RealSport recently got the opportunity to speak with the self-proclaimed “greatest play-by-play in the world” Josh Mathews. While most fans will recognize him from his time in WWE or his beginnings in Tough Enough, Mathews has been working with Impact Wrestling for about three years now. While things have settled down since then, Mathews spoke on the chaos of getting started in Impact Wrestling, then known as TNA.
On getting started with TNA & the current state of Impact Wrestling
“It was good. It’s been about three years now. It was a strange couple of days, I guess. When I knew that I was leaving WWE, but I didn’t know that my meeting to officially get that word was going to be on the same day that Impact were taping in New York. So I went from 1241 E Main St, which is the office of WWE, to Midtown Manhattan, to basically having a handshake offer from Impact that day.”
When asked about working with Dixie Carter, Mathews had plenty of praise for the former President of Impact Wrestling.
“Dixie, to me, is just a great person. She’s someone I enjoy having a glass of wine with and talking to or having lunch with. I don’t have anything bad to say about Dixie Carter, the person.”
As has been widely reported, Impact Wrestling is now under the leadership of Anthem Sports & Entertainment. When we previously interviewed Impact Wrestling’s Eddie Edwards, he spoke highly of the commitment from all sides of the company to improving Impact Wrestling. Mathews had the following to say about the transition to working under Anthem.
“I’ve had an opportunity now to go up to Toronto and see Anthem’s headquarters and sit down with everyone and put faces to emails. I’ve also gone to New York and met with everyone that runs Fantasy Sports Network, another one of the properties under the Anthem umbrella, and to me it’s just- I worked for a big corporation for 12 years. Then I came here when the chip count was low, and it wasn’t a massive machine. So, when Anthem came in, to me, this was how I remember it being, how it was supposed to be.”
While the switch to Anthem was crucial, there have also been arrivals of legends in the industry of pro-wrestling to help run Impact Wrestling. Jeff Jarrett is the obvious one, as he has returned to help lead the company he once founded. Dutch Mantell, known to some WWE fans as Zeb Coulter, has also come in and taken on a crucial role with the company. Third, many fans have probably noticed the presence of Bruce Prichard on-screen with Impact Wrestling. Josh spoke on his roles in Impact as well as getting to work with them.
“I’m in the office as I talk to you today, and Dutch is a part of the office. Bruce is more of an on-screen personality character, but Jeff’s here every day and Dutch is here every day, and you know it’s great. I pretty much have a hand in every department in this company, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Either Shop, Impact, or marketing, or what we’re doing digitally, but the creative process I don’t have a seat in that room. Which is great, those guys do their thing and they do it very well, so it’s great to see there’s an energy about our offices now that hasn’t been here in awhile.”
On the specific note of handling Impact Wrestling’s social media presence, Josh said the role is “fun, overwhelming, and [he always feels] like [he’s] not doing enough.” He went on to talk about how social media has helped exposure to increase visibility for the company, but also the downfalls of having things so open to the public.
“I don’t like that everything about our business, everything about our company was so public with the change and the transition and the new owners. I wish that stuff could have not been put out on social media, but I posted a video of Suicide, [who returned] to Impact [last night]. I posted that video, and to me to see the hundreds of retweets and likes, that’s fun. I like that, so it goes hand in hand I guess, double-edged sword.”
“I think that fans that have been clamoring for Impact in the UK and Ireland finally got an opportunity to get it. For £4.99 a month, I think it’s a steal. Now, I know everything’s changing with us moving to Spike UK on April 21st, but to get Impact the same time that premiered in the States I think was amazing. Sort of to bridge the gap for us getting back on television in the United Kingdom.”
Josh also commented on whether or not Impact Wrestling will be looking at released a United States-based counterpart for the Total Access app.
“I think so. I think that all those discussions are being had right now. I think we’d be foolish if we weren’t, considering it’s 2017 and as I’m sitting here talking to you I’m watching the basketball tournament streaming online.”
On Twitter trolls & being the #GOAT
Back on the topic of social media, some fans probably know Josh Mathews for his ruthlessness on Twitter. If you decide to senselessly bash him on Twitter, there’s a pretty solid chance he’s gonna put you on blast for it. I was able to ask him what his favorite thing about trolling people on Twitter is, and Josh had this to say: “I think just the reaction that it generates and the pure hate from people. I get a kick out of that.” He also commented on one of the dumbest things he’s been told on Twitter. “Failed career is one of my favorites. When people say I had a failed career – yeah, okay.”
