TNA is coming to Maryland for a three-city swing this weekend. They'll be in Bowie on Friday, Salisbury on Saturday and Aberdeen on Sunday.
Leading up to the shows, Ring Posts had a chance to talk with former tag and TV champion Gunner. We talked about his military background, his feud with James Storm, what he thinks about the future of TNA and the idea of wrestling in a baseball stadium.
Ring Posts: Let's start at the beginning. I know you have a military background, but how did you get your start in professional wrestling?
Gunner: I actually starting wrestling in 2001, just before I joined the Marine Corps in 2002. The only time I haven't been wrestling since then was that year where I was part of boot camp and training. I got commissioned to camp in North Carolina in June, 2003, after all my training and stuff, and started doing shows while I was there. I was pro wrestling while I was in the military. When I wasn't deployed, I would make 13 or 14 hour round trips to independent shows to wrestle in the Carolinas or Georgia.
How did your military training help with wrestling, or the other way around?
The military helped me with discipline, which is something that had been instilled in me by my parents anyways. Boot camp is 13 weeks, it's pretty rough ... physically, it's very very challenging and that definitely helped prepare me for pro wrestling. But mainly it helped mentally. There are guys who can wrestle in the indies for a couple years before getting a steady job, but for me, it took me ten years before getting that job. As far as not getting distracted and keep working at it, that's what the military helped me with the most. Boot camp was more mentally hard than physical. I was in pretty good shape so a lot of the physically challenging things weren't that bad, but the mental stuff, you have to learn to break it down. You're away from your family, and it's hot, and you can't eat when you want to, just a lot of things. I really think that helped me along the way in wrestling.
How does a day at boot camp compare to say, a grueling match against James Storm?
Boot camp, especially Parris Island that time of year, I was in Parris Island, South Carolina, in the summer, and it was ridiculously hot. You're in a swamp. You have sand fleas, you're sweating, you're wearing these boot camp jeans. But both are really physical. You can be in a match for 20 or 30 minutes, and taking a huge beating, and at boot camp there's things like Marine Corps martial arts, and hiking for ten miles and packs. So there's differences but you definitely need to be in great shape for both.
Speaking of James Storm, you're coming off of this big feud with him, which included some pretty brutal matches, a cage match and the I Quit match. How was that feud for you?
Oh yeah, you mentioned the cage match and the I Quit match, but then there's the matches we had at live events and house shows, and those were extremely physical too. It was a really good opportunity for me, with my singles career taking off, to get to work with James. He's been around the company for a while. He's one of those guys who goes out there and gives it his all. The matches were very physical, especially that first one we had at Lockdown. I felt that as far as the story goes, the fans got really attached to it, and it makes you work harder, especially when you have things like my father getting involved with the beer bottle incident. It gets the fans more involved, and it makes you work harder to produce a better product.
Now that feud is done, it seems like you're moving into a program with Sam Shaw, as we've seen vignettes with you two over the past few weeks. What can we expect from that?
I really don't know what to expect yet. Sam's a little loopy. He's a creepy guy. There's something wrong with him, and on the show he got committed by Ken Anderson. So I'm going in there and trying to talk some sense into him and see what's in his head. We're just starting that segment, so we'll see where it goes. Sam's an awesome, young, talent and he's hungry. Everything he does is whole-hearted and he does it well.
There's been a lot of changes to the TNA roster lately. We've seen Sting, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian leave, amongst others, and seen the addition of guys like MVP. What's it been like in the locker room through those changes?
Obviously to a certain extent it sucks to see guys like that leave. We were all good friends, we traveled together for years. But that's the wrestling business unfortunately. To a certain point though, it's good. It's letting younger guys step up and guys like me and some of the younger talent like ECW, we have to make it or break it. We'll either step up and run with the ball, or you drop it and they'll send you home. As far as the product goes, the ratings haven't dropped because certain guys have left, and fresh faces are coming in. As far as your friends leaving, that's the sucky part, but I look at the product getting better and better and better as the young talent thrives. In pro wrestling, you always have to be building up the young guys up, so they can take over in the future.
You touched on the ratings there. Do you think the concern over the ratings, particularly from people outside the company, sometimes gets overblown, or is it a valid concern?
Yeah, I think it gets overblown. Of course, you have your armchair wrestling fans who are going to the product, either Monday or Thursday nights. When I was growing up, in the '90s and the Monday night wars, ratings were huge, it was ridiculous. It tapered off after a while. Will it get back to that? I would love to think so and hope so. But right now, what we're working with is really good.
Obviously you seem to ignore the outside talk. But with all of that talk, and the rumors that have been flying around, has it affected the locker room at all?
