Von Braun Civic Center – Huntsville, Alabama, USA
Attendance – 3,000 (500 paid)
Live – 19.06.2002
Commentary by Mike Tenay, Don West and Ed Ferrara
Watching wrestling twenty years after it happened is a great way to feel like a casual fan. I have a vague idea of some of the names, where they came from and where they’ll go, but any storylines relying on you already caring about these people will probably miss. There’s also a chunk of “insider” comments that won’t make any sense either, especially with the execrable Ed Ferrara chuckling his way through commentary.
We’re heading back to June of 2002, a year after WCW’s demise left a gaping void in the wrestling landscape. NWA TNA made its television debut on PPV. Despite not having a broadcast deal, TNA tried to turn this into a positive by running weekly shows that viewers had to pay to watch. It was a risky strategy, and one previously untried. 50,000 buys at $9.99 a week was the break-even number, the promotion hoping to target just 1% of those watching wrestling on Monday nights a year earlier.
The NWA brand was at an all-time low, having never recovered from WCW splitting with them over a decade earlier, and ECW using the belt as a way to embarrass the alliance. Former champion Dan Severn was stripped of the title as he wouldn’t sign with TNA to defend on their programming.
This first PPV almost got off to the worst possible start. In a dark match before the event, 400lb wrestler Cheex managed to break the ring with his hulking frame, leaving the ring crew scrambling to fix it as the show went on air.
This is the first time I’ve seen TNA, or as it’s known now, Impact Wrestling, apart from that clip of the guy running along the top of the cage. Will it live up to my admittedly low expectations? And will it serve as a grand introduction, enticing me to pay my mythical $10 to watch again? Let’s find out!
The show opens with pyro for the commentary team, who get individual entrances. The first thing Ed Ferrara says is a TNA/T&A joke, and because it doesn’t get the reaction he hoped for, repeats it. From my limited exposure to Ed Ferrara, I really don’t like him at all. The Professor, Iron Mike Tenay, is already at ringside, getting what I believe is called the jobber entrance amongst the announcers.
Jeremy Borash, dressed as 2002, introduces a bunch of NWA legends. 8 time champion Harley Race, his stoic demeanour at odds with the fan screaming into the camera, wearing a red vest and backwards baseball cap, bouncing in front of a “Harley Race is a fossil” sign. Dory Funk Jr is next. As Jackie Fargo comes out, Tenay talks about him being a first ballot Wrestling Observer hall of famer, a publication that Ed hilariously pretends not to know. “Bullet” Bob Armstrong, Corsica Joe, Sarah Lee, and Bill Behrens follow, and I don’t really know who any of them are. We’re not told why we should care, it’s just assumed that you know who all these elderly shuffling folk are. Ricky Steamboat is last, bringing the NWA TNA World title belt out with him, and of course I know Ricky – I hope he wrestles tonight.
Making history with the NWA, tonight’s main event is a Gauntlet for the Gold for the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship. Gauntlet for the Gold is a 20 man Royal Rumble but the last two men fight in a regular match immediately. This will become a TNA trademark, gimmick matches with complicated rules, but as these things go, understanding the Gauntlet isn’t the worst, assuming you’ve seen a Rumble. I love a “World’s” title so much more than a “World” title, and I can’t explain why.
Steamboat, who will be the referee for the final part of the Gauntlet, calls the NWA title the most meaningful title in wrestling and the ultimate goal. He’s interrupted by the first active wrestler, Jeff Jarrett, who calls the format of the Gauntlet a “load of crap”, a “stupid battle royal” and a “joke”. He thinks titles should be won in singles matches. This seems counter-productive, telling the fans that the main event is stupid, and I can’t think of a single reason why they’d do this.
He gets into it with Jackie Fargo and promises he’ll win the match, while Jackie announces that Jeff will be the first entrant. It’s not clear here whether Jackie Fargo is like the king of TNA, or just a crotchety old man who says things and gets his own way. Jeff is interrupted by Ken Shamrock, who Iron Mike excitedly calls “Shen Kam…” before correcting himself. Surprisingly, Ken also thinks the battle royal is “played out” and “sucks”. BUT! Ken will be in the match, and Jeff won’t beat him.
