Tom Hannifan on being released by WWE, being replaced by Adnan Virk, what he learned from Michael Cole, WWE lingo, whether he’s fed notes in Impact Wrestling, inventing the “calf bone”

By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)

Insight With Chris Van Vliet with guest Tom Hannifan
Host: Chris Van Vliet
Podcast available via Podcasts.Apple.com
Video available at Chris Van Vliet’s YouTube Page

What was your reaction to being released by WWE? “It was a shock and it was a surprise. It was an emotional and heart-breaking day, but this is a business, it’s budget cuts, and the pandemic has hit a lot of different businesses in a lot of different ways. I kind of understood how things were going, Adnan Virk was brought in in April, then they made the move to Jimmy Smith. I saw the way that things were going but that’s just business. It took me a while to separate my personal feelings from what happened to a business standpoint.”

Did you keep up with Impact Wrestling while working for WWE? “It was kind of 50/50. I was legitimately a fan, I grew up a fan of The Motor City Machine Guns, Samoa Joe, I loved the X Division. I remember Magnus’s World Title run being a big heel run. It was all these experiences where I had seen this show before, so it was just fun. I got a lot of people tweeting me saying I was fed stuff, but no, I did a lot of research.”

We have heard the stories about Vince McMahon being in all the commentator’s ears in WWE, but who is in your ear at Impact? “I will get fed the occasional note from the match producer if there is something important. My executive producer is Josh Matthews, but if you told me that a few years ago, I would be like what? It is wild, we have crossed paths briefly in WWE, I was getting started as his time was coming to an end. But it’s wild that you keep running across the same people, it’s like a quarterback going from one system to another but with another playbook.”

When did you feel like you were given your first big opportunity in WWE? “I would say it was the first time that I got called up to Smackdown, in retrospect I had no clue what I was doing, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought it was just calling a match, but there are so many layers to this. Thankfully the powers that be gave me a lot of opportunities to fail and to grow. I think that’s something where people just look at success, but no you need to fail and mature to get better. I feel like I was a success in WWE.”

What was your biggest on-air mistake? “Yeah, there have been a bunch. I can’t really remember what it was, but it was a Samoa Joe match with me [Corey] Graves and Byron [Saxton] because we were all tied at the hip. I got tongue tied and invented the calf bone, which Graves got on top of me and said ‘That’s not a thing Phillips, that’s a shin.’ My head just bounced off the desk and I’m like yeah, I will see myself out.”

What words were you not allowed to say in WWE that you can now say in Impact Wrestling? “I think the obvious ones are that you always refer to the fans as the WWE Universe. You don’t call them fans, the crowd, or the audience, it’s to build the fans as a community. It’s just little things like, also like pro wrestling, they don’t want us to say that.”

Whether he had to say the full names of wrestlers at all times. “No, I never experienced that. One thing that I was taught by Michael Cole and a number of tenured announcers was just don’t refer to guys by just their first name. If it was any form of combat sports, you wouldn’t say ‘Jorge hit him!’ It sounds too friendly and too casual.”

What is the biggest thing you learned from Michael Cole? “While I did not have a ton of patience, he was very patient with me. It was just to be patient, keep working, and not give up on circumstance. I was moved around shows on the carousel, and I was so freaking young. For him to be patient with me, that was the biggest thing.”

What were your feelings when they told you that Adnan Virk would be replacing you? “My first thought was wow, Adnan is a heavy hitter. I’m proud to say that Adnan is a friend and we do talk once in a while. I have tremendous respect for him, I had seen what he had done on Sports Center, and this guy is good, he has the chops and can cope with the traffic. Before anyone can say ‘I’m going to call WWE because I can call a good boxing or MMA match.’ That really doesn’t matter. If you can’t handle the flow of a two or three hour live show, or a pay-per-view, then you are dead. I knew he could handle that traffic. So I was very much like, well, this is serious, now I have to do 205 Live, be a producer on NXT, and do what I can to compete.”

What was your favorite call in WWE? “Oh, gosh. I mentioned KofiMania. I loved the call in the conclusion of that match. I will always remember [NXT] Takeover Dallas where Corey Graves called Shinsuke’s [Nakamura] arrival in NXT and Sami Zayn’s last match in NXT. The building is shaking and Graves and I are just freaking out, we had goosebumps and everything. But there were a lot of individual moments that I was proud of that call. But for every good one, there are 100 bad ones. I have a perfectionist mentality. But I will watch it back and lighten up on myself, I think a lot of people need to do that in general.”

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