RealSport x Jeff Jarrett: our exclusive interview with the founder of Impact Wrestling (part one)

When WCW closed its doors in 2001, some of its wrestlers were absorbed into the WWF; others began touring the independent scene. Jeff Jarrett, however, struck a new path, co-founding with his father a brand new wrestling promotion, Total Nonstop Action. TNA’s ups and downs have been well-documented, with an all-time nadir seeing Jarrett part ways with the company. With the promotion under new ownership, the Canadian-based Anthem Sports & Entertainment, Jarrett has once again reunited with the company he started with his father, now predominantly known as Impact Wrestling.

Jarrett was in the UK last week representing Impact, and RealSport were invited to sit down with the wrestling legend himself in London. Our conversation covered everything from growing up as a third-generation wrestler, to his time in the WWF and WCW, to his new role in Impact.

Back to Impact

We started our conversation not at the beginning, but at the present, asking Jeff what brought him back to Impact:

“Circumstance, would be the first thing that comes to mind. If you would have told me that I’d be sitting in London, doing a media afternoon, on Christmas Day or even New Year’s Eve, I would have said you were absolutely crazy. Myself and Anthem had some preliminary talks during the month of December, then me Karen and the kids went to West Palm for New Year’s Eve with some family friends, [NASCAR driver] Hermie Sadler and his family, and then when I got back, the lawyers went at it and started having their discussions. I’ll never forget it, Karen walked in the house and I said ‘things are heading in the right direction and Global Force [Wrestling, a wrestling promotion founded by Jeff in 2014] and Impact are going to work together on some level’ and she said ‘great, it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out’. She said ‘what are the next steps?’ and I said ‘I’m getting on a plane in a few hours’.
“Things have been moving really quickly, we’re not even 45 days into the relationship, and it went from a consulting deal for Impact tapings in Orlando in early January, and now we’re dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts to make it happen, and here we are in the UK, having broadcaster meetings and digital meetings and merchandise meetings and tour meetings and looking at talent, and everything that goes with the wrestling promotion. So that’s the long-winded answer of what brought me back to Impact, but I’m very excited, I feel blessed, I feel thankful for Anthem Sports & Entertainment. They got into the situation as minority partner, they were distributors before this acquisition, but they’re pros’ pros, they’re business people, and this is certainly not the first asset they’ve acquired. Very very level-headed business people and the relationship is really off to a great start, and again I hate to be repetitive but I never would have dreamed I’d be sitting in London, looking at Big Ben and doing press interviews for Impact Wrestling.”

Jeff’s new position has been reported as “executive producer”, but it’s a label that Jeff shrugged off.

“You could ask my dad this, and if my grandma were still living you could ask her, I’m not really big on titles. I know that in the modern world we live in today, the corporate world, you’ve got to have org charts and have to have things spelled out, but I’ll set the ring up, I’ll take the trash out, I’ll make decisions, I’ll executive produce, but in short, “Wrestling Operations” is sort of how we’re crafting things. That goes with a little bit of everything. It reaches to digital media, because now, you have so many, it’s not just a television show, a wrestling promotion, it’s the television show, it’s social media, it’s digital, it’s live events, a little bit of everything goes with Wrestling Operations… I just kind of think the business is in a different kind of position. We want to work with multiple promotions. The Pro Wrestling NOAH situation came out last week, and it’s no secret that the Hardys and the Young Bucks have been going at each other, and the Young Bucks are under the Ring of Honor banner, so working with multiple promotions is first and foremost for us as it goes with the product and a lot of other things to come. I’ve got my promoter hat on and I’m excited about that.”

One of the biggest development for British and Irish Impact fans has been the creation of the

Total Access app

, especially once Challenge TV stopped airing Impact in the UK. The app allows fans in the UK and Ireland to stream Impact at the same time it airs in the US, while also including a huge back catalogue:

“When I came in, the Challenge deal was essentially dead, so they had to make the decision, so kudos to Anthem Sports & Entertainment, and Ed Nordholm the president of Anthem Wrestling, and Leonard Asper, and the entire game that they got in front of the curve. They were dealt a hand and they said ‘how do we service the market?’ They rushed an OTT product to market, it’s basically a beta form, it’s going to get better. There’s over 4000 hours in the library. But they made it a priority - and we’re here today because it’s a priority -
 that they didn’t want the Impact audience to not have the opportunity [to watch Impact]. You can go on YouTube to get highlights, but with Total Access, you can watch the episodes, you don’t miss out on anything, plus you get all the bonus archive footage in the library. It goes without saying how rich that is in current wrestling history.”

When asked if Total Access will be available further afield, Jeff responded:

“Oh yeah, without question. [We’re] in discussions with countries all over the world and the right markets, and how they’re going to roll it out.”

Back to the beginning

It was good to hear Jeff speaking about Impact so positively, after his somewhat acrimonious split from the previous owner, Dixie Carter, a few years ago. We asked Jarrett to explain his reasons for co-founding the company fifteen years ago:

“The business had come off the Attitude era, it was super red hot, and I can remember in Panama City beach, Florida - that’s where the last Nitro was - just thinking ‘this is surreal. There’s one game in town now.’ So I knew pretty quick that there would be a huge void in the marketplace. My family had been in the business over 70 years, I’m thankful for that, blessed for that, cursed for that sometimes too, but I knew there was going to be an opportunity, because without a number two promotion, there’s no such thing as a number one promotion. Again, a huge void in the market place, the PPV industry in 2002 was completely different than it is today, entertainment, distribution, not just PPVs, were completely different than it is today, but we found a way to launch a company and then as things rolled on from Fox Sports Net to the Spike Saturday night slot to the Thursday night late night slot from the one hour to the two hour, Impact continued to grow… Collectively as a group, we always had a “never say die” attitude, we always knew that we were gonna pull it together some shape form or fashion, but there are set backs in any start-up business. You look at statistics it’s not just wrestling – a startup candy shop, a startup coffee shop, a startup automotive place, the odds are against you. But as a group, our wrestling know-how with my father and the different pieces of the puzzle that fell together, and just timing of different things, we found a way to continue and prosper and really get the ball rolling, but of course, in any startup business, there are concerns.”

We asked him whether he felt Impact had strayed from his initial vision from the promotion. Jarrett responded with a laugh:

“The fact that you’re asking that questions answers it, wouldn’t you say? There’s no secret that myself and management didn’t see eye-to-eye going back to 2010, 2011. But that’s life. I don’t regret one day, there’s no reason to that, doesn’t bear any fruit, but it’s very obvious in the fact that you answered that questions, and in December 2013, I knew that it was truly time for me to shut the door on that chapter of my life and my career.”

Check back for part two of our exclusive interview with Jeff on Friday, where we discussed his career in wrestling, his time in WWF, and how he feels about the former Impact stars now making waves in the WWE!

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