Matthew Hester invited me to get involved in a series called Spotlighting the Indies to expose up-and-coming talent and to showcase independent wrestlers. Evidently I accepted, or you wouldn’t be reading this.
As of now, Matthew Hester, Scott Beeby and I are involved and it is a pleasure to work with them on this. I encourage you to read their work on this series. You can read Matthew Hester's spotlight on Jack Evans here.
I first discovered this talent through Steve Corino’s LiveJournal a long time ago and I got interested, so I’ve been checking in on what he has done from time to time.
I found that he is one of the guys out there that has gone relatively unrecognised despite the number of big names he has faced and his general level of quality.
At 25, he still has many years ahead of him and Sterling James Kennan is one name set for the rise, especially now that he has an opportunity with Ring of Honor.
SJK is well known for his work both in the UK, notably in One Pro Wrestling and in the US, most notably in the International Wrestling Cartel.
From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, born on Feb. 24, 1984, SJK loved wrestling from an early age. No doubt his father, a big pro wrestling fan, helped SJK to not only get exposed to pro wrestling, but to embrace it as well. As a child, SJK was raised on Hulkamania, but became a big fan of the Ultimate Warrior when he appeared.
As he grew older, he moved away from being a fan of those wrestlers, instead being awed by The Great Muta, who was appearing in WCW at the time, as well as getting behind Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Ric Flair, which may readers will be able to identify with.
He has trained under Dory Funk Jr. at the Funkin’ Conservatory, as well as under Boomer Payne and Mad Mike. SJK has said that he doesn’t intentionally be like anyone else, but he has seen himself use small elements from Randy Savage, Ric Flair and The Rock.
As a wrestler, he is very much an old-school style wrestler and is recognisable for his myriad tattoos. His persona can be described as a temperamental, frequently angry-at-the-world rock star.
SJK said he was terrified when it came time for him to make his debut but once he walked through the curtain, the terror just melted away. SJK has always been good at playing off the audience and this has allowed him to gain many fans.
He has wrestled against such names as Abyss, Steve Corino, CM Punk, Claudio Castagnoli, Chris Sabin and 2 Cold Scorpio.
After pro wrestling training, he mainly appeared in NWA East, a.k.a. Pro Wrestling eXpress in Pittsburgh. After he had been wrestling there for just under a year, he felt it was time to move on because he wasn’t learning any more as a wrestler and wanted to be exposed to other wrestlers.
Since he had friends in the International Wrestling Cartel (IWC), he was able to get his foot in the door and was soon taken in.
The IWC is where SJK has found some of his greatest success so far. He has held the IWC Heavyweight Championship there three times and their IWC Super Indy Championship four times.
He also has had quite the feud with Fabulous John McChesney, which lasted for the better part of the year. The two had also feuded in 2003 in the Union of Independent Pro Wrestlers (UIPW) promotion in Canada.
At 1PW's All or Nothing Night 2 Show, held on March 5, 2006, he faced 2 Cold Scorpio, one of his toughest opponents, in a match that was very well-received by the audience. Some sped-up footage from that match can be seen here.
You can see his match against Necro Butcher from FNW Battle At Saddle Ridge, held on April 6, 2006, here.
SJK began making occasional appearances in Ring of Honor, partly due to his work with the IWC. At ROH's In Your Face event on June 17, he teamed with Jason Blade to face The Briscoe Brothers in an impressive showing.
WWE also began to take notice, with SJK being invited to train with Ohio Valley Wrestling, then a WWE Developmental Territory.
He never actually had any try-out matches, appearing as a jobber both in dark matches and on WWE Velocity, as well as working as a security guard and doing backstage work.
In October 2005, SJK debuted in One Pro Wrestling (1PW), appearing from their debut show. SJK teamed with Abyss, similar to James Mitchell/Abyss relationship the two had in TNA.
SJK did whatever he could to get the fans to boo him, but at 1PW the fans just kept cheering for him, indeed cheering him even more as time went on, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his heel actions. As Steve Corino, the then-booker put it,
“…SJK was the Stone Cold Steve Austin of 1PW. Hell, I even had him beat up a handicapped guy and the fans cheered.”
In 1PW, Steve Corino and Spud have been two recurring opponents, as well as Abyss after their partnership broke down. There’s also a bit of a story about a big match that was going to happen, but then didn’t.
In late 2006, 1PW promoter Steven Gauntley, wanted a big draw for the January 2007 show, as the TNA stars, which had been big draws, couldn’t make it. He wanted a Japanese star to be that big draw- and no less than The Great Muta, who is as big a star as it gets.
There was a bit of a mishap but things were worked out and The Great Muta agreed to appear. 1PW offered him what would be for most wrestlers a fair amount of money, which was all 1PW could afford, but Muta made more money doing autograph signings.
He agreed to appear so that the UK audience would get to see The Great Muta, accepting a substantial pay cut in the process.
Muta wanted to play a heel and elevate one of the younger talents. For Corino, there was only one person he immediately considered as worthy and capable enough in 1PW to face The Great Muta and that was Sterling James Keenan.
The match was announced via the titantron after SJK’s match at IPW’s Anniversary show. As SJK put it at the time:
“I wrestled a six man with Team Supreme, against Spud, Darkside, and Samoa Joe. I… pinned Darkside, and was in the ring, doing whatever the hell it is that I do, and the lights went out.
Assuming this was yet ANOTHER error on the part of the sound/video guy, I started to get out of the ring. This video is playing on the wall, so I figured I'd let the fans watch.
However, as I get about half way down the aisle, about 10 guys are screaming at me to get back in the ring.
So, I lean in the corner, watching the video, and his face appears. Muta. The Great Muta. My ****ing hero. I watch the video, wondering what the hell this has to do with me, until the end... ‘The Great Muta is coming to 1PW...He's coming for SJK.’
So yeah...I get to wrestle my all-time favorite wrestler, in England. And nobody bothered to tell me this. I legitimately learned about it in front of 1,800 people in the Doncaster Dome.”
As Steve Corino remembers, “It was magic to see his face.”
Unfortunately, 1PW soon hit financial troubles and went into liquidation, a week before the match was to occur. The show was replaced with a tribute show, though 1PW was restarted later that year on April 6, 2007. The Great Muta ended up appearing for Real Quality Wrestling instead.
On April 18th, 2007, SJK was fired from the ICW. Keenan believes this might have been due to personal grudges a certain promoter had with him.
SJK soon got some exposure in Japan, starting with a tour for Big Japan Pro Wrestling. On May 1, 2007, he realised one of his dreams by wrestling in the legendary venue, Korakuen Hall.
As a wrestler, he has put on some impressive stuff, and is generally at a high level, on the mike and with in-ring skills, but he is still a little inconsistent and needs to develop himself further. Still, even now he has the skills to become a big star at higher levels.
Sterling James Keenan has improved and should he continue to improve, he has what it takes to become a major star. He has already proved he can be popular with the fans.
His appearances in ROH, if they continue, could prove in time to be his chance to rise even further.
Sterling James Keenan is one of the independent wrestlers to keep an eye on.
Sources: Steve Corino's LiveJournal, Sterling James Keenan's LiveJournal, 4th November 2006