Twenty-three minutes into the second episode of Wrestlers on Netflix, Al Snow is sitting in his office talking to the camera when a cocky, young upstart in a button down shirt, gold chain, and shades identified only as “Certified” interrupts.
“There’s a reason why everyone in this building walks around here and says, ‘Hey, Certified! What’s up, Certified? Can I take your picture, Certified? Can I have your autograph, Certified?’ I’m the best! I should be the OVW Heavyweight Champion. But, you don’t see it yet. So that’s fine.”
He turns to the camera, taking full advantage of the moment. “You, and everybody watching world wide, are going to see exactly, what being Certified is all about.”
“I hope so,” says Al.
“You can bank on it!” says the Certified one.
“Thank you.” Al turns back to the camera as the intruder leaves his office. “Apparently being Certified means I can bank on it.”
“What was all that about?” someone asks off camera.
“F—k if I know,” says Al, shaking his head while grinning ear to ear.
Although he did not get the heavy screen time others received in Wrestlers, “Certified” Luke Kurtis was thrilled that promo made the cut.
“That was a really important moment in my career,” Kurtis says in a chat with SlamWrestling.net. “I had been doing the Certified thing for probably six months, and I was transitioning from a cowboy gimmick. Doug Basham took me to the gym one day so we could have a talk. He liked my new look, but he told me it didn’t mean anything. He urged me to watch some promos by Ric Flair and Conor McGregor and told me he thought I could be that kind of character.”
Basham, who was once a WWE Tag Team Champion and OVW’s very first student, told Kurtis to get some suits, to dress the part of an arrogant heel world champion. Kurtis now owns a closet full of suits, but the day he walked into Al’s office with the cameras rolling, he didn’t own a single one.
Once Kurtis had the look, and a better handle on the kind of persona he wanted to become, Basham urged him to show Al. That led to the moment now immortalized by director Greg Whitely’s camera.
“If I cut it today, it would sound completely different,” says Kurtis. “But I’m proud of who I was and the guy that went in there to cut that promo. It was harder for me to do that than to go out and wrestle a match. I was so nervous walking in, but I remember walking out of his office thinking, ‘Yes! Yes!’”
As for Al Snow? He was certainly caught off guard, but he didn’t hate what he saw. “Luke has never wanted for self-confidence, and since arriving in OVW. I’ve been so proud of his development and self-belief, albeit he could find better times to display it,” Snow adds with a laugh.
Kurtis, who turns 30 on October 21, has become a much more confident performer over the past year. Outside of Shannon the Dude, who has managed Luke for the better part of a year, there may not be a more hated man on the roster. True, EC3 and Jessie Godderz (before his recent babyface turn) are bigger names, but they come with a certain status that garners a grudging respect.
EC3 is the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Godderz is a reality TV star. Kurtis? He’s a punk in a robe with gold chains and gold boots who sneers at children and acts like he’s better than everyone.
Put any new babyface in the ring with Luke Kurtis, and they’re over. Just like that.
Luke Kurtis took a long road to becoming Certified. He was born and raised in Homestead, Florida, just outside Miami. His parents split when he was very young. Kurtis was a good student who earned good grades, but he described himself as a popular nerd. He also got into a lot of fights. Hoping to help her son channel his energy, his mother steered him towards wrestling at the YMCA.
“I was really bad for a really long time at amateur wrestling,” he says. “I struggled for a long time, but I became really good. By the time I was in middle school, I was already practicing with the high schoolers.”
Kurtis went to South Dade High School, home to one of the most prestigious wrestling programs in the state of Florida. He wrestled and also played football, but early on, he quit both, partly due to injury, but also because to an older girl he was dating. His mother was not pleased with the decision.
Kurtis continued to get good grades and graduated early, but rather than go to college, all he wanted was to go to work. He moved out of his mother’s house prior to graduation and got a job soon after.
