Originally Posted to Medium on June 17, 2016
Six AM comes very early. Over my fifteen years traveling for wrestling, I’ve spent many an early morning at the airport. Security lines are interesting places, especially at that time of day and even worse on holidays. On the day before Thanksgiving 2007, I was traveling from Tampa, Florida where we had just finished Smackdown to Little Rock where I was spending the holiday with a friend. And at that very early morning hour, I saw someone who I hadn’t seen in over three years — Gail Kim.
I’ve worked with hundreds of talents across four different companies during the last two decades. Each have such amazing stories of what got them there, what obstacles they had to over come, and their triumphs to find peace, success and happiness in their personal and professional lives. Time always tells the best story, not a single interaction or moment. Memories, like the catching up with Gail in 2007 at the Tampa Airport, all came flooding back this past week when it was announced that Gail was being inducted in the TNA Hall of Fame.
There was a lot of emotion this week in Orlando. Obviously the incidents involving the shooter at the Pulse Nightclub and the senseless loss of life weighs heavy on our minds. We need to, as a culture, be more accepting of others. Not let hate in our heart or the thoughts in our mind hurt others anymore. Differences need to be celebrated, not cut down. Our entire company stood together with the city of Orlando less than twenty hours after the shooting to show our support. To see an audience of people gather so quickly in the city of this tragedy was very powerful. They were not afraid instead want a night of entertainment to try to take the horror of that day off their mind. The silence in the audience for the tribute before Slammiversary was powerful; full of. so much raw emotion from the audience and performers. We all must work every day to continue pushing love into the world instead of hate. Take a moment and read Josh Mathews blog about this here — http://bit.ly/JMBlog3
We continued to work this week and two nights later, the roster assembled again on the stage for the announcement of the 2016 TNA Hall of Fame Inductee. It was a pure surprise for Gail. You could see the emotion in her eyes the moment it happened. She felt the love from everyone on that stage and the wrestling business after having worked so hard over the last fifteen years; through ups and downs to build a body of work that everyone respected. I did get emotional in that moment because I was so happy for her. I’m not only being a fan of hers but am lucky to have been there through some of her. best times and some of her worst.
I first met Gail in 2002 when she came in for a WWE tryout in Toronto. She was one of three women (Traci Brooks, Gail Kim and Beth Phoenix) being looked at that day. On that day, Gail got signed but the other two did work hard to make it in in the business. Ironically enough, Gail made her WWE debut across the border in Buffalo less than a year later and in her first match won the WWE Women’s Championship. On that day, I remember being assigned to Gail Kim’s promo after she won the match. Gail will admit, promos were not her strong point and in going back and looking — that promo didn’t make the show. From what I remember, we recorded it to be “during the break” and the decision was made not to air it. Gail’s first run in WWE had it’s moments but there was always this feeling that her promos held her back.
In the late fall of 2004, Paul Heyman and I were assigned to work with a few talents in the pre-tape room to see what skills could be built upon; Gail was one of them. On that day, in Peoria, we felt like Gail was making some real progress. She had confidence and showed improvement. Was she the Rock that day, no. We planned to take the tape to show those who requested it to show the progress. That tape was never seen as she was cut that week as the Diva division was “going in a different direction.”
Working with a talent to find their confidence is a very delicate process. We all have these feelings about ourselves; how we perceive our talent and how the world sees us. There are times that require tough love, times that require hand-holding, and time to let the talent fly on their own. Gail has always wanted to be the best and prove that she can do anything. Her leaving WWE in 2004 could have been the end. But instead, she took time to evaluate her future and ended up going to TNA Wrestling.
Gail’s career hit its stride in the mid-2000s during her time competing In the Knockout Division. And in 2007 when I saw her at the Tampa Airport, she was really hitting high gear. She had just won the Knockouts Title at Bound for Glory and was on the doorstep of her program with Awesome Kong. Six AM conversations at airports are usually about what you did the night before but I saw how happy she was with her career. This was also a few months before my end at WWE and I wish I had felt the same. My happiness level was no secret to those who knew me in 2007. And like I had said earlier, time tells the best stories. This early morning at the airport was simply a time stamp at where we both were at our lives.
Fast forward to 2011 and life rapidly changed for the both of us. Gail had returned to WWE years earlier but they never capitalized on the magic she had in TNA even having Awesome Kong on the same roster in WWE. Her frustration boiled over, eliminating herself from a battle royal and leaving WWE. Her return to TNA Wrestling came almost simultaneously as I went to work for the company in 2011. Gail talks about the best thing that happened to her during her second tour of WWE was meeting her husband celebrity chef Robert Irvine.
Getting to work with Gail from 2012–2016 in TNA has been so rewarding for me. Gail’s in-ring work continued to be. top-notch. She was the leader of the Knockouts Locker room and set the standard for the quality of wrestling. Gail is very passionate in her approach to the business and wanted to capture people’s attention. Her program with Taryn Terrell did just that. Taryn, like Gail, came to TNA to prove that the woman you saw in WWE was not who she really was. It was in these series of matches that they both proved who they really were. Gail fought to not only get the Last Knockout Standing match but the ladder match in Vegas. The program is one of my favorites because it caught people off guard and changed perception on these two talents.
During this past year, Gail Kim has done some of the best promo work of her career. In working with her, it was about finding what inside the story she was passionate about. What she could communicate with heart behind it. The conflict with Maria Kanellis hit dead center on Gail’s love for not only wrestling but TNA. This is the place that made Gail Kim the performer she is; let her be her. You felt that in her speech when she was announced as the TNA Hall of Famer inductee. The raw emotion of Tuesday given by the fans and her peers showed she earned this honor and more importantly the respect that goes along with it. I am proud to see Gail grow over the years not only professionally but personally. And I’m glad to call Gail a friend!
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