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Interview with TNA announcer Taz

Next week promises to be a very big one for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and its fans – especially those here on Long Island.

On Monday, January 4, TNA, for the first time, will go head-to-head against WWE’s Monday Night Raw with a three-hour live Impact that will include the TNA debut of Hulk Hogan. With WWE countering the move with the return of Bret Hart, wrestling fans can expect one of the most newsworthy weeknights since the peak of the “Monday Night War.”

Just four days later, TNA will brings many of its stars right here to Long Island, for a Friday night live event at the Capital One Bank Theatre in Westbury. It’s the third show TNA has held at the venue, and the first in more than year. Having attended the previous two shows, I can tell you that TNA put on a great night of action for its fans, and that its wrestlers often go out of their way to send fans home happy, usually signing autographs at ringside well after the show is over.

The Westbury show will be a homecoming of sorts for one peformer – TNA broadcaster and Nassau County resident Taz. Although Taz may not have much to do at Friday night’s show, she intends to be part of the action in front of his hometown crowd.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Taz about TNA’s big week at the beginning of 2010, as well as several other topics. In this extensive and insightful interview conducted on December 16, Taz discusses his thoughts on Hulk Hogan joining TNA, the need to simplify TNA’s storylines, the decision to replace Don West at the announcers’ booth, his frustrations working in WWE, what WWE looks for in its announcers, what wrestlers he thinks would make good broadcasters, why TNA hires some ex-WWE talent and does not hire others, and Dixie Carter’s controversial televised speech to the TNA locker room.

I must say, this was is one of the most provokative, and at times, contentious interviews I’ve ever conducted. I suspect that, if I conducted this interview in person, I may have ended up in a Tazmission at some point. But, in the end, I think it turned out quite well. I found Taz to have an intelligent and valuable insight on the wrestling business, and hopefully, TNA will tap into that insight.
 
Alfonso Castillo: As a guy who’s from here, is it kind of cool to have the company that you’re working for right here in your backyard?

Taz: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I believe TNA has come to Long Island once or twice in the past. It’s kind of cool, now that I’m still kind of new with the company, that Friday night, January 8th, we’re going to invade Long Island and Westbury. So I’m excited about it. When I heard that the show was going to happen I was like, All right. I hope there’s enough seats in the Capital One Theater to get us all in there.” Hopefully it’s a good show.

AC: You’ll be there.

T: I’m pretty sure – 99.9 percent sure – that I’ll be there, yeah.

AC: I guess there wouldn’t be much for you to do, other than just catch the show.

T: No, but I’ll be there. I’ll make an appearance, so you can put that in there. I’ll be there and I’ll make an appearance.

AC: OK. When you were in WWE and you guys would come to the (Nassau) Coliseum, was that always kind of a nice thing? Was it sort of a thing where your family was able to come out and catch the show? Maybe an easy drive home at the end of the night?

T: Of course. Absolutely. When I worked for WWE and we would do a Raw or a Smackdown or a pay per view at the Nassau Coliseum, it was like a breeze. It was awesome. So this, for me, is very cool. I don’t have to get on a plane. So I’ll swing by. I’ll probably bring my son. He likes to go backstage and he knows some of the guys already – like Kurt Angle, Mick Foley and stuff like that. And he’s looking forward to meeting some of the new guys, Samoa Joe and Suicide and Kevin Nash and A.J. Styles. And they’ll all be there, so I’m looking forward to it.

AC: How many months do you have in the company now. Has it been four or five months – something like that?

T: Yeah, I think about four months. Something like that.

AC: What’s it been like for you so far? Do you feel like you’re part of the TNA family already? Or are you still getting past some growing pains?

T: No I think I’m definitely – We do so many shows, TV shows, and I’m in the Nashville TV studios quite often – so I think I’m pretty much part of the family. In the wrestling business, especially when you’re on the TV side of things like I am – four months is almost like four years, because you’re doing so much work all the time. So, I’m excited. I’m having a blast. I’m so happy I made the move to TNA. I just think that there’s a great upside to this company. That’s one of the reasons I came to this company. It’s a young, hungry locker room with a lot of veterans that have a point to prove still – which leads to the obvious point of January 4, when we do as live three-hour show on Spike and the debut of the one and only Hulk Hogan. So it’s going to be an awesome night that night. I can’t wait for it.

AC: What are your personal expectations for January 4th? And maybe after that I’ll ask you about the company’s expectations. I think Hulk Hogan was on the record saying that he’s predicting a 3.0 – that TNA will triple its ratings, which a lot of people saw as maybe unrealistic and overly ambitious. What are you hoping to accomplish that night and what do you think the company’s goal is for that night?

T: I’ll be completely honest with you. Unlike everybody else in this business, I’m not obsessed with the ratings – no matter if it’s positive or negative. I know when I was in WWE and I was on Smackdown and I was the host, at some point we were doing monster ratings unbeknownst to me. And the reason is I believe in concentrating on doing a good segment. And then there’s a commercial break. And then let’s do a better segment. And there’s a commercial break. And then let’s do another good segment. That’s how I look at it.

So I’m not one of those guys who’s obsessed with the ratings. I know how important it is. Don’t get me wrong. I know that’s advertising money. I know that’s what the network wants. I get that. I’m totally down with that. But I can’t sit here and predict a rating, because some of our better shows in TNA in my short time with the company I thought would do monster ratings, and then they didn’t. And then there were some shows that I didn’t think were that good as shows, and they did a better rating. So you can’t figure it out. There’s really no rhyme or reason. It’s truly hard to figure out.

AC: Do you think overall it’s a good move to move to Monday night for the one night? Is it something that you hope maybe becomes permanent?

T: I hope so. I hope it becomes permanent. I think that people – especially wrestling fans – the time is definitely now that there’s an alternative. I think that TNA can be that alternative. You know, there’s a lot of cogs in the wheel at TNA, and if the wheel rolls straight, I think that we’ll be a pretty strong alternative down the road. Not right now. This is just a one-time deal, from what I’m being told. I’m excited about it, and I think it’s just the beginning of an extremely positive step, by not just TNA for wrestling fans, but by Spike TV to go out and do something like this and bang out three hours life. For people like Dixie Carter, the owner of our company, and Hulk Hogan to basically say we’re coming right at WWE, right at Monday Night Raw, I think that’s a very gutsy thing to say. And I’m very proud to be part of a company that has that kind of machismo.