Instead, he’s interrupted by Scott Hall, strolling casually through the crowd like that time in WCW. He agrees too that the battle royal “sucks”, but tells them to quit crying. Scott announces he’s in the match, and neither of them will beat him.
I absolutely do not understand for a moment what the point of all this is. Personally, I’m not a fan of battle royales but it’s the match that’s happening and the wrestlers should be excited to compete. Or a bad guy is a dick about it and gets proved wrong somehow. But no, everyone seems to hate this match. Can’t wait to see it! This is a dreadful opening that goes on forever with an endless parade of people turning up to slag off the show.
And I REALLY hate Jeff Jarrett. I’ve seen a fair bit of wrestling, and I keep a list of people who I don’t think I will gain anything from watching, their singles matches automatically get skipped. Test is on the list, as is Baron “Happy” Corbin. Jeff is right at the top of the list. The line “broke 6000 guitars and never drew a dime” is a perfect summary of him. I do realise that TNA was formed and owned by Jeff’s daddy as a vehicle to keep him in the spotlight after burning his bridges with Vince McMahon, but oh god he just winds me up so much.
Backstage, a woman interviews The Midget Killer, Puppet the Psycho Dwarf. The woman does three interviews over the show before she’s named as Goldilocks; even then it’s unclear whether that’s her actual name or just a dismissive nickname based on her hair. That’s one of the big failings on this show, lots of people are involved and none of them get an on-screen graphic to tell you who they are. The tinny sound system doesn’t help either, crackling through introductions like it’s a voice-breaking teenager without any confidence.
Puppet the Psycho Dwarf informs us that midgets are the true stars of America. He wants to see midget blood in the match between Teo and Hollywood. I’m not sure if this is, you know, okay? If it was a film, it’d be tagged with midgetsploitation. But I’m a regular sized person and it’s not my place to stop The Midget Killer from getting his feud on.
Six Man Tag Team Match: AJ Styles, Jerry Lynn & Low-Ki vs. The Flying Elvises (Jimmy Yang, Jorge Estrada & Sonny Siaki)
Women dance in cages during the entrances, setting the tone for how women are looked at in this era. Why the cages? Are they dance slaves? Between this and The Midget Killer, I’m definitely starting to get a vibe from this.
This match is in the X Division, which is quickly explained: it’s not a cruiserweight division, but one for extreme athletes. This is a good idea, since in every promotion that has one, the men’s singles heavyweight division is always the default one and everything else gets left as a lesser option. This feels different, but not less.
Backstage, the legends watch on, astounded by the Elvises, who are dressed like traditional Elvis impersonators in white suits and sunglasses. Ed emphasises that they are the FUTURE of TNA! They’re not, Ed, they’re a TERRIBLE IDEA!
The match itself is a great advert for the X Division, and the best match on the show. The all-action, high-flying style sets the tone for the division and lots of moves feel realistic as a finish, because the fans haven’t been trained to expect a single move as a believable finisher.
At the end, Low-Ki accidentally kicks Styles, and Jimmy Yang follows up with the Yang Time legdrop on Styles for the win. I hope this is a subtle bit of storytelling for the future, this potential problem between Styles and Low-Ki. Maybe this show has hooked me for episode two!
Midget Match: Teo vs. Hollywood
Neither man is good at all, falling over doing the first wrestling move of the match, and again during a schoolboy roll-up. The rest of the match is punching, chopping, and some violence aimed at each other’s dicks.
The biggest revelation, other than this match stinking like Andre’s thong, is that Teo is an acronym, standing for Total E Outstanding. Awful, awful, awful. Maybe as bad a linguistic idea as TNA.
Lingerie Battle Royale Preview
Ed and Don are in the ring to talk about the lingerie battle royal that’s coming up next week. Here’s a sneak peek of the eyeful we’ll get!
