Growing up, Bucky Wells did a lot of damage with a baseball bat in his hands.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to see him handing out punishment with a folding chair.
Upon finishing his college baseball career at Francis Marion in 2010, the former Myrtle Beach resident decided to pursue his other major passion – pro wrestling entertainment – and has done so ever since.
As a toddler, Wells’ interest in pro wrestling first piqued when his mother took him to a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) event in Charlotte, N.C.
“I remember very vividly seeing Ric Flair, and after I saw Ric Flair at 3 years old I was like, ‘Yup, this is awesome,’ ” said Wells, a 2005 Socastee High graduate who also played stints of baseball at Coastal Carolina and Spartanburg Methodist and now lives in Tampa, Fla. “I ended up watching it pretty much the rest of my life and I always knew that if baseball didn’t work out that I would at least try and pursue it.”
Vince McMahon purchased Capitol Wrestling from his father June 6, 1982, giving berth to what is now the WWE, according to wwe.com.
He says Flair’s character left an indelible impression.
“I just remember this guy with this huge robe and bleached-blonde hair and he was funny as hell,” Wells said. “He was awesome. From there, I was just hooked on wrestling.”
Now, by day, Wells is a personal banker at Wells Fargo. On some nights and most weekends, he’s in various venues playing to crowds of wrestling fans.
2011When Bucky Wells made his wrestling debut
“It doesn’t matter if you’re wrestling in front of 200 people or 2,000 people, that’s awesome just to push people’s buttons and kind of control what people think or whatever the case may be,” he said. “The crowd reaction is awesome and that’s what we’re here for.”
Wrestling, not wrasslin’
After graduating from FMU in 2010 with a degree in business marketing, Wells quickly turned his focus to wrestling.
It’s one of those things where I just said go for it. When he told me I was just like, ‘Man, that would be pretty tough.’ Because I just know that it’s a very tough thing to get into. It’s a very slim amount of people that actually make it to the big time.
He returned home and waited tables for “five or six months” to save up the money to move to Tampa, Fla., and train at Florida Championship Wrestling, which at the time was the WWE’s developmental center.
He kept saying ‘I want to be a WWE wrestler.’ I think he’s had that kind of aspiration since, shoot, ever since I remember. It’s nice to see someone keep going and chasing after something that they want to achieve.
Once training with former WCW wrestler and current WWE NXT trainer Norman Smiley, Wells realized just how grueling the process of becoming a professional wrestler would be.
“You need to be trained by professionals, guys like Norman Smiley and trainers of that caliber. … Wrestling, it really is like an art,” Wells said. “You’ve got to learn how to fall – in wrestling it’s called a ‘bump’ – so you need to learn how to bump and fall and jump and run and protect the [other] guy and everything. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Wells also stepped up his game in the weight room. He said he was 165 pounds while playing baseball at Socastee High, reached 195 by the time his college career ended and later beefed up to 225 pounds, his current wrestling weight.
“In college you’re doing different types of workouts playing baseball and you’re doing early morning running and that type of stuff. You’ve got less time to eat. You’ve got to go to class,” Wells said. “Now it’s like I just focus on weights and food. I probably eat anywhere from about 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day. It’s just putting in the hours.”
Wells made his wrestling debut in April 2011, and currently attends events as an independent, meaning he isn’t under contract with any particular organization. He said it usually takes 200 or 300 matches before you really know what you’re doing and, while he said the matches are scripted to a certain point – including a predetermined winner – there is some wiggle room.
“It’s a give and take. You’ve just got to feed off the crowd. There’s a formula to it. I can’t tell you all the secrets, now,” he said with a laugh.
Zane Petty, another 2005 Socastee High grad who has known Wells since they were 7 years old, has seen his friend in action numerous times and says he’s seen steady progress.
“He’s definitely gotten more comfortable in the ring over the years,” said Petty, also a Tampa resident who played college baseball at Coastal Carolina and Francis Marion. “It comes with it. It’s one of those things where you just get better and better as you do it. … He’s much improved.”
‘It is entertainment but … in a sense real.’
Wells said he’s heard all the haters who say wrestling isn’t real, and he agrees with them – to a certain point.
“That’s 100 percent the biggest misconception. The hours and hours and hours of training that go into it – whether it’s in the ring, ring time, working on new skills and all that stuff – is really physical,” he said. “And obviously going to the gym two or three hours a day, there’s a lot that goes into what you see for 10 minutes on TV or 10 minutes when you come to a show.”
The injuries that have him sitting the sideline can attest to that. Wells is out with a torn ligament in his knee and a torn ligament in his hamstring, injuries he suffered during a match.
