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PWTORCH FLASHBACK - TNA's first-ever show 10 years ago today (06-19-02): Shamrock captures NWA Title; Roundtables

Jun 19, 2012 - 12:20:12 AM
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NWA Total Nonstop Action (week one)
June 19, 2002
Live from Huntsville, Ala.
Originally published in Torch Newsletter #710
By Wade Keller, Torch editor

TNA_logo_11.jpg

The show opened with a symbolic gesture to Jerry Jarrett's old Memphis–based wrestling group opening montage—the spinning trophy of wrestlers. It then exploded as the screen changed to a more upbeat, modern collage featuring the TNA logo. The set looked high enough budget to pass as major league, although more in the WCW Thunder category than WWE, but above ECW and well above WWA. The lighting was good and the crowd might as well have been a sellout unless you were looking at the top of your screen for empty seats.

Jeremy Borash introduced the show from center ring and then introduced Don West and Ed Ferrara (sporting dredlocks and trying to look half his age), who each did some mic work on the way to the ring. Ferrara touted the "T&A" aspect of the promotion as if he were a 12 year old whispering to his buds about discovering a Playboy. Kinda pathetic for someone his age. Anyway, then Mike Tenay sitting at ringside provided a somewhat sane and classy appearance in a tux.

Borash then introduced Harley Race, Dory Funk Jr., Jackie Fargo, Bob Armstrong, Corsica Joe, Sarah Lee, Bill Behrens, and Ricky Steamboat. Steamboat brought the current NWA World Heavyweight Title belt with him to the ring. He talked about his 1989 victory over Ric Flair in Chicago to capture the title. He announced that he would be special ref for the title match. Tenay acted as if Steamboat had just announced that Israel and the Palestinians had reached a peace agreement. His reaction was embarrassing considering Steamboat as ref had been announced days earlier on the TNA website; for announcers to have credibility, they ought to know at least as much as the general public ordering the show.

Jeff Jarrett walked onto the stage and interrupted. He's sporting a new haircut (still short, but styled rather than shaved and thankfully no guitar). He said it sucked having a battle royal determine the champion. Fargo, upset with Jarrett's lack of respect, said he would have to be the first entrant in the battle royal. Ken Shamrock then stepped onto the other side of the stage and interrupted Jarrett. He admitted the battle royal was a bad idea for a title contest, but then ripped on Jarrett. Scott Hall then appeared in the crowd. He, too, said the battle royal was a bad idea, but then told Jarrett and Shamrock to "deal with it," adding they needed to worry about one man in the match—that being him, of course. Good dose of TNA's top star power to open the show. Tenay referred to Hall as "wrestling's real outlaw."

Backstage a female interviewer talked to midget Puppet, known as the Psycho Midget. He cut a good promo, although it seemed too much like a kid imitating a wrestler in front
of a mirror. In a nice detail, the camera swung over to Jeff Jarrett in the background kicking chairs and yelling about Fargo.

(1) The Flying Elvises (Jimmy Yang & Siaki & Jorge Estrada) beat Low-Ki & A.J. Styles & Jerry Lynn when Yang pinned Styles at 6:25. The old–timers were shown backstage reacting negatively to the Elvis gimmick. Good spotfest, but a six-man tag with this much talent needs at least 15 minutes to develop an internal logic. Nonstop action with some stiff moves. Good at setting the tone for what TNA can offer, even if it's not as polished as the top WWE matches. (**3/4)

Between segments they showed women dancing inside cages similar to a strip club setting, which was a reasonable way to include T&A as background eye candy.

(2) Teo pinned Hollywood at 2:45 in a midget match. They didn't let the midgets leave the ring, but inside the ring they had a decent short match. This match was expendable, but entertaining enough to earn the three minutes of time it absorbed. If they build a storyline around these three midgets, it could be a solid every-other week type ongoing segment. (*)

Ferrara and West entered the ring to introduce women who will partake in next week's T&A battle royal. Francine, Miss Joanie, Shannan (Daphne), Alexis, Sasha, Aaron (a Baltimore Raven cheerleader), Elektra (from ECW), Taylor, and Teresa. Ferrara announced next week would feature the biggest cat fight in TV history to crown a Miss TNA. Francine spoke up and said none of the other women deserved to share the ring with her. Elektra interrupted and said she single–handedly bankrupt ECW. Francine said nobody deserved to see her in her underwear, so she'd win Miss TNA.

