Jeff Jarrett’s last nine years would have been good fodder for a pro wrestling script even if he sold tires for a living. Start a business on a wing and a prayer, come within a whisker of complete collapse, finally solidify his new career only to lose his wife to cancer, then jeopardize all he worked for by falling in love with the ex-wife of his star employee.
But Jarrett, who last year married Kurt Angle’s ex-wife, Karen, is unfazed as he negotiates a phone interview Monday while running errands just after returning from Mexico — and with a trip to Indiana and Ohio just around the corner. “As the World Turns Left” caught up with Jarrett, 43, who will be in Brooklyn at MCU Park on July 1 as part of TNA’s BaseBrawl series. After all he’s been through, fielding a couple of tough questions while crossing things off his to-do list is child’s play.
Q: You just got back from a AAA show in Mexico, where you unexpectedly won the AAA World Heavyweight Title. How important is that relationship toward expanding TNA internationally?
A: You nailed it. It’s all part of an international presence. I guess you could say the title speaks for itself. The presence that TNA has in Mexico right now, it’s all a part of expanding the brand, growing the brand. And it’s the continuous evolution, so to speak, of TNA, and just broadening our reach.
Q: Speaking of business, when I talk with people about TNA, one of the biggest questions I still get is, “Is TNA profitable?”
A: Has been for years, absolutely.
Q: Then why are there still seemingly so many questions out there about the company’s stability?
A: The thing is, I totally respect that fact. Because as a businessperson, you look at the odds of any startup business lasting more than five years, the odds are extremely against it. And in the early years, no, we weren’t making money, and that was a completely legitimate question. But as time has gone on, we’re seen in more than 100 countries worldwide, translated into 14 languages, JAKKS with our action figures, our online presence, touring over 100 events a year, internationally I think we’ve gone to the United Kingdom four times with a tour. It’s a great time to be in TNA and continue to expand.
Q: But how much does it hurt expansion if you’re a profitable company and there’s still so much misinformation out there about your company’s financial standing?
A: I’ll say this: Wrestling fans, you have to take the good and bad of [them]. Because No.1, they’re highly critical of everything you do; they like to be Monday morning quarterbacks. But that’s all part of professional wrestling. It sort of makes up the uniqueness of our business. Along with that, I’m fine with them criticizing us and saying we should do this or do that. But from a business side of things, like you’re saying, when misinformation gets out, it’s not conducive for anybody when you put out total mistruths. But, hey, we’ve learned to accept it and move on. We worry about our bottom line, and let the chips fall where they may.
Q: After so many years of turmoil, how would you describe the dynamic between yourself and Kurt Angle?
A: I’ve said this on the record many times: I believe when we step into the ring to face each other we bring out the best in each other. We’ve pulled out some of the hardest-hitting, best matches. It’s a healthy business relationship, and an even better family situation. But Kurt’s Kurt, and Jeff’s Jeff, and put us two in the ring and we’re going to have some fireworks, no doubt about it.
Q: I spoke with Kurt in 2008, after he had spoken about your late wife Jill on “Impact.” He thought he was going to go backstage and have you throwing punches at him. How hard was it to keep things professional under those circumstances?
A: I can tell you at times it’s been as real as it could possibly be. There’s been some very, very uncomfortable moments for not just Jeff, Kurt and Karen, but for everyone involved. But at the end of the day, you have to keep on, keeping on. Have there been some tense moment? Absolutely. Will there probably be more? Absolutely. But that’s life.
Q: As personal as things have gotten, talking about a loved one who has passed, talking about children, is there any point where you’ve all sat back and said, “We took this or that too far”?
A: I’m answering for myself, certainly not for Kurt, but I don’t believe so. My family has been in this business for three generations, all the way back to the 1940s. So I’ve been around and seen all sorts of situations. I was the son of a professional wrestler, and the grandson of a legendary promoter in professional wrestling. So I feel like I’m a pretty good judge. I will put my parenting skills and decision-making [up with anybody]. Do I make all the right decisions? Absolutely not. But I don’t think we went out of bounds at all.