“It’s predetermined. It is entertainment, but it’s physical and in a sense real,” said Wells, who said he participates in two to four events a week when healthy. “I know I’ve had my fair share of injuries – knee surgery and broken noses and all sorts of things.”
The WWE recently held the Royal Rumble, one of its signature pay-per-view events that precedes its biggest, Wrestlemania.
While he’s still a long ways away from walking down the ramp at Wrestlemania, Wells is rehabbing in hopes of a return before that time in April, when many independent events will accompany the WWE’s showcase taking place in Orlando, Fla., this year.
“I’m really rehabbing hard these next couple months to get back for all that stuff,” he said.
Having trained in the FCW – which morphed into the WWE’s “minor league,” NXT, in 2012 – Wells believes the independent showcases that accompany the WWE’s biggest pay-per-view serve as a unique opportunity.
5Years Bucky Wells has been wrestling
“They know who I am, but it’s just like anything else: It’s the right place, right time,” Wells said of the WWE. “… A lot of things go into it.
“… The goal is to obviously get your name out there nationwide – and worldwide.”
Landing a gig overseas is a good start, according to Pro Wrestling Insider’s Mike Johnson.
“One of the things WWE tells guys now is to go out and get a buzz, to try to go out and work internationally, whether it be in Great Britain, whether it be in Japan, and go out and try and get as much attention as you can because one of the things they do like to do now is find guys for their second-tier company, NXT, which is where they send the guys they’re trying to develop,” he said. “They do want and they do hope to sign some guys who have a track record from the independent scene. That way, when they’re brought into NXT there’s a little bit of momentum behind them.”
Johnson said learning new skills via wrestling different guys from different locations is key to improving, something Wells learned when just getting started.
“I remember Norman Smiley telling me all the time, ‘I learn something new every single day I come into work.’ ” Wells said. “There’s so many different styles. There’s the Mexican style, the Japanese style, the UK style, the American style. You just learn something new every single day.”
But again, timing can be everything.
“It’s very much a game of chess where you have to try to figure out what’s the best place for you to go,” Johnson said. “… As much as it’s physicality and as much as it’s hard work, a lot of it has to do with timing. And there’s no way to predict timing at all.”
Bucky Wells is Bucky Wells
Building a following in wrestling is highly dependent on a wrestler’s character.
While some guys wear masks or have extreme gimmicks, Wells thus far has chosen to go with more of a “real” image.
He wrestles under his real name and his gimmick is a bit more subtle than others’ as he wears University of South Carolina colors on shorts and knee pads that feature a Gamecock.
“I kind of go out there as myself right now. I’m kind of morphing and finding different ways to stand out,” Wells said. “I’m a huge South Carolina fan so my gear has Gamecocks and stuff all over it. Other than that, I just kind of go out there, be myself. It just depends on the promotion really.”
“Real” is a strategy that has worked for some wrestlers in the past.
“If you’re an established guy you can keep that same kind of character. But one thing that I have learned is that sometimes if you’re yourself and you just turn the volume up a little bit, a lot of people out there like ‘real,’ ” Wells said. “Some audiences like characters, some audiences like who you are. I’ve heard it a million times: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin is ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. Ric Flair is Ric Flair, just having the volume turned up. I think it’s one of those things where you’re constantly literally working on and morphing yourself, and maybe something clicks and maybe something doesn’t. It literally is always a work in progress.”
I can be flashy, but I usually stick to wrestling. You’re never going to see me do a moonsault or something like that.
The WWE recently has broadened its scope as far as talent, Johnson said.
“I think WWE is trying harder to figure out different sorts of performers to populate their show, where prior to that it was pretty much – I don’t want to say cookie cutter because not everybody’s the same – but they were more looking for a specified look or a specified size and I think they were a little myopic in the way they were looking and they finally realized that,” Johnson said. “And now they’ve kind of opened their eyes to a different sort of look and different sort of talent in that they want someone that’s a little more versatile.”
The deal is the same as any starting actor. They might have a real job, but their passion is their art and this guy is trying to get through and figure out a way he can not only perform and make money at it and build his name but perform and get his name to the biggest possible stage so that all he has to do is his art to make a living.
Pro Wrestling Insider’s Mike Johnson
Wrestlers often are portrayed as either a good guy (face) or bad guy (heel), and Wells has done both.
“I don’t know if it’s just because of the way I look or something, but I usually am the good guy,” he said. “But it’s always a lot easier to go out there and make people not like you. I think most people – especially in my case – I prefer to be the heel but I usually work baby face. I don’t know, I think maybe it’s just because I look like a baby face. I don’t have a clue.”