AC: Does TNA run the risk of kind of burning its future on Monday nights if you go on January 4th and  - again back to the ratings issue – you don’t draw a good rating and viewership isn’t what Spike and TNA was hoping for? Could that sort of sabotage you guys in the future if Spike TV says, “Well, look, we didn’t do nearly as well as we’d hoped. We’re going to keep you on Thursday nights,”?

T: I don’t think so at all. This is just my opinion – I don’t think that the rating that we do on January 4th, be it negative or positive, is contingent on our success as a company. And I don’t think that Spike TV, in my opinion, is dumb enough to think that it’s all riding on one night. That’s crazy. You can’t do that in the TV world or in the wrestling business, for sure.

AC: What was your take on the Hogan signing and what do you feel is the locker room’s take? Obviously, you’ve heard a lot of speculation about both the pros and cons. Yes, he’s maybe the most identifiable guy in the history of the business, but at the same time he’s a guy with a reputation for very much looking out for himself and maybe being a little bit behind the times in terms of what works in pro wrestling. So do you think it’s completely a positive move?

T: Yeah, I do. And I think that anybody who really knows about my career, you know I’m not really a tow-the-company line type guy. But I’ll tell you why I think it’s a positive move. It’s not just because Hulk Hogan is a household name. Not only because Hulk Hogan brings a credibility with his name. But it’s all those years of success and his intelligence in the industry that will help our younger guys in the locker room, and the mid-season guys and the veterans. It will become much more of a competitive environment, and I think that’s how you achieve success in anything, be it in sports or in business. I don’t care if you’re a blue-collar guy or a pro athlete. When there’s a competition, when it’s competitive, when it’s about who can get higher in the card to make more money, you’re going to get a better product.

And one thing you mentioned that I want to touch on, in regards to saying that maybe – and this is your words – that maybe Hulk Hogan is behind the times. I don’t think Hulk Hogan is behind the times at all. I’m not buddies with Hulk Hogan, but when I was on Smackdown and Hulk Hogan was there, I got to know Hulk a little bit there. And to the contrary, he’s a very progressive thinker in the industry. So I’m excited about him coming in. And I think that, in my opinion, professionally, and on the record, I think that it’s not a bad thing if we get back to the basics a little bit. I believe let’s get back to the nuts and bolts of the business. I believe that’s what we need to do. And I don’t know if that’s Hulk Hogan’s vision. I’m not sure. But I hope so, because I think that’s the way we need to go. Let’s get back to basics a little bit.

AC: Yeah, and I think that when people speak optimistically about what Hulk Hogan can bring to the product, that’s just it – this thought that TNA is in desperate need of a little bit of simplification. And for better or for worse a lot of it is pegged on the Vince Russo booking philosophy. And I’m sure you know TNA’s reputation over the last several years of just trying to be too much – ten gimmick matches in an hour, and ladder matches that go thirty seconds, and storylines that are very, very difficult to sort out sometimes. I was just recently doing a 2009 year in review kind of thing, and had to review one month of a storyline from TNA from earlier in the year. And I could not make heads or tails of it. There were 16 people involved. (Taz laughs) This guy had an issue with this guy; he turned good then he turned bad; they were friends and then they weren’t friends. And it was just really tough to sort out. Do you agree that that’s a problem, and what kind of challenge, as an announcer, is it for you to try to make sense of all that for viewers?

T: Well, listen, I have had the opportunity over the years to call hundreds of hundreds shows written by Vince McMahon and his writing crew. So I have been part of broadcasting some very convoluted TV shows. So that doesn’t intimidate me. Am I a fan of that? No, I am not. I am a throwback guy. I am an old school, traditional guy, but I’m not archaic. What I mean by that is that I like wrestling. I like action. I like OK, wrestler A dislikes wrestler B, and they’re going to have a fight. Good. I get that. I don’t want to think too much. Let me get it. Let me see it. Let’s do it. That’s me. But that’s just my opinion. I can’t speak for the masses. I do think, like I said earlier, if things get simplified a little bit from a creative standpoint, that wouldn’t be a bad thing in my opinion. That’s just one’s opinion.

Now, I’ve heard all of the stuff, all of the bashing of TNA creative. But I see a lot of the behind the scenes. And I can tell you this much: there’s a lot of effort and a lot of passion and an extremely strong work ethic on behalf of the creative team. Now, at the end of the day does that get you a 4.0 rating? No, it doesn’t. But it takes time. It takes time to build. You know, sometimes there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen and the meal doesn’t get done. You know what I mean? So read between the lines of what I’m saying to you. So, there are some things that need to be worked out, sure. But I want to state everything as my opinion. I’m not speaking on behalf of any insider. It’s just the way I see it.

AC: Creative-wise, is there room for a Hulk Hogan and a Vince Russo in TNA?

T: I don’t know. I don’t have that answer, Alfonso. I don’t know. I’ve never dealt with Hulk Hogan from a creative standpoint. And I’ve never worked with Vince Russo from a creative standpoint, except now as an announcer. And my main goal has been trying to build a chemistry with Mike Tenay, which I think we’ve finally hit our stride. It takes time. That’s a different story. But, can Hulk Hogan and Vince Russo co-exist? I don’t know. Everyone is asking that question, bro, and I really don’t have the answer for you. I hope so. I hope they can. I really do, because it’s only good for our company. If not, then, we’ll see what happens.

AC: One of the other criticisms about TNA, and I think it’s interesting that you kind of fall into this, is this notion that – I hate to use the term – but that they’re marks for WWE. And that they’re pretty much at the backdoor of WWE pretty much looking to pick up anybody who leaves the company. It’s that bad connotation that TNA becomes sort of the scrap heap of old WWE players, and doesn’t carve out its own identity. Did you worry about that, as a guy who is identified with WWE, coming into TNA and taking the place of a guy who was very much a TNA original and had been with the company from the beginning – Don West, who I think a lot of people thought was doing a pretty good job there.

