Impact Wrestling president Scott D’Amore has been a busy man. Arguably even more busy now than during his own career as a pro wrestler and manager, most famously of the Team Canada stable.
Impact recently announced they were rebranding, or rather de-branding, back to their old name of TNA Wrestling. A wonderfully evocative moniker with two decades of pro wrestling heritage behind it, the move has been met with almost universally-positive praise.
The Sportsman sat down with Scott to talk over the reasons behind the return of TNA, Impact’s recent UK tour and whether we’ll be seeing Will Ospreay and CM Punk in a TNA ring in 2024.
The big news on everyone’s lips is of course the return of the TNA brand. Talk to me about how that came about.
I left this company years ago and it was TNA wrestling and it was strong. When I came back here a handful of years ago it had gone through a bunch of different name changes. I think it had gone from TNA to Impact (back) to TNA to Global Force (back) to Impact. The last thing we needed was another rebranding or name change
So we've kind of turned along over the years. I kind of believe that over the last handful of years, what we've really done under the Impact brand is find stability and consistency with our product. (We’re) putting out a good product. I think we all agree the time is right to return to TNA Wrestling. It's an iconic brand.
It's the brand that came out of the blocks in 2002, when there was nothing in the marketplace other than WWE, and in 2005 debuted on Spike and then exploded around the world. I think the world is ready for it. I think wrestling is ready for it. I think four days here in the UK has been unbelievable. Four nights of the crowd just embracing it, and from beginning to end, the crowd chanting those iconic letters. It was great to hear as someone who was here in year one. It was music to my ears to hear the crowds every night just chanting TNA and embracing it.
I think we're really at a point in time where there's an entire generation of people out there that grew up with TNA being their wrestling company. Now we're at the point where that generation that was inspired years ago… Will Ospreay said it in the ring the other night in Newcastle. He grew up a TNA kid. Now that those teenage kids are adults, we're gonna get to let them experience with their children what they experienced when they were young.
It has emerged that while the popular branding is returning, the iconic TNA six-sided ring is not. Can you fill me in on why that is?
The six sides is not returning. I know that that disappoints a lot of fans. I was in the room when we decided to go six-sided back in 2004. I have some fond memories of that process and of it being there. It was such a big part of our identity. But at the end of the day, it boils down to… it's pretty much unanimous for the talent. Wrestling in the six sided ring was much harder on their bodies, more prone to injury. Even more so than just the injury, I think what you really have to look at is the wear and tear, in and out every day.
To me, at the end of the day wrestling historically is a four sided ring. There's nothing wrong with a four sided ring. It's what wrestling and combat sports have been historically. We went back and forth. But at the end of the day, the one thing that's unwavering is we want to look after the talent’s safety and health. I know that disappoints fans. But at the end of the day, what do you care more about? The six sided ring, the aesthetic, or the health of the human beings that already put their health on the line to go out there and perform for us? Do you think it's worth it to have them go out there and risk further injury and wear and tear on their body so that you can see a six sided ring?
With Impact 1000 and the recent Hall of Fame inductions of Don West, Mike Tenay and Traci Brooks, there is a clear link being drawn to TNA’s past. How will we see that manifest when the name change comes?
I think once you look past the six sided ring, I think we're open to anything. I think this is a great way to embrace our history, right? There's a TNA era and there's an Impact era. I think now we’re returning to the TNA wrestling branding, I think you'll see both. SeeI how it was meant to be. The company is TNA Wrestling, the weekly television show is called Impact still, both brands are there. But (with) TNA being the main brand for the company.
I think we're open to anything as far as what's going to make it an exciting product in general and what's going to allow us to tip our hat to the history of TNA Wrestling. Like you alluded to, having Traci Brooks who was there in the Asylum years and being able to honour Mike Tenay and Don West and have them enshrined in the Hall of Fame was a huge moment. A landmark moment because I don't think it's possible to overstate how important Mike and Don were to this company.
At a time when it was looking for credibility. Mike today is the most credible wrestling announcer I think, arguably in history. His knowledge is unsurpassed and his passion is unquestionable. Then Don West came in without a wrestling background. Mike Tenay and I chatted about this a bit. Wrestling fans didn't immediately warm up to Don West, but with time they realised he's one of them. Jeff Jarrett has said this many times over the years. The great thing about Don West is for the first time you got to see a fan in the booth. Normally it was an ex wrestler, it was an expert that did that colour commentary role. With Don West, you got a fan, a true fan. A guy that grew up loving and watching wrestling, and didn't have that polished announcer feel. Didn't have that history and knowledge base in wrestling from a performer/competitor point of view, but was someone who brought unbridled passion and excitement to the product.
