I had the opportunity to speak with TNA color commentator "Pope" D'Angelo Dinero, who has also been known as Elijah Burke during his runs on the indy circuit and WWE. Pope opens up to Wrestling Inc about TNA's big move to Pop TV, in addition to sharing stories about OVW, negotiating with WWE in recent years, and addresses rumors of his retirement.
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TNA made a pretty big announcement that TNA was moving to Pop TV. How did you find out about it, and were you surprised?
"I think we all knew the move was coming. It was talked about a lot in the industry prior to the news breaking, rumblings that Destination America and TNA's relationship was coming to an end. It was a surprise that we moved to Pop, but not really a surprise that the move was coming.
"Dixie Carter is great when it comes to making sure the best things are done for her company. I think the move to Pop TV will be much better for TNA, the viewing audience. It puts us back in many more homes and I think it will reflect in the ratings. Many people who haven't been able to find us since moving to DA can have that opportunity to locate us and enjoy Impact Wrestling every week.
I've noticed that the President of Pop TV Brad Schwartz has been glowing about TNA. What's it like to have the President of the Network step up and talk about how important TNA will be to the channel?
"That's the number one thing, right there, when it comes to professional wrestling. Any genre of entertainment, but specifically when it comes to professional wrestling, you have to be on a channel that supports wrestling fully. It's very important to have that brand being supported by the channel that's going to build that brand, and be a fan. I think that's what you refer to when you speak about the President of Pop TV. He grew up a Wrestling fan, and he's still a wrestling fan. He's more than thrilled to have that as a staple on his network to help build his brand as well as the evolution of Impact wrestling.
What do you think about the move to Tuesdays? This is the first time since WWE's ECW that we've had a major wrestling show on Tuesday nights.
"I think that move to Tuesdays is going to be great. I think that not being stuck in the middle of the week keeps that trend of waiting and anticipating. Raw comes on Mondays and people wait for Monday to roll around to see what happens, maybe after a pay-per-view. Speaking of the pay-per-views, that Sunday, fans don't have to wait that much longer to see the results or the fallout after a PPV. I think it's going to be a really good move. I'm happy with the move to Pop TV. TNA is rolling along, and it's not a rebranding process, because it's not necessary."
How were you approached to rejoin TNA Wrestling as a color commentator this year?
"Myself and TNA were never out of contact over the time of my departure. Dixie Carter, it's great when you can call your boss a friend, but everyone that knows her knows she's a very relatable person. She's probably one of the cooler and better bosses anyone would ever work for in this lifetime. I'm in Nashville right now and I can head over to her house if I wanted to and just sit back and talk to her. Talk about an open door policy, her home is literally always open to you. The timing was just right. We had prior discussions that when business was right, we'd do business again if everything falls into place. It worked, the stars aligned. I went, it was a no-brainer."
So there was no bad blood with you and TNA?
"No no. I've talked about why I left, why there was no re-signing of the contract. At the time, it was the right thing for me to do as a performer. However TNA felt for them at the time, it was right for them. It was not a bad thing at all. One one door closes, another door opens. I never closed that door to TNA obviously. Here I am again, and we're back to business."
Were there ever any talks with you and other companies about coming in?
"There were some talks with the E' (WWE). It didn't flourish as fast or as quick as it was hoped to be. There was contact made with Triple H. I spoke to higher-ups in the company as well. In the end, the opportunity for the commentary job opened up. It was more of a 'wait and see' type of thing with WWE at the time. TNA offered the opportunity and it fight for me at this time in my career."
We saw you technically get back in the ring at Bound For Glory, but do you see yourself getting back to in-ring action for TNA?
"That's one of the more intriguing things about the commentating things. Pope becomes a color commentator and sits in a seat often occupied by retired, semi-retired or inactive wrestlers or entertainers. As young as this blood is that runs in my body, daddy, many fans and promoters see me as retired. I'm not retired at all. I wrestle to this day. I just won the OVW Southern Tag Titles with Marcus Anthony, who is a former NXT/FCW performer for WWE. I stay very active. When it comes to getting back in the ring for TNA, I don't see a purpose right now. There have been talks about it and mentions, about getting me back in the ring. Fans ask all the time. I stand firm in my belief that there's no point at this specific time for Pope to get back in the ring without being validated. If it's not for Gold, what's the point? If it's not for a special, meaningful purpose, there's no point in me getting back in the TNA ring. What else can be done besides what I just mentioned? It has to be worthwhile."
