In the week that TNA goes live on Challenge in the UK with an all-new 'Xplosion' show, their first ever programming designed for a family audience, we speak to creator and host Jeremy Borash about what this means for TNA:
Saturday morning is prime time for young wrestling fans in the UK, what is going to bring them to TNA?
I think it's a couple of things. First, although there is a vast British wrestling history going back many decades, so far as I can remember there has never been a free-to-air Saturday morning wrestling show. Second, the show is going to be different and in a new format. Xplosion is currently shown on Wednesdays at 11pm and that can be inconvenient for people who have 9-5 Jobs. Moving it to a Saturday morning timeslot when people can watch it with their kids is going to be the advantage. There's also a personal connection to that timeslot for me. One of my earliest memories is my dad sitting me down at my grandma's house and showing me wrestling for the first time - I think I was four or five years old. That's what we did every Saturday morning, we'd watch wrestling together. I did that for much of my youth and now fans all over the UK are going to get the chance to do it too.
TNA seems to favour us Brits, why did you pick the UK to launch this new timeslot for Xplosion?
Well I have personally been pushing for it for a long time because whilst our current timeslot for TNA 'Impact' is good, we're missing a big audience that doesn't stay up so late. In the US right now, we have a TV deal with spike. You can only see 'Impact' on Thursday nights in the states and it's a well-protected timeslot whereas in the UK, we're a little more flexible. I think if we're seen as good to the UK then the fruits of mine and other peoples labour, our hard work and effort are starting to pay off. I also think we are in a David and Goliath situation in wrestling now and that's something that resonates with UK Fans. The feedback we get from those fans is that they want us to succeed. They like to get behind an underdog, the one that really wants to take a bite out of the ass of the big guy. The UK is certainly our top international market, it's important to us and it deserves our attention. I would rather do a show in the UK than anywhere else in the world just because of the fan response. For any performer that goes out there, they want a great response and they get it in the UK.
We've asked many interviewees about their best 'rib' (work banter) stories, what's yours?
My favourite UK story is something completely bizarre but it doesn't involve any other wrestlers. My long-term girlfriend is from Leicester in the UK. One of the first times I went to visit her, she was still at work and so I planned to wait at her mum's house until she was finished. When I got to the block of flats, I knew I had the right area but I wasn't quite sure which number I needed. When I eventually knocked on one door, I had second thoughts. The door opened and there was a big, just giant polish guy standing there. He just looks at me and says: "Jeremy Borash!?", "What the **** are you doing here?!" This was Leicester, it was literally one of my first times there and I wasn't sure how far our TV reach extended. The guy flipped out - he must have thought he was on a candid camera show! I apologised but he insisted I come in and take pictures with his kids - who happened to be playing with TNA action figures! I still talk to him on twitter - so it's just funny, it was so random and was one of my first times in the UK but you know every day is a circus on the road.
We're told there is a video of Rockstar Spud doing the YMCA in Gunner's trunks. Have you seen it?
That's just one of 5 or 6 dozen stories which I'm aware of when he's dressed up or done something. In a very short time he has made a huge impact in TNA. You know, if the fans like him and he does well on TV, that's a big accomplishment but winning over the locker-room and becoming a favourite backstage means everybody's going to go to bat for you. A few weeks ago Kurt Angle was in the ring with Spud for one of the first times. Because of Spud's outlandish character sometimes his wrestling is overlooked - but Kurt came back right after their match and said: "I want to wrestle that kid every match for the rest of my life". And that's Kurt Angle, the greatest of all time in my book. So to have that kind of ringing endorsement speaks really well for Spud. Everyone's just taken to him. What an amazing success story for British Boot Camp -to have our first, our one and only winner come over and be such a success in America.
Are we going to see another British Boot Camp?
Well to me, the times right and the talent's there. When Spud did the show, I didn't expect him to win. But you have a guy who was working in a bank in Birmingham only a year and a half ago who is now living his dream, on national TV in America, on the most popular show on Spike TV, living in a bigger house than me, with a TNA contract - he's changed his life! I speak to lots of wrestlers from different UK independent promotions so I know that there are guys here - males or females - that are just as talented, are completely undiscovered and are working a 9-5 jobs and just dreaming about that opportunity. I've met many people who want to suggest new talent for the show and so for me as executive producer, I couldn't be more excited about the prospect of doing another season. Obviously the decision isn't mine to make but I think just based on the success story of the first season that a second season is inevitable.
