If there’s anyone who can provide legit analysis of an extreme type event -- like the TNA Lockdown pay-per-view -- it’s TNA color commentator Taz, an Extreme Championship Wrestling original.
ECW revolutionized pro wrestling, birthing Attitude and Hardcore eras in the 1990s. Barbed wire, TLCs and steel cages the norm in ECW, with Taz, the wrestler, standing strong in the forefront of the groundbreaking ensemble.
Video of Taz vs. Sabu in ECW
TNA Lockdown, which emanates from the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami on Sunday, March 9 in Coral Gables, is an all-steel cage pay-per-view. That pay-per-view is made for someone with a background like Taz.
Taz joins the Professor Mike Tenay at the broadcast desk to call Lockdown in Miami.
“Lockdown is definitely one of our biggest pay-per-views of the year, and coming to a major city like Miami and the South Florida area -- always a hotbed for pro wrestling -- our locker room, production crew and creative staff are very excited. It’s a big deal,” said Taz, 46, a Brooklyn native.
“Wrestling fans are coming from not just Florida but throughout the South and the United States and part of the world. When we do our bigger shows, our bigger pay-per-views, prototypical what I’ve seen the past five years in the company, you get a lot of fans from all over the world coming to these events.”
Internationally, the United Kingdom is a solid fan base for TNA.
Taz continued: “There will be some really high intense, high impact matches with many championships on the line, and it’s a steel cage spectacular. Everything’s in a cage, so that in itself, it’s like main event after main event after main event, and I think it’s a pretty cool concept.”
Taz, TNA grow
What began as a once-a-week $10 pay-per-view turned into a 12-year-old company (and counting), attracting millions of fans nationally and internationally with a weekly prime-time TV show (Impact Wrestling) each Thursday night on Spike TV.
“Even before I was there, TNA kind of carved its own niche, initially starting off with the six-sided ring where it was total nonstop action,” said Taz, who debuted with TNA in 2009, “and then it kind of morphed into a more traditional type pro wrestling ring. Some would say they were bad changes. Some would say they’re good changes. I’m privy to what happens behind the scenes a lot, and I know that was done for a good reason. That’s just an example.
“There’s always a good motivation. There’s always a positive step. There are reasons why they went with six sides to four sides. Who knows. Maybe one day it’s back to six sides, the original TNA look.
“I also think that bringing in different talent from all over the world including people who leave WWE or people coming from Japan or the UK and different wrestlers -- guys and gals -- it’s a big deal. That gives it more of an international flavor than other companies.
“I also believe the homegrown talent, the pioneers of TNA, the original guys, for example Cowboys James Storm, Samoa Joe, Jeremy Borash as an announce talent, Mike Tenay as the voice of TNA, Abyss, Eric Young, Bobby Roode, Bad Influence [Christopher Daniels and Kazarian], keeps the foundation strong, where other guys like myself, who came in from WWE, add to the company.
“A guy like Jeff Jarrett, who’s no longer part of TNA, built that foundation for wrestlers. That’s a big deal in our industry. I’m forever grateful to a guy like that for doing something like that.”
Making it on the big stage
After becoming a “bad man” in ECW, the Human Suplex Machine Taz signed with WWE in 2000. The tough, aggressive, no-nonsense warrior spent nine years with the global juggernaut.
“I’m not one of these guys who bashes the opposition,” Taz said. “[Today] I don’t believe there’s opposition. The business is a different world now than when I was coming up. It was a competitive business years ago. Now, Ring of Honor has its style. TNA has its niche. WWE obviously has its deal.
“For example, the WWE Network, I think that’s a great thing. The WWE Network is great for our industry as a whole. Other people in TNA, Ring of Honor and other companies may disagree, but I think it’s great for the business. Anything positive for the business is a good thing.”
