Former TNA star Samuel Shaw recently spoke to Vince Russo and gave his thoughts on the art of creating a memorable and impactful character in today's wrestling landscape. Vince and Sam then also went into great detail about why wrestling is moving more and more away from character and storyline by putting the emphasis on in-ring action. From there, Sam gave some insight at his recent experience at the WWE Performance Center. Below is the full interview, you can listen to it in its entirety in the video above.
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Vince Russo: You and I have never met and we've only had one conversation, but I feel like I've known you my whole life.
"I didn't even know you were writing my stuff when I was in TNA. I had no idea until way later on. That was way cool to me."
Russo: Big secret, bro. Nobody could know (laughs). Everybody that knows me knows I'm all about characters and storylines. I did a big convention, and there was a second when I took a step back and took a look at all these great personalities and characters. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Chyna, Sid, EC3. I marked out for EC3. I'm saying to myself 'what happened?' We've transformed the business, and not saying it as an insult, but the emphasis is on the fake fight, which to me is absolutely ridiculous. We have MMA, which is a real fight. Why is wrestling putting the emphasis on the fake fight? You're a student of the character. I didn't speak to you until our last interview, and it took me ten minutes to figure out if you were whacked out of your mind or not. That's how convincing you were to me. It was a feeling out period.
"I do feel like I'm kind of whacked out (laughs)."
Russo: When did you first start realizing the importance of a unique character in wrestling?
"Growing up, we've talked about my artwork. I watched Superman, Batman, Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Rick Rude. Those were my superheroes. They had larger than life personas. To me, that was Batman and Superman. Very powerful imagery for me. They had characters that resonated with the crowd. As we move along, we see Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Sid. Crowd connection is what drew me to the business, not wrestling. I didn't know what wrestling was when I was a kid, I just knew I liked it because these guys were action heroes. I didn't know until my teen years that it was all a fake, choreographed, predetermined thing. To answer your question, the larger than life characters is what drew me in. That's what we're getting away from these days. It's as plain as day, the business is suffering."
Russo: Both of the conventions I went to were in New York, and they were pretty big. These are wrestling fans at wrestling conventions, and I can't tell you the number of people that came up to me and said they no longer watch wrestling. It scared the hell out of me. This is what I do for a living, what you do for a living, but it's not the same business. I didn't realize until I interviewed you a few months ago, but you were trained by Bubba and D-Von. All their careers, they had great characters, a lot of meat on the bone. When you went to their school, give me how the education was broken down about the relationship between the character and the in-ring work?
"I was originally trained my Curtis Hughes in Atlanta, and he gave me a great education as far as the in-ring work. A very basic education. I didn't know why I was doing certain things, and I felt like I needed that. Mr. Hughes was more old-school in the sense that we'll feel it out and you'll learn that way. I thought maybe it was my stubborn, microwave age mind saying I wanted it now. I went down to Florida to Team 3D Academy. The psychology -- if you're a heel, and my name is Slick Sleazy -- we were trying to figure out the heel character. Bubba said it sounded like a pimp, so I should come out wearing a pimp outfit. He said 'every time you do something athletic, don't let the crowd remember that. Do something sleazy after that. If you do something cool, why would I hate you?' Then a light bulb went off in my brain. If I'm a heel, I don't want to do anything cool. I don't want them to like me at all. I want them to like the good guy!"
Russo: When I went to TNA, there were a lot of young guys in TNA. I would see all day long is guys going over their matches. When they're doing that, they're trying to remember all their spots in their spotfest. The fact that they're trying to memorize their spots, the first thing that goes out the door is their character. Then you have a lot of really good wrestlers who look the same. What was different about you that you didn't fall into that trap?
"I look at somebody like the Undertaker and the longevity. I was always taught that was the key to thriving in this business. Being a character that has a special connection to the crowd, people will want to invest money to see you for years and years. I didn't get into this business to be a guy that does a bunch of cool moves. Once I saw a guy do a double front flip and landing on his opponent, and he's doing it every night, you can't do anything more than that. What now? I'm not going to be able to do that. Where the money's at is the eyes, the facial expressions."
