Interviews

Interview With . . . Eric Young

Eric Young

Not many wrestling companies can claim to have had as productive of a year in 2020 as IMPACT Wrestling. From seemingly partnering with AEW, to new signings and television deals to new faces, the company has gone from strength to strength. One of those returns was TNA & IMPACT Wrestling legend Eric Young, whose 2020 included winning the IMPACT World Championship! And, of course, that new TV deal means EY is a man you can watch every Wednesday at 10pm on FreeSports or on the 16th of January at Hard To Kill on Premier Sports or Fite TV.

Inside The Ropes‘ Lead Writer Gary Cassidy had the pleasure of chatting with the World Class Maniac about the company’s new-found friendship with AEW, missing the UK, Kenny Omega, the late Brodie Lee, working with WWE Superstar Nikki Cross, and memories (if it’s possible to have any) of the TNA World Beer Drinking Championship, among other things!

How’s it going today, Eric?

Yeah, it’s good, man. It’s really good. It’s a very cool time to be in the wrestling industry and being a fan of wrestling and… I don’t know, it’s just it’s a weird time, but it’s a really cool time. We’re living history in so many ways, man. It’s cool to be back on [TV] over in the UK. I know there was a bit of a hiatus there for us, and that’s exciting for us. And hopefully we can get over there when the world opens up to do some live shows and everything is cool except for this global pandemic that we’re all dealing with.

First things first, the question we all need to know – did you get your heating fixed?

I did! The final kind of bow on 2020. Me and my wife had a couple over that we’re really good friends with. We woke up on New Year’s Eve morning and had no heat in our downstairs. Luckily, we have a heating unit upstairs so we weren’t worried about going to sleep and stuff like that – but it was freezing! It was one of the coldest days in Nashville, in the city, this year and it was absolutely freezing downstairs.

But we got it all worked out, had to go old school with the stove, open a little bit in the kitchen. And we just huddled up downstairs and had a good time on New Year’s and hopefully put this whole year in the rearview mirror, man – but, yeah, we got the heat back. A gift from 2020 at the end of the year, I had to replace my heating unit, but all is well.

Need to ask the important ones first! But to spin a cliché, one thing no-one can accuse of being cold right now is IMPACT Wrestling, particularly with this new-found friendship with AEW! As an IMPACT talent, how exciting is that?

Yeah, it’s cool! Wrestling in front of no people, it’s awful. Like, it’s no fun at all. Like, the crowd itself is a huge part of the audience – but I’m an experiential person and I’m a member of a small amount of pro wrestlers that wrestled in front of nobody and managed to be working for a company that is somehow thriving during this time.

I’m living history – and now we’re doing it again. This is unprecedented. This has never happened as far as I can remember, where an active member of another roster that works for another company that’s on a different television station and completely owned by different people is appearing and promoting his appearances on another show. They’re on another television channel that works for another company. So we’re living history.

Obviously, Kenny [Omega], bell-to-bell, might be the most talented guy in the world right now. If he’s not in the top three, he’s definitely in the top five. The excitement of having him show up on the show is everywhere as you know – you’re a wrestling fan. I’m a wrestling fan, I’ve always been a wrestling fan – and it’s cool, man. It’s uncharted waters. We’re living history and the thought of him appearing and other guys perhaps coming across and us going over there and, you know, all the fantasy booking – people are losing their minds, and so are we!

It’s exciting for me. Even though I’ve been in IMPACT close to a year now, there’s so many guys on the roster that I want to and have yet to work with and vice versa at AEW. There’s a long list of guys that I would love to get in the ring with and Kenny being near the top of the list. And unfortunately, we lost Brodie [Lee], a very close friend of mine, and I would have loved to share a ring with him again, we worked several times over the years and the list goes on and on of possible things that could happen. Nobody knows at this point what’s going to happen, how long this relationship will last. You know, it is wrestling and everything changes day-to-day but, man, it’s so exciting to be in a locker room where we have a working relationship with another company, it’s how it should be and unfortunately, it’s not – with money, ego, politics, things like that that ruin things like this and that doesn’t seem to be getting in the way. That’s so exciting, man.

I’m not directly involved but, I mean, I’m right on the fringe of being involved and part of a company that is involved in this. It’s exciting to be part of that.

