by Tim Birkbeck
Back in the company he founded, Jeff Jarrett has a clear focus on what he wants for Impact Wrestling, and that is to make it great again. With rumours spinning on potentially TV deals and joining with companies across the globe to widen the reach of Impact the wheels are very much in motion.
Steel Chair Magazine caught up with the former WCW guitar wielding superstar over looking the River Thames along with Anthem President Ed Norton to discuss Impact’s future, the relationship the company has with the UK and entering one of the most exciting times in his wrestling career.
Jeff how has it been since your return to impact wrestling has it been like putting on a old pair of slippers?
You said an old pair of slippers which is very British, in the states we would say its like riding a bike. I feel bless and very thankful to be back, but it has been surreal. If you were to ask me 60 days ago if I were to be here sitting in the Park Plaza Riverbank hotel talking to the Steelchair Magazine about Impact Wrestling I would have thought you would have lost your mind. But that is the wonderful world of professional wrestling. It has been a whirlwind 60 days or so since the beginning of the year and I am really excited about Anthem seizing the opportunity and it is a huge opportunity for everyone. You never know exactly how things are going to go in our industry but the things we have on the horizon and we are over here in the UK with Ed Norton the president of Anthem talking Impact Wrestling, talking Global Force and we are ready to get the ball rolling in this exciting time.
You mentioned yourself and Ed are in the UK can you tell us a little more about the purpose of your visit?
It is the obvious. We are talking to promoters, to broadcasters, to digital groups. We launched the Total Access App, which was done on Anthem’s digital side. We are in the process of continuing to develop that, put more content on it, streamline it and just get better and better with it really. But the purpose of the trip is step one of re-energising Impact Wrestling in the United Kingdom.
You said about re-energising the brand, and when you first started TNA part of that was there was a strong relationship with the British scene. Is it that you have just always had an eye of UK talent or did you see a gap in the market for a UK audience?
We were forward thinkers weren’t we. I have been coming to the UK since 1993 and I have always been very aware of the respect of the UK fanbase and I always come over here to show a presence in the early days of Impact and TNA. And for us there has always been an objective whether it Doug Williams or Magnus or just recognising the scene or getting the show on Challenge TV it has always been at the forefront and we always toured over here for seven, eight, nine years so it has always been a priority in my mind. Now it is at the very top of what myself and Anthem’s list to make the UK a priority period.
Prior to our chat here today Dave Meltzer leaked that Impact / Anthem were in potential talks with ITV, is there any truth to that that you can tell us at this time?
Am I allowed to talk about it? or Should I talk about it? No it’s a very exciting time within Impact, Anthem and Global Force and everything that we have going on so I will just leave it at that for now.
One thing you did champion when it aired was when World of Sport came back on British TV, from a fan and a wrestler how excited were you to see that be brought back for a modern audience?
Well very. My family have been in the business for well over 70 years, so World of Sport has got a legacy. Any wrestling fan in the country, their mum, their dad, their uncle or their aunt all had a story to tell about World of Sport. It was larger than life. Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki you could just list the names off. For that to be re-energised is great and at the very core of it, it is great for the wrestling industry. Kudos to ITV, Kudos to the folks who got behind it and are behind it because it is without question great for the industry.
I’m going to back pedal a little bit, when TNA / Impact wrestling first came about there was a buzz about it and it was something a bit different, and for various reasons it seemed to fall by the wayside. From your perspective was it a bit of a kick in the nuts to see things go the route they did and to some extent see fans turn their back on the product?
It is no secret that December 2013 I resigned from an organisation that I founded, and it was very unfortunate but I knew at the time it was time to close that chapter. But history tells the story, and here we are now and we have a real opportunity to get some wind in our sails and as you say maybe remove that shot to the nuts and take this company higher than it has ever been. The last 36 hours have been very fruitful and I am very excited. I mean I am more excited now than I was back when we had the Challenge deal or when we were going doing the shows in Wembley, Glasgow, Birmingham etc. We’ve really got an opportunity and there is a great things on the horizon for all of us involved in 2017.
As mentioned when Impact started it was different and unique, so are there plans to reinvent the brand within the story telling or any new concepts fans can look forward to going forward?
I don’t want to say concepts, but at the core of it we want to make Impact great again. There are different opinions of what people thought made it great in the first place. But our goal is to strive to be the very best wrestling promotion we can be. Obviously there is the TV, there is the live events and we sell merch, but at the end of the day we are a wrestling promotion. We want to be the very best we can, and the plans are in place. We are going out to India in May to explore that avenue, we are talking to international tours and we are just getting started.
And Ed I just want to throw a couple of questions your way. With the early signs from Anthem’s involvement the signs appear to be positive so is that what you want to do is make Impact the best wrestling promotion available to fans?
