There was a time when Josh Mathews was just a college kid sending in a VHS tape to New York hoping to be chosen for a new WWE reality show on MTV called Tough Enough. Even though he made it on the inaugural season of the competition in 2001 and didn’t win, the experience provided him with an opportunity to crack open the door to his future. The 36-year-old went on to have a lengthy career in WWE working as a broadcaster with occasional physicality in the ring.
These days Mathews works for Impact Wrestling and is gearing up to lace up the boots one more time at the Slammiversary Pay-Per-View on July 2. It’s in there at Universal Studios Orlando where the broadcaster teams with the returning Scott Steiner to face fellow announcer Joseph Park and Jeremy Borash. During a recent episode of Impact Wrestling from Mumbai, India, Mathews gave viewers a taste of what they can expect after he delivered a Swanton Bomb. Look out X Division?
“That was the first time back in the ring since those WWE days,” he said. “I didn’t want to practice the Swanton because I was afraid, but when I got to the top rope I was like, ‘Okay, I have a frog splash I can do if I decide not to do this.’ I just went for it.”
Mathews takes this type of attitude with him in every part of his life. The man doesn’t lack confidence, often referring to himself as G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). The past few months he has evolved into one of the most hated on-screen personalities in the company. The character changed evolved organically.
“When Jeff Jarrett came to TV for the first time again in January we were talking, and I had only met Jeff a couple of times up to that point. We have exchanged a few direct messages on Twitter. I was getting ready to go out, and I said, ‘Watch when I go out. They don’t like me,’” Mathews said.
“He sort of laughed thinking only a few people might boo. When I came back at the end he said, ‘They really don’t like you. They hate you.’ He said he had an idea, and that was it. We shook hands. Then the next set of tapings this all sort of rolled out.”
Mathews can recall another catalyst in him becoming the despised heel. It was during an interview for one of the company’s digital properties where mentioned he considered himself the best play-by-play announcer in wrestling. This statement spread across social media and rubbed many the wrong way.
“I do feel that way. It’s not an act or anything. It’s just me saying how I feel about my body of work,” he said.
“In that same interview, I mentioned I wanted more things bigger for Impact: video games, action figures, stuffed animals, toys for dogs. However, people grabbed that one thing and blew it up. I didn’t shy away from the comment I made because I don’t disagree with what I said. That sort of helped get us to where we are right now.”
And where we are is a feud between Mathews and Borash that has spilled over from the announce table to the wrestling ring.
“When it first came about, we both weren’t sure about it,” he said. “We said we would do it the best way we can. Not that we didn’t want to do it, but I think we were a little uneasy about it. The way it has come about and the ease it has been. I think we are all in the same boat together. Everyone wants the company to succeed above all else. So we thought if this is what will help, then we thought let us do it the best way we can.
“…I’ll do whatever. I love this business. I’ve been doing it since I was 19. I can see myself in that role; I don’t know if I would call it a manager role in 2017. But I also love broadcasting as well. I love being a play-by-play announcer. It’s hard work. I told Jeff when we were India and we did the thing with the Swanton and the one match. I said, ‘That’s it? That’s all I have to do? I don’t have to call anything?’ I sort of laughed, and this is not an insult, but told him being a wrestler was easy. Obviously, it’s not. Whatever they think work, and we sit down and talk about it and know where it’s going, I’m open to doing anything.”
For the upcoming Slammiversary showdown, Mathews speaks highly of Steiner, his upcoming tag team partner. The unpredictable and outspoken veteran is coming back to an organization he once badmouthed to the extent lawyers had to get involved. Despite Steiner’s reputation for being a livewire, Mathews has enjoyed working with him.
“Scott was great when he came to Orlando,” he said. “He did everything we talked about and all the ideas we had that he was cool with. I saw a couple of negative things on the internet, and you are going to see that. But when you look at the amount of views the Scott Steiner videos did on YouTube. People are interested. His return is nearing a million views on YouTube. People want to see what we are doing and what he is doing. I think the way it came across with Scott coming back and all the different layers, I just think it feels really good right now.”
Mathews has appreciated the atmosphere the new Impact Wrestling owners Anthem Sports & Entertainment have created with founder Jeff Jarrett back in the fold. He can see the positive changes being made already paying off.
“When I first came here and we were in the big building in Nashville downtown, I just sort of had eyes wide open and kept my mouth shut. I looked around, and this isn’t a knock on anyone that was there or is still there, but it felt like nothing was happening,” he said. “It just felt like there were ideas and people wanted to make things happen, but financially you’re strapped.
“It was hard to make these ideas come to fruition. It was hard to make things come to a reality. Meanwhile your backs against the wall with finances and things like that. So it felt like we were just spinning our wheels. Now with Jeff coming in and the new regime as it has been called. I just feel like there is such a difference in how things can happen and will happen. When I brought the idea of DeAngelo Williams coming into Impact the first time it was like, ‘Yeah that would be cool.’ Then nothing happened. Then again when I brought it up to Jeff it was like, ‘When can he get here? What can we do? How can we do this?’ Now the mainstream coverage of DeAngelo blew up. That’s the kind of things we need.”
Williams, the former Panthers and Steelers running back, will make his wrestling debut at Slammiversary in a tag team match with former football player Moose against Eli Drake and Chris Adonis. Mathews met the current free agent at WrestleMania, and their friendship grew from there. He sees this as one of the ways he has contributed on the business end. In addition, Mathews helped forge a partnership between Impact Wrestling and Future Legend Apparel. As some left the company, Mathews saw it as an opportunity to do more and take on new roles. Along with his onscreen responsibilities, he is vice president of digital content.
“The past three years has been an education for me in the sense of business, and I’ve used that to my advantage,” Mathews said. “I’ve learned so much. I always tell people, ‘Please don’t tell me how to broadcast a wrestling show. I learned that for 15 years from Vince McMahon.’ But as it relates to business and things like that, I’m wide open to learning and made myself vulnerable to learn as much as I can.
“Now I think I am in a super strong position and made myself so valuable that every day is something different. My wife will ask me, ‘What are you going to do today?’ I always tell her that I didn’t know because I spend my weekend working on everything I know I need to do, as far as scheduling videos, tagging things and metadata and looking at the traffic of our website and YouTube. Then I go to work and help people in their different areas. It’s really every day I can do something different.”
Mathews takes pride in being a team player and the tireless hours he invests for the betterment of the company. Impact Wrestling is making moves in 2017 as it attempts to regain some stability, maintain a clear direction and build momentum.
“The negativity can be frustrating, but I do get where the criticism from fans is coming from. The constant year-over-year with the new network or new whatever it is. I understand it from a fan’s point-of-view,” Mathews said.
“I see how it can get frustrating. ‘Hey, stick with us this time. This is different.’ I think you have to prove it. So going to India and doing four shows. Having a digital presence that is there constantly and doesn’t go away. You don’t have something that you create, and it goes away in a couple of weeks. To me, classic TNA is where things start and it becomes, ‘Eh, we’ve lost interest.’ And then nobody’s held accountable. It just ends. To me, that was the classic TNA that frustrated me when I got there. Those types of things are going away, and people are being held accountable. So now things are actually happening.”