It was NZPWI’s privilege on Wednesday to speak to Gail Kim. Gail is one of the few women in wrestling whose ability and skill have elevated her well past the “Diva” status so common among women in top-level wrestling today.
Debuting in the Apocalypse Wrestling Federationin 2000, Gail’s first matches were as masked luchadore, La Felina. By 2003, Gail had come to the attention of World Wrestling Entertainment, capturing the WWE Women’s Championship during her debut match on RAW.
Gail was released from WWE along with other talented women in 2004, a move that shocked and dismayed fans who had enjoyed seeing women actually wrestling and showcasing their athletic ability.
Signing with Total Non-stop Action (TNA) in October 2005, and debuting as Jeff Jarrett’s manager, Gail has once again been given the opportunity to display her considerable athletic and wrestling ability. Taking on the likes of Jackie Moore, Sirelda, and even working in mixed tag team matches with Petey Williams and AMW, Gail continues to demonstrate the skill and versatility that have made her one of the top women in the business today.
Gail took time out of her busy schedule to speak with NZPWI’s Kirsty Quested about WWE, TNA, Vince Russo, her ambitions outside of wrestling and much more!
Kirsty Quested: In a male dominated industry, few women have transcended gender and stereotype in such a way as my guest at this time. Combining great athletic ability and wrestling skill, she has risen to become one of the top performers in the industry today. It is my pleasure to welcome Gail Kim.
You’ve been with TNA for almost 18 months now. How’ve you been finding it?
Gail Kim: I love it. I mean, the experience from day one has been so different from… I previously worked for WWE as everyone knows, and it’s just a different experience for me. Maybe not with a full-blown Women’s Division; I came in as a manager, but the people, it’s more of a family, our whole roster. Having Dixie Carter as a boss – having a woman as a boss as opposed to Vince McMahon – everything’s just different. I’m really enjoying myself and really coming into my own here, and it’s very different when the company that you work for believes in you.
I mean, I could go on all day about the differences, but overall, a more positive experience.
Yes, I really do. When I first came into TNA – when they first approached me about coming and working for the company – they said “We would really like to develop a Women’s Division.” And they did say to me “it’s not going to happen overnight.” And realistically, I knew it wasn’t going to happen for a number of reasons: not enough girls. Time – we only have an hour show, with a lot of talent on the roster.
So we’ve been very patient. And all the girls, all of us, we are really pushing for it. So right now, as you just saw, with me and Jackie, we just finished a feud, and that’s pretty much – I think – going to be the first beginning steps of a Women’s Division. We just need more girls and more time. I think those are going to be the two factors.
You mentioned working for Dixie Carter. Do you think that having a woman at the helm would make a difference to the way a TNA Women’s Division is handled?
Oh – definitely. A hundred percent. Dixie from day one, has always been so supportive, and you know… I’m not going to knock Vince in any way, but he’s a man…
… men and women, view us differently. But Vince has been around a long time, you know? I’ll admit that, and he knows wrestling, but I think Dixie cares more about how we’re portrayed, and how we’re viewed as people. And cares more about our characters. And cares more about making us look professional and classy.
As opposed to… Diva Searches…?
As opposed to… yeah, tits n’ ass. T&A. I know we’re called TNA but I don’t think our girls are necessarily just viewed as “t&a”…
I think that joke’s really prosaic. I think everyone got over that one a long time ago.
Right. And, Vince is a man. He’s got testosterone! I’m sure he’s going to see things a little bit differently. And I know there are fans out there who want to see that. But I think Dixie understands that. Its part of the business as well, so we give them the sexiness, and we’re going to give them the physicality and the wrestling.
And each girl is going to be different, you know? We talked about this before, the girls and I, and each of us have different – like Jackie’s the tough girl, she’s been around the business a long time. For me, I’ve been around for maybe 6 years now, going on my seventh in wrestling, and people see me as the athletic girl. But I wear cute little outfits. And then there’s Christy, she’s sexy too, but she’s got a harder edge. So Cal Val’s the princess girl and Tracey’s the business woman. So we all have our own characteristics to give.
It’s striking that balance isn’t it, between strong and sexy?
Yes. And there’s a good balance there.
