"I was kinda ahead of this whole thing. I really was and I'm proud of that. I was so ahead of it that back then, it wasn't even called MMA. It wasn't even called mixed martial arts. It was called Shoot Fighting and I was a big fan of that. I was a big fan of it in Tokyo and Japan, like UWFI and Pancrase. I would get people to get me the video tapes on VHS back then and I would watch them. I would be on a treadmill doing cardio, or on an elliptical machine doing cardio, and I would watch these tapes before I went to the dojo; I would watch them and study what those guys were doing and see how I could incorporate that along with my Judo background. I brought in a rear choke, which was a Judo choke or Jiu Jitsu choke, and that's what the "Tazmission" was. I would use some Judo throws and mix in some amateur wrestling where I would drop step and go behind a guy and hit a single or double...If anyone who was a fan of mine during the ECW years, and I've never really said this publicly or anything, but part of the look that I had with the towel and all of that was influenced by Mike Tyson," stated TNA color commentator Taz as he talked about how both mixed martial arts and boxing had a strong influence on his professional wrestling career. Check it out!
PC: It's a pleasure to have you on the site and an honor to speak to you. How is everything going?
Taz: I'm doing good. I have no complaints at all.
PC: You used to train guys that were trying to become professional wrestlers and now you have a finishing school, which is for guys in the industry, but can't get that mainstream break. Tell us a little more about that.
Taz: Well, the Team Taz dojo, it's a submission school, but I'm so used to calling it a dojo. It's basically for guys who have been wrestling for a long time and they just can't get the contract. It could be, at times, just a couple of little things that you aren't doing right, whether it be the way you talk, or the way you promo, or what you're doing in the ring, or the way you transition from move to move. It can be the way you do a move. There is always someone who has an expertise on it and someone who has been on the other side of the curtain; sort of behind closed doors, in rooms and meetings, and heard the power people in the industry and what they say they are frustrated with from new guys trying to get into the companies. I've been around all of these guys, and namely someone like Paul Heyman, who is one of the most powerful masterminds behind the scenes in the industry's history, so I learned so much from Paul and still do. Once I ran the idea past Paul and he loved it, that made me even more confident in this concept.
This is a situation where I'm only taking 8 students or 8 wrestlers for a semester and a semester is 6 weeks. It's once a week and it's 3 to 4 hours a week. We guarantee 6 weeks and we guarantee 3 hours a week. I'm passionate about this thing, but those 3 hour classes easily turn into 4-5 hour classes. I don't charge more money if the classes run long because I don't work that way. I'm actually doing it in a really great facility where a lot of amateur athletes and collegiate athletes and pro athletes train; from baseball players, football players, lacrosse players and strength and speed athletes. They have about 6 or 7 strength and speed coaches there. I actually hooked up with some of the certified trainers and they are actually working on an injury prevention flexibility program to teach wrestlers so that their careers don't get cut short like mine did. That will help their career. I know you will have a lot of MMA athletes checking this out on your site and they know how vital flexibility is in staying healthy in the sport. That also applies to pro wrestling. Sure, we're entertainment, but it is very physical as most people know. That's a big part of my dojo is having those certified trainers. All of the in-ring stuff will be done with me and only me; none of my students. I will be in the ring with you. I will sit with you and break down your matches on TV; your match that you just had this weekend in wherever, like New Jersey. We will sit down and watch the DVD of that match and I will say, "You did this good, but you did that bad. You should do this more," that kind of thing and we will get in the ring and break it down and say, "Let's try it this way and let's not do it that way." It's just to fine tune your craft. Then we have a team with a production studio that we've partnered up with that's on site. We will have access to a pre-screen room where we go in there and I produce your promos. The promo video can be tedious things like using different facial expressions, using your hands more, or not using your hands so much, and it's me giving them my own time. Sure, there is a fee because I am a businessman, but I want to help guys get over that hump. There are no guarantees, just like there aren't any in life, but it is a good opportunity to get inside of the mind of someone who has been to the dance.
And you know, just to speak of Paul Heyman a little more, "House of Hardcore" was a concept that Paul had during the ECW years. It was a place where I could work on my gimmick in training and a place where I could have students in my dojo and it built my on TV character. "House of Hardcore" was also a place for the wrestlers on ECW to come train and work on stuff and moves that they needed to work on when we were not on the road. Paul said, "Why aren't you training these students? If we get one or two guys every year that can come to ECW and wrestle, that's awesome, but I want you to train these guys, take your time, and teach them the right way of the business; the old school way of the business." So we weren't trying to pump out superstars is my point. "House of Hardcore" and what I'm doing now are complete opposites. At "House of Hardcore" I was dealing with green guys and students, and I was in the middle of my own career. I was a lot younger. I still had a lot of knowledge, but I was also very intense with a chip on my shoulder and that made me a very tough trainer. I was meticulous, but tough. Now I am a little older, I am a little more intelligent to the industry, I am a little savvier and I've had more life experience and more business experience, and I am out of the ring. I'm a color commentator where my job is to promote talent with my voice and my mind. These are my peers as opposed to students I am trying to turn into wrestlers and that is the other big difference.