One thing I need to ask. You mentioned Kenny Omega who will, of course, be sharing the ring with the current IMPACT World Champion. Last time we spoke, you’d just won the title. Being a World Champion really recently, is there any frustration at not being the first name on the list to get the Kenny Omega match?

No, there’s no frustration there. Like, you know, I’ve always approached wrestling as “I’m an employee” and I think I’ve shown in my track record – and anybody who’s worked with me knows – whatever the company deems is in the best interests of the company, that’s what I’m going to do. I mean, I’m never going to push back on that. I’m going to suggest things and I’m going to work on what they’ve given me to best of my ability and make it that the best it can be.

Definitely, IMPACT is very singular, in my opinion. I’ve worked for for a lot of different companies, under a lot of different regimes, and this one is the best company I’ve ever worked for – in how it’s put together currently. It’s very collaborative. In the end, they have final say and, you know, Scott and the creative team and AXS, they they get to decide what goes on. Would I have liked to still have been World Champion? I mean, absolutely! Nobody wants to lose that responsibility or that prestigious award or position, but I think it was right for what happened with me and Rich and I think we told a great story, and had a really good match that people are going to talk about and remember for a long time.

Would I like to share a ring with Kenny Omega? Yes, we’ve crossed paths – both being Canadians – and I can remember hearing about him right when I was first kind of leaving to go to IMPACT in 2004. I can remember guys working with him on the indies and him coming up to Ontario some, but we never crossed paths there and I don’t think we’ve ever actually met in person. But obviously we know each other. We know what each other has done. And that is something that, I look forward to at least having the possibility of sharing a moment with him – and a whole bunch of other guys that are over there as well.

Of course, you are involved in a really exciting storyline yourself right now with Joe Doering and seemingly now Cody Deaner! Joe Doering is a man not many casual American or British wrestling fans will know a great deal about, but he’s someone with a really interesting story and obviously Cody Deaner is a man who has been bubbling under the surface in IMPACT. How did this grouping come about and how are you enjoying working with those guys?

People that don’t know Joe, they’re going to find out what he’s about really quick. It’s a guy that I’ve known for years and years. I’m not going to claim that me and him have been close or whatever but I ran into him during his first couple of weeks of training when he was with Scott, and I was working for Scott a lot at Border City.

Wrestling is a small world and obviously he was very close to getting a TNA contract at the time and they just felt they didn’t have space for him, and he went over to All Japan and the rest is kind of history, you know. I mean, he became a massive star over there and was a Triple Crown Champion and was a top build, top draw, American talent living over there and touring over there for years and years. They don’t hand that out to just anybody. I mean, that’s a very prestigious thing and often, if there’s one American on the roster and he’s kind of getting a thing, they often don’t have more than a few there. Joe was a guy that was able to stick and become a very big name in Japan and in the wrestling world.

If you’re a diehard fan, you’ve definitely heard of him. You may not have seen him if you’re not a person that follows Japanese wrestling like some people do, but you’re going to find out what he’s all about. He’s a great guy, a cool guy to work with, obviously very talented and it’s a cool aspect for the group.

Cody… Part of what makes this cool is the story is real. Me and him have known each other for over 20 years. He’s been one of my best friends for over 20 years. I was helping run a school in Niagara Falls. I would do a class a week down there and he was one of the students – and was one of the best students. In my opinion, for what it’s worth and – for me it’s worth a lot – is he is one of the hidden gems in pro wrestling. This guy can do everything. He is an unbelievably talented guy and has never really been given a fair shake.

I think our stories, that way, mirror who I was years ago doing the comedy wrestling, which I wouldn’t change for anything. I loved doing it. But Cody was in the same boat and he was looking for something different, and we approached the writers and creative team about doing something with this group – and Cody went all in. I can’t wait to really get going. It’s literally just starting the buzz from the videos.

Eric Tompkins and Dave Sahadi, the production guys here at IMPACT are absolutely murdering it. Like just killing it, man. I mean, I think probably the best production in the business right now, pro wrestling wise, and doing that cinematic stuff is always interesting and fun, and puts it in a different light. I think introducing the group that way is really cool and singular. We’ve got so many eyes on the show right now, which is great, great for us, great for IMPACT, great for wrestling. So, yeah, I’m excited to get going forward and having people find out who Joe is and finding out what Cody is capable of because the truth is, what you’ve seen him do is scratching the surface of what this guy can do.