T: Well, let me ask you this much. Do you think that, if they replaced Don West… Let me asked you a question. Do you think that they replaced Don West with me because they, in your words, were marks for WWE? Or do you think TNA thought that Taz was a better color commentator than Don West?

AC: I don’t know that they’re mutually exclusive. Isn’t it sort of irrelevant whether you’re better than Don West or not if Don West was plenty good on his own?

T: I’m not even talking about Don West’s abilities or lack thereof. All I’m saying is if you own a company, I would think that you would want the best talent in each position to make your show a better show. Wouldn’t you think that’s a fair assessment?

AC: Yeah, that’s totally a fair assessment. But do you sacrifice something in losing a voice that was very much identified with TNA and was one thing – I shouldn’t say one thing. There are others – but it was one of the things that was TNA-branded from the beginning, from the very first show. I agree with what you’re saying. You certainly have the tenure and the skill and the ability and the resume over Don West, but I think a lot of people felt Don West was doing a fine job.

T: I’m not here to critique the type of job that Don was doing or not. I’m personally friends with Don and I like Don. And when they told me I was replacing Don, the first thing I said was, “I hope you’re not just taking him out of the company, because I think there’s a need for him in the company.” Now, from a professional standpoint, I’m going to be really frank with you, I feel that I’m the best color commentator in the industry, OK? And I don’t make no bones about that, and please print it the way I just said it. I feel I am the best. And that’s not ego. That’s years and years of working in a pressure cooker under the highest stressful situations, calling multiple WrestleManias, live pay per views for WWE, hundreds upon hundreds of shows on broadcast and cable TV.

So I think my resume kind of – and I’m proud to say – speaks for itself. And besides the fact, Alfonso, I’ve got about 15 or 16 years of in-ring experience as a former world heavyweight champion. So, even though the industry is entertainment, when a company decides to put a title on a guy, like they’ve done with me in my career, especially during my years in ECW, it tells the fan base that we trust this guy can carry us for the time being as the top guy. So am I tooting my own horn? Yes. Toot-toot.

So my credibility as an in-ring performer and a guy who can bring you in the ring, as a fan who's never been in the ring, I think I’ve pretty much got that covered. And I’m a storyteller, and I kind of get it done out there and I build characters and I get things over. Did Don West do that? I don’t know. That’s none of my concern. I’m not Dixie Carter. She calls the shots. So, you see, for me, I look at myself and Don West as two completely different types of color commentators. Now, everybody’s an acquired taste. Maybe Don’s an acquired taste for you. And maybe Taz is an acquired taste for Dixie Carter.

To go back to your original question, do I think it’s an issue – in your words, and please don’t misquote me because there will be an issue – in your words, is TNA marks for WWE talent? No. Is TNA management marks for guys, be it in-ring wrestler, broadcasters, referees, agents, what have you, who have worked in the toughest, stressful situations at the highest level? Yes. Why wouldn’t you be? If you had an opportunity to get a guy who has worked in the most recognizable, most powerful wrestling company in the world, why wouldn’t you want that guy if you’re a fan of his work to boot?

AC: I agree, and I do think that your situation and those of a few others are unique in that it’s not just getting a guy who used to work for WWE, but it is really is getting one of the very best in the industry – similar to getting Kurt Angle. I mean, nobody would have called TNA marks for WWE for picking up Kurt Angle, you know? Kurt Angle is Kurt Angle.

T: And Alfonso let me interrupt you. How come? – let me think here for a second. Why isn’t, off the top of my head, Ken Kennedy (in TNA)? He left WWE. His non-compete ended. Why isn’t he in TNA, if TNA is a mark for WWE? I’m just curious. Because I read a lot of stuff that the Internet says, and you obviously stay on top of the industry via the Internet, and I respect that you’re interviewing me and you’ve done your homework. I do respect that and I’m happy – I love doing interviews like this with guys like you, because you’ve done your homework. But, unfortunately, sometimes where your getting your education sometimes is false.

And what I mean by that is the Internet… as great as it is, especially for insight with pro wrestling and all the wrestling sites – that’s cool. There’s a lot of stooges out there that are in the locker rooms and they’re telling wrestling web sites stuff, sure. But a lot of it is fabricated and BS. And then of people like you, who are professionals, you’ll get your information from that, and it’s incorrect information. Just be careful what you read out there and try to site the truth. I’m behind-the-scenes, you know? I was behind-the-scenes in WWE. I’m behind-the-scenes in TNA. I laugh, bro, at times when I read some stuff I read on some of these web sites. It’s sad, because half of it is true, and the other half is totally blown out of proportion.

AC: Right. And I don’t want to pass any of this as my opinion. I am trying to bounce off of you what I think is popular opinion out there on the Internet or the wrestling community.

T: But Alfonso… To be Frank with you, I’m curious, because I was coming here to do this interview, a last minute thing, and I was supposed to do the interview about promoting the show at Old Westbury Music Fair and Final Resolution this Sunday and January 4th. And, you could ask me anything you want, because nobody can throw me off. If Vince McMahon can’t throw me off, you can’t. No disrespect.

AC: (laughs) I’m not trying to. I’m not trying to at all. And I’m happy to talk about whatever. I’ve got you on the phone, I think you’re an important guy in the industry.

T: Dude, dude, let me just say one more thing. And that’s totally cool, because if I was pissed, I’d let you know. And I’m not pissed. But I will say, when you mentioned the Don West thing, that is something I think is your opinion as an interviewer. And you’re entitled to your opinion.