Backstage, Mortimer Plumbtree talked about his tag team, The Johnsons. He said they will do anything he says and wear anything he asks of them because they owe their livelihoods to him. It hinted at a bigger backstory that will be revealed as the weeks go on leading to Mortimer pushing his team "too far" so they snap and turn on him. Mortimer has a Jim Cornette–type persona.

(3) Rod & Richard Johnson (w/Mortimer Plumbtree) beat James Storm & Psicosis when a Johnson pinned Storm at 4:50. Alicia (Ryan Shamrock from WWF, Ken's real–life girlfriend) walked down the aisle during the match for some unknown reason. Morty interfered at the end helping his team win. After the match the ref gave Alicia a wad of cash. Not sure why. The Johnsons look like an '80s musclebound team caught in a timewarp. (*)

Backstage the Dupps doing a hillbilly gimmick picked their noses. Behrens, getting his required TV time, told them not to get intoxicated on TV. One of the Dupps said he didn't know of anyone ever getting drunk off of beer. I hope this humor plays better in the South than with me.

Racers Hermie Sadler and Sterling Marlin came to the ring to be interviewed by Jeremy Borash. Marlin is the point leader in NASCAR and a legit celebrity among NASCAR fans. K-Krush interrupted and did a bit about racers not being real athletes. He used language like "your kind" and "my kind" which came across as thinly veiled race-dividing. Brian Christopher interrupted (although the announcers couldn't decide whether his last name was Christopher or Lawler). They set up a match for next week.

Backstage Jeff Jarrett choked out Fargo.

(4) The Dupps beat Christian York & Joey Matthews at 3:41. Good action, but too short to be much of a match. The Dupps are a bit too Bushwacker to be taken seriously, but may be good for mid-card laughs. (*1/2)

Toby Keith's hit video aired. Then Keith began singing his new controversial anthem that Peter Jennings refused to associate with. Jarrett interrupted (late in the song), shoving him from behind. He said nobody wants to hear him sing. "Get your ass out of here, I have a world title to win," he said, then finished with what may be his new catch-phrase: "How do you like me now?"

(5) Ken Shamrock beat Malace to end a 20 man Gauntlet for the Gold battle royal to capture the vacant NWA World Heavyweight Title at 37:37. Jarrett eliminated the next three entrants in order: Buff Bagwell, Lash Laroux, and Norman Smiley. Then out came Apollo, K-Kwik, Slash (w/Jim Mitchell), Del Rios, Justice, Konnan, Lenny, and Bruce (replacing injured Lodi). Gertner introduced Lenny & Bruce with a limerick. Rick Steiner then came out and eliminated several in rapid-fire fashion. Malice (w/Mitchell) entered next followed by Scott Hall. When Steiner charged Malice with a clothesline, Malice ducked and Steiner flew over the top rope to be eliminated. It came down to Jarrett, Apollo, Malice, and Hall at that point. Toby Keith came back to the ring and suplexed Jarrett with Hall's encouragement. Big pop. Chris Harris came out next, followed by Vampire Warrior, Devon Storm, Steve Corino, Ken Shamrock, and final entrant Brian Christopher. Corino, Vampire, Storm, and Harris were eliminated rapid-fire, then Shamrock eliminated Christopher and Malace eliminated Apollo. Malace then threw out Hall at 31:30. Rick Steamboat entered the ring to ref as Shamrock worked Malace over with submission holds. Shamrock finally finished off Malace with his belly–to–belly slam finisher. Fans got behind Shamrock. Good final seven minutes. (***1/2)

As Tenay began his wrap–up, Jarrett stormed out again and complained about Keith's interference. Fargo and Keith came out to address Jarrett. Fargo announced Jarrett would fight "their guy" Scott Hall on next week's PPV.

***

PWTorch Roundtable Reviews
Originally published in Torch Newsletter #710


Bruce Mitchell, Torch columnist (6.0)

The best part about this show, beside a re-energized and smart Mike Tenay, was what it was lacking. No chairs, no walking garbage wrestling, no long-winded owners lecturing me about the business that made them, no tables or guitars or slapnuts or work/shoot b.s. made for a great relief. This was a wrestling show, and there's not a damn thing wrong with that.

The show did a nice job making the NWA belt its competitive centerpiece. The salt and pepper Rick Steamboat did a great interview putting it over and did a nice job as referee besides. Ken Shamrock was the best choice they had for champion because people see him as what he is: a legitimate badass. They need to be very careful about not making this the Jeff Jarrett Show because he's not that type of performer. They came close tonight with the Toby Keith stuff.