OVW has managed to stick around forever.
"Absolutely. OVW's head hocho, my grandpa in this wrestling industry Danny Davis, he's an old stubborn guy. He's a fighter, very resilient, very crafty. He knows how to get by and make things work. OVW will always be Pope's home, it's where I got my start. They birthed me into this business. Jim Cornette and Danny Davis, they birthed me, little black afro-haired kid from Jacksonville, Florida coming up to Louisville, Kentucky. They saw something in this guy who was an amateur boxer who took 20 steps to get across the ring (laughs). A guy who couldn't throw a punch without using his whole body, making contact, making guys go 'Ouch! Lighten up kid.' Jim Cornette called me and said 'You don't know a headlock from a wristlock. You have something that we can't train, there's an intangible. If you come back up here, we can't guarantee you a contract. I know you have a career in law enforcement, but you have something that can't be taught.' On my five year anniversary with the Jacksonville Sherrif's office I went to Kentucky, a year later I had a contract. I'm forever grateful to Jim Cornette, to Danny Davis, and everyone that helped me along the way in OVW. I'm thankful for that building, that training system that OVW set up and still to this day provides helping guys reach their dreams and aspriations of making it to the big stage. I'm always going to be around for OVW. I'm I'm near to lend a helping hand, that's what I'm going to do. There are some interesting things to come. Pope's always going to stay active.
"On another note, the flip side, it caused fans and promoter's to think I'm done. It's caused other promotions on the indy scene to think I'm done. It kind of hurt the bookings on that. Hey guys, I'm not retired. If I'm not gonna wrestle, I'll make an appearance if you want."
I always ask people who have been through OVW, do you have any crazy ass Rip Rogers stories?
"OH YEAH! I'll give you one, I'm sure he'll love it. As recounted by a guy by the name of Tim Ash. They had to call an ambulance to OVW. I was a youngin' when I heard the story, but there was a hole in the bathroom wall, not a big hole is something, but a hole like someone had ran their knee into it. What was said was that someone was in the bathroom with the door locked, and somebody was in there wheezing, or making a distressing sound. They knocked on the door asking if someone was okay. You could hear the sound again, and Jim (Cornette) has to use the restroom and he's cutting a promo 'You mothereffer! Get outta here!' You could hear the wheezing, and after a while they hear a thump. When they finally get inside the restroom, Rip apparently was on the toilet, and whatever happened happened and passed out and went head first into the wall. It stuck with me forever. Rip is still there in OVW, helping guys see the light. He's a very funny character. I went in and saw him earlier this year, and had to get away from him because I couldn't stop laughing."
Tell us about your Love-Alive charity.
"We're coming into our fourth year. We recently became 501C3, we are a legit organization, and we'll be doing our love drive January 9. What we do in the Love-Alive charity, is to help people get the help they need to help themselves. For the past three years, we've gathered and fed over 2,000 people in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. We don't feed them out of a truck, cold sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches or soup. Burger King partners with me to use their property, and we feed these people hot burgers. Homeless people, the same people pushing buggies, sleeping under the expressway. I document it every year. The reason I document it so people can see what I'm doing is legit. Their funds are being used for a great purpose. We're giving toothbrushes, toothpaste, feminine products, combs, brushes and the like. If anyone has clothes, shoes, anything they can bring down at January 9 at noon to the downtown location of Union Street Burger King. Anything people can bring down, please do so. We're still a very young charitable organization. We're in the growing process and we're facing a lot of growing pains. As of 2015, I've had 25 gracious people to donate towards the cause and I wanted to shout out John Gaburick, my boss, as one of those 25 people. It's very rare that people in the industry who support what you do, whether it's a softball game or your kid's playing in a championship game. They may support you from afar, but not actively. We need many many more donations. We feed them ribs, chicken, burger sandwiches from Burger King. It's something to put smiles on people's faces, and love them while they're actively alive to feel the love." (You can donate at this link).
I think that's a fantastic thing. Please guys, check out the Love Alive charity and support it. Also, check out Pope's Pro Wreslting Tees page, you can get a shirt of Pope peeing on "your name."
"(Laughs) Thank you for that by the way. It's not going to be on your name, you're telling the person, 'your name here.' So when you get pissed off, you put your shirt on and make sure you walk in front of the right person."
Be sure to check out the second part of our interview with Pope soon, and watch TNA on Pop TV every Tuesday night.