The next several years were a struggle. He fathered a child. He tried training for MMA. He became a commercial welder. He also developed a drug problem. He dropped off social media, losing contact with a lot of the friends he’d known since elementary and middle school. He spent a lot of his free time hanging out in a bar, the same bar every night.
He got to know the bartender, an attractive, athletic young woman who was always willing to listen when he needed to talk. They became friends. They started dating. The new love in his life proved to be a blessing. With her help Kurtis started facing his own demons. He started to get his life on track.
“Then one day, we walked into a wrestling school together,” says Kurtis. “I didn’t want to be a wrestler. She did. I watched professional wrestling when I was a kid, but my coaches at the Y, they broke me of that. They were like, ‘That’s not real. This is real wrestling, kid.’ I was never interested in professional wrestling after that. I would have been happy to continue spending my time drinking beer and eating pizza, but she wanted to be a professional wrestler.”
Despite his resistance, Luke’s girlfriend persisted. This was her dream, and she wanted Luke to do it with her. If you haven’t guessed by now, she is AEW and OVW star Leila Grey, the very same lady Kurtis proposed to on camera during the filming of Wrestlers.
Leila badgered Luke for a while to go to a wrestling school with her. Finally, she said to him, “If we don’t go today, we’re never going.” She dragged him into class.
Kurtis won’t give the name of the school of the trainer because, in the end, it wasn’t a great place to train. Yet from day one, Kurtis admits he was as hooked as Grey.
“I took two steps in the ring. I saw the impressions that my feet left in the mat. In that moment, I knew, I got this. It felt familiar. It felt like home. When we walked out of there, the first thing I said to Leila was, ‘I’m going to WWE.’ I don’t have a contract there, but I’ll be damned if I’ve been there and worked for them!”
The euphoria did not last long. While he is very gifted in many ways, Luke soon realized that he had a lot to learn. His very first match took place in an empty arena. It was 2020, and COVID-19 still had much of the world on lockdown. Luke struggled through a short bout against a 15-year-old classmate with no audience. Afterwards he broke down and cried, overwhelmed by how “bad” he was at wrestling.
While Luke won’t name his first trainer, he and Leila both credit Al Snow as being their second trainer, long before they came to OVW. When they weren’t at the wrestling school, or the gym, they were home watching episodes of WWE’s Tough Enough, soaking up the knowledge Al Snow delivered to WWE hopefuls like a pair of sponges. Luke and Leila began making progress thanks in large part to Al’s “virtual instruction.”
Their relationship may have begun over a bar counter, but it was strengthened by the arduous grind that is the independent wrestling circuit. Both Kurtis and Grey are hustlers, but they’ve fed off one another and supported one another from day one as they pursue their goals.
“Two heads are better than one,” says Luke. “That’s what it’s been with us.”
Those two heads endured some very lean times. “We would put the last little bit of money that we have in our car to get to Orlando or a show, get paid like $25-$30 between the both of us, and put that back in the car to drive back to Miami in the dark. We slept in the car in a Toys R Us parking lot one night. The cops rolled up and woke us up,” he says.
Realizing Orlando was the epicenter for wrestling in Florida, they made the decision to move there. Even though they had no money, they left their nice apartment on South Beach for a seedy motel-turned-apartment complex in Orlando.
“One of these days, when I write a book, It’s going to be called Wrestlers in the Hood,” he says. “We lived in the ghetto, the Orange Blossom Trail, infamous for being like the worst place ever.”
Leila and Luke crammed all their possessions into a former hotel room. By this time, however, Leila was getting noticed by AEW. When she got bookings on AEW Dark, the couple would drive to Jacksonville together. Leila would go to the show. Luke would make some cash through Instacart.
A little more money started to come in. Not much, but it was something. They took bookings further out, driving to Texas and to Tennessee. Then their tiny family grew.
“We got a dog,” says Kurtis. “How stupid is that? We had no money, and we got a dog. So now we’re wrestlers with a dog. There’s no one to watch it, so we’re taking the stupid dog to shows with us. We love him to death. He’s our son. But we had no money, and we’re taking this dog all over.”
