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Don West still pumped up on TNA
By JASON CLEVETT - SLAM! Wrestling


Don West at the TNA Fan Fest in October in Detroit.
- photo by Mike Mastrandrea

This Sunday's Final Resolution pay per view features the highly anticipated rubber match between Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe. The 30-minute Iron Man match has people excited, and the same can be said for one of the men who will be at ringside. Color commentator Don West, easily excitable at the best of times, has an enthusiasm for this Sunday's show that is infectious.

"It is going to tear the house down. They are getting so much better every time. What I love about it is that you know you are going to get Joe and Angle for at least 30 minutes. Anyone who doesn't pay for that isn't a wrestling fan. I can't wait, I can't imagine," West told wrestling media on a Spike TV/TNA press conference this week. "For us to end the year 2006 with Angle vs. Joe II, which was even better than the first one, what a way to go out. I can't even imagine Final Resolution."

Angle's debut with the company is one of the top moments for TNA this year. West talked candidly about both finding out Angle was coming, and how the former WWE champion was fitting in.

"I had absolutely no earthly idea. You talk about a well-kept secret! There were three or four people only who were in the know on that. I found out about five minutes before we went on the air," West said, explained that TNA honcho Jeff Jarrett wanted to see West and Mike Tenay's reaction. "[Jarrett] pulled us in a room and when he saw our reactions he knew that it was going to be huge. I remember everybody thinking it was Goldberg's silhouette, and then going nuts for Angle. That was a great moment.


Samoa Joe vs Kurt Angle at the Genesis PPV.
- courtest tnawrestling.com
"Kurt is fitting in well. A few weeks ago I was getting the promotions signed for the deal on the TNA page and we were talking. He was telling Mike and I about coming to TNA. He said the schedule change was the biggest thing. I've heard it from guys but he was describing the actual schedule for a top guy in WWE, I don't know how a body can physically do it. They were on the road 290 days out of the year. He is so happy to be able to get time off and rest. He told me, and I can understand because I have been here since the beginning of the company, just to be part of something as it grows and develops is a neat experience and I think he is enjoying that part more than anything."

Since Angle's defection WWE has taken several swipes at their former star. West had his own thoughts on the war of words.

"When you lose somebody of that magnitude, and from a talent standpoint I really believe in all my heart that Kurt Angle was the MVP in the WWE for the last five years he was there. I don't want to speak for Kurt but I think there were hard feelings on both sides but the last thing they expected him to come here. It's like losing your girlfriend; you're going to blast the new guy dating her. It is always going to go on, people are going to leave us for there and vice versa. You don't need the animosity part of it, I know it's gone both ways and there is history there. The more comments they make about it, all that is doing is letting people know where he is."

By the same token, TNA has had its own targeting of the competition with Kip and Jesse James as The Voodoo Kin Mafia (VKM - Vincent K. McMahon's initials). The pair have called out DX several times and even appeared at a WWE house show.

"Whether they go on with that angle now that Triple-H is injured or not, I don't know," West said. "To me life is a parody and we can make fun of ourselves. Too many people in this business are too serious. The angle not everyone's cup of tea and that is fine but I laugh. The challenge is out there. It is also poking fun at ourselves and getting people talking about it. Whether people like it or not they are talking about it, and somebody is going to watch."

With the conference call being just 24 hours after WWE presented "Donald vs. Rosie" on RAW, SLAM! Wrestling asked West for his thoughts on the TNA chant that broke out during the "match."

"I read about the TNA chants at RAW on Monday. I was watching the BSC football championship. On the internet I read about how bad the show was. To me, the TNA chants make me smile. When you have people chanting it at WWE events, there are people who don't know who we are and all that is doing is telling those people we are there and making them ask questions. It shows that there is some competition. We aren't WWE, the giant that they are, but people know about us and are talking about us. When they see something they don't like they are letting the competition know that there is someone else they are watching. The more word of mouth the better."

This Sunday's show has a stacked line up that also sees Abyss defend the NWA title in an elimination match against Sting and Christian Cage and a Last Man Standing bout between A.J. Styles and Rhino. High on West's list is the triple-threat X-division match featuring Jerry Lynn returning to the ring against Christopher Daniels and Chris Sabin.

