Amboy grad taking his shot at WWE
Ballad of 'Zander' Jones
Alex Jones says he won't be satisfied until he's standing on the tightrope, a belt between his clenched fists.
But if that doesn't happen, he's got a mighty sound fall-back plan.
The 2007 Amboy High School graduate recently signed a 3-year developmental contract with World Wrestling Entertainment and will move to Tampa Bay this upcoming week. It's there that he'll work to earn his stripes through the WWE's exclusive developmental circuit, NXT Wrestling.
While working on his masters in strength and conditioning at USC, Jones met Rikishi and Gangrel during the Los Angeles Fitness Expo in January at the L.A. Convention Center.
The former WWE stars were pitching the KnokX wrestling academy, and he signed up to train with them the next day. About 10 days later, wrestling icon and film star John Cena was in town to film Monday Night Raw and lifting at USC. Jones' coach called him in to take advantage of the rare opportunity and the rest, as they say, is history.
Cena, who was strongly influenced by Rikishi while coming up, tabbed Jones as a potential star, an aspiration Jones didn't exactly stare at the stars and think about as a kid.
"As a kid, I wasn't exposed to it as much," Jones said. "On Monday night, I was watching Monday Night Football, not Monday Night Raw."
A college buddy got Jones interested in wrestling and, when Cena returned to the WWE about 4 years ago, a fire was lit.
"That's when things got really interesting," Jones said.
If Jones was surprised that Cena was calling him and offering his endorsement, his dad and longtime Amboy football coach, Gary "Tank" Jones, was floored. If he were coaching a football game, he would've been flagged for calling back-to-back timeouts.
"I go, 'Wait a minute. Time out. John Cena called you?' " he said. "He goes yes, and I go, 'Another time out … seriously, John Cena called you?' "
Cena was going to be wrestling in an event in Indiana and wanted Alex to see his match.
"I said, 'Let me see the phone,' " Tank said. "Sure enough, it's got John Cena right on the phone, so I guess it's true."
It turns out Alex's football chops served him well when, under Cena's advice, he attended a 3-day WWE tryout in late-August. Each grueling day featured two 4-hour sessions and concluded with a conditioning drill. Jones was numbered 1, so he took part in the first drill. Often, subsequent drills called for an even number of aspiring wrestlers, but an odd number was yet to go through one.
Without hesitation, Jones jumped back in for an extra drill. It happened each day.
"It was just kind of that football mentality, which I kind of got from my father, so I just jumped into it," Jones said. "I think that kind of got their attention and knew I wanted to be there."
When camp concluded, Jones was the last one standing and earned his developmental contract. He says WWE Hall of Famers Jim Ross and Jerry Brisco couldn't stop singing his praises.
"They all said, 'You could be our guy. Look at John Cena. That could be you,' " Jones said. "Now, anything less than being a champ would be a disappointment."
Journeymen wrestlers, some with as many as 10 years' experience, are consistently trying to earn full-time status with the leader in wrestling entertainment. What sets the real deal aside?
"We have a saying – your face is what makes you your money," Jones said. "You have to be a good technical wrestler. But you're not getting called up to the big show unless you've got a personality that can win the crowd over."
"He's got a little character to him," Tank said. "He probably gets that from his two grandfathers. I think that's what you've gotta have in that profession. Not just the physical part. You've gotta have the character, too."
Alex … ahem … Zander Jones figures within a year and a half he – and the WWE – will know if their signee has what it takes to shine in primetime.
At this point, Jones is all in. The prospect of being a superstar gave him a hard-and-fast goal for which he'd been longing.
"It's something I'd been wanting to do for a long time," he said. "It got harder and harder to train, because I had no goal, other than being a strength coach.
"Obviously I don't lose anything taking time off. I hope it does pan out but, if it doesn't, I could always go back and finish my masters."
Given his field of study, Jones appreciates the lengths to which pro wrestling has gone to keep the sport clean, especially after troubling deaths of superstars like Chris Benoit.
The WWF instituted its wellness policy more than 10 years ago. As a result, part of Jones securing his contract was flying to Pittsburgh to be tested by Aegis Sciences Corporation, the same entity that tests NFL and NHL players.
"It's a health benefit thing," Jones said. "The name of our game is longevity, and I love it. I could do this until my body says, 'No.' "
It seems that's all that could stop him at this point.
Follow the journey on Twitter
• Alex "Zander" Jones: @TheZanderJones
• NXT Wrestling, the WWE's exclusive developmental circuit: @NXTWrestling