No, it hasn't. I think that [the outside talk] is something that as an entertainer that you just get used to. It doesn't matter what form of entertainer, musician, in the movies, whatever, there's always going to be rumors and whatever flying around. Those people don't know what you go through though. I'm not the one writing the storylines, so they can't really bash me for that. But I'm going out there and entertaining and if you let those people get to you, then you let those people win. It's never really bothered me at all. I just go out there and work the same no matter what they say. The guys I listen to are the guys backstage that I work with. Guys like Al Snow and listening to those guys are what's going to make me better.
So you just focus on the in-ring work and what you can control?
Yeah, because you can't control what people are going to say online. You can't control Twitter. I've never let all that bother me, and I never will.
You've primarily been a tag wrestler during your run in TNA, and this has been your first real big singles push. Is there anybody you're looking forward to working with, or want to work with, in a singles feud?
Yeah, I'd love to work with Bobby Roode. Bobby has been in lots of long-term feuds, like his feud with James Storm, and he's one of the guys I'd like to carry a feud with for a while too. He's one of the guys that I looked up to when I entered the company in 2010. I love to wrestle with him and work with him in house shows, one match here and there, but I'd love to do something bigger with him. He's a guy I respect a lot, and he's at the top of my list.
Do you have any goals in mind that you'd like to accomplish in the near-future, say, the end of the year?
One thing I'd like to see is that I'm not sure if we're doing the Bound for Glory series this year, but if we are, I'd love to do well in that and win that. And of course I'd love to be the World Champion. I'm not sure if that's going to happen by the end of 2014, but that's a goal of mine since I came to TNA. It's been a goal of mine since I was a kid. I want to see how I could compare to some of these guys like Kurt Angle, some of the greats that held the title.
TNA is making a trip up to New York later this month to have TV tapings at the Manhattan Center. What are your thoughts on that?
Oh yeah, I'm really excited about that. I think it's going to be really good for the company and the product on TV. Getting outside of Orlando is really nice. In Orlando, we have the same crowd. And those guys have seen the same thing for years. It's really nice to be on the road, and Manhattan is going to have a really good vibe. That venue is really really cool and will show up well for the TV product. Whenever we go to New York, that crowd is always live and energetic, so it's great to get the TV product there.
Have you ever worked a show at the Manhattan Center before?
No, I have not. It's one place that I've always wanted to go, so as far as the bucket list goes, that's one I get to check off. I know Ring of Honor goes there a lot, but I only worked for them once, so I've never had a chance to work there.
You mentioned Orlando and the Impact Zone. If it was up to you, would you have a more widespread touring schedule, one that isn't in Orlando as much?
Yeah, I absolutely would. We were out on the road for a little while there, and it was great, but you know, things happen. We're going to do the New York stuff, and we're doing tapings in Pennsylvania. So we are going out a lot this summer. I don't know what the plans are after that, but we are getting out more.
You guys are coming here to Maryland this weekend. You're doing the three-city tour of Bowie, Salisbury and Aberdeen. And two of those, Bowie and Aberdeen, are going to be in baseball stadiums. How does an outdoor show like that change things?
Doing baseball stadiums does change things. You never know what's going to happen with weather. But it's fun to do. We did a few last year in Jersey and that area. It's a little different. You don't get the same acoustics from the crowd that you do in an arena. So it's a different vibe.
Besides the acoustics, is there any real noticeable difference from a wrestler's perspective, having the ring set up in the middle of a baseball field?
Yeah, it's a different feel. One year we would come out way back where the dressing room was, and we took golf carts from there to the ring. It felt like an old Wrestlemania entrance. The crowd is a little bit more spread out on baseball fields. There was one time we didn't even have chairs on the field because the stadium wouldn't allow it, so we had to put the ring right on home plate. So there's definitely a difference in the crowd interaction.
For fans who have never attended a TNA house show before, what can they expect from it?
They can expect all the talent: myself, EC3, James Storm, The Wolves, Gail Kim and some of the other knockouts, and there are other names I missed. We always go out there and give 110%. The crowd is going to get their money's worth. They pay to see the product they see on TV, they bring their kids, they want to have a good time. They're going to get a chance to interact and have meet-and-greets with the wrestlers. So they definitely get their money's worth. As far as the matches go? They'll get all the action they want to see. We all go out there and we love our job and the company is doing great. They'll get to see all sorts of action, including the X-division stuff, all the flips and flops that I don't really do but the crowd loves. So yeah, they'll get their money's worth.
TNA will be at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie on Friday. You can find more details at www.baysox.com. They'll be at the Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury on Saturday, and you can find details about that show at www.wicomicociviccenter.org. They'll be wrapping up their Maryland tour on Sunday, when they visit to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. You can find out more about that show at www.ironbirdsbaseball.com.
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