"Just seeing Jerry Lynn in the ring again is something nobody should miss. I think back to that first year and me being so green, I remember it was so fun and easy to call Jerry Lynn and A.J. Styles matches. Just to get Jerry back in the ring, he looks great. Him, Sabin and Daniels together at Final Resolution is the match I am most looking forward to besides the Iron Man Match."

The live pay per views are one of the highlights of Don West's job. Going live for three hours would be intimidating to some but West relishes it, and compared it to the taped Impact shows.

"I love doing the live pay per views. I know that they are three and a half hours including the pre-show, but you can really pace yourself. Me being the excitable screamer that I am can level it down and tell more stories. People have already paid for the show so you can concentrate on the match in front of you. When doing the TV you have your notes in front of you and are pushing the pay per view or next week. Having only the 40 minutes it is so frenetic, it is all about sell, sell, sell and you don't get to call what you are seeing as much as building what is coming up."

The faster pace is due to the booking of Vince Russo, Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantel. The result has received mixed reviews as the focus has shifted from in ring action to storytelling.

"I think the perfect balance was found on last week's Impact. It covered every single story we were covering and ended with something you couldn't take your eyes off of -- Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle brawling. In an hours time, if you do nothing but wrestle it is hard to tell stories and give these guys character. Yes we aren't seeing a lot of X-division action in the ring but these guys have characters and are funny and we care about them. As we develop our feelings for these guys we can build to the matches. That perfect balance is hard, but to me wrestling is a soap opera and you want to have that pull to bring you into the next week."

Also under fire is Russo working for the company in the first place. The history of Vince Russo could and has filled a book. West is quick to step up to the plate to defend him.

"Vince in 2002 and Vince in 2006-2007, I don't even think it's the same person, being around him. This is somebody that, if anybody is going by reputation they don't know this Vince Russo. He really is genuine and gone through a life change. If it wasn't for Vince I wouldn't be here, he talked Jeff Jarrett into watching the sports show. It has to be so hard to do this in an hour show, but I love the storytelling they are doing right now. So the focus is on trying to tell the stories they are getting across -- the story with Sting and Abyss' past, Joe and Angle sells itself, A.J. and Rhino, Jerry getting back in the ring. Vince is one of those guys that lets you do your thing. He gives suggestions but he isn't in our earpiece. We get a lot of feedback when we do post-production but for the most part Vince is pleased with what Mike and I do and lets us go."


Don West, Eric Young and Mike Tenay on Impact.
- courtest tnawrestling.com
When questioned what TNA could do to improve, West took a moment to think through his answer carefully.

"We could all improve as individuals. As a company, I think we can improve on getting our message of who we are out to the public. What a lot of people in TNA may not realize how many people don't realize who we are and where we are at. We need to find a way to improve on getting that message out to the masses so that wrestling fans know that these guys are on every Thursday night. We've got to find a way to get better at promoting ourselves."

When talking to West, it is very evident that he loves going to work. There is a long list of wrestlers and behind the scenes people that have come and gone from the company, but West has stood tall since the beginning and strives consistently to improve. From the weekly pay per views in Nashville to Impact on Fox Sportsnet to now, four and a half years later on prime time television, West and TNA have a lot to be proud of.

"This was the goal, all people talked about from the beginning was one day getting on prime time TV and having that slot," he said. "There were times that first year where we wondered if we were actually coming back after a few weeks off. Every step was a development. You look back now and time seems to have flown but back then you didn't know what was going to happen. To actually see that progression, it's hard to believe. There is more to go, like getting two hours and going from there. We wondered if we would get prime time, if it was just a dream or a possibility, to actually have achieved that makes me proud."

RELATED LINK

  • Feb. 6, 2006: The evolution of Don West

    Jason Clevett is SLAM! Wrestling's only writer from Calgary ... Alberta ... Canada. But don't hold that against him. Sympathy letters, marriage proposals and email scams welcome at j_clevett@hotmail.com.