Monday, March 27, 2017

NWA-TNA PPV #1 (June 19th, 2002)

And so this is where it begins.

I had heard on the Interwebs of a new upstart promotion called NWA-TNA that was being headed up by Jerry & Jeff Jarrett and that colored my interest somewhat. This was about a year or so after the demise of WCW and ECW, with WWF being the only major game in town. While there have been some attempts to fill the void such as Jimmy Hart's XWF promotion as well as the Australian WWA promotion that had a couple PPVs under its belt, they just couldn't get the job done and are nothing but historical footnotes in the long, storied legacy of the wrestling business.

NWA-TNA's business model was different from all others; whereas WWE would have a TV show to promote their monthly PPVs, NWA-TNA would hold weekly PPVs that you could buy for about ten bucks a pop. This was the thing that they stuck with for a couple years before they eventually got Impact, but it was an interesting business model.

I ended up buying the first NWA-TNA show and while I wasn't entirely impressed by what I saw, they were bits I liked about the product that I stuck with it for a couple more shows before money became something of a premium on my end. Even so, I'd keep track of the promotion through results and things of that nature and whenever I could, I'd pick up a weekly PPV to see what was going on... only to find Vince Russo back on the air and running a group called Sports Entertainment Extreme (you know, like in S.E.X.? What a Russorific concept!) And that pretty much drove me back to WWE, who felt so threatened by this upstart promotion that they gave the world HHH as World champion, gay weddings that weren't gay weddings, and Katie Vick.

Now fast forward some fifteen-ish years later and as I write this, we're a couple weeks removed from the latest rebranding of the promotion formerly known as TNA and now known simply as Impact Wrestling. And with this recent revamping of the company, I thought it'd be appropriate to revisit the very first NWA-TNA pay-per-view from June 2002 and see if it's held up over the years or even rose-tinted nostalgia glasses colored the perception of TNA's early years all too kindly.

The first segment was a standard introductory piece where we get introduce to our commentary team of former WCW announcer Mike Tenay, pitch man Don West, and former WWF/WCW writer Ed Ferrara, who grew dreadlocks for this show because sure, why not? Ferrara would stick around for a month or so before taking a hike, leaving us with Tenay and West to do commentary duties... which I have to say was a good move, as Ferrara started to feel a bit grating after a while.

Once that's settled, ring announcer Jeremy Borash begins to introduce some of the NWA legends; some of which I was familiar with (a ) and others... not so much. But then here comes Ricky Steamboat with that classic NWA World title belt (not the Big Gold Belt, oh noes; that one was owned by WWE.) and the announcement that they're going to crown a new NWA World champion. Now, while the crowning of a new NWA World champion might seem like a good way to kick off a new promotion, that wasn't necessarily in the cards.

Prior to the show, the reigning NWA World champion was MMA legend Dan Severn, who was apparently supposed to make an appearance on the show. However, scheduling conflicts with another MMA promotion meant he was unable to attend and thus was stripped of the title. That's the Wikipedia version, more or less. There might be a more accurate account, but nonetheless, the NWA needed a new World champion crowned and this was the show to do it.

So the way they're going to crown a new champion is by booking what they call a Gauntlet for the Gold; essentially a Royal Rumble-style match where you start off with two guys in the ring and a new guy enters the fray every so often until all xx participants have entered. This is standard over-the-top eliminations like a traditional battle royal until two guys are left, at which point it becomes a standard one-on-one match where you win by pinfall or submission. In all honesty, it's not that bad of an idea and would've worked nice in that one Royal Rumble where Shawn and Undertaker were the last two guys and they were having a match within a match.

But then we have Jeff Jarrett coming out, talking how much of a stupid idea this battle royal is. And then comes Ken Shamrock (sporting ridiculous sideburns) also chiming in about how much of a bad idea this is. And then, look, Scott Hall's in the crowd and he doesn't look drunk at all... oh and by the way, he thinks the match sucks too! Hey, that's a great way to put your new company over; have three of your biggest stars show up and say flat out that your main event is shit.

Your first match was a six-man tag match between the team of the future phenomenal AJ Styles, ECW legend Jerry Lynn, and independent mainstay Low Ki going up against The Flying Elvises; three guys dressed like Elvis and source of many Elvis jokes from Ferrara and West. Well, what did you expect from a team called the Flying Elvises?

It's a nice little match to get the show going a bit, with the guys doing their spots and getting a bit of action in there. It's hard seeing AJ in this match, who looks so babyfaced here it's unreal. The match ends with one of the Elvises pinning AJ... which is fine. AJ can give Elvis a win; he'll just get a few good matches and maybe a couple World titles along the way.

And from there, we have a midget match between two midgets that I've never heard of. Funny thing is that I watch this match and I was wondering if this was just a rebranded WWA (a short-lived wrestling promotion that did a bunch of shows overseas and even had a couple PPVs) because they had midgets on their cards too. Anyway, they both beat the crap out of each other with objects and nobody seems to give a shit. I can't say I blame them.

