RealSport x Jeff Jarrett: our exclusive interview with the founder of Impact Wrestling (part two)
RealSport sat down with wrestling legend Jeff Jarrett to discuss his return to Impact, the story of the promotion, and his life in wrestling.
In part one of our exclusive interview with Jeff Jarrett, we talked about the founding of Impact wrestling, why he initially left, and his decision to return. In part two, we discussed his upbringing in the business, his time in WWF, and how he feels about former Impact start who have gone on to success elsewhere.
An upbringing in wrestling
That long and storied career began almost straight out the gate, the son and grandson of wrestlers. We asked Jeff what it was like growing up surrounded by the business.
“It goes without saying that when I was a kid, it was different days. It was so secretive. Even to me as a kid, to the family, they didn’t lust us in to the inner secrets. I remember pulling out a draw and seeing some things written down – I’m 10, 11 years old going ‘wait a minute.’ When you start adding one plus one, it doesn’t always equal two in the wrestling business. It was a unique time. Being around it, if there’s someone out there who’s watched more live wrestling – I’m not talking about tapes, I’m not talking about TV – but live, and I’ve been blessed with that, then I want to meet them. I’ve done it since I was 12 or 13 years old through the summers, and then I went to one year of college and then I got right into the business and wrestled seven days a week for seven years. I then went do the WWF, and then was still travelling 20-25 days a month, and in the WCW. So I’ve watched a lot of live wrestling, and that’s how you learn. You almost have to learn by osmosis.”
We asked Jeff if there was a time when he thought he may not follow his family into wrestling.
“I never really considered it. I was a basketball junkie and was delusional enough to think I could make a career – well, I never thought I’d make a career. But I went to one year of college ball, very happy, academic All-American, but I knew real quick at the end of that season that that wasn’t in my future. So I got into wrestling pretty quick and the funny thing is, I left the basketball team and they won the junior college basketball championship the year after, so that tells you how good I was. But being around it, I was always mesmerized. With my grandmother, I can remember riding in a Cadillac or a Lincoln or whatever, and I’m a little kid in the back seat, and they’re sitting up front, and just listening to her and whoever was driving. It’s crazy, she was in the wrestling business and all they did was drive back then, but she never had her license, she always had a niece or some relative, but she was a hard worker. She would literally promote the town herself, she would hang up window cards, she would go in and buy the newspaper ad and the radio ad, and so I was around all of that as a kid, just because it was the family business. I look back at times like that, and going in to radio stations, and learning different things. That was my education in the wrestling business from the time I was twelve, so then when I got into it when I was 18 years old, and doing the radios in one-horse towns, and talking to a DJ who couldn’t string a sentence together (and I couldn’t either!) so it made for some really bad radio, but it taught me a learning curve. So, did I ever envision [always being a wrestler]? I never gave much thought about anything other, because I just loved it.”
To the WWF
Jeff had stints with both the WWE (then WWF) and WCW at the height of the Monday Night Wars. Having seen how both companies were run, we asked him if he was surprised that it was the WWF who ended up on top.
“No. Oil and water, if you want to compare the two. Vince McMahon, he’s third generation, and his enormous empire, he ran it much like the territories. The buck stopped with him, he made the decisions, that’s how a company should be run. Feast or famine, right or wrong, the WWE is driven off his decision making and always has been. WCW was a corporate world. Eric Bischoff, I have a lot of respect for the guy, because he not only survived, but he thrived in a corporate environment that was so difficult to succeed in. Was he the only decision maker? Not at all. It’s a corporate entity, and a publicly traded company, so it’s really not a knock on Turner and Time Warner and that organisation, but that’s the reality. An entertainment property, specifically a wrestling property, you have to have a decision maker. You have to have somebody who sits on top, that is guiding the ship, that makes the decisions. They were polar opposites, and in the end, the WCW money got them in first place for a while, with Eric’s leadership and the hot talent, but in the end, Vince destroyed them.”
