Dixie Carter interview: TNA President talks British Bootcamp, CM Punk and Vince Russo

'I'm a big Grado fan, and I'm excited about him'

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The Independent Online

Despite the often chaotic world of professional wrestling, Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling has existed as an operating promotion since 2002, while Dixie Carter began serving as President of the company in 2003.

Born in Dallas, Texas in 1964, Carter studied Business Administration at the University of Mississippi, and owned a business focusing primarily on sport and music representation in Nashville before she joined the wrestling business, initially in TNA’s marketing and publicity department, before financial turmoil within the organisation saw her help broker a deal which saw her parents, under the Panda Energy banner, buy the company.

Over the past decade TNA has continued to survive and has featured many of the greatest names in the history of wrestling, while also giving worldwide publicity to talents who were previously unknown. Speaking to The Independent on the phone from her office in America, Carter began the conversation by talking about the success of Challenge TV’s British Bootcamp 2, the reality show which was won by TNA standout Rockstar Spud in its first instalment.

“I’m proud of the show, the first season was very successful, our ratings have doubled for this one which is almost unheard of, and there is such a great talent pool from the UK and Ireland.

“I hope this show has given everyone a shot in the arm to raise their game and to define their characters more, because if they really take the process seriously, every single one of those talents should come out better for it.”

One such talent on the show which has attracted much attention over the course of the show has been Grado, who has become one of Britain’s biggest stars in the recent past, stemming from his appearances in Insane Championship Wrestling and his strong YouTube fame. Carter likes what she sees in the comedic Scot, who recently finished in the top six of the show.

“I’m a big Grado fan, and I’m excited about him, and the other five finalists being on the upcoming UK tour, and there is something about him that I know he will try to steal the spotlight from everybody. He didn’t get off to a good start with Al Snow in particular, he felt it was Grado’s downfall that he didn’t take it seriously enough, that he felt he could funny his way through it, and it really bothered Al, which could have kept him from winning.”

Grado has spoken about possibly facing Snow on the tour, and that is something that has piqued the interest of the TNA President.

“He has been on at me for that to happen, and Al Snow is in as good condition as he has ever been in, he loves stepping into the ring but Grado would have the entire UK with him. Al would take that match very seriously, and he should be prepared.”

Grado reading The Independent

TNA has achieved a startling degree of success in the UK, thanks to their flagship television show Impact being aired on Challenge TV, and the company tour yearly in arenas which attract thousands of fans.

This year, all six of the final contestants from British Bootcamp 2, Noam Dar, Kay Lee Ray, Rampage Brown, Dave Mastiff, Mark Andrews and Grado will be appearing on the shows, as well as TNA World Heavyweight Champion Bobby Roode, Magnus, Rockstar Spud, James Storm, MVP and more. The events, in Glasgow, Manchester and London will also all be taped for television, which has excited Carter.

“The UK has been such an integral part of the success that we have had, it gave us an early success story when we needed one with the television ratings, ticket sales and media exposure. Now having British Bootcamp, and the tours getting bigger, I wanted to raise the bar this year and I needed to know from a scheduling standpoint in the US that I could turn the UK shows into TV tapings so I was thrilled to announce that.

“Having the British Bootcamp participants on the shows is great, and I want the fans to get there early, from the time the doors open for it to be a party atmosphere, and to make it fun and special.”

After a nine year relationship with Spike TV, TNA has signed a deal to partner with Discovery Communications, and Impact will begin to air on Destination America in January 2015. Despite some wrestling insiders tipping the switch as a backwards move, Carter was positive about the change, and the possibilities that the partnership can bring.

“I’m very excited about it, we talked with a lot of networks and at the end it came down to that I was looking for somebody who didn’t want to just license a two hour television show, but somebody who wanted to be a true partner. This deal is not just about Impact on a network, and it’s not just about being part of a group of networks in the US which are the largest and who have vowed their support, it’s about the global reach, and I’m very confident we can help Destination America, and be one of the best assets for the Discovery family, which will pay off for us globally.”

Former WWE Champion CM Punk has been one of the most talked about men in wrestlers over the past week due to his memorable podcast interview with Colt Cabana, and Carter did not shut the door on a possible TNA return for Punk who originally wrestled for the company prior to his WWE tenure.

“CM Punk’s in a place right now where he’s happy and I wouldn’t attempt to try to get him to come wrestle for us until he’s in a place where he wants to wrestle. I respect what he’s done so much, he was in my opinion at the top of his game, and it’s hard walking away from a big paycheck, but he did it. You wouldn’t want to ask him to walk to a new paycheck until his head is in the right place.”

