I figure if I’m going to keep these up I’ll go in a cycle of a randomly selected Network PPV, a Network TV show, a Network vault show, something from my own Youtube library of full shows company channels have put up, and maybe a connected series of shows from whatever source. This week we’re on that Youtube library, and it’s thrown up a doozy. It’s June 19th 2002 and we’re in the Braun Civic Centre of Huntsville, Alabama for the birth of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling!
The history of TNA is always a delight to look into, and its beginnings is no exception. Allegedly using some of his pay-off money he got from Vince McMahon for a one-night extension to his WWF contract, Jeff Jarrett, with father Jerry, came up with TNA to fill the void left by WCW and ECW, licensing it with the NWA name so it would become the face of that association. If you couldn’t get into the Fed, or had gotten in only to end up dumped out, Jeff Jarrett had a place for you on his show. It was a world where random, stupid crap could happen at any time due to the idiocy/egos of the people in charge, and the general incompetence of so many others. Case in point: this show was put in jeopardy when one of the ropes broke loose during a dark match, and took a while to be repaired. That’s why there is no wrestling for the first 20 minutes: they’re trying to fix the ring. Say it with me now: LOLTNA (1).
We open with a sweet cheap explosion graphic and all-out pyro in the Civic Centre. How does TNA choose to open this brand new era of wrestling amazingness? Why with the entrance of its commentators of course, as we get introduced, one after the other, to Don West, Ed Ferrera (gone in three months due to cutbacks) and Mike Tenay (though Tenay, embarking on a quest to gain the sobriquet “long-suffering”, doesn’t get entrance music). The crowd is into it all anyway, with a fervent “TNA” chant.
Your main event tonight: a Gauntlet for the Gold match to determine a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion, after it was vacated when the then champion Dan Severn wasn’t able to show up for this event, fighting (and winning) an MMA match on the same night. Considering how things were booked, regards Ken Shamrock, you’d think they were leaving money on the table by not trying harder to get Severn involved. After Tenay spends way too long explaining how the later battle royal will work, we go to Jeremy Borash in the ring, with that amazing blonde dye job and fresh from being involved in the super-dodgy World Wrestling All-Stars promotion, to introduce the legends of NWA “because we respect the legends of wrestling”. They won’t respect them forever of course.
Harley Race is out first, followed by Dory Funk Jr, Jackie Fargo, “Bullet” Bob Armstrong, Corsica Joe with Sarah Lee, NWA Vice-President Bill Behrins (who comes out too quickly and runs into the Joe and Lee), and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Throughout this lengthy segment, a cheap sounding version of Ode To Joy plays on repeat. LOLTNA (2).
They’re all in the ring now, and the crowd goes mild. It’s easily stated that modern crowds’ tolerance for these kind of ceremonies is limited. Like here for instance, they pop when someone says Ric Flair’s name, but I guarantee you more than half that crowd wouldn’t know who Corsica Joe was. WWE gets caught doing this kind of thing too – the AEPodcast covered Badd Blood 1997 recently, which had a momentum-killing ass-kissing of wrestling legends the crowd couldn’t care less about – and opening the show with one is mistake. But that ring won’t fix itself.
Anyway, Steamboat is here, with the vacant NWA World Championship, and does his best to hype it up as the ultimate goal for wrestlers everywhere. 20 wrestlers will compete tonight, and Steamboat will be the special ref for the final match. The screech of a guitar, and frosted-tips Jeff Jarrett is here . “What the hell is he doing here?!” screams Tenay, just missing “in the Impact Zone!?” for the full meme. Jeff’s intro to TNA involves him burying the chosen method of deciding a new title, because why try and get the crowd hyped for the main event?. Jackie Fargo challenges Jeff to a fight: “There’s no script to be talked about” says commentary, and you can leave that WCW-crap at the door please.