Toby Keith, except for that awful song ABC rightfully rejected, did a nice job acting tough toward Jarrett. The NASCAR guys, though, were used in an awful way. The not so subtle Black versus White stuff with K-Krush and Brian Christopher was sickening. Brian Christopher needs a remake anyway. He can't be a top guy if he acts like a concession match goofball.

The six-man match was an athletic spotfest with little psychology. The Flying Elvises should be broken up because all three have real potential as singles.

The Johnson Dick joke concept was a complete dud. The costumes simply didn't look like what they were supposed to look like., which is just as well because it was a bad one note joke.

The Battle royal was fine, in that Marcus Bagwell and the other WCW Thunder losers were dumped out quickly. Some of those indy guys, such as the Scott Steiner look alike, need to go back to the bushes. Scott Hall wasn't much, but he seemed sober. Poor Ed Ferrara. Everyone looks at him in the grocery store, and for nothing.

Will this concept succeed in the long run? I don't see how. Would I order the second show? Sure. It's fun just to watch a wrestling show again.

Jason Powell (now of Prowrestling.net) (6.0)

To paraphrase something Bruce Mitchell once wrote, a 6.0 rating for NWA-TNA means a lot less than the same rating for a WWE pay-per-view. NWA-TNA isn't even in WWE's league, but this
was still fun for a first pay-per-view.

Although there was plenty to dislike about this show, it was still the smoothest first PPV effort I've seen in years, and that includes ECW debut show. Keep in mind that by the time ECW aired its first PPV, the company had previous television experience, pre-existing storylines, and a crew that was familiar with one another. The NWA-TNA promotion had none of those advantages heading into its first venture, yet still came through with a better than anticipated debut. The show wouldn't have been good enough to persuade viewers to purchase a PPV season pass if they had been available, but it wasn't bad enough that viewers will rule out giving the promotion a second look.

The main problem I had with the show was it felt too much like WCW. Everything from Mike Tenay, to the corny gimmicks, to the look of the ring and set, to the corny gimmicks, to the cheap and poorly mixed music, to the corny gimmicks, to too much Jeff Jarrett, to the... did I mention the corny gimmicks? At least the idea behind the Johnsons is that Mortimer Plumtree is forcing them to wear those outfits against their will, but what excuse do the Flying Elvises have? The cruiserweight action was indeed non-stop, but I don't know that dressing up three talented wrestlers in matching Elvis costumes is the message any promotion should send during its first match. And speaking of the Johnsons, I never thought I'd say this, but they should have gone with the dickhead masks after all because that gimmick was beyond bad. Speaking beyond bad, Ed Ferrara and Don West were awful. I'm talking Lee Marshall and Mongo McMichael awful. And just when I thought the Johnsons tag team was lamest gimmick since the Ding Dongs, out walked the Dupps with their fingers in their noses, doing a gimmick so cartoonish that David MacLaine wouldn't touch it.

Notes: I was starting to believe that Jeff Jarrett had packed on a few pounds, but then Lash LeRoux walked out and made him look like Francine, who looked as if she hadn't eaten since the last time one of her ECW checks cleared... The only things softer than Konnan's battle royal elimination bump are Steve Corino's and Justice's mid-sections... It was nice to see that NWA-TNA helped Lenny & Lodi get even with WWE for stealing their gimmick by having Ken Shamrock dress up like Rico... So that's what Scott Steiner would look like if he were a baseball player and the union gave in and allowed the owners to test for steroids... Okay, sorry for all of the cheap one-liners, but seeing some of these old familiar WCW faces really brings back memories. The big question is whether I'm looking forward to future NWA-TNA events. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of gimmicks to give up on, but yes, I am looking forward to next week and it is nice to have another wrestling option.

Wade Keller, Torch editor (6.5)

This promotion set a general tone from the get-go that it is going to be an old-style, back-to-basics wrestling show without being antiquated, boring, or boorish, but it isn't going to take itself so seriously that it doesn't attempt some silly gimmicks. Hopefully Jerry Jarrett will have the wisdom to dump the loser gimmicks. The opening segment with the old-timers and NWA reps gave the show an "official" feeling, some "prestige," and sent the message that "we aren't afraid to take our title seriously," something the WWE writing team and Vince Russo refused to "lower themselves" to doing. The first six-man match set the tone that this promotion is going to treat athleticism with respect, especially with announcer Mike Tenay knowing the names of moves and getting genuinely excited at fast-paced modern wrestling (flawed as it may be at times). Why are they called the Flying Elvises, though? Explanation needed.

