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GAIL KIM DISCUSSES HER CURRENT ROLE BEHIND THE SCENES AT IMPACT WRESTLING, THE STATE OF THE COMPANY, THE TESSA BLANCHARD ALLEGATIONS AND MORE: COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT

By Josh Barnett on 2020-01-27 11:09:00

Eight months after her retirement match, Gail Kim is settling into her role as a producer/agent for Impact Wrestling, primarily working with the women’s division.

She no longer needs the boots and gear that traveled the world with her in a nearly 20-year career that included seven reigns as the Knockouts champion, a WWE women’s championship and a place as the first woman in the TNA Hall of Fame.

“Being a producer and agent really has fulfilled me where I don’t miss the ring,” Kim told PWInsider.com. “I was truly terrified. It’s terrifying for any athlete of performer to have to give up what they love. I was scared that I was going to miss it too much and overextend myself. But because of my role and because of this job, I haven’t missed it. I really haven’t it.

“More than anything, I always joke with the girls that I don’t have to wear gear anymore. Almost 20 years of wearing spandex, I’m done with it. I’m 42, it’s really hard to keep in spandex shape.”

It’s an interesting time in Impact Wrestling as the company has again found a new television home – Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on AXSTV – after Impact’s parent company, Anthem Sports and Entertainment purchased controlling interest in the network.

The company also is making headlines with Tessa Blanchard becoming the first woman to hold the Impact world championship and with allegations levied against Blanchard of bullying, racism, attitude problems and spitting in the face an opponent in Japan. The allegations from fellow performers came a day before she was to win the championship. Blanchard has denied the allegations in a statement on Twitter, noting that “racism is not in my heart.”

In an extensive conversation with PWInsider, Kim addresses her current role, the state of Impact and makes her first public comments about the allegations against Blanchard, and more. 

Kim's last match was a loss to Blanchard at Rebellion in late April and culminating a program that lasted several months. 

Q: Explain to us what your current role is as a producer with Impact.

A: I am a producer/agent and pretty much primarily working with the women, which is my passion. Wrestling is my passion, but the women especially. Jeff Jarrett is the one who hired me originally and the company just kept going. I hope that everyone knows that I’m truly invested in the division and continuing the tradition of us working hard and putting on five-star matches and bringing the best characters as possible.

Q: As an active competitor, you are in charge of your own performance. When you’re a producer, you are managing the performance of other people. How are you dealing with the fact that it’s not you doing the work or being out there, but someone else being out there trying to execute the vision of what you have put together?

A: That was a struggle in the beginning, I would say. I was so used to being in control. You can only help so much once the show starts and the match begins, you have no control. At the beginning, it was very hard to deal with because I felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just want to go out there and do it myself.’ But it was also an adjustment period of me learning a new job. I always feel very confident and knew wrestling, but being a producer was a whole new thing. I almost felt like I was starting from scratch again, maybe with a little bit of knowledge ahead of time.  Learning this new role was challenging and it was great for me. At the end of my career, I felt like what’s my next goal? What’s my new challenge? That was one of the signs for me that I knew I needed to retire, besides my back, was that I didn’t know the answer to that. At the time, Pat Kenny, Simon Diamond, was the girls agent at the time and he would always joke with me, that I would take over. ‘Gail, you can have my job once I’m done.’ But we had a really good relationship in terms of that. He was the first guy that I ever managed on the independent scene and then we came full circle and he was my agent. Us butting heads almost like a married couple would and then me gaining his trust and me gaining his trust and just finding that middle ground. He was happy for me. It was a natural transition.

Q: The wrestler’s credo is always back your gear. When you’re packing for Mexico City or packing for Hard to Kill, I assume you no longer pack your gear with you?

A: Hell no. Being a producer and agent really has fulfilled me where I don’t miss the ring. I was truly terrified. It’s terrifying for any athlete of performer to have to give up what they love. I was scared that I was going to miss it too much and overextend myself. But because of my role and because of this job, I haven’t missed it. I really haven’t it. More than anything, I always joke with the girls that I don’t have to wear gear anymore. Almost 20 years of wearing spandex, I’m done with it. I’m 42, it’s really hard to keep in spandex shape.

