TaDarius Thomas has put everything on the line for professional wrestling.
An underdog his whole life, Thomas has been a mixed martial artist. He’s been a boxer. But nothing has captivated him like pro wrestling has. So when Ring of Honor called the four-year veteran and informed him he’d be facing Kevin Steen for the ROH World Championship, you can imagine the excitement running through his body.
But that wasn’t all.
Not only would Thomas be challenging for the world title, the biggest opportunity of his lifetime would come in his hometown when ROH returns to Detroit on Friday for a show at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, Mich.
“I’ve put everything on the line for professional wrestling,” Thomas told SLAM! Wrestling. “All the way to this point, I’ve lost a decent job, I’ve lost my wife, I’ve lost so much because of my love for wrestling. Trying to get to where I want, everything else become unfaithful. I really don’t have anything but this. This is all I have. I’m serious when I say it means everything.”
The 31-year-old Thomas got his start at Truth Martini’s House of Truth Wrestling School in Center Line, Mich. In fact, he spoke with SLAM! Wrestling from the school, where he took a brief break from his training to address his match with Steen. Then Thomas went right back at it, a symbol of the hard work he’s put in to excel at a profession he’s dedicated his life to, making sacrifice after sacrifice to achieve success.
“My thing is, as long as I can survive, as long as I’m surviving, I’m going to keep pushing forward,” he said. “I’ve got food on my plate and a place to sleep. I’m just going to keep striving for my goals. As far as anything else, as far as having a social life or anything else, I’ve already accepted that I just really can’t have it right now.”
When Ring of Honor announced the “Underdog Challenge” earlier this month, it left many ROH fans scratching their heads. How is Tadarius Thomas getting the first championship shot of 2013, they asked? For Thomas, the answer is simple.
“I think that Ring of Honor sees something and they want to give me the opportunity to see me shine with one of the big stars in the company and it just happened to be the champion,” Thomas said. “I think they want to see what I’ve got under pressure, with the best.”
And for someone who wasn’t even a professional wrestling fan growing up — he was “heavy into comic books” — Thomas has taken to the sport. There’s not a day that goes by, he says, when he doesn’t end up immersed in watching old matches on YouTube. In fact, he spoke glowingly about his favorite match, a clash between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Yuji Nagata.
So after Thomas moved on from MMA and boxing, he was looking for something new to test his athletic skills. A friend suggested pro wrestling. From there, it was on, and any preconceived notions he had about the sport were changed — and rather quickly — once he stepped into the House of Truth.
“It was a wake-up call,” Thomas said. “I had one type of idea how it was when I was doing MMA, but on the other side of the ropes, when you’re going through all the pain, you realize it’s not what you thought it was. There’s another side of it that you don’t get in other sports and that’s the interaction with the crowd. That’s something that’s wonderful and I’ve only really experienced it in pro wrestling and I love it.”
While Thomas made his presence known in Ring of Honor in 2012, including a win over Rhino at Glory by Honor XI, he feels he’s really going to make a mark in 2013. He’s been participating in ROH’s Top Prospects Tournament on top of getting this match with Steen.
“I feel this is my year and everything that’s thrown my way, I’m going to take the ball and run with it, give 110 percent and that way I can be satisfied with whatever happens,” he said. “The top prospects tournament, that’s something I really want bad.”
That comes February 2 in Baltimore, but now he’s got Steen on his mind in a match that is not only his biggest opportunity, but also his biggest challenge. Thomas enters the match as a heavy underdog, a position he’s no stranger to, and with good reason.
As ROH World Champion, Steen has mowed down the competition, beating some of the best wrestlers in the world. He won the title from Davey Richards (and defeated him in the rematch) en route to successfully defending against the likes of Eddie Edwards, Eddie Kingston, Jay Lethal, Michael Elgin and, most recently, El Generico.
Thomas, though, feels he possesses one thing all those other wrestlers didn’t — his capoeira background — and that’s what makes him dangerous.
“Steen’s going to make the mistake of taking me lightly, and every opening I get I’m going to try to capitalize,” Thomas said. “I’m going to try to use my speed. The biggest asset I feel I have over everybody in Ring of Honor is my capoeira background. When I add that into my matches, it makes everything so unorthodox. Nobody knows exactly what’s coming or where it’s coming from. I can get out of a lot of situations with that.”
Even though Thomas will be the hometown hero, he’s keen to the fact that Steen, ROH’s resident anti-hero, will have his fair share of support, as well. Still, Thomas is expecting the TD Army, his legion of family and friends, to show up in full force.
“I think it’s going to add to the excitement,” he said of the potential for a split reaction. “I think half the crowd’s going to be saying ‘Steen! Steen!’ and the other half ‘TD! TD!’ I think there’s going to be points in the match where people get confused for a second and won’t be able to say anything. Eventually when it’s all said and done, whatever happens, happens.”
And when the final bell does ring on what will undoubtedly be a grueling match, Thomas is hoping to have enough energy to carry the proverbial “12 pounds of gold” to the back. Make no mistake about it, he’s leaving it all in the ring Friday night.
“I’m totally focused,” he said. “When I hear anything regarding this match, it’s like a kick in the butt to get focused. I really feel that everything I’ve done over the last four years built up to this match and this match is the one that’s going to be used to define me and my place in the professional wrestling world. I’m totally, totally focused. I’m excited, but I can’t let that take over. I have to stay calm and focused and worry about me. Get my stuff together and show the world.”