Starting his career as a referee for his father’s Continental Wrestling Alliance in 1986, Jarrett went on to work for both WCW and the WWF at the height of the Monday Night War.
During his time with the WWF, Jarrett was a six-time Intercontinental Champion, as well as a former tag team champion with the late Owen Hart.
In WCW, Jarrett held the United States Championship three times and the World Heavyweight Championship an impressive four times before the promotion’s closure in 2001.
Jarrett and his father founded TNA Wrestling in 2002 – and will be celebrating its 10 year anniversary on Monday with Slammiversary live on pay-per-view.
Jarrett talked to NZPWI’s David Dunn about his trademark guitar, the late Owen Hart, the decision to set up TNA, WWA The Reckoning, Ring Ka King, the TNA Hall of Fame and more in this interview conducted Wednesday morning.
Jeff Jarrett: Hello David, how are you doing today, this morning?
David Dunn: Hello Jeff, I’m good thanks. How are you going?
Great. Great, great, great.
Thank-you for taking the time to have a chat to me today.
Sure, sure. Looking forward to it.
Alright, we’ll launch into it, shall we?
You look at the TNA roster at the moment, Jeff… you’ve got names like Brooke Hogan and Garett Bischoff on there. There’s a bunch of second and third generation people on the WWE roster, but you came from a wrestling family sort of before it was the cool thing to do. What’s it like to grow up in the wrestling business? Did you sort of always have an idea that you were probably going to be a professional wrestler?
I knew from a very young age. I got quote-unquote bit by the bug. I have always said – I have been asked this question many times over my 25-plus, 26 years career – I believe it is without a doubt the biggest blessing that I’ve ever had in this business and just as equal to that it’s been my biggest curse. It takes a lot of years to overcome the curse because, yes it opens the doors to get you in – I don’t wanna call it the fast track, but it opens doors for you to actually get in the business. But as soon as you’re in it, it can become your biggest curse. As the years go by, the wrestling fans are so in tune, they are so – I don’t want to say just educated, but really have a sense of awareness of people that have a passion for the business, and people who don’t have a passion for the business. People who are willing to pay their dues and not willing to pay their dues, people who have talent and don’t have talent, and so you really have to dig in. You’ve got to jump in head-first and make up your mind early. I’ve – from Dusty Rhodes to the Von Erichs to the Grahams – been around many wrestling families over the years and – the Hennigs – you really, really have to dig in and make your mark, and it doesn’t come easy.
You started your career off as a referee. How important is it, do you think, to pay your dues like that, and sort of come in on the bottom and work your way up before having your first match?
I’ve been asked the question: do I have any advice for a young guy wanting to get in the business? Well I lived the advice, the advice that was given to me, and I believe it’s absolutely spot-on. You have to have a passion first and foremost if you want to do this. And you also have to learn the basics, you have to learn the foundations, and when you’re a referee you literally have the best seat in the house. No one has a better seat – I don’t care how much money they pay. If you’re a referee you’re right in the middle of the action, sometimes too close to it, but that’s all part of paying the dues process. You can absorb and learn so much from being a referee. When I was a kid I set up the ring and sold concession stands and sold tickets and sold popcorn, merchandise, learned a lot of facets of business. To this day I carry with me a lot of the foundation that I learned. I’ve seen it so many times over and over and over and over and that’s the wisdom that I’ve gained. I’ve said, I’ll go on record: I’ve probably watched more live wrestling just because of the ability that I’ve been blessed with to be at all these live events from a very young kid, I’ve watched more live wrestling than anybody my age. So that takes in a lot of ground. Malcolm Gladwell has a book about the rule of 10,000, and I believe I’ve watched more than 10,000 matches, I can tell you that much. Paying your dues is essential, not just in wrestling, but in any business.
I’m a closet musician. If you’re from Nashville, Tennessee, and you can’t be a little bit musically inclined you’re probably growing up in the wrong town. I was a kid, young in my career, a guy from Nashville, coming to – at that time – the WWF. There was a lot of, we’ll call it realism, because I wanted to make a name. We’ll call country music my hobby, but that was a lot of fun, that time during my career.
I can’t say you’ve often been seen to play the guitar much. You’re usually just smashing it over other people’s heads. Do you ever wish you’d chosen a more conventional weapon, like perhaps a steel chair, or Sting’s got a baseball bat…?
No, no, no, no. Being from Music City it’s been the perfect equaliser for me, and I know because I have witnessed… wrestling fans don’t want to hear musicians, so I think I play the exact perfect note every time I swing it.
A lot of people I know, when they talk about your run with WWF, they remember your tag team with the late Owen Hart when you were former WWF tag team champions. What are you memories of your time spent tagging with Owen?
