It may sound like an unexpected career turn for the man born James Yun, but the truth is that everything about his career has been unexpected. He can trace his beginnings back to a Halloween night in suburban Georgia. A die-hard wrestling fan, Yun had heard that WCW star Diamond Dallas Page lived in the area and hatched a simple plan to meet him.
"We went to every house until we found DDP," he said with a laugh. "He was really cool. He was so much cooler than I would have been to fans stalking my house."
After getting a picture with the former WCW Champion, Yun told DDP that he was interested in becoming a wrestler. He didn't expect the response he got from Page.
"He said, 'When you get old enough, come back and I'll take you to the Power Plant.' That's when I thought it could actually happen. It really motivated me."
Yun and his friends ended up heading back to DDP's place on several occassions, once to help him put up Christmas lights. That connection helped the teenager get his foot in the door with WCW.
“I had my contract in June 1999, a week before I graduated high school,” Yun explained. “When [WCW officials] came and saw me, I was 17. They asked me if I was 18 and I totally lied. They liked me and wanted to sign me. I graduated and a week later, I was at the WCW Power Plant.”
The Power Plant, headed up by Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker and WWE Hall of Famer Paul Orndorff, had a reputation for being a tough facility to get into, let alone graduate from. Yun was in for a wake-up call when he got there.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “We’d do 500 squats and 300 pushups before lunch. We didn’t really learn about wrestling, we learned how to be the best athletes possible.”
He was initially hired to be part of a reality show featuring cruiserweight wrestlers that WCW head Eric Bischoff was trying to put together. However, four months after Yun was hired, Bischoff got the axe. Many of his hires, including Yun, were also let go.
Fortunately for Yun, WCW officials made a little bit of an oversight in cutting many of their lighter grapplers from the roster. At the time, they were trying to launch 3 Count, a wrestling boy band. Unfortunately, Shane Helms, Shannon Moore and Evan Karagias couldn’t be too competitive against much larger opponents.
That led to Yun being rehired and sent to Amherst, Mass., for a WCW Saturday Night taping almost immediately.
“I remember walking into the arena and seeing El Dandy,” Yun said. “Then I saw the Armstrong brothers. I was going nuts because I was such a fan. Then, I had a match. It was surreal.”
Rechristened Jimmy Yang, he was paired up with Japanese import Kaz Hayashi and a masked Jamie Noble as The Jung Dragons. 3 Count and their new foes dazzled WCW fans with all-out aerial attacks, leading many to speculate that the Cruiserweight division would be restored to its former glory. However, before a Cruiserweight renaissance could get off the ground floor, WCW went under. It all happened so fast, according to Yang.
“I was so young, I didn’t really understand what was going on,” he said. “I was 19, thinking WCW’s not going to end. When I was growing up, it was the biggest company. There was no way it could end.”
He got a reality check at the last episode of Monday Nitro in Panama City Beach, Fla.
“I didn’t believe [that WWE had bought WCW] until that day,” Yang explained. “We walked in and saw all the WWE signs and then Shane McMahon and Gerald Brisco walked in. It was real.”
Fortunately, Yang was one of the WCW stars whose contract was picked up by WWE after the earth-shattering purchase. The 19-year-old was sent to the Heartland Wrestling Association, one of WWE’s then-developmental territories, for several months. Things didn’t pan out for him the first time around, as he was released.
He spent two years competing in Japan. While he enjoyed wrestling overseas, the birth of his daughter led him to a change of heart about the frequency of his trips.
“You’d go over for two weeks, come home for a week, then go back over,” he said.“I just had a daughter. They change so much so fast, it tore me up. I wanted to come back to the United States to wrestle and be home every week.”
Yun reached out to WWE officials about coming back to the company. They were more than willing to give him a chance. After a tryout match, he was hired back, re-named Akio and paired with Tajiri and Sakoda in a fearsome trio. The faction was short-lived, as Sakoda left the company and Tajiri moved on to other matters in WWE.
