Despite first meeting Sami Callihan as a teenager nearly a decade ago, sometimes I still have trouble differentiating work from reality. In this case, the art is truly inseparable from the artist. Most often, I find he falls somewhere in the middle of that spectrum—a shade of grey that speaks to the New Kayfabe of the modern era.
It was this, Tessa Blanchard, and more that I discussed with Sami as we march closer to Impact Wrestling's flagship event, Bound for Glory, on Sunday, October 20th, broadcasting live on pay-per-view from Chicago, Illinois. There, he will challenge Brian Cage in the main event for the Impact World Championship.
Undoubtedly a polarizing individual, the 32-year-old promoter of Pro Wrestling Revolver possesses the engaging charisma of a cult leader and unparalleled, madness-bordering artistic drive of a revolutionary.
"I helped break your dumb ass into the business," he reminisces as we sit down backstage in an empty dressing room just after the conclusion of Impact Wrestling's Las Vegas television tapings. Though I had started a few years prior to meeting Sami, he was the first one to help me travel outside of New Jersey and introduced me to a professional network that ultimately led me to where I am today. Without his mentorship and encouragement, unfathomable as it is for me to consider, it is likely I would not be in the business today.
"It's a spontaneous thing. I'm always adding little nuances to myself. Just traits. Different character abilities. I think that's the main thing you have to do if you want to be a successful professional wrestler and be successful for a long time. You look at guys like Chris Jericho, who has evolved hundreds and hundreds of times in his career."
I was a timid 18-year-old high school student when I first met "The Draw." Only back then he was the "New Horror." Just as the apocryphal myth of the human body's cells completely regenerating anew every seven years to produce a "new" person, Sami manages a way for his multilayered character to find everlasting life: "When I first started doing the 'New Horror' character, it started out as a love for fifties and sixties movie monsters. I'm a huge fan of the old Universal movie monsters, so I wanted to be completely just off the wall and turned up and be one of these monsters… That's why I did the things that I did. That went from being kind of hokey and evolved into more Devils Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses horror. And that evolved into something else. And something else. And something else. And I've done that every couple years."
It was neither the first nor the last time that Sami would evolve as a performer. Much of Sami's success can be attributed to hustling to stay ahead of the curve: "It always has to evolve. I've really prided myself: I have never stayed stagnant. I do something in my career every couple of years to make myself extremely relevant again. I'm always taking in new ideas for my character and how I actually am. [That's] one of the biggest things, it's just like real life. You're not the same person you were seven years ago, are you?"
"No," I answer. "Absolutely not."
"As a human being, you're not?"
"I think you can verify that," I chuckle, to which he concedes.
"I want to be the Impact World Heavyweight Champion."
Symmetry came to my career when I found myself debuting with Impact the same exact day as Sami on November 5th, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario at Bound for Glory. Walking through the doors terrified on my first day of an irrevocably life-changing opportunity and seeing Sami's face immediately resulted in the thought: Thank God there's someone here that I know.
"It's nerve-wracking!" Sami agrees with a raspy laugh.
Symmetry comes to Sami's career as well when, on the second anniversary of his debut with the company, he main events against Brian Cage for the Impact World Championship. Interestingly enough, it was also at Bound for Glory a year prior that Cage received his first loss in the company against his upcoming opponent.
"So it all comes full circle, now!" Sami tells me, with a manic hint of glee.
When I ask what it means for him to have this opportunity, he tells me: "It's validation. I am not a complacent person. I'm always wanting to reach that next goal. And once I get that goal, I make another goal. Then another goal. And another goal."
More than main event a pay-per-view, Sami Callihan looks to cement his legacy: "One of the reasons I signed with Impact Wrestling was I wanted to be one of the people that is known for helping turn this company around. When this company was down in the dumps—when this company was about to go out of business—I was one of the characters that came in here and helped this company become what it is. That's something that no one will ever be able to take away from me. And I feel like I've more than earned the gratification and validation of becoming the face of a company, because I should have been the face of another company years ago."
"Tessa Blanchard will never beat me. It's fact. Tessa Blanchard will never beat me."
Earlier this summer, Sami Callihan wrestled Tessa Blanchard in what was the first-ever major professional wrestling promotion that featured an intergender wrestling match as the pay-per-view main event.
"I'm a history-maker," Sami quickly acknowledges. "Possibly match of the year, as well."
I concur. It was a very powerful moment for me to officiate and one that I was thankful to be a part of; equality is a battle that I pride myself as being aligned with the right side of history on.
I remind Sami that some US states still legally forbid intergender wrestling from occurring. Given that, I ask him if the historical weight of his match with Tessa has sank in?
"One hundred percent. Those are moments that no one can ever take away from me. Being the first of anything is something you can put on your resume. And I feel like that match has changed wrestling… Impact Wrestling is going cutting edge. Impact Wrestling is okay with blurring the lines because that's what the people want."
I ask him if he sees it as much of a civil rights victory as I do?
"We made a difference," he responds, satisfied.
With that said, we both had flights to catch and soon departed. Despite not explicitly discussing it, I walked away feeling I had a better grasp of what the unspoken sense of New Kayfabe was all about.
Sami Callihan challenges Brian Cage for the Impact World Championship when Impact Wrestling presents Bound for Glory on Sunday, October 20th, in Chicago, Illinois. Tickets are available now or you can order it live on pay-per-view at FITE TV.
Kris Levin is a traveling storyteller, professional wrestling referee, contributor for Ripley's Believe It or Not!, and everybody's favorite nephew. He can be seen internationally on IMPACT Wrestling as their most junior official, #KidRef, and on social media at @RefKrisLevin.