Despite the hardships, there was never any thought of giving up, says Kurtis. “We traveled the road for a year, like old school vets. I get that we were green, but we were real workers, hustling.”
Leila continued to get looks from the big companies. Her look, her bad girl image, and her ability in the ring drew interest from major promotions. But both Luke and Leila had their eyes on OVW in Louisville.
Luke knew he needed it even more than Leila. She was being flown all over the country for dark matches on the biggest stages. He needed a new platform to grow. They both wanted to learn from Snow.
OVW was willing to give Luke and Leila a look, but they would have to take a chance and travel to Louisville on their own dime. They marked it on their calendar, and they made it happen. Kurtis had two matches in one night and got a win in his very first match. His opponent Star Rider was in a program with another wrestler and fell victim to a run-in.
The masked Star Rider was thrilled with the match and told Kurtis they could definitely use him in the Rush division. But in order to make it work, he would have to move to Kentucky. Luke told Leila he wanted to move as soon as they got in the car to drive home. She agreed, and three weeks later, they moved to Louisville.
Luke and Leila were officially under the learning tree of Al Snow. “He can he can teach us things that a regular trainer that hasn’t been there, done that, can. It’s hard to put into words. And you know, I tell people all the time, Al has never taught me a wrestling move. I don’t think he ever will. What he teaches most of all is how to be more myself,” says Kurtis.
Kurtis describes the education he’s received from Snow as getting the other side of the story, the part of wrestling he did not get from his early training. “I’d go different places and promoters would say, ‘You’re a heel. You’re a heel.’ Okay, I’m a heel. I didn’t really know what that means. Al filled in those blanks.
“Al gave me the OVW crowd. He put me in angles that made the crowd boo and hate me, and he let me run with it. I’m 100 times better than I was a year ago. But you know what? A year from now, I’ll be 100 times better than I am now.”
Snow leaves the teaching of wrestling moves to Basham, who runs the advanced class at OVW Academy. Al recruited Basham to join his staff during the pandemic, and the former OVW Heavyweight Champion provides another voice of experience for the locker room.
Basham was at OVW during the era of WWE Developmental. He worked alongside John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Batista, and Randy Orton. He’s seen hundreds of wrestlers walk through the doors of Davis Arena. When he looks at Luke Kurtis, he sees a star. “A talent like that doesn’t come along every day. He knows how to get over while getting others over. He’s a rising star in the making.”
Shortly after the office promo, Snow made the decision to put the Rush Division Championship on Luke Kurtis. This put him into a program with Hy Zaya. “The Hood Ninja,” as the Louisville fans know him, is a 20-plus year veteran who also came to OVW to sit under Al Snow’s learning tree. From the very beginning, he became an advocate for Luke Kurtis.
“Hy Zaya is the one that really took me under his wing when I got to OVW,” says Kurtis. “I owe a lot to Hy. When Al put us in that program, he said to me, ‘You’re going to be Bane to my Batman.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
Winning the Rush Division title marked the next step in “Certified” Luke Curtis’ evolution. He wore a leather jacket and biker shorts before becoming champion. After he won the title, he started wearing the suits. He wore a robe to the ring. The “Certified” era had begun.
Luke joined up with a heel faction known simply as THE Faction. Headed by Jessie Godderz and backed by Shannon the Dude, the group grew over time to include Mahabali Shera, Adam Revolver, Joe Mack, and EC3. The talent — and villainy — of THE Faction quickly placed them among the top factions in OVW history, alongside the Legacy of Brutality, the Disciples of Synn, and Bolin Services.
Kurtis wasn’t thrilled with being rolled into a faction at first, but he took full of the opportunity. Here was an opportunity to learn how to play a role within a group and a chance to work along side some of the promotion’s most senior veterans. You could not ask for a better crew of mentors than Godderz, EC3, Shera, and Revolver.
