Don Callis: “People That go for This Ride With us are Going to be Pleasantly Surprised at What the Outcome is Going to be” (Interview)

Five months ago, Don Callis and Scott D’Amore took up their duties as Impact Wrestling’s Executive Vice-Presidents. When I talked to them just a month after they started, it was easy to understand the men already had a plan on what they wanted Impact to become. It would be a lot of work but they were ready to overcome all odds. And it seems like it works as the company is now steady, the weekly shows are good and the ratings have never been better. But like stated Don Callis in last week’s Impact media call on the State of Impact, it’s not a time to rest on the laurels. The rebuilding has just started and if things are good now, they can be even better in the future. 

An unexpected comeback to the business

In 2004, when leaving TNA Wrestling, Don Callis also left the wrestling business. But suddenly, in 2015, the stars aligned to make him come back unexpectedly. “I’ve been very successful doing what I’ve been doing for about 12 or 13 years outside of wrestling and it was just kind of like a progression. Chris brought us to Madison Square Garden (Editor’s note: to celebrate his 25 years in the business), myself, Lance Storm, Dr Luther. All of a sudden, for the first time in a million years, I’m at a wrestling show. Chris didn’t make me want to get back in the business, but it led to Chris offering me the podcast Killing the Town which I would end up doing with Lance. That led to me doing a podcast interview with Kenny Omega. Kenny’s uncle helped train me and I gave Kenny his first break on my wrestling shows in Winnipeg in like 2000. Two weeks later, Kenny told me he was looking to try to get me to NJPW to do the commentary. It was not a full-time thing, I could go there once a month using my vacation at work. In the meantime Leonard Asper had purchased through Anthem Impact Wrestling, so that kind of got on my radar. Over the course of like a month, Scott and I were having some phone discussions. I was having a real hard time finding any reasons that I wouldn’t do it. This to me seemed like a pretty big leap to get back in the business and look at turning the company around from where it was.” 

While promoting him as new Executive Vice-President, Anthem didn’t prevent him from continuing to work with NJPW as the English-language colour commentator alongside Kevin Kelly. “Scott and I have been apart of the idea that we want to be flexible about talent and where they work and having partnerships. So I think that if we had had a problem with me having a relationship with NJPW, that would go against kind of the policy that we’ve been stated. We’re open to working with people so there was never an issue with that. Working with Kevin is great and I love working with Josh Mathews as well. I’m not a cookie cutter colour commentator, I adapt to my environment. Colour commentary was one of the jobs I loved in wrestling because it was really about getting the boys over, getting the talent over, and getting to do that job for NJPW and Impact has been fantastic.  Obviously, Impact keeps me all the time, it’s 24/7. But when I’m in Japan, I almost feel like I’m in the locker room and part of the crew, which as a former performer is something I missed. So I do enjoy that there are one or two days a month that I’m in Japan.”

The first step of the feud between Sami Callihan and Don Callis, Callis throwing the towel for Eddie Edwards at “Impact vs. Lucha Underground” event

Making Impact Wrestling great again

In addition to being an Executive, Don Callis has become Impact’s colour commentator since Redemption PPV. And even if he was recently involved in a feud with Sami Callihan, he has no desire to become an on-screen authority figure. “Some people have mistaken my segment this past week or the footage of what happened between me and Sami to mean that Don Callis is now going to be the on-air authority figure. There are no plans for that. That is not happening other than doing my commentary work with Josh Matthews. I don’t think I have the time to commit to doing it properly and I genuinely don’t believe that the authority figure thing is a way to go. Could there be different twists on that which don’t involve myself or Scott being on camera? We’ll see where creatively we go. But becoming an on-screen character, coming out there cutting promos and firing people or whatever, that isn’t going to happen.”

