by Daniel Johnson
Interviewer’s Note: Matt Topolski is the co-founder of Diet Productions, a production company based in Houston, Texas. Topolski and his company have recently been working with the NWA where Topolski also serves as a commentator. Although to date Topolski has not worked as a wrestling commentator outside of the NWA he looks forward to calling more NWA action and also working with NJPW. Outside of his wrestling commentary, Topolski has also provided commentary for the program, Primetime Boxing since 2012. In addition to these two endeavors his work as a producer, writer and commentator has led him to work on a slew of productions both sports related and otherwise. He can be followed on Twitter @matttopolski and has a Facebook page here. This interview was completed on September 3, 2013. In this interview Topolski and I focus on the topic of commentating on today’s wrestling scene.
Daniel Johnson: In a nutshell how would you describe yourself as a commentator?
Matt Topolski: I’d like to think of myself as a pure sports commentator who’s been a fan of professional wrestling most of my life and had an opportunity to call some action. My television and broadcasting experience began by hosting news and political talk and then calling the action on prime time boxing. So my experience is very diverse and I think it provides an interesting element to my delivery. I’d like to think I’m always evolving.
Daniel Johnson: How did you first get involved in the world of wrestling?
Matt Topolski: When I was working on a political show called Real Talk, my sound guy was a huge wrestling fan. He turned me on to an NWA promotion in Houston and after our first Friday night at the American Legion I was hooked on their product. At this point I had not watched WWE in a few years, but what NWA Houston was doing truly rekindled my passion for professional wrestling. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and once I made it to college I discovered a local promotion being run out of Hazelton, PA; it was Afa The Wild Samoan’s WXW. My friends and I became close to some of the boys, and at the time, there was some mad talent coming out of there, I was a big mark for a guy named “Smooth” Tommy Suede. Some of the other more notable WXW talent included: Gene Snitsky and Dave Batista. It was an impressive indie show each month always concluding with someone being taken to the hospital, it was the trademark gimmick of their show. That was my first consistent up close and personal relation to the business before seeing NWA Houston live and ultimately becoming involved with the National Wrestling Alliance as a whole.
Daniel Johnson: Are there any commentators you learned from prior to commentating yourself?
Matt Topolski: I learned a lot from my broadcast colleague on Primetime Boxing, Bob Spagnola. Spagnola was the color man, and a former boxer himself and currently one of the best managers in the world of boxing. I learned by doing; trial by fire I suppose, but he helped me to slow down a little but at the same time maintain my passion for the action. Spagnola’s gritty and seasoned delivery was the perfect complement for my style. Working with him raised my confidence and helped me a great deal. I owe him a lot of thanks, because when I got my start he carried my ass.
Daniel Johnson: For those unfamiliar with you are there any other commentators you would compare yourself to?
Matt Topolski: I don’t feel comfortable exactly comparing myself to others, but commentators like Joey Styles, Jim Ross, Gorilla Monsoon and Gordon Solie have all had a tremendous influence on my style. Gordon was the Howard Cosell of professional wrestling and I love listening to his work. I’ve always been a firm believer in calling the maneuvers and movements and leaving the story telling to the professionals in the ring. Touching on back story and filling in the gaps for the fans is understandable, but sometimes as a commentator you need to get out of the way and let the spirit of true competition take over. When a pivotal moment in the match takes place that’s when I get up and naturally convey the excitement to the fans as best I can. Best example I can give is like Gus Johnson making a touchdown call. I wish I could hire Gus Johnson just to provide commentary on my life moments. You can’t help but get excited about the play because of his passion for the sport he’s broadcasting about. I hope I can deliver that same style with my commentary.
Daniel Johnson: What was the first match you ever called? Also, do you think you have grown as a commentator since then and if so then how?
Matt Topolski: I can’t remember the first match I’ve called, but certainly the most memorable to date has been the NWA World Heavyweight Championship match between Kahagas and Rob Conway. There was a special energy in San Antonio that night and everyone who was lucky enough to be there could feel it. The reaction of the fans, and the reaction Conway had after he won the title was a textbook example of why I love this business. How could you not look at what Rob Conway has been through in his career and be anything but charged up for his victory. It was amazing to watch and an honor to call. I’ve gotten some very good advice from a few people in the business and I’ve taken it to heart. I try to grow, learn and evolve each time I make the call.
Daniel Johnson: How do you prepare yourself to commentate a match? Are there any vocal excises you do or anything you do to prepare yourself mentally?
Matt Topolski: I wish I had an obsessively complex series of voice exercises to tell you about but it’s really not the case. I’m extremely familiar with some of the competitors and the ones I’m not I research as much as I can to provide context to their matches and to have an expectation of their style. It is my job as a commentator to put an exclamation mark on their best work, and this does involve preparation.
Daniel Johnson: How did you first get involved with commentating for the NWA? Have you done any commentating work outside of the NWA?
Matt Topolski: Chris Ronqullio aka Tony Brooklyn, the promoter of NWA Houston and the vice president of the National Wrestling Alliance took a chance on me, and I’m very grateful to him for the opportunity. To date, I haven’t done any professional wrestling commentary outside of the NWA.