Q: TNA has changed the name of its show to “Impact Wrestling” to emphasize its wrestling content. But there are still a bunch of backstage vignettes. How is the show changing creatively other than just a name change?
A: That is something the viewer needs to decide. Because at the end of the day, from the day this company was founded, we strived to put out the very best in-ring product that we possibly can. Are we going to please everyone? Absolutely not. Are we going to try different things at different times and get great results? Yes. And sometimes we’re going to get bad results. But that’s all a part of growing a business and taking chances and trying to seize certain opportunities to help a business grow. I’ve been asked that question before about “Impact Wrestling.” The wrestling’s in the name, I totally understand that, the rebranding. But the viewers are going to have to decide on a weekly basis what they like and what they don’t like.
Q: Many veteran wrestlers (Kevin Nash, Booker T, Tommy Dreamer, Mick Foley) have left somewhat suddenly and/or under awkward circumstances in recent months. Does that negatively affect the momentum of what TNA is doing?
A: No. Like any team, or any movie studio, you have to continue to evolve and change the lineup around, so to speak. Change the roles of different people, and that’s all a part of evolving the brand.
Q: When I think of the Bound for Glory Series, I think a little bit about the Team Challenge Series from the AWA. How do you make a series based on a point system interesting when the cat is out of the bag as far as wrestling being staged?
A: You know, it’s all a part of a continuous build, so to speak, for Bound for Glory. So, are people going to be just hanging on the edge of their seat for every Bound for Glory Series match? No. But as the points system grows, just like the evolution of a storyline on TV, it will begin to build and take a life of its own. It’s going to be a great avenue to tie live events to Impact. So, like I said, will they be hanging on the edge of their seat for every match? No. But can we build from it? Absolutely, I believe we can.
Q: Both WWE and TNA have had different incarnations of anti-bullying campaigns recently. How can wrestling companies effectively do that when so much of their storylines are built around 3-on-1 or 4-on-1 beat-downs?
A: It’s a fine line. Fair enough question. Actually, great question. It’s definitely a fine line that you have to walk as a professional wrestling organization. But the message at heart is not hard to promote. I’ve spoken at several schools over the last year, I know Matt Morgan has done his fair share, and others have done their fair share. And when you get in there, and you look at a child face to face, and you make that connection, that’s where the campaign really takes place. And I believe, and I’ve always said this, as a global organization we can have campaigns, but at the end of the day if adults are depending on athletes or actors or people who never have one-on-one contact with their child, I believe they’re sort of missing the boat and passing the buck. I believe parents, grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, the coaches, the teachers that these kids come in contact with on a daily basis. That’s where I truly believe the anti-bullying can take effect. Just say no to drugs, stay in schools, all the programs that I’ve been affiliated with off and on over the years, it comes down to the day-to-day interaction with the children.
Q: What were your thoughts about Kurt Angle saying he was going to make an Olympic comeback?
A: If there’s anybody who can do it over 40 years old, it’s absolutely Kurt. He won in ’96 under some extreme conditions. So I’m pulling for him.
Q: TNA has long been promoted as a grassroots brand, much like minor league baseball. Is that what makes the atmosphere of the BaseBrawl shows work?
A: The way professional wrestling is, it’s like going to a baseball field, seeing fathers and sons together. Throughout the history of wrestling you see grandfathers and grandmothers with their grand kids and it’s become a big-time family atmosphere. Coupled with the fireworks, last year in Brooklyn on July 4 weekend, it was just right on. It’s something we’re proud of at TNA. We just came off one in Buffalo, and the one in Brooklyn is probably going to be better just because it’s the second go-around, and right there at Coney Island. It’s really a unique show. I’ve always said when people ask me about a TNA live event, what stands out is that, No. 1, it’s the best in-ring action in the world. No. 2, which is equally important, is the fan interactiveness. You can get autographs, you can get pictures. You can actually get the opportunity to get up in the ring at the end of the night and get your picture taken. So, it’s very, very accessible, and when you put it in a baseball park setting, it just a really unique experience.