Impact Wrestling EVP Don Callis worked under Paul Heyman during the last few years of ECW. Callis was able to pick Heyman’s brain about creating talent and he discussed that on Busted Open.
“I think one of the things that I learned from Paul Heyman is picking someone and trying to figure out a way to really do a deep dive of who they are and turning them into and helping them discover who they can be. So that’s kind of one of the things that I like to do best,” said Callis. “So, I’ll take a guy like Ace Austin as an example and start working with him on, ‘hey, you’re a great wrestler but that’s not going to sell tickets.’ So I’ll start working with Ace on other areas of his character.
“I’ve been doing the same with Trey Miguel and DAGA and it’s like that really deep character dive. Sometimes you come up with things that are good but it’s not good for the person so you have to figure out what they are about and where they are coming from, so that is what makes it fun. We are in a business that it’s the next man up. People come and go. I remember when Johnny Impact left and it was like, ‘oh my God, what are we going to do?’ I love John, but we’re just going to make somebody else. It is what we do.”
Callis brought up Austin and wanting to present him as more of a character instead of just a wrestler. He talked more about Impact having so much potential for the Ace Austin character.
“He has embraced it. We know the guy can do all the moves and it’s phenomenal. There was a moment when he won the X-Division title, he and Tessa Blanchard were on top of the ladder ? both going to Bound for Glory for the title ? and Ace Austin knocked her off the ladder,” recalled Callis. “He grabbed the belt and instead of doing what I thought he would have done a few months ago which was celebrating, he turned and looked to the people kind of like, ‘yeah.’ They heeled the hell out of him.
“Those little things, which didn’t take any athleticism to do that, but it’s the smart thing to do because you are now engaging the people. In our business, it is hard to have the suspension of disbelief and to have people actually hate a heel. There are very few in our industry and when I see that, I think that is money. I get very excited.”
When Callis joined ECW in 1999, he was originally a commentator before portraying a representative of TNN which was engaged in a real-life feud with ECW. Callis talked about what Heyman thought of him when he arrived and how his Cyrus character developed.
“I came in as a favor to Lance Storm, who Paul was trying to keep happy. Lance would tell me that Paul Heyman doesn’t know what to do with you. Do I have you wrestle? Announce? Manager? So, for the first few months I was there I don’t think Paul knew what to really do with me,” admitted Callis. “I had taken some of the guys that I had seen backstage in terms of Vince McMahon’s guys and say that I want to be this guy who acts like those guys but isn’t really in the office even though he pretends to be.
“It was kind of like the George Costanza character where he would show up to work there even though he doesn’t work there and act as he belongs. So, I was kind of doing that and would tell people to not worry as I am part of the office and it was kind of based on that. Paul Heyman said that the office isn’t ECW, it is TNN so we kind of took it from there.”
On-screen authority figures are commonplace now in wrestling but that wasn’t the case 20 years ago.
“At that time, it was kind of the only heel authority angle; before that was Vince McMahon who had done it better than anybody but I liked to think that we pulled it off nicely,” stated Callis.
“It’s so funny that when I went into TNA in 2003 they wanted me to do the same gimmick of the authority figure and in 2003 I made the comment that I thought that the authority figure was overdone in wrestling and it shouldn’t be done anymore but is still being done today.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Busted Open Radio with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.