In front of a national television audience on MTV, Kenny Lane had his dreams yanked right out of his fingertips. As one of four finalists on the World Wrestling Entertainment’s Tough Enough 2, Lane envisioned himself winning one of the coveted contracts and becoming a wrestling superstar. Yet, two names were called, and his wasn’t one of them.
“It was probably one of the worst feelings in my whole life,” Kenny said. “I was 95 percent sure that I was going to win. I just couldn’t figure out why they made the picks they did. Why they thought that they were better selections than me?”
With WWE selecting two women, Linda Miles and Jackie Gayda, after choosing a male and a female in the show’s first season, many people, including Kenny, were left perplexed.
“I think they did make the decisions for more political reasons,” Kenny said. “I don’t want to make it sound like I’m a sore loser. I’m proud of those two. I just didn’t think they would pick both of them.”
Sitting in New York City on TV was certainly a drastic change for the former USF student. Kenny came to South Florida in the fall of 1999 with hopes to catch on with the football team. After turning down a scholarship offer from San Diego State to stay closer to home, the product of Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando walked on coach Jim Leavitt’s Bulls in the spring of 2000.
“I felt the program … they were jerking me around,” Kenny said. “I felt I was better than a lot of the guys playing, and I didn’t know how they got their spots. They don’t treat walk-ons well, and I wasn’t getting the reps I needed.”
So Kenny left the team but elected to stay in school. He was going to transfer to Wofford but elected to stay another semester, then he finally decided on going to UNLV. While sitting out a year following his transfer from USF, Kenny saw the ads on TV seeking contestants for the WWE’s reality show Tough Enough, which takes 13 people and makes them live together while they train to win one of two wrestling contracts.
“I had watched Tough Enough 1, and when I saw the ad, my friend and I were just looking at each other,” Kenny said. “I knew. ‘I’m doing this.'”
Along with thousands of other contestants, Kenny sent in an audition tape. He was picked out of that group along with 250 others to interview in person right in his hometown of Las Vegas. Getting in front of a panel of judges, the 6-foot-2, 200 pounder wowed them with his athleticism and natural charm. When skimming the 250 to 25 semifinalists, Kenny was still alive and survived a grueling four-mile run, which he called the most physically and mentally challenging thing he’s ever done, to become one of the 13 finalists sent to live together in southern California.
At the house, Kenny wasn’t the only former USF student there as he quickly became friends with Hawk Younkins, who also had experience with the USF football team. Along with Hawk and another housemate Pete, Kenny quickly formed strong friendships, even though the all three were competing with one another for a contract.
“We still talk all the time,” Kenny said. “We’re really close, and I consider them my best friends. You can’t understand unless you went through what we went through.”
The bond with Kenny and Hawk only continues to grow. Friday, the two teamed together for the first time for Intense Pro Wrestling in St. Petersburg, going through two teams before the 300-plus pound Shane twins chased the Tough Enough duo from the ring.
“The energy from the crowd at IPW is fantastic,” Kenny said after his first match in Florida. “Me and Hawk have never been in the same ring together outside of Tough Enough. We gelled pretty good. I moved to Vegas, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not coming back here. Every time I come to Florida, I’m going to be wrestling right here in IPW.”
With wrestling in his blood, Kenny knew the finale of Tough Enough wasn’t the end of the road for him.
“I knew I wasn’t going to stop,” Kenny said. “I had to find a wrestling school. And I found a good one right in my backyard in UWF. It’s taught by legends like Nick Bockwinkle and Scott Casey, and it has everything I need. I get to wrestle lots of matches, and I’m getting ring experience.”
Getting more experience is Kenny’s top priority as he tries to earn what he failed to win in New York – a WWE contract. The blueprint is already in place for Kenny as Chris Nowinski, a finalist from the first season of Tough Enough, is appearing on WWE’s Monday night show, RAW, after he failed to win a contract.
“It’s very realistic (for me to get back to the WWE),” Kenny said. “I talk to Chris Nowinski a lot. I call him the king of the losers, and I’m the prince. It shows that you don’t have to win. I look up to him. He’s taken the exact path I want to take.”
Considering that Hawk Younkins is one of the craziest people on the face of the Earth, perhaps a career as a professional wrestler was inevitable.
“Especially your in-ring character; it’s an extension of who you are. I really am crazy,” Hawk said. “I’m not insane. I don’t try to act crazy to show off. I don’t pretend to be crazy. I’m naturally out there. I’m on another wavelength than everyone else in society.
“It’s crazy in a good way. I’m definitely who I am. I modify it with my character. It just fits me great. I’m the crazy guy. I was the crazy guy in the house. If you want to be a professional wrestler, you have to be crazy. You’d have to be insane to do it.”
