For many, young aspiring professional wrestlers, it begins with a dream. A dream of one day being in the bright lights on a global scale, for a promotion as NJPW, AEW or the WWE. But the road to get to where you want to be is a long, arduous road and at times an unforgiving one, but the risk is worth the reward if you make it far enough to see that risk turn into reward. The goal of this series is to focus on Independent Wrestling across the globe, which is why we began with well known wrestlers such as Pro Wrestling Eve’s Debbie Keitel and IWTV Champion The WARHORSE. Our two most recent installments, however, featured newer upstarts Luke Lee and Logan Rights, and this fifth installment is no different than the latter two counterparts.
For 20-year-old Kenyon Bailey, it was passed down to him through family, more specifically his mother, who wasn’t even a wrestling fan at the time, Ken tells PSE. “My mom is the reason why I’m into it. Apparently, it was too over the top for her; because I’m over the top she assumed I’d be into it and she was right. Had to have been no older than 5 years old and she comes into my room with this VHS tape of an episode of SmackDown. From there, I fell in love. The first wrestler I remember catching my eye was John Cena. It wasn’t even really any moves that he did, I couldn’t tell you who he was facing. It was the things that he was saying that got me. Even being as young as I was I realized ‘yo, this is different than anything else on TV. I feel really- I feel a connection with this.'”
His connection would only grow from there, though, as Triple H captivated him next. While Ken was mainly a SmackDown kid, like most of us growing up in the heart of the Ruthless Aggression Era, he only knew about SmackDown, but it was The Cerebral Assassin who hooked him on WWE’s flagship product Monday Night Raw. “Eventually, I get to my computer,” Ken continues, “I find out there’s another show on Monday called RAW. It’s a school night, it’s late but somehow I convinced my mom to let me stay up and watch all of it. Why? Earlier in the show Triple H cuts a promo. I don’t remember it word for word but I remember it making me very angry. Triple H got under my skin. It was announced he had a match later on, I’m thinking ‘this guy’s finally gonna get his ass kicked.’ It did not go down that way, Triple H ended up winning the match somehow. But every move he made seemed effective- seemed real. Couldn’t help but be impressed by it.”
Unfortunately for Ken, Triple H was mid-reign of terror and he didn’t get his ass kicked often. Fortunately, he had fallen in love with the art of the story and the path for his life to go down was clear. He was never a great student, there wasn’t a practical job for him and college was out of the cards, and much like any other need for escape from life, he turned to Pro Wrestling, but Pro Wrestling didn’t offer the escape, it offered a paved road to something more.
The pre-match ritual is simple: watch Brian Pillman promos to get fired up. Then, he’ll watch episodes of NXT, or some older Independent Show, such as ROH of yesteryear with the American Dragon, Nigel McGuinness, among others. Ken’s final step is his most important step: listening to music, all kinds of music, ranging from Matt Cameron’s sick drum solos in Soundgarden that were only complimented by the once-in-a-lifetime vocals provided by Chris Cornell to the The Beatles and the innovative riffs from George Harrison. His eclectic tastes also include a variety of hip hop artists as well as pop artists, getting away from the more rock sounds provided by bands such as Soundgarden or the Beatles. In fact, his character is extremely musically driven.
“Music plays a big role in my life in general, not just in ring but even on my social medias and my merchandise. Polaroids. Vintage looking photos; the way I shoot my promos, everything. It’s all music influenced. Juice Wrld, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, those are just a couple of names that people relate me to, and they’re people I look up to so it’s an honor. Before doing anything in my life, I sit and I listen to music. I could do it for hours. Rap, Hip Hop, Rock, Grunge; I love all of it. And when everything opens back up, I have a lot of ideas that I wanna try that I think is gonna blow a lot of people’s mind and take me to where I wanna be. All with the power of music. Music is magic, for real.” Ken has had merchandise based off of bands such as KISS, and has come out to songs such as “Famous” by Puddle of Mudd and “Slaves and Bulldozers” by Soundgarden. In fact, his current piece of merchandise on his Teepublic store is Led Zeppelin based on the 1971 hit Stairway to Heaven, from the film the Song Remains the Same and album Led Zeppelin IV, which is considered a top five album in music history by many, and features other hits such as “Rock and Roll” and “Black Dog.” For Ken, however, the song does remain the same in a post-COVID 19 world as it was before it. Keep learning. “The learning never stops in wrestling,” he remarks.
On February 10th, 2018, Ken had his very first official wrestling match under the moniker Ken Rolands, after years on the backyard scene. The match was against long-time Delaware scene mainstay Sonny Deeds. It was only 6 months after he officially began training, which is a bit expedited from the usual training, but his previous background had him a few steps ahead. He may have been trained fast, but that doesn’t mean it was simple. The first step was deciding that this is truly what he wanted to do with his life, as after all, you only get one life to live, and you have to make it count. But at the same time as he was finally starting to make progress and his debut match, he still felt like he was playing catch up from the lack of training.