“It’s the little intricacies that they do that I steal. You know what I’m saying? Yeah, I’ll see them do something while they’re performing or they’re cutting a promo, a facial expression, and I think, wow, that would make what I do so much better.”
Kurtis singles out Jessie Godderz for the support and wisdom he’s shared. Although they are now rivals, Kurtis has much to thank “Mr. Pec-Tacular” for in his own development. “Jessie always watches my matches. When I come to the back, if Jessie feels like he needs to say something, he’ll tell me what I can do to improve. Things like positioning for the camera or how to conduct yourself like a real pro.”
Jessie Godderz has equal praise for his former “friend.”
“I have to preface this by saying he’s now an OverMan who’s attacked me from behind many times, so my feelings about him have recently changed dramatically,” says Godderz with a wink. “That being said, Luke is one of the most talented young wrestlers in the world today. His arsenal of moves is second to none and his understanding of storyline and character development is absolutely brilliant. I foresee him becoming a World champion someday and ultimately a legend in this business. Hopefully for us here at OVW as we continue to elevate our product to a whole new incredible level. Phenomenal athletes like Luke are why we’ve come so far so fast and have transformed OVW from a former developmental into a true powerhouse in the industry.”
It’s worth noting that Luke is not the only OVW talent on the same trajectory. “Superior” Tony Evans is right on his heel. Currently feuding with the Scottish War Machine Crixus for the Country Boy Brewing Kentucky Heavyweight Championship (yep, OVW has a lot of titles!), Evans has become a lightning rod for heat. Evans is one of the most hated men in Davis Arena, and his star has been rising at a similar pace to Kurtis.
Not far behind is a Rush Division competitor named Will Austin. Austin is just coming out of a program where he joined forces with Star Rider and the very popular Manny Domingo. Every week, you can see the improvement he makes, not just with his move set but his character.
No, this is not your mother’s OVW. This is a territory that now has national and international exposure, But they are still in the business of creating the Superstars of Tomorrow.
“It is a very, very talented roster, top to bottom,” says Kurtis. “Luscious Lawrence is such a character. Omar Amir is so damn good.”
Those same words apply to Luke Kurtis. While he admits he has much to learn, he already does so many little things well. Currently the OVW Tag Team Champions with the 6-foot-7 Joe Mack, the 5’11” Kurtis gets a rise out of fans by jumping in Joe’s arms during their match celebrations, playing off their height difference. It’s one of those little details, an image they can use later if and when the tag partners become rivals. Luke can become the cowering heel — or David to Mack’s Goliath.
Kurtis recently went viral thanks to a photo taken on ringside photographer Lloyd Thomas’s camera. Thomas was assaulted during a five-on five-match between The Faction, featuring Luke Kurtis, and a team of babyfaces. Lloyd’s camera was taken away, and the photographer went through a table. Kurtis turned the camera on himself and his faction-mates for a selfie.
Despite the incident, Thomas is able to praise the man.
“Luke is a very gifted athlete and wrestler. In my opinion, he’s the best talker to come through OVW since I’ve been around there. I honestly believe his big time opportunity is coming,” says Thomas. “On the flip side, last year Luke assaulted me ringside while taking my pants belt to use on his opponent. Afterwards, I practically begged Al Snow for an opportunity as an OVW volunteer for a Fan versus Wrestler match. Then, last month when I got snatched up and slammed through a table by Mahabali Shera, Luke grabbed my camera, taking selfies and pictures of my lifeless body like the crazy man he is. Like him or not, Luke’s presence ignites an undeniable energy, making every match a spectacle of anticipation and intrigue, and because of that, he is one of my favorites.”