Q: We just passed years since Anthem acquired majority ownership in the company. You obviously have been through a number of different owners and managements given over time. What’s your overall general feeling about where the company is right now and its direction?

A: I’m not just saying this because these are the people that I work with currently, but it’s such a great team. I even tell the girls actually and this is no knock against the girls of my generation because those are my sisters and my brother. I always felt like we had amazing memories, but when I watch the girls and the guys in the locker room, I always tell them, ‘This generation is so tight knit.’ I love being a part of it. I’m excited to go to work and I’m sad to leave. That’s the way it should always be. Everyone is so encouraging. Everyone is watching each other’s matches, not because they have to be, but because they want to. It’s truly a great team. The management itself … I always talk to some ex-employees who maybe it didn’t end well for them here with former management or whatever it might be, but they might like the company itself or badmouth, I always tell them, ‘It’s different now.’ Yes, we’ve had difficulties in the past because it was always a changing of the guard and lots of management changing hands. But I think we’ve found a really good sweet spot now. We have a great team of writers. It’s more of a team effort. Even when this happened, I said to myself, ‘Who’s the leader?’ I didn’t really even know who the leader was. In WWE, it’s Vince McMahon. We know that. It’s a given. In Impact, it’s a team of people. There’s no power struggle and no egos. It’s just about trying to rebuild the company and make it great again.

Q: Let’s talk about Hard to Kill and the events surrounding it. Before we get to the specifics, just more generally, Tessa Blanchard is the new Impact world champion. How do you feel about a woman holding what has traditionally been a men’s title and the significance of that?

A: It’s huge significance. In this whole women’s revolution that’s been going on for a few years now, people would wonder, what’s the next step? What’s going to happen the next? I think Impact is taking this chance. I know it’s very controversial and I know some people don’t like it, and even some people on the roster secretly tell me they may not like it, it’s everyone’s own personal opinion. I was pretty much old school. So at first, I kinda didn’t like it. But I’ve always been a believer in believability in wrestling. That was always my goal when I wrestled a match. I want everyone to believe in the match and get very hooked into the emotions and the physicality and the story of the match.

No one can doubt Tessa’s ability, and she does like believable. For me, The Chynas, Tessa, as long as it looks believable, I’m OK with that. I don’t know that I’d want it to be a full-time thing. It’s so 50-50 for me. I want women to be equal on the pay scale and treated equally, but then I like the whole factor of us being special and being unique. There are so many women now with the women’s revolution and inspiring the next generation and the next generation. With WWE, NXT, AEW and the countless places, more women are coming to fruition, I’m sure there are going to be just as talented women as there are men and we could see it changing.

Q: Earlier this week, Becky Lynch made reference to the idea of women’s matches no longer being called women’s matches because the men’s matches are not called men’s matches. The idea being that the way things were booked in the old school is we already have a women’s match on the card or two women’s matches on the card and rather than worry about the gender of the performers, worry about the quality of the matches. How would you feel if that came about where they were just matches and not men’s matches and Knockout matches, for example?

A: I like the name Knockouts because, like I said, I’m going back to the term that I thought being a little bit special. The way people are viewed should be equally. And I agree with her that there shouldn’t be just two women’s matches and the (booker) saying, ‘OK, there should only be two women’s matches.’ I agree with that. I don’t mind it being announced as a men’s match or a women’s match but I agree if there are way more talented women on the roster that deserve a match than it could be 50-50 or even more. I don’t know if we’re overthinking it maybe, but I definitely want more equal playing ground in terms of pay, in terms of matches, in terms of the way they are treated.

Q: We touched on Tessa earlier, and that’s the elephant in the room.

A: That’s what everyone is waiting for.

Q: The weekend of Hard to Kill, she tweeted, ‘women try supporting other women. Cool things happen.’ Immediately went to allegations by a few other performers of bullying, of a racial slur, spitting in someone’s face. She has denied all the allegations. Take us behind the scenes to that weekend as this is unfolding and how you all at Impact are dealing with it.

