With just over two weeks to go before Impact Wrestling presents the 16th annual Slammiversary, RealSport got to speak exclusively to Madison Rayne ahead of her opportunity at the Knockouts Championship against Su Yung. Despite a decade of experience, Rayne only recently returned to Impact Wrestling after spending some time back on the independent scene. She spoke to us about coming back to Impact, her quick rise back into the title picture, how the company has changed, and more!
Returning to Impact Wrestling
RealSport: After spreading your wings some outside of the company, what brought you back to Impact Wrestling?
Madison Rayne: Initially, [it was] the opportunity to come back and jump back into commentary, which was something I had the opportunity to do just briefly in 2016. So, initially what brought me back was being able to come back and provide a soundtrack for the Knockouts Division. Obviously, things change quickly in professional wrestling and here I am weeks away from Slammiversary, getting ready to defeat Su Yung and become a six-time Knockouts Champion.
RS: What was the experience like on commentary? How did Josh Mathews help you prepare for that role?
Editor's Note: Madison Rayne is, in real life, married to Impact Wrestling commentator Josh Mathews and worked alongside him during her foray in commentary.
MR: It was exciting, and it was very nerve-racking. I’ve said this before. I’ve always had an appreciation for the men and women who provide commentary for wrestling or for any sport. They make it more exciting, and they give kind of an inside scoop. I didn’t realize how difficult it is. Especially in those moments where—you know obviously a lot of the content for Impact Wrestling is pre-recorded, but [there are] those live moments on pay-per-view where you have to think quickly and you have to be quick witted and you have to make sure that the thoughts in your brain come out of your mouth properly.
Also, whether [Josh Mathews] coached me or taught me or not, I knew that people were going to judge my skills based on what they thought Josh had taught me. And obviously he did. He gave me a lot of great pointers, things to do, things not to do, but I wanted to be really good because of my own skills too. But I knew that I was going to be judged, or that maybe he was going to be judged on whether or not I was able to do well with commentary. So I wanted to do good for me. I wanted to do good for him. And the girls, they deserve to have the best possible call for their matches that anyone can provide for them, and I wanted to be that. So I put a lot of pressure on myself, but at the end of the day I had a lot of fun doing it, and I hope that I did everyone justice who I was able to call matches for.
RS: Now that some time has passed since your return, how does it feel physically to be back in the ring and on the grind?
MR: About how I figured it would feel. A little bit sore, a little more sore than maybe I would’ve been just doing commentary, but it feels good. You know, I put myself back in the ring when I got involved in the end of Tessa Blanchard’s match with Kiera Hogan. I did that to myself. I wasn’t expecting—you know I’ve been wrestling even in my time away from Impact. I’ve been wrestling. I’ve been traveling all across the world essentially, and wrestling, but I didn’t expect to do it again at Impact. So that unexpected pivot that this chapter made has made it more exciting for me, because okay now I’m here. Now I've stepped back in the ring and I’ve gotta step right back into that same level of competition that has always been in the Knockouts Division. So it’s fun and it’s exciting, and just like commentary it’s incredibly challenging.
RS: What kind of challenges have you had in balancing your role as a mother and a wife with being back in Impact Wrestling?
MR: So, it’s really not been, it’s been a challenge, but it hasn’t been overly difficult, because I’m fortunate enough that I don’t have to wake up every single day Monday through Friday and go clock in somewhere from 9 to 5. So I don’t miss all of that time that a lot of people do because they have to get up and they have to go to work Monday through Friday. I get Monday through Friday to be mom. I get to go to the park and I get to go swimming and I get to do all of these things that I think a lot of parents who work that “normal” Monday through Friday 9 to 5, that they don’t get. So, it’s been a relatively easy transition into motherhood and then back into wrestling and into school and personal training and all the things that I do.
And I’ll never take on so much that I have to sacrifice anywhere except for not being able to watch television or sleeping six hours instead of ten hours. Those sacrifices are okay with me, but I’ll never take on more than I can handle. And I’ve also got an incredible support system in my amazing husband, my family, my friends, so I’m equipped for success, and I’m so thankful for that. Maybe early on it was a bit more of a challenge to figure out, how am I gonna do all this and how am I gonna go to the gym, and how am I—but I guess being a mother gives you like this superpower that you can’t really explain if you’re not a parent, but they’re like the driving force behind everything that you do, so if you want to accomplish something then you figure out a way to do it.
The state of Impact Wrestling
RS: With management and ownership changes over the last year, how does Impact Wrestling feel different now that it has in the past?
MR: You know, every single interview that I’ve done since I’ve come back to Impact, this has been a question asked of me. I think because I’ve seen so many phases and so many different regimes, and it’s so refreshing for me to be able to answer that question openly and honestly and say that it feels like it did when I started in 2009, and that says so much about upper management. About Ed Nordholm, and about Scott D’Amore, and Sonjay Dutt, and Josh [Mathews], and Don Callis, and everybody. The entire production team, all of the talent, literally everyone from top to bottom. They all feel that same thing. They feel that good vibe, that good energy. You know everybody wants Impact to be what it was at one time, and I think this is the team. This is the regime that’s gonna get it there.
RS: As a former Knockouts Tag Team Champion, how do you feel the legacy of those titles holds up today? Is it something you'd like to see brought back to Impact Wrestling?
MR: I don’t think that those titles were able to run their course before they were no longer used. And I think that’s sad, however I also think that tag team wrestling is something really special. It’s an art form. You have to find that person that you trust, that you trust to be on the same brainwave as you, and so I understand why they are no longer active at Impact Wrestling. I also don’t think that there’s the manpower, or the womanpower, within the Knockouts Division right now to have them. But I do think that there’s something special about tag team wrestling and about women’s tag team wrestling, and I think I would like to see them come back to Impact at some point.