OVW’s lead announcer Bryan Kennison has had his share of bumps with Kurtis as well, but away from the Arena, Kennison is definitely a fan. “Luke Kurtis passes the airport test. The day he walked into Davis Arena, you knew he was going to be a star. The man is hungry too. You see it in how there’s no wasted movement or camera time when he’s in the ring, but outside he’s always asking questions, pushing others, supporting others and soaking up everything he can. He’s got all the tools to be a top guy anywhere. Hell, I’d be very surprised if most of us didn’t make a Create-A-Wrestler with basically his exact same look and move set on a video game in the past.”
Despite being cast in more of a supporting role on the Netflix documentary, Kurtis saw an appreciable bump in his social media followers. The office promo, the proposal to Leila, and his penchant for walking around shirtless and still in his trunks certainly helped him steal the spotlight on occasion.
Kurtis insists the shirtless routine wasn’t a play for more camera time, but just who he is. “I’m the last guy out of my gear. If you’re at a live event, you’ll see me in my trunks and boots helping tear down the ring. Leila will be dressed soon as her match is done, and then she’ll be waiting for me to finally get changed. I love being a wrestler. I’d wear my gear all the time if I could!”
Kurtis is hopeful the exposure OVW receives from Netflix will result in more viewers, live and on television. The Thursday television tapings have been sell-outs, and OVW is seeing heavy demand for tickets not only on TV nights but for their forthcoming October 21 pay-per-view on FITE.
The powers that be at OVW want to see the company become more than just a regional promotion. Kurtis sees real the potential for OVW itself to become a bigger name in the business.
“If we can continue to build this company, and if we’re able to get a season two, and everybody here understands the formula. We can’t just bring in new people. It’s just doesn’t work like that. Everybody at OVW is willing to to business for each other, and that’s vital to the operation.”
Being willing to do business is not just talk for Kurtis. When asked to drop a title, he’s never given what Snow calls “The Boo Boo Face.” He knew when he first became a champion a time would come when he would be asked to drop the belt. For Kurtis, that’s never been an issue.
“I’m not like a mark for myself. I respect that it’s a business, and it is what it is. I’m going to do business, I’m going to drop the title, and I’m going to do the favors for guys. That’s why a lot of times you see me get my ass beat at OVW.”
He’s not kidding. Kurtis took a bump off a ladder through a table during a Rush Division title match with popular babyface Kal Herro. That bump came after another spot that looked even more wicked. He was whipped into the corner by Kal, where he hit a ladder and tumbled over the turnbuckle with the ladder, nearly hitting the steel steps on the way down.
Kurtis is not afraid to take the big, dramatic bump when it’s necessary. He knows the fans love it, and he’s happy to give them what they want.
“These people, they can’t tell their boss off. They can’t cuss out their sister or their best friend. But they can come to OVW every Thursday night, and they can hold the middle finger up at me. They can spit at me. They can yell at me. And there’s no hair off my back because that’s my job. That’s my service that I provide to you. I’m the human punching bag.”
Kurtis knows the fans appreciate the service, and while its his job to get jeers, he loves the occasional cheer. “When I went off the ladder and through the table, people clapped when I got up because they were happy that was okay. I appreciated that from the fans.”
Now aligned with EC3 in the newly formed faction the OverMen, Luke Kurtis is currently co-owner of the OVW Tag Team Championship with Joe Mack. He’s soaking up all the knowledge he can from EC3, Basham, Snow, and others in the locker room. He’s in it for life now, and he’s got his eyes set on reaching the top.
“When Al told me he was going to make me a champion after the office promo, I said, ‘Heavyweight champion.’ He said, ‘Rush champion.’ I said, ‘I’ll take it.’
“He didn’t make me an OVW Heavyweight champion. But I will be the OVW Heavyweight champion.”
That’s Certified. And yes, you can bank on it.
You can catch Luke Kurtis on OVW Live, streaming every Thursday night on FITE. He’s also featured in Wrestlers on Netflix. You can see the office promo in episode 2 and the proposal in episode 6.
TOP PHOTO: Luke Kurtis goes off a ladder and through a table at OVW. Photo by Lloyd Thomas.