Taz opens up about his new career in radio, fighting Kurt Angle and why he'll always love Paul Heyman
Every time Taz thinks of Paul Heyman, one memory immediately enters his mind.
“I think of when I broke my neck in 1995,” said Taz. “ECW wasn’t making a ton of money, and we were just trying to get our sea legs under us. I was just about to get this big push, and boom, I get hurt.”
Taz, whose real name is Peter Senerchia, had just married and was terrified he would not be able to work–or earn a living–for the next nine months.
“Everyone talks now about being a ‘Paul Heyman Guy,’ but there are only a few of us who were original ‘Paul Heyman Guys,’” said Taz. “And we were ‘Paul Heyman Guys’ when it wasn’t cool to be one of Paul Heyman’s guys. I always believed in Paul and he always did the right thing by me. His name wasn’t great in the business, but he was a good man and always did the right thing.”
Despite Taz’s broken neck, Heyman promised he would pay him every dime he was owed. He stayed true to his word.
“Paul said, ‘Taz, I’m going to pay you,’” remembered Taz. “I said to him, ‘Bro, you can’t afford that.’ But Paul said, ‘No, I’m going to pay you. Don’t worry–you’ll be back and we’ll do great things together.’ And he paid me. He friggin’ paid me for nine months. That’s something I’ll take to my grave, and I’m forever grateful.”
Known as the “Human Suplex Machine,” Taz frightened fans perhaps more than any other man in pro wrestling. His “Beat me if you can, survive if I let you” mantra was not hurt by the fact he was only 5’8”–Taz was a legitimate tough guy who added realism to the business.
“If I was 6’2”, I would not have accomplished what I did in my wrestling career,” said Taz. “I would have done less. I could not have been the type of guy to pop off a plethora of legitimate suplexes if I was 6’2”. At my height, my hips were already below my opponent’s hips, so I had an advantage right there. You can bang out a pretty strong suplex if you have a good back arch and a strong neck and you know the technique. When your hips are under your guy, you’ve got half the battle. So I capitalized–pun intended–on my shortcomings.”
Taz’s newest opponent is outside of the squared circle. His radio program, “The Taz Show: Bodyslams and Beyond,” has transformed from a podcast to a daily radio show, and now includes video. The show is live from 7am-9am EST every Monday through Friday, and with the backing of CBS Radio and the Play.it podcast network, offers daily video and audio broadcast on three different CBS online networks.
“I do ten hours of live, original programming a week for CBS Radio,” said Taz. “I don’t just talk wrestling, I talk about football and other mainstream sports. I’m going to take this to a whole other level, and I’m very fortunate to have received a plethora of positive responses so far.”
Taz received his start in radio while working as a broadcaster for WWE.
“Michael Cole and I were doing Smackdown together as the broadcast team, and he had a history in radio,” said Taz. “We were going to have a couple day layover during Christmas time in Houston. Cole said to me, ‘A buddy of mine is a general manager over at a Clear Channel radio station in Houston, and the morning team is going to be gone for the holiday weekend. Do you want to hang out and do the show?’ I said, ‘Dude, I’ve never done radio.’ But Cole said we were a team, just like we were on Smackdown. And from our first show together, I was hooked.”
The ultra-competitive Long Island native embraced the challenges radio presented.
“Radio became a massive challenge, and that’s why I was hooked,” said Taz. “After all my years of wrestling, being a trainer, and being backstage, wrestling became easy. Radio was a lot different.”
Cole remained focused on his career in wrestling broadcasting, so Taz began to wonder if he could succeed on his own in radio.
“CBS actually had me do a couple tryout shows by myself,” said Taz. “They loved it, but they ultimately killed that format. Then, fast forward to November of 2014, I received an email from a VP of Programming from CBS Radio. He mentioned they were starting a podcast platform, and asked if I’d be interested in doing a podcast about the wrestling business.”
While Taz had served as a guest on Steve Austin’s podcast, he admitted he did not have much knowledge of podcasting. Scheduling was also an issue, as he was still providing commentary for TNA’s television broadcasts.
“I put a lot of thought into it, and realized I could do it,” said Taz. “At the time, I was still with TNA, but I signed a contract to do a podcast and my show debuted on January 7, 2015. I had guests on every single show. After a few weeks, I realized I didn’t want to do a guest-driven show–I wanted to do a topic-driven show. And sure enough, it built.”
Taz quickly turned himself into the “Human Podcast Machine” and won the GOLD in the Communicators Award this past April.
“The amount of my downloads were high,” said Taz. “CBS asked if I could see myself doing more than one show per week. Then I did two shows per week. CBS said, ‘Your numbers are insane, your content is awesome, and we want to give you the opportunity to do this every day.’
“The timing was great. I was having some financial issues with TNA, my contract was coming up in two months, and I had no intention of resigning with them. I was ready to segue into a new career. So CBS set up a meeting, and I signed a full-time deal and have a full-time daily show, and that’s the origin of ‘The Taz Show.’”
Before embarking on a successful wrestling career, Taz was a football player and played collegiately for American International College and CW Post as a nose guard and inside linebacker.
