In his heart of hearts, Kevin Nash is a performer.
Always has been. Even back in his days as a basketball player at the University of Tennessee in the late 1970s, the 6-foot-11 Nash wasn't as much a center as he was playing a center. He even has the statistics 5.4 points and 4.0 rebounds a game as a junior to prove it.
In the years since, his life has been one role after another. World traveler. Soldier. Bouncer. Even a stint as a real actor.
But it's only now that Nash has reached his penultimate, the zenith of a 14-year search for his one true calling.
Er, well, sort of.
"This is it for me," says the 35-year-old Nash, who wears the title belt of the World Wrestling Federation and goes by the monikers Diesel and Big Daddy Cool.
"I think I've found my niche. I really enjoy this more than anything I've ever done. I've always been an extroverted person, and for an extrovert, this would be a dream job."
It's not as if Nash's main duties dressing up in costume and acting like an athletic hero are much of a stretch.
The Detroit native toiled three years for the Volunteers under coach Don DeVoe, but it was clear early on that he probably wouldn't grow into the type of player talent-wise that his height promised. There were problems from the beginning, as DeVoe thought Nash lacked the proper work ethic both on the court and in the classroom, while Nash thought DeVoe was too strict and regimented.
By his senior year, Nash had been kicked out of the program for a violation of team rules.
"I enjoyed my time at Tennessee, but it was time to move on," Nash says.
Where he moved was to Europe, playing several years of pro basketball for various teams. He even drew enough attention to get invited to a Cleveland Cavaliers training camp, but ended up getting waived. His basketball career came to a close in 1985, when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee while playing in Germany.
"I wanted to play in the NBA, but there just never seemed to be an avenue for me to go in," Nash says. "I guess it just wasn't meant to be."
It was around this time that Nash did a two-year stint in the Army, which said changed the direction in which he was headed.
"I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life," he says. "The Army taught me discipline and the value of hard work."
It also taught him the value of bodybuilding. After his discharge, he went back home to Detroit, where he bulked up an already impressive frame. And where does an extroverted bodybuilder go?...
"I was working in Atlanta as a bouncer when I went into the office at WTBS (Ted turner's network) looking for a job," Nash says. "They told me I would be perfect for their wrestling shows, so I went to a school to learn the moves. The rest is history."
After Nash joined Turner's World Championship Wrestling, things began to fall into place. Not only did he become a crowd favorite performing under the nicknames Oz and Vinnie Vegas but his "real" acting career began as well. He played the part of "Super Shredder" in the movie Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles II, and has had bits in other low-budget movies and television shows.
But it's the wrestling that's become his forte. Nash left the WCW last year to move to the WWF, where he started as the "bodyguard" of Shawn Michaels. The two held the WWF tag team title for a while back in August, but had a "falling out" and gave up the belts. Nash, as Diesel, won the WWF title last month by "beating" Bob Backlund in just seven seconds in New York.
"It's a lot of fun," Nash says. "But it's also a lot of work. People make fun of wrestling sometimes and it's true that it's entertainment, but without a doubt you have to be an athlete of sorts to do this.
"I mean look at the guys out there sometimes. Some of the guys aren't in the best shape, but you have to have some degree of athleticism to come off the top ropes and make it look convincing."
For Nash, believe it or not, the biggest adjustment has been to the adulation of the WWF fans, who he says are among the most passionate he has ever encountered.
"It's not like I didn't know what performing in front of a crowd was," he says. "I mean, I've played basketball at Rupp Arena in front of 25,000 people. That's about as hostile as it gets.
"But (here) it's a different kind of deal. There's a lot more self-promoting. You have to have a schtick and if you're good with it, (the fans) can be very appreciative. So far, that hasn't been a problem."
And Nash doesn't expect it to be in the future. His match with Bret Hart for the title in the Jan. 23 Royal Rumble on pay-per-view is the headliner, which Nash hopes will be the first of many.
"Like I said, I'm just having fun," he says. "The money is good, the crowds are great and I have no worries. What could be better?"