“Trump is an embarrassment”: Wrestling legend Konnan talks anthem protests, LAX, Bound for Glory and his legacy
RealSport’s exclusive interview with the leader of LAX delved deep into the past of the wrestling legend and got his thoughts on current protests in the NFL.
This past Wednesday, RealSport sat down to speak exclusively with the legendary leader of the Latin American Xchange, Konnan. Konnan has been a staple of IMPACT throughout the years and has featured in many prominent storylines with various groups including the 3 Live Kru and various iterations of LAX. During the interview, we talked with Konnan about the upcoming Bound for Glory event, the early days of TNA, and why he feels so passionately about LAX.
Before getting stuck into the wrestling talk, we got Konnan’s take on the current state of politics in the United States, as well as his stance on the protests taking place in other sports.
RealSport: As a military veteran, what’s your take on NFL players kneeling for the anthem and President Trump’s subsequent comments about their protest?
Konnan: I was in the military for almost seven years and I went to the Iran/Iraq conflict, I went to the Lebanese conflict and I was on the United States Navy boxing team. I can’t believe the way [President Trump] has been able to switch the narrative. This is nothing about disrespecting the flag. This is not about disrespecting the national anthem or the guys that served in the military. This is just pointing out that there’s a problem with racial relations in the United States and police brutality. There are certain sections that don’t want to deal with it or talk about it so there’s protest. Our nation was built on protest from the Revolutionary War where we were mad at King George for hitting the United States with taxes. We’ve always been about rebellion – whether it was the Boston Tea Party or the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King.
Trump is trying to switch the narrative and the problem with Trump is that a lot of his followers listen to everything he says. Trump has been able to convince them that all the media does is bulls**t about him. There is liberal media here that doesn’t like Trump and it’s very obvious, but everything that he’s done, from bringing in Steve Bannon to the White House, who was with the Alt-Right, Flynn having connections and lying about it with the Russians, him insulting Mexicans, not going to Puerto Rico during the disaster and dedicating them a false trophy and all the s**t he’s done… I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, just so you know, I just think that he’s an embarrassment and he’s a joke. He’s been able to deflect a real issue, race relations and police brutality, which continues to be a problem in this country. It has nothing to do with the flag.
Here and now – Impact and LAX
RS: Are you excited for Bound for Glory?
Konnan: Yeah, I’m excited for Bound for Glory because it’s in Canada and I’ve never been to Canada with Impact. It’s in Ottawa; we’ve never done Ottawa. When you’ve been in Orlando week after week, month after month, year after year it can get a bit monotonous and it’s harder and harder to get a reaction from the fans. You get a fresh fanbase that’s never seen you, is excited to see you and you’re excited to perform for them. So yeah, I am excited about going to Ottawa.
RS: Any special LAX plans you can share?
Konnan: No, we’re gonna go out there and do our thing, y’know. We’re a very cutting edge group and we like to push the envelope; we like to be different from everybody else and we definitely have a lot of swag. When we go to the ring we have our own style. It all goes back to what we started ten years ago with the original LAX, this is an extension of that.
RS: What are your thoughts on the Global Wrestling Network launching?
Konnan: Well I think it’s cool because you have a 15 year history and, right now, you get to see Roode, AJ Styles, Angle, Eric Young, they’re all in WWE and maybe there’s a lot of people that never saw them in TNA. Now you get back and you get to see them. You get to see a young AJ Styles, a young Samoa Joe and when you’re younger you do crazier bumps and crazier matches; as you get older, you tone down your style, so you’ll get to see them when they were young and creative and trying new things out. A lot of great people went through there – Kurt Angle went through there and had some great matches, Sting, Scott Hall, Curt Hennig, Ken Shamrock, Macho Man – so you get the chance to back and look at their history and stars before they were big. It’s just a cool look back at nostalgia. It’s definitely something I’m interested in looking at.
RS: The company has been going through a bit of an identity crisis recently. Do you think that it hurts viewership and damages the reputation of the company?
