Chapter 1: The Birth of Total Nonstop Action
December 3, 2014
By: Josh Boutwell of Wrestleview.com
With TNA Impact Wrestling no longer airing new content on Spike TV for the rest of December, Josh Boutwell will be providing feature pieces looking at the history of TNA.
I’ve been covering TNA Wrestling here on Wrestleview since 2008, but I’ve been following the product since June of 2002. I was a freshman in high school sitting in some crappy seats with my dad and around 700 or so other wrestling fans inside Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama. That is about a five hour drive from where I grew up and only the second time I had ever even been to Huntsville. All because of this new wrestling product called “NWA TNA” that had decided to make its debut show in Sweet Home Alabama. Since that time I’ve followed TNA closely from the weekly PPVs right up to the present time. I didn’t get to watch the weekly PPVs each week, being in high school, but I would always save my PPV buys for the shows that were big to me like AJ Styles finally getting a shot at the World Title, the Super X-Cup PPV, and the big Cage Match between AMW and Triple-X. I’m going to take everyone on a trip down TNA Memory Lane, for better or worse, and what better way to start than that debut TV Taping (which was a double taping).
WCW was dead, ECW was dead, and for the past year or so WWE (WWF at the time) was really the only “game” in town. As a fan WWE was putting out some good TV but there wasn’t a lot of the type of action that really drew me in as a fan to WCW and ECW which was primarily the luchadors and the other cruiserweights. That fast paced action that accompanied the storyline driven main event scene. Now, there was a wrestling promotion called “Total Nonstop Action” and it was coming to ‘Bama, so I begged my dad to take me.
Now for a little history on the back story of TNA, it was originally conceived by former WCW World Champion Jeff Jarrett, his father Jerry Jarrett and former WCW executive Bob Ryder. Jerry Jarrett had a long history as a promoter and owner of wrestling companies having ran the legendary Memphis territory (aka Continental Wrestling Association) as well as the USWA and World Class Championship Wrestling. Jarrett had never run a company but had been in the wrestling business pretty much his entire life while. In 2002 WWE was the only wrestling company with a television deal and other promotions had tried and failed including even the Hulk Hogan/Jimmy Hart backed XWF (ironically which taped shows at Orlando’s Universal Studios which would become the home of Impact in the future). So the Jarrett’s and Ryder developed a plan to skip TV for the moment and do weekly PPVs for a discounted price instead. This was a huge risk and one that had never been done before, but as it seemed nearly impossible for anything wrestling related other than WWE to get on TV it was also a necessity for TNA.
The Jarrett’s approached Alabama based HealthSouth Corporation for financial banking, but shortly after a massive financial scandal in the company forced HealthSouth to back out and TNA was in dire need. In came the Carter family and their massively rich Panda Energy company which purchased majority stock from Jerry Jarrett to give TNA the financial backing it needed to continue.
I don’t really remember a ton about the first show for the most part because honestly a lot of it was forgettable. What wasn’t forgettable was the opening match that saw AJ Styles, Low-Ki, and Jerry Lynn face off against The Flying Elvises in an awesome high flying matchup. This was the birth of the X-Division. AJ Styles I remembered from his brief stay in WCW in the Air Raid tag team and Jerry Lynn I remembered as the ECW World Champion. Jimmy Yang was the only other face I remembered in the match but regardless all six men blew my mind in the way that the cruiserweights had in WCW which automatically made me a fan. I was a fan right there, it really didn’t matter what happened after that because I was hooked.
What did happen after that was a ton of mediocrity to be honest. I recalled seeing Psicosis in a match and getting excited but then let down at the fact that some team I had never heard of (The Johnsons) beat he and another unknown wrestler to me. Psicosis’ partner that night turned out to be future TNA World Champion James Storm. I don’t remember anything else about that match nor the midgets match that preceded it or yet another throw away tag team match featuring The Dupps of ECW fame or lack thereof.
The show closing match was the Gauntlet For The Gold Match to crown a new NWA World Champion. The NWA World Title didn’t mean as much to me because I grew up watching the WCW World Title, but my dad was super excited to see that belt in person not to mention Ricky Steamboat live in the flesh. The Gauntlet For the Gold was pretty much a glorified Royal Rumble until it came down to the final two men and then it was a straight up pinfall or submission match. The Gauntlet was filled former WCW, WWE, and ECW stars like Gangrel, Buff Bagwell, Malice (aka The Wall), Ken Shamrock, Ron Killings, Lash LeRoux, Norman Smiley, Devon Storm (aka Crowbar), Rick Steiner, Scott Hall, Steve Corino, Grandmaster Sexay, and of course Jeff Jarrett among a few other more known indy stars. Some of those unknowns included a guy called Justice who later became Abyss and the other half of the future America’s Most Wanted with James Storm in Chris Harris. The match was very forgettable other than seeing Scott Hall’s antics and Jeff Jarrett’s mistreatment of country singer Toby Keith which was funny. The most entertaining part of the whole match was the final stretch between Ken Shamrock and Malice who go on to have a really fun feud in the first few months of TNA.
After that first taping a lot of the crowd actually walked out. I wasn’t sure if they were just burned out, hated the show, or had no clue there was a second taping coming all the while Jeramy Borash was trying to convince those leaving not to. In the end they ended up moving everyone to one side of the arena so it looked more full on TV for the next taping and I have to say those that left missed one of the greatest matches in wrestling history, at least in my opinion.
Like the first taping, the second was relatively forgettable for the most part and even looking at the results I don’t remember much of it. Scott Hall and Jeff Jarrett was a focus in the early days of TNA so that one is memorable but their match was very forgettable. The rest of the card was just filler but of course everyone remembers the Lingerie Battle Royal they had in which I’m pretty sure there was at least two wardrobe malfunctions. Another memorable thing was the first pairing of Americas Most Wanted as a team even though it was against the awful Rainbow Express team of Lenny Lane & Kwee Wee. Let’s be real though, this was a one match show and boy was it awesome.
In the Main Event AJ Styles, Jerry Lynn, Low-Ki, and Psicosis faced off in Round Robin Double Elimination Match to crown the first X-Division Champion ever, and how fitting that Ricky Steamboat was the special referee? Styles, Lynn, Ki, and Psicosis went on to blow my mind with some unbelievable offense and awesome drama down the stretch especially between Styles and Lynn. I was on my feet from the very beginning and never sat down once. With one match TNA (or NWA TNA) had recaptured my love for wrestling which had been waning over the last year and I would forever be an AJ Styles mark after that day. It is by far the best match I have saw in person and to this day it is still one of my favorite matches of all time.
In those early days it was the X-Division that made TNA stand out, the pioneers of the division being the aforementioned Ki, Styles, and Lynn along with mainstays like Christopher Daniels, Elix Skipper, Amazing Red, Kid Kash, Yang, and Sonny Siaki. As much as TNA tried to draw in fans by bringing in ex WWE/WCW/ECW names like Hall, Jarrett, Curt Hennig, Sean Waltman (who had a brief fun stint in the X-Division twice), Sabu, Shamrock, Buff Bagwell (I mean who would buy a PPV based on a Bagwell appearance in 1999 let alone 2002), and others it was the X-Division guys and later tag teams like The New Church and AMW that drew me in. I’m not the only one either because the X-Division became the talk of the internet and back then TNA listened to that buzz by doing a slew of X-Division themed events like the multiple America’s X-Cups, World X-Cup’s, and the incredible Super X-Cup tournament. The X-Division had done for me as a wrestling fan what the cruiserweight division in WCW had done, it made me fall in love with wrestling again.