Canadian Bulldog's True Wrestling Stories: TNA
By Canadian Bulldog
(JG Note: Be sure to check back tonight for the debut of our new ClubWWI.com audio show hosted by a former titleholder in WWE!)
The rumors are true.
As you may have heard, I can't produce these True Wrestling Stories for free any more. The costs I have to absorb each week are exorbitant, and your cheap-ass webmaster James Guttman refuses to give me an expense account. So please join me in welcoming The McDonald's Corporation™ as our brand-new sponsor!
Now… the head office folks at Mickey Dee's have explained to me that they don't plan on (a) making any major changes to, (b) actually reading, or (c) otherwise giving me money for, this column, so it will still be the same type of quality storytelling you've come to expect (e.g. none).
So sit back, relax, and savor a delicious Extra Value Meal™, as we present… The True Wrestling Story of TNA.
The professional wrestling landscape in June 2002, to quote industry historian Dave Meltzer, "sucked major donkey balls."
The newly-dubbed World Wrestling Entertainment (former name: Vinnie Mac's Bad-Ass House Of Scufflin') held the contracts of most major professional wrestlers in North America, having absorbed World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling. This brought us the 2001 InVasion angle that (insert punch line here).
The alternative groups weren't having a lot of luck, either. Andrew McManus's World Wrestling All-Stars promotion, a group that featured Nathan Jones, Disco Inferno, Brian Christopher, Mike Sanders and the Bananas In Pajamas (none of which I'm even making up), was doing about as well as anyone with half a brain could expect. The XWF ("No Primadonnas Allowed!") was quickly running out of steam, despite utilizing Rena Mero as a commissioner, and Ring of Honor had yet to escape the stigma of being a haven for skinny, generic teenagers flipping around in high school gyms (as opposed to now, where they… well, never mind).
But then along came saviors in the form of former country and western superstar Jeff Jarrett and his unemployed alcoholic father Jerry "Johnny" Jarrett, who decided to form Total Nonstop Action wrestling. By employing creative booking, innovative concepts and Vince Russo, they were determined to re-invent professional wrestling without copying WWE, unlike the way that those bastards at Burger King™ keep copying McDonald's™.
TNA first held shows under the banner of the National Wrestling Alliance (motto: "Providing Dusty Finishes Since 1904") and became the first promotion in history to present weekly pay-per-views. Because if we know one thing for sure, it's that the average wrestling fan has deep pockets and money to burn.
The very first TNA pay-per-view ("Bound For Bankruptcy") featured a star-studded lineup including Jeff Jarrett (don't worry; it's not like he ended up headlining ALL of the shows), Scott Hall, K-Kwik (a/k/a K-Krush), Rick Steiner, The Flying Elvises, Bananas In Pajamas and Ken Shamrock.
Apparently because they couldn't find anyone better, TNA featured the announcing talents of Mike Tenay, Don West and Ed Ferrara. A typical exchange on commentary went something like this:
MT: A clothesline by Scott Hall…
DW: Can you believe that, Mike? By taking his arm and extending it, Scott Hall has knocked his opponent SENSELESS! This is crazy! Where else are you going to find this kind of mayhem but in TNA?
EF: CLOTHESLINE! CLOTHESLINE! BAH GAWD, CLOTHESLINE!
MT: Ed, didn't you drop the Oklahoma gimmick several years ago?
MT: … and now, it appears as though Jeff Jarrett is getting up…
DW: GETTING UP? YOU MEAN HE'S ACTUALLY GETTING UP OFF THE MAT? WHERE ELSE BUT IN TNA CAN YOU FIND…
MT: Hmm, I wonder if it's not too late to get re-hired at J.C. Penney?
The main event featured Shamrock winning the NWA World Title in a special Not The Royal Rumble, No Sir match. Hey, that reminds me -- The Shamrock Shake™ will be available soon, and for a limited time only! Mmmmmm!
Tired of the "shock television" tactics of WWE owner Vincent Kennedy (KEN-NE-DY!) McMahon, the Jarretts decided to go in an entirely different direction in their early pay-per-views (Oh, and did I mention they didn't have any television shows to promote their PPV's? What a business plan!).
Thus, the early episodes of TNA featured Cheex, the human ass; The Johnsons, a pair of wrestling penises (good thing WWE never ripped off that idea); Sonny Siaki, a shorter, less-talented version of The Rock; Teo, The Hardcore Midget (self-explanatory); and The Rainbow Express, a tag team that may or may not have been gay.
