We’re only four months into the new regime of Impact Wrestling after being taken over by Anthem Sports & Entertainment, but with every new development the woes of the past become unrecognizable. The biggest development to take hold this week is the return of Impact Wrestling to television screens in the UK. Their weekly show will be broadcast free and exclusive on Spike UK every Friday night at 9PM.
This is just the latest in a series of moves made by Impact Wrestling to expand their footprint in the UK. None have been quite this significant though, as their arrival on Spike UK on a weekly basis will expose more and more of the UK audience to the gem that is Impact Wrestling. Earlier this week, RealSport got to speak to former Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion Ethan Carter III about the move to Spike UK, what makes the UK fanbase unique, and several other topics surrounding his career.
When asked what the move to Spike UK would do to help #MakeImpactGreat, Carter (aka EC3) had this to say.
“What a hashtag! I think the UK is a very passionate fanbase. The UK was for a while TNA Impact’s home, we were a mixed brand, and the UK is a hotbed of professional wrestling from an independent standpoint. The WWE having a UK-focused talent and programming - that’s absolutely where we need to be, we’re on the network we need to be on, and we’re excited to deliver a product that the fans can relate to and invest themselves in again. By doing that, we need to be over there in front of those fans, because those fans bring a different energy, a different passion. One thing about being over there is you can only have such a good match in front of a crowd that’s so-so. The greatest matches, the greatest moments, the greatest things this industry ever provided us, is something that connects with the fans and you see it from your television, in front of a live audience, that they feel it too. That’s how you have a great match, a great segment, a great angle. They provide a unique energy that I know I love to perform in front of, and I know anybody else in the industry loves to perform to.”
Since the change in ownership, the constant question to talent in Impact Wrestling is exactly how things feel different. Carter’s excitement and confidence in the direction of Impact Wrestling was evident, but his focus was clear.
“For me, I don’t see any change in Anthem coming in. The one thing I’m focused about, the one thing I care about, is myself and my success, and being the absolute best I can be.”
EC3 also spoke about the stigma around Impact Wrestling. After some rough times as TNA, the company’s oft-cited issues have mostly gone. Unfortunately, that checkered past has kept some fans from checking out what Impact Wrestling has become.
“Yeah, 100% things get overlooked, perceptions have already been made and drawn, and other things have happened that haven’t curried favour that are completely out of the control of any talent you could ask that question to. But, to cure that ailment, to change that perception, at least for myself the way I look at it and I think each and every talent that is from the past, that’s new to the company, is each and every time you go out there, your job is to change that perception with your work and with what you do. We’ve made a lot of changes, which as far as the roster goes, means there’s a lot of opportunities for a lot of new people to step up and take them. For me personally, I welcome any challenge from any person that wants to be on top in this company, because I’m only as good as I can be when I’m being chased and people come after me. The last I want to be is complacent or happy with where I’m at, I want to change the game up and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The company's man
One of the other big moves Impact Wrestling has made in recent months has been partnering with other wrestling companies around the world and implementing a talent exchange with those companies as well. We asked EC3 about getting to travel and work around the world as a result of these partnerships.
“I would go wherever they send me. I’m the top man in Impact Wrestling, I’m the company’s man, anytime I get to go somewhere, throw on some boots, slap on some underwear and fight some dudes, I’m into it fully. Mexico, great fans, unique land. Japan, the coup de gras of talent wanting to go to work. Canada, South America, Africa, Europe, I will go wherever this company needs me to go, and I will go wherever there’s a ring.”
The news of Impact’s partnership with Crash, Pro Wrestling NOAH, AAA Lucha Libre, and other promotions has begun to spark thoughts of potential dream clashes between talents that fans wouldn’t normally get to see face off. I asked EC3 about whether he has considered working more independent shows with companies such as PWG on top of his schedule with Impact Wrestling.
“I don’t know if I do enough moves to be in PWG, but any opportunity where they have a diehard fanbase that’s into the action would be great to be a part of. But, my focus as a top man, as a company man, is Impact Wrestling, where they now control where I go and who I wrestle. Would I like to branch out, would I like to go wrestle a Brian Cage in PWG, two muscle dudes throwing bombs at each other? Yeah, that’d be awesome. But that's not my focus, my focus is Impact Wrestling. Would I love to go to the UK and trade holds with Zack Sabre Jr, even though I probably don’t know one tenth of them, but I would at least punch him in the face really hard and beat his ass? Yeah, I’d love to do that. But, Impact’s controlling where I go, and that’s my main focus.”
