I recently interviewed former WWE and TNA Superstar Ken Anderson. In part one of the interview below, Anderson discussed his time with WWE, growing up a wrestling fan, his WWE release, his new professional wrestling school called The Academy: School Of Professional Wrestling, which opened earlier this month and more.
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You've obviously got a lot going on. I want to talk to you about your school that you're opening. But with your school and everything, did you grow up a wrestling fan?
"I did not, which is strange. I was sort of a fan in the 80s when Saturday Night's Main Event was on. I remember I watched it a few times with my dad, sort of got hooked then. It was the Saturday morning cartoon I was into, but then, for some reason, I fell off. None of my friends really watched wrestling, nobody at my school that I knew of watched wrestling, so I just didn't and I always had that mentality that, you hear it so much today and it drives me crazy, it's just, it's fake, and a bunch of guys rolling around on the floor with each another, wearing tights and so… But I sort of fell in love with wrestling when I was about 21 years old. That was '96, '97, when Steve Austin really started having his big run. I started watching about 6 months prior to WrestleMania 14 and never looked back."
That was such a great time to be a wrestling fan.
"Man, it was awesome! And I remember, Daivari and I were just talking about this the other day, how everybody was over at that time. You watched the opening match till the last bell, you cared about it. You wanted to watch. And the thing about it was I started to watch just to see what Austin would do every week. One of my buddies kind of talked me into watching one night and when I saw Austin drive out of the arena in a pickup truck and a six-pack of beer on his lap, flipping the camera guy off, I was like, 'that guy's awesome! I want to be that guy.' So I just started watching every week to see what he would do and I got sucked into all the other characters. It was a really great time."
Were you a fan of WCW too?
"I was not. I was not and I was now. When I look back at old tapes and stuff, I enjoy it. But, at the time, I looked at WCW like, I saw two things. When I looked at WWE, I saw all these larger than life characters like The Rock, and Austin, and The Nation Of Domination, Val Venis, people like that, Marc Mero, Sable. And when I looked at WCW, it seemed to me like just guys who were in a bar fight. Everybody was wearing jeans and t-shirts. And it just wasn't as colorful to me, if that makes sense. So I didn't really watch."
What about Goldberg? What were your thoughts on him because there was such a rivalry between WWF and WCW back then? It seems like if you liked Austin, you almost had to hate Goldberg and vice versa.
"Yeah, I mean, when I was a fan, I did not like Goldberg. I was not a Goldberg fan and that's sort of attitude I took, 'oh, they're just trying to rip off Steve Austin' and then, when I got into the business, I started appreciating guys much, much more. Guys that I didn't appreciate before, I started to. Like Booker T. Booker T always drove me crazy, drove me nuts. And then, when I really became a fan of the business, and started watching every week, and then, I got to know him. I got to WWE and got to know him and started working with him. Then, my appreciation for him grew even further, but yeah."
Where did you go to wrestling school?
"I went to a little place in Green Bay, Wisconsin called The Dojo Of Pain and it was run by Eric Hammers and Mike Krause, who wrestled as Mike Mercury. But the guys, they never made it to the national scene. But I was really fortunate in the fact that I lucked out when I signed on with these guys because they knew what they were talking about. They knew psychology. They knew how to tell a story. And they knew the basic fundamentals of wrestling and they still do amazing because we're still friends today, 18 years later. And the conversations that we have, there was never a point where the student surpassed the teacher. We just became like the same level and I obviously had a different understanding from being behind the curtain at WWE and seeing what goes on there. But those guys already knew that. Those guys gave me such a great education. I was really lucky because, at the time, there were about three or four other wrestling schools in the area that were just garbage. And had I made that phone call, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation today because, that's the thing, there are so many bad wrestling schools out there. And it's not necessarily, when I go to a show and I see people do things wrong, or just 'who'd you get trained by?' and they tell you that they got trained by one of these goofs, it's like, it wasn't their fault. It's not their fault they don't know any better. But it's kind of frustrating."
When you first started out in OVW, how much of, how much, by the time you left OVW, how much of that was what you learned before you went in from wrestling schools and some of the spots you did at TNA and WWE or how much of that was what you learned there?
"Man, there is so much I learned in such a short period of time. I was at OVW for about six months before I got called up to the active roster. And for five of those months, I short of just spun my wheels and treaded water. And Jim Cornette was in charge of running things and I just never really stepped out of my shell. I think right before he got fired was when first, he gave me a chance to do a promo and I finally stepped out of my shell and went, 'screw it'. I threw caution to the wind and I really went out on a limb. I got back through the curtain and he goes, 'where has that guy been?' And I remember the last match that I had before I got signed was a cage match in Green Bay. And I remember thinking at the time we put it together that it was a good match. Three months later, I got a chance to watch the match and I was just astonished at how much I had learned since then and how many things I did in the match that absolutely drove me crazy that I went, 'Oh my God, I can't believe I did that,' 'I can't believe I didn't know this,' so, yeah, it's amazing.