Russo: Mind if I ask how old you are?
Russo: So you have a long time left in this business. There are guys like Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Ric Flair, they'll be able to walk to the ring until they're 70 and get a good payday because of who their character was. They don't have to take a bump. I went to this convention. Shawn Michaels' line was around the corner. I don't know the last time he took a bump. This is a business, what you want it longevity. Wrestlers have a shelf life. You want to extend that as long as you possibly can. If you can go out there and entertain the fans and not put your body through hell, you'll make money for a longer amount of time. A lot of these guys weren't looking at this as a business. They were looking to make the Impact Zone to chant 'this is awesome,' not thinking they'll be doing this 20 years from now. Is it a maturity level, what do you think that is?
"I rack my brain all day, all night thinking about it and I don't have all the answers. I have theories. Somewhere along the line, I think UFC and MMA has something to do with it, that real aspect. Everyone was like 'Ooh, strong style, let's work that way.' What? That's not going to help with longevity whatsoever. We should do everything opposite of what they're doing. I think everyone being so athletic these days, the audience is trained to love the moves, not the character. It's ingrained in these guys' brains that's the way to go. I had a dark match with TNA in 2010, and it was a really basic dark match with a lot of character involved, and someone who had been in TNA for a while saying that's not the stuff that gets over anymore. I'm just like 'what are you talking about?' He said I needed to showcase my moves. That's not what I was trained to do. If you're going to to that, strategically place it somewhere special. If you do a really cool move, don't have a guy kick out of it. That kills it."
Russo: We're kind of on the outside looking in, and I don't understand what's going on. The WWE this time last year, they've lost 800,000 viewers in the last year. That guy coming up to you saying that's not what the fans want anymore, where's the facts to back that up? If the audience is going the other way, I'm an idiot, irrelevant, behind the times. We have the facts and numbers. Less and less people are watching wrestling on a weekly basis. I know first hand at the Performance Center, they're putting the emphasis on the match. Look at what the numbers are telling you. What does the mass audience really want? Now that you see the landscape, what's your feeling on that?
"I don't like it. It's boring to me, honestly. I'm not getting booked on indy shows as much when I was in TNA, because I don't fit what this niche market likes to see. That's fine, I know I can have a good match with anybody. I'm looking at everything going on, it's not selling tickets the right way, it's not making us money. There are guys that are doing well with that stuff. I just wonder, and it's no disrespect because I love some of the guys going out there doing cool moves, how long are you going to be able to do that? I don't want to be in wheelchair when I'm 40. I've done enough leg drops from the top rope to know that at 31, I don't feel like doing it every night. It's very confusing, because one week they want something, then the next week it's a little different, and it could be completely different a month from now. You look at all the injuries to the guys who have been working that style that's very moved base. Workhorses like Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins, because you're not supposed to do that 6 nights a week. I have a lot of respect for guys that can do that, but man."
Russo: I said this just the other day, I'd love to know the amount of wrestling injuries in the ring by decade. I would love to the the numbers. I think it would be mind blowing. It's not professional wrestling anymore. When you say that, I know what it is. Today is not that. I know we have to evolve the sport. The MLB added the DH, basketball added the three point shot. What they don't change is the very foundation of the game. They've changed the foundation in wrestling, it's not professional wrestling anymore. That's cool if it's drawing more than professional wrestling used to draw. When you're seeing a 15 year decline, why continue to go in this direction?