That focus and commitment to Impact Wrestling but also to himself was a central theme throughout our interview, and that even goes as far back as his beginnings in the company. For those who don’t know, Impact Wrestling used to be run by Dixie Carter. That similarity in names is intentional, as EC3 debuted in Impact Wrestling as the entitled nephew of Dixie Carter during the time she was the head of TNA. EC3 spoke about the feelings he had when he was first presented with the character idea and how he approached it.
“I’ve been around the industry of wrestling for some time prior to this, and when you put your career in someone else’s hands… there’s a lot of apprehension. So when I was told the idea of “you’re the rich kid, Dixie Carter’s nephew, you’re the 1%, fast cars, hot babes, nice clothes”. I was like, “not only is this a great idea, this is the absolute apex of an idea that I can fully run with and make it my own.” I’ve been thrown a lot of bad ideas, I’ve heard a lot of bad ideas, we’ve seen a lot of bad ideas on television, in just about every company, but this was an idea where I didn’t say “*sigh* alright, thanks for the opportunity” but was really hesitant about doing it. It was, and you can quote me on this, “f*ck yeah, let’s go!”
One of the biggest parts of a new character is the music they come to the ring to. That theme music becomes iconic and immediately elicits a reaction (positive or negative) from the crowd. I asked Carter whether or not he had any input in picking or writing his theme music.
“You know what, it’s funny - but again I talk back to what we earlier talked about where, “hey we have this idea for you,” and I’m thinking “*sigh* okay, whatever it is I’m gonna have to make it work, and then it just happens to be a great idea. And then my first vignette aired on television, and there was this song that played afterwards, says 'Ethan Carter', and I was like “whatever that song is, I hope to god it’s my theme song” and it was. And so, I had no input in creating the song, I had no influence in the video, the lighting, stuff of that nature. The only thing I kinda inputted was how I do my entrance. So I worked around with a couple of different things, see what worked, see what didn’t work, but anything the fans can imitate is successful. So if at an autograph signing some fan comes up with his back turned to me and looks over his shoulder, I know it's working. You talk about the song, you talk about the music, people come up to me and say “I love your song”. That’s great. I didn’t write it. I can’t play a musical instrument to save my life. But the fact that you like it works for me. It was a great benefit to have a great song. You have the right music, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Commitment to character
With his perspective having been with the company since 2013 and the influx of new talent it has seen, I asked Carter who he thought had the potential to break through that glass ceiling and be a World Champion within the next year.
“I don’t even look at people who could be a world champion within a year. If I had to pick one guy to be a champion besides myself in the next year, besides someone who’s been a world title holder, I’d say Eli Drake, that’s easily the guy. The kid has talent, he has skills. But the people that are impressing me the most come from the knockouts division. Women like a Rosemary or an Allie or a Laurel Van Ness, really committed to a character and has done the absolute best possible work they can do within the confines of that, and I think that’s lacking in wrestling today, committing to a character.”
That’s not the first time someone in Impact Wrestling has talked about commitment to their character. Before his departure, Matt Hardy’s “Broken Matt” persona was a spectacular example of becoming something special by truly committing to the character itself. I asked EC3 whether or not he thought that sort of commitment helped set Impact Wrestling apart from the pack.
“I would hope so, but I think [in] Impact you’re not going to be handed a character per se, it’s not going to be just given to you, this place allows you the freedom to pursue what you think your character should be, and be what you want it to be, and fully commit to it. You could have an idea for a character, but if you don’t commit to it, it’s not going to go anywhere.”
For the majority of his career in Impact Wrestling, Ethan Carter III hasn’t exactly been a fan favourite. He was everything that the average person despised, and he made sure you did with every action. That’s changed over time, and now EC3 has garnered support from fans who recognize his hard work and are entertained by him. When asked if he prefers to work as a beloved babyface or hated heel, Carter had this to say.
“I prefer to work within the confines of the story I’m telling, and whatever that calls for, so be it. I prefer to tell stories that people can relate to or invest in, or resonate with, whether as a protagonist or antagonist. As long as I get to tell that story, in my mind, the way I want to tell it, and convey it to the fans, whether they cheer me or boo me, I don’t care. As long as I’m not hearing the sound of silence.”