Early storylines included Ron Killings being attacked by a man wearing a white hood, and Don Harris wearing a Nazi T-Shirt to the ring. And did I mention that recording artist Toby Keith and NASCAR personality Hermie Sadler would get involved in matches? If you guessed that these types of angles and characters were dreamt up not in New York or Los Angeles but instead Memphis, Tennessee, you would be correct.
Despite this star-studded lineup, TNA also featured up-and-coming independent talent such as A.J. Styles, Low-Ki (real name: Low Key), Jerry Lynn, America's Most Wanted and Rey Mysterio's bastard lovechild The Amazing Red. Their brand of high-flying action contrasted with that of WWE programming, where on a typical show, you could see Billy and Chuck faking a commitment ceremony or Triple H humping a mannequin (source: Library of Congress).
An alternative had finally arrived on the scene, and the nine people who religiously ordered their weekly PPV's were hooked!
By the way, have we ever figured out what Grimace™ was supposed to be? A purple jellybean? A large swab of grape jam with eyes and feet? A creation by McDonald's scientists gone horribly wrong? A Muppet? I NEED TO KNOW!!!
In its first year of operation, TNA was on pace to lose more money than Vince McMahon's proposed bodybuilding-football venture (the WXBFL), until Panda Energy International (motto: "Creating renewable sources of energy one fly-by-night wrestling promotion at a time") stepped in and acquired the company on October 31, 2002. I remember that because it was the same day I had a delicious McFlurry™. They're tasty AND good for you!
Panda ousted Jerry "Jimmy" Jarrett and put Dixie Carter (a/k/a the loud-mouthed broad from "Designing Women") in charge of TNA. To help improve the company's image, the weekly tapings were moved from Jarrett's barn in Memphis to a sound stage in Orlando, Florida. Because that strategy worked so well for WCW.
By this time, the company had snagged its own television program, TNA Xplosion (motto: "Get The E Out!"), which routinely featured wrestlers not quite good enough to get on the main show squashing wrestlers not quite good enough to get on any show. This type of shrewd marketing technique helped increased TNA's weekly pay-per-view buys to approximately 11.
The PPV's in this era centered around Vince Russo debating Mike Tenay, Rowdy Roddy Piper and others on the subject of who destroyed WCW. Because the only thing better than seeing a wrestling promotion go belly-up, is paying to hear people re-hash the bankruptcy.
On the other hand, the angle brought us possibly the most under-utilized gimmick in wrestling history: Heel Tony Schiavone.
By 2003, TNA was starting to assemble a roster that consisted of more than just WCW cast-offs. They also added ECW cast-offs Raven, Shane Douglas, The Sandman, Sabu, New Jack and Justin Credible to the mix.
In other news, Vince Russo revealed himself to be the guy who attacked Ron Killings while under a white hood, which somehow actually IMPROVED his public image. He then surrounded himself with a group known as Sports Entertainment Xtreme, which featured Disco Inferno, Brian Christopher, Mike Sanders and the Bananas In Pajamas.
Still, TNA continued to play up its innovative X Division as a calling card, allowing undersized, acrobatic competitors who would never get a shot in WWE, to jerk the curtain on their pay-per-views. By 2004, the company had also hired talents such as Ekmo (Umaga), C.M. Punk (Charles M. Punk), Monty Brown (Marquis De Somethingorother), Spanky (Speedy), Vito (Transvestite Guy) and Zach Gowen (One-Legged Guy), none of which would probably ever find their way to the competition.
The company realized that in order to get bigger (than ROH, at least), they needed to find a mid-afternoon weekday spot on an all-sports network. Because that strategy worked so well for the Global Wrestling Federation back in the day.
Speaking of things that aren't around anymore… anyone out there know what ever happened to McPizza™? As occasional "Complete and Utter Bulldog" guest The Liz often says -- they should have never stopped serving those things!
TNA launched its first non-UHF caliber television program known as TNA iMPACT (motto: "Get the upper-case I out!") on Fox SportsNet in June 2004. The program was viewed as a huge success by all three people that watched it.
A year later, the program was cancelled and for several months, TNA aired the program completely online. Because that strategy worked so well for… okay, I can't think of anyone who ever tried that out.
Major storylines around this time centered around Jeff Jarrett keeping a stranglehold on the NWA World Title, Raven getting his hair cut (the original angle called for him to get a pedicure instead), and Billy Gunn teasing whether or not he'd team with Road Dogg (the exciting conclusion of which became apparent after only twenty-seven months).