AC: (Interrupting) No, I’ll give you exactly my opinion. I’m sorry, but just so we’re clear I’m happy to tell you exactly my opinion so we’re clear. I think on the Don West issue – you know, I wish in an ideal world there was a way to make it work so you could both be there, because I do think there is a value in having a guy who is identified with TNA and it’s core and this is the only place he’s worked and here’s a guy who came up with the company and is very much a TNA guy – and is good. If you had a guy who was a schlub, by all means you get rid of him. It does represent a unique problem…

T: I’m sorry to interrupt you. Can I ask your opinion – from a broadcasting standpoint, what qualifies you to say anybody is good? It’s just your opinion as a viewer, correct?

AC: That’s what qualifies me. I’m watching the show.

T: No, that’s cool. And that does qualify you. And here’s my next question. In  your opinion, why was Don West good? What did he do good? Name three things you felt that you liked about Don West.

AC: I think he did a good job, especially there in the past year or so – I think he had a rocky first couple of years – but toward the end I think he did a very good job of making sense of a lot of stuff that didn’t make sense, and sometimes he was very much kind of the traffic director in kind of being the filter for a lot of stuff that was tough to figure out. And sometimes I think he filled in gaps that TNA writers had left in, again, making logic out of stuff that missed a lot of logic, a lot of times pointing out the obvious and in that sense kind of being the voice and the brains of the viewer. All that aside, who is the better color commentator? I’d say you are. I definitely do. So it’s not at all a situation where I’m saying TNA took a step down.

I agree that your situation is a unique situation in that here we have a guy who is good, but we have access to a guy who is better and who is world class and one of the very best. What do we do? Do we make a three-man announce team? That usually doesn’t work. So, again, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m saying that you’re situation was one of these situations of TNA just picking up guys from the scrap heap of WWE. I do think that’s a unique situation. And I do think you make a good point of pointing out guys like Ken Kennedy who have not been picked up… But then there are guys who I think have been pushed in TNA, I think some fans would say, for little reason other than their resume and the fact that they have name value and were part of WWE or WCW during a peak business period. Because they weren’t delivering in the ring now, and not contributing much to the product now.

But, so we’re clear on my opinion, I think you’re the better announcer between you and Don West. There’s no question. It’s silly to say otherwise. You’ve been doing it for a long time, a lot more seasoned. I think it’s a tough situation for TNA to have been. You know, the day you became a free agent I see the quandary for them. What do we do? Do we boot out a guy who is very good? But in his place we’re getting a guy who is potentially much better.

T: Again, this is not a knock on Don West, and you can print whatever you want to print as long as you quote me correctly, but from what I saw for a long time, people on the Internet – there wasn’t a huge amount of Don West fans. And I felt bad for Don. The things you were saying he was good at, like sometimes he’d point out the obvious – that’s what you just said. Well, I’ve got to be frank with you my friend. That’s rule number one you don’t do as an announcer – point out the obvious. You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. Because when you watch pro wrestling, it’s not radio. You can see what’s happening.

AC: Well, I don’t mean like saying, “Hey, he threw a clothesline there.” Obviously you don’t do that… Let me ask you about potentially one of the challenges that you faced coming in. I imagine you couldn’t know the TNA product as well as you knew the WWE product coming in. There must have been a lot you had to learn. There might have been some guys you didn’t recognize. You had never seen their work before. You couldn’t know the history of some storylines and the fact that, you know, Kurt Angle’s had this issue with so-and-so going back three years, and some angle they ran three years ago or something like that. And I’ve also noticed that in your commentary you’ve been pretty frank to point that out. I think it was at the last pay per view where it was the  three-way with Daniels, Styles and Joe. At the end of it, you asked Mike, “Was this as good as their first one a couple years ago.

T: Yeah.

AC: What do you think of that? Do you think that’s OK – that the best way to approach it is just to be honest?

T: Always. Absolutely. I’m a fan. I’m a fan like you are. And I did my homework for three months coming into the company. But, like you said, it’s impossible for me to know every single storyline. Now, I knew all the characters and all the talent. A lot of them I knew from WWE. And I was a fan once. I more or less left WWE and watched Impact every week for, I don’t know, three months while I was sitting on the bench. So I did my homework. And there’s no reason for me to come out there as announcer and BS you and say, “This was better than their (first) three way match.” Why am I going to say that? I’m going to ask the guy who sat there and called the match and get his opinion as a fan. All’s I am is I’m a guy who’s been in the ring and can tell stories, but at the end of the day I’m a fan and so is Mike Tenay. And we’re just driving a car. Mike Tenay’s driving a car. Taz is riding shotgun. And the TNA audience is in the back of the station wagon and we’re just driving along. That’s all it is. That’s the way it goes. So me, as a guy who wasn’t there when they had that awesome match I think it was four years ago, I didn’t see the match. I’m not going to sit there and lie. I used to lie in WWE, because I had to lie. I don’t have to lie no more. I can be honest now. And I like that. It’s freedom of expression and being real.

AC: A lot’s been said in recent months about this whole issue of Vince McMahon screaming in people’s ears. I think Mick Foley was pretty open about that when he came over to TNA also. How is that different now in TNA? Do you have anybody in your ear? Are you the one in other people’s ears, considering your experience?

T: In WWE, just like in TNA, you always have somebody in your ear. Everyone has to be produced. That’s the way it goes. I have the executive producer counting us. In WWE it was Kevin Dunn. Now in TNA it’s Keith Mitchell. And we get counted in and out of breaks, and when a video package is going to fly up on the screen and what not. You’ve got to be directed. That’s just TV production.

At times Vince McMahon, sure, he would get a little active in people’s headsets. But it was a little overblown the way people talked about it. Listen, Vince McMahon was in my headset, just like he was in every announcer’s in WWE, and he still is, for – I don’t know. I was an announcer in WWE, I don’t know, seven years, eight years, whatever the heck it was. He was always in my ear. And all of a sudden I had this epiphany to leave WWE because Vince was in my ear? Fine. Great. No, there was a lot of reasons I left the company. Being over-produced was one of them. Yes, it was one of them. But not the main one. My schedule is a lot easier. I’m home with my family a little bit more. I’m not flying all over the world any more for TV’s. I’m mainly going to one place. I like that. I like the environment I work in. It’s a relaxed environment where you’ve got to do your best. And you’re a performer. You’re not micro-managed, and I’m a fan of that. So I like being part of something that’s on the upswing, that’s trying to climb that mountain. It’s always a struggle. I like that. I remember that from the original ECW days. I’m a fan of that.

