Ron Killings has always been an entertainer. Years before he became one of professional wrestling’s most eccentric — and beloved — characters, Killings was a gifted high school athlete, a musician and a dancer in North Carolina.
When high school ended, so did Killings’ aspirations to continue with his education. Despite receiving several athletic scholarships, Killings decided to focus on his music career, a decision that ultimately led him down a dark path.
“I remember asking God, ‘What do I do? I don’t want to play football. I had injuries. I want to play music. What do I do?,’” Killings told former WWE ring announcer Lilian Garcia in a candid interview late last year. “I chose to go to the streets.”
Killings would find himself going in and out of jail, including serving a 13-month stint, before eventually meeting Jack Crockett and getting involved in professional wrestling.
More than two decades later, Killings — known to WWE fans as R-Truth — is a focal point in one of the company’s most talked about storylines, the newly introduced 24/7 Championship.
“From day one when they introduced it to us I had my eyes set on it and wanting to take the title to the level that it is at now and beyond,” Killings told Yahoo Sports. “The title is getting to be known very well, I’m glad I get to be a part of it.”
Initially met with skepticism from fans, the 24/7 Championship has become one of the hottest angles in WWE. The nature of the gimmick — it can be won or lost any time any place a la the Hardcore Championship of the bygone “Attitude Era” — has played perfectly into Killings’ on-screen persona and opened new doors for emerging talent.
“I like the fact that it gives a lot of guys in the back a lot more TV time, a lot of the talent that people don’t get to see, they’re getting exposure now because of that title,” Killings said.
Seizing opportunities like this one is what has helped Killings, a 20-year veteran, stay relevant and connected with fans for so long. Killings initially debuted in WWE as K-Kwik in 2000, but took a six-year hiatus before returning to Vince McMahon’s company in 2008 with his R-Truth persona.
“Before with WWE, I was young,” Killings said. “I was green in the business and to the sport, the business aspect of everything. Now, I’m a more mature R-Truth. I know my character, I know who I am, I know the difference between my character and Ron Killings.”
While it may seem absurd to suggest R-Truth is “mature,” Killings has shown he has a knack for getting “over” with fans and capitalizing on smaller television storylines since his return. In the past year alone, R-Truth won the “Mixed Match Challenge” with Carmella, won the United States Championship and has won the 24/7 Championship a record eight times.
In WWE, if you’re not getting a reaction from fans, it’s rare to get the kind of “push” Killings has frequently forced himself into getting.
“[The best part of all of this is] getting to be R-Truth,” Killings said. “Hearing the reaction from the fans. We’re entertaining the fans and they’re loving it. I like entertaining, that’s my forte.
“There’s so many great wrestlers in this sport who could probably work circles around me and it’s amazing to see that, but I love being the kind of character who can take you on a roller coaster, make you smile and laugh.”
In a wrestling climate that has become somewhat serious over the past several years — fans of alternative companies such as New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor and All Elite Wrestling tend to focus on how good of a “worker” a wrestler is and how many “stars” a match has gotten — WWE has hit a home run by taking a shot on the 24/7 Championship and allowing more creative freedom to the stars involved with it.
“Guys like Drake Maverick, Jinder Mahal, EC3, these guys came up with their own gimmick with regard to the title,” Killings said. “Drake Maverick came up with the poster idea on his own, he took that leap. The company takes notice of that. When the opportunity is there, you have to let your creative juices start flowing and reach and grab for it.”
All of this isn’t to say that Killings is just a comedy act, because he has had several major moments in his 20-year career. With WWE, Killings has won multiple championships, competed at WrestleMania, and was a part of one of the biggest angles in recent memory — one that involved Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena.
Killings weighs those iconic moments the same way he does every “Dance Break,” 24/7 Championship scrum or “Little Jimmy” segment from the past 10 years.
“Everything around what I have done has been fulfilling to me,” Killings said. “I absorb energy, I absorb the good, the bad, I absorb everything. That’s what makes me who I am. There’s not one moment of my career that I can be more proud of than the other because every one of them meant something for me.”
One moment in his career is worth noting in particular, however.
During his time away from WWE, Killings won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, becoming the first recognized African-American champion in the decorated promotion’s history. That achievement gives him a unique perspective on the current WWE Champion, Kofi Kingston.
“I’ll start off my saying how proud I am of Kofi and what he’s achieved,” Killings said. “He’s a tremendous athlete and friend behind the scenes. Kofi being in the position he’s in, it’s done a lot for the urban community, for blacks, for everybody in general. He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he’s got the biggest heart. He gave a lot of people hope. It’s very important today with millennials and the way things are, the way the world is, Kofi is a great example.”
Despite his athleticism and ability to connect with fans, Killings has never held WWE’s top titles — the WWE, Universal and Intercontinental Championships — and, at 47, Killings is closer to the end of his career than the start (yes, even in pro wrestling). Still, it remains to be seen what’s next for him.
“You never, never know,” Killings said. “Sometimes I don’t know what’s next for me, Little Jimmy doesn’t even know what’s next for me. I want to keep grabbing, keep reaching, keep crawling, keep grinding and excelling until I can go no higher.”
For now, he’ll just keep putting the E in WWE.
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