That sort of anger and opinion is sort of par for the course when it comes to many wrestling fans on social media, but it’s hard to work out the logic where someone who worked with WWE for over a decade had a “failed career.” While debates on the best commentators today are constant, and names from the past and present such as Jim Ross, Corey Graves, Gorilla Monsoon, or even Mauro Ranallo get tossed around, Josh himself has insisted he is the best. Josh spoke about his reaction to the response from fans when he called himself “the greatest play-by-play announcer in the world.”
“I was surprised in the context because I also said in that same interview all the things that I want to do with this company, but I’ll stick with that comment. I don’t know why anyone would do what we do and not consider themselves the best at it. And if me saying it publicly and verbally putting it out there is a problem for anyone, well I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel, and I’ve said this since the day I left WWE till now. And I’ll continue to say it because I don’t think that there’s anyone that does what I do on a weekly basis that does it better than I do.”
I then asked Josh if he felt there was a sort of double standard from fans. When a wrestler says he’s “the best,” they tend to get a pass under the thought that wrestlers, of course, need to believe in their ability to be great. For some reason, fans don’t seem to expect that mindset from an announcer.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t. Honestly, I can’t wrap my brain around it. If I were a doctor, I’d wanna be the best doctor. If I were a teacher, same thing. I’ve been doing this for a real long time, and I know how to do what I do, and I listen to other people do it and they don’t do it as good as I can. So why wouldn’t I think that I’m the best at that? I think that people- if a wrestler were to say ‘I’m the best,’ fans out there are gonna say ‘I can’t do what he does, I can’t be a wrestler.’ But if I say I’m the best, I think they can think ‘I can do that, I can talk, I can do this.’ Then come here to Nashville. We’ll sit in a booth. And I will give you an opportunity to talk, and I promise you you’re gonna suck.”
When it comes to working on commentary, the main difference is whether someone is working as a play-by-play announcer or a color commentator. We’ve previously highlighted the differences in The Art of Commentary and what makes each special. I asked Josh which of the two he preferred.
“I prefer the play-by-play because you’re driving the ship, you’re in control, it’s your show. The color commentator, it’s hard to sort of prep as that, because I’ve had to do both. It’s hard to prep as a color commentator because you’re really just playing off of the play-by-play announcer, and I’m a preparation freak. So, to sit down as a color commentator and not have a whole lot of prep is tough. Play by play, you know where you’re gonna go, you know the stories you’re gonna tell, you know what marketing plugs you have to hit, to me it’s more fun to be a play by play announcer.”
Josh also spoke about some of his favorite commentators to work with throughout his career.
“I had really good chemistry with Bill Demott. I had great chemistry with Taz. I never really had that guy that I was with for a real long time. Honestly, I thought that Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and myself were good when they were heel [and] babyface [duo], and I was the straight guy. I think that worked. We did that for a straight year. I don’t really think; no one really stands out as “my guy.” Pope is great [too], and I think we work well together too.”
Regarding his least favorite commentator to work with, he said “I didn’t really care for Jonathan Coachman. At all. So, probably him.” He also said that his favorite in-ring competitor today is Lashley, his favorite talker is Ethan Carter III, and the most underrated wrestler today is Tyrus.
On differences from WWE & his favorite memories
One of the big differences between Impact Wrestling and WWE that is often talked about is the schedule. Josh talked about the changes when he came to Impact and how that change felt.
“With WWE, it was 12 years of the same thing. I knew I was gonna leave my house on Sunday and I was gonna get home on Wednesday, and after five or six years they sort of left me alone with coming to the office and being there and doing studio shows and things like that. It was leave Sunday, do two days of TV, drive hundreds of miles, get home Wednesday and sort of decompress before you left again. So here, it’s kind of- I’m in the office every day from 8:30 to 6 or 9 to 5:30, whatever the case may be. It’s probably more work, because I take my work home with me as well, but it’s just different. It feels different; it feels better. If there’s work to be done, I know that I won’t rest until it’s done.”
Josh also got to talk about the difference in working at Universal Studios rather than large arenas. While WWE tends to tour worldwide, in recent years most of the tapings done by Impact Wrestling have been at their home at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
“It’s like comparing apples to oranges, really. Universal has become like a second home for us. You see the same faces, and you know the same people, and you know you go to the same- my wife and I go to the same restaurant every night after the show because it’s on our way back to the hotel. You get a great routine. And you’re staying in the same hotel, you know it’s a luxury in the WWE to stay in the same hotel for two nights in a row. I check in the day before TV starts and iron all my clothes and my suits and all that and they sit in the same closet for five days which is great.”