Even if they’re all wearing multiple hats in the company, Callis, D’Amore and the Creative team have some goals to follow. When I asked him about their state of mind coming to Redemption, I felt one goal had been achieved. We were all aware that this was going to be the first pay-per-view that we would be judged by justifiably. This was the one where we were all in places, we had a couple of months to kind of lead into it. We have a vision for Impact Wrestling as a management team and as a creative team, we look for ways to execute on that vision. Everything flows from that, what kind of company do we want to be? What kind of performers who want to have out there? What kind of stories do we want to tell? From a creative perspective and a performance perspective, Redemption was a part of that vision. We had overwhelmingly positive feedback and we’re happy about that, but we’re not going to rest on the laurels. We’re going to continue to grind away. Me and Scott, with Sonjay Dutt, Jimmy Jacobs, Abyss, we’re all part of the team that puts these things together, that gets the stuff out there. We’re looking to build on that success as we roll towards Slammiversary (Editor’s note: on July 22, in Toronto) which I’m just super pumped about.”

But what exactly are these goals for the next few years? “I certainly would like to see us being thought of as a destination wrestling promotion for talent, fans and customers. Part of that is the cool factor. we have made some strides in that area but I would like to see us working with more partners, being more open. From a corporate standpoint, doing our jobs to position both the company and the talent that drive a lot of the interests in a way that makes Impact Wrestling like NJPW has been arguably been for the last 3 years. We would like to be that cool company that everyone’s talking about. We’re on our way and the people that go for this ride with us are going to be pleasantly surprised at what the outcome is going to be.” And if we moved to 5 years, “We will continue with the plan we have made, continue executing the plan to move the company forward. I think 5 years from now we’d like to talk about a company that is grown exponentially in terms of revenue, buzz and talent roster.”

The buzz may come from the fans themselves. Working with Twitch and other social media platforms has helped develop some interactivity with the fans, the same way indie wrestling is doing. If Don Callis confirmed he’s not a specialist in social media, he’s been able to notice the importance of it. “I encourage any involvement that we have, whether it’s with Twitch or other platforms, that engage the fans. I and Scott had been speaking about it for a few months, which is really our last year or so maybe a year and a half seeing a sea change in where professional wrestling is. Independent wrestling now has control over his own destiny, has options and some power, and that’s partially due to social media.”

The second step, Sami Callihan coming to Destiny Wrestling in Canada as Don Callis was receiving a price and beating him up

The power of Talents

One noticeable change since Callis and D’Amore arrived was the evolution of the roster. And recently what Lucha Underground and House of Hardcore have been able to provide. If Impact wrestlers are allowed to work everywhere, other promotions can also work with Impact. “With respect to the Lucha Underground relationship, that’s been one of the more exciting stories in the wrestling business over the last 3 months. Our show at WrestleCon during WrestleMania week was a legitimate sell-out and one of the most buzz-worthy things. Us and Lucha Underground doing this is symptomatic of what’s going on in the wrestling business. As a company more than any other company out there, we have broken the traditional old school wrestling paradigms of ‘you only work with who you work with’ and you don’t let your talent do this and you own the talent. We’ve broken all those things down. We are working with everyone. We’re doing some stuff with House of Hardcore, Lucha Underground, AAA. There are people out there we’re not working with but it’s not because we don’t want to, it’s because we haven’t got there yet.”

The departures of EC3 or Bobby Lashley has been heavily criticized. But it allowed new talents to come. “Some media are waiting to drop the other shoes because they’re waiting for something bad to happen again. If you were a general manager and you took over a hockey team, some talents can leave and new talents are going to come in. That’s the reality in professional sports. People will say EC3 left but they don’t follow up with saying Brian Cage came in, Austin Aries came in. It’s not like these talents have left first off, it’s not always of their own volition, sometimes it’s a mutual discussion. Brian Cage, Su Yung, Austin Aries, Pentagon, Fenix are some of the top talents and most buzz-worthy talents out there. We’re moving on with our kind of group of performers that we’re happy with and as with any sports roster, that roster is going to be evergreen, it’s going to be changing. But we think surprises that are good for the fans will be continuing to make them come up.” When you ask Don Callis who can be the face of the company, he can’t, as for him at least 10 people can be. Even Sami Callihan with whom he had some issues. He’s passionate about the X-Division and how the Knockouts Division has been able to level up the standards for female wrestlers. 

Don Callis, like Scott D’Amore and all the Impact teams and roster, is focused on making the product better. Impact Wrestling doesn’t need another revolution, but a well-driven evolution. There will still be some pebbles in their shoes, but they won’t be the reason that would make them get out of the road they chose to follow.

All pics and screencaps courtesy of Impact Wrestling.