Thousands of rabid fans will converge on the North Charleston Coliseum on Tuesday night when World Wrestling Entertainment comes to town for a Smackdown event.
One of those fans, however, will be looking forward to the show more than most.
James Island native Pete Kaasa, who has been wrestling on the independent scene for the past two years, will be on hand for a WWE tryout.
It’s a dream come true for the 28-year-old College of Charleston graduate.
“This is a tremendous opportunity, something I’ve been working for, and now I might get a chance to show them what I have,” says Kaasa, who also has been invited to WWE’s Raw show Monday night at the Greensboro Coliseum for more evaluation.
Kaasa, who began training in 2010 at the Atlanta-based WWA4 pro wrestling facility and later refined his skills at former NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr.’s school in Florida, has drawn rave reviews on the independent circuit.
“He’s outstanding,” said WWE talent scout and Hall of Famer Jerry Brisco. “He looks great inside and outside the ring.”
Kaasa, whose father Gary was a wrestling champ in the U.S. military in 1970 during the Vietnam War, brings a wide spectrum of athleticism to the table.
He has trained with wrestling All-Americans Marc Hoffer, Ryan Lang and NCAA national competitor/MMA fighter Chris McNally. He is well versed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and submission wrestling, and captured first place in the South Carolina state championships and third in the Arnold Classics/Relson Gracie World’s BJJ Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
The following year he won first place in both the state competition and the Gracie championships for the blue belt division, and placed fourth in the open submission grappling division.
“I saw amateur wrestling written all over him,” Funk said of his initial training sessions with Kaasa. “I wondered where Pete’s natural wrestling skills came from. I knew he had to have grown up like me. My father used to get me in the garage and stretch me out a little.”
The solidly built, 190-pound workout fanatic also competed in gymnastics at an early age and is a championship-caliber surfer.
Kaasa, who works part-time as a massage therapist, gives credit for much of his recent development to former wrestling star “Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with him on the road, and he’s helped tighten my (ring) psychology,” says Kaasa. “I really feel like I’m getting it now. Things are starting to click. Instead of just going out there and having a spotfest with a thousand moves, what you do in the ring has to mean something. That’s really important.”
Fernandez has taken Kaasa under his wing and has helped him further his wrestling education.
“I didn’t do a lot of flashy moves or anything like that,” Kaasa says of a recent session with Fernandez. “ But the match we had made so much sense. Of course you need to be athletic, have a good look and be able to cut a good promo, but they want you to be able to have a match that actually makes sense.”
Kaasa, who was scheduled to team with former Ring of Honor star Davey Richards at a Trans-South Wrestling show Saturday night in Union, says the WWE invite is the next big step. But he also realizes it’s just part of a long road to achieving his goal.
“To get this opportunity is a dream come true. I definitely want to bring my best because it is such a competitive field. Everybody wants it, and I feel like only the people who want it bad enough and work the hardest will get the shot.”
Kaasa, whose hybrid style combines power with high-flying moves, has been a quick study in his two years learning the pro ropes.
He says he’s picking up new things about the art of pro wrestling on a daily basis, and he’s eager to learn more.
“The training has just made me want it even more,” says Kaasa, who has a degree in exercise science. “The feel of the crowd and the adrenaline rush is just so addictive. I want to be the best wrestler I can be. I’m just going to do whatever it takes to get there. Training is something necessary to get what I want.”
It didn’t hurt, he adds, that he had the luxury of working with some top trainers.
“Curtis Hughes (trainer at WWA4 school) taught me so much. I feel like he was definitely what a coach needed to be. He was everything that makes a good coach. He didn’t let you get away with much.”
Training under the legendary Funk, says Kaasa, was a highlight of his young career.
“Training with Dory was amazing. He opened my eyes even more as far as being able to work a match that’s good for me and having more of a TV presentation. He suggested a lot of moves that catered to my style. I appreciated that so much.”
Funk, who held the NWA world title from 1969-73, was equally impressed with Kaasa’s skill set and innate talent.
“Pete is a fabulous athlete. He’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever seen. His style of work reminds me of a young Dynamite Kid when I first met him many years ago.”
To say Kaasa is excited about his upcoming opportunity is an understatement.
“I can’t even really grasp it yet. I can’t believe I’m even getting the opportunity to step foot in the same arena that some of the greats have been in. It blows my mind.”
Many aspiring grapplers don’t make it past the first couple of months of training. But Kaasa says he has been determined from the beginning to prove himself.
“It’s crazy to think about. It’s opened my eyes and made me respect the business a lot more. I always loved it, but now I have a healthier respect for it.”
In a little over two years, says Kaasa, he has gained a lifetime of experience.
“Being on the road and training with Manny has been more of an education than college ever was. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
-- Tuesday night’s Smackdown event will mark the first local WWE TV taping in several years. The nationally televised show will air Friday at 8 p.m. on the SyFy network.
“Lowcountry wrestling fans are getting an early Christmas present this year with a television taping of WWE Smackdown,” says Coliseum and Performing Arts Center marketing manager Alan Coker. “The biggest WWE superstars will be in the house for a night of action and excitement for the entire family. With ticket prices starting at just $15, the WWE is still one of the best deals in town for live entertainment.”
Tuesday night’s double main event features Big Show defending his world heavyweight title against former champ Sheamus, and a challenge match between Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio.
Ticket prices are $95 $50, $35, $25 and $15.
-- Buddy “Jack” Roberts passed away last week at the age of 65 following a lengthy battle with throat cancer.
Roberts, whose real name was Dale Hey, was part of two of wrestling’s greatest tag teams — The Freebirds (with Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy) and The Hollywood Blonds (with Jerry Brown and manager Sir Oliver Humperdink).