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UK wrestling fans will be in for a treat this week as the rejuvenated TNA franchise arrives for their seventh annual tour of Britain, encompassing dates in Glasgow, Manchester and London.
The touring party will be led by their World Heavyweight Champion, the formidable Bobby Lashley – the professional wrestler and Mixed Martial Arts star with ambitions of becoming a multi-sport World Champion.
For Lashley, it’s a first trip to the UK as part of TNA, whom he re-joined last year. In an intriguing and highly enjoyable chat, the 38-year-old discusses coming to Britain as part of his ‘year of travel’, winning the World Title, his stunning series of matches with Bobby Roode, his relationship with his fellow wrestlers, his career in MMA and a crushed Olympic dream.
You can read through those major talking points in the article below, or you can listen to the full thirty minute interview for all that and more using the media player below:
While this might be Lashley’s first time in the UK with TNA, he’s no stranger to traveling – something that he admits he loves to do. He’s already ticked Britain off his global check-list, but admits he’d like to see more of the country this time around.
“I’ve been looking forward to it for a while,” he revealed. “I love the UK. I love travelling. I love the culture, I love meeting new people, I love being around the fans and being out of my element.”
When asked if he would be able to fit in any tourist time, he smiled and replied: “I will and if it takes not sleeping to be able to do it then that’s what I’ll do.”
Despite the excitement of being away from home, Lashley and the rest of the TNA roster is fully focused on putting on the best show possible for the UK fans.
“The fans are incredible here,” Lashley enthused. “They’re not spoilt. I think sometimes those in the United States get a bit spoilt because they get to see live shows every week.
“We only come here once, maybe twice a year so I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for everybody to come and see what they watch on TV.”
Lashley is not the only TNA employee excited to be heading to the UK. There is a strong British contingent in the company’s roster, including former World Champion Magnus, hard-core star Bram and the two winners of the reality show ‘British Boot Camp’ – Rockstar Spud and Mark Andrews.
The tour will also include appearances from the five losing finalists of the show’s second series – Grado, Rampage Jackson, Kay Lee Ray, Noam Dar and Dave Mastiff.
Lashley believes that all of the British stars will receive a warm welcome, adding that he’d welcome the opportunity to work alongside them.
“They always like to come home. It’s almost like they’re bringing us to their home. I hope they get a lot of show time and that I get to work with one of them, because I’d like to feel the energy when I go out there with one of the guys from here.”
When pressed on the British Boot Camp stars, who featured on Challenge TV late last year, he added with a wry smile: “I’d love to be able to do anything with them: go out there and just smash one of them and see how talented they are.”
First World Title
Lashley originally joined TNA in 2009, but only stayed for a short time as he left to focus on his MMA career. However, by 2014 he could not delay his return to his first love of professional wrestling for any longer, with his second-debut for the company coming at Lockdown in March.
Soon after his arrival, he aligned himself with the villainous heel stable also comprising MVP and Kenny King. For several months the group chased the World Heavyweight title that at that stage belonged to Eric Young, but it was the group’s leader, MVP, who was the favourite for the belt.
At the time, media speculation suggested that MVP would take the title from EY at Slammiversary – one of TNA’s most iconic pay-per-view events of the year.
However, shortly before the event, MVP was injured. Step forward Bobby Lashley. On the 19th June he won his first World Heavyweight Championship, a moment which he explained ranks highly on his list of career accomplishments.
“I think it’s up there high. Not so much just winning it as being able to hold it. In TNA it’s really hard because the fans come in there and they’re like: ‘you’re just using this ex-WWE guy’. I didn’t want to be known as that.”
Indeed, TNA has employed numerous former WWE-employees in the past and vice-versa. As they are the two most established wrestling franchises in the country, there is an understandable amount of cross-over.
Unfortunately, wrestlers that have moved between the two companies sometimes develop something of a bad reputation – something that Lashley was eager to put right.
“When I was in WWE it was more of a show, they were using me as this big guy. I got put in really good positions, but as far as my work-rate goes, I don’t think I was the best in the ring person.
“Afterwards, I took a lot of time, I did some Indy-work [independent shows]. I wrestled with some of the smaller promotions and nobody really saw that I was going around the country and doing stuff for years.
“Then when I came back, when they gave me the title, to me that was them saying – okay we like what you do now. It was my opportunity to show them that I had what they were looking for.”
As for MVP, Lashley admitted that the title came to him early, but was quick to add that the company made the right decision in allowing him to step in: “I think they made the right decision.
