Q&A: IMPACT Wrestling Hall of Famer Gail Kim
Posted: Jun 9th 2017 By: Kevin Eck
WWE gets a lot of credit for the shift in the presentation of its women's wrestling from "eye candy" filler to featured attractions with skilled athletes, but Gail Kim was at the forefront of a women's revolution in pro wrestling long before WWE coined the term.
Kim, who had two WWE stints during a career that has spanned more than 15 years, has been the centerpiece of TNA/Impact Wrestling's acclaimed Knockouts Division for the majority of the division's 10-year existence. A six-time Knockouts champion, she became the first female inductee into the Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2016.
Kim has been out of action since October when she relinquished the title and decided to take some time off due to a legitimate back injury. She currently is not under contract.
Kim will make a non-wrestling appearance at MCW Pro Wrestling's "Slamboree" event in Joppa, Md., June 9
I spoke with Kim recently about the state of Impact's Knockouts Division, whether she believes the division has had an influence on WWE's women's division, when she will return to the ring and which company she will work for, her marriage to celebrity chef Robert Irvine and more.
Kevin Eck: Tell me about the nature of your back injury and how you're feeling now.
Gail Kim: My back was injured just basically from wear and tear over the years. Luckily, Impact has been so good to me in terms of letting me take time off to make sure I'm healthy and never making me feel bad about it. I've been ready to come back for a little while but [Impact Wrestling] has had some time off because we film a bunch of shows once a month or once every other month, so that's the only reason why I haven't been back in the ring, but I'm going to be back shortly.
KE: You're not under contract with at Impact at the moment, correct?
GK: Technically, no, but I have a contract in hand. I won't ever go anywhere else. That's my family.
KE: Have you given thought to how much longer you'd like to wrestle?
GK: Those questions have popped in my head. We kind of incorporated it into the storyline, and I guess we teased [retirement]. People really thought I retired because we never really continued it or explained it; I just really got injured and never came back, so people assumed I was retired. I said, "No, you will know when I'm retired. I wouldn't go away that quietly."
KE: You've been with Impact for the high and lows, multiple creative regimes and different networks. What are your thoughts on the new ownership with Anthem Sports and Entertainment and Jeff Jarrett returning to head creative?
GK: I was there when Jeff was in charge when I started with the company, which was when we debuted on Spike TV [in 2005], and the minute he came back this year, you could see the significant change behind the scenes. People are hard on Impact at times. We've always gone on the roller coaster of ups and downs and people saying, "Oh, they're done," and we've always hung on. I think it's truly because of the passion of the people who work for the company, and Jeff is one of them. The best years of my time there were when Jeff was in charge. I feel like we're in another rebuilding stage now. Yeah, we don't have the money that WWE has, obviously, but I feel like no matter how low people think the morale gets, our family always sticks together. We always have fun, and by the end of the tapings, we always feel so great.
KE: I don't mean this in an insulting way, but you're the elder statesman of the women's division now …
GK (interrupting): Yeah, I am [laughs]. I call myself the mama of the locker room. I feel like my role has changed a little bit. Obviously, I'm just as passionate about what I do in the ring and the quality of the wrestling I put out there. But now I do feel like I want to help the younger talent coming in. Like I said, we're in a rebuilding stage. Some of the girls are very polished and some are green, but there's a lot of potential. I saw Chelsea [Green], who's Laurel Van Ness, when she tried out the first time [with Impact]. She was fresh out of "Tough Enough" and hadn't been working that long. She had a tryout match with us in Bethlehem, Pa., and I remember how green she was back then. She has just come so far, and I always tell her how proud I am. Her in-ring work is solid, but you don't even get to see much of that right now because her character work is just so over the top and great. I feel like she is the future. Rosemary is already very polished. I love what she does in the ring and in her promos and character work. And then there's a couple girls that we just picked up that I'm working with one-on-one outside of the company, and I will continue to do that with some of the girls who come in and hopefully help them learn at a faster pace. Right now, it feels like WWE is basically trying to take over the industry, so it's almost hard to get talent.
