GFW's Gail Kim On The Twilight Of Her Career, Sparking The Women's Wrestling Revolution
Posted: Aug 18th 2017 By: Brian Fritz
Long before the term “women’s revolution” became fashionable, Gail Kim was at the forefront of a push for women’s wrestling.
That included her first stint with the WWE in the early 2000’s where she, alongside other standouts that included Trish Stratus, Lita and Victoria, showed that women could be much more than just eye candy in pro wrestling.
The better part of her distinguished 17-year-career has seen her at the forefront of Impact Wrestling’s Knockouts division where she is a six-time champion. Last October, she became the first female inducted into the Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The previous month, she relinquished her championship due to a severe back injury and this past July during an episode of “GFW: Impact," Kim announced that 2017 would be her final year in the ring.
But the 40-year-old Kim is not done yet. This Thursday on a special edition of “Impact” being dubbed “Destination X”— airing 8 PM ET on Pop TV — she will square off against Sienna in hopes of reclaiming the championship she had to give up.
Kim recently spoke with Sporting News about winding down her in-ring career and future plans, if she gets the recognition she deserves and being legitimately scared of Awesome Kong.
SPORTING NEWS: This Thursday, you'll be returning to the ring to face Sienna for the GFW Unified Women's Championship.
GAIL KIM: I'm really looking forward to facing Sienna. It's my first time back with GFW since last year so I'm kind of anxious, excited, a lot of emotions are going through me right now.
SN: What has this last year been like as you've battled this back injury?
GK: I had a minor back surgery, as minor as it's going to get. They originally told me I could get back in six weeks. When the six-week mark hit, I'm like there is no way. I was nowhere near that. Because they're so good to me, GFW, they said let us know. I listened to my body and now it's at the eight-month mark so it took way longer than I anticipated. I just wanted to be sure and I don't want to rush it. It's my body and my quality of life after this so I was careful.
SN: Was there any part of you that was afraid your career was already over?
GK: Um, yeah. And it's funny because before that all developed, there were things that were bothering me but nothing out of the ordinary that a wrestler doesn't go through. I had discussed over time my retirement with one of my best friends, Christy Hemme. At that point, she was working with the company and she was thinking ahead for me. She would always say to me if you want to retire soon, you need to plan your retirement. At that point, I wasn't ready. I knew it was coming but I thought I don't want to be unsure of that moment. So, it kind of dragged on for another year. After that, and after the Hall of Fame, I just said I've accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in this business. I couldn't ask for any more and I don't want the fans to remember me at anything but my best. So I think it's time now. I felt at ease with that, as comfortable as I will be at any point.
SN: Even without this back injury, do you think know might have been the right time to step away?
GK: It probably is the right time but if I wasn't injured, I think that I probably would have went longer. I think all wrestlers, you never really want it to end. I'm going to be completely honest. It's funny because I missed it while I was injured but when you away for so long and then you do that one little thing in front of the fans, that was at my last TV, I was like I'm going to miss it more than I thought. You hit that realization that I announced it, it's going to be real and I'm committed. Everyone goes through that. It's going to be a difficult day to let go. I'm fortunate that I get to stay in the business and I'm glad I get to do that.
SN: So after 2017, you'll still be involved in wrestling?
GK: Yes. We've already started that process and I'm going to continue with that. (She now works in a behind the scenes role as an agent for the women’s division.) I love helping the girls. I want to help rebuild this division to where it has the potential to go. I'm very invested, I'm very dedicated and passionate about the division and the company.
SN: Considering your experience and that you are the veteran of the locker room, are you like the mama bear around there for everybody?
