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Mike Pankow

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Josh Mathews is all in with IMPACT Wrestling

Josh Mathews is all in with IMPACT Wrestling

(Thumbnail photo above courtesy IMPACT Wrestling)

By Mike Pankow

October 10, 2019

On Sunday, Oct. 20, Josh Mathews’ professional wrestling life will come full circle.

That’s the night Mathews will broadcast IMPACT Wrestling’s “Bound For Glory” pay-per-view event live from the Odeum in Villa Park in Chicago’s West Suburbs.

IMPACT Wrestling announcer Josh Mathews, who grew up near Chicago, returns to the area to broadcast IMPACT Wrestling’s “Bound For Glory” on Oct. 20.  (Photo courtesy IMPACT Wrestling)

IMPACT Wrestling announcer Josh Mathews, who grew up near Chicago, returns to the area to broadcast IMPACT Wrestling’s “Bound For Glory” on Oct. 20. (Photo courtesy IMPACT Wrestling)

Twenty years earlier, Mathews was an 18-year-old fan in the third row at the Odeum, cheering on the wild-and-crazy hardcore ECW stars at “Anarchy Rulz.”

“I (had) sort of stopped watching wrestling and it was ECW that brought me back as a teenager and seeing what athleticism looked like and wrestlers and guys like Rob Van Dam and watching stuff from Japan and all those amazing things,” Mathews said. “Wrestling was cool for me at that point as a 16-, 17-year old kid.

“Then the Hardys came around to WWE and it was one of those things where I could do all of the cool athletic stuff and not have to worry about being super tall, because at that point I was a junior or senior at high school and most of the kids had outgrown me at that point. I wasn’t going to be competitive in baseball, basketball or football or things like that, so wrestling sort of spoke to me.”

Mathews grew up not far from Chicago in Schererville, in Northwest Indiana, and “the Region rat” attended wrestling shows at the Hammond Civic Center, the United Center and the then-Rosemont Horizon.

“I started this (wrestling) journey when I was 16,” Mathews said last week. “I bought a wrestling ring with my friends and my brothers and put it on our backyard. People thought I was crazy or insane that this was going to be the career path I carved out for myself.”

Shortly after graduating from Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., Mathews landed a spot in WWE’s first season of “Tough Enough,” a reality show which aired on MTV, where a group of aspiring wrestlers lived together and trained in hopes of earning a contract with WWE.

Mathews was one of the top two runners-up on men’s side along with Chicago-area native Chris Nowinski, finishing behind Maven, who was awarded the contract. While Mathews’ dream was delayed, he worked for some local independents before he received the phone call that changed his life.

“Honestly when WWE called me and Kevin Dunn offered me a job as an announcer, I celebrated by burning my wrestling attire,” said Mathews, who admitted he noticed rather quickly the difficult lifestyle of a WWE Superstar while on “Tough Enough.” “When I was offered a job, I withdrew from college, I never went back. My life was in the WWE studio in Connecticut. I spent countless hours there and really tried to hone my craft and become a well-rounded play-by-play announcer.”

Mathews, who has since relocated to Columbus, Ohio, with his wife, IMPACT Knockout Madison Rayne, was the head play-by-play man for shows such as SmackDown, Velocity, ECW and Superstars, and was also a long-time backstage interviewer before being released from WWE in mid-2014. Shortly thereafter, he joined IMPACT and assumed an executive position with the company (he’s currently the Vice President of Digital for IMPACT Wrestling) in addition to becoming the lead play-by-play announcer.

Josh Mathews, left, along with Joey Styles, welcomes fans to WWE’s “Bacon, Bagels and Biceps” breakfast prior to WrestleMania 22 in 2006.  (Photo by Mike Pankow)

Josh Mathews, left, along with Joey Styles, welcomes fans to WWE’s “Bacon, Bagels and Biceps” breakfast prior to WrestleMania 22 in 2006. (Photo by Mike Pankow)

“Bound For Glory” has long been considered IMPACT’s biggest pay-per-view of the year and Mathews, 38, has been the voice of the company over the last half-decade.

IMPACT has been riding some upward momentum over the last couple of years as Anthem Sports & Entertainment took the 17-year-old brand out of Universal Studios in Orlando and on the road for its television tapings. And for the first time since February 2014, IMPACT is returning to the Chicago area.

“Not to say the model was broken, but the model was broken and nobody had the foresight to fix it,” Mathews said. “So we got out on the road 22 months ago. We’ve been all over the place, including Mumbai, India, Mexico, California, all over, and now Chicago’s on the map. I don’t think there’s any reason why we won’t come back to Chicago (after ‘Bound For Glory’). This show has the potential to be the highest grossing pay-per-view that I’ve been part of since I’ve been here.”

The stars of IMPACT Wrestling are a big reason for the recent success and critical acclaim as the company transitioned from more established to younger, fresher faces. While there are still veterans on the roster, newer acts like IMPACT Wrestling World Champion Brian Cage, Tessa Blanchard and Sami Callihan are the ones garnering the attention.