You were talking about how there aren’t many women with TNA; are there many expressing an interest in working, are there many currently in training?
There’s a lot of girls out there on the independent scene, there’s a lot of women who are talented. And I know they want to bring in more girls, but like I said before – and there are a lot of guys who want to join TNA, but right now we have a very full roster, and we are waiting for that second hour of television. So until that point, they’re just trying to fit who they have now. So it’s going to be difficult.
But I think they are keeping their eye out, right now, for girls who have got the whole package, girls who have the look, but who can hang in there with the rest of the girls, and hopefully once we get that second hour they’ll start hiring those girls.
You debuted for the AWF as La Felina; how do you look back on your experiences on the independent circuit?
It was a great learning experience. That whole character wasn’t my idea, so it wasn’t really me, but I didn’t know any better at that point. I’m very grateful that I went to the right wrestling school and was trained right, and I met the right people. I started with Tracey – Miss Brooks – I started with her and a bunch of great guys, and eventually started working for Scott D’Amore and Terry Taylor, for little independent shows, and I learned so much from them.
Now, we’ve come full circle, and we’re in TNA all together now.
It was such a great learning experience, I was around a lot of positive supportive people. I wouldn’t take back any of that training – travelling up and down the road and working for thirty dollars, and learning for nothing – it was a great experience.
You said that the character wasn’t really you, but how did you find being a female representative of the lucha-libre style?
You know, I never thought of myself as that. I just knew that I watched a lot of Mexican tapes and Japanese wrestling – because in Japanese wrestling you see a lot of Mexican wrestling as well – and I just knew that I loved it, and I found it entertaining, I would say “that’s cool, maybe I can do that.” And I had a guy who trained me after my first wrestling school, and he was mostly Mexican style, and he really believed in me. And every time we’d be in the wrestling school and training he’d say “Gail, try this move,” and I’d say “Oh I can’t do that,” and he’s like “yes you can” and then we’d just do it.
So it just came to be that way. Some people see me as a Mexican style wrestler, but I like to incorporate all kinds of styles of wrestling. But I’m flattered if people enjoy watching it, and I just try to perform my best out there.
So, bearing that in mind… what kind of significance did losing your mask – to Tracy Brooks – have for you?
Losing the mask? That was a big deal for me. You know what, I’ll be honest though – having a mask in my first debut match ever, that helped me a lot, because I’m kind of a shy person as it is in real life, and for me I was very nervous, as anyone would be, so for me not to have to show my face, show the facials and all that, it helped me. And then, once I felt a little more comfortable in the ring, I was just thinking “Oh my gosh! I need to get this mask off my face because I can’t breathe!” It was very difficult, it was very hot, and you know, working independent shows, you’re going to work a lot of bars, and little places that were just so hot, and it was very hard for me to breathe. Sometimes the mask would shift over and I couldn’t see, so I’d panic, little things like that.
But it was a great moment, I’ll always remember it, and it was a great match.
It was a blur, to be honest. I always get this question in interviews, and I say I’m very grateful for that moment, I would never take that back for anything. If I could go back and do it again, if I had to start my career all over again, I would say maybe I would have done it differently, for the reason that maybe I’d like to have had the fans connect with me more, and know who I was. But I would never take that back now. It was a great moment, and I’m very thankful and grateful, and the fans were very receptive that night. It was definitely a memorable moment.
And my sister was actually in the first row, and the guy that trained me was actually five rows deep and I didn’t even know he was going to be there, so it was a very nice moment.
And, I would say, indicative of WWE’s opinion of your ability. And you had been red hot since then. So it must have come as a shock when you were released?
Yeah… at that point I was really caught off guard. When they called me and said “you’re released” … I remember the phone call, thinking, I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t depressed or anything like that, I just thought “Wait a minute. Hold on a second. I need an explanation here, I don’t get it.”
Did you get one?
Yeah, I actually said that, I said “hold on” because they were kind of quick to get off the phone. They had released maybe ten people that day. There was a whole group of us. I remember talking to John East, the head of Talent Relations, and he said “We’re going to have to release you.” And I said “hold on. I just want to know, I’m not understanding why. I just did a run-in last night.” And the storyline, we just started a storyline with me, Trish and Lita. It was actually weird, because I got released on the Tuesday and Monday Night RAW was the night before, and all I thought was – that day, on Monday I was thinking, wow we were going to start this fresh new storyline, I felt like it was going to be the beginning of something great. And it was actually not, it was the opposite.