Of course, the wrestling world suffered a sad loss recently of someone you mentioned earlier, a man you had a lot in common with in terms of people thinking you were under-utilised in WWE, and you were both being huge hockey fans. Do you have any memories of the late Luke Harper/Brodie Lee/Jon Huber?

Yeah. He was really like one of my really good friends in wrestling, a guy that I got to work an indy against up in Buffalo when he was kind of first starting. I was obviously in TNA and flew up to do this indy. I think it was me and him in the main event and they gave us, like, 35 minutes and he was already making a pretty big name for himself, was kind of wrestling all over the Northeast and I think he’d started doing some stuff with ROH at the time and was doing very well for himself – and we clicked immediately. We had probably one of my top ten favorite matches of all time.

When we were both working in the WWE, he gave me, to me, one of the biggest compliments of all time. Coming from him, a guy that’s so talented and so successful in his own right, he said that match… I can’t remember what year it was. I’m going to say it’s probably 2008-2011, somewhere in there and he said that match was an “a-ha” moment for him where he said, you know, I was telling him stuff and we kind of structured the match around certain things and it was very story first. He was the world champion, their world champion at the time, and I was a babyface coming in and challenging for it – and he said that that match changed how he viewed wrestling for the better.

For me, like I’ve said before, nothing is more important than people that I share a ring with, and peers of mine, saying saying stuff like that. The highest compliment you could get is somebody that you respected and admire saying we had this match and it was a huge part of his wrestling journey – and it was like this kind of light bulb went on when we structured things a certain way and I was telling him things and he said, “I didn’t believe it would work – and then it did.” And it changed how he wrestled and changed how he viewed wrestling, and that’s such a cool thing to share with somebody.

You’ve seen it on on social media, universally loved by every single person that knew him or came in contact with him. It’s a tragedy, absolute tragedy. Family first guy, thoughts are with his family – his wife and his sons. Obviously, it’s awful, but it’s such a cool legacy to leave. There’s very few people in the world that can say that they have no enemies.

I think I’m pretty close to that. I don’t think I’m on his level, but literally universally loved by everywhere he went, a guy that should have been more utilised than he was and I think was going to be getting that chance in AEW – and it’s heartbreaking, man. It still doesn’t seem like it’s real and it’s an awful thing to happen – but the legacy he leaves behind, it’s something that his wife can be proud of and his sons will be proud of their whole life because he is, as far as human beings go, he’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met anywhere in any walk of life.

One other person I want to ask about before we go back to IMPACT… We’ve spoken a few times and I’ve never asked about Nikki Cross! Being from the same city as Nikki, that’s pretty criminal of me never to have asked about your SAnitY days and working with her. What are your thoughts on Nikki?

I mean, I’m sure you’ve talked to her or met her – wrestling is a small world – and she is just a light, an absolute beautiful light, just so fun to be around and just eternally positive.

And besides all the stuff of, “she’s this great human being and she’s funny, and she’s nuts, and just awesome to be around,” is she’s crazy talented.

I don’t think even Nikki knows how good she is, and I think the world is kind of starting to find out about it, but there is literally no limit to what she can do and what she can become – and I’m hoping that they they give her a real run because she is somebody that the wrestling world will enjoy, has enjoyed already, but I just don’t think she even knows how good she is.

She’s so talented, was such a huge part of of SAnitY. I’m so happy to to share tons of great memories with her and share a ring with her, and share a spotlight with her. So, yeah, she’s awesome, man. And besides being uber-talented is just a great person, so everything good that happens to her, she deserves!

IMPACT recently brought back the Knockouts Tag Team Championships – another title you’ve held! So, I got thinking about other titles that could be brought back, like the World Beer Drinking Championship. What are your memories of that title – if you can have any with the amount of beer consumed – and might we see it return since you’ve got a couple of Good Brothers on the roster?

Well, I’m way out of practice now and I don’t think I would even be in the running for champion! But, yeah, it was a very cool time. Everyone’s like, “Man, was it weird?”

I got hired at TNA because I was a good wrestler. I had never done comedy wrestling. I had never been a funny character. I had never done that ever, in my life, before getting there. They asked me if I wanted to do it and I jumped at the opportunity – and the rest is kind of history. Working with James [Storm], doing the the Beer Drinking Championship, I think maybe for some some pretty entertaining television. You know, drinking beer was then and still is a part of my life. I was way better at it then than I am now. I don’t bounce back like I used to do so I have to watch the consumption. But yeah, I loved it, man. I think people dug it. It made us seem it’s more personable. It’s makes us seem like regular people, which we all are. You know, some guys pretend like they’re not but we are.

