Professional wrestling is all about storytelling and setting up angles. Many men over the years help to guide those storylines in the squared circle, like Tony Schiavone, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, and Gordon Solie, to name a few. Keeping that tradition alive in the National Wrestling Alliance is Kyle Davis.
SlamWrestling.net spoke to Davis over the phone just days after Hurricane Ian made landfall in his home in Florida. “It’s just been a nightmare. I literally still have power [and] internet in my house,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to work where I can, but my actual audio setup is non-functional right now.”
But this talk is about wrestling, not the weather. Davis has done well for himself, considering how he started in the business. “My cousin is four years older than I am. He was a big wrestling fan,” Davis recalled, “and as often happens with like siblings and relatives and people you’re close to that are a little bit older than you, that’s what you kind of start going to for the things that are entertaining and cool because you see somebody get excited about it and that kind of inversely gets you excited.”
“As I got older, I realized that it was a great outlet to being somebody who I would want to be that I wasn’t actually capable of being in my real life,” he continued, “and it’s kind of like comic books and everything else and that way you lean towards people that either you see something that has a part of you in it or somebody that you wanna be and for wrestling, that was a real-life comic book for me.”
From there, he found a wrestling school, and this is where it gets interesting. “I broke into 2006 of the Ring of Honor Academy under Bryan Danielson,” Davis said. “It’s funny, the first thing I ever did was I went to a training seminar that KENTA was having, and I end up showing up late for it because I got lost on the way there, and I was in no shape to be actually doing any of the stuff, and I said, ‘Well you know what? You’re only gonna be able to do it if you do it.’ And so, I put the money down and started training at the Academy with Bryan Danielson.”
Training with The American Dragon was as grueling as you would think. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” according to Davis. “I remember at the time he had a lot of New Japan stuff that he was doing, and essentially our training regimen was half of what the New Japan dojo would do. So, you do 500 Hindu squats to start the workout instead of 1,000, and then you do 100 line pushups instead of, you know, 200 and then you’d run for a bit; do laps in the ring. It was before you even learned how to do a headlock, you’re basically doing all these calisthenics and trying to survive.
“But eventually you get better at it. So initially, like that first workout would take you two hours just to get through the warmup, and then eventually in time you get it down to like 30 minutes,” Davis continued. “I remember taking soaking bathtubs, not being able to move. You know, Bryan is a guy who has a lot of drive and determination, and he had torn a shoulder just before that class started for our training, which ended up being just me and the people that already graduated under Austin Aries, like Pelle Primeau, Rhett Titus, Grizzly Redwood, Shane Hagadorn, Alex Payne, Bobby Dempsey, all those guys.”
Davis wrestled for Ring of Honor from 2006 to 2009 under the ring name Kyle Durden. “I was in a lot of the dark matches that would start shows and then essentially only main roster ones were like the actual shows would be if there was a battle royal, or they needed somebody to make somebody look good for the most part where I got to shine; to develop my personality, my character.”
Looking back on those years, Davis made this confession. “I had the wrong attitude in wrestling at the time, and that really held me back, which was I was kind of happy to be there and enjoying everything around it instead of putting in the hours, the training, and everything. I mean, I was there with Bryan Danielson, and I had the opportunity to learn under a great person, and [he’s] probably somebody who’s gonna go down as an all-time Hall of Famer in every company he works in. And instead, I was just like, ‘Hey, this is cool, I’m a wrestler. Everybody look how cool I am!’” which is just a real s*** personality to have at the time. But I was in my early to mid-twenties, and I’m just having the time of my life.”
Davis also wrestled for the National Wrestling Alliance in the New England area under the promotion NWA Liberty States under Ricky O (Ricky Otazu) who was a promoter at the time. “Dave Marquez actually put me in touch with him, and that is how I ended up getting my foot in the National Wrestling Alliance,” Davis said. “This was 2009 to 2011-ish is when I worked for Liberty States. I was part of a group called The Playaz Club with Erik Andretti, Danny Demanto.”