Left on his own, Yang was desperate to get the attention of WWE officials. He was placed into a series of matches against Paul London that had the WWE Universe picking their jaws up off the floor.
“We both had the same mindset,” Yang said of himself and London. “We both wanted more in WWE, so we went all out to make people remember us. It’s so awesome that people latched onto them. It makes me feel really proud.”
Despite these stellar matches, Yang was again released from WWE in 2005. After a brief run in Ring of Honor, where he teamed with Taimak, star of the cult classic “The Last Dragon,” Yang found himself back in WWE six months later. He’s still a little surprised at how his return came about after the Backlash 2006 pay-per-view.
“I was trying to impress this really hot blonde,” he said. “Get some free tickets and stuff. I was saying hello to everyone, when I crossed paths with Mr. McMahon. He was like, ’Jimmy, where the hell have you been?’”
Yang explained that he had been released, which surprised Mr. McMahon. The WWE Chairman told the highflier that they’d talk about that later and continued about his business. Shortly after, while Yang was eating with some of his friends, producers came up to him urgently, saying they needed him to test out an idea they had for the pay-per-view.
“[A WWE Producer] said, ‘Mr. McMahon, do you think Jimmy should do that? He’s not under contract,’” Yang told WWE.com.
“[Mr. McMahon said], ‘Well, he should be under contract! Let him do it!”
The WWE Chairman’s interest in Yang led to him getting rehired almost on the spot. They also gave him the opportunity to let his inner redneck come out. Growing up in Georgia gave Yun a thick southern accent, making the Jimmy Wang Yang persona a perfect fit.
Decked out in a cowboy hat and blue jeans, the fun-loving redneck dazzled the WWE Universe from 2006 until spring 2010. One of the standouts from this portion of his career was a series of tag team matches where he joined forces with Shannon Moore to take on The Miz & John Morrison.
“I had a lot of fun with them, it was a really great time for me getting to wrestle all over the world,” he said.
Though Jimmy Wang Yang left WWE in 2010, he’s still wrestling every month on the independent scene. But wrestling isn’t the redneck’s only gig.
“I have an entrepreneurial mindset,” he said. “I’m always looking for businesses.”
He ran a wrestling school in Cincinnati and even started a pest control business in late 2010.
“All I heard about was bedbugs,” he said. “I got my house sprayed, it took 15 minutes and cost $300. I thought that would be a good business. There’s always going to be bugs.”
Eventually, though, Yang got out of the bug game.
“It wasn’t my thing,” Yang said. “It was kind of gross.”
Today, he’s found something that gels a little more with his personality. He currently drives Jimmy’s Redneck Party Bus around the Cincinnati area.
“I found out about this guy selling his limo business,” Yang said, explaining the start of his latest venture. “He pulled out this party bus and it was love at first sight. I asked how much and bought it that day.”
Party people can rent out the bus and Jimmy will drive them around for a night on the town, keeping any drunk drivers off the road.
“I like to do tailgating, sporting events, concerts, bachelor and bachelorette parties,” he said. “It’s a redneck theme, so people dress up and be rednecks for a night and have a good time.”
Business has been booming for Jimmy’s Redneck Party Bus. The camouflaged vehicle gets plenty of attention wherever it goes, with people pulling up alongside it on the road to get a snapshot. And if you’re in New Orleans for WrestleMania XXX, don’t be surprised if you see Yang driving around lucky members of the WWE Universe. He’s already gotten a few requests to road trip down to The Big Easy.
“People are saying it would be cool to let Jimmy Wang Yang drive you to WrestleMania,” he said.
But before The Show of Shows, WWE is headed back to Ohio in early 2014. Yang will be taking his bus to the events. He has one person in mind who he’d like to take for a spin.
“I want Mr. McMahon to see it,” he said with a laugh. “I think he’s half-redneck. Once he sees it, he might ditch his limo and ride with me.”