On Lance Escalade, Little-Known Post-Tough Enough Manager of Kenny King

I’ve been checking out TNA Impact and am finding it captivating. TNA is not what I remember from a decade ago and not what I have heard from so many. I thought surely I would be a hater, but no, not at all. It’s unapologetically violent, the crowds roar like they’re at an old world gladiator match, and I’m somehow finding the whole thing to be a breath of fresh air as I contemplate not even watching Wrestlemania this year.

What lured me in on an episode that somehow got recorded on my TiVo was Kenny King going after Drew Galloway like a vengeful Capulet delivering fighting words to a stray Montague in a gas station parking lot full of garish neon and poetic signage. Perhaps I bridged a little far with that one, but my point is Kenny is quite the Shakespearean mike man in this whole Beat Down Clan gimmick! What masterful throw down delivery, poetic turns of phrase and natural confident presence! Kenny wasn’t cutting a promo, he was delivering a passionate monologue, all on about the spilling of blood and the demand for retribution. Seriously, Kenny gets mad props from this here literary blogger.

Maybe I’m gushing a little much here, but I have a soft spot for Kenny King. After he didn’t win Tough Enough, Kenny went home to Las Vegas and started training with the indy wrestling school where I used to go to shows. This was quite a fall from grace for young Kenny — the Ultimate Wrestling Federation operated out of a rental garage space in a light industrial & strip club zoned district west of the Strip and in the shadow of the Rio Hotel and Casino. There was literally an auto upholstery garage and a Sarah Lee baked goods distributor in the same complex, and a lame alternative band was always practicing loudly across the way on the nights UWF put on its shows. There was a real ring and all, but the space was spartan and crummy. The audience sat on white plastic lawn chairs behind a string, literally a string, strung between sticks stuck into orange cones. That was their excuse for a barricade, but the wrestlers were incredibly skilled at not falling into our laps. There was talent and grandeur coming and going from the UWF, but also a lot of bluster and posturing, wanting to be and already has been. Egos, personality disorders, pipe dreams, the UWF was a refuge for all sorts of troubled souls. Talented wrestlers like Kenny who called Vegas home trained at UWF with, I think, a heavy heart. It was totally a place with great potential — Nick Bockwinkel and Scott Casey were the trainers, guys like Jimmy Superfly Snuka and other legends occasionally hung around, if memory serves Pat Patterson scouted there once or twice, and the UWF wrestlers got to go backstage when WWE came to town — and yet half the guys training were losers and sycophants with no future. I could tell Kenny wished he was somewhere better. I guess that’s how it goes on Kid Rock’s Lonely Road of Faith.

Let’s also remember that Kenny appeared to be frontrunning guy of his Tough Enough class, but in the end he lost to two women. Neither of whom was particularly better than him. I’m all on board with giving divas a chance, but I can also understand the blow to a guy’s ego when he gets beat by ladies in what appeared to be a swerve for swerve’s sake. I remember the WWE’s explanation was something to the effect of “he was tough enough but not mature enough,” and that seemed reasonable. But when I watch Kenny now I see such a articulate and dignified knight inside his thug gimmick, I can only imagine what it felt like for him to lose Tough Enough the way he did.

So Kenny’s premiere gimmick was essentially Tough Enough Kenny, a skilled and poised character with no bells or whistles, but he was managed by a guy called Lance Escalade, who my friends and I found to be an absolute delight. Lance accompanied Kenny to the ring with his hands full of flip phones and a bunch of credit cards sticking out of his backwards baseball cap. As soon as the match was underway, Lance was in off his own world: eyes darting around, talking on two flip phones at a time and really playing up whatever schemes he was concocting. Occasionally one of the phones he was talking on would ring because, you know, he was only pretending to be having a conversation, and comedy would ensue. It was a shtick that only worked for a short window of time in which everyone had a cell phone but nobody had any smarter phone capabilities yet. Nowadays, he would be staring at his screen all lost in his texts or social networks. It wouldn’t be any fun and it wouldn’t work.

So this might not sound all that special, but here was the punchline: Lance would show no interest in the match as Kenny got pummeled by one of UWF’s resident icons. He was an overtly negligent manager until Kenny would suffer a low blow. Lance would then suddenly snap to attention and rush to Kenny’s side. “You okay man? You alright?” he would say with great concern. His only concern was for the safety of Kenny’s package. Beyond that he was confident Kenny would be fine no matter the extent of the beating. (In light of Lance’s package concern, it is also interesting to note that Kenny is now a Chippendale’s dancer. Lance was concerned about the part of Kenny’s body that has become his crucial money-maker. Add to this the testosterone bravado of the Beat Down Clan and his Tough Enough loss to female wrestlers, and can you see how Kenny King becomes an emblem of embattled masculinity? This is perhaps why I find him so interesting.)

I’m not sure exactly what Lance Escalade was supposed to be. A drug dealer? A pimp? A social butterfly with a debt problem? Forgive me for being too white to be accurate here, but whatever he was, he was great satire. He captured a certain something that was hilarious to watch, especially with Kenny playing the hard-working comedic straight man.

Lance Escalade was only around for two or three matches. I don’t know what happened; maybe he couldn’t afford the dues at that place, or maybe he got a job and had to work on Friday nights. Kenny himself moved on to brighter pastures soon enough, and UWF eventually closed its doors. But those of us who watched noble Kenny King managed by flamboyant Lance Escalade were forever touched by the comedy of the pairing. It’s a shame that the Lance Escalade matches never made it to YouTube, as UWF ran its course a few years before internet saturation. Or maybe it’s better that Kenny King w/Lance Escalade is only preserved in the fuzzy brightness of my fond memory.

One more Kenny King-related story: I also once watched Kenny involved in an attempted double suplex off the top rope in which a guy called Brady A. Dezire left the ring screaming in pain with a shattered ankle. It wasn’t Kenny’s fault — the third wrestlers was a guy called Sinful, who was my favorite guy in the place but was kind of a ton of bricks in a high risk maneuver. Think Kevin Owens with less of a moral agenda and no aerial skills to speak of. I don’t know that it was Sinful’s fault either, the whole thing was just a bad idea. As we watched them set it up my friend Leeann said, rather prophetic: “Oh no, Brady really doesn’t need to be in the middle of that thing.” And moments later, after best I could tell Sinful’s full weight landed on Brady’s ankle, she was proven painfully right. My memory is not what it used to be, but I will always remember the authenticity of Brady’s scream, especially when people scoff at the authenticity of professional wrestling. Brady returned the better part of a year later, good as new with screws in his ankle, and witnessing the whole saga taught me much about the passion and drive for professional wrestling.

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