In 2002, the wrestling landscape was in a state of shock. In 2001 WCW went under. From a company that almost drove the WWF/E into the ground, it was bought out by Titan Sports to become the butt of a bunch of stupid McMahon booking decisions. But WCW was essentially dead. And also in 2001 ECW died, only to be brought back to “life” in some sort of strange Frankenstein’s monster mash-up of mediocrity by the WWF/E as a third brand before that pathetically petered off in about 2010. But the real ECW died in 2001.
That left on the main stage one survivor – one Vincent K McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment.
Yes, Ring of Honor started in 2002, but back then it was really just a means for Rob Feinstein to sell his videos (RF Videos). They held live shows that were filmed and the videos sold, but did not have a television presence or PPVs at this stage – they were just another indy promotion like so many others, but with a bit more of an online presence.
However, in 2002 some-one decided to enter this rather barren marketplace. Jerry Jarrett and his son Jeff – who was effectively blackballed by the WWF(E) for something (I’ve read stories about holding them up for money or refusing to job to certain people, but I don’t know what’s what… and he’s now in the Hall of Fame, so, you know… wrestling) – decided to go out on their own. Jeff was known as a multi-time WCW World Champion, as well as winning a bunch of other titles around the place, so he was certainly no stranger to wrestling fans, so he was the building block of the company.
Thus, in 2002, NWA: Total Nonstop Action (NWA:TNA) was born.
But there were two things from the outset that made people feel this may not work brilliantly. First was the name. I mean, seriously – TNA, T&A? What kid was going to get their parents to let them watch a show with that name in many parts of the USA? And the second was the creative person the Jarretts brought in – once Vince Russo. Yes, he was a friend of Jeff, but his “creative” crap in the last few years of WCW was so awful it became a game of not “if” but “when” WCW would fall over. That includes booking David Arquette as World Champion, booking “Oklahoma” as Cruiserweight Champion, and – worst than anything else – booking himself as World Champion.
And yet, there was one thing NWA:TNA did from the start that was different and, I think, helped them actually become established: they had weekly PPVs. They did not have a weekly TV show, but every week you paid $10 for a 2 hour show. Where WWF/E was giving you free weekly TV with very little wrestling and a lot of stupid crap, then hitting you up for $40 for a 3 hour PPV, with TNA, you paid the same $40 and got 8 hours of wrestling… and a lot of crap. This was so successful that it ran for 111 episodes, ending in September 2004.
But – oh, there is always a “but”, isn’t there? – that first weekly PPV was not a good starting point.
So, we come to T&A, the first weekly PPV, on June 19, 2002.
We open with fireworks, and introduce Don West, and he brings out Ed Ferrara, who introduces Mike Tenay. Tenay explains the Gauntlet for the Gold where a new NWA heavyweight champion will be crowned.
Jeremy Borash is the ring announcer and he introduces the “legends of the National Wrestling Alliance” – Harley Race, Dory Funk Jr, Jackie Fargo, Bullet Bob Armstrong, Corsica Joe & Sarah Lee, Bill Behrens (an NWA executive), and one Ricky Steamboat. That is quite the legend list. Steamboat has the NWA title belt. Steamboat on the mic and puts the NWA belt over huge. And he’ll be the referee for the final match.
He is interrupted by Jeff Jarrett. He demolishes the concept of Gauntlet for the Gold… probably rightfully so. Fargo cuts him off and makes him the first entrant in the gauntlet. Ken Shamrock comes out and agrees with Jarrett about the Gauntlet sucking, but then says he’s winning. Scott Hall comes out through the crowd. “Hey, yo!” He also agrees about the battle royal sucking. Way to put over your company… It’s like they knew it would be terrible, but they didn’t have the balls to do a tournament, so went this way instead, but why would you tell your audience it sucks? But Hall also says he’s going to win. Jarrett leaves, threatening Fargo as he goes.
We go to the back with some woman (Goldilocks… *sigh!*) who is with Puppet the Psycho Dwarf. He cuts a stupid promo… and thank God Jarrett interrupts by kicking things and cursing Fargo.