“It was a bit of a surprise, I know that when I came in that was the plan. They said we want to see what you can do, you’re going to be working with some of the guys but ultimately we’d like to see that title on you, if you can do it. I guess it came a little quick, but I was ready for it.”
Lashley’s first title reign lasted until mid-September. During the three months in which he held the belt he defended it against some of TNA’s toughest competitors, including Jeff Hardy, Austin Aries, Eric Young and of course Bobby Roode, who would eventually succeed him as champion.
When asked which opponent he most enjoyed working with, he gave a brief summary of his title run before admitting that Roode was by far his fiercest rival. He said: “I like Bobby Roode, I really do.
“I had so much fun working with all these guys. The match I had with Jeff Hardy, it was just a crazy match. I’ve always been a fan of Jeff so when I had the opportunity to wrestle him it was like – wow.
“You can feel the difference from the crowd. When you go out there and you’re having a match with Jeff Hardy and the crowd is into the Jeff moment and you’re sitting there battling him and you can feel the crowd pulling back and forth, that’s one match.
“Then you have someone like Austin Aries who has his little cult following of people, people that really like his style, but then you have EY, and Eric Young he has that kind of fun style, he has that style that the kids like to jump up and down too.
“Then you go back and you have Bobby Roode, and I actually enjoyed the match with him the best because he gave me that fight mode. I have a natural fight in me, a competitive nature about me, and sometimes you go in some wrestling matches and you don’t have that.
“I think Bobby Roode has that fighting mentality so when we went out there and had a match it was there, the harder I went, the harder he went.”
At the second attempt, Roode – already the longest reigning World Champion in TNA history – won his second title by beating Lashley in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
However, Roode did not have long to enjoy his prize. After a winter hiatus, which saw TNA move television network – from Spike TV to Destination America – Lashley retook his title on opening night, completing an epic trilogy of matches with Roode.
While Lashley was pleased with the result, he was disappointed with the match’s ending – which involved interference from MVP, King, the two newest members of the stable – Samoa Joe and Low Ki – and fresh off a rare heel turn, Eric Young.
Unimpressed with their actions, Lashley is now his own man – battling against the newly dubbed ‘Beat Down Clan’ and teasing a face turn. In terms of the storyline, he wants to hold the title for himself and not rely on the actions of others.
He also hopes that this new-found good side will enable his rivalry with Roode to continue: “We did two 30 minute matches leading up to that third one.
“I was planning the entire time that we were just going to have another trumping everything. I wanted to climb up to the top of the building and jump on top of him.
“We were going to go all out on that until the goon squad jumped in and just kind of ruined everything. I think there’s still going to be another match between me and Bobby Roode somewhere down the road.”
Relationship with Fellow Wrestlers
Lashley also spoke openly about his relationships with his fellow professionals. He saved special praise for title hopeful Gunner, who was defeated on his one and only shot at the World Heavyweight Championship by Magnus in Manchester last year, albeit after intervention from James Storm.
Asked whether there was anyone he’d like to see step up to the main event picture, Lashley responded quickly, saying: “Gunner – I’ve said this in so many different interviews.
“I think the guy is somebody who is under the radar a little bit. But if you come to the show and he comes out you’re like ‘wow, where did that guy come from?’
“He has everything to be in that title shot picture.
“I think he has a great look, the guy has a solid mind, and he has great matches. He’s like Bobby Roode, who they say has the ‘It Factor’. I think they really need to pay attention to him and give him that opportunity to do something big.
“I think if they put a little bit behind him, really build him up – what he’s accomplished, what he’s capable of doing and the actual person he is. I think when that’s really thrown out there a little bit more, then he’ll be primed and ready to go.”
In contrast, Lashley had a rather different attitude towards MVP. He smiled broadly about the prospect of working without the BDC leader constantly by his side, adding: “One thing I want to do is I want to punch MVP in his mouth when he starts talking.
“I think the good thing about MVP is that he’s probably one of the best people on the mic in the business right now. He’s not given a script or anything like that he just goes.
“But then when he’s done with the microphone he’s going to put it down and I’m going to punch him in his mouth. That’s just how it’s going to go, and it’s going to be cool going through it.”
Nothing like getting into the story I suppose!
Alongside his career in professional wrestling, Lashley is also striving for success in professional fighting, also known as Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA.
Unlike many of those that have tried their hand at both disciplines – think Rampage Jackson, King Mo and Tito Ortiz to name just three – Lashley has enjoyed success across the board.
Lashley made his debut for the Bellator franchise in September last year and has since won his first two fights, taking his overall record to twelve wins, with just two defeats.
