Professional wrestler goes to the mat for stardom


Kevin Nash has wanted to be a star for as long as he can remember.

For most of his life, he wasn't sure what he would be the star of, he just knew that he craved the limelight.

Standing 6-foot-10, Mr. Nash once thought basketball might be the answer. He later took a shot at acting, but casting agents weren't exactly knocking down his door after his portrayal of Super Shredder in the film "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze."

By combining athleticism with acting, however, Mr. Nash finally attained the fame he had been seeking -- as a professional wrestler.

Mr. Nash, 35, wrestles under the name Diesel for the World Wrestling Federation, the wrestling promotion that coined the term "sports entertainment" to describe its unique product.

He joined the WWF in 1993 and has been the WWF World heavyweight champion since last November. Diesel will be headlining tonight's WWF show at the Baltimore Arena when he defends the heavyweight title against Psycho Sid in a steel cage match.

Since winning the championship, Diesel has been a guest on "Live with Regis & Kathy Lee," participated in events such as the MTV Rock & Jock Softball Game and the NBA's All-Star Weekend and has represented the WWF in numerous charity and public relations functions.

All of this in addition to wrestling approximately 25 times a month in venues across the country as well as on occasional European tours.

"It's 24/7 [24 hours a day, seven days a week]. You're the champ every day," Mr. Nash says. "But I knew that going in. When you get to the top of the mountain, you have more responsibility to the company. You pretty much have to accept that as part of the job, which I do with open arms. I'm very happy with what I'm doing."

Mr. Nash is a key member of what the WWF refers to as its "New Generation" of wrestlers.

With established wrestling stars such as Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage having defected to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) -- a rival circuit owned by Ted Turner -- the WWF is looking to Mr. Nash, among others, to lead the federation into the next century.

Because of their similarities in size, Mr. Nash is frequently asked to compare himself with Hogan (Terry Bollea), who is unquestionably the most famous wrestler ever.

"When people ask me if I want to be the next Hulk Hogan, I say it's like comparing Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron," Mr. Nash says. "Different game, different circumstances, different era. There will never be another Hulk Hogan, just like there will never be another Babe Ruth. But I don't think that takes anything away from Hank Aaron."

It was while watching The Hulkster that Mr. Nash first considered professional wrestling as a career.

He originally wanted to be a basketball star and played for three years at the University of Tennessee. He was dismissed from the Tennessee basketball program in 1980 for a violation of team rules.

Instead of a career in the National Basketball Association, the best Mr. Nash could do was to play in Europe in a league in which the players had to wash their own uniforms.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in 1985 ended Mr. Nash's hoop dreams.

When he returned home, pro wrestling was at its zenith.

"Hulkamania was running wild and the WWF was on fire," he says. "A couple of my buddies and I used to go to the Joe Louis Arena on Friday nights and watch the WWF. I thought that was something I could do. I liked contact and there was a lot of athleticism."

He made his debut with WCW in 1991 as part of a tag team called the Master Blasters. He later competed in WCW under the names Oz and Vinnie Vegas.

Despite Mr. Nash's size, none of his characters caught on with the fans and he was relegated to undercard status.

In 1993, Mr. Nash got out of his contract with WCW to join the WWF as Diesel.

Initially, Diesel was to be strictly a "bodyguard" who stood outside the ring. But Mr. Nash was given an opportunity to wrestle and the fans took an instant liking to him, even though he was portrayed as a villain.

Because the character became so popular, Diesel was transformed into a hero and, eventually, the champion.

Stardom, at last.

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