Whatever the role, Wells is creating a buzz locally, Petty says.
“He does a great job. Part of wrestling is to build a story in the ring. He’s watched wrestling his whole life so he knows the deal behind it,” Petty said. “He’s one of the better performers and that’s one of the reasons why through the years he’s built up his reputation with the community that he can perform well – as well as anybody – in the ring. He’s [been] on the main cards and finales for the past couple years now. He’s definitely one of the better performers, that’s for sure.”
Living in Florida, Wells said he sees some of the big-name wrestlers often. He also crosses path with household names from time to time, including last year when he did a legends event that included the likes of Goldberg, Kurt Angle and Scott Steiner.
As for advice they may have passed along?
“Honestly, it’s always the same – ‘Work hard and find a gimmick or find something that makes you stand out’ – because there’s a million wrestlers, there really is,” Wells said.
Experience has helped Wells build his in-ring persona, Petty said.
“His character kind of is starting to come out more and more – like his personality,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that when you start out you just want to do your thing and not look bad.”
The big picture
Wrestling alone is not enough to pay the bills at this point. Therefore, Wells has to juggle his dream and the 9-to-5 job at the bank.
“The hardest part of it for me is just everything: going to the gym two hours a day, having a 40-hour-a-week work schedule at a regular job and then traveling all over Florida wherever I get to go Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then still make it back to work and do all that stuff,” he said. “I literally do not sleep a lot.
“[I could be in] Miami on Friday and Jacksonville on Saturday. But it’s fun. When it comes to like wrestling and that stuff, I’m not working. I’m having a blast.”
Such is the life for many aspiring wrestlers, Johnson said.
“It’s kind of the equivalent of the starting actor in Los Angeles where they’ve got a full-time job and they’re working as a waiter or working as a cook or working as a delivery person or they’re working at a warehouse and all they want to do is live their dream and figure out a way to make that happen,” he said.
Nonetheless, the side job takes a toll on the body, which will weigh a lot into how long Wells, 30, keeps the dream alive.
“I think most guys it’s all about health. As long as I can stay healthy there’s always a chance,” he said. “Like, WWE literally just signed someone over 30 years old. So there’s not necessarily [an age limit]. If you’re good or you’re elite or you have a gimmick or you have a character that sets yourself apart, the sky’s the limit. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll do it as long as I can.”
And while making it to the WWE is the ultimate goal, Wells says other lucrative opportunities could present themselves.
“Obviously the main goal is to be with the WWE, but there’s a lot of promotions out there that you can do a lot of things with,” he said. “I mean, [other wrestling organizations like] TNA, Ring of Honor, you can go to Japan, England. You can do a lot of things in wrestling. I think the main goal obviously is to make money and do things like that. So the main goal is to be with the WWE to perform at a Wrestlemania or something like that. There’s a lot you can do.”
Yet, getting to the big show remains the dream, one that very few see come to fruition.
“It’s literally trying to run uphill with a mudslide all around you. It’s not easy. It’s very mentally tough for these guys,” Johnson said. “They go through a lot of heartbreak because not only is every injury potentially going to cause them to miss a window, they’re also racing against the clock. It’s a youth-oriented industry and the older you get the more likely you’ll be in a position that someone like WWE will not want to invest in you because they might only be able to get five years out of you instead of 15.”
It’s near impossible because to work for WWE there’s only 1 percent, if even that, that get to that top level. Guys that are in that company and have been there for eight or nine years are not at that top level. There’s people who are in their developmental system for six or seven years before they ever get a sniff of getting up to RAW or Smackdown, which is the two live TV shows that the company puts on on Monday and Tuesday on the USA Network.
Pro Wrestling Insider’s Mike Johnson
No matter where this journey leads him, Wells is satisfied that he’s at least taking a shot.
“I always wanted to be a wrestler for my whole life, so I went for it,” he said. “And even though I haven’t made it maybe to the top yet, I have made it in the sense of I’m a pretty [effective] independent wrestler out there trying to make a name for myself. So from that standpoint, that’s awesome to me.”
Petty finds his friend’s journey inspiring.
“I think for him,” Petty said, “he was like ‘I’m going to at least look back on my life and say that I gave it a shot.’ ”
Real name: Bucky Wells
Stage name: Bucky Wells
Height: 6 foot
Weight: 225 pounds
Hometown: Myrtle Beach
Current city: Tampa, Fla.
Experience: Five years
Gimmick: Dons South Carolina Gamecocks ring attire
Persona: Often baby face, sometimes heel
Finishing move: TKO
Most unique match: Street fight in a bar
Favorite all-time wrestlers: Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels