On January 31, 2015 the stars of Impact Wrestling stepped into Wembley Arena in London to greet over 4,500 die-hard professional wrestling fans assembled there. For most of the roster this was a rare opportunity to perform their craft in front of one of the most responsive, electric crowds in the world. But for the 28-year-old Magnus, a former TNA World Heavyweight Champion from the tiny village of Docking, Norfolk, this was a homecoming.
Magnus began his pro wrestling career as a teenager, under the tutelage of English promoter Ricky Knight. The Knight family has recently gained popularity due to the success of their daughter Britani Knight, better known as two-time WWE Divas Champion and first-ever NXT Women’s Champion, Paige.
“They would run weekend camps every month, or every other month. But they didn’t run a regular school at that time, so I’d go to the Dropkixx Academy down in London for regular training sessions. One of the good things about the school back then, because it was so close to London there would be all these guests.”
It was at Dropkixx where Magnus first met then-TNA wrestler Doug Williams. “We all looked up to Doug, because at that time there had really been no one to crack American wrestling from Great Britain since [William] Regal.”
Williams would play an instrumental role in the young Brit’s budding career. It was Doug who eventually gave Magnus his first singles match at the Worthing Assembly Hall for Premiere Promotions, run by British-style traditionalist John Freemantle. And it was Doug who TNA Wrestling partnered him with when his first character – “The Modern-Day Gladiator, Brutus Magnus” – wasn’t connecting with audiences.
The TNA star attributes the character’s flop to conflicting creative personalities at the time. “Back when I signed there was a real strange sort of mix. In some ways it was a good one, but in some ways it made for some strange bedfellows.” He continued, “You had Vince Russo, who was sort of anti-anything traditional, or anything that moderately resembles pro wrestling. But then you had Dutch Mantell and Jim Cornette, who were very much all about sticking to the fundamental principles of what makes the business good.”
Another disconnect was his association with the British competition series, Gladiators. “They didn’t realize I had already been wrestling on the independents. They just assumed I was some guy from a TV show that Dixie had found, and decided to sign because I was a good talker,” said Magnus. “The irony was I had gotten over on that show by being a pro wrestler.”
THE BRITISH INVASION
At the time, TNA writers were looking for something to do with Doug Williams, a two-time X-Division Champion. The decision was made to scrap the Gladiator in favor of something more natural – The British Invasion.
“I was so relieved when they said they were going to put me and Doug together. That was what they needed to do from the beginning. Let me build up some experience in the ring, working with good guys.”
Magnus considered his mic work his strongest attribute at the time, and a partnership with the in-ring veteran Doug Williams gave them all the pieces they needed to be a competitive tag team force in TNA. “Tag teams are the best way for a guy to learn. It’s half the pressure. You get the chance to observe things from a first-person perspective. You get a chance to let things breath. You start to realize how not to rush, which is a huge thing.”
After winning the TNA Tag Team Championships and the highly-coveted IWGP Tag Team Championships, the Invasion was split up and Magnus was packaged with another British stand-out in Nigel McGuinness (then known as Desmond Wolfe). Unfortunately Nigel’s TNA career was cut short after contracting Hepatitis B. “The short time we got to do stuff together, it was magic. We really were excited about it, and I think a lot of people were. We literally did three or four weeks of TV. We only did a handful of episodes and yet people still ask me about it.”
THE JOE-NUS BROTHERS
Not ready to pull the trigger on a singles run for then 25-year-old talent, Magnus was placed with veteran Samoa Joe seemingly at random, as a part of the 2011-12 Wild Card Tournament. After Joe and Magnus (who I lovingly dubbed “The Joe-Nus Brothers”) lost their championship match at the annual TNA Genesis pay-per-view, most figured it was one-and-done for the makeshift duo. Seeing their instant connection and unexpected chemistry, TNA creative had other plans.
“That was Vince Russo’s creation,” said Magnus, who instantly developed a thick New York accent. “I think his exact words were , ‘well bro, you’re always pissed off, and he’s always pissed off, so let’s put the two of you together and see what happens.'”
