If it wasn’t for an annoying little brother, the world of pro wrestling might be without one of its brightest, most dynamic personalities today. “He used to watch wrestling every Saturday morning,” Kia Stevens, better known as TNA (Total Nonstop Action) star Awesome Kong, says about her younger brother. “And whenever I’d pass by, he’d attack me and get me into a Camel Clutch. And that’s how I’d stay until one of my parents came into the room.”
Stevens’ brother’s obnoxious behavior, occurring in the middle-class Los Angeles suburb of Carson, Calif., rubbed off onto eight-year-old Kia. “I eventually started watching wrestling myself, and learning some of the moves,” she says. “Before long, I was able to get him into a Boston Crab.”
And a star was born. Today, Stevens, 32, is electrifying audiences as full-figured Awesome Kong, as part of TNA’s very impressive stable of talent—which added legendary Hulk Hogan to its roster in October. The battles with her brother wouldn’t be the only time Stevens had to overcome a challenge. “I took people saying ‘No’ to me as a dare,” she says.
It happened more than once. She was bitten seriously by the wrestling bug when she was 15 years old, and wanted to pursue it professionally, but her mother had an ominous outlook about it. “She said she was pretty sure that girls in that business had to sleep their way to the top,” Stevens says with a chuckle. “So that discouraged me for a while.”
Then, in her early 20s, Kia auditioned for a show airing on MTV which took everyday people and trained them on how to wrestle while competing for a contract to become a wrestling superstar. “They told me that I was too large of a girl to ever be successful in wrestling,” Stevens says. “They implied that you had to be thin and beautiful in order to be marketable.”
But Stevens had the last laugh, so to speak. "Now I’m on the same roster as the winner of that show and some of its superstar judges." Armed with all these “dares” thanks to the naysayers, Stevens secured a “day job” as a social worker in the Los Angeles area—putting her college studies in human behavior to use—but wrestling was still squarely on her radar.
“I was able to put my resources to work so that I could make it in wrestling,” she says. In 2002, a friend in the entertainment industry clued Stevens in on a casting call for a reality TV show called “Body Challenge”, sort of a precursor to today’s “Biggest Loser.” “The producers liked my personality, although they considered me even too big for that show as well,” Stevens says. “But I went on and lost 32 pounds in the process. I was nice and svelte.”
Her successful run on “Body Challenge” led to an offer to go to Japan to learn the art of female pro wrestling. “I sacrificed American food, everything,” she says with a soft laugh. “It was NOT easy. I thought during the first month-and-a-half that they (her trainers) were trying to kill me. It was the most grueling training I ever underwent.” While in Japan, there was a distinct language barrier for Stevens to overcome while she was learning the tricks of the trade.
“They kept telling me ‘More,’” she relates of her trainers. “That’s all they’d say—‘More!’ So I mostly learned from the other girls.” Playing to very enthusiastic crowds in Japan under the name Amazing Kong, Stevens had no idea that a cult following was forming in the United States—until she returned to her homeland after six years in the Far East.
“When I got back to the States my plan was to take some time off,” Stevens explains. “But I took a few bookings, got some great responses, and those led to more bookings. Then I was on TV sooner than I expected. “Turns out Kong was more popular than I originally understood,” she says.
So Stevens, whose family home had burned down twice while she was a child, who was told on numerous occasions that she could never make it in pro wrestling, who spent six years in a distant country, came home to find that she was a big star. Never was that more illuminated than when she met Hogan at one of his book signings in New York—on the day that he announced that he was signing with TNA.
“I originally was just going to see him to say ‘Hi,’” Stevens recalls. “But not three hours before I was going to leave, Hulk announces that he’s signing with TNA!” So the “Hi” turned into “Welcome!” Stevens says the biggest thrill was when Hogan lavished praise on her. “He said that he was a big fan of mine. I was overwhelmed. Then he says he has ‘big plans’ for me. So I can’t wait to see what those plans are.”
But despite all the success and notoriety that has come with the Awesome Kong character, Stevens is quick to remind that that’s what it is—a character. She’s much more proud to be Kia Stevens. The obstacles that Stevens has overcome to become the successful woman that she is today have been many.
She’s a female minority, which is a double whammy right there. She was weight-challenged. She had to fight the myth that full-figured women couldn’t make it in professional wrestling. She had been surrounded by people who were quick to tell her no at every turn. Now, as a rising star thanks to her involvement with TNA, Stevens has started a nonprofit organization aimed to help inner-city youth deal with high risk situations, in a peer-to-peer fashion. It’s a way of giving back.
“I’ve always been the type of person who jumps in feet first,” she explains. “And I get much more determined when people tell me I can’t do something.” And that kind of will and perseverance has been ingrained in her since her formative years—starting when an annoying little brother picked on her. Awesome Kong, the character, stays in the ring. Now it’s time to introduce folks to Kia Stevens.