"It's mind boggling. I wake up every day thinking of professional wrestling. It's what I've trained for ten years since I started. I felt like that stuff I did in TNA, I was just getting rolling with something. Early 2014 they started rolling out my character, EC3 was getting hot being the nephew of Dixie Carter. They were investing in characters, we had a good crew doing house shows. We had veterans like Bully Ray and Ken Anderson. We thought we were on to something here. Some people may say that my time in TNA was a cup of coffee. I think I did something pretty special, and I'll never take that away from myself. I feel like it taught me way more than I can comprehend. There's more to that character, and more development for me in the future. People had some interest in that stuff. Walking Dead, Dexter, True Detective, look at the ratings on those shows. The foundation of wrestling could stay the way it was, but evolve with characters. You don't have to be cartoony characters from the early 90s, you can do something like what we started to do. Look at Lucha Underground. Amazing."
Russo: It was about a year and a half ago when I started consulting at TNA, and it was a big secret and nobody could know. I wasn't allowed to go to TV or any of that stuff. When I had their ear, we hit over 2 million people. Not every week, but we were hitting over two million people. It had gone down, and got back to a 1.3 or 1.4 million. I could see over a couple of weeks that the more I spoke to John Gaburick, the more he knew about writing television than I could ever know in my life. I was connected to Vince McMahon's hip for five years, I learned from the absolute best. When I saw he knew more than me, I thought it was no problem. Finally it got out that I was consulting, and I was out of a job. That week John Gaburick did an interview with Grantland. He made the statement that the wrestling fans have made it loud and clear that the wrestling fans wanted wrestling, and they were going to give them wrestling. I remember when I read that comment, I said "what wrestling fans told you that?" They just had a couple of shows in New York City, where that's what they want. When I was writing I cared about the world, not New York City. I haven't watched the show in ages, but it's a tournament now, nothing but matches. They've went from 1.4 million to 350,000 people. Here's the amazing thing, they continue to go in that direction. Your character was on such a different level, it wasn't like writing wrestling, it was like writing a tv show. Do you think some of the breakdown happened because you had wrestling writers and your performance was above that? Maybe they couldn't write up to your performance.
"I don't know. I've gone over it in my head once or twice. Maybe I was written into a wall and they couldn't get me out of it. I was pitching ideas. I thought I knew what the character's next move would be. They weren't very receptive to it. I love the writers there. I have no beef with anybody at TNA. They basically got me on the map. I would dare say that they had a great time writing some of this materal (for my character). John Gaburick was always on board. Dave Lagana was always producing my segments and telling me how he thought it would go. I was pitching ideas to these guys and it felt like there was always just another talent coming through the door, that they were going to focus on more than this. I don't know why. There's been so many changes in TNA and directional changes. They don't know where to go, they're all about the wrestling, but that's not what is making wrestling thrive right now."
Russo: I can remember sitting in a hotel room, because everything was a big secret, and John Gaburick had shot this vignette with you that wasn't even going to air. He showed it to me, and it was in the apartment, with Christy Hemme there, and it was the overhead shot of you going room to room. He showed me this and I said 'John, are you out of your mind? This is incredible. This is a great piece of work, one of the best things I'd ever seen.' They had you with Ken Anderson, the perfect person to work with. He got the creepy bastard thing over huge. Christy, I'm watching from home, was putting together the best performance I've ever seen Christy do. I'm putting together notes and Christy is phenomenal. The whole thing was falling into place, and all of a sudden, we're just doing wrestling. Where is the proof this stuff is working?
"I feel like this character, maybe it's good he's taking time off. He could be reintroduced, let's just say you want to keep the wrestling theme going, you can have somebody like me who doesn't have to do any of that. Not saying I wouldn't do it, I'm very capable of doing it, but have a guy that's a really great wrestler, go against a guy who doesn't need to wrestler. Wouldn't that be a great antagonist?"
Russo: I have to make excuses for the writers and the creative. It's right in front of your face and I don't understand how you don't see it. They're too close to it. They're too wrapped up in it that they don't see the obvious. There's a Sam Shaw character somewhere in this business, and there's no spot for him in wrestling because of these high flying spot monkeys. What's Sam Shaw going to do? He's going to cripple every one of them one by one, so there will be a spot for Sam Shaw. There's such a tailor made, no brainer story. Bro, you are so good, you should be in The Walking Dead. You should be in legit acting. I hope you're looking into that.