You inducted Mike Tenay and the greatly missed Don West of course. Tell me what it meant to you to induct those guys into the Hall of Fame.
It was really emotional. Mike Tenay, and Don West were so good to me. I told the story in the induction. Mike Tenay walked up to me right after the meeting. Shortly after that he introduced me to Don and they were just such a key point for this company, they were such an integral part of it.
But also for me, coming in at 28 years old, being put in a position that you could certainly argue that I was quite young for. To have them at my side, just both supporting, helping, and welcoming me. So it was really my honour when Mike asked me (to induct them).
But my first thought was, ‘I can't do this’. How do you sum up what Mike Tenay and Don West mean to TNA Wrestling? Then also what they mean to me personally, it was just a daunting task. Part of me was scared as hell. And Mike, god bless him, said ‘I just don't think there's anybody else who can do it. I think it should be you’. I take that great honour and accept it with pride. It's just too much to sum up.
Mike and Don, the way they handled the show, they always put the talent first and foremost. There's some announcers that make the show about them. Mike and Don always made the show about the talent and as somebody who was a performer as well, I always say one of the reasons why I had the success I did was because Mike and Don were so trusted and beloved by the fans. When they would go out there and rally against me and they would call me ‘Canadian Bacon’ and talk about what an obnoxious jerk I am. If you're a viewer, if Mike and Don dislike somebody, then the viewer goes, ‘Yeah, they must be a jerk!’. When you hear their voice from minute one through the last minute of the show. For them to always use that voice to better the talent and better the product is what makes them truly one of the best announce teams in the history of the sport.
You’re coming off Impact Wrestling’s first UK tour in many years. First of all, how was it?
It was unbelievable. I've said it a few times over the last few days when addressing the crowd. The UK fans are such an important part of TNA Wrestling history. When we came over here in 2008, it was so massive the response back then. To come back here, just as we're getting ready to return to TNA Wrestling, it was amazing. I think for the crew, the talent and the crew that came over here, it was a great morale booster. The fans over here are second to none.
From the opening bell in Glasgow to the final thing last night in Coventry which was a dance party. A dance-off for all the talent in the ring. It was just a celebration of returning to the UK, it's been far too long. When I returned in 2018, one of the things we said is we wanted to get back big in the UK market. Then just as we were planning that COVID hit and it took us a little longer than it should have. But now that we're back here, I can tell you this, it's not it's not going to be years before we're back, it's going to be a matter of months because the UK market is such a great wrestling market. It's such an important market to TNA Wrestling.
You’ve been busy in the UK, signing up two of our hottest stars to contracts. Leon Slater and Harley Hudson. Talk to me about what drew you to those two great young wrestlers.
We did Gut Check, which is our talent search. To have over 160 talents, primarily from the UK, but really from all over Europe show up and show out, I think was, was great to see. I first came to the UK in 1996. The wrestling scene here in 96 was struggling. It was the post-World of Sport era. The town shows were struggling. The holiday camps were really what was keeping it alive at the time. To see what the scene has grown to over here over the years. It's one of the top wrestling scenes in the world. It's one of the markets that talent can go to and make their bones and show how great they are.
The homegrown talent is unbelievable right now. I think Leon Slater is as good a talent as I've ever seen at that age. I mean, 19 years old. When I look at Leon, I think here's a guy that has everything that it takes to be this generation’s AJ Styles. He's an unbelievable talent. He's a remarkable young man. We're excited to have him as part of the launch of TNA. We saw a lot of great people through the Gut Check process. Harley certainly has a star quality to her. She's got a presence. She's got a look, but she also can deliver the goods in the ring. This is not somebody who's just all surface, there's some depth and there's some talent and there's truly a passion.
I think Leon you're going to see on a TNA Wrestling screen before you see Harley. But certainly Harley's going to be working with Josh Alexander and the Motor City Machine Gun and is gonna be coming over to North America. We're gonna start working towards her opportunity and her debut.