“I played for AIC in Springfield, but I was only there for a half year until I blew my knee out,” said Taz. “Then I went to a community college for another half year to keep my eligibility, and then I went to CW Post. I was playing football in college, but I wasn’t going to class. I was just a jock, and then I got into a scuffle at school, and they asked me to leave.”
The seeds of anti-establishmentarianism that were fundamental tenants of ECW began to appear during Taz’s college football career.
“The football coach at CW Post hated my guts,” said Taz. “We’d travel on the team bus and we were all supposed to wear matching t-shirts with our team colors, but I wouldn’t do that. I used to always wear my lucky Road Warriors cut-off sleeve t-shirt.
The sight of Hawk and Animal would get Taz benched for the first quarter, but he continued to wear the shirt. His non-conformity served as an asset in the wrestling business.
“I got into wrestling because I needed a job,” said Taz. “Tommy Dreamer is the perfect example of someone who wanted to do this his whole life–he was a true diehard fan, where I was not.”
Taz enjoyed watching wrestling as a child–listing ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, Bruno Sammartino, Andre ‘The Giant’, and ‘Chief’ Jay Strongbow as his favorites–but never attended a live show until he wrestled on one. Taz, who is now 48 years old, was full of confidence and cockiness when he entered the business.
“Not only was I going to make it, I was going to make it quicker than everybody,” said Taz. “I thought I was going to be making seven figures a year and be world champion after two years. That’s how thick-headed and cocky I was, and you could say I was delusional. But I had to be, especially then, when there were not a lot of undersized guys. Now today, I’d be a multi-millionaire.”
Taz’s height–or lack thereof–helped his disgruntled, anti-establishment attitude.
“I didn’t care about the size difference,” said Taz. “I was going to dominate. Back then, it was all about the big dudes. You had all these big giant guys in that era–if you weren’t six feet, you were considered average size. I already had this rough exterior about me since I was already very combative, so I loved being 5’8”, and that built a gigantic chip on my shoulder.”
Before his success in ECW, Taz was fortunate to connect with the late “Boston Bad Boy” Tony Rumble, who served as a major advocate early on while Taz wrestled for International World Class Championship Wrestling.
“Tony, God rest his soul, really believed in me,” said Taz. “He had the book for the IWCCW, and he always wanted to bring me in and promote me. Paul Heyman first saw me on one of their TV’s as the Tazmanaic, and then Paul gave me that big break.”
Heyman’s greatest gift, Taz stressed, was his willingness to believe in his wrestlers.
“Paul believed in me, and I’m forever grateful to him for that,” said Taz. “I know so much of what I know about how to cut a promo and different nuances of the business from him. Without Paul believing in me, I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had.”
Taz actually traveled with Dreamer and Heyman in the early days of ECW.
“Paul and Tommy lived near each other outside the Bronx and I was on Long Island, so I’d drive to Tommy’s place and then we’d go pick up Paul,” said Taz. “Tommy always drove, and me and Paul just argued constantly and had fun in the car. Then, as ECW grew, I traveled with the Eliminators [Perry Saturn and John Kronus] and Bubba Ray Dudley. That was our circle–the guys from New York. And when we traveled together, nobody ever crossed us. No one, ever.”
Taz still laughs at the collection of eclectic characters employed by ECW.
“It was the island of the misfit toys,” he said. “You had Raven, who was known as such an intelligent guy. He was very smart. When you talked to him, he sounded different from everybody else, yet he was still one of the boys. Perry Saturn was another strange guy. He was an Army ranger and had this strange background. You could go on and on with the guys there. We were the little engine that could, and we did.”
Taz admitted that the fights inside the locker room were even more extreme than the ones in the ring.
“There was a lot of tension in the back, especially as we grew,” said Taz. “It was so competitive, and there were a lot of fights. There were several times that, after a match, guys were not happy with the way the match went, and they’d get tense with each other. But it was all because they cared. The passion was there.
“A lot of those guys in that locker room, the ones that are still alive, they don’t like me. Back then, I lived the gimmick because I was a little immature at that time. I’d waited so many years to get a push, and once I got the push, I didn’t know how to handle it the right way. I was living the character a little too much. There was definitely a lot of tension as we became successful and grew, but that’s part of any business. I’m so proud of everything the company did, from everything Paul Heyman did and on down.”
Taz then debuted on pay per view for the WWE at the 2000 Royal Rumble against Kurt Angle, beating the undefeated Olympian gold medalist in under four minutes.
“It was the greatest moment of my professional career,” said Taz. “I’ll never forget it for as long as I’ll live.”
In some ways, Taz admitted, the debut went too well.
“I was smart enough to realize that I got this monstrous pop, and that could be a problem,” said Taz. “The WWE ‘machine’ didn’t build that reaction, it was built somewhere else, and I was smart enough to realize that. But, from a financial standpoint, my family and I were OK because of my WWE contract. A lot of guys are caught up in the push in wrestling and with their wins and losses, but I’ve always looked at this as business. I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make a living and support my family. Getting a push is great, and I worked my ass off to win championships, but at the end of the day, the most important thing was, ‘Are you going to pay me?’”