Ken Sideburns, I mean Shamrock is next out. He agrees that the battle royal idea “sucks” – what is with this line of thought from everyone? – but insists that he’ll beat Jarrett. Slower guitars, and the party can get started now because Scott Hall is here, coming through the crowd. We’re a month removed from the “plane ride from hell”, where, among so many other problems, Hall passed out drunk and was fired from WWE two days later, but thankfully he appears sober here. He wouldn’t always be whilst working in TNA. He also agrees that the battle royal idea sucks – hell, people should just change the channel now, right? – but thinks Jeff and Ken should stop complaining. In among the top-booked stars all agreeing the main event is stupid, Jarrett is apparently named as the #1 entrant for the gauntlet match.
Backstage, Goldy Locks is here for TNA’s first backstage interview, and because it’s TNA, it’s an insane piece of work featuring “Puppet the Psycho Dwarf” talking about how the nurses reacted “when I came out of my mother”. LOLTNA (3) His further rant about “midget blood” is interrupted by Jarrett throwing chairs around.
We’ve got dancing girls here for the next part, because the Nitro Girls were a totally needed part of the WCW experience. Our first match is next, nearly twenty minutes in.
AJ Styles, Jerry Lynn & Lo-Ki va The Flying Elvises (Jimmy Yang, Jorge Estrada & Sonny Siaki)
At least TNA are starting with one of their best in Styles, though they are also starting with a stupid comedy faction as his opponent. LOLTNA (4). The Elvises attack from behind, but all quickly get taken out by stereo dropkicks and rana, and then Lynn is leaping off the top rope, and then AJ is landing a sweet hip toss before getting his head taken off by a running knee, and holy God this is fast-paced.
They’ll be crowning the first X Division Champion in the next show, for which these guys will be competing. Styles won as I recall. Lynn with a tornado DDT out of the corner, and Don West loses his mind. Lo-Ki, having graced us with his presence on this occasion, is in and man all these guys can go, bumping so well and with no wasted motion. Siaki hits a backbreaker, and Ki sells like he’s been impaled. Sweet springboard, split-legged moonsault from Estrda, and Ki as the face-in-peril is working really well because he’s happy to throw himself around. When he gets back on offence it’s really killer kicks that would make Inoki gasp.
Styles with a cool springboard inverted DDT, before a spinning heel kick almost takes his head off again. Estrada gets thrown to the outside so hard he shoves the barricade back a bit. Suddenly everyone is nailing a series of great looking moves, piledrivers, missile drop kicks and splashes, and somewhere in this amazing series future ECW-On-SyFy mainstay Jimmy Yang gets the pin on Styles in just over six minutes.
Winner: The Flying Elvises, and anyone who wanted to see wrestling at a wrestling show.
Verdict: This was great stuff. Crazy fast paced and hard-hitting, and the perfect opener. I would be dying to see more if I was watching this in 2002. If only TNA had actually opened with this one.
Lingering shots on the dancing girls, because Nitro will never die!
Back from the break, and here come the minis.
Teo vs Hollywood
TNA of course, prefers the more inflammatory “midgets” term, because, you guessed it, LOLTNA (5). Crazy, dangerous stuff from the off with these two, like a botched piledriver spot ten seconds in. Hollywood with a top-rope splash for a two count. Teo with a twisting senton off the top shortly after for the 3.
Winner: Teo and people who think Mexico show minis too much respect.
Verdict: Short, thank God, and no, that isn’t a joke. TNA loved their “midgets” in the early days, and I’d rather not see than see it treated like a carnival sideshow.
Ed Ferrera is in the ring, and decides to give everyone a sneak preview of an upcoming…lingerie match. Sigh. They couldn’t let the Attitude Era go, could they? It would be a while before the Knockouts became a thing, so instead we get a literal parade of women, though thankfully only a few could be described as scantily clad in this instance. The future Mickie James is in there as “Alexis Laree”, Francine from ECW, Daffnee from WCW as “Shannon”, a former Nitro Girl, and a few nobodys. A brief brawl breaks out, and thankfully this segment draws to a close quickly enough.
Goldy Locks is backstage with English schoolboy “Mortimer Plumtree”, whose tag team is in action next. Plumtree insist he has total control over his team, who get a dramatic reveal as…the Johnsons.
