Gail Kim on TNA Shocks, Wrestling Again & Marriage to Food Network Star Robert Irvine

Hard to Kill on January 13 will go down as a special night for Gail Kim. The first-ever TNA Wrestling Knockouts champion and Hall of Famer watched with pride as the current generation of female talent entertained a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas.

Fans were enthralled by Trinity and Jordynne Grace’s standout battle, Decay’s triumphant return to the tag division and Gisele Shaw’s exciting Ultimate X win. For someone like Kim, who has always fought for equality within the pro wrestling business, it always warms her heart when the Knockouts are in the spotlight.

These days the trailblazer lives vicariously through today’s stars as a producer. She has been among those behind the scenes who have worked tirelessly to see this company resurgence, rebranding back to its Total Nonstop Action roots. Here Kim opens up about what it means to witness TNA Wrestling’s momentum, and what it means to have the support of husband, chef and Food Network star Robert Irvine at this phase of her career.

Gail Kim

TNA Wrestling

How did you feel about the return of the TNA Wrestling name? 

Gail Kim: I love this company and would always try to stay positive, but I never really loved the Impact name. You get used to it, and it’s fine, but I always loved TNA. It’s chant-able. It’s truly where I started. I always had nostalgia for it. So when I found out we were going to go back to that name, I lost my mind. I thought it was a hundred percent the right decision. Just to see the roster experience it as a surprise [at Bound for Glory], that was exciting. I love surprises in wrestling. Just like the surprise of Nic Nemeth (the former Dolph Ziggler) coming in at Hard to Kill.

I loved how TNA pulled off Nic’s debut. What was it like having him in the company? That’s a big shot in the arm in terms of star power. 

When he got released from WWE, I was shocked. Even though I felt he was not being used to the best of his capabilities. Just knowing Nic and his real-life personality and wrestling style, I thought he would fit in so perfectly. I didn’t know Nic was coming in until maybe sometime in December. When I found out, I knew it would be a big thing for us. I think he fits in so well and could be the face of the company. He’ll be one of those top guys. He is so rounded in every way.

Our company is known for consistent story-telling. Not to mention there is character development where we work with the talent with what they want as well as what they think their character would be. I think he will enjoy that flexibility. To be able to be yourself. I know when I came into this company from WWE I was treated as Gail. I felt I could be the person I wanted to be. For Nic, we’re going to give him that platform to shine. He’ll take that ball and run with it.

Another new face is the former Dana Brooke, Ash by Elegance. What do you think she brings to the table? 

I interacted with her over the Hard to Kill weekend and leading up to it. We have a lot of mutual friends like Tenille Dashwood. The main points that were brought up about her from people she worked with were her work ethic and desire to want to do something in wrestling. I love that. The fact they are coming to TNA, speaks volumes of what they think our company is like and what others say. We’re a well-gelled group that wants this company to succeed. I think the TNA brand again helped us. People grew up watching TNA. When we announced the name change back to TNA, many of the girls were excited to be TNA Knockouts. Masha [Slamovich] went to her social media right away and changed it to TNA Knockout. It brings joy to my heart.

How did it feel to see Jordynne Grace carrying the torch again as Knockouts champion?  What were your thoughts on how Trinity did during her reign? 

When Jordynne walked into this company, I could see her potential. She has completely transformed herself. I give her all the credit in the world. In the beginning, she was stubborn, but she one day showed she was listening and applying the knowledge given to her. She works so hard. You see that physical transformation. She is the epitome of what TNA is by today’s standards. Trinity was a great champion as well. I knew Trinity when she started at WWE and came through from NXT. I always loved her because she was a real authentic person. She never changed since that day. She has only gotten better. Everyone knew she was a star in the ring, but a star outside the ring in the way she conducts herself and the way fans love her. She was a cheerleader the day she walked in, and embraced this opportunity. We gave her the platform to show who she really is. A star.

Gisele Shaw won the Ulitmate X match. Would you say that was her breakout moment? 

It was awesome. She has been with our company now going into the third year. She has only improved since the day she came in. She has had a lot of huge moments over the years. Living freely now, I noticed that switch, even in her performance after. She has been a consistent performer.  I think 2024 could be Gisele’s year.

Being in so many locker rooms over the various eras, where does today’s rank? 

I’ve been in so many regimes and locker rooms, and it has been great, we’ve had many great locker rooms in the past. This is probably the most gelled, high-morale group between production crew and talent combined that I’ve seen in a  long time. We all love being part of TNA and want to collectively help this company succeed. I think that’s showing.

You have Orlando TV tapings coming up. It feels like a homecoming as Orlando has been the place where TNA has made so much history. 

Orlando was our home base. Hopefully, the fans that were in the Impact Zone in Universal Studios Orlando will come back and watch us in this new venue again at Osceola Heritage Park. I think the nostalgia is there. [TNA Wrestling President] Scott D’Amore does a great job as a leader. He is adamant after a big show to make sure we’re not riding on the coattails of the last show. We have had a quick turnaround since Vegas and into Orlando. The wrestlers are always ready to go though.

Gail Kim and Chef Irvine

Gail Kim/Instagram

I saw you and your husband Robert Irvine visited Australia over the holiday. You’ve been happily married for more than a decade. How would you describe your relationship and why it’s so successful? 

He is not a fan of wrestling, but he can give me that outside point of view. He also has a smart business mind. He sees a lot within our company, not just as an entertainment product, but business. He’ll give me advice in that regard. He also has a great relationship with execs Scott, Len [Asper], and Ed [Nordholm] because he has been around. He got to know them. I love that he supports me, even though he is not a wrestling fan. I love he can understand my lifestyle and that I can understand his.

A lot of people will say we have a perfect relationship. But relationships are not always the easiest, but I’ll say that the last couple of years have been so great. We’re good in that this is our schedule, separated and then come together. You know what they say. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our bond has gotten stronger. He is coming home today. So I will see him for a day sometimes. We’re very supportive of our careers. He loves my independence and what I do. I love my job, and it gives me a sense of worth.

Him being in the restaurant business and you being in the wrestling business. That screams reality show. Do you see any collaborations in the future? 

A reality show has been pitched in the past, but we are very much in the mindset that we don’t mind not doing something together. We have done little things together, but we don’t want to do something unless it’s something we definitely feel passionate about. It has to be something we truly want to do. We don’t want to damper each other’s world in a sense, but if it is right,  we’re open to it.

With TNA back and you working the Impact 1000 episode last year, do you have the itch to return to the ring again? 

There are always these special occasions that come along like the 1000th episode. I’ve always been open to special occasions if everything is presented right. If it feels right and if the fans want it because I don’t want to come out of retirement myself only. There has to be some reason behind it. Like when I fought Tessa Blanchard when I felt my career didn’t end right. I found a reason to come out of retirement. I’m not opposed to those things, but I’m completely happy to be a producer and get the best out of the roster and Knockouts. Never say never.

What would you say is your New Year’s resolution in TNA? 

What I’ve said out loud is to be a better producer. The effort I put in the ring I want to put into producing. Lance Storm as a producer was a goal I wanted to achieve because he is the best. A genius. What a great teacher. I want to feel the love so that everyone wants me to be their producer like they do him.

TNA Impact, Thursdays, 8/7c, AXS TV

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