At about 16 minutes in, we have the first match. Now, normally, I would rag on that, but the world’s fattest wrestler (Cheex… yes, really) broke a ring rope in a dark match before the show and they had to spend the time getting it fixed. The fact they did is a credit to the ring crew.
Match 1: Six-man tag team match: AJ Styles, Low Ki & Jerry Lynn v The Flying Elvises (Jorge Estrada, Sonny Siaki & Jimmy Yang)
Tenay puts over the X-Division and explains it well. But, seriously, your first TNA match features a trio of Elvis impersonators… But, despite that, this match was an excellent way to start the TNA in-ring action. It did not stop, just go-go-go, 6-men doing the proto-style that would become the X-Division – sort of a cross between lucha libre and Japanese styles and a gymnastics exhibition. I’m glad at times like this I don’t do play-by-play because I could not keep up. End comes when Low Ki accidentally kicks Styles and Yang hits the twisting moonsault (Yang time) for the pin. 8 minutes of goodness.
And we have women dancing in cages. In the twenty-first century.
Match 2: Midget match: Hollywood v TEO
Yes, that’s right, your second TNA match is a midget match. I don’t like most midget matches. This did not change anything. Botches and sexual innuendo abound. Tedious. 3 minutes of crap. TEO won.
No picture. Nope. Forget it.
More caged women. I think some-one in this company has issues…
Ferrara and West are in the ring. They announce a lingerie battle royal for next week. They bring out some (all?) of the females to be involved. Ex-ECW, ex-WCW, others, half of whom do not look happy being there. To think they went from this crap to having an awesome knockouts division (and then back to rubbish, but that’s later on). Francine (former ECW) on the mic, some-one counters… ah, God, this is stupid. And we have a 10-second cat-fight.
Goldilocks is with Mortimer Plumtree, a manager wielding a cricket bat. He has childhood and power issues. He talks about his tag team: the Johnsons.
Match 3: Tag team match: The Johnsons (Richard and Rod, with Mortimer Plumtree) v Psicosis & Cowboy James Storm
The Johnsons are penises.
Alicia accosts the referee Slick Johnson, who pays her. I say this: “?”
Goldilocks is accosted by two backwoods wrestlers. They are the Dupps. This was more crap in a series of it tonight.
Hermie Sadler and Sterling Marlin (NASCAR drivers) are here. Can we guess who the target audience of NWA:TNA is, boys and girls? Borash interviews them in the ring. K-Krush (now R-Truth) interrupts and says they are not athletes. Sorry, athaleetss. Sadler gets involved verbally. K-Krush attacks, Brian
Christopher Lawler (hasty correction by the commentators) makes the save. The drivers throw him out, and Lawler almost drops an f-bomb then threatens K-Krush. We have a match for next week. Setting up a match surprisingly well.
More caged women. Wasn’t that a film?
Jarrett is backstage strangling Jackie Fargo. Referees separate them.
Match 4: Tag team match: Christian York & Joey Matthews v Bo Dupp & Stan Dupp (with Fluff Dupp)
Fluff is their cousin and girlfriend. *Sigh!* The Dupps are an example of character over ability. York & Matthews try hard, but this match is not brilliant. Fluff interferes so Bo can pin York. Yes, repeating the ending from the other tag team match. 4 minutes.
More women! More cages!
A bit of a Toby Keith video clip is shown. The audience – can you guess yet who they are?
Now Toby Keith is here to sing live. I think the song is ‘The Angry American’. Not bad, the crowd liked it, but the song just doesn’t do anything for anyone who doesn’t live in the USA. Like me.
Jeff Jarrett interferes. Look, I get that he’s a heel and all that, but this sort of cheap heel stuff feels so pathetic. Jarrett abuses Keith. He then abuses everyone in the building.