Davis soon found his calling in broadcasting not long after that. “Ring of Honor was the first company that got an HD television program for professional wrestling. It was called ‘ROH on HD.Net’ that no longer exists, but it was Mark Cuban’s channel and he apparently wanted wrestling on there so ROH did a deal with them for two years.” Adam Pearce, who was in ROH at the time and someone Davis considers a mentor, gave him this critique. “He basically said, ‘Uh listen, Kyle, I think you’re the s***s in the ring,’ [and] it devastated me. I was like, ‘Damn it. This is the only thing I wanna do.’”
But Pearce had more to say, explained Davis. “He goes, ‘Hold on! You can talk and a lot of people can’t talk; everybody can wrestle but not a lot of people can talk. I want you to be our ‘Mean’ Gene for HD.Net.’” Davis then talked it over with Austin Aries, and he gave this hilarious exchange. “He’s like, ‘So let me get this straight: You’re going to be on the program. You don’t have to wrestle, you get to save your body and you’re gonna be on two or three segments every episode, while everybody else is fighting for a spot? Yeah, that sounds like a stupid idea!’”
Davis worked on backstage interview segments for two years on HD.Net. He also did segments similar to ECW’s backstage random promo segments. “I was just on there interviewing people randomly like Cesaro [Claudio Castagnoli], Nigel McGuinness, Bryan, Aries, Tyler Black [Seth Rollins], Jimmy Jacobs, Kevin [Steen] Owens, Generico [Sami Zayn]; all these guys that were there at the time, and that was pretty much how I developed my ability to talk to people.”
By that point, Davis stopped wrestling in 2010, and focused on the broadcast aspect of ROH, before taking himself out of professional wrestling completely. “I was always one of those guys that [thought] instead of, ‘Oh I can spend money for this opportunity by going here.’ I was more concerned of, ‘Well I think that would be money lost even traveling there, even if it would get eyes on me,’ which again is the wrong idea for wrestling.”
“I was thinking of my everyday real life and not my actual ‘Let me get farther in professional wrestling,’” Davis said. “So, I stopped working everywhere except for Ring of Honor, and when Ring of Honor ended, I pretty much was in a position where I wasn’t willing to do stuff that I felt was underneath that, and eventually a couple of weeks go by. A couple of months ago by and you go, ‘Oh I stopped myself from being involved in the wrestling industry with that attitude.’”
And what was he doing during that time?
“I was a waiter at Hard Rock in Orlando at Universal Studios,” Davis said. “So, while I’m there, taking myself out of the business IMPACT is taping right next door in the sound stage immediately behind me. So, I am a server in the service industry wishing I was still a part of wrestling while I’m literally seeing people I know walk by the restaurant in the backstage area in the back lot and be like, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ and they kind of look at me like, ‘Why are you dressed up in Hard Rock attire?’”
For seven years, Davis tried to get to be a part of IMPACT programming, but it was an old producer colleague from his ROH days that gave him a different kind of shot. “He said, ‘Hey, Billy [Corgan] is buying the National Wrestling Alliance. He wants to do a show. Would you be interested in being a part of that?’ and I said, ‘Yes, very much so, please,’ and he goes, ‘Good, I already told him you would.’”
Davis was living in Atlanta at that time as NWA was starting its tapings. “I was brought on as a backstage correspondent, much like I was doing in Ring of Honor because, again, the producer there knew me,” Davis said, “and then as time went on, you know, Corgan had more faith in my abilities, and they gave me more opportunities.”
Davis is also listed on LinkedIn as the Chief Operating Officer of the NWA, alongside Joe Galli. “We both help run the National Wrestling Alliance and essentially, after the day, anything that NWA President and owner and Smashing Pumpkins owner Billy Corgan needs, we make happen,” Davis chuckled. “It’s day-to-day operations, payroll, reaching out, making sure that we’re talking and promoting the brand, setting up shows [and] arenas, marketing. We pretty much are catch-all and then sometimes that even means being a little bit of a personal assistant to a rock star.”
What is the best part of being COO of the NWA? “I get to be involved in a company that is growing on a daily basis using my background. I used to run Whole Foods and Hard Rock in management. It’s kind of a merging of the two things that I did. Also being on camera helps that too.”