I’ve been doing a lot of interviews leading up in Australia and New Zealand and I got asked the question – so I’ll probably answer this one in a similar fashion – who was one of my favourite human beings to be with in the business, travel with, and it’s Owen. My memories are that Owen – my memories of him are moreso out of the ring than in the ring, although he was a well accomplished wrestler. We come from a wrestling family. He had wrestled in the Tennessee area several times. When we got to know each other, we instantly hit if off just because of our similarities and our backgrounds, but Owen was a man’s man, he was as real and authentic as a human being could be. He had more integrity in his pinkie than most guys have in their entire body. And that was just how Owen was. I can’t say enough good things about Owen. A lot of people like to remember him as practical joker, a ribber, and he was without a doubt maybe the best, but that was just one side of Owen.
And not only were you in WWF but you managed to make the transition over to WCW, so you were one of the major names of the 90s. What was it like having that experience being on both sides of the Monday night war, especially towards the end there in WCW? What was it like hanging out backstage there?
It was something that was, at times, surreal because WCW had been on TBS and then TNT since the mid-80s, since cable television exploded. It was on TBS before the superstation really was the superstation, so long history there. Yes I went back and forth with both companies. Both companies, two contracts with each. The business in ‘93 was somewhat down, it was on its rise back up, and it had a run through 2000, 2001, that, essentially the highest the business had ever been as far as grossing dollars and stuff like that. So, great time to be in the business, lot of great characters. But the business was turned on its ear in the mid-90s, and I believe that’s affected where we’re at today, and have said that internally for over two years now, that the business – reinvent is probably too strong a word, but it absolutely has to have an enormous change just like the entertainment, just like the music business, just like the movie business, the television industry, it definitely has to evolve.
If we shift forward to 2002 now, that’s when you founded TNA. WCW and ECW had gone out of business but you had promotions, Ring of Honor was around, the World Wrestling All-Stars, I think XWF was around at the time. It just seems like such a huge decision to me, to decide that you’re going to open your own promotion. How do you come to that conclusion at that time?
It’s documented: I come from a wrestling family. My family’s been in the wrestling business since the 1940s. And we sat back and I had some time in-between those WWA tours and knew that there was a huge void in the marketplace. There really, really was, and the time – on one hand, it was a great opportunity, on the other hand it was really tough. A lot of television executives – not a lot, almost all of them –weren’t ready to get back in the wrestling business, so that’s where the weekly pay-per-view format was, sort of the birth of it, discussed, new concepts, and they paved the way to where Impact is now. It’s seen in over 120 countries, 14 languages, seen globally, and here we are talking – I’m in my home in Hendersonville, Tennessee and you’re in New Zealand and we’re talking about our 10 year anniversary, so, exciting stuff.
Definitely. If we continue to talk about New Zealand for a moment, one of my all-time favourite memories of professional wrestling is the pay-per-view WWA The Reckoning back in 2003 when you and Sting came over to New Zealand and you guys wrestled the main event. What do you remember about your visit to our country?
The first thing I remember it was a real long flight and my flight got diverted to Fiji, so that’s my travel woes. Ah, no, great time. I remember arriving, I don’t know, 4 or 5 in the morning. It was dark, and the ride to the hotel, but just seeing the country and getting to spend a couple of days… I’ve said it, I love Australia, and New Zealand was very good to me. Didn’t get to spend a lot of time, but I know that there was an incredible amount of energy in the building that night. Me and Sting have a documented history, and I like to think that we push ourselves – each other – to the limit, and that night was no exception.
What do you reckon the odds are of TNA bringing a show over here, Jeff, and perhaps trying to capitalise on some of that enthusiasm that New Zealand fans have for pro wrestling?
It has been… TNA and Australia, as well as New Zealand, the history, it has been documented that we have attempted to come down there. The economics have just never been right, but I can tell you that negotiations may have slowed down, they never came to a screeching halt, and they’re on-going. I was asked earlier what do I think the odds are that we’ll be there in the next 12 months. I think there’s a good chance. I think there’s a great chance that TNA will be down there in the next 18 to 24.
Fantastic, we’d be so excited about that.
Is this position now where you thought TNA would be in 10 years when you first founded it? Did you expect it to get to the heights it has?
That’s hard to, that’s really hard to answer, because I can tell you I expected to be here – some people would take that as well it’s not as big as it should be or it’s not big enough. I’m not a fortune teller. What I can say is that we’ve come a long way from the weekly pay-per-views to Spike TV, we’re in the middle of our summer bash live here in the States. It is a great time of being in TNA just the simple fact that we’re celebrating out 10 year anniversary. A lot has gone on and a lot will continue to go on. I’m excited about the future.
I know it’s probably pretty hard to say, but could you pick one of your favourite moments in the past 10 years of TNA? I know the Spike TV deal was obviously very beneficial for the company, but perhaps just speaking to you as a wrestling fan, is there anything that really leaps out over the past 10 years?
The Spike TV you answered, because that was… personally, professionally and as a performer, it gave us the opportunity to literally put on our showcase in front of the entire cable universe, which was over 90 million at the time in the United States, so that was huge. As far as inside the ring my series of matches against Kurt Angle last year have been some that I’m very most proud of. At that stage in my career, the emotion, the way we pushed each other, he brought the best out in me and I’d like to think I brought the best out in him. It was a series of really, really hard-hitting matches, physically and emotionally, and we laid it all on the line, so that would be my in-ring highlight. One of my in-ring highlights.
