The arrival of Montel Vontavious Porter, better known as MVP, could not have come at a more important time for the TNA wrestling franchise.
In his role as the mystery investor, his debut on last week’s UK Tour marked the start of a new era for a company which has recently lost the likes of Hulk Hogan, AJ Styles and Sting from its roster.
What appears to be the crucial factor in TNA’s increasingly encouraging revival is the company’s growing popularity in Britain. The 40-year-old former WWE and NJPW star was full of praise for the company’s UK audience, describing their welcome as both “loud and humbling.”
MVP was part of the TNA team that travelled to Glasgow, Manchester and London for a quartet of television tapings, as well as the company’s maiden live broadcast from the UK at the Hydro Arena.
His introduction could prove vital both inside and outside of the ring for TNA: on stage, he will rival the heel stable led by company president Dixie Carter, while in reality he will help his new franchise “move the needle” and establish its product as a viable counterpart to WWE.
Speaking about his time in the UK, MVP told GiveMeSport: “It was brilliant, I loved it. And that was by design, I expressed to TNA that if I came with them I wanted to debut on the UK Tour and they were all for it.
“The fans here are always so energetic and loud. Even in my time with WWE we’d always look forward to the UK Tour. The fans here don’t get to see us as often, so when we come it’s such a huge treat for both of us.”
With TNA already having confirmed its return to Britain in 2015, tickets for which go on sale today, MVP explained why the tour was something every wrestler looks forward too: “There’s always an energy in the building that we as in ring performers feed off.
"You’ve got to remember, what we do out there hurts, it’s painful, and when we have that adrenalin flowing because we’re feeding off that crowd then it doesn’t hurt as much.
“I would love to see TNA grow to a point where there are multiple UK tours. And from what I see of the audience here, the ratings, and the attendance for the shows, it seems like it’s almost inevitable."
He added that with the success of the tour, in addition to a couple of other new arrivals, it’s currently an exciting time for TNA. “We’re turning a corner, adding fresh faces. The Wolves are tremendously talented young guys," MVP explains.
"The fans are in for a treat if they get to see more of them, and there’s more new talent that’s going to be brought in during the coming months.
“I wouldn’t call it a reset, but this is definitely an attempt to reengage audiences with fresh talent, and I think everyone is in for a huge treat moving forward."
MVP will be one of the star attractions when the TNA flagship returns to the United States and his home city of Miami for Lockdown next month, an event that will also mark the return of the Charismatic Enigma, Jeff Hardy.
Porter’s team, also consisting of the Wolves and Hardy, will take on Bobby Roode, Austin Aries and the Bro Mans in what promises to be a stunning Lethal Lockdown match.
If MVP and co are able to claim victory, their success will relegate Dixie Carter’s role in the company to purely front office business. She will have no say in the match making or in ring activities and there will once again be a “level playing field for all of the TNA talent.”
UK audiences can watch the pay-per-view event, which will also include the World Heavyweight Title match between Magnus and Samoa Joe, for free on Wednesday 12th March, on Challenge TV.
Despite his immediate success in TNA, Porter offered a refreshing view into the rivalry between his current and former employers WWE: “I maintain that the most prosperous time in the history of my business was the Monday Night Wars [September 4, 1995, to March 26, 2001], when WWF was taking on WCW and you had 12 million plus people a week tuning in to watch wrestling. That’s something that’s been cut almost in half.
“For every major conglomerate there’s a counterpart. For Coke you have Pepsi, for McDonalds you have Burger King and so forth. As a fan of wrestling, I love all wrestling. People should be able to enjoy WWE and TNA. I think there’s room for more than one big dog in the yard.”
While MVP might enjoy VIP status amongst most wrestling fans, his route into the sport represents a much humbler tale: his own personal road to redemption.
Like many young Americans, Porter became obsessed with wrestling from a young age: “My introduction to professional wrestling came when my mother used to take me to the Miami Beach Convention Centre when I was in first grade.
“As far as my personal inspirations, as a kid I was always a [Roddy] Piper fan, I thought Piper was awesome. I didn’t care about saying my prayers and eating my vitamins, I just liked Piper: his energy and his obnoxiousness. There was just something about him that I enjoyed a great deal. There was also Ric Flair and the four horsemen. I was just a big fan of the heels. There was something about them that drew me in.”