That “sound of silence” has started to get more and more uncommon in recent years as crowds at wrestling events have gotten more and more raucous. Hyped-up paying customers get the chance to scream, chant, cheer, and jeer however they want at the show they’re seeing. Sometimes, if the fans aren’t enjoying the show, their involvement will get to the point of nearly hijacking the show itself with their intense reactions. I asked EC3 how he handles that challenge of crazy crowds.
“I can’t ask for anything more than a crowd to react when I'm out there. I’ve sat in that seat, I’ve paid for that ticket in the past, so there’s nothing they can throw at me that I can’t handle. In fact, I welcome any challenge from a fan or fanbase to make noise. Be into the show. Do what you have to do. The only sound I hate in wrestling is the sound of apathy. So if they’re not totally invested in what we want them to be in, dammit, I’m going to change their minds real fast, because I have that instinct, I have that ability, I think I have the 'it' factor that gets it done.”
Having spent several years outside of the nonstop schedule that WWE tends to put talent through, I asked Carter about his routine and how he’s adjusted to that lighter work schedule.
“I think my schedule, we have a far lighter schedule which I’m not a fan of because I want to be out there working. I hate the fact that, not that I’m being interviewed by you right now, but I hate the fact that I’m sitting here at home. It drives me nuts. I want to be on the road, I want to be in the ring, I want to be in some weird town, I want to find a dirty dingy gym to work out in, I want to meet weird people and get into weird drives and altercation we can’t talk about. Cool stuff that makes the industry great. Personally, I have a pretty “routine” routine which involves in the morning cleaning my cat’s litterbox, making a cup of coffee, do some extensive stretching coz my body hurts, find time to go to my top secret facility, my top secret workout facility, outside of Tampa, where some of the finest pro wrestlers train, I eat pretty regularly, I get a regular massage and chiropractor, I watch a decent amount of TV, all the programmes you mentioned I’m watching them, and then watching television. I try to read books but I can’t focus, but I do try, so at least I have that going for me, I sit here and I wait. I wait for the next opportunity to be in the ring.”
Journey to the top
Despite his commitment and dedication to success within Impact Wrestling, as well as his accolades since arriving, some fans still remember Ethan Carter III from when he was known as Derrick Bateman within WWE. He even took part in the original version of NXT, which bears little to no resemblance to what is seen today on the WWE Network. Back then, NXT had an odd game show-style format where rookies were paired with established “pros” within WWE and pitted against one another in a series of challenges that often had little to nothing to do with wrestling. It’s fun to look back on and there were some entertaining segments, but it’s generally seen as an utterly terrible concept. I bluntly asked EC3 whether or not anyone actually thought that period of NXT was actually a good idea.
“I guess somebody did, but I think it just wasn’t a priority. They needed to show content for overseas and the internet, and it was something they could just throw off to a writer and say “you can do whatever you want, do whatever.” I think the initial concept, it worked, but then it became ad nauseum, you can only see so many challenges. I think what was cool about NXT was when we segued away from a game show and they gave us tools to play with as far as we were our own separate, weird little universe with fun, cool little stories, and people started developing characters, the show became pretty good. Granted, every time we went in front of an audience, a very small portion of people had even seen the show, so they weren’t really invested in the characters from a live aspect. But from the aspect of people watching from home and in our own minds, it was an experience that really made me the talent I am, it was a great learning experience to see what could work and doesn’t work here and there, and working in front of people every week, and getting professionally done promos, you could bounce ideas off each other and the writer of the show, so it was very cool, if it goes down in history as 1% of wrestling fans know and appreciate it, that’s fine with me, because it’s just a unique thing that we all shared together.”
Considering how much things have changed, I began to wonder how things might have been different if EC3 had gotten to be a part of today’s version of NXT rather than what it once was. His prediction was clear.
“Oh, I’d be NXT Champion, 100%, because I believe in myself fully and completely. Even in the past, if there’s one thing I didn’t do correctly, that I didn’t fully believe in myself, or had the confidence in my abilities because I was maybe nervous or maybe walking on eggshells, maybe apprehensive, but if I walked over there today I know how to be the absolute best “me” possible, and I know for a fact that nobody in this world, in this industry, can do me better than I do myself. I have full belief that I’d be at the very top of the card.”
