Chapter 5: The FSN Era, Traditional PPV
January 1, 2015
By: Josh Boutwell of Wrestleview.com
As TNA reached their first year anniversary on June 18, 2003 the company wanted to do something major for their one year birthday. In comes former WCW World Champion and true legend, Sting. The Stinger had been retired from the ring since WCW’s sale in 2001 and after a brief run with the international promotion WWA in late 2002 and 2003 Jeff Jarrett was able to convince Sting to come in and make a couple of appearances for the young TNA. Sting made his debut with TNA at the One Year Anniversary Show teaming with Jarrett against AJ Styles and Syxx-Pac. Sting made just three more appearances for TNA in 2003, mostly against Jarrett, and then one non-wrestling appearance in 2004 before briefly retiring again.
Regardless that first appearance from Sting at the 1st Anniversary set the tone for what TNA wanted to do with that show every year, to make it feel special. TNA further raised the bar next year when Jeff Hardy made his debut with TNA in a dream match against AJ Styles. Hardy, at the time was considered the top “free agent” in wrestling after he had recently left the WWE. A few weeks earlier, however, TNA held the very first King of the Mountain Match which would later become a staple of TNA’s anniversary every year for years to come. The King of the Mountain was, in essence, a Reverse Ladder Math where a wrestler would have to take the World Title (or other title) and climb a ladder to hang it above the ring rather than pulling it down. A wrestler also had to score a pinfall or submission to earn the right to hang the belt, and if you were pinned or submitted you must spend time in a penalty box at ringside. It was a convoluted and confusing to some match but it was an original idea and again helped TNA stand out. When TNA moved to traditional PPVs their anniversary show become the “Slammiversary” PPV and the King of the Mountain became that PPVs staple for years.
Another way TNA decided to raise the bar was a National TV deal. For the first year and half of a TNA they had survived on their weekly PPVs, but reportedly were bleeding money the entire time, so the Carter family and Jeff Jarrett felt it was time in 2004 to make that next step. The problem was that WWE was STILL the only wrestling organization on TV and no cable companies were hungry for a still very young, upstart and unproven wrestling product: insert Fox Sports Net. TNA managed to work out a deal with sports network, Fox Sports Net to air a weekly TV show on Friday afternoons called “Impact.” It was a horrible time slot at 3:00 PM on a Friday (I remember having to set my VCR every Friday to record it because by the time I got home from school every day it was almost over and during football season after practice it was well over by the time I got home), was just an hour long, and even worse TNA had to PAY FSN for the TV time. That’s right TNA actually had to pay to put on their show but they were able to get a bit more exposure when TNA collabred with FSN’s flagship show “The Best Damn Spots Show Period” for “The Best Damn Wrestling Event Period,” a primetime TV special that featured “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, an incredible Ultimate X Match, and a Steel Cage Match between Jeff Jarrett and Jeff Hardy. The exposure of those specials was probably the biggest thing for TNA during that run.
A few months after debuting on FSN TNA decided to stop doing the weekly PPVs and instead move to traditional 3-hour monthly Sunday PPVs. This was something that TNA had planned to do the year before in 2003 as TNA worked out a deal with Hulk Hogan to appear at their first PPV, but after an injury forced Hogan to pull out TNA abandoned the idea. In November of 2004 TNA held “Victory Road” which featured Jarrett and Hardy continuing their feud in a Ladder Match and the debut of The Outsiders in TNA (return of Hall though). It had been teased before the event that Hall would be behind Jarrett in the match while Nash would be in Hardy’s corner. Instead both attacked Hardy leading to Jarrett retaining the title and the trio of Hall, Nash, and Jarrett forming the short lived Kings of Wrestling faction reuniting the NWO 2000 members.
Despite the screwy finish in a very Dusty Rhodes like fashion, and in fact Dusty was a booker in TNA at the time, the match was probably the best one-on-one encounter that Jarrett and Hardy had and the PPV also featured several exciting matches on the undercard including an X-Division Battle Royal with international talent like Psicosis, L.A. Park (La Parka), Hector Garza, Matt Sydal/Evan Bourne, and others as well as an awesome match between Petey Williams and AJ Styles and elimination match between Triple-X and AMW. The next month, however, at Turning Point TNA really set the wrestling world on fire.