The TNA roster has changed quite significantly over the past couple of years, what does this mean for the company?
If we've been accused of anything over the last 12 years it's probably not building enough of our own stars. If you look at our roster now though it is all (with the exception of a few guys) home-grown stars. We're focussing on fresh talent. Of course it's hard to say goodbye to people that you've become attached to and that have become a part of your family but the reality is that entertainment has a high turnover. Sure, I miss AJ Styles, I miss a lot of the talent that's gone but I'm also very excited about guys like Spud or EC3. I think there's a ton of guys that are fresh and new and exciting. If you haven't watched 'Impact' in a while and you watch it now, you'll think "wow there's some pretty innovative new acts coming out". There are different ways to judge it. You can look at what's connecting with people through 'likes' and 'shares' and numbers on social media but the one thing that I always want to remember is that a positive response is great, a negative response is what it is but having a show that nobody's talking about is the worst.
Over the past 6 months or so Bobby Lashley and MVP have come into the fold, who's next?
There's a couple of guys out there that I know have been discussed and there have been conversations and contract talks and whatnot. I honestly try and stay out of it now because I prefer to be surprised. I'm still a fan at the end of the day and if I'm excited or if I 'pop' for something big that I didn't expect to see coming, then I know that the fans are going to do so too.
So big names are in the pipeline shall we say?
I would think, yeah. However I also think that rather than shelling out big cash for established names, I really want to see our home-grown stars become those big names. I think we're increasingly in a position to showcase TNA branded stars that you know exclusively from our programming and I think that's how you build your fan base. Obviously you've got to attract an audience with stars that have a history elsewhere but branding your own way is important. When I was a fan of ECW, it hooked me back in as a wrestling fan. They had guys that were born and made in ECW -Raven, Sandman - you could take a dozen of those guys and think "wow, this is different". I think that is where we're heading and where we aspire to be.
You're a seasoned commentator. Have you ever been lost for words? What's it like to call live action?
Honestly, the only time I'm ever at a loss for words is when I'm doing an interview with the Beautiful People and they're all over me. It's hard to keep my concentration sometimes! If you've got a good broadcast partner like I do with Mike Tenay, you go into it knowing you're going to be ok. I still get very nervous doing play-by-play but that for me Mike's reassuring. I set that against the World Wrestling All-Stars which was a company a few of us were a part of 13 years ago after WCW and before TNA. For Jeff Jarrett, myself and others it was a way to learn lessons about launching a new promotion and I think the idea for TNA came from that. Those were really tough shows. I had to do play-by-play and I think it suffered because of all the other responsibilities I had. 13 years later, I feel very comfortable on the microphone, doing live worldwide TV. For me personally I think that was just a matter of growth and time.
The North Koreans are planning to host a wrestling tournament (their first since 1995). Would you want to be involved?
I wasn't aware of that but I have been in some pretty interesting places for this job. We've done shows in Dubai, Abu Dabi, Mexico City and lots of Japan shows. I don't know the specifics of the Korean show or what that would all entail! If it's a political situation that's one thing but I do know that where there is a need for wrestling or fans that want to see it, there are a group of entertainers that want to be on that stage. I can tell you the scariest moment of my career, which was refereeing a match in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We were in a big stadium packed with thousands of fans and somehow I got talked into being the referee for the 'screwjob' ending they had planned for the main event. We had what in the business is called a 'dusty' finish. You think the good guy has won and then something happens to reverse that. So you get the big win, the big moment, the celebration, the pyro, the fireworks and everyone's going crazy then the referee comes in and takes it all away from them. Well I had that role in Puerto Rico and I took the belt away from Ray Gonzales (who was the Puerto Rican Ric Flair figure) after he beat Jeff Jarrett for the World Heavyweight Title. My life immediately became endangered. I got hit in the back of the head with a golf ball and was literally chased - I had to run from the centre of a baseball stadium in fear of my life. They had to sneak me out of the building with a blanket over me because there were people waiting outside the locker room trying to kill me. This wasn't a joke to them! So when you live through something like that and you see this is really scary stuff -I'm not sure I'd feel in danger anywhere else!
An all-new version of TNA Xplosion will air weekly on Challenge from Saturday May 31 at 9am and will continue to be shown in its late night slot of 11pm on Wednesday evenings. TNA IMPACT WRESTLING is broadcast every Sunday at 9pm. TNA's UK tour details are available here: www.impactwrestling.com/uktour