CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than six years after entering West Virginia University, Michael Paris got his advertising degree this month. And for as long as he can, he doesn't plan to use it.
Not while he's traveling the globe for TNA wrestling, which signed him in June 2011 as alter ego Zema Ion, a hair-obsessed Filipino supermodel.
"Right now I'm having the time of my life living my dream as a professional wrestler," said Paris, 26. "Anything I can do to avoid using my advertising degree, I'm going to make the most of those opportunities."
While he spent much of his college career traveling to small-scale wrestling gigs, Paris now flies every week to a soundstage at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., to tape segments that are televised on Spike TV.
Zema Ion's storyline is simple.
"Every two seconds he's spraying his hair, making sure it's still in place," Paris explains. "And, of course, this leads to my opponent constantly trying to messing it up, and Zema Ion then just going crazy and becoming aggressive because his opponent is messing up his hair."
It's a passion that bit Paris at an early age while growing up in the northern West Virginia community of Chester.
His father, a horse trainer, would spend months at a time on the road and return with wrestling figurines as presents for his children. Paris and his father often spent Saturday mornings watching wrestling on television. His father died when Paris was 5.
"It's one of my only memories of him," Paris said. "As my mom told it, I just wanted to be like my dad."
As a ninth-grader, Paris received a wrestling videotape in the mail the day he was supposed to go after a spot on the Oak Glen High School basketball team. He never made it to the tryouts.
His father's best friend, Richard Lavell, became the son's mentor, paying for Paris to attend the Elizabeth, Pa.-based International Wrestling Cartel academy when he was 16, driving him an hour-and-a-half every week, then traveling to pro matches across Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"Without Richard, none of this would be possible," Paris said. "He was the one responsible for my whole career."
Lavell downplayed his own role.
"I'm sure he'd have figured out a way," Lavell said. "He was always crazy about it."
IWC trainer Joe McMunn said Paris was one of the youngest students the academy ever had. Yet something made Paris stand out.