Leading into “Turning Point” the Kings of Wrestling had been running all over TNA interfering in multiple matches and TNA was being defended by Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles. The legendary “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who hadn’t wrestled in a few years, then made a shocking appearance in aide of Hardy and Styles before challenging KOW to a match at Turning Point. This was seen as a huge pickup for TNA as Savage was still revered by wrestling fans and was one of the few true “names” left in wrestling not signed to the WWE. The problem, however, was that Savage was not very healthy and hadn’t wrestled in years. Styles and Hardy were forced to wrestle the entire match while Savage didn’t even come to the ring until the end, with TNA explaining it by saying KOW attacked Savage in the back before the match, where he cleaned house on the heels. Savage’s body had broken down at that point so much so that he couldn’t even deliver his trademark Flying Elbow Drop anymore. Savage left TNA after the event making no further appearances.
Savage’s return to the ring may have been the biggest hook for TNA to try and get fans to buy the PPV but it was the Main Event that night which really “hooked” wrestling fans. AMW and XXX had their “final showdown” inside the Six Sides of Steel in a match where the losing team would be forced to disband. The two teams put on one hell of a performance and “Primetime” Elix Skipper performed a spot that is still replayed by wrestling fans to this day which saw him walk across the top of the cage before performing a Hurricanrana off the top of the cage on James Storm. That match and the X-Division match between Sabin and Petey Williams were the true highlights of the PPV along with the return of Diamond Dallas Page to the ring. DDP had been retired since a severe back injury in WWE back in 2002 forced him out of the ring, but he looked as good as he had in years in his TNA in-ring debut against his former rival Raven in a No DQ Match. DDP was another former World Champion that TNA brought in hopes of drawing in former WCW fans.
During their run on Fox Sports Net TNA also introduced a few new aspects to their show including the “Fox Box” which was much like the scoreboard or “ticker” shown during other sporting events with the time and score. On “Impact” there were strict time limits for each match (10 minutes for non-title matches and 30-minutes for title matches) and the “Fox Box” featured the time so the fans knew how much time was left in the matches, and if the time limit ended a panel of “judges” would decide the winner. I hated the idea of a “judge” deciding the winner of a wrestling match but it was a commendable attempt at doing something different and working with what you have. During the FSN era the X-Division was still the standout aspect of TNA especially since AJ Styles returned to the X-Division and began an amazing feud with Christopher Daniels. The two X-Division standouts traded victories over the months and the feud culminated in a 30-Minute Iron Man Match, one of the greatest matches in TNA history.
After awhile it was pretty evident that TNA wouldn’t last long with the current TV deal. “Impact” was bringing in no revenue stream whatsoever as FSN wasn’t even selling advertising time for “Impact” (whether they simply couldn’t because no one would buy the time or they just didn’t feel the need to since TNA paid for their time slot) so the only commercials that aired during the show were TNA’s own (mainly for their merchandise and PPVs). Jarrett and Dixie Carter began searching for a TV deal that would bring in some money rather than take money. FSN wanted to continue their partnership with TNA but at the same time didn’t want to pay for “Impact” so it was pretty clear FSN was out of the question.
As TNA’s deal with FSN ended TNA went into what I call the “Dark Era” of “Impact” which saw the show aired on TNA’s website www.tnawrestling.com at the time. During this time Raven won the World Title at “Slammiversary” in a great moment, Rhino and Sabu came to TNA, TNA held the second Super X-Cup Tournament, Samoa Joe debuted in TNA, and TNA had one of the greatest Triple Threat Matches in the history of TNA (in my opinion) between AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels at “Unbreakable.” Also, during this time Syxx-Pac/Sean Waltman had a series of the best matches of his career in my opinion first against AJ Styles and then against Jerry Lynn. It was during that “Dark Era” in which Bryan Alvarez (I believe it was Alvarez) of the Wrestling Observer claimed that TNA wouldn’t last 30 days without a TV deal. Of course it was Alvarez’s buddy Dave Meltzer that famously claimed TNA wouldn’t last 60 days when it first began, yeah you might as well call those guys Nostradamus right? Regardless, TNA needed TV and they were in heavy negations with WGN at the time with Meltzer claiming that a deal with the WGN network as being “all but signed” and that after a reported meeting that TNA had with Spike there being no chance TNA would be able to sign with Spike, who had previously aired WWE’s “RAW” and ECW in recent years. Again, Nostradamus right? The next era of TNA Wrestling was about to begin.