Don Callis made his debut as “TNA Management Consultant” a few months ago after disappearing from the wrestling scene for over a year. The reason? He went back to school.
“For 11 months I was out of the business by my own choice to go to school, so I wasn’t accepting bookings. I had originally talked with TNA when they first opened, but it was impossible for me to go down on Wednesday nights even if they did want me to. I had two weeks of school left and Scott D’Amore called me and said ‘We’d like to get you down here.’ We threw some ideas around with Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo and we came up with the current storyline,” says the Winnipeg native, whose weekly columns can be read Sundays on SLAM! Wrestling.
Thus was born his new character. There are some similarities to his “Cyrus” character in ECW. Representing “The Network” TNN, Cyrus controlled the program, caring strictly about ratings and not caring about the wrestlers. He often went on diatribes against the edgy programming ECW was famous for and the fans despised him. In TNA, Callis’ role is more talk-based rather than as a wrestler. Having graduated in June with his MBA, he has taken that and used it in his angle.
“My character is tied into reality because I did just graduate with my Masters of Business Administration. I am being a management consultant, which is very appropriate because upstart companies and high growth companies like TNA would bring in outside consultants to analyze things. We are playing on that, it has never been done before.”
Some fans, however, have remarked that they dislike the character. Callis responds to his critics.
“A lot critics don’t get the character. They say, ‘this guy comes in and he is just pretending to have power and that is how he is going to get it like George Costanza did on Seinfeld. This is goofy, he should just have the power.’ That is far too simplistic. It is much more interesting when the character goes in and takes advantage of situations. That is what I like about it. My father used to say, ‘wherever you go, walk in like you own the place and you’ll get whatever you want.'”
Callis’ argument is backed up with comparisons to a real story that was turned into a film.
“It’s like the movie Catch Me If You Can. The main character walks in like he belongs and has authority to do things. Because he is so gifted or deviant in his personality he is able to swerve people. That is what my character does. People on the Internet who look at this as a downside, these are guys who should stick to movies for people under 13 because they don’t get those either.”
Most people who have been a part of the TNA environment have praised it, and Callis agrees that it is a tremendous company to work for. He credits the talent both on screen and behind the scenes as reasons why. Especially important to him is the fact that TNA is very much a learning environment for a lot of relatively new faces to the business.
“I think TNA has a lot of great young guys combined with a lot of great vets like Raven, D-Lo Brown, Shane Douglas and Jeff Jarrett. These guys are willing to help if you go and ask them for it, and I think that is great. There is a lot of that going on and that is part of what makes TNA a special place to work.”
Callis is quick to praise Jerry Lynn, who often takes a teaching role both at TNA and on independent shows like the POW Exhibition shows.
“Jerry Lynn is a great teacher, he was doing that during the Ex, when he didn’t have to do so. He is very unselfish in the ring and makes guys look good. He made RVD in ECW, no doubt about it, and he helped make AJ Styles.”
Callis also had high praise for the NWA-TNA champion. “AJ used to be basically a big high spot guy a few years ago. He has now learned the psychology, he is going to get better and better and be the best guy in the entire business. Certainly athletically he already is.”
Part of what makes TNA so attractive to many fans is the up and comers whose exciting high flying style makes for thrilling matches. Each week, guys like Chris Sabin, Michael Shane and America’s Most Wanted put on must-see matches. Sometimes rookie mistakes happen that can disrupt the flow of a match, but Callis is glad to see them get the opportunity to shine.
“It’s a crapshoot because when you put two young guys in there and sometimes if they miss a spot they get flustered and don’t know what to do. Being a vet, knowing how to not panic and control a crowd comes with time. Clearly you are playing to each wrestler’s strength. There are high-flyers that if you told them to go out and wrestle a match based purely on psychology, they may have some difficulty with that. They haven’t had the opportunity to learn psychology because of the lack of territories. Being around the vets in TNA will allow them that opportunity.”
Callis feels that one of the biggest things lacking in wrestling is the old territory system, where wrestlers could hone their craft and gain insight that often is lacking in today’s wrestling environment. Often time’s wrestlers put together more spotty matches with bumps that take toil on their bodies. Callis thinks that wrestling is headed in a new direction, back to the basics.
“That is what is happening to WWE right now. Smart fans will say that working a more basic match ‘sucks’ or is an ‘easy style.’ That is the hard style. To smash someone over the head with a chair takes no skill. Wrestling without injuring people and you control the crowd with wrestling holds; that is the art of wrestling. It’s what Bret Hart did and Jeff Jarrett does. This is the art form, but to do that you have to really be skilled at it and know psychology.”
During the week-long event, fans at the Saskatoon Exhibition witnessed these displays in a number of matches. Wavell Starr and Callis worked a series of lengthy tag matches against opponents Jerry Lynn and Apocalypse as well as other teams during the week. It was an example of how you can keep a crowd excited with little things, rather than a series of random spots.
“During the week of the Ex we’d been able to work psychology well. Wavell Starr is a tremendous talker and a great talent. When he cuts a promo it means something. We had 30 and 40 minute matches that week because we had the time. As you have the time, you pick up little nuances about the business. That is what is missing because there isn’t the territory system for guys to work up through.”
Part of TNA’s strategy is to bring in wrestlers from the past like Vader and Dusty Rhodes to get publicity and increase buy-rates. It has worked to a degree, and if it means more people see the product, Callis approves.
“Whatever works for the company. The name of the game right now is exposure and PPV buy rates. A guy like Dusty Rhodes isn’t a week-to-week guy as a wrestler. As a talker, certainly he would be very good. You bring in guys to hot shot stuff and see what happens. If it puts things through the roof, you bring it back. That is what Hulk Hogan has been used for in the WWE. That is fine, but you have to build around your core. TNA has a core with a lot of great talent, you can build around that and that is the direction they are going.”
The future of his character is not set in stone, but Callis sees a lot of potential in it as it develops. “I am not happy with my work yet. The Cyrus character in ECW was a lot more interesting six months after I started it than at the inception because neither myself or Paul Heyman knew what the character was going to evolve into. As soon as I started to interact with guys like Sabu, Rhyno, RVD and other ECW guys, the character grew and had layers added to it. I just started with TNA, I’ve been out of action for two years and am rusty on the microphone, but I think it is going to blossom.”
He hopes that fans will continue to support the show and especially that Canadians will watch the broadcast on Viewers Choice on Wednesday nights.
“Go out and buy the TNA PPV. I don’t just say that because I work for the company I think it is a great product. The wrestling business was at it’s best and you need to sample it. There is some great Canadian talent on there, like Don Callis, by God.”