James Storm & Psicosis vs The Johnsons (Richard and Rod) w/ Mortimer Plumtree
If you were waiting for a penis joke, well here you are, with the Johnsons out wearing flesh-coloured body suits. A very well-deserved LOLTNA (6). Plumtree is described as a “Havard grad”, so don’t know why he is carrying a cricket bat.
Stupid suits aside, the Johnsons are decent monster heels, or at least Psicosis is good at getting chucked around. Cool double team where a Johnson jumps over a prone Psicosis and into a missile drop kick from Storm. Storm skins the cat to surprise a Johnson with a bulldog, before Psicosis becomes the face-in-peril for some power double-team moves.
Storm in with the hot tag for some slightly awkward offence, before stereo neckhold belly-to-bellies from the Johnsons. After a distraction from Plumtree one of the Johnsons hits a swinging cutter on Storm for the 1, 2, 3 in around four a half.
Winners: The Johnsons, and at least it was quick.
Verdict: Forgettable tag match not helped by the lame gimmick foisted on the heels.
Throughout the match they ran an angle where the ref was getting distracted by “Aleesha”, aka Ryan Shamrock, watching from the entrance ramp. When the match was done he got harangued briefly by her, then gave her some money. What the hell was that about? Don’t expect to ever find out, because TNA would quickly drop this angle without explanation or resolution.
Backstage, Goldy Locks is with the “the Dupps”, your latest hillbilly tag team, this one fresh from the streets of ECW. They both have the same girlfriend! Her name is Fluff Dupp, so she’s also related to them or something? Inbred hicks, amiright? LOLTNA (7). Behrins gives out to them for drinking in the locker room. Well, they’re up next, as Locks beats a hasty retreat.
Borash introduces some celebrities: Sterling Marlin and Hermie Sadler, both NASCAR drivers. Tenay has to bend over backwards to explain that Marlin is the NASCAR equivalent of a NWA World Champion. Some members of the crowd are big into this, the rest really don’t care. Marlin gives the worlds most bland sports interview, and then out comes K-Krush, aka K-Kwik, aka Ron Killings, aka R-Truth,who was a major player in early TNA as I recall. He’s certainly in awesome shape. Krush is annoyed about Marlin being called an athlete when all he does is sit in a car and turn left (true). Sadler steps up and really treads the line by saying Krush can’t be taken seriously because of “how he looks”. They’re squaring up because if there is one thing that TNA loved it was putting “celebrities” into the ring for brawl segments.
Suddenly it’s Brian Christopher (full-on identified as “Grand Master Sexay from the WWF” by Tenay) to make the save! Not super long away from being fired by WWE for drug use, he dumps Krush out of the ring and challenges him to a match next week, where the NASCAR drivers will be in his corner.
More sexy ladies dancing in cages, and we’re thrown to Jarrett attacking the 71-year-old Jackie Fargo backstage, but only for a few awkward seconds.
Christian York & Joey Matthews vs The Dupps (Bo & Stan) w/Fluff Dupp
Joey Matthews is the future Joey Mercury, Stan Dupp is the future Trevor Murdoch. Dupps on offence early, before York floors both with a duel dropkick. Bo is the heavy hitter of the Dupps, but ruins it a bit with a whiffed big boot. Matthews the face-in-peril for all of 30 seconds before York comes in on the hot tag. Real obvious whiff of a punch during his rampage. Some fast-paced back-and-forth, before Matthews gives Stan a Cactus Clothesline over the rope where Stan looks like he hits the apron head first on the way down. Fluff crotches York, and Bo gets the pin on a roll-up in under four minutes.
Winners: Dem Dupp Boys
Verdict: A botch fest in terms of sloppy moves and bad camerawork.