You’re heading up Ring Ka King over in India at the moment. When you founded TNA in the United States I imagine a lot of the fan-base would have already been familiar with you from your time with WCW and WWF, but would that necessarily be the case in India? Has it been hard to start off in kind of a fresh market over there?
From a personal standpoint, someone who’s been in the business like I have, to the wrestling fan-base – which is small in India – of course they know who I am. From an entire Ring Ka King launching concept, it had never been done. We launched on a top network, and many, many, many, many people… it’s a very small segment of the Indian population who had actually seen wrestling. So for us to launch it in a brand new region of the world, a country… we got Harbhajan Singh which is a world-renowned cricket player; Yama, a world-renowned sumo wrestler; Mika is a pop star in the country. And we did it in a unique format where we did 26 episodes, 13 weeks, one hour on Saturday night, one hour on Sunday night, primetime, and it’s very, very rewarding personally and professionally and I’m really excited about the future of Ring Ka King.
I was lucky enough to be on a conference call with Dixie Carter last week, and one of the things she mentioned was that when the contracts have run out she’d be interested in cutting down the number of pay-per-views from the current 12 that TNA has at the moment. I was just wondering what your thoughts are on that because, of course, when you founded TNA it was solely pay-per-views.
And that’s why I truly believe that the business from a business model, and not just a format, but the entire business has to evolve, so I have been in favour of that for several years, in that things have to change. The music business has adapted; the movie business has adapted; the television business; all forms of entertainment and sport – no matter what country you’re in – have adapted, and the wrestling business, to me, it’s time – and I’ve said it for quite some time – it’s time to evolve, time to adapt, and yes I’m absolutely in favour of that.
There are a bunch of changes going on in Impact at the moment. You’ve moved live in the States which means it’s only about a day behind the US broadcast when it comes out in New Zealand. The backstage segments are looking a lot more “real” and “behind the scenes”. What do you think the next step is in the evolution of TNA?
I’ve gone on record and said it: you look at the programming – not just in the US, but obviously that’s where I live so I see more of that – the audience has to emotionally invest in the characters. And I don’t care if it’s Kim Kardashian, or Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, or your most famous rugby player in New Zealand, they have to emotionally invest in the characters, and that’s from: can they relate to them? Do they – not just do they believe it’s real – is it real? And so you have to buy into the performers, the wrestlers, and everything that surrounds it. That’s what professional wrestling has always been about, whether it’s the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, 2000s, it’s that personal connection, that personal issue, it’s catching that hot button that exists in society. Absolutely you have to have the viewer connect with what they see on television.
Another big announcement to come from Dixie Carter lately is that at Slammiversary the TNA Hall of Fame is going to get up and running with the first inductee. I, personally, can’t think of anyone better suited to be a TNA Hall of Famer than you, Jeff Jarrett. And I was just wondering: what are your thoughts on the Hall of Fame, and would you like to one day, or perhaps at Slammiversary even, be inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame?
First off, the wrestling business is a business. And so whether it’s… the Hall of Fame, whatever you call it, I believe without a doubt the first guy that should go into the Hall of Fame is Bob Carter. It’s well documented, the history of the business, that many years ago, Bob stepped up to the plate in a big way and made a lot of things happen within TNA and so I believe it is an absolute no-brainer for him to be the first one in.
Alright, I guess we’ll have to find out at Slammiversary if that’s the case. Also on the subject of Slammiversary, what matches are you looking forward to on the card, that you just want to sit down as a fan and check out?
Bobby Roode has always been a personal favourite of mine. Sting, at this stage in his career – he’s a big money ball-player – he has always brought his game to big matches. In 2012 he’s got to step up to Bobby’s level. It’s going to be exciting to see – that one for sure. And from the day we signed Kurt Angle until today as I’m sitting here, I believe that Kurt has very, very few peers in this business. He’s got the “it factor”. He has a unique ability with timing that I think is unparalleled. And obviously he’s got the background and the athletic ability, so a Kurt Angle match is one that I always tune in to see.
Finally, Jeff, can we expect to see you coming back to the ring on Impact Wrestling for TNA any time soon?
I don’t believe so. I am thoroughly enjoying my time in new development. It is something that’s very, very near and dear to my heart, whether it be Ring Ka King or any other of my other projects in development, it’s something that I’m excited because I believe it truly is headed down the future and something I’m really excited about. But it goes without saying, Sunday my time, Monday your time, I’ll be sitting in my house excited to see what’s going to happen at Slammiversary.
We’re very excited about it over in New Zealand as well – we’re looking forward to it. Thank-you very much, Jeff, for this interview today, and best of luck with your role in new development and everything. Thank-you very much.
Thank-you, appreciate it, and tell all your listeners to tune in Monday morning!