Daniel Johnson: For those unfamiliar with the modern NWA what is one thing you would tell them that might convince them to give the modern NWA a chance?
Matt Topolski: Every wrestling fan knows the NWA, it’s the oldest governing body of professional wrestling in the world. With age comes evolution and I think today the NWA is going through an exciting evolution with two guys at the helm of this ship who have a great respect for the history of the National Wrestling Alliance and a great love for the sport of professional wrestling. In my opinion, R. Bruce Tharpe and Chris Ronquillo have taken it on the chin a little from fans on the Internet who believed Colt Cabana and Adam Pierce got a raw deal, but they can’t begin to conceive the number of moving parts behind the scenes. Tharpe and Ronquillo have taken a struggling banner rich in history and injected a sense of excitement and promise back into the National Wrestling Alliance. The work they have done to develop new territories, strengthen existing relationships and creating global partnerships with companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling are fine examples of their commitment to the future of the NWA. I think beyond the new ownership the incredible talent pool is a great reason to check out the modern NWA. The NWA World Heavyweight Champion Rob Conway, “Addictive and Expensive” Byron Wilcott, “The Tokyo Monster” Kahagas, “The Vanilla Godzilla” Jax Dane, and The Killer Elite Squad, Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer are all superstars who could headline any card in the world. These are larger than life athletes who you have to see live. Additionally, the modern NWA focuses on something that has always separated it from its counterparts: wrestling. The wrestling in the modern NWA is as good as it has ever been. Raymond “Death” Rowe is in my humble opinion one of the most talented professional wrestlers in the business right now. If you haven’t seen him before, YouTube Raymond Rowe and thank me later. These are the incredible athletes and stars of the modern NWA.
Daniel Johnson: Were you fan of the NWA growing up? If so do you have any memories in particular that stand out to you regarding the NWA?
Matt Topolski: When the NWA was at the height of its popularity I was yet to be conceived, instead I was a young man brought up on the merits of “eating my vitamins and saying my prayers.” My first memory of watching TV was Wrestlemania 3. We didn’t have TBS Superstation at my parents’ house so I would watch World Championship Wrestling at my grandparent’s place on the weekends. I was always a WWF fan first however, and fortunately grew up during the time of both Hogan and Savage, The Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era. It was a historic 20 years for sports and entertainment and its hard to argue against it. My NWA Wrestling education came later in life thanks to old VHS tapes, YouTube, the archives of Jim Crockett Promotions and other research. I’ve since gone back and watched probably hundreds of hours of NWA Wrestling footage.
Daniel Johnson: How do you see the modern NWA expanding in the future and how would you like to be part of that expansion?
Matt Topolski: With the right strategic partnerships and a lot of blood, sweat and teamwork I can see the National Wrestling Alliance developing a national television product, possibly on On Demand, or making waves in Japan. Anything can happen with the vision of Bruce Tharpe, who has done a pretty fine job thus far with what he was handed when he took the reigns. If there is a place at the commentating table, production side, or creatively, I’ll always be happy to contribute. It’s exhilarating to be a small part of the journey so far.
Daniel Johnson: The NWA has recently been strengthening their relationship with NJPW. I believe recently NJPW even did a two day tour in the United States. Are you familiar with NJPW and do you have any interest in calling NJPW matches?
Matt Topolski: New Japan Pro Wrestling will be invading Texas on October 18 and 19, respectively, with a monster event from the Humble Civic Center in Houston, and the next night with another can’t miss night of action from NWA Branded Outlaw Wrestling in San Antonio. NWA Houston and NWA BOW have a very solid partnership which has paid dividends for the National Wrestling Alliance and I expect this historic weekend partnering with NJPW to be the crown jewel of their efforts thus far. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for New Japan Pro Wrestling and their product. It’s remarkable how much it continues to grow in popularity and how quickly. Order an iPPV of theirs sometime, you won’t be disappointed. I will be calling the action at NWA Invasion on October 18 from the Humble Civic Center, and should NJPW ever have a need for an English speaking voice, my phone takes international calls.
Daniel Johnson: Are there any promotions outside of the NWA that you would like to work with that you have not had the chance to yet?
Matt Topolski: My schedule limits my ability to be very creative outside of what I’m doing now so I can’t think of many others beyond the NWA or NJPW.
Daniel Johnson: Speaking more generally about commentating in wrestling how important do you think it is to have psychology in a match and how can commentators best add to a match’s psychology?
Matt Topolski: Psychology in a match is everything. You can have a guy who knows every wristlock, suplex and submission maneuver on the planet, but if he doesn’t have “it” then he’ll fall flat with the crowd. I’ve witnessed it as a spectator and as a commentator. See a guy named “Jon Moxley” aka Dean Ambrose for more information on how far ring psychology can take you. This is a guy who’s not exactly the traditional build for WWE, but his psychology made him into a star. For a less modern example, see Roddy Piper. Being able to work is a foundational element of getting booked, but having the “it” factor means the difference between opening a match for 10 to 15 years and a real shot at making money. Some may criticize my statement, but just remember most if not all of us got into this business at one point because we were fans first. What do you look for as a fan? I think commentators can add to the ring psychology by being prepared and aware of who the competitors are in the ring and what qualities they bring to the table. Highlight those moments as best as possible.