Will Ospreay stepped back into an Impact ring at Turning Point in Newcastle. How big a deal is it for Impact to be able to feature arguably the best wrestler on the planet?
The experience of working with Will Ospreay has been wonderful. There's a very good argument to make that there's nobody better than Will Ospreay right now. I would give an odd look at anyone who tried to argue that there's any year that one individual wrestler has had that tops Will Ospreay’s 2023. It's remarkable from Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome to Wembley to Bound For Glory to everything in between. The stuff he's done with Rev Pro. He’s just on another level
Will's competed everywhere in the world at every level. For him to come in here to Impact, now TNA Wrestling, was special. It was great to see the fact that he fits in with the group. A lot of times when somebody comes in from the outside, they're a little guarded. They stick to their room, they kind of mind themselves. But Will just came in and jumped right in. To see the joy on his face when I got to introduce him to Mike Tenay. To hear him blurt out, “You're the voice of my childhood!”.
Ospreay I think put it so wonderfully: he grew up a TNA kid. It was TNA Wrestling that inspired Will to do what he's doing. He said that when that (TNA announcement) video played at Bound For Glory, we all were in the ring and he said he had goosebumps. I'm very humbled on behalf of TNA Wrestling that Will was excited to come and do Bound For Glory weekend with us. I was very excited for Will to come and do Turning Point in Newcastle. It was his child's birthday weekend and he took the time to come out and headline. He was truly excited about the opportunity to headline and he said it to the crowd.
Will said you ‘don't know what the future holds but one thing that it does hold is I am wrestling in a TNA Wrestling ring in 2024. So we’re excited to have that and you know just couldn't speak higher of him as a talent and certainly as a human being. Regardless of where Will ends up in the Ospreay sweepstakes of February of 2024 that he has been pretty open with. Whether it's here or elsewhere, our support and appreciation of Will will always be at the highest level.
Another free agent that is on everyone's minds at the moment is obviously CM Punk. He was reportedly backstage at recent TV tapings. Can you confirm that and has there been any talk of him coming in?
Certainly he was backstage. He wasn't at Bound For Glory because he was appearing at the Blackhawks game. He's a passionate Chicago Blackhawks hockey fan. But I think it was great that Punk came by the next day for a television taping and he hung out. That's not something new. Earlier this year when we were in Chicago, even though it was just on the verge of his return to AEW for the launch of Collision, he came down and hung out. He's got lots of friends in our company and in our locker room. We have a pretty open door policy for people stopping by and hanging out.
I think it's great to see guys like CM Punk, who have done everything that he's done in the wrestling business to come by and just say hello. To watch some of the matches, to chat with some of the talent. I always tell every talent, any opportunity you get to talk with somebody who's done the things that you want to do in this industry, take advantage of that.
CM Punk could have certainly went and had a private area to check out the show or to just chat with a couple of people. But the fact is, he hung out and mingled with everybody from roster to crew. It was good to see him.
What does the future hold? Would it be intriguing to see CM Punk in a TNA wrestling ring? Of course it would. You look at, historically, what he meant to WWE business and how he drove that. You'd look truthfully to what he did for AEW business when he showed up there. I mean, he's certainly somebody that still has a passionate fan base. He's a world class wrestler and entertainer. I guess we'll just have to stay tuned and see what 2024 holds.
With the move to TNA Wrestling on the horizon in 2024, how is the rest of 2023 shaping up for Impact?
I think 2023 is a bit of a chance to kind of sit back and enjoy and appreciate that time. I think that the last six years under Impact Wrestling and under Anthem's leadership has been a great six years. It took a company that had its hurdles over the years and was maybe not where it wanted to be. It's really been a time of righting the ship, putting together an amazing team. There's truly a special group here.
I think we get a chance to celebrate what that means and to build excitement towards 2024. Going back to our true name, TNA Wrestling. The name that means so much to me and everybody else. Coming here to the UK was such a big part of our Q4 schedule. Getting back in this market was so important. We return to Mexico next month. I think that's important. In December, we cap off and have the final Impact Wrestling branded event that we're going to have which is appropriately named Final Resolution.
So it really is a bit of a celebration of all the work we've done over the last six years. It's a chance to get out to the UK and Mexico markets that are so very important to us. It's a chance to cap off and celebrate what Impact Wrestling was with Final Resolution.