Recently, TNA fans began to protest TNA's decision to force TJ Perkins to put the Manik mask back on after unmasking him on a recent episode of Impact. I reached out to TJ in the hopes that he could answer some questions about the #TJPMovement and how it came about, and I'm happy to report that he accepted. Below is our exchange:
TJ, before we begin, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us, especially now with everything that's going on with the TJP Movement. For those wrestling fans who aren't aware, could you briefly tell us what the TJP Movement is and why it started?
"The #TJPMovement and #AllWeWantIsTJP hashtags that a lot of fans are seeing are actually a fan created movement to support me. I think a lot of people might have the wrong idea, I know the TNA office certainly does, that it is something I started. The reality is I actually joined the movement started by the fans, not the other way around. It's not something for me regarding wanting a better position or "push" or anything like that at all. Like I said, it's not even something I started...it's simply something that many TNA fans started to voice their opinion to see me perform as myself. They feel better connected to me as myself, they understand me better than Manik. After I unmasked on a recent episode of Impact and my face and name was put out in the open, fans really seemed to take to it in a genuine way. Many TNA fans are very diehard wrestling fans who know about my career and life outside of and before TNA. It's just an outlet for fans who have given me a lot of positive support by voicing their opinion."
The movement seemed to take off following the Bound for Glory PPV, where you wrestled in the Ultimate X match without a mask, albeit as Manik. What exactly happened at BFG to cause such an uproar? Were you told that you'd be putting the mask back on?
"I think it stems from repeat history. Awhile back, I was given a moment and unmasked on Impact with Hulk Hogan and fans got a chance to see me. Many fans were ecstatic at the idea that I may be able to finally be myself after years playing other characters on television (Puma, Sydistiko, Suicide, etc). When I appeared as Manik again, in the same suit, directly after unmasking on Impact recently I think fans sort of called BS on it for lack of a better term. Combined with the fact that the "story" was that I apparently had some sort of personality or identity problem (which is actually a sensitive subject for me personally) after my character had just stood up for Mahabali Shera in order to defend his identity. I just think fans were disappointed to be put through a wasted unmasking again and to also be given an excuse that didn't make any sense."
What is your feeling on the mask? Do you want to put the mask back on or would you prefer to wrestle as TJP?
"I, of course, would prefer to wrestle as TJP. However, I've always been a good soldier and have always been open to making new or obscure characters work. I've played nine to ten different masked characters in my career. Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with a mask or something like that. I do, however, empathize with the fans who feel cheated or that their intelligence is insulted a bit in this case. I can understand that. I think it would be different if there were merchandise plans or something of that nature to prioritize a mask or name, but when there isn't and when fans are being so overwhelmingly positive about something they want, which has already been given to them and is feasible and inconsequential to anything else creatively going on, I feel the same as the fans in wondering, why not?"
Recently, on a post-BFG episode of Impact, Josh Mathews mentioned that you were wearing the mask due to an identity crisis, which you alluded to earlier. You seemed to take exception to that after the show on social media. Could you tell us why?
"I have a family member who suffered a serious breakdown years ago and never truly recovered. He was changed completely because of it and is now a totally different person and it affected my family in various ways. Portraying a character that has an "identity crisis or "personality disorder" or anything similar to that is something I'm not comfortable with. It is why I had done my best to change "Suicide" from something that was so blatantly tied to the word, and I portrayed Manik as "unpredictable" rather than the common idea of the word associated with manic depression. I had actually expressed that I wasn't OK with portraying this story when it was mentioned recently, both personally but also for professional and creative reasons that fans probably wouldn't take to it anyway. I wasn't given a chance to elaborate, although I don't feel any performer should have to give all the details why in such a case. I really think once someone says they are uncomfortable with something that should really be the end of it. I was told we could figure it out later, which I was fine with. Needless to say I was disappointed to learn that I was unknowingly still put in a position to portray that story through circumstances beyond my control."