We get an extended look at the latest single from country-western singer Toby Keith, because someone had to pay for the pyro. And guess who is here to sing in person? You know the Jarrett’s are in charge when this stuff is getting so many minutes. Keith sings for a long time, until Jeff Jarrett finally comes out to steal his guitar and run him down (thank God). And the crowd is furious, thus making Keith the most over guy in the building it would seem. Anyway, Jeff Jarrett demands that Keith go away and that the main event start. And he’s going to get his wish.
Gauntlet for the Gold Match (NWA World Heavyweight Championship)
This is a staggered battle royal with 90 seconds between entries, that continues until two men are left, who then have a normal match. An actual clock on-screen, so no WWE-style creative time-keeping. Jeff Jarrett in first, and your #2 is Buff “the Stuff” Bagwell, who is in like a house on fire. Maybe something to prove after his disastrous WWE run the previous year. Bagwell with a sweet blockbuster off the top, but when he charges at Jarrett he gets back body dropped out.
#3 is Lash LeRoux, once of WCW. Jarrett dumps him through the ropes and into he barricades. Back in, the Stroke, and over the top he goes. #4 is Norman Smiley! Ah hell yes. Jarrett dominates him easily enough at first, but Smiley gets a big reaction with a body slam. Double J ruins it with a low-blow, and out he goes. The role of Triple H/Brock Lesnar will be played by Jeff Jarrett tonight.
#5 is Apolo, a Puerto Rican veteran. Has the upper hand on Jarrett, hits a neckbreaker, and nearly has Jarrett out. Crowd dying for Jarrett to be out, so I guess it’s good heat. Jarrett goes through the middle ropes, but holds on anyway. #6 is K-Krush, and Apolo awkwardly holds Jarrett in a press position way too long waiting for Krush to come in and make the save. Why he makes the save is another question entirely. Krush and Jarrett able to double-team Apolo. #7 is Slash who they say worked for WWF but I’ve never heard of him. He’s accompanied by James “Sinister Minister” Mitchell.
Things slow down a bit now as the ring fills. Apolo is about to press-slam Slash out, but Jarrett stops him, confusing the commentators. #8 is Del Rios, a bodybuilding champion. Slash bites the forehead of Del Rios because he’s a crazy occultist, or something. Del Rios leans into the Scott Steiner imitation with a belly-to-belly suplex. #9 is Justice, the future Abyss. Takes a few down with a big boot, but looks gassed very quickly. Still able to give a “side slam” – aka the Black Hole Slam – to Del Rios. #10 is Konnan, who gets a huge reaction. Cleans house, and looks good doing so especially those roll-through clotheslines.
No eliminations for a while. #11 is late out, and it’s…Bruce?. Introduced with a poem. Very confused by this one, he’s from the “Rainbow Express”? Comes out arm-in-arm with another guy? Is this a gay joke? Gotta be a LOLTNA (8). #12 is Rick Steiner. I think his brother was still on that awful WWE run at this time? Steiner drops Slash out, and follows that up with Justice, before knocking Jarrett down. #13 is Malice, better known as The Wall (Brother!) from WCW. He’s another from James Mitchell’s creepy church. He lays out a few with chokeslams, and chucks Bruce, then Krush, then Del Rios, though the last one takes a few seconds to get over the rope. Konnan is next to go, then Steiner, so I’m guessing Malice is going the distance.
#14 is Scott Hall, wearing “Kliq” trunks. Apolo nails Malice with a sweet super-kick. Hall tying up with Jarrett, and hits the Razor’s Edge to a big reaction. #15 is Toby Keith? He gives Jarrett a suplex to a huge reaction. Looked safe too, so fair play to him. And Jarrett is tossed out by Hall, and the crowd goes wild, while Ferrara is raging on commentary. Keith leaves the ring to stalk Jarrett, so I guess he’s out too? Or was never a competitor to begin with. Commentary doesn’t even bother trying to explain this, so LOLTNA (9). Hall and Apolo teaming up to take on Malice. The real #15 is Chris Harris, and #16 is out straightaway too, the Vampire Warrior, aka Gangrel. Bit mad the booking now.