KE: When you look at how the quality of women's wrestling in WWE has improved during the past couple years, do you view it as a source of pride as far as Impact perhaps setting the tone and pushing WWE to change?
GK: Yeah. I would hope to think so. I don't think they would ever admit that. When I went back to WWE [in late 2008], it was funny because they would never really acknowledge what we did [in Impact], for example the feud that [Awesome] Kong and I had. They would say to me, "Oh, we didn't watch you. We don't know what you did." I'm like, "Then why did you hire me back? Why did you hire Kong?" Even if they don't want to admit it, I would hope to think that what we're doing influenced in some way, a little bit, what they're doing now. I'm just so happy for those girls that they get to do what they love because I know how it felt to be there and not be able to do what you love and utilize your talent. I just recently met Charlotte [Flair] and Sasha [Banks] for the first time. They're really nice and great, and I love what they do. They're killing it. Charlotte's just so well-rounded. For her to have to follow in the footsteps of [her father] Ric Flair, she's killing it.
KE: When I worked on the WWE creative team -- I started in 2011 right after you left the company -- Vince McMahon said several times that "no one wants to see the girls fight like the guys." Was that something that was ever said or implied to you while you were there?
GK: It wasn't politically correct to say out loud, nor would they say that straight up, but -- I'm not going to say which agent said it -- but they would tell us that Vince doesn't like that. I remember specifically a match I had on "Superstars" with Jillian [Hall]. We got seven minutes, which was rare back then -- we usually got three minutes. There's no way to tell a story in the ring in that time, so when we had a match on "Superstars" it was like a pay-per-view match [laughs]. Jillian and I had awesome chemistry, so we'd want to wrestle. We wanted to do a superplex off the top rope, and the agent -- again, I'm not going to name names -- said, "Go ahead. I'll take the heat for it," because he knew Vince wouldn't really be happy with that. Now I heard WWE has announced a Money in the Bank match for the girls. I honestly feel like [Triple H] has done so much for the girls, because he started that whole thing in NXT with the Four Horsewomen. When I left WWE, he was one of the people who was so positive. He told me, "You're talented and don't let anyone else tell you any different." I was very flattered and glad that he respected women's wrestling.
KE: Here's a non-wrestling question for you: How have your eating habits changed since marrying world-renowned chef Robert Irvine?
GK: [laughs] When I first started dating Robert, I was like, "salad, no dressing," and to this day I still eat very clean, but he made me enjoy food more. I could glance at a whole dessert table and not even flinch. Robert would say, "You should end your meal with a sweet." I would say no, but then I'd taste his every day and I'd be like, "Oh, that's good." It was getting to the point where I was eating dessert almost every day and I thought, "OK, this needs to stop." Then I discovered I had a dairy allergy, so thank god for that because then it made it easy for me [laughs]. When I met him, he was kind of eating whatever he wanted like a chef would, so I kind of cleaned up his diet, and he taught me to eat more moderately, so it's been good for both of us.
KE: I know that you and your husband are involved with the USO. Tell me about that.
GK: That's been my husband's No. 1 passion, and of course I support him 100 percent. We went to Iraq last year on Christmas Day to visit the troops, and we're probably going to do the same this Christmas. This past Memorial Day weekend was my third time in Washington, D.C., for Memorial Day and the parade. We worked this year with an organization called TAPS [Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors], which helps military families who are grieving for lost loved ones. To see what these organizations do for these families -- until you meet these people you'll never really understand, because I didn't until I met them one on one. It's just an incredible feeling to be a part of something that helps people go through these things. I'm so lucky that my husband has connected me with that.
KE: You're going to be accompanying one of the teams to ringside in the 10-man tag match main event at the MCW Pro Wrestling show June 9. Is there a chance you will get physically involved in the match?
GK: If I have to get physical, then by all means I will. You know me. I will not back down.
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