Today Don Callis is an executive with Impact Wrestling as he’s one of the company’s vice presidents. But before taking this leadership role, Callis worked as a wrestler, manager and color commentator.
He got his start in his native Canada before working for WWF from 1997-99. There he created a unique character somewhat reminiscent of Seth Rollins’ Messiah gimmick in which he felt he was a savior of those he managed. Then he moved onto ECW where he was a commentator before stepping away from the wrestling business, only to return as an Impact VP. Callis talked about the goals he’s had in wrestling since the beginning when he was interviewed by Chris Van Vliet.
“If you were to look at a couple of promos I did in WWF in ’97, I think I was the first person, maybe, to come out as a total unknown in a live RAW. I was not calling out a wrestler. I called out Vince McMahon,” stated Callis.
“I said, ‘I wanted to run the World Wrestling Federation’. I wanted to run the wrestling business. People thought, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting kind of bullet point’. It was true. I never had an interest in being a pro wrestling manager or being a color commentator.
“I wanted to be the person pulling the strings. I was 29 years old when I said that and I don’t think the time was right. Vince McMahon was clearly not a guy who was going to allow other people into the tent.
“They had offered me jobs to move to [WWE’s headquarters in] Stamford on three different occasions, which I turned down. That’s always been the goal. You don’t want to be the person acting. You probably want to be the person that finances the studio, that finances the movies.”
WWE clearly recognized that Callis has a great mind for the business as he says they offered him positions at their headquarters. He was asked specifically what WWE had in mind for him at their Stamford office.
“Being part of creative. As I recall, I was one of the first people ever to? I wrote six weeks of television to Kurrgan to try to get him to a different level. I wrote it in a week-by-week format; that would be fairly common now. In 1997, it was pretty unheard of for a wrestler to write out as creative in a kind of formatting we do now today when we write episodic TV,” stated Callis.
“That was new and different. They were like, ‘Oh, maybe you should be on creative’. I did not want to be boxed into working in a cubicle in any office. I just kind of pushed back and said, ‘That’s not why I signed here. I signed to be a wrestler’. Ultimately, that didn’t work out, but we’re all a product of our time in the business. I think all of those things grow us as people.”
After leaving WWF in 1999, Callis moved onto ECW where his initial name was Cyrus the Virus. His character was presented as someone who worked for TNN which was ECW’s broadcast partner at the time. Cyrus presented legitimate issues that were going on between the network and ECW while also portraying an on-screen authority figure for ECW.
Callis talked about coming up with the Cyrus character and also Paul Heyman’s influence on it.
“I came up with the idea of doing something different that leveraged a real-life difficult situation with the network. At the same time, I had made friends with a couple of the executives there and I had pitched a few ideas,” recalled Callis.
“There used to be a show called, Dallas. It was a very famous show in the ’80s. TNN used to run the reruns and I had successfully pitched a Dallas with Callis monthly marathon of Dallas. A 24-hour loop where I and one of the stars of Dallas would talk about the show because I was a subject matter. I always looked at Dallas as a wrestling show, the way that they wrote it.
“It was germane to what we were thinking in the ’90s. I pitched this idea, which got me even closer to the network legitimately, and that caused some problems internally for me because I think that Paul [Heyman] and others did not have a great relationship with the network, but I did. It caused some issues, but ultimately, I think the portrayal of that character… I think Paul had a lot to do with it.
“Once he saw, ‘Hey, there’s something here to this office’, I think Paul looked and said, ‘Okay, how can we really turn the volume up on this character to get maximum heat, because we know the fans don’t like the network.’ So, it was a joint kind of collaboration where Paul and I worked together creatively in a non-formal setting.”
Callis is now involved, in a way, with AEW as they and Impact Wrestling have a partnership that features cross promotion. Many have compared AEW to ECW due to the innovation that both promotions have or had to break up the status quo in pro wrestling.
As someone who worked for ECW and now works with AEW, Callis was asked if it’s fair to compare the two promotions.
“You can’t really compare eras. You really can’t. I think that certainly, there was FMW before ECW, but I think that ECW pushed a lot of limits with what they did at the time. Those limits don’t exist anymore, of course, because the business has just changed so exponentially. I don’t think you can compare the two at all.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Chris Van Vliet with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.