I wouldn’t put my beer-drinking championship abilities up against either of the Good Brothers. They’re too well-seasoned and practiced for that. I mean, I don’t imagine it comes back. I think it was more of a one-off thing and just kind of something that just through promos, and me and Storm talking about it, just kind of took on a life of its own and became this this thing. A beer drinking contest back and forth on a pay-per-view and I’m spilling it all over myself.

It was wild, very fond memories of it. It was really cool to get paid to drink beer at work for four months.

2020 was, of course, and incredible year for IMPACT – and yourself! I mean, the World Championship I’m sure is a highlight – but what was cool for me was seeing Eric Young in the Bound For Glory trailer on a sports channel during the day in the UK via Premier Sports and FreeSports. People always say the AEW x IMPACT partnership benefits you guys more, but IMPACT is on a lot of televisions around the world too. How cool is that to know there’s that immense reach and sports fans all over the UK are seeing Eric Young on their televisions?

Yeah, it’s cool. Pro wrestling is a worldwide product, and being relevant in the UK and in other countries. I know the Pluto platform allows us to be in South America and other places like that. Pro wrestling is all over the place! We have an international roster and I feel we should be on internationally and being on again in the UK… Some of my fondest memories with TNA and even with the WWE is touring that part of the world.

I love that part of the world and I’ve got kind of a weird plan and maybe in a couple of years I’ll be living over there kind of full time. I don’t want to reveal that, there’s a lot of stuff in the works but it’s one of my favorite parts of the world. I love the culture, I love the cities and the fact that you can travel and all that stuff – and being on a legitimate sports channel, it’s huge! It’s huge for IMPACT and huge for all of us.

The hope is, when the world opens up, getting back over there and doing a tour and maybe doing some live IMPACT tapings over there which, you know, the UK wrestling scene is unbelievable and the crowds never let you down, man, it’s such a cool thing to experience and it’s cool that pro wrestling is kind of this universal language, it kind of works in all other places. You can be in Japan and everyone knows who you are and they’re following you around – and same in the UK.

So the deal that they got there, that AXS was able to do and IMPACT was able to to move back over into that market and be on a prime channel is huge. It’s huge and it’s a cool thing to think about what can come of it in the future.

One last question to end, let’s bring it back to the AEW partnership. We mentioned the list of dream matches everyone has. Do you have your eye on anyone in particular?

I mean, I think me and Moxley – there’s a lot of similarities there. He’s a guy I crossed paths with a little bit in the WWE and we seemed to get along pretty well. A guy that I respect completely for what he did and who he is, and and how he carries himself. So that’s, I think, a thing I would love.

I did share the ring a little bit with Miro, really good buddy of mine, a guy that I think is one of the most talented guys in the world – and I’m not blowing smoke. I believe that. Him being released blew my mind and now him signing with AEW is awesome for him, awesome for wrestling fans – because I feel you’re going to get, you know, a real version of who he is and that’s the guy that I would love…

I mean, there’s people I’ve shares with before Kazarian, Young Bucks, we’ve worked each other a ton when they were in TNA – tag matches and singles matches and X-Division stuff.

How long do you have? The list goes on and on, and it’s the same with IMPACT. Guys like Ace Austin and Chris Bey, they are just scratching the surface and the thought of me being able to work with them, and them make me better and make them better, it’s so exciting, man. It’s such a cool time to be in the position that I’m in.

Everything happens for a reason. I’ve got “fate” tattooed on my right under arm and it’s a thing that I believe in. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and I don’t know if I’ve ever been this excited in my life about my career and where I’m at, the possibilities, and it’s so cool. I’m not old and I’m not nowhere near done, but it’s such a cool thing – at my advanced age – to be in the position that I’m in. It’s not lost on me that there’s a massive opportunity here and everything I get, I’m just going to work to knock out of the park and make people realise that IMPACT is one of the best wrestling products right now in the entire world.

Thanks so much to Eric Young for taking the time, and to IMPACT UK & Ireland for facilitating the interview. Fans in the UK & Ireland can catch IMPACT! every Wednesday on FreeSports at 10pm. Hard To Kill is available via Premier Sports in the UK, and also via Fite TV worldwide.