Jeff Jarrett and TNA Wrestling Still Going Strong After Eight Years
Many people were skeptical whether or not TNA Wrestling could be a viable company when it launched eight years ago. You couldn't blame anyone for thinking that it would be just another in the line of wrestling promotions with a big vision but not the resources to last.
Fast forward eight years and TNA is still around. Sure, there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way but the company is still going strong.
Jeff Jarrett has been a part of each and every moment along the way. He founded the company and remains a minority owner to this day. But none of it has been easy, especially over the past few years for him both personally and professionally. His role with the company has changed during that time with him no longer involved in the creative direction of the wrestling storylines.
But he still a major position behind the scenes with the business side of TNA. Plus, he remains an active wrestler now in his 24th year after growing up in the business.
This is a big weekend for TNA as it gets set to have its annual Slammiversary pay-per-view on Sunday night (8PM ET / 5PM PT) headlined by Sting challenging Rob Van Dam for the TNA World Heavyweight Title. Plus, the company will have several events involving fans as part of its Slammin Celebration including the debut of its Jakks Pacific Deluxe iMPACT! Series 1 Action Figures. (Find out more at TNAWrestling.com)
Earlier this week on my Between The Ropes radio show, Jarrett spoke about his current role with TNA, where the company is now, its weekly iMPACT! TV show moving back to Thursday nights on Spike TV and more.
Brian Fritz: How excited do you get for the pay-per-views no matter what your role is, whether you are wrestling or just working behind the scenes?
Jeff Jarrett: Just being a part of it ... Bound for Glory is our biggest one of the year. Lockdown has become a very unique event. Slammiversary is far and away my favorite one because it marks the milestone. It's basically TNA's birthday and this will be our eighth one. It's very special for a number of reasons but I guess first and foremost, along like you, we were there from day one. Every year we meet certain milestones whether it's signing talent or whether it's getting a new international clearance Jakks Pacific comes out this month and that's a big milestone for us. So, there's just a lot of things in and out of the ring that I'm very proud of in regards to TNA.
After eight years with the promotion, where did you think it would be right now?
Well, that's a loaded question. I could act like I'm real smart and say this is exactly where I thought we would be. As any longtime TNA fan knows, it has not been an easy battle. We've had our ups and we've certainly had our downs. But I always wanted it to grow every year and we've certainly done that in a number of facets. Not just our programs but all facets of the business. Our live event business has really taken off. Our (merchandise) business has really taken off. And the web site continues to grow and continues to refine and just become better and better and better. Not just more unique visitors but the quality of our online presence just continues to grow as well.
You've been in the ring as a wrestler for most of the time with the company and been a huge part behind the scenes in the growth of the company. I know you were away for a while due to some situations. At this point with all of the recent changes, what is your primary role outside of wrestling with the company?
You know, I've got a big day planner and then besides that day planner I have another big notebook and I have four different labels. This is the easiest way to say it this may sound crazy but on one label I have 'live events', I got labeled 'marketing', I got one labeled 'licensing' and I have one labeled 'PR'. And those four different things, with the licensing coming out, I sort of have my hands in all four of those. The live events and the marketing do go hand in hand. Those are, I guess you could say when I put my business hat on, those are my day-to-day focuses. Believe me, they take up more hours in the day then there are.
In the past, you were involved in the creative process with the company. What is your status with that and has that moved on to a different set of people?
Completely different set of people. I have zero to do with that. It's a breath of fresh air for myself because it's a consuming job. At times, it completely consumes your life where it's almost like you can't see the forest through the trees. It not only takes up a lot of time but it takes up, I guess you could say, a lot of mental space. I don't have anything to do with that and really enjoy when I'm on the road and in the TNA offices.
What was that transition like for you and was that something you wanted to do in change from being in creative for so long with the company to not being involved in that process?
Well, being third generation I've been around this business literally my entire life. The creative is always an evolving, changing, fluid situation and I can remember back when I was in high school, my dad would be booking the territory for six to nine to twelve months and the next you know Jerry Lawler would be booking for six to nine to twelve months. They traded off for years and the Bill Dundee would come in and there would be a change of bookers. Creativity has always blossomed out of that. Change is good in this business. It always has been and always will be. I welcomed it and it's given me a new perspective. It refreshes your brain, it refreshes your mind. Like I said, I'm focusing on the licensing side of the business, the live events side of the business and the (merchandise) side of the business.
That being said, is there ever a time where you're at the show and you're watching it or your watching it on TV and gone if that was me I would have done something different? Do you still have those creative juices?
As long as a wrestler's body is breathing, he is always going to be 'oh, I could have done this' or 'I could have done that' or I would change this, I would change that. Creative is so subjective and it's always going to be that way. In creative, not everyone likes the same type of pizza, not everyone likes the same type of meal. So you always have a little bit of change. It's part of what makes up a wrestling fan. I'll tell you this ... I still to this day consider myself one of the biggest wrestling fans in the world. But you love to either armchair quarterback or you like to critique or just think about certain additions or subtractions on how you would either produce a show or a match or anything like that.
You've got kind of a unique situation because you've been a wrestler for I don't know long ... years.
(laughs) Go ahead, tell me I'm an old timer!
But I'm what I'm getting at is that your still a relatively young man although you've been in the ring for a long time. Where are you at as far as your mindset towards being in the ring these days?