“You have to have a diverse locker room,” Mathews said. “Give the fans an opportunity to see who they’re familiar with like Rob Van Dam, Rhino and Ken Shamrock. Maybe that’s what draws you in, but by watching you get more familiar with Sami Callihan, Jake Crist, Madman Fulton or Tessa Blanchard and you start to see these new characters and go ‘I like these guys too. I paid to see Ken Shamrock, but I really like what Tessa Blanchard’s doing. I’m really enjoying what the Rascalz are doing.’ ” 

IMPACT is taking over the Chicago area next weekend (Oct. 18-20) with the company putting on the “Prelude to Glory” show on Friday, Oct. 18, which will air on IMPACT Plus, live from South Bend, Ind., about a two-hour drive away from Chicago. Featured matches on the show include Cage and Blanchard teaming up against X Division Champion Jake Crist and Fulton as well as Jordynne Grace, Rosemary and Tenille Dashwood facing Rayne, Kiera Hogan and IMPACT Knockouts Champion Taya Valkyrie.

Saturday night at 115 Bourbon Street in South suburban Merrionette Park, IMPACT presents “All Glory,” which features a fan fest with IMPACT talent, a video game tournament hosted by Callihan and a full wrestling card comprised of nine matches with some of the best Chicago and Midwestern independent talent.

Warrior Wrestling, Zelo Pro, Galli Lucha Libre, Black Label Pro, Pro Wrestling Revolver and Ohio Valley Wrestling will be represented on the card. Some of the highlighted matches include Robert “Ego” Anthony (with Frank the Clown) against Space Monkey, a five-way match with Bryce Benjamin, Brubaker, GPA, Project M.O.N.I.X. and Isaias Velazquez, and a three-way match for the Zelo Pro Women’s Championship with Laynie Luck defending against Kylie Rae and Shotzi Blackheart.

“It’s great to see Chicago wrestling and the way it’s sort of blown up over the last number of years. Chicago has always had a passionate fan base,” Mathews said. “We’ve invited various wrestling promotions from around Chicago to come and have showcase matches. They’re bringing Chicago talent – this is homegrown talent we’re going to get to see.

“All eyes from IMPACT Wrestling will be there at 115 Bourbon. If we see something or somebody who looks really good or really impressive, I wouldn’t be surprised if a contract wasn’t offered on that particular night.”

Then on Sunday, Oct. 20, the main event of the weekend, “Bound For Glory” comes to the Odeum.

The top attraction will be Cage defending the IMPACT Wrestling World Championship against Callihan in a match between the agile powerhouse against the cunning, heelish veteran. Both have deep ties to Chicago as Cage is also the current Warrior Wrestling Champion and Callihan is a former AAW Champion.

Another showcase match features veteran wrestler and UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock squaring off against Moose, who touts himself as Mr. IMPACT Wrestling. Shamrock was the first World Champion recognized in the promotion when he defeated Malice (aka “The Wall” Jerry Tuite) in the finals of a Gauntlet for the Gold at the first-ever NWA-TNA pay-per-view on June 19, 2002. Moose played 62 games over seven NFL seasons as an offensive lineman before making his pro-wrestling debut in 2014.

Valkyrie, who recently became the longest reigning Knockouts Champion in IMPACT history, puts up her title against world-renowned veteran Tenille Dashwood, who previously wrestled for NXT, WWE and ROH while making an appearance in the Casino Battle Royale at AEW’s All Out at the Sears Centre on Aug. 31.

Blanchard, who wrestled Callihan in the main event at “Slammiversary” back in June, is entered in the five-way X-Division ladder match as Jake Crist defends that title.

IMPACT is poised to deliver a quality show at “Bound For Glory” as “Slammiversary” produced a home run, especially in the second half of that show.

For those on the fence, Mathews offered some reasons for fans to flock out to the Odeum.

“Give us a chance,” he said. “The last 22 months we’ve had seven, eight pay-per-views. I think that IMPACT Wrestling has, without question, put on the best pay-per-views of any wrestling company over the past number of years. You get great matches, decisive conclusions to matches, you certainly get your money’s worth. With our Titanium packages, we do try to go above and beyond with the interaction you get with our stars. You get up close and personal like nothing I’ve ever seen before with IMPACT Wrestling. It’s my home. My wife and I work here. I eat, sleep and breathe this product. If didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t be doing interviews like this and still be here. I love this brand, I love this product. Going forward, you’re going to see more and more great things from us.”

(Editor’s Note: Next week, Windy City Slam will have a preview of the “Bound For Glory” card and the weekend festivities)

Windy City Slam editor Mike Pankow speaks with IMPACT Wrestling play-by-play announcer and executive Josh Mathews about the company's rise over the last few years, his personal career and how he got into wrestling and the upcoming "Bound For Glory" pay-per-view coming to the Chicago area on Sunday, Oct. 20.

Catch Windy City Slam editor Mike Pankow talking local and national pro wrestling every other week on The Broadcast Basement, available wherever you download podcasts or at https://broadcastbasement.podbean.com/.

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