#17 is Devon Storm, aka Crowbar. I’m not just giving these guys their old names for the craic, Mike Tenay is outlining them just in case you need a reason to care. Hall chilling out on the top rope. #18 is Steve Corino, the only former NWA World Champ in the match. Throws himself around with a few clotheslines, before things slow down again. #19 is Ken Shamrock, finally. Still in decent shape was Shamrock, before he was a bit of an embarrassment later. Clears house with kicks and knee strikes, before getting slammed by Malice. Someone in the fourth row has a “Hall was Framed” sign. Yeah right.
#20 is Brian Christopher, and you wouldn’t think he’s a guy to clear the ring, but clear it he does, tossing out Harris, Storm, the Vampire Warrior and Corino in seconds. But then Malice nails him with a chokeslam, so Dad’s magic touch only gets you so far I guess. Shamrock tosses Christopher in short order and we’re down to four, Shamrock, Apolo, Hall and Malice. Apolo goes for the clothesline elimination on Malice but gets back body dropped out instead. Hall sets Malice up for the Razor’s Edge and suffers the same fate, and we’re down to two.
Winners: Ken Shamrock and Malice
Verdict: A few dull periods, but the constant string of varied entries kept it ticking over.
Ken Shamrock vs Malice (NWA World Heavyweight Championship) (Special Guest Referee: Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat)
It suddenly occurs to me that, excepting the mini match, this is the only singles contest tonight. Malice on top early on, hits a side slam for a near-fall, then a falling suplex for the same. Shamrock tries a victory roll, to no avail. Malice has Shamrock up for a chokeslam, and its reversed into an armbar! Cool spot. Malice makes it to the rope. Big “Shamrock” chants. Malice is up and no-selling the effects of the hold straight away. Shamrock reverses a big boot into an Ankle Lock. Again Malice reaches the rope, but Shamrock drags him back. Malice eventually gets back to the rope again: is he suddenly playing face now? Shamrock holds on to the submission for a seven count from Steamboat, because rules are meaningless.
Crowd super-hot right now, but we’re running out of time so they have to wrap this up quick. Malice going for the chokeslam again, but its reversed into a belly-to-belly for the 1, 2, 3 in just under six minutes.
Winner (and new NWA World Heavyweight Champion): Ken “I thought I told you to shave those sideburns” Shamrock
Verdict: A bit weirdly booked given that Shamrock was the obvious crowd favourite, but it was alright. Good for it to be short after the lengthy battle royal. No reason for Steamboat to be involved.
Shamrock celebrates with his title, while Ed Ferrera compares the match “to the Special Olympics: you have to be retarded to win it”. TNA ending as they meant to go on, with a a despicable kind of LOLTNA (10). Jarrett is out complaining, because TNA is going to be all about him for literal years. Running down the battle royal again, and I legitimately have no idea why he’s doing that. Jackie Fargo is out, and says he’ll have someone out to whip Jarrett’s ass next week. Jarrett wants to go now, and out comes Scott Hall. As if this Crash TV booking wasn’t bad enough, the show cuts off mid-sentence. One more time, LOLTNA (11).
Best Match: The opening six-man tag, by a country mile. Fast, high-impact, every man involved looked great.
Worst Match: I’ll give it to Teo/Hollywood, because that piledriver spot looked like it could have killed someone, and all in the pursuit of low-brow comedy.
Best Wrestler: Styles, Ki and Lynn should share this equally really.
Worst Wrestler: “Bruce” didn’t appear to really do anything other than be part of a tastelessly homophobic gimmick.
Overall Verdict: This show certainly is an appropriate introduction to the early run of the promotion, with eleven recorded instances of LOLTNA. The opening tag was so hot, and then the rest of the show was at best forgettable, and at worst a disaster. Too many tags, too many stupid gimmicks, too many reminders of the worst of WCW (Nitro Girls, multiple celebrity spots, racist, sexist, generally bigoted scripting, endless brawling). Those few chinks of light wouldn’t have been enough for me to keep watching back in 2002. It would take a good few years for TNA to become bearable, and this show is to be avoided.
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