PC: When you are dealing with guys new to the business, I'm sure they are more willing to learn. Now you're dealing with guys that are in the profession, but haven't got that big call yet, so is it more of a "check your ego at the door" approach for you?
Taz: That's a great question. I have a couple of my representatives. Once you apply online and we look at your video - and I watch all of the videos. We get hundreds of them. My eyes are about to pop out of my head for all of the matches I've been watching (laughing) - one of my representatives will contact you and then I will get on the phone and talk with you also, and one of the first things I ask you is, "Do you feel you can get better? Are you open to learning something new?" I'm not being sarcastic when I ask that question; I'm being serious. I can't work with a guy that thinks he knows it all. I would rather just wish that guy the best of luck. I can't help that guy. I feel we're all still learning, I'm still learning; everybody is still learning in everything that they do. The goal is to get better and be smarter. Just in this short time with this school, I have already had a couple of guys on the phone say, "Well, I think I pretty much got this thing down." I say, "You got it down? God bless you man." And they are like, "Nah, I want to come in." I just don't allow it. I can't help that guy Percy because that guy knows it all. He needs to open up his own finishing school. It is a little frustrating to deal with, but it's only been two guys out of all of the guys I have spoken to. I didn't disrespect them, I just told them, "It's all good. You can go on and do your own thing no problem." I can't have that guy because he could be a cancer in my dojo and I can't have that.
PC: You were the first wrestler to use the words dojo, submission and tapout back when you were in ECW. Your finishing move, the "Tazmission", was basically a rear naked choke. Was your image derived from mixed martial arts or were you before your time so to speak?
Taz: A little bit of both. My approach towards the pro wrestling business during those ECW years was I was kinda ahead of this whole thing. I really was and I'm proud of that. I was so ahead of it that back then, it wasn't even called MMA. It wasn't even called mixed martial arts. It was called Shoot Fighting and I was a big fan of that. I was a big fan of it in Tokyo and Japan, like UWFI and Pancrase. I would get people to get me the video tapes on VHS back then and I would watch them. I would be on a treadmill doing cardio, or on an elliptical machine doing cardio, and I would watch these tapes before I went to the dojo; I would watch them and study what those guys were doing and see how I could incorporate that along with my Judo background. I brought in a rear choke, which was a Judo choke or Jiu Jitsu choke, and that's what the "Tazmission" was. I would use some Judo throws and mix in some amateur wrestling where I would drop step and go behind a guy and hit a single or double. We used a lot of amateur style. I was also lucky because my cousin was a head coach for a high school wrestling team in Long Island and I would have access to the wrestling room, so we would go and just train. I would go there and help him out with the heavyweight wrestlers and they were high school kids, and then he and I would just go. We would work on throws and just shoot. That also helped me. I was just a fan of Shoot Fighting for years and now there is MMA, UFC and Strikeforce and all of these cool names. They have all of these cool companies and cool names and cool fighters and that is great. It's very household now. I was into this before everybody.
I had a T-Shirt that I designed myself and wore in ECW and it said Tapout on it. Nobody had that. That was before the company Tapout, and the font that I used on the shirt for my name Taz was a very similar font that the Tapout Company uses. I've never publicly said that, but that's true. My name was written in a font that is extremely close to the font that Tapout uses as their main logo. The way I did the design, and that was back in 1996 or '97, Tapout wasn't around back then, and no knock on those guys, but I think that I was a big influence on their company and that's fine. I don't really care, it's all good. It don't matter to me. My fans know who I was back then and I was kind of a pioneer of that stuff.
PC: You have an extensive Judo background. Had it not been for the injuries and the sport of mixed martial arts taking off so late in your career, do you feel you would have dabbled in the sport like Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley and some of those guys are doing?
Taz: I probably would've back then, yeah. Paul got a call years ago from a company in Japan. I don't remember the name of the company, but it was when Shoot Fighting was becoming more popular, and they wanted me to fight Kimo. I'm 99.9% sure it was Kimo, but it didn't work out. Paul wasn't crazy about the idea because we had a PPV coming up and he didn't want to risk any injuries to me that would affect the upcoming PPV. I mean, I wanted to do it, but the money wasn't great, it wasn't that popular, and it was too many loopholes, so we didn't do it. If I had to redo it all, I wouldn't change a thing about the way my career went. I think it is awesome how much money some of the MMA guys are making and how strong the UFC's business is, especially for the company that I work for, TNA, because we're on the same network that the UFC is on, Spike TV. I wouldn't want to change anything. I have no regrets, but I probably would have dabbled in it more if it was as popular back then as it is now. My body was healthy and it wouldn't have affected my pro wrestling career. I was in pro wrestling to make money. I was in the business to make money. I'm still in the business to make money; that's what I do. I have a family to feed, like most people. I don't walk out on that kind of stuff. It's a job and I think a bulk of the MMA fighters that are making a living think the same way. You know, right here where I live in Long Island, Matt Serra lives not too far from me and I know he has a couple of dojos here in Long Island and he's a businessman. His dojos are doing great here.
