Chapter 2: The Asylum Era Pt. 1 (Early Days)
December 10, 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.
While the X-Division is what drew me in and held my attention in the early days of TNA, they also had a lot of wild, sometimes bad, and sometimes weird things going on in the World Title and Main Event scene. I think most everyone was shocked when Ken Shamrock, not Jeff Jarrett, won the World Title in Jarrett’s own promotion which was being booked by and his father. Instead of feuding with Shamrock for the World Title Jarrett feuded with Scott Hall from the beginning. At the time Scott Hall was fresh off of a tour his firing from WWE and attempting to resurrect his career once more. This is one of those feuds that would fall into both the wild and weird categories.
Country singer Toby Keith got involved from the beginning, even suplexing Jarrett on the debut show, and the feud eventually drew in others like K-Krush (eventually known as Ron Killings), Brian Christopher (aka Grandmaster Sexay aka Brian Lawler), BG James (Road Dogg), Syxx-Pac (X-Pac), and even the late great Curt Hennig. Following that first set of tapings in Huntsville TNA moved to Nashville, Tennessee’s Nashville Municipal Auditorium for a few weeks, and then finally settled on the Nashville Fairgrounds’ Nick Gulas Sports Arena.
One of the wildest characters in the early days of TNA was “Malice.” WCW fans should remember him as The Wall or Sgt. A-Wall from the last few years of the company. He completely changed his look, becoming a dark character managed by Father James Mitchell, and in the early days of TNA his feuds with Ken Shamrock and Sabu were some of the highlights of the early days. He and Sabu had the first Ladder Match in TNA history and it was these types matches that saw the Nashville Fairgrounds renamed “The Asylum.”
In the beginning Jeff Jarrett and TNA used its association with the historic National Wrestling Alliance to add some tradition to their new company using the NWA World Heavyweight and World Tag Team Championships as their own titles along with the new TNA X-Division Championship. Though the NWA name carried nowhere near the weight it did in the territory days, it still gave TNA some great history to use for their championships.
One of TNA’s early breakout stars was Ron “The Truth” Killings who set his sights on the NWA World Championship right off the bat. In the WWE Killings had been known as the dancing, rapping “K-Kwick” and when he came to TNA used the name “K-Krush.” Then came his angry July 2002 promo in which he declared himself “The Truth” and said that he had been held back in wrestling due to his race. These angry promos became a staple of “The Truth” and in the conservative south he quickly became a hated villain in TNA. That momentum led him to win the NWA World Championship becoming the first, and only, black NWA Champion in the belts long history.
Jeff Jarrett made sure his name stayed at the top of the card, despite not holding the World Championship in those first couple of months, feuding with Scott Hall and the former “Road Dogg” BG James and Syxx-Pac (aka X-Pac). Then, came the legendary “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, who had a fun rivalry with Jarrett and Killings. Jarrett joined by Killings and Brian Lawler feuded with the babyfaces Syxx-Pac, Hennig, and BG James over the next few months. Unfortunately Vince Russo’s fingerprints became much more prominent on storylines and Hennig was moved to a feud with Ric Flair’s son David leading to an Axe Handle on a Pole Match which would be Hennig’s final TNA match as he died soon after.
Jarrett won the World Title late in 2002 and almost immediately was attacked by the debuting Raven. Raven seemed revitalized in his early run in TNA and was doing some of his best work since the ECW days as he feuded with Jarrett and went after the NWA World Title. Soon after Raven and Jarrett’s feud began TNA started to push AJ Styles as a Main Eventer, and decided to use the two veterans to elevate his status. Styles had become the talk of wrestling over the previous year as one of the men that put the X-Division on the map, don’t worry there will be a chapter devoted solely to the X-Division coming up so I don’t want to be redundant, and the young high flyer was pegged as the future of TNA. The match of the year caliber 3-Way between AJ, Jarrett, and Raven saw AJ win his first ever World Championship and then returned to feuding with former tag team partner D-Lo Brown in an exciting feud between the two. His feud with D-Lo included an excited Best of 3 Series that ended in an exciting Ladder Match before returning to his 3-Way feud with Jarrett and Raven facing both men at different times.
We can’t talk about the Asylum Years without mentioning S.E.X. aka Sports Entertainment Xtreme. In the early days of TNA there was much talk by wrestlers and commentators about TNA being “wrestling” while WWE was “sports entertainment.” That aspect was drilled into the viewers head constantly but Vince Russo was the epitome of “sports entertainment” and this led to one of the most remembered storylines in the early years of TNA. Vince Russo kicked off by becoming an on screen character constantly interfering in Main Events and then even taking an axe to the TNA set which led to a new set. Russo formed the S.E.X. group and that led to Jeff Jarrett’s babyface turn as he defended “tradition.” S.E.X. recruited many veteran wrestlers like BG James and Glenn Gilberti (Disco Inferno) to join the group along with young stars like Sonny Siaki and the new Triple-X faction of Low-Ki, Elix Skipper, and Christopher Daniels (more on that in the next chapter). Russo also brought in legends like the Rock N Roll Express to prove that even tradition could be bought, but other legends like Dusty Rhodes and The Road Warriors took TNA and traditions side in a cool rivalry.
From the start Russo recruited AJ Styles as well helping him win the World Title and attempting him to be the centerpiece of his S.E.X. faction. Styles resisted eventually turning babyface and solidifying himself as a top star in the promotion. Unfortunately the S.E.X. group became very bloated and NWO like and then was eventually disbanded after Glenn Gilberti attempted to become leader after Vince Russo left TV. Regardless TNA had its new star in AJ Styles as well as its new great tag team in Triple-X (most notably the tandem of Daniels and Skipper) which began one of the greatest rivalries in TNA history: America’s Most Wanted (Chris Harris & James Storm) vs. Triple-X (Daniels & Skipper).