Angle had no issue doing the job.
“My size didn’t matter to Kurt,” said Taz. “It was all business to him. It’s a work, so it doesn’t matter. Look at Ivan Putski–he’s all of 5’5”. Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler had amazing success, and he’s all of 5’9”. The thing with me was, and it was Paul Heyman’s idea, to go on TV and tell you I was 5’8”. And then I’d tell you, bad ass and angry, how tall I was and what I was going to do to you.”
Years after traveling with Heyman and picking his brain, Taz joined the WWE broadcast team full time in 2002 and began to travel with Vince McMahon.
“I had the opportunity for so long to travel every week on Vince’s plane,” said Taz. “Michael Cole and I would travel with Vince and the writers because we had to get back to Connecticut to do the voiceovers for Smackdown, so I got to see Vince behind the scenes 30,000 feet in the air. He’d be sitting there at one in the morning, on a flight from Anaheim to New York, while everyone was struggling to keep their eyes open, and he’d be working non-stop.”
Taz confirmed that no one is allowed to sleep on McMahon’s plane unless McMahon himself is sleeping, unless you were one of his wrestlers.
“I’ve seen Triple H fall asleep on the plane, and it wasn’t a problem,” said Taz. “I fell asleep on that plane many a time and it wasn’t a problem. If you took some bumps and you fell asleep, it was no problem. If you’re a writer or a play-by-play announcer, it was going to be a problem. It was never mean-spirited, it was like high school with money. It was fun.”
Taz then made the jump to TNA in 2009.
“I left WWE when I needed a break,” he explained. “At the time, TNA was a good alternative for me. It was refreshing at the time, and things were being run pretty good. It felt right. Then, after a couple years–and I’m not going to sit here and bash people–decisions were made that weren’t good decisions and the company started to go in another direction. There was a leadership issue, and I felt like it was the perfect time to segue into my radio career. I wanted to get out of there, and I did.”
Wrestling is a major talking point on “The Taz Show.”
“I cover the WWE every single day on my programming,” said Taz. “I cover WWE more than I cover Ring of Honor and TNA because I like their programming better and I like their character development. Sometimes I don’t agree with some of the finishes, but there is so much programming, you only remember the finish when you’re reminded of the finish. WWE is so good at protecting their talent, and I believe in their way. I’ve been a part of their system for so many years, and I learned how to become a broadcaster–a storyteller–through the WWE. I learned how to become a wrestler the old-fashioned way, and that had nothing to do with the WWE. That’s why I had more success in the WWE as an announcer than I did as a wrestler. I was molded and made by them to be an announcer.”
As a former wrestler, commentator and trainer, Taz offers a unique perspective on the business. For starters, he urged, forget about the ratings.
“You can’t get too hung up with the ratings on Raw,” he said. “Do I like everything on the show? No, but it’s three hours of original programming every single week. That’s very hard to do for the writers, for the talent, and for production. I’ve seen the machine work, and it’s extremely ambitious and difficult. But fans want perfection every week, and knowing Vince the way I know him, he wouldn’t want it any other way.”
He also has his favorites, including one opponent he wishes he could have wrestled on Raw.
“I’m a big fan of Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens,” said Taz. “Cesaro is tremendous, and you can see the passion just drip off Dean Ambrose. On the female side, Becky Lynch is great. A lot of her suplexes are similar to the way I used to do them, so that’s kind of cool. I’m a huge fan of Bobby Roode. I’d love to wrestle Bobby, and I think he’s one of the most underrated wrestlers in the business for the past five years. He’s such a great talent.”
Under the right circumstances, Taz would consider returning as a broadcaster to the WWE, but reiterated his main focus is his daily show.
“I would go back to WWE, but I could not and would not leave my career with CBS Radio and my show,” said Taz. “I have a very good relationship with WWE, I’ve never burnt a bridge with them, and we’ve always had a mutual respect. Time will tell, but my show is my number one priority.”
Taz is a lock to eventually enter the WWE Hall of Fame, and he is proud of his legacy in wrestling.
“I would not want to change one thing that I did as in-ring wrestler,” said Taz. “I’ve held several different championships, I’ve been a world champion. I was lucky enough to be right in the middle of a movement in ECW and help the build of it behind the scenes, and that was the greatest time in my career. In terms of my legacy, I just want to be remembered as a guy who came up the right way, wrestled hard and was credible, and whose work always looked serious and real.”
Fans who miss watching Taz weekly can now listen to him daily.
“There’s never ever been a daily show dedicated to pro wrestling from the perspective of a former world champion, former trainer, and former broadcaster,” said Taz. “My perspective and my viewpoint is different. I’ve wrestled in WrestleManias, called WrestleManias, trained guys, worked as an agent, traveled with all of the biggest names in the industry, and worked hand-in-hand with Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon. I’ve got close to 30 years in the business.
“This show is my life’s work. I put all my passion into it. It’s live every day, the podcast is available right after I’m live, and I’m providing that five days a week. No one is doing what I’m doing, and I promise, if you listen to one show, you’ll love it.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.