with so many great opponents.
The goal one day is to just… I want to do this obviously full-time, for a living. I love pro wrestling. I’d rather not be doing side jobs as it is. So, anybody that would like to take a look at the 5-Tool Player and have me, I am more than happy to work with you. I just want to do this forever on a very high level, continue to get better and prove that I’m one of the best out there.
I guess, just finally, if anybody is reading this and they’ve not seen you before because they’ve been living under a rock, what kind of matches of yours would you encourage people to check out on YouTube to get a feel of The 5-Tool Player?
I think one of my favorite matches right now actually just happened with myself and TJ Crawford. We did a 30-minute draw a couple of weeks ago, which I’m very, very proud of – because that’s my second match back from the pandemic.
I can tell you my first match back was brutal because not being in the ring for a couple of months and then having to just go full force is rough from the cardio perspective. You know, I go nuts with cardio to try and make sure I’m in shape. But there’s nothing like being in the ring that replicates that other than being in the ring. So it was pretty rough.
But second time around, going 30 minutes, we really destroyed each other. Fantastic crowd reactions. I think you get a good vibe of hard hitting action, technical wrestling on display – and TJ Crawford is a name that you guys should really, really look out for because I think he’s going to be all over the place soon and probably one of my favourite opponents because I can probably not even talk to him and go out there and wrestle for 45 minutes. He’s that good.