AUBURN — Luke Robinson said he's not an arrogant guy, but he's learning to be in his quest to become professional wrestling's next big thing.
"Basically, I learned you have to be humble and have a sense of where you came from," he said. "But to be a part of this business, you have to have what I call a healthy vanity. When I look at a magazine, I don't ever go 'I wish I was that person.' When I look in the mirror, I love being me."
Robinson said he's learned to embrace his inner villain after the several weeks he spent as a contestant on the new USA Network series "WWE Tough Enough." The series debuts at 11 p.m. Monday on the USA Network.
"I love playing the bad guy," Robinson, a 2003 Edward Little High School grad, said. "As my wrestling character, I get to explore that side. In real life, I'm not confrontational. But my wrestling character would go, 'Yeah, your girlfriend was looking at me. And yeah, my hair is cooler than yours. And just because I'm better looking than you doesn't mean you're tougher than me."
Robinson will be on stage Monday night in Atlanta as he and his fellow contestants are introduced to the wrestling world at WWE Raw.
WWE Tough Enough debuts afterward, at 11 p.m. The show settles into its normal schedule of 8 p.m. Mondays on April 11.
This Monday, his family and friends will gather at Club Texas to watch the series premiere.
The contestants finished taping the bulk of the series in Simi Valley, Calif., earlier this year. Only the finale is unfinished, and that's scheduled to air live in June.
The show follows a familiar reality show formula: 14 contestants, nine men and five women, compete for a chance to be the newest WWE superstar. They live together, face weekly challenges and are followed day and night by cameras. They are eliminated one by one over the course of the series' 10-show run.
Contestants are trained and judged by retired wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin. Other contestants include the reigning Miss USA, Rima Fakih, and a range of college and high school athletic standouts and independent wrestlers.
That was Robinson's track, too. The 2003 Edward Little grad was a captain of the varsity soccer, hockey and baseball teams. He graduated in 2008 from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in business administration-marketing but wrestled independently on the East Coast circuit, from Kentucky to Canada.
The role he filled, as a good guy "face" or a bad guy "heel," changed weekly depending on what the local promoter wanted.
"There was a moniker I used to use, 'The Future Legend,'" Robinson said. "That kind of came back after the course of the filming."
But another aspect has been instilling a sense of respect for professional wrestling among the contestants. One of their first chores is to help set up a WWE raw event, then clean up afterward.
"There is so much more that goes into being a wrestler than just wrestling," he said. "The fact that we are getting so much exposure and we are so lucky to have that. Other people would kill to have that. The trade-off is they wanted us to learn firsthand what goes into just putting on a show, the hours of sweat and work that allows us to do what we do."