His three competitors are all fighting outside the ring, leaving him alone with the referee. Keeping watch on the scrum below, Pete Kaasa ’08 paces back and forth impatiently. Finally, he’s had enough. After a calm pause in the far corner of the ring, he sprints across the mat and vaults clear over the ropes, hurtling his body like a cruise missile. The crowd roars as Kaasa hangs in the air and then crashes into his opponents, scattering them like bowling pins. His foes slowly gather their wits and regain their footing, but Kaasa is already up off the ground, flexing his right bicep and flashing a million-dollar smile to the crowd.
Such was the scene at last year’s November to Remember: Kaos for the Coach, a professional wrestling charity benefit at Goose Creek High School. For Kaasa, a 27-year-old Charleston native who’s trained the last two years to become a professional wrestler, it was just a stepping-stone. One day, he hopes, wrestling fans will mention his stage name, Kaasanova, in the same breath as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
It is a dream that has been long in the making. As a child, Kaasa was a gymnast, developing tumbling skills. In high school, he competed in submission wrestling, otherwise known as Brazilian jujitsu. While at the College, he flirted with the idea of competing in mixed martial arts (i.e., ultimate fighting).
What he thinks is perhaps the best job: professional wrestling.
After graduating with a degree in exercise science, Kaasa embarked on this hopeful career path by attending the WWA4 Wrestling School in Atlanta. There he learned some of the finer points of the sport and became fluent in professional wrestling lingo. Usually a quiet and mild-mannered soul, Kaasa becomes enlivened when talking about the babyface and the heel, or the good guy and bad guy wrestlers. He explains with enthusiasm the parts of a typical wrestling match, when one wrestler shines until the cutoff, in which the losing opponent makes a move to change the bout’s momentum. Falls are known as bumps in Kaasa’s world, and he says he’s very careful not to give his opponent a stiff shot, in which a thrown punch, for example, mistakenly lands and causes pain.
It’s obvious from Kaasa’s aerial maneuvers that athleticism is critical to his routine. But, he says, his performance is as much about theater as it is sport. Before matches, he explains, competitors loosely choreograph the upcoming entertainment. Match organizers determine winners and losers beforehand, and newbie wrestlers like Kaasa are often asked to show deference to veterans.
That’s not the only way up-and-coming wrestlers pay their dues. Sometimes, in events like the Goose Creek match, wrestlers like Kaasa have to help set up the ring. All these sacrifices and chores are done humbly, in the hope that, one day, the hard work will pay off. Kaasa likens the trials of an aspiring professional wrestler to those of a musician looking to land a record deal: “You can play anywhere and everywhere and never go anywhere.”
Still, you have to commit. You have to keep performing and performing, hoping one day you’ll get noticed. And so Kaasa trains hard for his chance at a professional wrestling career. At home in Charleston, he works part time as a massage therapist while maintaining a grueling workout routine, jogging along Folly Beach five days a week and running up and down flights of hotel stairs. Perhaps more challenging than this physical conditioning is the bravado he must feign. Kaasa rehearses his Kaasanova character constantly, trying out lines while driving his car, recording trash-talking pre-match interviews (or promos) with peers and practicing strutting into the ring like a playboy, a rose in his mouth and a silk robe wrapped loosely around his body.
When Kaasa is Kaasanova, beware. No one, it seems, is safe from his arrogance, not even Mom. Kaasa has been known to grumble at his mother when fixing breakfast, affecting a menacing tone and asking, “How dare you come into my kitchen so early in the morning, getting in my way?”
Mom doesn’t hesitate to give some lip right back, at which point Kaasa picks her up and shakes her – in a loving way, of course. “She’s the coolest mom by far,” he says. “Sometimes, she’ll cut a promo right back on me.”
Kaasa is no less loving of his other family members, and he credits wrestling for giving them all a common bond. He recalls how his father took him to his first wrestling match and how he eventually wants to open a wrestling ring in Charleston with his younger brother, Jesse. Kaasa’s older brother, Michael, who has Down syndrome, is a fanatical wrestling fan, too, and serves as an inspiration to Kaasa.
Once, Kaasa says, he woke with tears in his eyes after a particularly vivid dream involving his brothers. He was standing in the ring with Jesse, championship belts around their waists, and Michael stood between them. In a moment of jubilation, each younger brother grabbed one of Michael’s hands and raised it high.
Sweet as the image is, though, Kaasa does not want to dream forever about the championship belt. Someday soon, he hopes, his dream will become reality.
– Jason Ryan
Photos by Diana Deaver