I said a couple weeks ago on the Impact weekly teleconference that I don’t think this is the right time, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like a women’s tag team championship in WWE before I saw it back at Impact because [of] the depth of their rosters on all three of their platforms. I think it might be better suited there, but I think again that tag team wrestling is an art form and you shouldn’t just create titles because “Hey, they used to be here and we should bring ‘em back because we like them.” I think that there needs to be a lot of thought given to them, specifically with Impact and the Knockouts, because they didn’t get to really run their course the first time, and I would hate to see that be something that is just a rushed decision a second time. If that ever were to be the case, I would definitely have to maybe call up one of my former tag team partners and see if we can’t get something started.
A new guard in the Knockouts Division
RS: Considering the changes in the landscape of the Knockouts Division since you were last there, is there anyone specific you're excited to work with?
MR: I’m excited to work with all of these girls. I’m excited to test myself more against Tessa and Taya both. And I’ve said this before, I look at someone like a Kiera Hogan and I see Madison Rayne circa 2009. She’s young and she’s hungry, and all she wants to do is be successful in wrestling. And I think that she’s going to be a huge, huge star. And I can’t wait to get in the ring with her.
You know, with her either in my corner, work alongside her, or against her, I’m really looking forward to that opportunity. I would love to work more with Allie. We’ve kind of been like ships passing in the night throughout our careers and haven’t had a chance to really get in the ring and test ourselves against each other. So yeah, I mean the division is not as deep in numbers as it has been in recent years, but I think that it’s only a matter of time before it is, and I would like to welcome any and all newcomers as the Knockouts Champion.
RS: In your first match back, you defeated young upstart Tessa Blanchard. Despite your being the veteran, the win was called an upset on commentary and by many fans. How did it feel for that to be considered an upset?
MR: Yeah, there was a tense moment in my household when I heard Josh Mathews say that. I mean, if I’m being completely honest, it probably was an upset. Because here is Tessa Blanchard who is literally one of the most talented females in professional wrestling, across any platform. She’s incredible. She’s talented far beyond her years. Wrestling is her life. She travels the world on a regular basis wrestling, and then there’s Madison Rayne who comes and goes in and out of Impact Wrestling. She’s a mom, a business woman, a wife.
So I wear all these different hats, and Tessa is a wrestler. So after I was upset with Josh for calling it an upset, I completely agreed. To most people, it was. But to me, it wasn’t because there is not one woman actively in the Knockouts Division with the experience that I have. And whether I take a couple weeks away, a couple months away, or nearly a year away to have a child, I come back and I’m still Madison Rayne and I’m still confident in my in-ring abilities. So, upset or not, it goes down in the record books as a win for me.
RS: Not only did you have that big win after returning, but you've shot yourself back into the title picture. How does it feel to have such a dynamic return and an opportunity to become a six-time Knockouts Champion?
MR: Such is life in the world of wrestling. While I’ve stepped away a few times from Impact Wrestling, I’ve never fully stepped away from wrestling. And I think that the fans of Impact Wrestling and maybe some of the bodies within the Knockouts Division forget that. I never left wrestling. If anything, I went away from Impact and I completely changed my in-ring approach, and that makes me more dangerous. Because now, not only do I have the experience advantage, but I’m coming in as a whole new person. It doesn’t matter if Taya Valkyrie is watching my matches from 2011, because I’m someone totally different now. And that’s exciting for me.
It’s been exciting to branch out from Impact for a time and go out there and get experience and wrestling some new women, new faces, learn some new things, and in my opinion I have now beat two of the toughest women in this current division. I’m deserving of a Knockouts Title shot. Whether Tessa Blanchard thinks I am or not, I am. And then I’m gonna go to Slammiversary, and I’m gonna beat Su, and I’m gonna be a fighting champion just like I have been in my five previous reigns as champion.
RS: While you were gone, Impact Wrestling formed a partnership with Lucha Underground including stars of theirs like Taya Valkyrie competing in Impact. Would you want the opportunity to compete in Lucha Underground?
MR: I would love that. At this point in my career, I’m back when I didn’t think that I would be. So, now it’s like I wanna leave no stone unturned. And you know while I have not had a lot of experience or training in the lucha libre style of wrestling, I’m a quick learner and that experience factor will help me anywhere I go. And Lucha Underground is something very special that is being brought to professional wrestling, and I would love to throw my name in as a contender for Lucha Underground. Maybe Taya and I can have round two inside a Lucha Underground ring.
RS: You're only a few weeks away from trying to capture the Knockouts Championship once again, but how are you preparing for an unorthodox opponent such as Su Yung?
MR: I struggled with that. I’ve struggled with how—cause you know I’ve got a lot of experience with a lot of different women inside the ring, specifically at Impact Wrestling, but not too many like Su. But at the end of the day, wrestling is not a battle of mind games. It’s a battle of in-ring skill, and mine are far superior to Su’s. So I have in these last few days really been trying to evaluate the answer to that question, and I’ve come to realize that the best way that I can prepare for Su is to prepare Madison and go into Slammiversary knowing that, mentally and physically, I’m at the top of my game and that I’m unbeatable. Because when I’m in that space it doesn’t matter who’s standing across the ring from me, I’m going to beat them.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our exclusive interview with Madison Rayne! In tomorrow's installment, she discusses her WWE tryout, being All In, the state of women's wrestling, and more!
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