Has anyone from TNA contacted you since the "identity crisis" reference to let you know that they won't make reference of it again on Impact due to your feelings on this issue? Or do they still plan to go with it through the entirety of the World Title Series?
"I actually haven't had any contact, no. I reached out initially after much of the positive fan movement came pouring in and I expressed that their movement is a good thing and that I'd like to find a way to collaborate with TNA and create something positive from it. I got no response to that message. Later on, I did receive a few messages from office members but only to reprimand me. Not an open forum to express myself. As of now, I haven't been given a chance to really sit and talk with anyone about any of these things. At this point, I'm sure the identity/personality problem thing will continue to be shoehorned in despite my personal objection. I suppose things could change - the matches can't, but the commentary is all new and can."
Have you been given a reason why TNA want you to put the mask back on? Because from a storyline standpoint, like you mentioned, it doesn't make sense. You removed the mask as part of a plot that saw you quit the Revolution in support of another man whose identity was forced upon him by James Storm.
"Well, I think such is the reason for the fans creating a movement and voicing their opinion pretty much immediately. I think everyone really feels that way and were puzzled and didn't buy it. A character fighting for another man's identity suddenly has trouble sorting out his own identity/personality and struggles with it? As for remasking/naming me, I believe it is primarily to tie up loose ends for the company. In which case, I still feel that at least the backstory (that I wasn't comfortable with) didn't need to be shoehorned in as an explanation. I think fans would enjoy the matches either way and root for their favorites, and although they would voice their opinion of wanting TJP, it is still something that could be delivered later. Demand/Supply...as it is."
After removing the mask the second time, the fans in the Impact Zone could be heard chanting "TJP!" when you were leaving the ring, which was as real a moment as we've ever had in the IZ. After hearing the fans chant your name, what were you thinking as you were heading to the back?
"It was heartwarming, to be honest. This is the second time I've had my mask taken off and shown them TJ. After the first unmasking was inexplicably erased, everyone easily could've just wrote me off and stopped caring about me or taking me seriously. Perhaps a lot of people did actually. As a performer you can't keep allowing yourself to be put in such a position because too many misfires can lead to you being the "boy who cried wolf." At the end of the day the performer is left holding that creative bag for better or worse. I wasn't sure how people would react to a second unmasking. However, it seemed like fans started really gathering behind me months prior. I would get chants for me in matches. I noticed it during the three-way match with Khoya and Abyss where Khoya adopted the wooden staff; also, during the X Division title match at Slammiversary. People were really starting to rally behind me regardless of my being a good or bad guy. Fans were deciding that I was simply one of their guys. So when I took my mask off and fans chanted my real name and were really behind me, it was humbling. Wrestling fans don't just choose anyone as their guy. To be given their support like that is a really special thing."
TJ, is there anything you'd like to tell those fans who still believe that this is a work or part of an angle?
"If it were up to me, it would be. It expresses a lot about TNA fans that they have been so positive with their support of me. No one has been negative, or asked me to quit or anything....well, except one guy [laughs]. I'm kidding. However, it will also express a lot about the company depending on where they allow this support to take us. The only negative outcome would be no outcome at all."
And before I let you go, is there something you'd like to tell your fans and those who have been a part of the #TJPMovement?
"I've tried to read every mention I get or comment in my timeline from everyone and I think it's really amazing that almost no one has channeled their support for me in a negative way against the company. That's rare. All the support has been positive and encouraging and I love that. People want to see me stay in TNA and succeed and I want the same. I don't believe in quitting, ever. I also don't believe in shooting for the middle, ever. It means the world to me that anyone cares about me at all. I can't possibly thank people enough for starting this movement on my behalf."
If you would like to get involved and help this cause, please be sure to tweet @TNADixie and @JohnGaburick, preferably more than once, that you want to see TJ Perkins unmasked. Also, please be sure to include the hashtags #AllWeWantIsTJP and #TJPMovement. Andlastly, if you don't already, you can follow TJ Perkins on Twitter at @MaskaraManik