A: I was traveling to Hard to Kill on Saturday night. I caught wind of it when I landed. It wasn’t even 24 hours when we got to the pay-per-view. Everyone saw it on social media and it blew up. It was pretty stressful in the sense I didn’t like the angst of all these women fighting, or I don’t know what the term is, but it weighed heavily on my heart in a way.   When that happened, we went to a pay-per-view and it wasn’t even 24 hours. I went to speak to Tessa. Those details are private between her and I and are no one’s business. I based my decision of support at the pay-per-view and showing that support based on her time in the company. In the three years that she started with Impact wrestling, I’ve never seen any signs of any of that, of the undertones of bullying or racism. That’s where I made my decision of what I did and what I showed. Fans were going crazy on social media saying that I was a hypocrite. The difference is I had a chance to talk to her one-on-one. The difference is, in the WWE, which is where people were coming at me from and suggesting a hypocritical nature, is that I did talk to them at the end of my tenure there. I basically was brushed off and they never tried to understand why I felt that way and never tried to make it better. That’s why I blasted them on social media because I don’t like to see that.

Any wrestler would tell you this, if someone was so crappy and such a terrible attitude and terrible person, do you think we would support that person? We would probably let that person bury themselves. She has the support of the locker room for a reason. Now, I wasn’t there at the incident. I don’t know who was there at the incident. I can’t make my decision based on hearsay. Yes, there were many women that came forward. … I had to believe and give a chance to the person who displayed the behavior that I saw working with her in that environment. For me, I felt like that should have been handled face to face. If people have problems with each other – that’s how we handled it and yes, social media wasn’t as prevalent. … we really did have meetings when we had problems with each other. In that regard, I wish people would be able to speak face to face and confront one another and talk it out. Unfortunately, that never happened. I know this whole situation has trickled into other people’s lives. I hope people can move forward and that the girls can all speak and resolve this issue at some point. I’m not them. I can’t make them do anything, can’t make them say anything.

Q: Few things to unpack there. The other thing that’s been out there that we’ve heard is the idea she had a attitude problem and didn’t act in a mature way. You worked a program with her over a fairly extended period of time. She went over on what is to this point your retirement match. Give us your sense of your interactions with her and the give and take during that program or the attitude problems you saw during that period.

A:  I didn’t see any attitude problems, that’s the thing. I don’t know what that reasoning is. I’ve never even heard anybody say in the locker room in the last three years that she had an attitude problem. For me, that’s the reason that I came out of retirement, I was like, ‘Wow, that girls talented, I didn’t really have the retirement that I envisioned, let me come back and try to do it the right way and that I could close the door peacefully. I never had any issues. It was like working with anybody else who is professional and talented and well rounded. I never had any issues.

Q: The other thing that I think you’ve been criticized for, either fairly or unfairly, is that because you were in the ring and because you hugged that somehow you were implicitly believing her over the women who accused her or somehow supporting what was perceived as a racist act by her. I know that’s not how it played out, but you know that’s some of the criticism you’ve taken.

A: First off, it did bother me that people were demanding answers. If something happens in your life and you have barely 24 hours to digest it, are you going to go share it with strangers on social media and the details of what conversations you had. People don’t know what happened. People don’t know the conversations that occurred. I’m a nearly 43-year-old woman who talked to someone, made decisions based on that conversation and other conversations and based on the last three years working with someone in the company. That’s the part people don’t understand. They want to go to the negative space right away. There’s more to that and more to that happening and then a reaction. It takes conversations with many people sometimes. There’s many people involved and people don’t get that. It’s really none of their business.  Because I’m so outspoken about racism, I want everyone to know, I truly still have my same morals. I still have my same stance. Nothing has changed. Like I said, the conversation between her and I and others are private and that’s what I made my decisions on. For the past three years that I have seen, there have been no underlying notions of bullying or racism that I have noticed or seen or felt or heard at all.

Q: One more quick one on this and we’ll move on. What’s your impression on how she’s handled this in the ring, after the show, her statement, coming to work in Mexico City to tape four weeks of TV?