What happened was excellent pro wrestling.
“We were both really enjoying it. That was evident by the fact that Pro Wrestling NOAH had us go out to Japan and win the tag titles on our first trip out.” Magnus and Joe held the GHC tag titles for 78 days, before dropping them to another man American audiences have become very familiar with – Kenta Kobayashi, or NXT stand-out Hideo Itami. “It was obviously an indication of what people thought of us as a tag team, which was a great honor.”
It was very clear that the young star has great respect for the five-time X-Division champion. “It came down to two things, first being that Joe is so good in the ring. Second, I was such a big fan of his, that even though I hadn’t been in the ring with him that much, I felt like I had through all the years of studying him.” The praise continued, “He’s such a student of the game. People don’t give him enough credit for that. He could be a fantastic trainer one day, because he has a brilliant way of articulating the mechanics of the business. He approaches it like an athlete approaches a sport.”
TNA: NEXT STOP, THE WORLD
It’s been almost three years since then. Not only has Magnus branched out on his own, becoming a World Heavyweight Champion, but the “Samoan Submission Machine” has taken his leave from TNA after a decade of dominance.
The company as a whole has also changed directions, focusing more on their hugely popular international markets after jumping from Spike TV to the smaller Destination America at the start of 2015.
“TNA’s international business has always been strong, and continues to get stronger,” Magnus said with great confidence. “We may have taken a step back, or a sideways step domestically, but our international business is stronger than ever. We’re signing deals left and right, and getting in more televisions in more homes, which is only good.”
With that comes the rise of characters like Rockstar Spud and Bram from Britain, the Scottish-born Drew Galloway, Mexican sensation Tigre Uno, Japanese star Seiya Sanada and world-travelers like Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Low Ki and MVP, just to name a few.
“The US market is very saturated. Sometimes the best thing to do is just give it a rest. WWE did that in the mid-90’s. Their market was competitive, and they were a bit stale. So they went and mined Europe, and in a lot of ways it was the best thing that happened to them.”
In fact, the subject of Impact Wrestling migrating to the UK on a more permanent basis has been a topic of great debate in the online wrestling world recently. “To me the audience is a key part of a television show. When you see a crowd going ballistic, you feel like you’re watching a quality product, regardless of if what you’re watching in the ring is good or not. You could be watching a five-star classic, but if the audience is so-so it’s not going to resonate.”
Magnus is definitely in favor of more Impact being taped overseas. “From the long-term perspective, instead of doing three big arena shows that we record for TV and get six episodes out of, I would love to go and do a dozen or so medium-sized venues that will fill with super enthusiastic, red hot crowds that react exactly the way you want them to to everything. And get three months of TV in the can. I would love to try that. We’re in a stage now where we’ve tried a lot of things, so we may as well.”
The Brit also noted to me that he is a fervent “student of the game,” hinting at a possible backstage career when he stops wrestling. He is constantly thinking about wrestling from more than just the in-ring perspective.
“I sat down and had lunch with our UK promoter the last time we were over there … It’s all about coming up with a solution and a situation that benefits all parties, rather than just what’s the best thing for our TV show. There’s also the rest of the world too. We get some really hot crowds in other parts of the world that might be a good option for us.”
With our time coming to an end, I asked Magnus one last question. If the future of TNA really does rest in the European market, who are the next notable names the promotion needs to get on-board with? He responded with two names — Marty Scurll and Rampage Brown, both former competitors on the TNA British Boot Camp series.
“Marty Scurll has a ton of upside as far as a television character is concerned. He really knows how to be an all-around entertainer and is very versatile. I liken him to Robbie E, who is portrayed as a comedic character, but is very under-appreciated. He can really do anything and make it work, and Marty is very similar to that. He can work with anyone and make it entertaining.”
“Rampage Brown is super legit. Very believable, very rugged style. That’s something I like to watch as a fan.”
Catch Magnus and all the stars of Impact Wrestling on Destination America every Friday night at 9:00PM ET!