Next up, we have Ed Ferrara (former writer and current professor at Full Sail... no, really) and Don West bring out some ladies in skimpy clothes (including a couple future familiar faces whose names I can't recall) and also former ECW personalities Francine and Elektra, who start to bicker with each other. Well, you figured TNA stood for something other than "Total Nonstop Action," didn't you?

Richard and Rod Johnson defeated Psychosis and Cowboy James Storm, who would eventually win numerous tag-titles and eventually even a World title. For those wondering, the Johnsons are twins, they wear flesh-colored spandex, and yes, a lot of dick jokes were made courtesy of our old buddy Ed. I generally wonder if the person who thought this idea up was immature, borderline stupid, or clinically retarded, but then I decide against it, lest he somehow reads this and decides to turn it into a talking point on his branded podcast, bro.

And then there's a bit where you have NASCAR drivers in the ring for some reason... and then the future R-Truth (here called K-Krush) shows up and insults them for a bit before getting pummeled by Brian Christopher... because sure, why not?

There's a backstage bit where Jeff Jarrett is beating on NWA legend Jackie Fargo, who I was unfamiliar with and thought he was a bit of an old kook. Fargo passed away a few years ago.

Stan Dupp and Bo Dupp (two hicks whose cousins are their girlfriends... so they're from Shelbyville?) defeated two guys who don't matter because Stan Dupp. Get it? Stan Dupp? One of these days, I need to find a wrestler to groom and rebrand him as Fuh Kov.

Yeah, in all seriousness, the match blew chunks. I'll give it this much; it was short, but even the couple minutes this match felt like an eternity watching such a horrible act like the Dupps. On the bright side, though, Stan Dupp would show up on WWE a few years later as a less horrible hick act with a less stupid name, Trevor Murdoch, and would go on to become a 3-time tag champ with the late Lance Cade. So, see, kids? All is not lost.

Oh goody, a music video featuring some country singer I've never heard of. And then to top things off, we get a little mini concert with Toby Keith, the aforementioned country singer I never heard of... who gets cut off by Jeff Jarrett because we really need more Jeff Jarrett on this NWA-TNA show... just as the current day Impact Wrestling needs more Karen Jarrett.

Gauntlet for the Gold time!

Jeff Jarrett comes out first and his first opponent is Buff Bagwell, who sticks around long enough to hit his moves (both of them) before getting tossed over the top. Next we have former WCW guy Lash LeRoux, who also gets tossed pretty quickly. There's a bunch of names in there and no, Jarrett doesn't make it to the end. After some time, Jarrett gets ousted by country singer Toby Keith. When all is said and done, the last two remaining names are Ken Shamrock and Malice, formerly known as The Wall in WCW (As in That's DA WALL, BRUTHA! DA WALL!!!!)

And so after about five minutes of a short match (with Ricky Steamboat as referee), Ken Shamrock beats Malice with a belly-to-belly suplex to win the vacant NWA World Heavyweight Champion and end the PPV on a somewhat good note... except not really, as Jackie Fargo (god bless him) wants to fight Jarrett, who wants to fight Toby, who wants to fight Jarrett, who gets into a fight with Hall, who just wants a drink or something... and GAH!

And that was the very first weekly PPV of the NWA-TNA promotion... and holy fuck, I would sure like to know what I had back in the day to consider this steaming pile of hot garbage any semblance of the word "good." Time has certainly not been kind to this initial outing and while there are some minor bits to the show that I dug - that opening match was a sampler of the eventual X-Division that would become TNA's signature division and also seeing Ken Shamrock win that NWA World title was kinda cool - but the rest of the show was just atrocious, whether it's the midgets or the bad puns or whatever.

I cannot speak to the quality of the show back in the day because it's been years, but from some of my older writings at the time, I seemed to enjoy enough of it to want to give another go or two. And I suppose it speaks to the timeliness of the show or perhaps a want for a wrestling alternative that is so strong that I was willing to support any company that was putting out product, even if the product itself was very good.

And for a good while, the product wasn't very good. It was so not very good that the financial backer behind TNA pulled its support, which would've resulted in the company going under had it not been for Panda Energy coming in and purchasing a controlling interest. So for anyone feels that TNA would've been better if Dixie Carter and Panda Energy had never gotten involved, bare in mind that if they had not gotten involved back in 2002, there wouldn't have been a TNA to talk about in 2017, much less an Impact Wrestling for Anthem to pick up.

Now some of the business decisions Dixie has made, on the other hand? That's open to scrutiny... by other people.

P.S. I suppose I should probably mention the intermissions where the commentary team is just talking and they're showing scantily clad women dancing in cages, sort of eluding to the original idea behind the TNA name. I made no mention of it originally because there is some much other worthless tripe on the show that TNA for the sake of TNA is the least of the early shows' many faults. So there.

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