But by the time Porter had reached his teenage years, his life had taken a dramatic turn for the worse: “I started running the streets and I got involved with guns and gangs and crime and I ended up going to prison for armed robbery. When you’re living that sort of life there’s only two places you’re going to end up: in a morgue or in a prison cell for the rest of your life.”
Porter served nine and a half years of an eighteen and a half year prison sentence, which he started at the age of sixteen. Luckily, he found a saviour and a passion in pro wrestling.
“While I was there I met a correctional officer who was an independent wrestler and I used to ask him questions like: ‘how do you guys do this and not really break each other’s necks, what’s the deal?’
“He offered to train me, he said: ‘I see you out there playing basketball and you’re a good looking guy, pretty fit, if you want to learn I’ll teach you. And I was thinking: ‘wow, I’m about to get out, I could use a hobby that’s going to keep me out of trouble. So I took him up on his offer, began training and that was my introduction to the business.”
As he stepped into wrestling for the first time, he found inspiration in a selection of very different athletes: “The guys that I looked up to were Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dave Fit Finlay, Chris Jericho and William Regal – the guys that were international players who had wrestled in Mexico, Europe and Japan before making it big in the US. That’s what I always wanted to do.”
MVP has proceeded to have an outstanding career in pro wrestling, as he explains: “My dream was to wrestle in Japan and my goal was to wrestle for WWE. So being able to wrestle Chris Benoit at Wrestlemania, who was my favourite wrestler, stand across the ring from him and challenge him for the United States Championship was surreal.
“It’s also difficult to describe the emotion of being able to wrestle Ric Flair at Madison Square Garden, which was tremendous for me. And then to go to Japan and be the first ever IWGP intercontinental champion… In Japan they’re really big on the legacy of titans and the history, and to know that the IWGP intercontinental title’s legacy begins with me is incredible. For their company to say we’re introducing a new title; we want to legitimize it and we want you to do it, is a huge honour.
“I always wanted to wrestle in the Tokyo Dome and I’ve done that twice. So when I sit down, take off my wrestling boots and look back over my career they’ll definitely be some of the major highlights.”
After winning the first of his United States Championship’s in 2007, MVP proceeded to possess the title for the third longest spell in its history. He won the title for a second time in 2009, while he also captured the Tag Team Championship alongside Matt Hardy. He opted to leave WWE in 2010, and soon signed for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), spending two successful years with the company before returning to the US.
And while MVP might perhaps be in the twilight years of his performance career, he is still intent on adding to his career highlights: “Stepping into TNA, the door’s wide open, and I’m looking forward to matches with Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode, who I got to wrestle for the first time at Wembley.
“It’s an amazing locker-room full of tremendous talent. They’ve had some real cool additions to the front office, to make some good decisions in terms of the direction of the company. And most importantly there’s the fans, because after three years off of American TV they’ve just been amazing to me. It’s humbling when you’re been away for a while and you come back and they receive you with open arms, so exuberantly and so passionately.”
Even with his long list of accolades, Porter has never forgotten his roots, as well as the role his career played in turning his life around: “Wrestling saved my life, no question about it. If it wasn’t for my career in professional wrestling it’s very likely that I would have gone back to doing the things that I used to do.
“Because of my passion for pro wrestling and what it’s afforded me I was able to go down a different path. I try to give back by going to juvenile detention centres or talking to disaffected youths, explaining to them that there is another way – you don’t necessarily have to run the streets – you can make wise decisions and turn your life around, it’s not too late.
“I talk to ex-convicts sometimes and explain to them: it’s not easy, but you can turn your life around. It takes extreme dedication and sacrifice but you just have to figure out what it is you want to do, and with laser beam focus you need to whole heartedly throw yourself into it.”
MVP is a truly inspirational figure, and epitomizes every ideal that he stands for. He is clearly an individual deeply in love with wrestling, and that passion seeps through him: “There are times of course when I might be dealing with an injury or something like mental exhaustion,” he explains. “But when I hear the roar of the crowd, all of that is gone. You don’t feel it, and it doesn’t bother you until after you’ve long finished your match.
“When the music plays, I first step out through that curtain and I hear applause or booing from the crowd, depending on what my situation is, it’s like everything is suspended. It’s all worth it in the end: all the bumps and the bruises, it’s all worth it.”
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