So, it’s interesting how it turned out. But I really believe everything happens for a reason. And a year later I ended up with TNA, and I think it was the best career move for me, that I’ve made so far in wrestling, because they’ve believed in me, and everything has been going really great.
You just mentioned, they were releasing a whole lot of other people at the same time; including many other talented women, and now, Trish and Lita have left as well. What do you think of the current state of the WWE Women’s Division?
I think that it’s kind of disappointing. Coming from a woman wrestler, who really has passion for the business. It’s frustrating to watch. Because I know – Victoria’s a very good friend of mine and I sometimes will watch – actually, I haven’t really watched in a long time, but if I do watch, I’m frustrated for her, because I know how she feels.
And for us, the girls in TNA, we’re frustrated only because we don’t have a Women’s Division. But we know at least that they respect us, and that we’re working towards that.
I am so surprised that in one release, in terms of myself, Nidia and Jazz, and then it started going downhill from there. Vince literally, I felt, destroyed the Women’s Division within a couple of months.
So it’s hard. Because as women, we work just as hard as the guys. And then for someone to just take that away from us… it took away a lot of our motivation, I think.
I know what you mean about frustration. Often, what I feel when I see a really good women’s match, and they’re so few and far between now, like the one that Trish had with Mickie at New Year’s Revolution, I feel frustration because I know that at any second now they’re going to break out a pillow fight, or a lingerie match, or something like that. And like you say, there’s women there like Victoria, who are just so talented…
Yeah. And the thing is, they do have talented girls there. Like Jillian, I know she’s a good wrestler, I’ve worked with her. Mickie and Victoria and Melina, and Beth Phoenix, who got brought up for a short period of time, they DO have talented girls. But it’s almost like they don’t want to use their talent. So that’s the frustrating part.
I heard that the Diva Search is pretty much Vince’s baby and he’ll never let it go.
Yes. Yes. You know, everyone who knows, or who has been in the business, they pretty much know what they’re looking for, and that’s not what they’re looking for. They don’t want the girls who are going to put on a match that is going to be as good as the guys. They don’t want that.
Getting back to TNA though, what’s your take on the public’s perception of TNA since Vince Russo came on board?
Oh… well, I don’t like to read the internet a lot. So I don’t get the internet opinions, but from people… it’s so half and half…
Chants in the crowd and stuff? The “Fire Russo” chants?
I know. You know, I was in the crowd live when they started chanting “Fire Russo” and I was just in shock, to be honest. I was like “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening.”
Coming from working with Vince, he’s a great guy, to be honest. He’s a really good guy, and I don’t think the fans know completely what’s going on behind the scenes. They’re quick to judge, and blame, if they don’t like something, so it’s not always on one person.
This last pay-per-view was just amazing. I just don’t like when fans are quick to just criticise, but then, they have to give us props for the positive stuff too, but you never hear about the good things, you hear about all the bad things. I would like for wrestling fans to be a little bit more positive sometimes.
Right, right. Well…hmm. How do you respond to the rather widespread criticism that since TNA have brought Vince Russo on board, that there’s too many gimmick matches? Sacrifice notwithstanding of course, but like Lockdown, every match was a gimmick match being in a cage, and then there was gimmicks on top of that…
Right, right, yeah. I’ve heard a lot of those comments as well, and I kind of agree in a sense too, because I think we’re having more gimmick matches than actual wrestling matches. So it makes it less special I think…
And it’s not as if the talent on TNA can’t stand on its own merit in terms of wrestling ability, you know?
Right, right, absolutely. I honestly believe we have the best athletes in the wrestling business right now.
But like I said, you can’t blame it on one person. Because it’s not like Vince is the owner of the company, and he’s the one calling the shots, I’m sure there’s other people making decisions.
How do you look back on the tag matches you had with Petey Williams?
That was so much fun, I loved working with Petey. He’s such a talented wrestler. And actually, we worked together in the independents, for Border City Wrestling, we’re both Canadian, so we got along so great. And the fans were really receptive towards us, so we just had fun.
Everyone was just waiting for him to hit the Canadian Destroyer. Everyone loves that move.
They do. It’s one of those moves that never loses its impact, no matter how many times you see it.
Oh my gosh, the crowd goes – he just hit it last night, because we just had TV tapings and the crowd went insane, they loved it.
Yes. Definitely. I love mixed tags, because I think fans love to see mixed tags, because you get to see the girls mix it up with the guys.
Would you like to do even mixed singles matches? Would you go up against someone in the X-Division?
I heard rumours about that. Some fans were telling me, and one of the guys in the office, Terry Taylor, mentioned it to me, and I don’t know if he was serious or not, but I think it would be great for a storyline. I don’t know if it would be a long term thing, because those guys, I have to give it to them: they’re phenomenal athletes. I hope I would be able to keep up with them! I would definitely love the chance to do it, so maybe one day.
What are your thoughts on the angle Christy Hemme is working right now? Do you see that as a positive or negative thing for women in TNA?
A lot of people didn’t get her storyline. I was trying to explain it to some people. They were like “We don’t get it, she’s fighting for women’s wrestling but she’s not doing any.” And I said “well the whole point is that she’s a heel now. She’s a hypocrite.”
I’m looking at it from behind the scenes, and I just think it’s great that more girls are getting involved right now. I’m just happy that more girls are being featured, and more girls are getting involved, which will therefore, in the end when we get more time, turn into a Women’s Division with more girls, so I’m happy about it.
And I think it’s great for her to start managing instead of jumping right into the wrestling. Because she can learn more, because realistically Christy has been around in the wrestling business for a couple of years, but I don’t think she’s had a lot of wrestling experience in terms of in the ring, so it’ll give her a great chance to learn. I believe that a manager – or any girl – should know her way around the ring, in and out of it.
What kind of angles do you find embarrassing or degrading for women in wrestling? Are there any particular ones that you can think of that spring to mind?
I hate when anyone asks me to do any kind of bikini contest. Anything like that, beauty contest, bikini contest – I did one in Portugal but we made it work. My response to that, whenever I get asked to do anything like that, is “Well, if you want me to look like an idiot out there I’ll do it.”
Because to be honest, I’m not a good dancer, I don’t find myself to be sexy, to be overtly sexy in that way, to be in a bikini contest and showcase myself. For me, I feel comfortable in the ring, to be a wrestler. And I want to be sexy in my own way.
And nobody’s really sexy unless they’re comfortable with what they’re doing.
From reading your website and your MySpace, it’s clear that you’re a major foodie, and that you love to travel.
What country for you had had the most gastronomic delights?
Wow. See, I’m from Canada, and it’s very multi-cultural. I love all kinds of ethnic food, so wherever I travel to I like to try their food. And we have to watch our diets, so you don’t totally get to pig out and try everything great all the time.
Whenever I travel I like to try the foods of their culture. When we were in Portugal, a bunch of us went to a Portuguese diner and we ordered all the stuff that would be great there, and it was so good. I’m a big meat eater, so normally I like a good steak, and I love seafood too so in Portugal for example, I had great squid. So yeah, I love to just try everything.
What are your long term ambitions in wrestling?
Well… we were just talking about food, my next step, while I’m in wrestling, I’d like to, while I’m still in the business, because on TV you get a little bit more exposure, I want to put out a cook book.
So I’m working on that right now. I have no professional culinary experience, but I love cooking, experimenting, I take cooking lessons on my days off…
That’s all you need though, is the creativity and the passion to do it.
… yeah that would definitely be my next passion next to wrestling, is the food and the cooking. And I’m leaning towards more healthy cooking though, so that’s my next goal.
And long term, I don’t know… my dream job? Would be to have a cooking show on the Food Network. Food and travel, I would love to have one of those shows combined into one.
So, in terms of combining wrestling and food, will that be Gail Kim’s legacy?
Will that be my legacy? I hope so! We’ll see, I’m definitely going to be working towards that.
Well Gail, thank you very much for your time today…
Thank you so much, Hopefully we’ll talk again.
That would be great, and all the best for the future.