Simply put TNA Impact Wrestling’s Eric Young is living his dream.
The bearded entertainer won the company’s heavyweight championship after more than 10 years in the company. On top of that, the adrenaline junky hosts “No Limits” on Animal Planet, a follow-up to his other popular show “Off the Hook: Extreme Catches.”
The current face of TNA recently returned from shooting in Alaska and is gearing for his title defense at the Slammiversary XII pay-per-view 8 p.m. EST Sunday, June 15 in Arlington, Texas.
“This is where as a professional wrestler you want to be,” Young said during an international conference call to promote the event. “It’s the biggest event of the year. I’ll be in the main event wrestling for my world heavyweight championship. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. It’s the biggest match of my life. I’m treating it as such. I’m 100 percent ready for this match. People will not leave disappointed. That’s a guarantee.”
Originally scheduled to face former WWE superstar MVP at Slammiversary, plans changed as MVP can not compete because of a knee injury (torn meniscus). Young will now battle the winners of Kenny King vs. Austin Aries and Bobby Lashley vs. Samoa Joe in a triple threat cage match.
Those who have followed “Showtime” during his lengthy career in TNA know he will do whatever it takes to entertain an audience, no matter who the opponent(s). The Canadian proved he can not only compete with the best of them in the ring, but pull off a variety of sides to his persona.
All the hard work paid off.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted and someone I knew I could be,” Young said. “It was always a level I had always dreamed about being in, and I knew that I could. Was it in the cards? You’re never sure because wrestling is a crazy business, crazy world, but I’m ready for the responsibility. I want the responsibility. I’ve always wanted the responsibility. I’m definitely pulled in 10,000 directions in between being world heavyweight champion for TNA Wrestling and shooting my own television show on Animal Planet. Right now it’s the best professional time of my entire life. I’m soaking it all in. It’s amazing.”
A wrestling fan since age five, he remarked that other than winning the heavyweight championship the biggest the biggest day of his career was signing his first contract. It validated that it was what he wanted to do for a living.
“It sounds cliché and simple, but I’m just proud to be a part of it,” Young said. “Pro wrestling is a very difficult thing to be in. Another huge accomplishment for me is I’ve been on TV every week for over 10 years. That’s big for anybody. Versatility and being able to play a different character and fill a different role here is something I’ve always prided myself on. I always have from day one.
“To make people laugh or make people not like me, I can do that. If they want me to be world heavyweight champion, I can do that. If they want me to be tag team champion, I can do that. I feel there are definitely guys in the business that have that attribute too. It’s not a huge number. Usually, they find their role and find their niche, and that’s what they do for 10, 15 years. I’ve done it all, and I wouldn’t change that. The more experience you can get in wrestling the better. I’ve seen and done it all. I wouldn’t change any of it.”
From the moment he won the gold Young made it a top priority to live up to the lineage of holding the biggest prize in a promotion. He was following in the footsteps of legends and those he looked up to including Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. Young takes his current position very seriously and wants to be known as a fighting champion.
“For me being a pro wrestling fan, I remember wrestling not in moves or matches, but in moments,” Young said. “I remember certain moments very clearly and who I was with and how it made me feel and being excited or mad. I want to be able to create as many of those moments as I can because that is what drew me to wrestling. That is what I want to give back. It’s the circle of life kind of thing…I’m going to defend [the championship] as many times I can against as many people and create as many of those moments I can because that is what pro wrestling is to me…It’s important for me to have people remember this as a good time in wrestling. I want to be remembered as someone who defended the belt and made it entertaining and made it good to watch…”
Young may be tired and sore, but pushes himself to always go for best match on the card. The dedicated performer looks to give 100 percent every time he laces up the boots. It’s this drive that earned him the respect of fans and performers alike. Many of them sent their congratulations when he pulled off the upset against Magnus. The overall response throughout social media was that Young deserved to be “the man.”
“It surprised the wrestling world, and that isn’t easy to do nowadays with the internet and information everywhere,” Young said. “I think they did that and created a real moment. I was part of that moment. It comes to no surprise to me. I’m not a cocky person. I’m not good at anything, except pro wrestling. Pro wrestling I knew I could do. I was good at it the instant I stepped in the ring. I knew that was where I was meant to be and knew that was what I was supposed to be doing.
“It comes to no surprise that I was world heavyweight champion. If you would have told me a couple of years ago that would be a thing, I would say, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ Wrestling’s crazy, man. It changes every day. I’m just happy to be a part of it and 100 percent proud to be world heavyweight champion.”
Having the weight of TNA on your shoulders isn’t easy. Especially, considering the criticism the company gets.
“I think in a creative world whether its television or music or anything in the entertainment industry it comes with criticism, and people are going to hold things to a certain standard,” Young said. “I can remember there always being negative information and opinion about TNA since way back to 2003. We are seen in over 120 countries around the world, have strong television numbers, house shows every weekend. It’s a multi-million dollar company that reaches worldwide.
“We can do be doing insanely great and be seen in 2,000 countries around the world. I don’t know if there are that many, but there will still be negative information. I think it will always be a part of pro wrestling. It’s a part of entertainment. I’ve learned that from being on a show on Animal Planet that certain things aren’t for everyone.
“It’s always easier to say negative things and report on negative things. When you watch the news, it’s not very often you see something good on the news. That doesn’t mean there are not good things happening. TNA Wrestling is still here. It’s going to be here. It’s not going anywhere. It’s as strong as it has ever been. There is always going to be negative information. That’s just part of the game.”
With TNA celebrating 12 years in operation, one of the challenges moving forward is growing its audience. This means generating interest.
“I think we just have to pick our direction and decide where we are going and march,” Young said. “That’s something I feel they have been doing for the last six to eight months. They have a vision and decided that is where they are going to go. That’s what pro wrestling is. You have to formulate a plan. Things change, wrestling constantly changes. Guys get hurt, and guys move on. Someone will become popular out of nowhere. Then you have to adapt. That is pro wrestling, but you really got to pick a direction and move towards it.
“It’s about getting guys out there. Having me do my other show ‘No Limits’ on Animal Planet, which airs on Friday nights…that brings in another set of eyes. That’s for people that like fishing and like outdoors. Then they see I’m a wrestler with TNA and decide to check it out. They tune in. Cross-promotion and trying to get as many new eyes on the company as possible, those are the two keys I see, and I’m happy to help…”
As “The Man” at the moment, Young believes it’s his responsibility as a champion to promote the company. He is also taking advantage of the added exposure he is getting with “No Limits”, which secured him an appearance on the “Today” show.
“Everyone is there for themselves, don’t kid yourself,” Young said. “It’s a business. That’s the way pro wrestling is, and you always have to look out for number one. However, if TNA is not there I don’t have a job in wrestling and 90 percent of my friends don’t have a job. These are people that I like and care about and have families. You have to have people that are willing to pay the price and do their thing and be part of the team.
“Making TNA a bigger brand is good for everybody. It’s not just for the people who work in the company, but people who don’t work in the company. Quicker we can grow it, the more people we can have on board. The more people that want to grow it, the better.”
Spoken like a true locker room leader and champion.
• See Eric Young defend the TNA championship against the winners of Kenny King vs. Austin Aries and Bobby Lashley vs. Samoa Joe in a triple threat cage match during Slammiversary XII at 8 p.m. EST Sunday, June 15 from the College Park Center at the University of Texas in Arlington.
For information and full card, visit www.slammiversary.com.
• Eric Young hosts “No Limits” 8 p.m. ET, Fridays on Animal Planet.
• Follow Yong on Twitter, @ShowtimeEY.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.