With new contracts from both Bellator and TNA on the table, he admitted that he’ll soon be facing some difficult decisions about where to next take his career, as he attempts to balance his commitment to both sports.
Thankfully TNA fans need not fear, Lashley’s not going anywhere: “MMA is something that I enjoy doing, I own a gym so we train all the time, so I’m going to have a sit down and talk with the staff at TNA here this week,” he said.
“I have this [Bellator] contract sitting in my mailbox right now that I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to sign, or how we’re going to mesh the two together.
“Before we [TNA and Bellator] were on Spike TV together so it was an easy partnership, now that we’ve gone our separate ways I don’t know how the tension is going to be.
“I want to make sure I make the right moves that are beneficial for TNA because that’s my first passion and first love. With fighting there is a lot of money, but we’ll wait and see if we can work it out.”
Asked why TNA President Dixie Carter invested in other Bellator talents that proved incapable of making the grade in pro wrestling, Lashley said: “They thought it was going to be easier.
“I like the guys, I like all of them. I’ve worked with a lot of fighters and a lot of them have expressed huge interest in pro wrestling.
“The hard thing about it is that you can’t take a fighter, put them into a pro wrestling ring and expect them to just fake it, they can’t do it. It takes years and years [of practice]. You can’t take someone from a different sport at zero, put them in the position where they’re supposed to be ten years into it and expect them to do it.”
Unlike many of his rivals, Lashley prides himself on putting in the hard graft to become competitive in both disciplines, leading to his realistic ambitions of becoming a multi-sport world champion.
“I want to hold both of them,” he grinned, motioning at two invisible belts, one over each shoulder. “I want to be the Bo Jackson of professional wrestling and fighting.”
Life has not always been so rewarding for Lashley. In 2004, he had aspirations of competing in the Athens Olympics and matching the achievements of one of his heroes, Kurt Angle, who had won a gold medal in Atlanta eight years earlier.
However, those dreams were brought to an abrupt end after he injured his knee. The blow occurred during a visit to the bank, where an attempted robbery broke out. Lashley’s career – as he put it – ‘got shut’.
Thankfully, as the saying goes – when one door closes, another one opens – and that new door was being held open by the TNA Hall of Famer, Kurt Angle.
“Me and Kurt’s careers really run parallel,” Lashley observed. “Kurt brought me into wrestling. When I was wrestling in high school, Kurt won a National Championship, and I was going for my State Championship.
“Then he went onto the Olympic training centre and I went off to college and I won a National Championship. He won an Olympic Gold medal and I was watching, because you always have to study the person that’s more advanced than you, that was always Kurt.
“When I went to the Olympic training centre, Kurt left and went to WWE. I ended up taking second at the World Championships, but then I got in a bank robbery before the Olympics. At that time Kurt came down to the Olympic training centre and he saw me, first time I’d ever met him, and he was doing a vignette for WWE.
“They were doing some shots of him at the Olympic training centre. Kurt came to me and he asked if I’d ever considered pro wrestling. He gave me a number and I ended up going to WWE. When I went to WWE he moved to TNA. When I moved to TNA we were there together.”
Despite many years following the same career path, the pair still haven’t come to blows in the ring – something Lashley is desperate to put right in the near future.
“To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” he reasoned. “The man in my eyes is Kurt. But I’ve got to get Kurt back to Olympic Championship Kurt. When I get him there then that’s the person I want to beat.”
Bobby Lashley is an inspiring man. By his own admission, he doesn’t sleep much. He believes that sleep should be saved for vacation.
He is a single father, who put himself through school, graduation and worked tirelessly to the point where he was main-eventing the largest Wrestlemania in history.
Regardless of his storyline, he is a man that deserves respect. Lashley wants ten more years at the top before he calls it a day, starting this week as he looks to carry his title through the UK tour.
Asked what reaction he expects to receive from the UK crowd, he replied simply: “I think the reaction’s going to be somewhat undecided, but as long as they have some kind of passion towards what I do then it doesn’t make a difference to me.”
This is a man who has quite literally poured blood, sweat and tears into his career, honing his skills to a level unrivalled around the world.
So if you’re heading to any event this week, be it in Glasgow, Manchester or London, watch out for Lashley – because he’s definitely going to have a point to prove and an incredible show to put on.
Lashley and the stars of TNA IMPACT WRESTLING are in Glasgow (Jan 29), Manchester (Jan 30) and London (Jan 31). Tickets are still available from http://gigst.rs/TNA15