ECW’s Francine and Elektra, Shannon (WCW’s Daffney), Alexis Laree (the future Mickie James), Erin from the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders/Tough Enough (she was dropped from Tough Enough after news of her romance with one of the judges got out), Taylor Vaughn (BB from WWF), Miss Joanie, Sasha and Teresa. They’re introduced at 100mph, and I had to check the internet for who most of them were. The last few, who even knows?
Francine stumbles over her words and then calls herself the Queen of Extreme. Elektra interrupts and says Extreme is from the past and blames Francine for single-handedly bankrupting another company, referencing ECW without actually saying it, and also dropping an insult that doesn’t seem to be true in the slightest. They catfight and Elektra’s top gets ripped off. Next week, Francine claims she’ll be crowned Miss TNA, and nobody will see her in lingerie.
I’m confused by the format of the lingerie battle royal. It sounds like it might be a multi-person bra and panties match? Or if you’re thrown over the top, you’re legally obliged to take your clothes off? It’s going to be a long wait until next week! Maybe I am going to watch episode two!
Tag Team Match: James Storm & Psicosis vs. The Johnsons (Richard Johnson & Rod Johnson) (w/Mortimer Plumtree)
I hope you like really weak dick jokes, because here they come! Just a barrage of paper-thin humour aimed at Richard and Rod Johnson, with Storm and Psicosis a complete afterthought. Nobody seems to know or care why the luchador and the Tennessee Cowboy are working together.
Ed claims that the Johnsons looking alike is a positive, because they can “swerve” the referee, which almost made me jump out of the window. He gets even more bored by the underwhelming match and just makes as many dick jokes as he can.
The Johnsons are supposed to look like a pair of penises, but if I had one that looked like that, I’d be off to the doctors pretty quickly. This match is awful, the dicks suck.
James Storm gets distracted by Plumtree, and one of the dicks hits an ugly F5 to win. It’s a mercy killing for the match and my $10 slips back into my pocket, after this juvenile excuse for weak humour. If the jokes were funny, it would be a different story, but oh god they just wear thin after half a second and KEEP ON GOING.
A woman called Alicia turns up at ringside to watch, and afterwards, she won’t let the referee leave until he gives her some money. Luckily, he’s gone out to referee with a big wad of bills in his pocket, which he hands over. We’ve got some INTRIGUE, here folks!
Backstage, that interview woman is finally given the name Goldilocks. She meets three hicks, who are drinking beer in the locker room. Bill Behrens wanders in to tell them to stop drinking because alcohol isn’t allowed backstage at the wrestling, a hilarious joke made even funnier by old Bill not even knowing he’s making a joke. Maybe Bill is in charge of the locker-room, and Jackie Fargo is in charge of matches? I’m definitely overthinking this, and should be more like the hicks: they just spit on the floor.
Interview with the NASCAR Lads
Hermie Sadler and Sterling Marlin from NASCAR are interviewed by Borash in the ring. I don’t know who these guys are, and by this point in the show, I barely care. They are approximately the 300 and 301st people to turn up just to talk, and they’re probably not even going to fight. Bore off.
K-Krush interrupts to talk about how shitty NASCAR is, and how he’s the real athlete. The yokels in the crowd are pro NASCAR, and against the black man. Brian Christopher lays out Krush with a knee to the balls and a superkick, before the NASCAR lads chuck him out of the ring.
Christopher almost calls him a motherfucker, catching himself and saying “mofo”, before moving on to “your kind” and “my kind” race baiting. They’ll fight next week, with the NASCAR boys in Brian’s corner.
It’s not my kind of storyline, and with K-Krush (now known as R Truth) being the far more likable of the two, it’s not great having him as the bad guy. This was another brutal talking segment in a show that’s overflowing with badness.
Tag Team Match: Christian York & Joey Matthews vs. The Dupps (Bo Dupp & Stan Dupp) (w/ Fluff Dupp)
The Dupps are the hick tag-team from backstage earlier, Fluff is their sister and lover, because they’re hicks, and that’s what hicks do. Are you excited to see them fight? Their names are all puns, so while Stand Up and Fluffed Up both make sense, I can’t get anywhere with Bo Dupp. Bode Up. Bowed Up?