AC: Let me ask you about the status of another commentator who I think also you would agree is the best in the business. And that’s Jim Ross, whose contract is supposed to be up any day now. There’s a lot of rumors about where he’s going to land – whether he ends up next to you over there in TNA, or is back in WWE. Can you talk about whether you think he’d be a valuable asset to TNA, whether you think it’s on his radar, and whether TNA is aware of his contract status and would be interested in him coming over.

T: I don’t know. I can’t speak to that. I talk to JR once in a while, but we don’t really talk business. We’re both college football fans and my son’s an athlete and he’s always talking and asking be questions about my son. He knows my kid so he wants the best for my kid and we talk a lot about that. I know his wife very well. And whenever I was in Oklahoma I would go to his restaurant. And I have some friends in the baseball program at the University of Oklahoma. So there’s a lot more to Taz and JR’s relationship than wrestling. But, I think when you have only to companies in the United States that are on the radar, with WWE and TNA, I think both companies know when a talent’s contract is coming up, especially when someone’s talking about it on the Internet. So I think TNA is very cognoscente of the fact of JR’s situation. I could not answer your question because I don’t know if he’ll end up in TNA or WWE. I don’t know. I would think, in my opinion, that he’ll end up signing with WWE. He’s in the hall of fame there. And I know that Vince McMahon respects JR immensely, as do all the announcers. I learned a ton from JR. I learned so much. A lot of the things I told you, I learned from him. You know, things that people wouldn’t understand from a broadcasting standpoint with pro wrestling. So, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ll find out, I guess, in a few days.

AC: What do you think about the state of wrestling announcers. With JR on the sidelines now, I think it sort of exposed this hole in wrestling announcers. With you not there, JR not there, JBL not doing it anymore, even I think Mick Foley brought a lot to the table. I think it’s exposed that WWE has a big problem here in that there’s a lot of these kind of interchangeable young, good looking guys who are towing the company line. Do you think there’s a problem in WWE’s philosophy and approach to announcers, in that they seem to be focused so much on how a guy looks on camera and not so much what else he brings to the table?

T: It’s a good question. I do agree with WWE that when you’re doing television – even though it’s a broadcaster – it’s a visual business. It’s important to look good. But, at the end of the day, I think you’re broadcasters need to be able to do just that – broadcast, and sound genuine. Not shill and sound like they’re B.S.ing me and not forcing stuff down my throat and not being sincere about it. And I think that’s the problem with some of the newer broadcasters WWE is trying to bring in. These guys are under the gun, man. And they’re freaking and they’re micro-managed and they’re gun shy. They don’t know what to do. I’ve been part of that. I’m speaking from experience.

Howard Stern told me something once when I was doing radio shows on Sirius radio. I said, “Hey, man. I’d love to maybe break into radio one day. Have you got any advice? You’re the best.” He goes, “Taz, I’ll tell you one thing straight up. You’ve got to be yourself.” And that always hit home with me. And that’s the beauty of me being broadcaster in TNA. I can be myself. Now, if you think Taz himself sucks, fine. But I know Taz, himself, has to be himself. And I’m happy with that. That’s just the way it goes. I don’t think those young guys are getting to be themselves.

AC: Had you gotten away too much from being yourself in WWE toward the end there?

T: Yes. Absolutely. And I couldn’t do it, man. I couldn’t take that anymore. And it was tough for me to leave the company. Because I have a lot of respect – I’ve always had a great relationship with Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn, the senior executive vice president. I had a friendship with him and he gave me a lot of opportunities and taught me a lot. And I have a lot of friends there still, especially on the TV end of the company. It was very tough. I was there almost ten years, you know? I was very proud to get that level in my career. A guy who’s five-foot-nothing who grew up in Brooklyn and everyone said would never make it in the business because he wasn’t big enough. And I’m calling WrestleManias. So that was pretty cool.

AC: Can you think of any wrestlers that you know that you see some future in as broadcasters? It’s sort of a lost art that you don’t see as much guys graduating into that. I almost think you’re one of the last of those. I guess JBL was another, but he didn’t last as long. But the notion of the wrestler retiring from the ring and then showing he still has something to contribute as a broadcaster – you’re not seeing that as much. Can you mention any wrestlers that you see might have the potential to be a broadcaster one day?

T: I think John Cena, definitely. I think John’s got the gift of gab. He’s very quick-witted. I think Triple-H is another guy who’s very intelligent and quick-witted and knows the business. I’m big into credibility, you know? Those guys have the credibility. They’ve been in big match situations their entire careers.

But, on the flip side, that’s part of the problem too. Part of the problem with guys leaving the ring and trying to get into that announce booth – the number one thing I learned right away, because I had no option but to learn it back then, was my ego stayed in the locker room. When I got ringside it wasn’t about me anymore. If you listen to the way I call a match, if Mike Tenay would compliment a guy’s suplex and then put me over for it, the way I did it, I would always segue real quick back to the other guy. I never talk about me.

I’m a Met fan, OK. And I listen to Keith Hernandez as a color commentator on FSNY, and it’s brutal. The guy just talks about himself all the time. Tom Sever, when he was doing a little bit a couple years ago, and I’m a big Tom Sever fan, but it was about “me, me, I, I.” A lot of guys when they’re big stars, including in pro wrestling, they can’t turn it off. It’s always about them. When you’re an announcer it’s not about you anymore.

AC: The flipside being that you have something to offer in terms of being able to give that experience and that perspective having been in the ring that maybe another announcer can’t, right? So I guess you have to find a balance there.

T: Yeah, well that’s a tough thing. You’re exactly right. You’ve got to find that balance. In my opinion, I think WWE is on a constant crusade for announcers. It’s very difficult to work there as an announcer, and there’s a certain type of guy they want. It’s not the type of guy you think – the good-looking kid with the nice suit. That’s not their big goal. Believe me, it’s not. They like that part of the package, but they want a guy who can communicate well. They want a guy who has credibility. They want a guy who can be entertainment, but yet serious when need me. They want that. And you’ve got to be well versed. You’ve got to be a hybrid of many things. And I didn’t have that right away. They were patient with me.