GK: Yeah, I think so. I definitely feel old enough. It's funny because over the years, and I talked about this with some of the other girls who are part of my generation, we'd see girls come and go whether it was for pregnancy or just leaving and coming back for whatever reason. It never felt different. I would say only when this past year-and-a-half maybe is when I remember turning to Madison Rayne and saying you and I are the only ones left here right now and it feels like we're the outsiders. It just becomes a different role. It becomes a different way of thinking. Nothing changes in the way I look at my performance in the ring but, behind the scenes, it's sort of shifting and I felt like more teaching the girls or helping them if they had any questions or needed guidance. That's what I felt the natural transition was happening this past year.
SN: You were at the forefront of this women's revolution, even years ago. That's a term we hear a lot over the past few years. People know about your work and how good you have been but do you really get the recognition, the credit that you deserve for your part in it?
GK: Honestly, recognition is nice obviously, but just being part of that change was a very magical time in my life. It was such a great satisfaction just having that women's division become a success overnight and something that you fight for for so long. But most importantly, to have it from your peers. I feel like my peers know that and that was always the most important for me. Of course, you want the fans to recognize all of that. And when I meet fans one-on-one, they always talk about how they loved the feud with Awesome Kong and I. I still hear that to this day so that in itself is great for me.
SN: Why do you think that was the one that really clicked in every step?
GK: I don't know. After that, I never thought there would be another magical moment again and I was lucky enough to have that with Taryn (Terrell) too. I feel like I have chemistry with every girl but I don't know what happened with Awesome Kong. I never even saw her work before our very first match. I just heard so much about her and then we brought in this whole women's division. She was my very first match with all these girls on board. I remember her coming out and thinking 'whoa, she's scary!' I was legitimately scared.We just had a great chemistry and a mutual respect after that. I think when you have a mutual respect at that level and she's OK with taking it as hard as I can bring it ... She would say you remind me of my Japan days. For me, I just felt like with Kong, the David-Goliath feud, I had to bring it. She took it. Same with Taryn. She was never afraid to go to that level. There are times when girls just don't and that's OK with me. I always change my style with each girl but if there's a girl that's willing to go to that level that I want to go, I feel like that's the difference.
SN: You were a part of WWE along with Lita and Trish Stratus back in the early 2000's when they gave a lot of attention to women's wrestling. Then you came over to TNA (now GFW) before going back to WWE. For whatever reason, they decided to steer into a different direction in how they were using the women. Before, you were given more of a platform there to wrestle but they veered away from that and now they've gone back. Why do you think they went away from that?
GK: My honest opinion, and this is only my opinion and I don't know this as fact, I just think Vince McMahon did not like women's wrestling. With this whole revolution that happened in WWE these past couple of years, it's because of the fans. Remember they were saying "Give Divas a Chance" that it got to the point where Vince is like OK, I'm going to give them a chance. It was really truly Hunter (Triple H) who created all these great girls in NXT. It wasn't Vince. It's almost like, thank God Hunter did it so that Vince could see the reaction that these girls were getting in NXT. Then it was OK, let's jump on the bandwagon and let's make it happen. I think he was never a fan of women's wrestling whether he had talented girls or not and he didn't want to watch that.When I was there, they really didn't want us to do things. Even to do a superplex off the top rope, you had to keep it quiet until it happened and hopefully get approval from the agent. He would say do it and I'll take the heat for it. It was just insane to me. To me, I always just feel like why would you hire a talent and not use them to the best of their ability? That's the confusing part for me and that was the most frustrating part for me. But I just chalked it up to I was in that company at the wrong time.
SN: As you wind down your in-ring career here at the end of 2017, do you think you'll take an extra moment to pause before the matches you have remaining?
GK: Not with the taping schedule we have. (laughs) It's very overwhelming so when I'm at work, I'm kind of running around like a chicken with its head cut off. But I think, for my last match when it starts coming near the very, very end, I definitely will. Who knows how I will react that last match. I just don't know.
SN: Do you think there's a chance you have one more match with Awesome Kong?
GK: I don't know. A lot of people have been asking me all these questions in terms of who I would like my final opponent to be. I just left it in the hands of the company because I don't really know or I don't want to reveal. (laughs)
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