Konnan: I think it just hurts the image and the image of TNA has always been disorganised. When you hear that your TV [show] is GFW, then Impact, then it’s just ‘what’s going on?’ I really believe that Ed Nordholm, who’s the head there, is doing his best because I’ve spoken with him on many occasions. He’s a very forthright person, unlike the other people that used to work there before that were not forthright. He’s really trying to look at a way to make money, how to not be wasting money, how to be resourceful. He’s looking at why we’re still in Orlando ‘cos it’s usually the tourists that are there and some of the local fans, right? But in Canada, people are gonna be buying tickets so there’s a way to monetise. The Global Network is another way to monetise. He’s looking for ways to monetise the product, be sleek, streamline everything, cut off all the fat that we don’t need and try and make this a profitable company. I gotta give him a chance. I just got there and he’s on the right path. I like the creative and I wanna see what Sonjay [Dutt], Big John [Gaburkick], [Scott] D’Amore and Jeremy [Borash] can come up with without Jeff [Jarrett] being there. I wanna see what they do on their own. That’s cool too. I’m sure Jeff had his ideas and they have their ideas. Well, let’s see. But yeah, all this changing around doesn’t do anything for their image, I don’t think it affects viewership at all, but I think for their image they need to say ‘Okay, this is what we’re calling it and that’s that.’ I’m not even sure… I think it’s Impact, right? Nobody knows what’s going on, so that’s not good. I do know that Ed is working hard to turn the company around, and the perception, and that’s something that makes me happy because the perception for many years has not been good.
RS: What has been your standout moment with LAX since returning to Impact?
Konnan: When we first came back, nobody knew that we were coming in. I’m sure nobody ever thought I would return again, including myself. When we came in and we surprised everybody, they brought us in as heels but the people responded by chanting our name and they were really happy to see us. So it was cool to see that, after about 10 years of not being seen there, I showed up and they didn’t forget. That was a very cool moment. Then, of course, watching these two young guys that nobody really knew, Ortiz and Santana, go in there and win the championship, bringing Homicide back in and then also bring in a new girl, Diamante – unfortunately, she’s hurt but she’s already had an operation and is getting better – and helping the younger generation. There’s not a lot of guys like me left and I try to show them what I’ve learned in the business to help them prepare for this business, that’s very cutthroat. You make a lot of sacrifices. A lot of people look at the glamour and all that but you sacrifice a lot for it.
RS: Is the plan for Diamante an in-ring Impact debut, on her return?
Konnan: Definitely, yes, when she’s ready. When she gets the doctor’s clearance. We had a match with Humberto Garza and she ripped her knee, some ligaments, and so they operated on her. She’s already rehabilitating.
RS: If you could recruit any current wrestler to join LAX, who would it be?
Konnan: I would love to bring Low-Ki back, man. I think he’s a very, very unique character and I think that he wasn’t handled properly. If not, maybe even somebody like Eddie Kingston because he’s got a good history with Homicide. Those are two guys that could fit into our group.
RS: What about a dream entry into LAX, if it could be absolutely anyone?
Konnan: Probably Rey Mysterio but I don’t think Rey Mysterio is the LAX type, y’know?
RS: I think that he’d fit if you had a bit of the Rey Mysterio in WCW vibe from him.
Konnan: I dunno if he would fit as a heel but I think he’d fit if we were babyfaces.
Looking back – WCW, TNA and 3LK
RS: Back in WCW, you were very outspoken about the number of Mexican wrestlers that lost their masks. Are you still upset about how the tradition of the mask was treated there?
Konnan: I’m not as upset about it as I was when it happened but, yes, it’s a shame that it happened as it happened when it could have been done the right way. It was their cultural ignorance. You could have had a great, great match between Rey Mysterio and Juventud Guerrera – two second generation superstars about the same age – but they ended up doing Rey Mysterio vs Nash and, if Nash lost, Miss Elizabeth would lose her hair. Give me a break, who would be interested in that? They made a mockery of something they didn’t understand and they were hell bent on doing it; even though we tried to explain why they shouldn’t do it, they did it anyway.
RS: Nowadays, there are lots of luchadors on the American scene. How does that make you feel?
Konnan: Right now, it’s incredible. Twenty years ago, when we started lucha libre, nobody knew what it was. The fans, the wrestlers, the commentators, they didn’t even know what was going on. I thought that luchadors weren’t booked right. Even the guys that were in their division, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Ultimo Dragon, had to go to WWE to become stars. That’s the one thing Vince [McMahon] knows how to do, is make stars. Eric [Bischoff] had all of those guys and he held them back. It’s good to see that now, everywhere you go, somebody wants to have a lucha libre match or the modern style today, which is a hybrid of UK, US, Japanese and lucha libre. You see the lucha libre influence everywhere. All the crazy lucha moves you see now, it’s really cool to see how it’s permeated the industry and how you see a lot more of the smaller wrestlers than you used to see before, a lot of guys wearing masks where before, only Mexicans wore masks. Now you see white guys, Filipinos, blacks, everybody wearing masks. It’s almost like hip-hop, it just became global. It’s really cool to see what lucha has turned into.