Match 5: NWA Heavyweight Championship Lead-in Match: 20-Man Gauntlet for the Gold
1 is Jeff Jarrett, 2 is Buff Bagwell. Buff dominates until Jarrett eliminates him when he goes for a high risk move. 3 is Lash Laroux. This goes outside, back in and then Lash is gone. 4 is Screamin’ Norman Smiley. Ooh, feel the star power! And he’s gone in quick time as well. Who owns the company? 5 is Apollo. Finally, some-one is allowed to get some licks in. 6 is K-Krush who saves Jarrett. They work together against Apollo. 7 is Slash (with James Mitchell). Apollo and Slash fight. Krush is acting exhausted… after 5 minutes? Jarrett saves Slash from elimination. 8 is Del Rios. Apparently, he’s a body-building champion. This is entering dullness territory. 9 is Justice. He’s big, and a former NWA-Wildside champion. He does stuff, but it’s still dull. 10 is Konnan. Tell you what, Tenay rattling off the past achievements of everyone is pretty good. Konnan picks things up for a bit, then it gets dull again. These guys are acting gassed and it’s only been 15 minutes. 11 is announced by Joel Gertner, doing his poetry thing and he is Bruce from the Rainbow Express. Lenny Lane is with him. One of those blatantly gay wrestling teams. Doesn’t help. 12 is Rick Steiner. Steinerlines for everyone! Lots of people in the ring, and that is not making this any more exciting. Steiner eliminates Slash. Steiner eliminates Justice! Steiner looks better than he did in the last 5 years of WCW. Well, Steiner’s certainly livened things up. 13 is Malice, another James Mitchell guy. Chokeslams for everyone. He’s tall, but that’s about it. Malice dumps Bruce, then K-Krush, then Del Rios, then Konnan. Thank God! Steiner eliminates himself. 3 left – Jarrett, Apollo and Malice. 14 is Scott Hall. Jarrett messes up into a Razor’s Edge – clumsy there. And suddenly it slows down. 15 is Toby Keith! He suplexes Jarrett! And Keith and Hall eliminate Jarrett. Keith then just leaves to stalk Jarrett. Setting up a future angle. But it does mean… no Jarrett championship! Woo-hoo! 16 is Chris Harris. Suddenly Vampire Warrior (Gangrel) is out. I is confused. Is he an early entry? Or did Toby Keith hijack his spot? Next is Devon Storm (Crowbar). It’s got dull again. Some loud chops, though. Hall watches everyone else beat each other up. Steve Corino is next. Apparently, he is the only former NWA Heavyweight champion entered here. He no sells a Hall chop so he can do his own thing. Mitchell saves Malice. And now we have Ken Shamrock. Things have picked up a little. Last entry is Brian Christopher (not Lawler suddenly – make up your minds!). Christopher eliminates Harris, Storm and Vampire Warrior. After some other stuff, Christopher eliminates Corino. Shamrock dumps Christopher. Malice dumps Apollo. Malice eliminates Hall. 35 minutes of what was essentially a 20-man royal rumble. Too much dullness, and too much acting tired after too short a time. Greg Valentine, Ric Flair and Rey Mysterio Jr would have just been getting warmed up at 35 minutes.
Final two, so this is now a standard one-on-one match.
Match 6: NWA Heavyweight Title: Ken Shamrock v Malice
Ricky Steamboat is your referee. Malice dominates to start. He is huge. Shamrock is over-powered, but turns a chokeslam into a cross arm-breaker. He gets the rope break. Malice now only sporadically sells the arm. Poor form for a title match. Shamrock turns a big boot into an ankle lock. Another rope break, but Shamrock drags him back. I have never heard an audience this loud for submission holds. Shamrock holds on, Steamboat gets into Shamrock’s face. Shamrock goes after the leg. Poor selling of the leg again by Malice. Malice goes for the chokeslam, but Shamrock breaks it, hits the belly to belly suplex, gets the pin and is the champion after 5 minutes. Didn’t mind that result – I like Shamrock.
Ferrera does a completely inappropriate Special Olympics reference. FFS…
Jarrett is still on the warpath against Fargo and Keith backstage. Jarrett comes out and disrespects everyone, hitting some legends. Fargo threatens Jarrett and as we wind up, Hall and Jarrett are fighting. Because we can’t finish with the new champ, we have to finish with the company’s owner.
Alrighty then. Somehow, despite this 5 or 6 match show, the concept caught on. People gave them the benefit of the doubt and for almost 2 years they ran this model. But watching this first one, you have to wonder how on earth they survived long enough to become a mainstay in the wrestling scene…
Oh, I know – it was not the McMahon show WWF/E was at this stage, and it featured WCW wrestlers who people knew. But that was all it had going for it for these first few shows.