I lived 45 minutes from Stamford, Connecticut, so I used to go to the studio all the time and practice, and practice and practice and call matches all the time. Old matches, new matches with any play-by-play guy who was sitting around there, just to get better. And they helped me get better. And that’s something that people don’t know about me. My desire to be the best color commentator in the business never ends. It never ends, and it never will end. And my goal will always be to be better than my last show. I am my toughest critic. I know when I screw up, and I live with it and it makes me crazy and I try to better myself. I’m a perfectionist. And a lot of these guys don’t do that. Once the show’s over – ah, whatever. They mailed it in. They don’t care. That’s not me.

I used to sit in a car with Jim Ross and driving away from the building, and we’d be talking about the broadcast we just did, and we’d rip each other up. Not rip each other up, but I’d rip myself, he’d rip himself. And we’d laugh, like, “God, the show’s been over for a half hour and we’re still bitching about what we did on our own.” You know what I mean? But those are two guys that are trying to be the best.

AC: Are you surprised that having trained to be a wrestler and wrestled for several years, and accomplished a lot, that your legacy will probably be as an announcer? And are you more passionate about announcing that you were wrestling?

T: I’ve done a lot of interviews and I’ve never been asked that question, so thank you. That’s a pretty cool question, because it’s a tough one to answer. I don’t know. If my legacy ends up being in the years to come as a pretty good color commentator, I’m cool with that, because I realize how vital it truly is for the announcers to sell the product and sell the talent. I know how important that is. I’ve learned that. So, if that’s my legacy, and when it’s all said and done people forget that I was a wrestler, then that’s cool. I mean look at Jesse Ventura. Jesse Ventura back in the day was the best color commentator in the business, but he had a long career as a wrestler that no one even talked about. So that might happen with me. And if it does, so be it. If I can be in that same breath as a Jesse Ventura in that realm, then that’s awesome.

Speaking of that, there’s also different eras as far as announcing. Back then, Jesse Ventura was the best in the 80’s. But you fast forward now, and his broadcasting style as a color commentator in my opinion – and I’m pretty qualified since this is what I do for a living – I think it’s a little outdated and old. Some like it. It’s an acquired taste. When the bad guy pins the good guy and puts his foot on the ropes, and the play-by-play guy goes, “He cheated. He put his foot on the ropes.” And then the heel announcer says, “I didn’t see that. He didn’t put his foot on the ropes.” Do you like that, Alfonso?

AC: I agree. You really can’t get away with that anymore. I think Jesse wasn’t as bad as others. And I think that’s what made him very good. He did call it like it is more than others. I think there were other heel announcers who were a lot more over the top. I think Bobby Heenan was a lot more over the top. Jesse was a little more down the middle, I think.

T: But I’m asking you a question. Do you think that works today for a color commentator?

AC: No, I don’t think it does… This whole hot potato (situation on ECW). They had to finally cycle a new guy in, and brought in Byron Saxton. I don’t know if you’ve seen him.

T: Yeah, I saw the kid. With Josh, right?

AC: Yeah, and to me it’s everything that’s wrong with WWE’s philosophy on announcers. Another young, good-looking guy fills out a suit well, but is just trying too hard, is disingenuous.

T: I agree with that. You see, Mike Tenay and me, we try to be as sincere as possible. I know my number one goal as an announcer, besides not shilling, my number on goal as an announcer is not to insult your intelligence. I’m really big into not doing that. I’m a really big sports fan, and when I watch sports and I listen to the announcers, sometimes I get pissed off because they’re insulting my intelligence. I’m not an idiot. Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. I get it. That’s how I try to handle my role as a wrestling commentator, you know what I mean? It’s like anything else. You might like brunettes. I might like blondes. It’s an acquired taste. Everybody’s got their own tastes.

But I will tell you, back to what you said that triggered this. I’m behind the scenes at TNA, and I’ve been from the beginning for the past three or four months, and I do not get the sense of, “Oh, my God! WWE let go of that guy. We’ve got to get him.” I really don’t see that, bro. I’m telling you the truth. I swear to God. It’s not like that. It’s not like that at all. They’re trying to get the best roster they can get. TNA realizes people like A.J. Styles and Samoa Joe and Daniels and Suicide, these guys are pioneers of the company. And it’s respected. And those guys, I believe, aren’t going anywhere. They want to keep those guys right where they are. And, A.J. Styles is a TNA original, and is the world champion the last time I checked. And Christopher Daniels is his opponent this Sunday. So how much more of a push do those guys need.

AC: I’m a big fan of A.J. Styles.

T: So am I.

AC: And I think it’s terrific that they’re finally getting behind him. Do you think Hulk Hogan will keep that approach? Do you think that, for better or for worse, some people think, “Uh oh. Brutus Beefcake is going to come in and win the world title”?

T: Nah, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I might be wrong, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Another thing is – Beefcake? I don’t really know Beefcake, but I get your point. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think Hulk is a pretty intelligent man and I think he’ll come into this company and he’ll make some suggestions that are good suggestions. I might be wrong. I’m not buddies with the guy, but I do respect him as a guy from within the industry, and for what he’s accomplished. And my knowing him from when I was on Smackdown with him, I would getting along very well with him and he’s always a fun guy to be around.

AC: Is it going to be tough for you when WrestleMania comes and goes this coming year and you’re not a part of it?

T: Absolutely not. I could care less, bro. And I’m being honest. This is a business to me, my friend. This is how I feed my family and pay my bills. And I have mouths to feed and this is my career, not my job. I’m passionate about my career. But I am not – and I hate to use this word – but I am not a mark for WrestleMania or all that stuff. I’m proud to say that I called a lot of them. And I’m proud to say that I’ve hit those peaks as an announcer and I’ve wrestled on, I don’t know, one, maybe two WrestleManias – not in high matches. But I’ve competed in them. So, yes, I’m proud of that. Don’t get me wrong.

