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Q&A: Impact Wrestling’s Sami Callihan on Filming During Pandemic, Facing Ken Shamrock and More

Due to the coronavirus, Impact Wrestling’s Rebellion pay-per-view has been moved to AXS TV and spread out across two weeks. The first half of the show will air on Tuesday, with the rest of the card airing the following week on April 28. Impact was able to film nine weeks of television, including Rebellion, during its closed-set tapings at Skyline Studios in Nashville two weeks ago.

The main event of night one of Rebellion is Sami Callihan against Ken Shamrock. The program, with Callihan challenging Shamrock to earn his spot in the company by going through him, has added excitement to Impact. Though 24 years separate the 32-year-old Callihan from the 56-year-old Shamrock, there has been chemistry between the two leading into tonight’s encounter.

Shamrock is best known for his revolutionary work in MMA, but he also starred for WWE during its famed “Attitude Era.” Callihan briefly had a run in NXT, but his best work has taken place away from the WWE canvas.

Callihan spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss his match with Shamrock at Rebellion, Impact’s decision to hold tapings during the coronavirus, and his role leading the company.

Justin Barrasso: With the coronavirus extending its reach across the world, the majority of pro wrestling, including Impact, was shut down. How did it feel to get back in the ring, especially with someone like Ken Shamrock?

Sami Callihan: I started wrestling when I was 16 years old, this is been all I’ve known, and this is the longest I have ever been home for one spurt of time in my entire adult life. I used it to recuperate and let my body feel better from some injuries, but then it started getting to me. I’m not built to be a stay-at-home guy. I’ve traveled around the world and wrestled for every major company on the planet. Being home for this long, it really gets to your psyche. I was just happy to be back in the ring for the company I love and the one I’ve put on my back for the past two years.

JB: You had posted on Twitter that you would not go back to any wrestling show until the world was in a safer place. What led to your decision to work the Impact tapings in Nashville?

SC: The reason that I was 100% OK with doing that was because Impact took amazing care of us. From the time we got there to the time we left, I knew no one from our crew was going to be in any danger. Impact took every precaution to make sure our television taping was the safest television taping going on right now.

I put my entire trust in Impact management to make sure we all get taken care of. I’ve wrestled for every major wrestling company on the planet, and Impact Wrestling truly is a family. I know it’s crazy to think how many ‘families’ there are in this crazy world, but our entire locker room and our entire staff took care of each other so we could all be safe.

JB: You’ve mentioned in the past that the Impact product is not afraid to offend people. That has allowed you to play Sami Callihan the way you have envisioned, which has led to some of the more memorable moments of your career. How has the freedom provided by Impact allowed you to become one of wrestling’s top villains?

SC: People either love me or hate me. I have a huge cult following because I speak a lot of truth. I say things how I see them and how I feel about them. That might offend a lot of people, too, but Impact Wrestling has been the first company to pull the shackles off me and say, ‘We want to give you the freedom to actually do you.’

Sure, I may get in some scuffles with management or arguments, but they have enough faith in me to realize, even if we have a disagreement on something, to let me do what I want to do. If it doesn’t work, I’m going to take the full blame. 90% of the time, it works.

JB: Many wrestlers that star on the independent circuit modify their style when they sign with a big promotion. Often times, that is out of necessity or due to the demands of television. You have taken pride in bringing pieces of the indies, like intergender wrestling, to Impact. Indies are the heartbeat of the business, but it is very hard to take that to the mainstream.

SC: One of my goals is getting things on the mainstream that have never been there before.

In the world of professional wrestling, everything’s been done. So what can you do differently? My time in every company I’ve worked for has built me into who I am today. I’m not just one style. I pride myself on being the most versatile professional wrestler walking this planet. I’ve taken a little bit of the television style, a piece of the Japanese style, a little bit from Mexico and the European style, and mixed it into the melting pot that makes Sami Callihan who he is.

Sami Callihan is a guy that didn’t always know who he was. I went to other places and I allowed them to change me instead of sticking to my guns. Ever since leaving that other place, I have always bet on myself. If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail on my own terms—not on someone else’s terms. Over the past three, four years that I’ve been gone from said other company, I’ve become one of biggest wrestling stars on the entire planet, not just outside of WWE.

