Emerging Indie Wrestling Star Anthony Bowens Takes Pride in Representing LGBTQ Community

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Anthony Bowens stands for more than solely great performances in the ring.

One of pro wrestling’s rising stars, Bowens is entertaining in the ring, able to work on the mat, in the air, and show off some power. He also provides a voice to those who have not often been heard. Bowens came out as bisexual in January 2017 (he now identifies as gay), showing courage and bravery in that decision, and acting as another role model in the world of pro wrestling.

“It means something when a person can see someone that looks like them, gets them, and understands what they’re going through,” said the 28-year-old Bowens. “I’m representing the LGBT community and athletes that are LGBT, but even more than that, too. I’m representing the small-town kid who was told he’d never make it, and I’m here for the shy kid that is ready to burst out of his shell and be that social butterfly.

“I’m trying to represent all of these people in the most positive way I can. I get messages from people that make me cry. To know that I’m having a positive impact on people is a blessing, and makes me feel that I made the right decision to come out.”

Bowens takes immense pride in his craft, delivering a unique and compelling style in the ring. Unafraid of hard work, he has taken different avenues to achieve wrestling stardom, beginning with his work in the BMG Talent modeling agency, formerly known as Silver Model Management, in New York City.

The decision to work with BMG was directly related to Bowens’ career aspirations in wrestling.

Following a failed WWE tryout in 2015—which was made even more crushing by the fact that he learned WWE had passed on him the same day his beloved grandmother passed away—Bowens made a fateful decision. He would not feel sorry for himself, or become bitter to those that had received the call from WWE. Instead, Bowens was hit with an epiphany—perhaps just to him from his grandmother—with the pathway to success in pro wrestling.

“WWE is not a wrestling company, it’s an entertainment company,” said Bowens. “Thinking about that was when the bells went off. I sought to make myself a more well-rounded performer, and I signed up with BMG Talent. From there, I started acting classes, improv classes, I did live sketch comedy shows, commercials, and modeling. It all helped create what the ‘Five-Tool Player’ is today.”

Bowens is wrestling’s “Five-Tool Player,” boasting that he is the perfect combination of power, athleticism, intelligence, look, and the elusive it-factor. On paper, that sounds like a classic wrestling heel, but Bowens has allowed art to imitate life and he has transformed his character into one of the most compelling indie stars in the business.

He is a former Division I baseball player at Seton Hall University with an action figure physique, but Bowens has bravely revealed his vulnerabilities in a realm better known for machismo and testosterone. He has constantly battled self-body image issues, which is an ongoing battle.

“I’d look at the mirror and immediately think I wasn’t good enough,” Bowens explained. Revealing his doubts and insecurities has deepened his connection with those who have followed his career. “Maybe to some people that is ridiculous, but there are times when I put on so much weight because of that. I can honestly say I’m happy with my appearance, and I’m happy in life.”

The next step for Bowens, who headlines a WrestlePro show this Saturday in the promotion’s first-ever ladder match in Alaska, is to sign an exclusive deal. He would fit anywhere, especially AEW or NXT, but he could also add buzz to Ring of Honor, Major League Wrestling or the NWA. But Bowens is not overly fixated on signing his name onto a contract, instead opting to remain focused on controlling the areas of his life he can control.

“I’m focused on having the highest quality, entertaining matches I possibly can,” said Bowens. “Getting signed, that’s an external factor. I’m sure big things will happen in 2020, but I’m going to focus on having as much fun as possible.

“My goal is to be as versatile and well-rounded as possible as a sports entertainer. I like the leaner frame that I have now [Bowens dropped 20 pounds over the past 18 months and now competes at 200 pounds]. I was probably a little too big before, and that hindered my in-ring performance, and my current size allows me to be more agile. I want to continue having really entertaining matches, and increase LGBT visibility in entertainment.”

Coming out represented an extraordinarily difficult challenge for Bowens.

“That was very, very hard when I was getting into the wrestling industry,” said Bowens, whose new documentary “The Five Tool Player” was released online Wednesday. “I knew, at some point, it was something I had to address. I wasn’t sure how people were going to react to it. It was a very scary thing. I didn’t know when would be the right time to say something, so I kept it to myself.”

Bowens met his boyfriend, Michael Pavano, in May 2016. After dating for six months, Bowens shared that he was not ready to come out yet, asking if they could keep the relationship to themselves.

“I don’t think you should ask anyone to do that, but to his credit, he liked me enough to put up with that,” said Bowens. “It took time. I was growing as a performer in wrestling, I had a platform where I knew, if I said something, I could help other people struggling with the same thing. My parents and friends already knew and supported me, and I created a YouTube video called ‘The Laughing Challenge.’ I was hesitant to do it, but I said, ‘I’ll just do it. Who’s going to see it?’”

The video was enormously popular. Many of Bowens’ peers in wrestling reached out to say they had viewed it and extended their support for his courage to come out.

“That’s when I realized I should say something,” said Bowens. “I first came out to a closer circle of people in January, and then I came out publicly to the world in a piece I wrote for Outsports. It was picked up by the Huffington Post, and that spread everywhere.

“Initially, it was very scary. It took me a while to really get comfortable with everything, but now I can say I’m living my happiest life. With all the walls I’ve broken down inside myself, I see a difference in the ring. What you see in the ring is Anthony Bowens, not a person with all these walls up trying to be who he’s not. I’m very, very lucky to have had all the support I have.”

As supportive as some people were, there were others that were brutal toward Bowens, particularly on social media. Despite the hate, Bowens refuses to apologize for being himself.

“I feel bad for those who are projecting so much negativity onto other people,” said Bowens. “I knew, as a performer, that I’d need thick skin, and I knew I’d need to ignore a lot as an LGBT performer. That criticism makes me laugh sometimes, and it needs to be taken in stride. You can’t let people have power over you.”

Bowens does not allow the hate to consume him, especially when he is well aware that his main objective is to provide a voice and support for those who need it most.

“The most important thing we do in wrestling is connect to an audience,” said Bowens. “We’re connecting with people, helping them forget about their worries through our art. It’s very humbling to take a step back and realize the importance of what we’re doing.

“People have written letters to me about their lives, and they make me cry. I want people to see I am living as authentically as possible, trying to give back and help people.”

This weekend’s ladder match is a significant step for Bowens. He is still riding the high of winning WrestlePro’s first-ever Dream 16 Tournament in October, wrestling three times in one night. Now he is preparing to headline a show in Alaska, on a card that features an appearance from wrestling royalty Bret “The Hitman” Hart, giving him another show to prove he belongs in the discussion of wrestling’s emerging talents.

“This is such a great opportunity, but I wouldn’t be here without people believing in me,” said Bowens. “I’m so thankful for my following. To have a core group of people that follow me, and are so supportive, I couldn’t be more grateful.

“If you watch on Saturday, you’ll see I’m also pretty badass in the ring. You’re going to get quality entertainment any time you see me perform. I have five tools and one rule, to prove that I am a superstar.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.