A: I didn’t see her all of her responses. I did see her statement on social media. The statement that was coming from her and I can’t tell her what to say or what to think. She did deny it, like you said. Like I said, the last three years I’ve never seen any underlying racist language or behavior. It should be discussed between the people that it occurred with. In this day and age, I feel like people don’t want to confront each other. I’m very direct and I like it when people are direct with me. Not necessarily a confrontation of a fighting or aggressive nature, but I like when people will tell me directly what they think and we can work it out and resolve the issue. Someone else also said whether she did have that reputation three years ago and some people have said that (she did), but there are a lot of people in wrestling who had bad reputations years ago and we’ve given them second chances. If they screw that up, that’s on them, but based on from the time she’s started in this company to now, I haven’t seen anything bad and that’s what I’ve based my my judgment on now.

Q: One of your great rivals Awesome Kong is back in the ring. She talked recently about having to get back into the mindset of being Awesome Kong because it’s been a few years since she’s done it. What are your impressions of her being back in that character?

A: I love it. The minute that she was on GLOW, I said to her, ‘You don’t need to wrestle anymore, you’re a superstar, you can act.’ That show just ended. It was a great show. I love her being Brandi’s muscle or bodyguard or however you describe the role. I love Kia or Awesome Kong. She’s always just had that special thing. I remember the first time she came out, she terrified me. She was so good with her facials, not just in the ring, but she had that star factor. They are really lucky to have her.

Q: Lockdown is coming back March 28 at St. Clair College in Windsor Ontario and then WrestleMania weekend, TNA: There’s No Place Like Home at the Ritz in Ybor City in Tampa. Let me ask you if there is a do-over or match in Impact that you’d like to see them try to put the pieces back together on that card.

A: A lot of the girls, if they are still working, are working for other companies. Except maybe ODB. And a lot of them might not be in ring shape so they have to get ready if they were going to wrestle a match. You can’t come back after being off for 3-5 years and just wrestle a match. It’s very difficult. I would like to see some appearances from some girls from my generation. I think everyone would like to see The Beautiful People. They have a huge fan base. I want to see Christy Hemme ring-announcing again because she’s one of my best friends. There are so many people who are signed, though, that’s the problem. Motor City Machine Guns, that could possibly happen. … Bubba has gone online and kinda challenge Sami Callahan. I would love to see that. They kinda remind me of each other in a way. Sami is such a good heel. Bubba is just Bubba. Bully. I think that would be a good matchup. I would love to see Taryn Terrell and Brooke Tessmacher. Those are some of the names that I know are around and I think the fans would love to see.

Q: Last one on Gail Kim, not the wrestler. Obviously, most people know you are married to Robert Irvine. A new season of Restaurant Possible has started on the Food Network. We have seen him on wrestling shows. Are you ever on the set for Restaurant Impossible for this take apart things?

A: I’m not working and I’m free to travel, which is maybe about half the time, I’ll go. But being honest, when we first started dating, I’d sit on set all day. I can’t do that anymore. It’s like doing nothing all day. I’ll go see the reveal and meet the owners. I was just one set the other day, right after Mexico in Florida. And Titus from there and he was there helping Robert. Good catching up with him. It’s just a wonderful show. I said the other night on Twitter because we were having this conversation. We’re both so lucky to be doing what we love, to be passionate about our jobs. I see the crew he has and the family that he has and then when I go to work and the crew that I have and the family that I have, we’re so fortunate. My job is not a job and neither is his. We’re happy and so blessed.

Q: I know I’ve hit on a couple of Impact events coming up. What else is coming up for you?

A: I am going to be at LAX FanFest the last weekend in February on the Saturday. I then at the Wrestling Guys store in LA on Friday, March 13, and then in Albany, NY, with Amy Dumas and Christy Hemme and Charley Caruso on March 8 Sunday. Anything else just check my Twitter. I will be at WrestleCon at Tampa.

Josh Barnett previously wrote about professional wrestling for USA TODAY Sports and For The Win.   He can be reached at joshabarnett13@gmail.com 

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