RS: You have always been outspoken as a personality. How do you think this has affected your career? Do you feel your career has been negatively or positively influenced by this?
Konnan: To me, that’s not a sin, bro. That’s how I’ve always been since I was running the streets of Miami, I’ve always been outspoken. When I was in the military I was outspoken. That’s just part of my nature. To me, being outspoken is where a lot of guys say ‘Look, I don’t want no heat’ or ‘I don’t want no problems’ or ‘Ehh, that’s cool, whatever’ but I’m like ‘No, that’s not cool. Speak up’ and I’m gonna speak up. Of course, for speaking up, stuff happens, you get fired or people don’t wanna work with you but that’s never gonna change. It’s affected me more positively than negatively.
RS: You were on the first ever TNA pay-per-view back in 2002. Did you think then that the promotion would take off?
Konnan: When it first started, the first show was in Alabama. I remember the ring broke. I remember there weren’t that many people there and I remember them telling me that the business model was every week they wanted somebody to pay $10 to watch us on per-per-view. I was like, that’s $40 a month, I don’t think anybody is gonna do that. With that business model, I didn’t see a real big future. When I started to see the future is when we started to get on TV. We were on this small network, Sun Sports or something like that. I think we were on Fox Sports Net and then, finally, when we went to Spike, that’s when I knew that this had legs but in the beginning, no, I didn’t think it would work.
RS: What is your fondest memory working with Ron Killings and Brian James in 3 Live Kru?
Konnan: Our fondest memory is how we started. They really didn’t have anything for us to do, just like the Filthy Animals, which was a group we had in WCW. I remember going to either Kevin Sullivan or Terry Taylor and I said ‘Look, you’re not doing anything with Eddie [Guerrero], you’re not doing nothing with [Billy] Kidman, with Rey Mysterio, with Disqo, with Torrie [Wilson], just put us all together and let us have fun and if you’re gonna bury us, bury us together’. That’s how Filthy Animals came about. In TNA, BG [Brian James, aka Road Dogg] wasn’t doing nothing, Ron Killings wasn’t doing nothing, and I wasn’t doing nothing. I don’t wanna be somewhere I’m just collecting a paycheck. I like to entertain, I’ve entertained for free my whole life. Why don’t you put me, BG and Killings together, all three of us were big fans of cannabis, put us together and see what happens. The other day, somebody sent me a 3LK DVD. I’d never seen it since I left TNA and we did some really funny stuff. That was really just me and BG coming up with our own stuff, doing our own skits. It was great working with both of them. Me and BG were always fighting like cats and dogs but, at the end, we loved each other. Ron Killings is like my brother. I have very good memories of being with them. I’m happy to see that Killings is still in WWE making money for his family and BG is one of the writers there, so he’s doing good too.
RS: The dissolution of the 4 Live Kru and formation of LAX was one of the strongest introductions for a stable in wrestling. Were you guys behind that creatively or did it come from elsewhere?
Konnan: That was 1000% a shoot. What had happened was, when Billy Gunn got there, Dusty Rhodes wanted to put Billy Gunn and BG together and break us up. We were like ‘why would you do that? 3LK is over.’ So then he was like ‘Well why don’t we just put him with you guys?’ and I go ‘Bro, that’s not gonna work. He does not fit in this group.’ There was nothing against Billy Gunn, he just didn’t fit in what we were doing. I mean, even though BG is a redneck, he’s also very urban too and Billy Gunn is just a straight white boy, you know what I’m saying. To me, the best way to describe BG is that he’s a cool white boy. You could see him hanging out in a park with some brothers or some Mexicans, plus he was in the Marines, so it’s a very diverse group. I couldn’t see Billy Gunn doing that.
So we got buried and Jarrett came to us and was like ‘We’re gonna have to break you guys apart’ and I said ‘I knew it, I f**king knew it’. I said ‘Okay, then let me do something with Ron Killings’ and he goes ‘No, you’re gonna be on your own, you’re gonna do your own thing.’ I said ‘Just let me and Ronnie do something’ and again he said I was gonna be on my own. Ronnie was real good friends with Jeff Hardy and Ronnie was like ‘Well let me do something with Jeff Hardy then’ and Jarrett said no. So BG was gonna get a partner and they were gonna get pushed and me and Ronnie were kinda just left in the cold. So all those LAX promos were real. Everybody is like ‘Oh, those were good promos.’ Yeah, they were good promos because they were real. When I used to say that this company doesn’t look at talent and looks at colour, that was how I felt. It’s a company of racists and a country that holds us back but we’re still here and we’re still growing. That was what I felt so my promos were very organic and they said ‘Okay, big mouth, pick somebody that you wanna wrestle with and let’s see what you can do.’