"Oh yeah. "
Russo: You're too good for the business. They want these spot monkeys that are a dime a dozen. Great characters are few and far between. Unfortunately, when they have a great character, they ruin him too. Look at Bray Wyatt. If you can't figure out what to do with Bray Wyatt, should you have a job as a writer in the wrestling business? Can you imagine you doing something with that guy?
"I'm begging for it. I've been told for the past six years every time I go for a tryout in certain places, I'm told there are probably ten guys with the same look, same build that are in my way. My answer was 'Okay, that's fine.' Recently, I don't care. I'm straight up, it seems like you have a problem. You need to fire these guys and hire me."
Russo: Who are the ten guys in your way? I'd love to see them. I've seen you perform. Your talent it too good for the industry. They're not equipped to write for guys like you and Bray Wyatt. That's going to hurt you at the end of the day. You have such a great day. Are you taking acting lessons?
"I have a couple of contacts and agencies here in Florida. I'm getting casting calls here and there, I'm getting auditions for a couple of things. I had a tiny part in Graceland in Miami. I was contacted to be an extra in Ballers in Miami. It seems like there's a lot of business going on in Miami as opposed to Los Angeles these days. LA is the mecca for acting, but a lot of stuff going to Florida. I've lived in Florida my whole life, so I'm trying to make the best of it and cater to my talents. Pro wrestling isn't making me money anymore. I do some indies here and there, I've had some tryouts lately, but it's gut wrenching to see something you love so much going in a direction you don't agree with. But who am I?"
Russo: It's going in a direction that is not working. The numbers back that up. It's not your opinion or mine, it's factual. It's not working. Can you imagine you in a promo with Bray? It'd be Frankenstein vs. Dracula. If you had a legit writer writing that story? I know you recently had a tryout at the Performance Center, did somebody set up that tryout, and did they know who you were? Had anyone seen your work on tv?
"I think they have seen it, but they make it more like a mystery, like they haven't. I just went down there and busted my ass. I love that type of training environment and think it's something I could thrive in and get better at. I think I would excel and rise above and be something more special than a lot of what they have there. That's no disrespect to any of them. I had a great time down there. Everybody was cool, but in the long run I don't care about them. I'm trying to make money and support my family, and if anybody doesn't like what I'm doing there, tough luck."
Russo: I've seen this happen over and over in the wrestling business. It's really political. Somehow the cream always finds a way to rise to the top. You can't keep good talent down. The business is all about making money. What's going to make you money? Good talent. Great talent always rises to the top because they make the company money. When I was consulting for TNA, your character was the one I was most excited to work for. It was a lost art, and I knew it, and you were so good at it that it blew my mind. I hope sitting there now not being with TNA that you understand all the things I'm telling you.
"When I was in the midst of trying to put that character together, you have that initial 'am I doing this the right way? Am I doing justice the right way.' You want to be successful in anything you do. Once I saw it all play out I thought it was great. I was having the most fun I'd ever had. I did all of the moves back in the day, I had a lot of different characters. This was something I could sink my teeth into and grasp. When they put me with Ken Anderson and got the creepy bastard thing over and Christy Hemme, I thought it meshed well. It was a character I could have longevity with. It's heartbreaking when you're doing everything your told and they don't have anything for you. It messes with your head, especially in a business like this. Not saying it's like paranoia going on backstage, but everyone's fighting for a spot. When you come to work and see last month you had a solid program with Gunner, then this month we're not being used, it's like, did we do something wrong? Did someone else do something wrong? We know we're two of the guys who busted our butts. We had a hard working roster, but we're doing everything we had to in order to be the best."