But keep in mind, when my contract ended with WWE, and I gave my notice – I gave them, I don’t know, it had to be four weeks, maybe five weeks notice – I offered to call WrestleMania. I’m trying to remember. I think my contract ended like two days before the last WrestleMania. I don’t know the numbers, so I’m not saying the numbers of the WrestleManias. So what I did was I offered to WWE to come in, because I didn’t want to leave them in a lurch, and I’ll call that WrestleMania if you guys want me to. Whatever Smackdown matches you need me to call. And they said, “Let us think about it.” And then they said, “Well, how much money are you going to want for that? Are you going to hold us up?” I laughed. I looked at them – Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon – and I laughed. I go, “Money? Buy my plane ticket and pay for my hotel and we’ll call it even.” And they looked at me, and Vince hugged me, because he knows I’m a regular guy. I’m not going to hold you up for money. I just don’t want to leave you in a lurch. And then a few days went by and they said, “We appreciate the offer, but you know what? We’re going to just move in a different direction.” I said, “That’s totally cool. When do you want me to finish up?” I finished up in Dallas at like a SuperShow or something like that. And that was that.

I’m very proud of the way I left the company, just like I left ECW when I went to WWE. I gave notice. I left like a professional. No one could ever accuse me of being egotistical and screwing a company and leaving them in a lurch. I’m not like that. I’m not that type of guy. I don’t leave people like you with juicy stuff, you know what I mean? I do it the right way. And I do it the way I would want to be treated.

AC: Was it a culture shock at all for you to go from, on the high end, the WrestleManias in front of 80,000 people and that kind of rush, and even a medium-sized WWE pay per view before 10,000 people, to a studio setting in a Florida theme park, a much smaller audience? And when TNA has ventured outside of the Impact Zone, it’s been to smaller buildings that aren’t selling out. What’s that been like for you?

T: At first it was a little weird. It was. I wouldn’t say culture shock, but it was a little weird. The first time I walked into the Impact Zone, I thought about the original ECW. It was like, “Wow.” Small intimate buildings. That’s how my career was built – in a small little bingo hall in a crappy part of South Philadelphia. That’s what I thought about. I didn’t think about the big, massive buildings or stuff like that. I didn’t think of that. Because, you know what happens is when you do enough of that stuff and you’re working in those big buildings – the Staples Center, and the Garden and Nassau Coliseum or whatever, after a while it just becomes old hat. You get – I don’t want to say spoiled – but you get so used to it that it’s just part of the deal, you know?

There was a long time for WWE when those buildings were not sold out – when those massive buildings had a lot of black tarp on them on the seats. So I don’t want to sit here and have anybody say that those buildings were always sold out. That was not the case. My early goings with WWE when I first signed with the company in 2000, 2001, 2002 when I was wrestling, yeah, business was hot for everybody and everything was sold out. I remember being at the Gund Arena on SuperBowl Sunday for a matinee show in Cleveland, and it was sold out to the rafters, and not all the big stars were there for WWE. And that was SuperBowl Sunday. That’s how hot the business was, you know what I mean?

AC: Do you see another boon like that on the horizon? Is this the beginning of one, with TNA going to Monday nights?

T: I certainly hope so. I think that if there’s anybody who can spark that kind of interest, it’s men like Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan. I mean, come on. They’ve done it. All you hear about is the negative things from WCW. I never worked for WCW. I have a lot of friends who did. And I know a lot of people made a lot of money there. And a lot of people were watching their TV show. So everybody talks about the negatives of WCW. What about the positives? What about the good things that Bischoff and Hulk did? What about that. You don’t hear about that though. So it’s like there were a lot of fortunate, good things.

AC: What’s it going to take to launch the next big wrestling boon period? Is it a character catching fire and really taking off?

T: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it ever comes down to a character. I really don’t I think it comes down to a potpourri of characters. I think it comes down to giving people an alternative. Look at UFC and the mixed martial arts game. Their pay per view business if phenomenal. And the reason is that it’s real, and it’s kind of tough to compete with that. We’re entertainment. We’re a show. WWE is entertainment. It’s a show. But, like I said at the top of this interview, I’m big into action. And I believe in TNA we’ve got a roster full of guys that have the athletic ability as a roster that I would put up against anybody. Let these guys go out there and let their hair down and do their thing. That’s what I think.

In my career, throughout all the promos I’ve done in ECW, I had a guy like Paul Heyman, who was my boss, would give me some bullet points and some direction. And the rest of that promo getting over was me delivering on the character that I was portraying. When I say getting back to basics, I think that’s something that the business needs. I’m a big believer in that. You get into this business to be a pro wrestler. You’re not an actor. The worst actors in the business are pro wrestlers. Acting is not good if you’re a wrestler. You’re a wrestler, you know what I mean?

AC: Right. And I think you can tell a difference between a guy who is working off of a script and doesn’t believe what he’s saying and a guy who’s put out there to sink or swim and just kind of speak from the heart. I think that comes through.

T: Right. Exactly. And that’s my point. I’d like to see that happen again. I think that in TNA we’ve got a lot of guys who are talented enough to let their hair down and get over huge. I think part of the problem in the business, I think that the wrestling business is over-saturated in the public. There’s so much pay per view wrestling. And there are so many TV shows that are wrestling between WWE and TNA. And I just think sometimes it’s a lot. And the economy is so rough. People aren’t spending that kind of money. You’ve got the creative teams in TNA and the creative teams at WWE trying to do segment after segment that’s awesome. But yet, you’ve got to spend money for a pay per view too. It’s tough to do that. It’s tough to top yourself every single month, you know what I mean? But I’m a fan of the shows, the pay per views we put out at TNA because they are usually a pretty solid, super wrestling show. Again, I’m an action guy.

AC: Going full circle, the first TNA show I saw at Westbury, which was more than a year ago – it might be closer to two years – was one of the best house shows that I had ever gone to, because there was no nonsense. There wasn’t a lot of talk. There wasn’t a lot of crazy angles or anything. The guys were just put out there to wrestle, and I think they headlined with Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle in a terrific match. So do you think that’s what fans are in store for on January 8th?