Before embarking on his career in the commentary booth, Josh Mathews was initially on the path to becoming an in-ring competitor. Despite the short time of his in-ring career, I asked if there was anything that stood out in his mind as a favorite moment.
“Not really, I mean I always say that I beat AJ Styles but I don’t even know if I did. I know we had a match long, long ago, but not really, no. I just remember wrestling as my backyard as a kid more than anything.”
When I asked Josh if he ever regretted not staying an in-ring competitor, he didn’t hesitate at all.
“No. I don’t think that I would’ve had the career that I currently enjoy if I would’ve done that. I think I would’ve ended up probably now bumping on the indies or something like that, which never appealed to me. That was the reason I stopped doing it. I did a loop of independent shows, and I hated it. I left halfway through. This was after Tough Enough, and I went and did like two shows, and I’d committed to like five or six, and I left I went home after two and I sent the promoters their money back and said this isn’t for me.”
During his time in WWE, Josh Mathews is perhaps most remembered for taking a Stone Cold Stunner from Steve Austin at WrestleMania 27. I remember watching that moment live and thinking Josh seemed like he was having the most fun in the room, and he spoke on how he felt that day.
“It was cool; it was really cool. When I look back now, it’s great. But at the time I was kind of upset because I wanted to call the rest of the show. I wanted to stay out there and call it, and honestly, the only reason I got Stunned was to get me off of commentary for the remainder of the show, and that sort of bummed me out. For all the crap and the training that I had done, I got to call three-fourths of a WrestleMania instead of a full [one], and not everyone gets to call WrestleMania. I had that opportunity, and no one can ever take away that I did that in front of 80,000 people in the Georgia Dome.”
While that moment is most remembered, something that fans may not realize is that in calling WrestleMania 27, Josh Mathews got to be on commentary for Edge’s last match. The WWE Hall of Famer was forced to retire abruptly only a week after WrestleMania 27 due to lingering issues with his neck. I asked Josh what it was like to get to call Edge’s last match, as well as to be a part of seeing Edge retire.
“I didn’t even know that. Yeah, I loved Adam [“Edge” Copeland]. I think he’s an amazing guy who gets it, who doesn’t take it too seriously. And I didn’t even know that I called his last match. That’s pretty cool to know that. Thinking about that now, I’m a little speechless about it, but I think it’s great and I hope I did justice in the call. I always had a good feeling for when I called Adam’s matches, so I’m pretty sure I did him good.”
During his fifteen year career on commentary, Josh was able to pinpoint one of his absolute favorite moments on commentary, as well as some controversy that came with it.
“Rockstar Spud vs Kurt Angle. I understood the Spud babyface character because it basically was me, so I got it. [The match] was in London and he wore- and this always bothered me, Destination America made me change the call for Spud’s entrance, and he wore this kit that was inspired by maybe Everton, some team that wasn’t supposed to beat East Germany in the Olympics and they won, and I told the whole story, and they were like ‘that’s not American enough, you have to change it’. And I said to our executive producer at the time ‘I’m not changing it, it’s gonna stay the way it is.’ And we went back and forth and eventually they won, and we had to change the call. The match call still lives up, but I wish that opening right before Spud sang the national anthem with all the fans, I wish that that would’ve been a part of that history.”
On working with his wife & the Knockouts division
A unique situation that Josh Mathews had gotten to experience is actually working with his wife on commentary. For those who don’t know, Mathews is married to former five-time Knockouts Champion Madison Rayne. In recent months, Rayne has worked on commentary during Knockouts matches, and Josh spoke about whether or not he worked with her to prepare for that and what that experience is like.
“Not really, there just wasn’t a whole lot of time with the decision. It was an idea that was brought up by Billy Corgan, and we just did it like that night. You know, a little bit of prep here and there. We might have called a couple practice matches here in Nashville before we went down. But I thought she did a great job. She has the gift of gab, and I thought she did really well. I [liked] it. I don’t know if she does. I think a lot of people, and this isn’t like ego driven at all, but I think I intimidate people when it comes to talking because it comes so naturally to me and I know this stuff inside and out and backwards, upwards, sideways. So I think they get a little perhaps intimidated, and I mean this is my wife who has told me that I intimidate her when we’re out there, so if I intimidate her, strangers- I can’t imagine how they feel.”
