Life With an Alter Ego

As his body hits the mat, sweat and dust bounce off the canvas almost simultaneously with the thousands of people now standing on their feet.

Their “boo’s” and hisses have been replaced with cheers and celebration as the referee counts their villain’s shoulders down for the classic 1–2–3 of professional wrestling; Derek Sanders will head home a loser tonight…

From 2004 to the present this(or some version of it, Sanders was the winner sometimes) has been a huge part of my life.

I, Justin Kerley, was born in June of 1984 but my alter ego, Derek Sanders, was born in October of 2004 in front of a crowd no bigger than 150 people packed in a warehouse in Hayward, Ca.

This is the story of our journey…

Being born in 1984 met that I was born the same year as the Superbowl of Sports Entertainment; WWF(now WWE) Wrestlemeania; as if it were meant to be from the start.

It was the era of wrestlers like “Macho Man”, Andre the Giant, Ultimate Warrior and arguably the biggest name in pro wrestling history; Hulk Hogan.

It seemed as soon as I could walk I could wrestle, as my older brother and I were determined to recreate what we saw every week on “Saturday Night’s Main Event”.

My parents hoped a career in pop warner and high school football along with amateur wrestling would help me grow out of this phase, unfortunately for them it only better prepared me.

Fast forward a few years to a 19 year old Justin in community college, who no longer had the drive to cut weight for amateur wrestling and at the same time tired of being too small for college football but still wanted to be involved in some sort of athletics.

I had heard of a wrestling training facility located in Hayward, Ca. (which was only about 45 minutes from my hometown of San Jose) so I decided to dig a little deeper into it and watched one of these wrestling shows that All Pro Wrestling(APW) had built a name off of.

Soon after, I found myself $3000 in the hole to APW and in a “class” of close to forty aspiring professional wrestlers. Shortly after that I found myself in a class of about ten aspiring professional wrestlers.

I had never woken up so sore, beat up and tore down in my life. Never wanted to quit anything so badly. I also had never spent $3000 on anything in my life so there was no way I was quitting.

My years of athletics and getting wailed on by my big brother had prepared me for everything APW and my coaches could throw at me, it prepared me to excel and within 10 months, Derek Sanders was debuting(making it one of the fastest debuts in APW history I may add).

“The Heart of Fire” Derek Sanders circa 2004

I was a clean shaven, bleached hair “baby face”(good guy) that according to my Rocky IV entrance music had a “Heart of Fire”.

I had a good run as baby face mostly because I was new, fresh face to cheer that could back it up in the ring. The fans had started to believe in Derek Sanders; unfortunately I still wasn’t.

The whole Derek Sanders persona felt forced upon me, I was given the name, the music, the gimmick…everything about Derek Sanders was a product of someone else’s ideas and had no connection to me.

Soon after Sanders’ first APW Championship, the fans began to see right through him, started to see Sanders as a phony and the cheers quickly turned to boos.

The office, the bookers, owners, promoters, none of them knew what to do with Derek Sanders because I didn’t know what to do with Derek Sanders any longer…but it didn’t take me long to figure it out.

If the people wanted to boo me, well then I would give them something to boo…I would become the villain(aka the heel) that they wanted.

Everything Justin Kerley had ever done to rub someone the wrong way in his 22 years of life began to transcend into Derek Sanders, only Sanders metaphorically turned the volume up on all these traits.

Derek Sanders quickly became the cocky white kid from the nicest house, on the best block, in the most expensive zip code of the Silicon Valley. He was a rich kid, who had everything handed to him but could still kick your…well could still beat you up so there’s nothing you could do but boo and hiss at him. Nothing to do but hope someone else, some other baby face, would finish the job for you.

Sanders had become “The Boss” Derek Sanders…

I finally felt connected to Derek Sanders and it began to show with my in-ring work improving dramatically. I felt comfortable, confident and most importantly I felt like I was Derek Sanders in the ring.

For me this is where my career sky rocketed and I was able to accomplish things I never dreamed of, I went to places I would never have thought of seeing, and made friendships that will last a life time.

Tours and shows in Canada, Mexico, Portugal and more became part of the norm for Derek Sanders which only made my work that much better as I became more confident inside and out of the ring.

The more I worked the more I dealt with promoters, which meant a lot more haggling and if you aren’t confident in those meetings you can kiss half your payday and per diem goodbye.

However you had to pick your battles as sometimes the haggling involved whom Derek Sanders was going to be on any said night, which gimmick he would bring to the table.

I was always in favor of “The Boss” but my confidence as Derek Sanders in general transcended to every gimmick I wore. Whether it was…

the nasty heel “La Migra” Derek Sanders…the over zealous Border Patrol agent trying to keep America right and white(please remember it’s just a gimmick)…

or the America loving, overly patriotic baby face “American Pride” Derek Sanders(which really is just La Migra toned down when you think about it).

Derek Sanders became a lot of people with a lot of different personalities but I had still never accomplished what I had come for, what I joined for, the reason I ever loved wrestling in the first place…the WWE.

I continued to train hard, I was “taking my vitamins and saying my prayers” as Hulk Hogan used to tell me as I was a snot nosed kid watching the TV from my living room floor.

Then it happened.

The WWE and I had been in contact a few times prior but this time was special, this was the time that I actually got to wrestle on international television in the largest crowd I had ever worked for. It may not have been the WWE Championship I had dreamed of as a kid but it was one helluva start.

Getting chookeslammed by “The Big Show” on WWE’s Smackdown.

This was the highest bump I had ever taken but it was also the most satisfying.

At the HP Pavillion in my hometown of San Jose, Ca. in front of thousands of people; most of whom were booing Derek Sanders save for a few friends and couple dozen local fans, I felt the most intense adrenaline of my life.

I didn’t care if they were booing or cheering, I was just glad to be there.

I didn’t care because I was flying high(well, at least falling from high up.)

Now, in what I would call the prime of my life, but what others refer to as the ripe age of 31 I realize that the WWE Championship is falling further out of grasp but I’m not ashamed of what I have accomplished in my near 12 year run.

I belong to a select group of people in this world who can say “I had a dream and I decided to go for it and I’m thankfull for everything that came with it.”

The broken bones, undiagnosed concussions, staples and stitches in the head…all of it was worth it. It’s always the goods and the bads in life that make you who you are and Sanders had a lot of both. All of these experiences helped make Derek Sanders and Derek Sanders helped make Justin Kerley(plus I wouldn’t count Derek Sanders out just yet).

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