Despite all of his confidence, Ethan Carter III has struggled in recent months. Although he has two previous reigns as Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion, he hasn’t found himself able to reclaim that top spot and the gold once again. Last week on Impact Wrestling, Carter talked about proving to everyone exactly what he’s capable of, and I asked him what he needed to do in order to put himself back on top like he once was.
“That’s a great question. What do I need to do? I could harken back to what brought me to the dance, who was I when I first started, and I was a man who was a possessed, I was a man possessed to treat people wrong, I was a man possessed to treat myself right. I did that. I did that by going undefeated, I did that by defeating legend after legend, I did that by having my dream match with Kurt Angle for the World Heavyweight Title and winning that match. Since I won that match, I had a very good, successful reign going, but again we talked about earlier that there was a good past in this company, there was a bad past in this company, and things happened beyond my paygrade and beyond me, stuff I couldn’t handle. The title comes off me, we have a world title series, the roster’s changing, people are coming in and out. It was tumultuous times but I just tried to remain consistent and do what I do best. I become champion again, only to quickly lose it. It’s been a struggle since then to get it back but since that struggle, I’ve had support from the fans, which is something I never really had before. With that support comes the tagline ‘face of the franchise’, ‘the guy’, I call myself ‘the top man’ because there’s already top guys, there’s already ‘the man’, so I combined the two. But with that comes doing this interview, showing up at this place, signing these autographs, and sometimes when you’re so focused on pleasing a company and pleasing a fanbase, you’re not focused on yourself. So what is it I’m truly capable of? The only thing I’m possibly capable of, which is being the best ‘me’ I can possibly be.”
Becoming a World Champion by defeating a talent like Kurt Angle (now a WWE Hall of Famer) is not something that most people can claim, and I asked EC3 what it was like to work with such a legendary competitor.
“I think he’ll go down as one of, if not THE greatest professional wrestler of all time. The opportunity to share a ring with him is a feather in the cap, a lifetime achievement for a guy who grew up watching him. I learned a hell of a lot, not only in the ring but behind the curtain so to speak. He was very knowledgeable, very giving, and a truly confident leader that I can go to at any time, discuss anything possible with him, soak up any knowledge he had like a sponge, and it was one of the greatest honours of my life to work with him. And I'm not just saying that because he’s the Raw general manager and I’m looking for a job anytime in the future! I’m saying that from the bottom of my heart because I truly mean it and truly appreciate what he did for me.”
Ethan Carter III came into Impact Wrestling during a period where a plethora of legendary names were around him. For many wrestlers who grew up as fans, there is an idol that becomes a peer. Few get the opportunity to work with those childhood heroes, and I asked EC3 if there was one specific person (aside from Kurt Angle) he was glad he got to work with, at least once.
“Growing up as a child, who didn’t watch Sting? Being able to work with Sting, even though it was the very end of his career, I can at least say I worked with Sting, I wrestled Sting, I beat Sting! Even if it wasn’t five-star classics, it was a great, great opportunity, and something I never thought I would have the chance to do.”
I also got the chance to ask EC3 about his favourite match he’s competed in, as well as his favourite that he wasn’t in.
“As much as I’ve talked about Kurt Angle through this, I could say it’s my favourite match, but to give you a different flavour, I believe the match I had with Rockstar Spud, hair vs hair match in the United Kingdom was one of my favourites, just because I know that little POS. We had some great times that got a little ugly, but that was an opportunity for both of us to show who we were, and I think we knocked that one out the park. As for my favourite match I wasn’t in? I’d say Austin vs Rock at WrestleMania X7, that pay per view was so damned good, and looking at it now having been in the industry for a long time, seeing how hard those guys worked, how that crowd was, even if the finish was a little iffy with “should [Austin] have aligned with Mr McMahon?”, I think just the build up, the perfect match isn’t just about what takes place in the ring, it’s about what takes place before you step in the ring, and the way they build that, the way they cut promos, and made me dying to hand over money to see the match, that’s the one that stands out.”
Lastly, looking back on his career in Impact Wrestling, I asked Ethan Carter III to identify his single greatest moment. His answer was clear.
“I believe my greatest moment in Impact Wrestling was every damn thing I do - capped by defeating Kurt Angle for the world heavyweight title.”
Impact Wrestling debuts on Spike UK on Friday 21st of April at 9pm. Spike UK can be found on Freeview channel 31, Sky channel 160 and Virgin Media channel 154.