Out wrestler Anthony Bowens, 32, has penned an inspiring letter to fans expressing gratitude for their support, and “for letting a queer Black kid from New Jersey live out his wrestling dream.”
Bowens began wrestling on the independent circuit around ten years ago. In 2014, he tried out for WWE. However, despite impressing the organization, he failed to make the cut. Instead, he continued to make a name for himself on the indie circuit. He publicly came out in March 2017. At the time, he said he was bisexual. Two years later, he posted a video to say that he was more comfortable with the label ‘gay’.
In 2020, he signed a five-year deal with All Elite Wrestling (AEW) which has seen his profile soar. Last year, he made history as the first out-gay wrestler to win an AEW championship. He and tag-team partner Max Caster perform as ‘The Acclaimed.’ He recently performed in front of 80,000 fans, where he and Caster and occasional teammate Billy Gunn won the World Championship ‘Trios’ title.
In a letter published by the The Players Tribune, Bowens reflected on his career and the importance of coming out and being his real self.
Speaking directly to his fans he said, “I’ve been able to succeed in wrestling as a Black gay man while still being me. And I don’t take for granted the role you’ve all played in making that possible.”
“You have to be comfortable in your own skin”
He goes on to reveal that not being his true self was the reason he missed out on his shot at the WWE.
“I’ll never forget my first shot at a big break. It was in 2014 (yup! that long ago) and I was 23, about two years into my career.
“Back then the way it worked was that WWE would come to a town, and they’d book a bunch of indie guys from the area as extras on the show. Then they’d have those guys wrestle before the show in front of their agents and scouts and stuff. I got booked when they came to New York, and I won’t lie: I killed it. I got feedback like, ‘You did some things in there we’ll train guys 10 years before they know how to do.’”
He says he impressed them enough to get invited to a tryout in Ohio a few months later. There, he impressed them enough to “get invited to the Performance Center for a few days. At the Performance Center, I killed it again. I’m not even bragging — I’ve just always been a good athlete, and the in-ring stuff always felt natural to me.
“But then I had to cut a promo,” he says.
“And as comfortable as I was when it came to wrestling, I was the exact opposite when it came to talking. They put a mic in my hand … and it’s hard to explain. But if you know our business, you know that cutting a promo is more complicated than just ‘being a good public speaker’ or whatever. It’s deeper than just acting, too. Not only are you giving a speech and building a character, you’re also trying to connect on a human level. It’s like you’re amplifying some part of yourself. And in order to amplify yourself, first you kind of have to know yourself. You have to be comfortable in your own skin. And I just wasn’t,” Bowens reflected.
“So I botched my tryout promos pretty badly. I remember William Regal telling me I had ‘four out of five’ traits they’re looking for in a prospect. The only trait where I was falling short was ‘personality.’ Which is funny to think about on some level — like, only in wrestling could a potential employer turn you down by saying, Come back when you have a personality!! But that’s more or less what happened.”
Bowens knew, deep down, what the problem was.
“I think I knew the truth: As long as I was closeted as a wrestler, I wasn’t going to reach my full potential. Because I wasn’t going to be able to tap into everything that makes me me.”
Organizers claim it was the biggest audience for a pro-wrestling event in history.
“Thanks for giving us a chance”
He goes on to talk about coming out to his best friend at college, followed by other friends and family. He says meeting his boyfriend, Michael Pavano, gave him the courage to come out publicly.
Bowens goes on to say that coming out is often seen as the happy end of a story. In reality, the person coming out still has the rest of their life to live.
“I got so much support when I came out. But I also didn’t just want to be known as ‘the wrestler who came out,’ or ‘the gay wrestler.’ I wanted to be known as this successful wrestler … who happens to be gay and out and proud. And the history of wrestling (and sports in general) isn’t exactly filled with people who’ve been able to have that.”
Bowens went on to thank AEW fans for supporting his rise in the sport with a few more words.
“Thanks for giving us a chance / sticking with us through the pandemic / going crazy for Max’s bars / scissoring until your fingers bleed / singing “OHHHHHH SCISSOR ME DADDYYYY” / buying foam fingers / hating Billy’s sons so much that he decided he’d rather spend time with us.
Bowens is living out his dream and is grateful for his fans for cheering him every step of the way.
“Thanks for letting a queer Black kid from New Jersey live out his wrestling dream.”
Main photo: Anthony Bowens models for the Savage X Fenty 2023 Pride collection.
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