T: I don’t know. I don’t want to say, because I don’t know. And I don’t want to look like I know and I don’t know what fans are in store for. I really don’t. And that’s the truth. I don’t know, and I don’t think many people know. I’m just going to show up and call a live, three-hour show and be as entertaining as possible and as insightful as possible and as informative as possible. And hopefully it’s a great show, and I think it will be.

AC: Well, that’s on the 4th. The 8th is over here on Long Island.

T: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you said the 4th. The Friday night show in Westbury, I think you’re going to see a bang-bang wrestling show. You’re going to see what I think TNA was built on. It’s tough for me to say, because I wasn’t here from the beginning as you pointed out. But I do think you’re going to see guys like A.J. Styles and Kurt Angle and Beer Money and Desmond Wolfe. The Beautiful People will be there, I know that. The Pope. You’re going to see these guys.

Let me ask you a question – another thing. Look at the Pope. The Pope in WWE was Elijah Burke, right or wrong?

AC: Yes.

T: How long was it before he signed with TNA after leaving WWE?

AC: Yeah, it was a while.

T: Ah. So that’s what I’m saying. I’m trying to show you that your comment earlier is not a true comment. But not only that, he completely changed his character from anything WWE did with him.

AC: It’s a good point. I do think it’s a while… I’d go to the likes of a Booker T, who I know isn’t with the company anymore. To me, that was a guy who you picked up because he worked for WWE and WCW, and that’s pretty much it. Because, to me, he didn’t contribute a whole lot to TNA.

I wanted to ask you about Dixie Carter’s speech to the TNA locker room that aired in Impact a few weeks ago. That sat wrong with a lot of people. A lot of people watched that and were kind of offended by it, with the thought being, “Who is she to kind of call out these guys who are all working really hard?” And a lot of people feel that TNA’s challenges are on the creative side, and not on the side of its performers, its wrestlers, who are some of the best in the world. They were a little bit bothered that she made it sound, whether she intended to or not, some people got the impression that she was putting TNA’s problems and failures on the wrestlers and not on the management side, where they belong.

T: Well, first and foremost, in my view – you know, we’re doing a TV show. So, I think they’re trying to do something entertaining. Number two, who is she? She pays the bills. She’s the boss. So if you work in McDonald’s and the manager at McDonald’s tells you to make Big Macs, and you say, no, I’m going to make fish sandwiches. “No, no, no, you’re going to make Big Macs.” “Nope. I’m making fish sandwiches.” Well, guess what? You’re fired. OK? She’s the boss. So that’s who she is to say that.

No, do I think that there’s a problem with the talent and the way the talent works? No, not at all. I’m a fan of the roster, as I said earlier. But, what I think the company did there was do something you’ve never seen before and bring you behind the scenes. Was it comfortable? You’re damn right it was uncomfortable. And should it be uncomfortable? You damn right it should be uncomfortable. And what’s wrong with that? Have you ever watched Curb Your Enthusiasm?

AC: Yeah.

T: Funny show, right?

AC: Well, isn’t there a difference in that…?

T: Hold on, hold on. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a funny show, but Larry David will do some things on that show that are damn uncomfortable, right or wrong?

AC: Yeah. I think it’s a little apples and oranges here.

T: I don’t know about that. I’m talking about being uncomfortable on TV.

AC: If I could interject. I’ve interviewed Jeff Jarrett and I’ve interviewed some other people in the company – Kevin Nash and some others. And I’ve posed some of the criticisms of TNA to them from the so-called Internet wrestling community, as I have with you. And what I always get is something to the effect of, “Oh, you know the Internet wrestling community. What do they know? We’re not concerned with them too much.” But then it seems like so much of what is done on TV is done to cater to this Internet wrestling community – this tiny Internet wrestling community that probably doesn’t work out to ten percent of its fans.

If you were just a fan of TNA, and didn’t own a computer, and you just watched every week to see, as you said, a good guy fight a bad guy over a belt or whatever – what wrestling is kind of built on – and you saw this woman addressing this locker room full of people talking about a bunch of issues that nobody knows what she’s talking about. And it’s not the only time. Now there’s this whole storyline with Jeff Jarrett and Mick Foley playing on this very real issue involving Jeff Jarrett and Karen Angle. But it hasn’t been addressed. And if you’re just a fan of TNA and just watch the TV show, you have no idea what they’re talking about.

T: Right. I don’t disagree.

AC: Is that a problem?

T: You know what? I’m not on the creative team. So I don’t know what to say to you. I really don’t.

AC: OK. Maybe we’re on the same page about that one.

T: We might be. I look at the masses. I’m a little bit different. I come from a different place. But I don’t know what to say to you. I really don’t. I think things are going to change. And we’ll see what happens. That’s what we’re hearing. I’m hoping for the best, and I think I’m going to stay positive.

AC: Well, this was a lot of fun, Taz. I don’t know if we got off on the wrong foot, but I had a good time talking to you here. And I’m a fan. I’ve been watching you for a long time. I really enjoy your work and hope to be in the building there in Westbury on January 8th.

T: I appreciate it. As I said earlier, I appreciate that you have a knowledge of the business and you’re not just some guy with a couple of questions written down. I do appreciate that. But, you know, it’s tough. You as a wrestling fan. Me as a guy in the business – and I’m also a fan. A lot of times we all get our information from the Internet. Sometimes, I’m telling you, it’s wrong. Sometimes it’s right. But at least you’re prepared. And I respect when a guy interviews me and he’s prepared. And you definitely were prepared. We did kind of get off on the wrong foot.

I didn’t expect this. I’ll be honest with you. I thought it was a straight promotion thing. But I speak my mind. I speak my opinion. And I’m kind of one of these type of guys who I show you who I am right away. And there’s no agenda. There’s no fakeness. I’m just real. And if you like me, you like me. And if you don’t, then I’m sorry. You don’t. But I hope I came across that way and I hope it was a good interview for you.

New York Sports