Jeff’s time in the WWF is perhaps most marked by his numerous reigns as Intercontinental Champion, holding that title for a then-record six reigns (a record broken only by Chris Jericho). Despite nearly two decades passing since he left the WWF, we asked Jeff if he still takes pride in being part of the Intercontinental Championship legacy.
“Sure. It was a different era. I remember Scott Hall, when I came in, he was the IC Champ. Him and Shawn Michaels had the ladder match at WrestleMania 10, and it was legendary, and that was a hell of a spot. Rumble in ’95, Scott vs me with Road Dogg and what a unique unit at the time. Obviously, I look back on that era and the matches I had with Shawn Michaels and Scott are some of the favourite in my career.”
One of Jeff’s most memorable feuds in the WWF was with Chyna, in an era when the company still featured relatively regular inter-gender wrestling matches. Today’s WWE no longer books intergender matches, but it’s still featured in other promotions around the world. We asked Jeff how felt about matches that pitted men and women against each other.
“Obviously in that time, it was the right time. I think as a constant, it doesn’t work, and it hasn’t worked. That’s been proven over history. But in the right time, in the right circumstance, with the right talent, and in that era, Chyna was one of those characters. She was one of the real personalities that defined the Attitude Era. Stone Cold, Rock, DX – when you think of DX, I immediately think of Road Dogg, his persona just oozed that attitude, and then you look at Chyna. She was the ninth wonder of the world, and everything that went with that. The timing and the situations that we were put together, eighteen years later we’re still talking about it, so something was done right.”
To the future
Looking at the WWE now, some of the biggest names are graduates of Impact, most notably AJ Styles. While they had a storied history together in Impact, they also spent time together at New Japan Pro Wrestling. We asked Jeff about what it was like teaming with Styles outside of Impact.
“It was great. I can remember getting off the plane and arriving at the Tokyo Dome hotel and seeing him for the first time in a while. It was in his match when I cracked [Hiroshi] Tanahashi with a guitar and revealed that I was ‘Office Bullet Club’ is what they called it. I was there on AJ’s last day in Impact, and for him to go the last day of Impact and then go to New Japan, and do what he did, he proved to the world that he was phenomenal. He stepped out in an entirely different light, after he’d been in TNA basically his entire career. It was great, it really really was, seeing the matches he had, with Okada, Tanahashi, that Wrestle Kingdom that we were part of with Jim Ross calling it, it was one of the top five shows not only that I’ve been on or been a part of, but that I’ve ever watched. That was a really unique night.”
We asked Jeff how he felt about those former Impact wrestlers who are now enjoying such success in the WWE.
“I couldn’t be more happy for those guys. I saw AJ in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. It was great to see him. We’ve stayed in contact, obviously through the New Japan relationship I got to see AJ quite a bit. Proud is a word, happy is a word. Going back to AJ debuting at the Royal Rumble, and the reaction he got, it put a huge smile on me and Karen’s face, because AJ and his family are a huge part of my professional life, and personal life to a certain degree, from 2002 on. He was a young kid, go back and look at the pictures from North Georgia, that had a – pardon the pun – phenomenal ability in the ring, very athletic, and the matches that we had that are some of the best I ever had, give him the credit. AJ, Bobby [Roode], Samoa Joe, Eric Young’s coming in – it’s very obvious that I had nothing to do with their departure, and of course from a business point of view it’s unfortunate, but also just to follow that up from a business point of view, it’s one of the things that energises me most about 2017 and beyond, is who is that next AJ Styles, who is that next Bobby Roode and Samoa Joe. They’re out there – they’re in this country actually – so that’s one of the things that really excites me about the future of Impact and Global Force.”
We also asked Jeff some quickfire questions, including the best in-ring worker he’s wrestled, his wrestling idols growing up, and his favourite wrestlers to hit with a guitar. Check out the exclusive video of our interview on our Facebook page, and the quickfire questions coming to next week!
What do you think Jeff’s return will mean for Impact Wrestling? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!