“When I look at the pioneers of TNA, guys who’ve been in a TNA a long time, I’m appreciative of them. Like when I was in ECW, an original ECW guy, I believe in that. I believe in building that foundation and then bringing other guys and gals along to keep it rolling and keep it fresh and keep it hot.
“I also feel a big part of the TNA success currently is the building of newer talent. Guys like Samuel Shaw, who’s such a unique talent, he’s a creep; he’s a weirdo; but he’s very dangerous, calculated and cold, or someone like an EC3, Ethan Carter III, who in storyline is the nephew of TNA President Dixie Carter, is this insensitive, entitlement, rich kid, who’s got a butt load of talent and muscle mass and got a mean streak, another character within the company. MVP coming in as the investor, a guy with so much credibility from working in Japan and WWE. The Wolves [Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards], who doesn’t like the tag team of The Wolves? Coming out of Ring of Honor and wrestling all over the world, they bring credibility.
“The building of characters is a big, big thing creative in TNA is really pushing.”
The tough, aggressive, no-nonsense warrior Samoa Joe, one of the TNA originals, will be in the main event of Lockdown in Miami, battling champion Magnus for the TNA title.
“A lot of people say Samoa Joe is a modern day Taz. They compare him to me, and I’m very flattered, and it’s nice to hear it,” Taz said. “I’m a fan of Samoa Joe. I was a fan of Samoa Joe, before I got to know Samoa Joe.”
Before becoming a TNA commentator, Taz made his TNA debut as Samoa Joe’s mystery adviser.
“Now, Samoa Joe’s a personal friend, and we joke about it, but I do think there are a ton of similarities in our in-ring style -- submission wrestling and suplexing and Japanese strong style and intensity level -- and Joe has his own style, too. Here’s a guy who’s a big, nasty, mean Samoan, Polynesian guy. I was this nasty, street kid from Brooklyn. So there’s a different character trait.
“I think Samoa Joe, the wrestler, is special in itself, and he would still be a successful pro wrestler, if Taz never existed. It’s meant to be that Joe is as successful as he is because he’s real. He’s as real as it gets.”
A surprise transition
Taz is a very good color commentator, starting in that role with WWE and taking it to another level with TNA.
“The No.1 thing for me to do is to try to be entertaining, but 1A would be to keep my credibility,” he said. “So I really try to balance that. As a commentator, I bring people into the ring as a viewer who has never had the opportunity to wrestle.”
Taz enjoys working pay-per-views.
“It’s tough with wrestling today on television -- because of ratings and the speed things go and how fast everything is -- to break down holds and moves,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the pay-per-views. There’s more time to the matches. So there’s more time to break down the holds, and I love doing that.
“Taz, the commentator, loves doing that more than cracking a joke or being a smart ass to Mike Tenay or joking around about in-ring talent. My No.1 thing I love to do is analyze the physicality of the matches, but my No.1 priority and my job, before that, is to be an entertainer.
“If I had to pick my job description, it would be to analyze, straight up analyze right out of the box, ala Jon Gruden on ‘Monday Night Football’ or Joe Morgan when he was calling Major League Baseball. I was always a big fan of Joe Morgan, not just as a baseball player but as a commentator, because he analyzed things.
“Different world, you’re calling a baseball game compared to a pro wrestling match. A baseball game, for the most part, is like watching paint dry. You have a plethora of time to make a point. You can read the Magna Carta between the sixth and seventh innings. Compared to calling a wrestling match that’s six minutes long with high octane, non-stop, full speed and trying to break down holds, it’s very hard.
“With a pay-per-view, the matches have more time, and usually, the stories have already hit their pinnacle. So you can get into the physicality of the match.”
Working at the broadcast desk with some of the best made him better.
“It’s just about entertaining and trying to be credible and for me, really trying hard to be the voice of the viewer,” Taz said. “I learned this from JR [WWE Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Ross] in WWE. Mike Tenay, our [TNA] play-by-play guy, he’s driving the car, and the commentator, me, I’m riding shotgun. The viewers, they’re all in the backseat of the car.