Speaking of the Knockouts Division, there has been a lot of talk in the last few years about how the “Divas Revolution” and “Women’s Evolution” has changed the landscape of women’s wrestling. Unfortunately, most of that has lost track of what Impact Wrestling has done with women’s wrestling in the past and today. Josh affirmed that when he talked about it.
“You know, the Knockouts started the “divas revolution” or the “women’s wrestling revolution,” whatever they’re calling it now. It was started here. It was started by Gail Kim, and Awesome Kong, and Madison Rayne, and Angelina Love, and it’s just a shame that the spotlight was never really as big as it could’ve been. And I think what Jade and Rosemary have done, and I love the Rosemary character probably more than any other character on our show because it’s a character, but their matches have been phenomenal. Last Knockout Standing, and Six Sides of Steel, and the Monster’s Ball Match, I think everything they’ve done has been first class. And again the Rosemary character, you know I talk to Holly [Letkeman, who plays the Rosemary character] a lot. And when they main evented in Six Sides of Steel I sat down with both of them, and I think I actually teared up during our conversation because I was so proud and happy for them for what they were about to do that night.”
Josh also followed up by talking about how the “Women’s Revolution” overshadowed what Impact Wrestling had been doing.
“Well it did just because they’re so much bigger, you know. Because their brand is so much bigger and the penetration is so much deeper, it absolutely did, and that’s unfortunate, but any fan can go on YouTube and see what we’ve done, and the history speaks for itself.”
On the WWE Performance Center & nature of exclusive contracts
Some fans have made a connection between Tough Enough and the eventual introduction of NXT. While the early days of NXT felt more like a callback to Tough Enough, it has definitely changed in becoming the current incarnation of NXT and since the introduction of the WWE Performance Center. Josh spoke on whether or not Tough Enough was a precursor to that from the perspective of a Tough Enough alumni.
“I don’t really necessarily know that it was. [Tough Enough] was a television show that Ken Mock came up with. Ken Mock was the creator of not only Tough Enough but America’s Next Top Model as well, and he had this idea to do Tough Enough for MTV and joint venture it with WWE. And I don’t know if you can make the claim that it was the precursor to NXT. I think Triple H had the idea for the Performance Center as a way to get new talent. Tough Enough was a TV show that they were looking to make money off of, and they did, they made a lot of money off of it. But the Performance Center is a way to ensure the growth and the future of their company.”
On the same note of NXT and the WWE Performance Center, WWE has received scrutiny in recent months for their methods in signing independent talent. They have had a tendency to sign talent to exclusive or restricted contracts, and yet they don’t use the talent. Josh spoke on whether or not he sees that having a negative impact on the world of professional wrestling in the United Kingdom and around the world.
“Well, that seems to be what’s going on in the UK now, right? They’re signing these guys to low-money deals, and they can’t go do anything else. I think that’s the performer’s- not fault because if you wanna work for WWE and that’s your ultimate goal, and you have a contract, and their letterhead is on top of it, and you sign it, you think that that’s it. As a kid, when I was 19 or 20, I would’ve done anything for the company. I would’ve gone and mopped the floors to say that I draw a paycheck from that company. So if that’s their ultimate goal, then that’s for them to decide. But yeah I do think it’s having somewhat of an effect, because you’re looked at as someone who may be devaluing yourself, or you may think look I’ve got the door open I’m ready to get in there, and I’m gonna become the next John Cena.”
On the note of exclusivity, I then asked Josh whether or not he believes that exclusive contracts are usually a good thing in wrestling or if they tend to restrict talent too much.
“That’s a tough question to answer because the business mind in me says you need to have an exclusive contract if you’re the promoter, if you’re the company, because you’re not gonna wanna- you know it’s real hard for me because my first few years here we had these guys and we put them on tv, and we weren’t doing live events, so they were going out and doing live events on the weekend, but their value was higher because they were on tv here, so while we’re putting them on tv they’re benefitting from independent shows and the other way around.”
Before our time finished up, I jumped back to the topic of Impact Wrestling and Josh’s proclamation of being the #GOAT. “Who’s the #2ndGOAT?” I asked.
“It’s hard for me to answer that because I don’t watch enough of anyone else, really. Like, I don’t watch WWE programming because I had to watch every second of every segment for 12 years, so I don’t watch their shows. I love Joe Buck, who calls sports over here in the United States, obviously college football and things like that, I think Joe Buck’s really good.”
Lastly, I asked Josh when fans would be able to get some #GOAT merch at ShopImpact.com.
“April 6th or 13th, I could be off by a week or two. They’re out, and they’ll make their appearance around then.”
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