"I'm glad that I spent, I spent six years on the indies, trying to get a job, but I ended up, we made it, obviously, but I was just spinning my wheels. And there was just so much stuff that we learned through making mistakes, or trial and error, that when Daivari and I decided to put this thing together, put the wrestling school together, it was like, 'hey, we want to be able to have our students not make the same mistakes we made.' It's like a parent thing, parental sort of thing to say, 'I want to make sure my kids don't make the same mistakes I do,' but it's true and we made a lot of mistakes."
Have you guys kind of looked at also NXT and just kind of seen what they're doing and been like, 'well, that's… things there could be done better,' especially as far as personalities and character development, things like that?
"See, I really haven't watched much wrestling in the last few years, but the NXT stuff that I have seen, and I just see bits and pieces here and there, because Daivari's brother, Ariya, is, seems like he's almost there, almost to the WWE and I have some friends that are wrestling fans. And, obviously, the people that I still keep in contact with in the business, some of them just watch religiously. The stuff that I've seen, I've been really impressed by and it seems like they're just allowing guys to go out there and sink or swim on your own accord. 'Here's the rope. We're going to give you as much rope as you want. You can hang yourself or you can use it to throw people a lifeline, get yourself out of a sticky situation.' I mean, it's really cool and I like the entrances and stuff like that, that they're allowing people to have down in OVW. And it's getting people over on that smaller scale, so to speak, or ready for the big stage. The minute that they walk through that curtain on that big stage, people already know who they are and it's off to the races.
"When I came through, when I got to TV, nobody knew who the heck I was. I had to go out there and talk to them week after week after week to let them know, 'here, this is who I am.'"
What was it like when you finally made your main roster debut? Did you feel like you were ready or did you wish you had a little more training?
"Man, I'll tell you what, it's crazy, the feeling that I had looking back on it. I was so ready that I literally didn't care anymore about just going out there and trying to make everybody happy. And make sure that if Ricky Steamboat gave me a little piece of direction in the back, that I was going to make sure that it got into the match because he was going to be watching. And then, well, it turns out Ricky Steamboat wouldn't be watching my match anyways, so he would never… and I did so much of that leading up to when they told me, 'hey, this is your opportunity, you're going to go out there…' it was originally supposed to be, they were just taking a look at me. They brought me up from OVW to Velocity. Actually, it was going to be a dark match. And they brought me up just to do the dark match. I spent all day putting the match together with Funaki. And right at the last moment, as I'm going through the curtain, even before I went through the curtain, Dave Lagana came up to me and said, 'hey, we need to come up with a finisher for you because you're going over and welcome aboard. Oh, and this match is also going to be televised.' So, I'm sorry, the question was 'was I ready?' Absolutely. I was so ready and I think that's why I was able to sort of get off to the races so quickly as I was because I just felt like I belonged there. I knew a lot of the guys just from being around, doing dark matches, doing the tryouts, and stuff like that. And I always tried to be as humble as I could be and just shut my mouth and I tried to continue that and I just, I always thought if you worked hard and you go out there and you do your thing, when we're in the ring, my character, I'm sorry for whatever my character says. I'm sorry for whatever my character does. But this is my time to shine. I'm obviously not going to just filibuster and take all the shine and all the credit, but we're working together. But I'm going to get what's mine. And that's sort of the way I felt."
The fans really reacted to you, which is something you didn't really see a lot at that time. It was usually guys who came from WCW that hadn't debuted yet that were getting the big shots.
"And I credit Paul Heyman with a lot of that. Paul Heyman for just sort of hand-holding me and guiding me. He was down in OVW and I would still talk to him on a weekly basis, sometimes a daily basis. He would just, 'make sure you do this,' make sure you get this in,' 'make sure you get that in.' And I remember having a conversation with Dave Lagana and I was talking about, I don't remember what I was talking about, but this was probably a month or two into my run in WWE and he was like, 'we have to get you really over' and it was early, the doors had already opened and people were starting to file into the arena. This was over in England and I remember hearing, at the time when people are filing into the building, you hear a lot of 'Wooooo! Wooooo!' from all the fans. And it was, 'Wooooo! Kennedy! Wooooo! Kennedy!' and I was like, 'ummm…' I didn't say anything, but just sort of in my mind, I was like, 'well, I think I'm getting there.'"
How crazy is it that Heyman isn't involved in the creative process? Someone with such a great wrestling mind and it's not fully being used.
"It's amazing. It really is amazing. He, literally, I don't understand how somebody can… The first day that he got to OVW, he sat us down. I remember I just loved everything about him, the way that he produced the shows, so we would be there at noon, say, and he would literally read through the entire, 'here's what's going to happen on the show. Here's the dark match, here's what I want to see out of that match. Here is opening promo and they're going to cut to the ring, and blah, blah, blah. And then, we're going to go backstage and this' and it was so that everybody was on the same page. From time to time, people would throw out suggestions. 'Hey Paul, so and so is doing this earlier. Does it make sense if…' And then, 'oh yeah, you're right! That makes total sense.' So then he would change something up. It was so that everybody had sort of skin in the game. And, man, he just, the stuff he came up with, the unique ways that he filmed the backstage segments, and stuff. I remember he started doing a thing where somebody would be interviewed in a room and just as the interview was finishing, here's somebody screaming in the other room and the camera would like, 'oh, we've got to go' and run down the hall and you'd seamlessly transition into that next promo. It was so cool. Just little things like that."