The world got to see just how nuts Hawk could be on MTV’s Tough Enough 2, where he created the Hawkwich (peanut butter and fluff inside two waffles) and tore up his homework, only to panic and go make a copy of someone else’s at 4 in the morning. With such an interesting personality, it’s not surprising Hawk was drawn to wrestling, especially since sports have always been in his blood. At the Bolles School in Jacksonville, he participated in football, track and weightlifting. He chose to go to Idaho out of high school, but following a redshirt year, he transferred to USF to be a Bull in the fall of 2001. But the USF program didn’t fit Hawk either.
“I’m not fond of coach Leavitt one bit,” Hawk said. “I think he’s very fake. I don’t think he’s the type of person who really cares about his players. He’s too business-like and not more father-like.
“He led me down to South Florida, and they had a spot on the team, even though I had to sit out a year. They had a spot on the team for me to practice, and once my year out was finished, then I could play again. That was the whole reason I chose South Florida. When I got there, they turned around and said, ‘OK, we don’t have a spot for you. You could join the team in the spring.’ That pissed me off, and that was the final straw for me.”
The competitive juices were still flowing strong, so after he left the football team, Hawk played rugby and ice hockey for USF.Then, Tough Enough came up, and nothing’s been the same since.
“And the next thing I know, I was whisked away to Los Angeles, CA training to become a professional wrestler,” Younkins said. “It’s been the biggest metamorphosis of my life. I look back at it, and I still love South Florida. I like the people there. No hard feelings toward coach Leavitt, but I still don’t like him. I don’t hate him, nothing personal, but I don’t like him. I think South Florida is a great school.”
On Tough Enough, in addition to his crazy antics, Younkins stood out due to his charisma and tough-love relationship with trainer “Hardcore” Bob Holly, which started when he told Holly that he’d miss him as they left for training one day on the third episode. Holly responded by twisting Younkins like a pretzel the next day of training.
“I have the greatest respect for Bob Holly and also (the other trainers) Al Snow, Chavo and Ivory,” Hawk said. “Especially Bob, I just really bonded with him, and I really liked him the most because I really connected with him.”
On a trip to South Africa though, Hawk’s mood made a stark change. The show hinted at his personal problems in earlier episodes, but in South Africa it all came to a head.
In one episode, he offered to shave his head to save the group from doing more exercises in the brutal. However, not even this selfless act could keep his fellow contestants from ridiculing him.
Then a poor practice match with trainer Al Snow got him a particularly wicked tongue lashing. Shortly thereafter, Hawk quit the contest to deal with some personal problems.
“Obviously, my reasons for leaving are behind me now,” Hawk said. “I’m ready to go full out. I want to be in the WWE, and I intend to. In due time, I will.
“My reasons for leaving, I always keep those a secret because I like the enigma factor. If there’s a big question mark with you, if people have to try to figure you out, that makes you a lot more interesting. They’ll always keep focus on you. If they figure you out, then you become boring and they become disinterested. That’s it; I want to keep that enigma factor with me.”
Following Tough Enough, Hawk has brought his wrestling skills back to the Tampa Bay area, competing for Intense Pro Wrestling in St. Petersburg. In just his second professional match, Hawk teamed with fellow Tough Enough contestant and former USF student Kenny, and the pair ran through a tag team gauntlet.
While Hawk didn’t get a contract out of Tough Enough, he certainly picked up something very valuable.
“If you did your best, and they liked you, and you had what they wanted, then they’d pick you,” Hawk said. “If not, oh well. You made some wonderful life-long friendships in it. Case in point, Kenny.”
Hawk will continue to hone his skills in IPW as he tries to ready himself for a second chance with the WWE.
“I would have enough respect for the business and enough common sense to know that (the WWE’s Monday night RAW) is the pinnacle of the sport,” Hawk said. “Once you get there, you know exactly what you’re doing, and if something gets screwed up, you know how to counteract that. And I don’t think I would be ready. I know I would need time in the minors, and this is what I’m doing now. Working out the kinks, looking for the mistakes and getting better and better with every promo and every match. I’ll go out there and I’ll make mistakes, but that’s how you get better.”
So, while he doesn’t feel he’s ready just yet, Hawk will continue to dream, knowing that someday he’ll be back with the WWE again.
“In due time, myself and Kenny, we’ll get our shot at WWE,” Younkins said. “And then we’ll be out there. Without a doubt, I just know it. I believe in myself ,and I know Kenny believes in himself. And I can see him wrestling along side me, tag-team partners in WWE some day.”
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