“That’s kind of how I look at it and how I’ve learned to be a commentator.
“Michael Cole in WWE, when I was there, we had a good friendship, and he really helped me a lot. He came from CBS radio and news radio, so he had a news background. He went to Syracuse University and graduated from the Newhouse School, which has an amazing communication department. Michael Cole is a legitimate broadcaster. I was some wrestler who wanted to beat the crap out of people.
Video of Taz beating up people
Taz noted: “Michael Cole and JR while I was in WWE, both those guys helped me a ton. Michael Cole, obviously a lot, because we were a team.”
Michael Cole and Taz called WWE SmackDown from Feb. 22, 2001-June 28, 2001; Aug. 2, 2001-Oct. 18, 2001; April 4, 2002-June 9, 2006.
“Vince McMahon, I learned a ton from him and Kevin Dunn [WWE’s Executive Vice President, Television Production],” Taz said. “Vince McMahon really helped me a lot. He really did. He would explain his vision and where he thought I should be as an announcer and what I could bring to the table, and he helped me get there, and I’m thankful for that.”
Before sitting, watching and working the mic, Taz feuded with Jerry The King Lawler, the WWE Raw and SmackDown color commentator.
“They wanted to have two separate announce teams, and I didn’t know that at the time,” he explained. “They wanted to keep JR and King, the Hall of Fame team together on Raw. Michael Cole, the play-by-play commentator for SmackDown, was a little bit younger, a little bit hipper, a little more energy type guy. They wanted to put someone new, fresher with him. Insert me.
“That’s what was happening behind the scenes before I morphed into a commentator. I didn’t realize that, but that was the concept.”
Lawler the good guy and Taz the bad guy during their feud.
Taz recalled: “I jumped him on Raw and beat him up pretty good at the end of Raw, so he couldn’t call SmackDown. I sat in on SmackDown for one or two segments with Michael Cole. I would rundown Jerry Lawler. I would rundown Michael Cole. I would rundown the wrestlers. I didn’t know I was going to morph into an announcer. I was being Taz the wrestler.
“The deal was Jerry Lawler was going to jump me from behind from out of the audience, while I was broadcasting, and beat the crap out of me and then take his spot back at the table, and that was that.
“Well, when I was out there, calling matches with Michael Cole, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just reacting to what I saw in the ring and also trying to be witty and entertaining. I ended up staying out there a little longer than I was supposed to. They didn’t tell me to leave or have Jerry come out and jump me, yet. So I didn’t know what to do. Do I stay? Do I go? Nobody told me nothing; so I just sat out there and kept talking. I guess they wanted to see how I would react to being thrown into the role like that.
“I guess I did pretty good because the rest is history.”
Part 2 with Taz coming soon
• Lockdown on TNA
The TNA Lockdown pay-per-view, with each match in a steel cage, is 8 p.m. EST Sunday, March 9 from the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
TNA champ Magnus vs. Samoa Joe.
Team MVP (Jeff Hardy, team captain MVP and The Wolves Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards) vs. Team Dixie (Austin Aries, team captain Bobby Roode and The BroMans Robbie E and Jessie Godderz).
TNA Knockouts champ Madison Rayne vs. Gail Kim.
Kurt Angle vs. Ethan Carter III.
The Great Muta, Seiya Sanada and Tigre Uno vs. Bad Influence (Christopher Daniels and Kazarian) and Chris Sabin.
Mr. Anderson vs. Samuel Shaw.
Cowboy James Storm vs. Gunner.
The broadcast team for the pay-per-view is The Professor Mike Tenay, Taz and Jeremy Borash.
For information on Lockdown visit www.impactwrestling.com.
Follow TNA’s social channels including @IMPACTWRESTLING and @TNADixie on Twitter and on Facebook at www.fb.com/IMPACTWRESTLING .
• Making an Impact
TNA Impact Wrestling is 9 p.m. EST Thursdays on Spike TV.