You know, it's real ... believe me, I've said this for the last 15 years, I do re-evaluate every New Year's Eve and just say what does this year in the ring, what's in store for me. You don't feel the same at 32 as you do at 22 and 42 as 32 but I feel more recharged and more energized and feel better about my abilities in the ring with everything that goes into making a wrestler. I'm very energized about it and I love it more now than I ever did. There was a time a couple of years ago when my wife passed that I told myself well, those days are over. I'm out of the ring and I'm out for good. I've got my three daughters and as life goes on, I had a couple of friends that I'll leave nameless at this time that really sat me down and we had some heart-to-hearts. And slowly but surely I was like yeah, I want to get back in there and crank my in-ring career back up. Now -- where I'm at right now I'm very energized about it, very excited about it and can't wait to get back in there.
At that time a few years ago, how difficult was it for you to continue in wrestling because it was such a huge part of your life, a very personal part of your life, but also you had the passing of your wife?
It was very difficult time. As I look back on it now, it was a tremendous change in my life. My daughters are now 13, 9 and 6 13, 10 and 6, excuse me, they're growing up fast! But at the time they were young girls. Wrestling and being on the road and raising little girls is very difficult but I adjusted and had a tremendous system around me. As time went on, things changed for the better and now my in-ring career is back in full swing.
Can you even put into words what the last two to three years have been like for you both personally and professionally with all the changes that have happened?
I'm more excited and I told JB this, Jeremy Borash when we were in South Dakota and we were talking about the situation with Sting and I won't be wrestling at Slammiversary but still the excitement that I've got for this year's Slammiversary, Through life, nothing is supposed to be perfect. You're supposed to be all fun and games. Yes, there have been some ups and downs and not just over the last couple of years but throughout my entire career that different things have happened back going through the '90s. This is an exciting time for me and eight years with a company that people said wouldn't last eight weeks is very, very exciting.
I know this was made public recently so I should say congratulations because you are engaged correct?
Correct! That's what I'm saying, life is good.
And you're engaged to Karen Angle. How has that situation been because Kurt is an active wrestler on the roster. Has that cause any problems?
Me and Kurt are good and that's a private matter and I'll definitely leave it at that. I don't discuss things like that. But it's a very good, thriving relationship.
Give me your view, the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between on the move to Monday night for TNA and then moving back to Thursday nights.
You know, I could probably talk about that subject more than you would care to hear. Hindsight is 20/20 so I can sit here and I could say things but it would be foolish of me to make some comments just because it's easy for me to say those things and I'm not, by any means, trying to duck or dodge. The results, the proof was in the numbers -- good and bad and that's a fact. The focus groups that were done were point on. The TNA fan, the TNA watcher wanted us on Thursdays, they spoke their mind that they wanted us on Thursdays so we would be foolish to stay on Mondays for a number of reasons; for numbers, for our focus groups. Coming up at the end of June, we're starting the show ReAction! which with Spike we're forming up. It's not a two hour block but now it will be a three hour block. So, the best thing for me to say is we certainly have learned a tremendous amount of knowledge on that move to Mondays and now back to Thursdays. I don't feel real comfortable being that in TNA we're all in it together, we all consciously made the decision -- TNA/Spike -- and absolutely dove head first into it. I'm the kind of guy that you have to swing for the fences. Without huge risks there never can be a huge reward and without a small risk there can't ever be a small reward. I've always lived by that. TNA fundamentally has served that. We had from different matches to acquiring different talent from different business decisions behind the scenes that you've never heard of. You always have to take certain risks in business and we certainly took one and have learned a tremendous amount from it.
In learning from what you did, if you wanted to go back to Mondays and that opening was there, would you do it again?
This sounds real clich้ish but if the time was right, absolutely we would. But you know what, the timing, and I'm not talking about just internally on TV, I'm talking externally with Spike and different things with momentum going and different marketing plans and different dollars being invested and how we're going to advertise as well as in the show with storylines to have it all make sense. Let's just say the stars would certainly have to align but if they did align without a doubt.
As a guy who has been around for the time you have but still has a young man's perspective, you saw the territories first hand and the days of weekly TV in those regions. Do you think that's a market where those wrestling fans is being alienated now by some of the storylines these days? Do you think there is a place where we can get back to the white hats and the black hats?
Well, I think years ago the term shades of gray was brought to the forefront. My philosophy has always been there's black and there's white but there's shades of black and there's shades of white. But this business has always been built on good vs. evil. If you had to name the top ten or top twenty drawing feuds of all-time, there was a clear cut good guy and a clear cut bad guy. That will never change. You can go to the movies and if it's that type of move there's a protagonist and an antagonist and that makes for the most intriguing and from the very beginning of the movie, you know who's who and you don't have to guess. I think that's has always produced the most dollars in this business; pure good vs. pure evil.
People always look at where TNA has gone over the years and the direction with changes when it comes to creative as well as the roster you have now compared to the past. Some people say it looks like too much direction-wise and roster-wise like WCW. What's your thoughts on that comparison?
Well, I've said this but I've always believed that a roster has to have a balance. Look at the NBA Finals if you look at the Celtics and the Lakers, you definitely have your superstar and you have your primetime players and that's a mix of veterans guys that are just maybe a year or two past their prime. Then you have to have your up-and-comers. You have to have balance. And at times in TNA, I think we've been balanced too far too youthful and at times, we've been, uh, too many veterans. I think a balance has to take place. I think when you lean towards too many veterans that's when we have gotten the comments that we look too much like WCW. And that's a fair assessment.