Kelly Klein interview: Ring of Honor star has earned her spot at Supercard of Honor XII

Photo credit: RING OF HONOR/Devin Chen
Photo credit: RING OF HONOR/Devin Chen /

Ring of Honor star Kelly Klein has worked for more than a decade to earn her spot at this weekend’s Supercard of Honor XII, and she’s on the brink of history.

If you’re not aware that there are other professional wrestling events happening this weekend not named WrestleMania, you’re missing out. Likely to be the best is Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor XII, which like WWE’s big show, will take place in New Orleans. Don’t worry, you can watch both.

With WWE taking up Friday and Sunday night, Ring of Honor, along with some stars from New Japan and World Wonder Ring Stardom, will put on one of their biggest shows of the year on Saturday night from the UNO Lakefront Arena. The card is jammed full of great matches, including Marty Scurll taking on Dalton Castle for the ROH World Championship and the highly anticipated grudge match between Cody and Kenny Omega, but there’s history on the line in the women’s division as the first-ever Women of Honor Champion will be crowned that night in the Big Easy.

For weeks, the women of ROH and World Wonder Ring Stardom have been battling it out in a 16-woman tournament to crown an inaugural champion and it’s now down to four. On one side, you’ll see Tenille Dashwood taking on Sumie Sakai and on the other, you’ll see Mayu Iwatani taking on our guest today, Kelly Klein.

Kelly’s journey to Ring of Honor certainly wasn’t an easy one. She battled through smaller promotions honing her craft, and while things certainly got tough, she never quit and is now on the brink of making history. Kelly took some time out of her very busy schedule this week to talk to us.

FanSided: So you’ve been wrestling now for more than a decade. Can you take us through how you got your start and what the journey to Ring of Honor has been like? Perhaps talk about who some of your early influences were and why you decided to pursue this career in the first place?

Kelly Klein: Growing up, I was not actually allowed to watch professional wrestling and didn’t really have any exposure to it. But I did grow up around high school and college wrestling. My dad and uncles and cousins and brother all wrestled and were wrestling coaches. My dad wrestled for Purdue. So when I was five years old, I was going to wrestling meets. My brother would come home and just say “Oh, we learned this today” and practice inside cradles on me. My family always raised me and my sisters to be competitive. I remember one time when I was seven or eight, my dad and brother teaching me to throw a punch. My mom didn’t know about it at the time.

When I was in high school, I did stats for one of the wrestling teams because I didn’t have access to be able to be on a team. But I was just around that, and then after high school, I was singing in a rock band in Cincinnati. I invited people I worked with at a restaurant to come see my band and one of the other servers said, “Well, I’ll get people to come see your band if you get your band to come see me wrestle.” So I went to a Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA) event, and that was the first time I’d ever seen professional wrestling and the first live event I’d ever seen, and before it was halfway over, I knew I wanted to be in that ring. I didn’t want to come back as a fan, I wanted to do it.

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I started asking around, and it took me about two months before I finally got someone to give me the information I needed in order to start wrestling. So then I was eventually able to start training at HWA, and with growing up around that amateur style of wrestling, I really like the more technical and mat wrestlers, which I think you can really see in my style. I tend to stay grounded because that’s just what I like, solving the puzzle and just working that way and finding my way out of situations, or getting people into situations they don’t want to be in. And that’s just always really interesting and fun for me.

I just remember really loving the Guerreros and William Regal and Dean Malenko and not the crazy, colorful, outlandish characters. I’ve actually had people say to me “Why, they’re boring?” and I just say no, they’re not boring if you’re really watching for the nuances and see what they’re doing. It’s so fascinating. But you hear that at events. You hear people yell the “boring” chants and it’s just … man, if you knew what you were looking at, it’s so not boring. People are sometimes seeing that big picture and not seeing the little nuances that are going on, but that’s the kind of stuff that I get really excited about.

There are things like “What did I just see?” One of my favorite matches was Pat O’Connor vs. Lorenzo Parente (very old school stuff) and it’s that “Whoa … wait … how … what did he just do?” but those guys stayed grounded, they stayed on each other. And I think  a flying headlock or a headscissors were the biggest things you saw as far as flashy moves.

FanSided: You get so many people now and that’s all they want. They want flips and they want this and that but me, and I think you and I are alike in this way, I want to see the story. I want to watch a good story play out. 

Kelly Klein: I think you need all of it. And you can tell a story with any of those things. I always tell people, you’re telling a story and you can tell it with a headlock or a moonsault or an armbar, but you can use all of these different tools as resources. If it’s something that makes you comfortable or something you get excited about, use those tools. But I also feel strongly that there is a need and a place for all of the different styles because that’s what makes everything stand out. That’s what makes it exciting for me, when I get to see Josh Woods and Jonathan Gresham because that’s not what every other match is. And then you see The Briscoes and they’re just clobbering people and that raw, rough-and-tumble, and then you see those who are what people would call “flippy” or “choreographed” but it’s just this smooth, complicated, intricate stuff. When you see The Young Bucks and Flip [Gordon] and those guys, all of those things, I think, are important and make everything else meaningful.

FanSided: So you go through HWA and you pay your dues and you pay your dues, and then you finally get to Ring of Honor, which is a big deal because it’s arguably one of the top three promotions in the world, and they bring you in and set you up with this nice start and you’re on the first Women of Honor episode. So coming in like that, that had to give you some great confidence getting those spots from creative to start out. 