The TNA President was also quick to point that she perceived the current TNA roster to be strong enough to carry the brand in its own right.

“We have a tremendous roster that has come on so strongly, it takes a lot of time to build a new character on television, and I think we have broken more new talent on television over the past 14 months than we have in five or six years maybe. We’ve got some exciting storylines planned, and we have our eye on a handful of talent that I think might compliment that.”

One of the most controversial names in wrestling over the past 20 years has been writer Vince Russo, who memorably wrote for WWE and WCW during the Attitude Era, and has been an on-off contributor to TNA during their history, despite diminishing returns creatively.

In April 2014, it was alleged that Russo was still writing for TNA in secret, with many sections of the wrestling media believing his presence within the company to be a negative not just within the television product, but also for business deals that affected the entire business.

While praising Russo’s ability in creative, Carter admitted that his presence ultimately proved to be too distracting to continue a working relationship.

“I’m a big Vince Russo fan, I think he’s very talented, I think he gets a bad rap, but I feel like the way everything played itself out, when I’m negotiating a business deal and it’s private, you have to keep certain things confidential whether it’s a new signing, or how your creative is going. All things are critical to the right element, and things were getting out concerning his involvement, and it was becoming a distraction.

“I think he’s incredibly talented, I really do, but it’s like when you have a football player on your team, and that player is getting a certain amount of attention and distraction, he may be a very good player but you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s the right thing for where you’re at right now, and if you’re trying to create a certain kind of locker room of peace, we were right in the middle of very important stuff, and we didn’t need that.

“I’m a fan but it wasn’t the time to take it to another level. Vince has worked with us three different times, and the one thing I’ve learnt in wrestling is that you never say never and I’ll never say never on Vince [coming back to TNA].

TNA has often been dismissed for being WWE copyists, and Carter is keen for the company to maintain its own identity in the future.

“I think it’s very important, and that’s my goal for 2015, to distinguish our product and brand even more. We don’t need to be another wrestling company, we need to be something unique, different and special and some of things we’ve done, the way we do backstage pre-tapes, the way we shoot stuff, I think has been amazing and I take it as a sincere compliment when other companies in your competition try to replicate that.”

Carter’s emergence as an on-air talent was often limited to short segments, but her heel turn in September 2013 saw her transform into one of the most entertaining characters in wrestling, although her future in front of the camera could be limited.

“My attention is definitely focused behind the scenes, whether I do anything in front of the camera or not, that for me is my priority. I fought against being on TV for so long, and the only reason I’d do it now is if I thought there was somebody on the roster I could help.

“I never enjoyed being on TV until I was a heel. It was really fun, and I look back - I’m a private prep school graduate, a college graduate, sorority girl, when I look back on all those things I’ve done over the last year when you let all your inhibitions down, doing the craziest things, I’m like what part of me could do something like that!”

Her television role was built up towards a memorable moment in New York as she was powerbombed through a table by Bully Ray, a move which dramatically injured the President.

“Oh my god, it hurt so bad! It was funny because I did everything I could possibly have done to protect myself, and I know Bully Ray is just so massive and strong, but what really happened was that my body just folded in half, and when I was in the hospital the doctor told me what I broke was so hard to break, it’s usually caused by a very serious car accident.

“So I said to him, you wanna see my car accident? And Jeremy Borash texted me a phone version of it, and the doctors were like “are you nuts?”

After months of rumours and tales of woe, the future of TNA looks the most secure that it’s been for much time. With a new television deal ready to debut in January, a young roster itching to achieve awareness and a strong fanbase especially in Britain, the company can perhaps now finally concentrate on achieving a consistent level of entertainment without the black cloud that has sometimes surrounded them in the past.

Love them or hate them, but don’t slate them, just as they have stayed firm for 12 years, TNA are not going anywhere soon, and a large part of that has to go down to Dixie Carter, and the whole team behind the scenes.

In her own words, she is more than aware of her beliefs regarding the wrestling business, and her role in it.

“When I started in this business if I walked into a room and one person didn’t like me I would be determined to make sure that person really learned who I am, but I have learnt that it doesn’t matter, that you have to have thick skin. People don’t realise that I’m a very good businesswoman and very determined and I won’t stop until this company get to where we need to go.”

Episode 8 of British Bootcamp 2 airs on Challenge TV, Sunday night 9.00pm.

TNA'S UK Tour in  January 2015 hits Glasgow, Manchester and London are all TV tapings. Get your tickets from www.gigsandtours.com