Ed Norton: I would say we want to make it the envy of the professional world. Either way Anthem’s interest was to insure that we had good content for the fight network. But we also need to make sure what we are putting out is world class content so that is why we are now having this push to get Impact fresh and exciting once again.
Does that tie in with the production of the Total Access App?
Ed: The App was made out of necessity to make sure that the content remained available, but now no matter where we go we can make that a home for our content and things that are maybe not available elsewhere.
Something else which has been well publicised is the relationship with Pro Wrestling Noah and Crash in Mexico, will the App act as an on-demand platform for those promotions as well as Impact?
Ed: Conceptionally yes, I mean it gives us a platform to explore other avenues with different promotions and with the App already up and running we can show them what we already have in place, and to trust us to put out their product as well.
Your other venture Jeff is obviously Global Force Wrestling, with you now being back with Impact how are you splitting your time? And is there a plan to merge the two companies into one?
Jeff: Carefully, but there is a lot of involvement from both sides. The big picture is a long way away from dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. But from day one with Global Force we made a statement, we want work arm in arm with as many promotions as we could. Whether it was AAA in Mexico or NJPW, I mean we broadcast Wrestle Kingdom 9, there are a couple of companies in South Africa and Australia. So working with them has been great and it has matched what our mission statement was from the beginning. Now this opportunity, which I would never have dreamt of, when we did the story in 2015 with Impact. But I would never have thought in my life thought that I would be sitting here today in partnership for lack of a better word with Impact. So in the next three, six months we have some really cool stuff coming up.
You mentioned the storyline with Global Force and Impact, how was that idea pitched to you?
When I got the phone call it was the last thing I ever expected. I remember sitting at the airport and getting a text saying call me. It was one of the staff there had reached out initially and I was like “you want to do what?”. It turned out it was a win win for both of us. It was extra exposure for Global Force all over the world, they got the storyline they wanted. Everyone was happy with how it went, but when it was over, my wife Karen likes to say it was final closure. In so many ways it really was. Not just in front of the camera but with everything else behind the scenes. Now this situation has happened, so one day this will be one hell of a chapter in the book.
Going a bit more into the Impact product, something that has brought a lot of eyes back to the company has been the evolution of Broken Matt Hardy. Is there a worry that top talent like the Hardy’s, Spud etc could seek elsewhere?
Again my family has been in the business 70 years and there is one thing that my grandmother taught me and that is something very hard to teach. I am a firm believe that no matter how good the talent is, if they don’t want to be there you don’t want them there. No matter who it is. You need to invest in the organisation and you need to go the extra mile to make sure everything is running smoothly. Everyone has to pull their weight and that is what makes a winning formula.
I know it wasn’t while you were at the company, but seeing AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode being utilised by WWE, is there a sense of pride they have reached that level or is there a sense of damn we missed out?
Not at all, because I wasn’t around for any of their departures. I had zero decisions when it came to that. I couldn’t be happier for them. I saw AJ a couple of weeks ago in Nashville and Bobby to this day is a dear friend. I think Karen text Joe a huge congratulations when he debuted. I am nothing but proud and please for them. Those guys deserve everything that they get. However, when I put my business hat on and see how those guys are doing, it makes me that bit more energised because we are laser focused on who is the next AJ Styles? Who is the Next Samoa Joe? And they are out there, they are out there in abundance. In this country, they are out there, so there is a whole lot of opportunity.
You mentioned looked for the new talent, and for a while some people viewed TNA as a dirty word and there was a stigma to the talent that wrestled there. One name jumps to mind is Trevor Lee at BOLA last year was announced as “TNA Superstar Trevor Lee” to get heel heat. Is it now your job to make sure that Impact is no longer a dirty word to bring in new talent?
I will say this without questions. At the end of the day no matter what promotion you are involved in the litmus test is what happens bell-to-bell. All the effort and dedication that is put in between those ropes speaks for itself. Over the last 36 months or so unfortunately there was a lot of negative issues, which a lot of talent got swept into that vacuum and that was from my point of view unfair. I totally understand from the fans perspective I do, but in reality the talent showed up and tried to wrestle their ass off every time. But business decisions were unfortunately not made correctly. I believe that Anthem are business men and we want to give the people a platform so the fans can decide whether to boo or cheer them.
We have already mentioned your relationship with the UK wrestling scene, so the wrestler in you are there any UK talents you have seen who you would live to step inside the ring with?
I’m not giving you any names, because then they will get themselves on the hitlist.
Something that you were also involved in was a storyline with Nicole Bass, and we heard the sad news of her passing, so what are your memories of Nicole and your involvement in that storyline?
She loved the business. Her look was her calling card and she knew how to play to her strengths, and you have to tip your hat to someone like that who can hide their weaknesses and play to their strengths.
Jeff thank you very much for your time