York and Matthews do some high-flying, but this is clearly a Dupp showcase. At the end, Fluff crotches York, and he gets rolled up for the pin. This match stunk and the Dupps are another dead, shitty tag team gimmick and I hope they get repackaged soon! TNA really got off on a bad foot with the tag teams they’re debuting tonight, just some garbage humour for teenage boys but for idiot teenage boys.
Toby Keith sings half a song
A Toby Keith music video plays. I’m sure if you like country music, he’s a hero, but I don’t, and he’s not. He’s out live to sing an unplugged track. He’s so earnest. After the NASCAR segment ten minutes ago, I’m so done with non-wrestlers not wrestling.
Big Jeff Jarrett pushes the mic stand over and finally does something heroic by telling Keith to beat it. All the security guards going mad and Keith’s acting actually make this work, but I’m completely the wrong audience to appreciate Mr Keith or his singing. Partly because I don’t love country music, but more because I just want to watch actual wrestling on a wrestling show!
Gauntlet For The Gold Battle Royal
Konnan vs. Ken Shamrock vs. Lash LeRoux vs. K-Krush vs. Rick Steiner vs. The Vampire Warrior vs. Steve Corino vs. Devon Storm vs. Jeff Jarrett vs. Buff Bagwell vs. Gran Apolo vs. Bruce (w/ Joel Gertner & Lenny) vs. Chris Harris vs. Slash (w/ James Mitchell) vs. Scott Hall vs. Norman Smiley vs. Justice vs. Brian Christopher vs. Malice (w/ James Mitchell) vs. Del Rios
Big shout-out to Cagematch for listing out the participants, including the ones whose introductions are butchered. It’s an actual nightmare to keep track of who anyone is and what their character is.
When the crowd reacts big to Jeff Jarrett, or Buff Bagwell, I trust that they’re stars, but for the most part, a lot of these guys are just guys who turn up and leave again. You can get a sense of who they care about (JJ, Brian Christopher, Gran Apolo) because they get a ton of eliminations.
The JJ and Toby Keith storyline continues, as Keith runs in to screw JJ and get him eliminated, it’s the only real thing that happens in the entire match. It seems to go on forever, just people running in, shoving each other in the corner, and eventually getting chucked out. So dull. It resembled the 2022 WWE Royal Rumble, where they forgot to book any storylines through the match.
It was difficult to follow who anyone was, even harder to care about them. An absolute procession of whatever. Ken Shamrock and Malice make it to the end, and are straight into their title match.
NWA World’s Heavyweight Title Match (Special Referee Ricky Steamboat): Ken Shamrock vs. Malice (w/James Mitchell)
Ken Shamrock is awesome and every time I see him, I love him more. He takes control for most of the match, with Malice not doing too much. Shamrock’s belly-to-belly suplex finishes it and he wins the title in a fun, short match in direct contrast to the previous battle royal horrors that lasted FOREVER.
JJ comes out again to moan, and punches Bob Armstrong and Dory Funk Jr, leading to Jackie Fargo booking him against Scott Hall next week, because he’s in charge now. Hall then comes out to brawl with JJ until the show ends. It seems like any old timer who wants to set a stipulation, book a match, or anything can just do whatever they want. Kind of like WWE now!
Overall, this felt like a horrible, putrid time capsule of wrestling twenty years ago. The X Division immediately stood out as something new and different and was the sole highlight. The wrestlers seemed to fall into one of two categories, either “were a thing in the 90s” or “saddled with a horrendous gimmick and thrown into a tag-team”. It’s incredible how long two hours can seem, and just how many faces were thrown at you with the barest of explanations.
Next week’s show has the lingerie battle royale, and a guaranteed Jeff Jarrett singles match. I can’t think of anything less appealing to watch, other than my own funeral or WWE Elimination Chamber.