“Nothing in this has been easy for me, for awhile I didn’t understand matches. I didn’t understand character work. I still don’t think I fully do. For awhile it was me going to the shows, fresh outta training, still green as hell with no business being in any of these places in a lot of people’s opinions. But, I’d go to these places anyway and I’d help set up and they’d put me on the shows. Any opportunity I was given I took. Battle Royal. Singles match. Tag match, whatever, I wanted it. But, when it came time for the matches, I really didn’t know what I was doing and it showed. Fast forward to late last year, I was at a pop up show for C3W, an upcoming black owned pro wrestling company, and I was placed in a match with this guy named Muddy Waters. I didn’t get a lot of offense in but I interacted with the crowd a lot during that match. I was animated, I was doing things out of my element. I was being over the top for once, I wasn’t being this quiet timid teenager. That night, it all started to click. It took me awhile to realize it isn’t about the moves, but it’s about what you’re doing in between these moves because if there’s just moves, there isn’t a story in that.”
When asked for more of a background on his training, Ken didn’t have much to say, claiming that he ” didn’t really learn a lot at first.: Having trained in what was virtually a backyard, he learned how to punch his proverbial bump card and how to put a match together. The trainer evidently asked him verbatim “so, what moves do you wanna learn?” Of course, anybody who follows wrestling knows that it isn’t about how many moves you can do, but the meaning behind the moves, the psychology behind it and the overall story you can tell. Otherwise, these are just spots. Out of frustration, he placed the blame on himself, took some time off, and came back to the same thing. According to Ken, he went to a different school, one which is no longer around, and he credits them for training him enough to be ready for that match with Sonny Deeds. He’s jumped from school to school like a pro wrestling nomad, but for him, it’s worth it. It was at WrestleMania 31, when Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank in what was deemed the “heist of the century” when he told PSE’s own Nick Byington that this is what he wanted to do and he started looking at schools that night. It’s been 5 years since that night, and he still hasn’t found the right fit, but he’s a lot closer to his ultimate goal. He, in some ways, actually prefers the path he’s taken, citing that “I don’t like being too comfortable because if i’m too comfortable, I know I won’t put my all into it. There’s a lot of things in my life that I’ve half assed, but I’ve never ever attempted to half ass wrestling.”
For just 2 years into the business, he has evolved as a character. His first persona was the hipster Ken Rolands, whose message of peace seemed like something straight out of the counterculture of the 1960s. It wasn’t a character, that’s who Kenyon Bailey identifies with, it’s who he aspires to be. Recently though, he’s transformed into “cutthroat” Kendrik Bailey, which he describes as “uncensored. Kendrik Bailey is a more manly Ken Rolands. Kendrik Bailey is a rockstar.” For Kenyon, the man behind the two personas, he’s just happy he’s getting just a taste of everything that he’s ever wanted out of his life. “I told my mom when I was younger that I wanted to be famous when I grew up. I love wrestling, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a certain pride I carry in how people view me now because of wrestling. A lot still view me as Kenyon Bailey but I go to these shows and these kids ask me for pictures and I’ve even been asked for my autograph a few times before. It’s a feeling I can’t even really explain feeling. It’s like..even if it’s minuscule, I’m having an affect on people. People are booing me. People are cheering me. People are reacting to me. I have their attention. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
For Ken, he was looking for a big breakout before COVID-19. He had been talking to people about potentially booking his own shows, while things such as custom gear and custom music were put on hold. The pandemic has given him more time at home, though, which has allowed him to train, study and shoot content for social media, which will soon be dropping on Instagram (@WhoIsKenyon) and Twitter (@TheFutureIsKen). His ultimate goal going forward is to be able to travel and make enough money to live off on in Pro Wrestling, but for now he’s living the dream.
With everything going on in the world, Ken did want to say the following regarding the protests: “I don’t speak out as much on race as I should. As a black man, I definitely should speak more. But, I also never really realized the severity of it, I guess, until recent events. Or I did realize it and I just didn’t want to believe it. I’m sure there’s been moments where I was looked down at because of my skin color. I’ve had girls reject me because of it, all that. I’m thankful that most of the people I’ve associated with in wrestling so far are actually on the up and up and they aren’t like that. As far as my thoughts on all of this as a whole, the world’s situation right now, I’m upset. There’s been cases before of police brutality: racism and all that but I don’t know, this one really got me. I was sitting with my parents and they played the video on the news. The video I had purposely been avoiding because I knew how I was gonna react to it. The energy in the room after we saw the video was a feeling I’ve never felt in my life and I hope to never feel it again. Genuinely, I still am very uncomfortable. It’s almost like having PTSD from a situation I wasn’t even actually in, but that’s the thing, it could have been me, it could have been my brother, could’ve been my pops and that gives me such a nauseous feeling to think about. The one positive that I don’t think many were expecting is that we’re all coming together now. Of course, there are some who side with the wrong doings of black men and women. But, right now over 60% of the world is standing united with us. ‘Celebrities’ that I look up to are even supporting and standing with us. It doesn’t fix the problem completely but I think if we all stay on the same page and realize it’s us against the racists, us against the evil, everything is going to end up better. For black people and for everyone else.
Editor/writer’s note: Reminder that this series, in its 5th installment, is to get coverage on Independent Wrestlers around the globe, all at different points in their career, during the pandemic where a lot of them lost key exposure. As usual, if there’s a wrestler not signed to a major promotion that you’d like to see me dive in head first on, let us know! We here at PSE encourage you to support all of your favorite local and independent artists, whether it be a professional wrestler, photographer, a musician, filmmaker, somebody who draws or paints, or whatever the case may be. Thank you.-JM
Big thank you to JJ Photography for the feature photo! You can like them on Facebook here.