Kelly Klein: It’s a mix and it’s very surreal, but it was very humbling because, for one, that happened after I’d basically been in the wrestling business for 10 years. At which point, and my dad even had the conversation with me, like “Hey, where is this going? You’ve given this a really good effort and maybe it’s time to move on and do something else.” But I said, “You know what, I can’t,” and at this time, it was before I’d even gone and done the tryout or anything. I just felt it in my heart and in my soul and I was like, “No, I know that this is the wrong time to stop.” I could just feel that I was so close and that I had been working hard.

I had been improving and getting a better wrestling education the last couple of years before I started at Ring of Honor, and this was just not the right time to stop. And even though, on one hand, there was “Okay, you’ve done this for 10 years, you gave it a good effort,” his reasoning was, “Okay, well, if you were going to make it, don’t you think you would have made it by now?” And I just said, “No, no,” and I knew the reasons why I hadn’t. I hadn’t made good choices or didn’t take advantage of certain learning opportunities, or just poor guidance or mistakes or the training wasn’t right or whatever. But I just knew that no, I was not finished, and I had something to offer and there’s just something there for me.

Photo credit: RING OF HONOR
Photo credit: RING OF HONOR /

So shortly after that conversation, I actually went to the Ring of Honor tryout, and I did it just like everybody else. I sent in my application, I sent in my fee, I got myself there and I gave it everything I had. I went to all of the training I could at home beforehand and all of the guys I was training with were helping me get ready. They were telling me, “Go do it, you’re ready, you’ve put in the work, so now you just gotta go give it everything you’ve got,” and that’s what I did. So I really earned that opportunity. But at the same time, that opportunity was there at that time. The right time where they were getting ready to launch Women of Honor, and that was when I went and did my tryout and showed them what they needed to see.

So there are all of these different things that have to fall into place, and they did, and I went and I earned it. And at the time that they called me, I’m thinking, “Okay, I did this, and I went and I earned it, and they saw something that they liked and they believed that I could do this.” But at the same time, I was thinking that I’d been doing this for 10 years, and I was at a point before that where maybe I had given it a good try and maybe it’s just not there for me. So while it’s very flattering, I felt so very humbled. There were just so many emotions, and then anytime I showed up and they said, “Hey, it’s our first TV episode,” and I just said, “Okay, when’s my match?” and they said, “Oh, you’re the main event.”

FanSided: So now they’ve got this Women of Honor show where they’re showcasing what you guys can do and really make you guys a focal point. Final Battle comes around, and they announce this tournament for the first Women of Honor Championship, and now you find yourself in this final four. Did that let you know that all of this hard work had paid off? It’s gotta be such a great feeling for you. 

Kelly Klein: It is. And it’s very validating, I think, for all of the women, every part of this: That they had the tournament, that they have this championship for us and giving us TV time, pay-per-view time, all of these things are very validating. But it also, saying that it paid off, to me that sounds final, and it’s not. Because every time I perform, I feel like I need to prove myself again and prove myself more and earn the right to stay where I am. And having these opportunities and being able to be part of this and part of history, I am very grateful, but I feel that you have to have a certain reverence and appreciation for it and just do it justice. So there’s also, in a way, that pressure where I have to every match show that I’m taking it seriously, and that I earned it and I deserve the next one and the next one.

FanSided: I’m in the boat where the more promotions there are the better. The more wrestling we can get the better. Competition makes everyone work harder, I think. WWE isn’t the only game in town anymore, and with wrestling as a whole being bigger than I think it’s ever been, what is the atmosphere around the company these days? 

Kelly Klein: I think it’s very exciting, because I think that in the early days of Ring of Honor, there were a lot of questions on whether it would last or how long it would last and every few years now is just a new milestone. Now, to be in a position where it really is undeniable that we are a very relevant company, to say the least … We’ve grown so much as a company, and Women of Honor has grown so much over the last couple of years. I know fans are impatient, and I appreciate that they just want more and want it now, but slowly but surely, we are doing that. And meanwhile, there’s just more talent popping up and it’s getting better and better. The talent pool is getting bigger and better, and for us, that means that the possibilities are just endless for us to continue to grow as a company and for us to see the next thing we can do and push the envelope. That is as individuals and as a whole, and that’s just how it works. If one person does well, and that’s just talking about Women of Honor, if there’s somebody that’s going to raise Women of Honor, then it’s going to help all of us and it’s going to give all of us something to step up to. I think that’s where that atmosphere is. We’ve got so much ahead and so many possibilities.

FanSided: Okay, last question. I know the women’s division has a big spotlight this weekend but outside of that (which we told her included the other tournament semifinal), which match are you most looking forward to watching? 

Kelly Klein: Wow … you know, the last pay-per-view we had, every match was better than the last. So I honestly can’t really say …

FanSided: (laughing) … So diplomatic. I love it. 

Kelly Klein (laughing and still trying to make a decision)I was just blown away every match. They’re pulling out something else, and you know, I do always love The Briscoes, and there’s a lot that I admire about that raw exuberance that I want a little more of myself. So any time they’re in the ring, I’m definitely trying to get front and center to make sure I can watch all of that. So if I have to pick.

Next: WrestleMania: What every main event should have been

Supercard of Honor will stream live and for free to all HonorClub members at 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT. Fans can sign up at The Supercard Pre-Show will stream on ROH’s Facebook Live at 7:30 p.m. Eastern/6:30 p.m CT, featuring the semifinals of the Women of Honor Championship Tournament and a special press conference featuring Cody and Kenny Omega. The final match of the Women of Honor World Championship Tournament to crown the first Women of Honor Champion will take place during Supercard of Honor.

If you’d like to follow Kelly on social media, you can find her on Twitter @RealKellyKlein, on Instagram @realkellyklein and on Facebook @RealKellyKlein.