You know who would have made a great heel around this time? Hamburglar™. True story -- my son and I had the following conversation just last week:
Bulldog Jr.: (pointing to picture on wall) Daddy, why is Ronald McDonald™ with Hamburglar™?
Bulldog: They're friends, I guess.
Bulldog Jr.: But Hamburglar™ steals hamburgers. He's a bad guy.
Bulldog: I think what happened is, Hamburglar™ used to steal burgers, but then Ronald McDonald™ convinced him that it's wrong to steal. So now they're friends.
Bulldog Jr.: But why does Hamburglar™ still wear bad-guy clothes?
Bulldog: He just likes them.
It was the angle that was supposed to take TNA to the next level.
Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan was in Japan, giving a press conference, following one of his many five-star matches against Kenta Kobashi. Just as a reporter was about to ask Hogan if he knew who was behind the Mr. America mask, Jeff Jarrett ran out and walloped Hogan with a guitar.
Although Hogan ate a meal back at his hotel that night, it probably wasn't a Happy Meal™. Because (I'm assuming) they don't have McDonald's™ restaurants in Japan.
The payoff to this? On a future episode of iMPACT!, Jarrett began a feud with Jimmy Hart.
Yes, I realize this chapter was mostly pointless, but then again, so was that angle.
2005 was a pivotal year for TNA. Instead of attracting ECW and WCW cast-offs, the company began getting WWE cast-offs. So much so, in fact, that WWE began altering its standard line about "we wish him the best in future endeavors" to "we wish him the best in future endeavors, unless he goes to that pansy-ass Jarrett promotion, in which case, we hope he has a terrible run and has to job to like, fucking Abyss."
Many of those people, however, have had to change their names to more generic-sounding monikers to avoid potential WWE copyright violations. For example: Bubba Ray became Brother Ray, D-Von became Brother Devon, Rhyno became Rhynocerous, Christian became Protestant and Macho Man Randy Savage became Salsa Man Rodney Sandwich.
(That reminds me -- try the new Salsa McSandwich™ now, for a limited time only!)
Attempting to distance itself from the negative stigma fans had with WCW, TNA also hired Scott Steiner, Diamond Dallas Page, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Sting. Hey, at least they never used Rick Steiner, Lex Luger or Buff Bagwell...
All these name-brand wrestlers were flocking to "the little promotion that could" for one reason, and one reason only. And that reason was...
... I forget. Sorry, it took me a while to write out that part. You guys see this column all in real-time, but it actually took me quite a while to put together. I suppose I could just go back and read what I wrote. One sec...
The reason people were flocking to TNA was because of Spike TV, where they had just landed a plum television spot (11 p.m. on Saturdays, when WWE Velocity used to air, and before that, Hee-Haw).
Due to an hour of fast-paced television action (I refuse to call it a "60 minute adrenaline rush" because I don't get suckered in by cheap marketing ploys, such as "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun™"), voiceovers done by a James Earl Jones knockoff, and the world’s most annoying wrestling fans ever (EVER!!!), the Spike TV version of iMPACT! often garnered a 0.001 rating in its first year. That's actually impressive compared with the 0.000000000000001 it used to get on Fox (and even better than how it was doing on the Internet).
If 2005 was a pivotal year for TNA, then 2006 was… um, what's the word for 'more than pivotal'? Uber-pivotal? Readers?
Last year, the company's pay-per-views were headlined by Christian Cage, Abyss, America's Most Wanted, Jeff Jarrett, Sting's Trenchcoat, L.A.X., The Undefeated - ha ha - Samoan Bulldozer, Samoa Joe (who had to change his name to Samosa Jones) and Kurt Angle (Criss Angel).
Once the butt of jokes by wrestling skeptics (for instance, me), TNA has finally become "mainstream" (according to, once again, me). Sure, they still have VKM, Russo-riffic storylines, generic cruiserweights, the same matches six or seven times in a row, and a crummy line of action figures, but… uh, what was my point again?
Oh, right! My point is, TNA has finally become a viable alternative to WWE. And as a fan of good, competitive wrestling (wait for it)… I'm lovin' it™!!!
For True Wrestling Stories, I'm Canadian Bulldog.
Canadian Bulldog is a borderline journalist who writes weekly for World Wrestling Insanity and Online Onslaught and has published his own book of nutty e-mails to wrestlers. See his obscenely expensive Canadian BullBLOG for more details. He welcomes your comments at CanadianBulldog@worldwrestlinginsanity.com
|© 2005-2007 All content contained here Copyright 2006 by James Guttman *** World Wrestling Insanity and ClubWWI are not affiliated with any wrestling promotion.|