I found Homicide, they didn’t want him at the beginning because they said that he was too short and I said ‘we’re not playing basketball here, bro.’ The guy is from the streets, he was in one of the biggest street gangs in New York – The Latin Kings – he’s the real deal. If you think he’s small, run up on him and see what happens. That’s a guy that you don’t wanna mess with. I came from a similar background. I was never a gang-banger but I came from the street so I took that street and militant style and made LAX. Then we got some other guys that were irresponsible and Hernandez showed up and had a good look so we used Hernandez and it was a perfect fit. But it all came out of a real anger that I had and I felt so bad because they let Ronnie die, they did nothing with him but put him in some ridiculous comedy skits where he was dressed up as a marine and doing lines from a movie and all this other s**t. I felt bad ‘cos they used him wrong. That is where complaining got me somewhere ‘cos I kept bitching. ‘If you’re not gonna do anything with me then let me go, if you’re not gonna do something with me and Ronnie then f**king let us go.’ Then, I think, just to shut me up, they were like ‘Alright, do what you wanna do.’ I did LAX and it worked.
Further afield – Lucha Underground and Keepin’ It 100
RS: Do you think Lucha Underground has a future beyond season 3?
Konnan: I think they’ll find funding somewhere. I was there from the very beginning. Lucha Underground is something that me and Antonio Pena, the owner of AAA, wanted to do twenty years ago. Not the science fiction part of it, that was all their idea. It was very hard to get funding and they finally found some guys that had money. They didn’t get a return on their investment and they tried to sell it to Mexican TV networks but they wanted too much money. I know they’re not getting hardly nothing from their investment with Netflix.
At the end of the day, they’re probably looking for funding or to sell it to somebody. I think they’ll find funding but it’ll be a lot different from before. I dunno if there’ll be less shows or they don’t keep the quality that they have or not wanna fly people from that far away, I dunno how they’re gonna do it but I don’t think they’re gonna be able to work with that same budget anymore. These guys probably had to lose over $20m, easily, the two investors, who are Antonio Cue and Jose Garcia. Nobody else has put in money but a lot of people were getting money. Rodriguez got a percentage, obviously he’s the owner of El Rey, Mark Burnett got a percentage because, obviously, he’s the producer. He was another problem because he wanted a lot of money to keep producing and it’s very expensive to shoot in LA so they were gonna shoot it in Mexico. He finally came around but I think Lucha Underground is a shame.
Lucha Underground came around and shook wrestling on its head. There was nothing like it on TV. They did a couple of really brilliant shows and this is what happens in the wrestling industry… everybody that’s in the wrestling industry, running it, usually comes from the wrestling industry, including myself. It took people from the film industry that didn’t know what the rules were so they weren’t thinking. They did one thing that I always used to think myself, they brought in real actors and a real good actor doing some great acting scenes that nobody had seen before. Why didn’t WWE do that before? They definitely had the resources. They shot it in a cinematic style, that was cool. Their big goal was to make a Lucha Underground movie. Like the Avengers but with Rey Mysterio, Prince Puma and all that, which is not a bad idea. They always have a public image of everything is really good but I just think that mismanagement, putting people in the wrong places, they don’t tour… it’s very sad to see what Lucha Underground has become with the incredible potential that it had.
RS: To finish, could you tell us a little about your podcast?
Konnan: My podcast is for the Chris Jericho – drink it up, man – Network. He and I have been friends have been friends for probably about 25 years and we’re always got along great. It’s funny that me and him and Raven and Disqo, Mark Madden, we were always backstage and others would always join in and out making each other laugh. We’d watch matches and make snide remarks about the match on the monitor and now we’re all in podcasting or radio. It’s just funny how we’re all working together again. My podcast is on PodcastOne, it’s called Keepin’ It 100, it drops every Thursday and I guarantee you it’s unlike any podcast you’ve heard. We have music, we’re always busting balls, we talk politics, sports, we talk movies, wrestling and it’s just a very different show. Check it out. We have a humongous UK fanbase – shout out to all you guys over there.
You can watch Konnan and the Latin American Xchange every Thursday night on Pop TV in the United States and on Spike TV in the UK, and you can find his podcast, Keepin’ It 100, on PodcastOne. Bound for Glory takes place November 5th. Let us know in the comments below about your favorite moments throughout Konnan’s career!