Russo: You threw Gunner's name out there. The fact that the two of you were let go blows my mind. When the office gives you the "we have nothing for you," then who should be the one to get fired? The writers who have nothing for you, and it's their job, or the talent waiting for the writers to give them something?
"True. Some unfortunate things happened. Santana Garrett didn't re-sign, so I didn't have the Samuel and Brittany storyline going anymore. I'm wondering what they were going to do when I came back to TV, and of course nothing was going on. We also had a change in network. We went from something like Spike TV, which was pretty edgy, going to Destination America, which we didn't know much about. Nobody's really watching their channel to watch River Monsters. Do they have this big say about what's going to be on TNA programming? The more I'm in the business, the more I have to come to grips with something like that. Maybe DA wasn't too privy of the idea of the creepy bastard being on their network. There's only two hours a week of wrestling, and you can only feature so many people."
Russo: Yeah, but this is the same network I just watched a live exorcism on. I remember when TNA was starting and Jerry Jarrett was in charge. We were talking about the salaries of the guys, and back then they were so low, it was embarrassing. Jerry's going through the list, and I'm thinking every match could be a wrestler's last. You're putting your health on the line. I said 'Jerry, you can't pay that guy so little.' He looked at me serious as a heart attack and said 'Vince are you kidding me? They'll pay us to wrestle on our show.' He was absolutely right. I can't think of how many guys at TNA I worked with and told them they were out of their mind to do this for what TNA was paying them. Guys like you and Gunner, who are looking at this as a business to support your family, you have those dozens of wrestlers who love wrestling that unfortunately will do it for free. When it gets to TNA changing networks and less money, they're going to go with the guys who will wrestle for free. You're better than that, Gunner's better than that. I'm sure that played 90 percent into the decision. I get so down on these guys, the wrestling business has a way of making people feel so worthless, like they were doing a favor having you on their show. A lot of the guys fall into that trap and end up working for nothing. Those who understand it's a business, they're on the outside looking in.
"If that's the reality now, I don't care if you don't book me in New York or New Jersey. If you're not going to pay for my flight and trans and hotel, I don't need it. I'll sit down here in Florida, do my artwork, sell my artwork, go to the gym. I'm fine. I love pro wrestling, but it's hard to love it right now."
Russo: You're a big comic book guy, right? You know Jason Aaron?
Russo: He was on the show. We had a big discussion, and I told him I thought Thor was feminine, and he didn't like that, I had to give him a hard time. I pitched to him that I wanted to do a comic book about the wrestling business and what it's really like. The who's sleeping with whose wife, the politics. Nobody on TV will do it, because nobody understands it. Somebody could make a fortune going on mainstream television with the real deal. Jason thought it was a phenomenal idea. With some comic books they want the story and the art, I can't do that! Bro, might you be interested in doing something like that? Your artwork is unbelievable.
"I'm always interested in doing something like that. Thank you, that's my main source of income."
Russo: I think that would be a huge seller. I think you'd finally get your television show.
"Let's make that our baby. Then when you get it on TV, I can be your star."
Russo: I'd love to talk about it, and see if we can develop it further. You're a great actor, and one of the best artists I've ever seen. That's why I'm not worried about a Sam Shaw, I know how talented you are. I hate to say it, but those who makes decisions in wrestling don't appreciate who they should, and have no clue what they have at their finger tips.
"I've heard it all. 'Your hair isn't right, your tattoos suck, there's too many 230 pound guys with your look, you're only 6'1.' I think I'm 6'2, but come on. Just tell me no, I'm never going to get a job there. Tell me that."
Russo: I appreciate you coming on here and being honest about your experience and what you're going through. There are a lot of people who won't do that, and I think people breaking in to know that about the business. People ask me what advice I'd give to someone who wants to be a writer in wrestling, and I say the best advice I could give is to find another line of work. I wouldn't want anybody to go through what I went through. I appreciate your honesty. The cream rises to the top.
"Thank you, I appreciate it."
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