Webster alum Kelly Klein starts her average day with a 5 a.m. cardio workout before teaching preschoolers. By night, she is in full uniform and training to entertain crowds as a professional wrestler for Ring of Honor (ROH).
From 2004 to 2006, Klein studied musical theatre and vocal performance at the Webster University conservatory, specializing in ballet, tap and jazz.
Today she uses those skills as both a music instructor at Drool of Rock in Cockeysville, Maryland and as one of the marquee superstars of Ring of Honor, where she owned a record-breaking 533-day winning streak. Bodybuilding magazine Muscle and Fitness recognized Klein in an article listing the ten best professional wrestlers not signed by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
Klein said the two major factors driving her love of professional wrestling were her competitive family and witnessing a wrestling event at age 19.
“That was the first time I saw a professional wrestling event, and I immediately was hooked,” Klein said. “I also had a background in theatre and music and dance, and all kinds of things. Professional wrestling just brought together all the things I loved to do.”
On April 6, Klein is scheduled to wrestle in front of a 17,000-member audience at Madison Square Garden during a collaborative show done by ROH and New Japan-Pro Wrestling.
Klein’s trainer, former professional wrestler Les Thatcher, said that for most wrestlers, having a chance to perform in front of this large of a crowd would be the highlight of a career.
“For a lot of people in this business, that’s the pinnacle,” Thatcher said. “Regardless of who you’re wrestling or whether you win or lose, whatever. I have appeared in Madison Square Garden, so I am just so excited for her.”
Due to her musical versatility, Klein has creative freedom in crafting her own unique wrestling persona. She has personalized her own attire for her matches, and made the theme song for her character, “pretty badass.”
“I’ve worked on my entrance music in the past. At different times, I’ve used singing in my wrestling persona,” Klein said. “Other than that, I use music to connect to the audience to see another side of me, as a behind the scenes, other aspect of my personality.”
These experiences also gave Klein a chance to perform in places such as Japan. She said her entire job there was to train, but she enjoyed the ability to sightsee and explore the city. It also created a new perspective for her on the discrepancies between how different countries approach working out.
“Training at the gym was interesting because there’s sort of a cultural difference in how people in Japan approach training versus how people approach it in the United States in particular,” said Klein.
In the U.S., she works under nicknames such as “pretty badass” and “the gatekeeper,” and continues to work on the more intricate parts of her persona with Thatcher. After matches, Thatcher said he critiques Klein on ways to convey body language and play that role to a tee.
Thatcher said he was amazed at how she was able to manage that wrestling on top of being a parent and wife, and studying as well.
“When she’s making all this progress, she was studying at Wright State, getting her degree in music, coaching a girl’s softball team, her workload was heavy,” Thatcher said. “The fact that she was able to get it all in, that was just amazing.”