Daniel Johnson: Outside of wrestling you also host the program Primetime Boxing. How did you get involved in this position?
Matt Topolski: In early 2012, my production company began producing a boxing show in Houston for a global audience called Primetime Boxing, featuring former world heavyweight boxing champion and promoter Lou Savarese’s Boxing from Houston as well as other promotions in Texas. I was asked to provide commentary due to my previous television experience. Our third season begins in 2014 featuring promoters around the country and will air on cable and On Demand networks across the globe.
Daniel Johnson: What are the differences between commentating on boxing and commentating on wrestling? Are they pretty much night and day or are there any similarities?
Matt Topolski: There are similarities and differences. The preparation is about the same, but professional wrestling allows me the ability to be more creative and honestly, allows me to be me. There a certain amount of liberties you can take with professional wrestling that you can’t take with a dry sports broadcast. I try and make both unique and special in my own way though. If you can help sell to the audience what’s happening in that ring, then they’re closer then you think.
Daniel Johnson: What do you believe the best match you have commentated on has been to date? Both in wrestling and boxing.
Matt Topolski: Boxing: anything with Medzhid Bektemirov; the kid is a world class prospect and a great pleasure to watch in person. I wish him all the success in the world. In terms of professional wrestling, my most memorable has been Conway versus Kahagas, but my favorite and best match to call to date has been Raymond Rowe and Mike Dell. That was a clinic! Parade of Champions’ show stealer.
Daniel Johnson: What are your short-term goals for the next year or so?
Matt Topolski: Personal and professional. Connect more with family, continue to build Diet Productions, and a few personal career decisions that you’ll just have to wait to see develop. I’m laser focused for 2014.
Daniel Johnson: I also like to ask five non-wrestling related questions just to bring a little uniqueness to the interview. Outside of wrestling, what television shows do you enjoy watching these days?
Matt Topolski: I’m a huge fan of House of Cards, I’m a True Blood whore, love Boardwalk Empire and mainly keep the remainder of my television consumption to wrestling and/or sports entertainment or documentaries of any kind.
Daniel Johnson: What was your favorite movie that came out this year?
Matt Topolski: The Conjuring. Based on a true story or not, that will make you think twice before turning out the lights at night.
Daniel Johnson: What is your favorite food that you tried for the first time this year?
Matt Topolski: Good question. I’m a pretty diverse eater, and I’ve already tried many international foods. I did start juicing this year, so I guess I’ll say Kale Shakes. Sounds gross, but it’ll change your life.
Daniel Johnson: What is your favorite song to come out this year?
Matt Topolski: Anything Imagine Dragons has released, anything
Daniel Johnson: What is the last book you read and would you recommend it?
Matt Topolski: FDR Goes to War by Burton W. Folsom and Anita Folsom. I’m a political nerd and a liberty lover. If you’re into history, current political affairs, or predicting the future by learning from the past then you’ll love this book. If you hate history or couldn’t care less about politics then reading this book would be a bad time for you.
Daniel Johnson: I had just a few more brief questions. Have you done any commentating or voice work outside of wrestling and boxing?
Matt Topolski: Quite a bit. I’ve done, television shows and commercials of all kinds, voice overs, radio work, etc. Been bouncing around since about 2010. I’ve done work for Legacy MMA which aired on AXS TV and the MCB Network, as well as a four hour television special in honor of Bing Crosby. That was perhaps the most rewarding project and most fun I’ve ever had on a project.
Daniel Johnson: What is the weirdest part of being involved in the world of wrestling?
Matt Topolski: Having now worked with some of the very people I grew up watching on TV.
Daniel Johnson: Is there anything you would like to promote?
Matt Topolski: NWA Invasion on October 18 from the Humble Civic Center, tickets available now at NWARingside.com as well as the NWA Houston Parade of Champions’ Blu-ray and DVD also available now on the website. Finally, my Facebook page Facebook.com/TheMattTopolski. All of my projects and updates about everything I’m doing from more political talk to the worlds of production, professional wrestling and Primetime Boxing can be found there.
Daniel Johnson: What do you see as your end goal working in wrestling? Do you have any ambitions to work for WWE or TNA?
Matt Topolski: It has always been my dream to say those three words: Welcome to Wrestlemania. Guess a boy can dream, right?
Daniel Johnson: Is there anything you would like to add?
Matt Topolski: Good fight and Goodnight.
Check out Matt Topolski in action! The match he called between “The Iron Man” Rob Conway and “The Tokyo Monster” Kahagas can be found here. Here, he calls a match between Raymond “Death” Rowe and John “Big League” McChesney for the NWA Lone Star Junior Heavyweight Championship at the NWA Houston Shut Up and Wrestle show:
Categories: Wrestling Interviews