During that time, there was that angle with Vince McMahon's illegitimate son and it was rumored that it was going to be you. Were you ever told that, that it was going to be you or was that just a rumor?
"Yeah, no, I was. I was told that. I had conversations with Stephanie and Vince and it was kind of like a big deal. I remember the night that Vince blew himself up in the limousine, Stephanie said, 'hey, I want to tell you something - we've got something really big for you, but I want Vince to tell you himself because he's pretty excited about it.' And then, so we did the buildup for the next few weeks, months, or whatever. And then, I got in trouble and all that went away."
Yeah, but they still built up that storyline and end up going with Hornswoggle. What was your thought when they ended the storyline that way?
"Right, great for [Hornswoggle]. I was always, I'm never ticked off when one of my buddies has something good happen for him and it turned out that that thing, that one thing, worked out really, really well for Hornswoggle. For a long time, I mean, there was never a little person that had a contract with WWE, I don't think ever. And then, let alone, he was there for 10 or 11 years. He had an amazing run. He did some pretty cool stuff while he was there. But yeah, it was just, look, I got in trouble and they said, there was that whole thing where 10 of us that were named in the scandal, which really was B.S. to begin with. And it was like they were just looking for some people to say, 'hey, Congress, we're doing something about this. We really care about this, so we're taking these 10 guys' and they put us on ESPN, and then, suspended us and gave us big fines. And it just so happened it was like a week before they were going to do the reveal. And I remember I landed, I came home from RAW, flew home, got to my house. I got a call from the lady, from Johnny Ace's secretary, and she said, 'hey, Vince wants to see you in his office - you've got to fly to Stamford, so they booked me a flight and I'm like, 'this is a big deal! Here we go! Off to the freakin' races!' And then, I get to Stamford and a car came to pick me up [and] dropped me off at Titan Towers and there were nine other guys there and everybody looked kind of sombre, like, 'this isn't a good thing.' 'Oh really?' And I remember, Edge was the first guy to go in. And he went in and he talked Johnny, Vince, and the attorney there, Ed whatever his name is, the attorney, the big, high profile attorney that works for Vince. And I remember Edge came walking out and was like, 'I can't say anything. It's not good.' He put his head down and walked out. I was the third or fourth person to go in there. Funaki went before me. Yeah. But the thing was, look, it happened. I did it, sort of, but I take [responsibility] for it. I did it. I put myself in that situation to begin with, so… "
And it's pretty well documented, you came back, and then, you had a match, I think it was a 10-man tag with Orton.
The whole thing with Randy Orton, where he got angry with the spot that match, was that something that came out of nowhere? Had there been problems before that?
"Randy and I were super tight. We rode together for, like, two years and our wives would go get their nails done together and stuff like that, when they'd come on the road and stuff. Our wives, his ex-wife and my ex-wife talk to this day. So, no, I'm not into conspiracy theories, but I think that was kind of a hit job, just the way it all went down, the way that day played out, and it's too long of a story to get into and I really don't want to get too much into detail. But the thing is that I was accused of dropping him on his head. You can watch that video in slow motion, high definition, and you can see that his neck never even comes into contact with the… He lands as flat as flat can be and I called him the next day and said, 'hey, dude, I watched the tape and you didn't land on your neck, man.' And he was like, 'well, umm, okay.' And then, he called me a little later and said that he had gone out to the truck and watched the tape with Johnny Ace, which I don't know why you would do that, but he said he went out to the truck, watched the tape, and he said, 'from that angle, you can't see, but there is a different angle and you can see that I landed rally high on my traps.' And I was like, 'well, that's not your neck,' and also, you can actually see the shadow of his neck on the canvas if you slow it down. So anyway, here's the thing, he went to Vince and said something, that I was dangerous to work with. And I think [John] Cena had a hand in that too. Like, Cena helped out and Cena said, 'hey, we need to go to Vince' because I didn't get along with him too well. And then, Vince just, I think at the time, I had been getting in so much trouble, back to back to back that it was my fault for being there in the first place again, where Vince was just tired of hearing my freakin' name. He was like, 'you know what? Just get rid of him. I'm tired of hearing his name. I'm tired of him being a pain and a potential problem.' Here I am and here they are, a publicly traded company, I'm doing and saying things that can reflect negatively upon the company. I completely understand it. I put myself in that position."
Make sure to check back next week for the second part of the interview, where Anderson discussed the problems facing TNA, the problems with wrestling today, if he has been contacted about a WWE return and more. For more information on The Academy: School Of Professional Wrestling, which opened this month, click here.