JB: Covering you at indie shows, I’ve seen you be a voice for younger talent, too, which you’re also doing in Impact. With so many of your peers in wrestling out of work due to the coronavirus, what is your message to those in the business?

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SC: My biggest piece of advice is to hustle. We can build our characters and build our brand more than ever right now. Everyone is home, everyone is bored and people are craving content. This is a chance to reinvent yourself. This is a chance to get your merch over, or do different projects that will get you over in your career. That’s why you see certain guys and certain girls completely blowing it out of the water and keeping themselves relevant.

JB: There is definitely Impact talent that is enhancing their status on social media, and it’s also happened with indie stars like Warhorse and Danhausen.

SC: Look at people like Jordynne Grace, who started a candle brand and she’s making content on Patreon. Ethan Page is making his own content. Look at the independent level, you see Danhausen and Warhorse. They’re becoming bigger stars than ever, during the lockdown, because they’re out hustling and making content. When the time comes for us to be back in the ring, they’re going to be more over than ever.

JB: Before we discuss your match at Rebellion, an integral piece of your career happened early on, and that was teaming with Jon Moxley. You two were even tag team champions back in 2009 for the wXw promotion in Germany, working together as the Switchblade Conspiracy.

Moxley has set the business aflame since leaving WWE, having must-see matches in AEW, New Japan and throughout the indies. Is working with or against Moxley part of your career objectives moving forward?

SC: You never know what might happen. At the end of the day, he’s doing his thing, I’m doing my thing. Everyone always compares us because we were trained at the same place, we came up at the same time, and we teamed together. I don’t want to live in Jon Moxley’s shadow. We’ve done a really good job of separating ourselves and really carving out a niche in the industry.

JB: Looking at the match-up with Ken Shamrock, you’re working with a pivotal piece of arguably the greatest match of all-time. Shamrock was the referee for the Steve Austin-Bret Hart match at WrestleMania 13, and now you have him in the Impact ring for a main event match.

SC: That is one of my favorite matches of all-time.

JB: Shamrock is the forgotten piece of that match, but his presence added so much.

SC: I don’t think it would have been as big without Shamrock. That was the perfect storm of different things coming together, and all the planets aligned to make that special. That’s why, going into this match, I do look at Ken Shamrock as a legend. I do respect him. At the same point, I think he’s overstayed his welcome. It’s time for guys like me to step up and take my rightful spot.

If you asked 12-year-old Sami Callihan what he thought about wrestling Ken Shamrock, he’d be freaking out right now. But I’m not 12-year-old Sami Callihan anymore. I’m a grown-ass man. I’m “The Draw” Sami Callihan. Shamrock isn’t just a legend to me anymore, he’s a peer. He’s competing for the same spot that I want, and I’ll be damned if he gets it without going through me. He hasn’t been here the past two years. I was here when Impact Wrestling was slowly getting buried in its grave. I truly believe I put this company on my back and pumped blood into its heart with my hands. I could have signed at a lot of other companies, but I made this company relevant again.

If you look at my timeframe right before I debuted for Impact Wrestling, I was just finishing up with Lucha Underground, I did a tour for a month-and-a-half for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and then I came to Impact Wrestling. I always wanted to be part of Impact Wrestling, and now I get to be the person to help save Impact Wrestling. I want that on my resume more than anything else. That means more than just holding a championship. Being the guy that singlehandedly brought Impact Wrestling back from the grave, that’s something no one can ever take away from me.

JB: You’re also surrounded by some really talented veterans, but I know you take immense pride in leading the company.

SC: That’s how I do business. I don’t just use a company to get myself over and hope for something better, or s--- on that company or kick it on the ass. If I’m signed to a company, I’m going to give it my all, no matter what.

JB: People are hungry for more content. Is there anything better this Tuesday night than Shamrock-Callihan?

SC: This is a dream match of one generation against another generation. I’ve proven over the course of my career that I am pro wrestling’s most dangerous man. Going into this match, people are going to be pleasantly surprised. It’s going to be a mix of brawling, fighting, and some cinematic action.

WWE pulled out the “Boneyard” match and the “Firefly Fun House” at WrestleMania, and fans freaked out like they’d never seen anything that before. Not taking anything away from that, but Impact Wrestling and Lucha Underground have been doing that for years. This is a huge part of professional wrestling right now, and me and Shamrock are going to prove that in the main event of Rebellion on AXS TV.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.