Some other cool things he gets to do includes a new podcast with himself, Galli, and Corgan called Thirty-Three. “It’s 33 episodes to promote next year’s new Smashing Pumpkins Rock Opera album: Atum; 33 world premiere Smashing Pumpkins songs from the new album, 33 deep dives into classic songs from the SP catalog, special guests, and access to Billy Corgan unlike most people would ever get to hear him,” Davis explained.
“Basically, Billy asked Joe and me if we would be up for helping him do this to self-promote the new album as we already all have a relationship that he felt would make the vibe more natural. And, of course, we jumped at the opportunity as it lets me also do what I love: have conversations about why we (human beings) end up being the people we are and how no matter how famous or successful you get, we all have shared experiences that keep us relatable. It also doesn’t hurt to have the new skill set of podcaster with a rockstar on your resume either,” he laughed. The podcast is currently available on platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, IHeartRadio, and other places you can get podcast access.
What is the toughest part of being the COO? “The hardest part is, just again, at the end of the day, trying to be a part of something as it’s growing, and it’s not set in stone. When you work for a major corporation, if something goes wrong, there’s all these different kinds of breaks in it, where you could say, ‘Well if this happens, at least this division or this, that, or the other thing will cover it,’” Davis explained. ‘’If you work for Amazon, when I did for Whole Foods, you’re so big that you really can’t fail. Whereas if you are helping run something on a smaller level, especially professional wrestling and entertainment which is, let’s face it, is a business that exists because people want it. It’s not a necessity. If a global pandemic happens, that stuff’s getting shut down. You are not too big to fail, and at any given moment you know that there’s not 13 other people that are ready to pick up the slack if something goes down.”
It’s a thought process that has guided Davis not just in the squared circle, but in his real life as he relayed this story of his life during the COVID pandemic working for Whole Foods. “We never shut down. In fact, we had a business that was going through the roof because we’re one of the few things that existed that was a no matter what’s happening in the world, you still exist. We’re a grocery store with Amazon behind us. We do home delivery, we do this; I was making a ridiculous amount of money.”
That allowed Davis and his wife to buy a new home during this tumultuous time, but he remembered this exchange. “One day she went, ‘I’m not really digging this; stress, people are horrible. Like, I don’t really like this life.’ And I jokingly had said, ‘What do you want to do? Quit our jobs, sell the house, and move to the beach?’ and she said, ‘That sounds amazing.’”
For six months, Davis and his wife did that, living on savings with no direction, except for his ring announcing for NWA. But at the NWA 73 PPV, that’s when things changed. “I was there, and Billy said something to me, and I said, ‘Yeah, I absolutely just quit my job and I don’t know what the hell I’m going to be doing. So, we’ll see what happens.’ And he just looked [at me] and he said, “You were helping run businesses, right?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘I think I have an office job for you, let me get back to you.’”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“The whole thing is, I had no idea what I was going to do, I had the perfect life. I had everything and we put it on pause because it didn’t bring happiness to us,” Davis explained, “and [it] gave me an opportunity to do something I love and use that stuff. So, paying your dues sometimes is fantastic and you never know what it is, and I paid my dues as a production runner for the National Wrestling Alliance, not even on camera, just making sure people are currently where they’re supposed to do.” His wife is also doing well, working at a tech start-up called Calendly, in client services.
In front of the camera, Davis excels introducing the matches and also in interview segments, where NWA stars like Tyrus will palm his head like a basketball. In many ways, Davis is the thinking man’s “Mean” Gene Okerlund, and he is living a good life behind the scenes of the NWA. “At the end of the day, being one of those people is a fantastic opportunity and also a blessing, and it’s given me a chance to grow and develop more of a personality and business sense and acumen and, also do the thing I love, which is professional wrestling.”
NWA Hard Times 3 takes place on Saturday, November 12, 2022, at the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette, Louisiana. It is available through Fite TV. Feature bouts include: a Three-Way Match for the NWA World title with Trevor Murdoch (c) vs. Matt Cardona vs. Tyrus; a Three-Way Match for the NWA Women’s World title with Kamille (c) vs. KiLynn King vs. Chelsea Green; NWA National Championship with Cyon (c) vs. Dak Draper and more.
TOP PHOTO: Kyle Davis and William Patrick Corgan at the NWA podium. Photo courtesy NWA