PC: Now that MMA has become so popular and mainstream, do you feel professional wrestling is now in a recruiting war to grab some of these established collegiate wrestlers? At one point, professional wrestling was the only options for guys coming out of college and now obviously MMA is an option.
Taz: Yeah, I think so. Listen, if I was a stud amateur wrestler in college right now and I was truly about competing...and I know a lot of amateur wrestlers that are on a high level. These guys are about competing. They wanna win and win and win. If that's the case, then you want to get into MMA. But I strongly feel that if it's about business and longevity, then you want to be a pro wrestler. Our business, although it is extremely physical, there is a good chance that you would have more longevity than a MMA guy. you're going to work more than a MMA guy and you're going to be in the ring more than a MMA guy and you're going to compete more than a MMA guy, but if you are successful, you are probably going to make more money than a MMA guy. But if you truly want to compete, then you're going to want to get into MMA if you are an amateur wrestler.
PC: Dana white recently came out and said he didn't want to confuse the real from the fake in terms of letting Lesnar fight Undertaker in a Wrestlemania match. Do you see it the way Dana is explaining it or would you use Wrestlemania to make Brock an even bigger UFC star because his wrestling background is obviously why he's their top PPV star?
Taz: I can't speak for Dana White. I have never met the guy, but he's obviously a very intelligent guy, but I gotta tell you, it sounds to me that Dana White was probably concerned about hurting Brock's credibility. I would think Dana White is intelligent enough to know that MMA fans are savvy enough to realize that there isn't anything that's going to hurt Brock Lesnar's credibility. I know he was not successful in his lat fight, but Brock is a highly credible grappler and a highly credible fighter. If Brock was to do anything in the pro wrestling business with the Undertaker, I personally don't think that would hurt Brock, but I'm from the pro wrestling business. I have been here for over 24 years, where Dana White is not, so of course I'm going to say that. I guess Dana White has a certain criteria that he has for his fighters and he's entitled to that and he should feel that way. He's running the show for these guys and he wants them to be seen in a certain light. We don't have to agree with the guy, but that's his area of expertise and those are the guys that fight for him.
PC: I'm not sure if you are a boxing fan or not, but if the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight ever happens, who would you pick to win that fight?
Taz: Pacquiao! I just think he's tougher, that's all. I'm not a huge boxing fan, but I just think he's rugged. He's a nasty and rugged machine. Mayweather is more of a finesse fighter. He's a great fighter with great hands. I saw him just messing around when he was doing something for the Wrestlemania I was at and that guy is a freak. I couldn't believe how fast his hands were. He's amazing, but I would have to go with Pacquiao. And speaking of boxing, I wanted to point something out because I didn't realize how much your site deals with boxing. If anyone who was a fan of mine during the ECW years, and I've never really said this publicly or anything, but part of the look that I had with the towel and all of that was influenced by Mike Tyson. Tyson was from Brooklyn and he used to cut a hole in a white towel, wore the black trunks and black boots, and that was an influence to me. I went with black and orange to be more marketable, but I kept it simple with no knee pads and I wore a black towel on my head. I got the towel idea from Mike Tyson. I never said that anywhere else, so you got it first buddy. I've never met him, but a lot of my demeanor was influenced by Mike Tyson. I wanted to try to take guys that had nothing to do with my business and take their swagger and style and put it in mine. It's the same thing I do as an announcer. When I first started off as a color commentator, I used to listen to, believe it or not, Joe Morgan, the pro baseball Hall of Famer, and the way he calls baseball games on ESPN. I wanted to break down and analyze matches the way Joe Morgan broke down baseball games and I kind of got my style from Joe Morgan.
PC: You do a great job over at TNA. I wish you the best of luck with your finishing school. Is there anything else you want to say before I let you go?
Taz: Anybody out there who is a wrestler, upload your video man. Go to www.teamtaz13.com and read what I'm doing and if you got 6 weeks and want to come up to Long Island, check it out. You just have to upload your video and one of our representatives will get back to you and discuss everything with you. Also, everybody out there just make sure you watch Spike TV every Thursday night at 9PM EST. TNA Impact baby I'll be there!
[ Follow Percy Crawford on Twitter @MrLouis1ana ]