TNA also established that it is going to have an internal logic and serve only two masters - making this week's show exciting while setting the stage for next week's show. It isn't dwelling on used up talent, either. The use of Malice in the main event was effective at building an unknown into a contender without shoving him down our throats as something more than he is - a green potential monster star with a ways to go. The first show was what it needed to be - it showed glimpses of Jarrett's strengths as a booker. He has a track record of being able to book beyond one hot-shotted show and he has always kept his eye on the ball - that being payoff matches after proper build-up. There were weaknesses on the show, but none that he necessarily should have seen ahead of time. It was good enough to attract repeat buys while also leaving the door wide open for improvement as the weeks go on. This wasn't a polished product, and it had its clunker moments, but it was at the very least passable for a first effort with no dreadful signs of doom to justify pessimism. His style may not be everyone's preference, but it's a mix that has proven successful for decades. It's pro wrestling, no apologies, with no intent to be something "grander" or "more prestigious." Speaking of which...

Stephanie McMahon and Brian Gewirtz take note: Jerry Jarrett successfully produced a two hour wrestling show without anybody having to act in an unnatural way backstage while cameras were present. What I mean is, he didn't have wrestlers making secret plans about covert actions in front of a freakin' camera! Who in their right mind would cheat on their wife or plot a secret attack with cameras present? No one, yet it happens every week on WWE TV... Also, I was very pleased to not be bombarded with the phrase "this is a shoot" and other "insider" references meant to kiss the asses of internet fans. TNA is a self-contained world that isn't pretending to not be a wrestling show; it's a program meant to capture a wrestling world that doesn't apologize for being wrestling or pretend that it's something else, such as "an action-adventure series" or "sports entertainment," mottos that WWE has taken to self-defeating extremes...

The show could have used a more formal introduction from Tenay explaining that TNA is a new promotion offering weekly events. They just assumed people would know it was a weekly show, which hasn't been an established part of the TV commercials. It almost had a "joined in progress" feel to it... Tenay began the show screaming way too loudly. About 15 minutes into the show he settled down, though, and ended up being a strong glue holding the show together. His facial gyrations when Ferrara or West were talking was still creepy, but less creepy and distracting than in his WCW days. Tenay is strongest when he's playing a straight-man, and at his weakest when he'll trying to be something he's not - a charismatic advocate cheerleader. When he was yelling "testify!" when Sterling Marlin rebutted K-Krush, it was embarrassing. Marlin said Krush should be embarrassed with how he was dressed. If he had aimed that comment at the Johnsons, maybe, but Krush looked completely normal in the world I live in, as did Marlin - they're just expressing different images. It wasn't a witty comeback deserving of such exclamatory overpraise from Tenay. Tenay should work really hard to stay away from any type of voice-straining comments that cause his voice to crack, because it really undermines the credibility he otherwise brings to the show...

Although there's plausible deniability, the Krush-NASCAR segment was race-baiting. The "your kind" and "my kind" comments from Krush was ostensibly meant to mean "real athletes vs. pretend athletes." Krush specified basketball and football; had he included hockey, it would have eliminated the "race" element and better established it wasn't meant to incite racial differences. It came across as a good-ol-boy promotion setting up a black to insult the most popular Southern sport that happens to feature just whites... Jarrett better sign K-Krush to a long-term deal quickly because he showed tremendous presence and star potential... Ferrara and West were almost useless during matches. If Ferrara isn't mocking Jim Ross, putting himself over, or trying to "get over with the internet crowd" with insider comments, he really has nothing to say until women come out so he can ogle them. West was completely out of his league, a poor man's Mark Madden minus confidence or knowledge. When West and Ferrara talked, they screamed so loudly that the sound overmodulated and got distorted. Another problem with West and Ferrara is I couldn't tell which of the two was talking, so I never knew who to blame for whatever stupid thing was just said...

The promotion had too much of a Southern feel on the first show not to go unnoticed. However, Vince McMahon has too much of a Northeastern feel, so the Southern-feel isn't bad as long as it's spent on such popular acts as NASCAR and Toby Keith. There's nothing wrong with catering to fans who might have felt alienated in recent years, but ECW showed that too narrow a target audience can doom your chances of success. Of course, ECW also showed that having a complete lack of respect for sound accounting practices hurts, too. That's not something the ultra-business-savvy entrepreneur Jerry Jarrett will have a problem with... They almost got too shy with the Johnsons gimmick. if they're going to play up the angle that Mortimer is embarrassing them with this horrible gimmick, the color commentators needed to make fun of the gimmick. Instead, they barely alluded to the fact that the Johnsons were dressed in skin colored outfits and looked like penises as a result. Either have the confidence to go through with the gimmick or kill it, but the half-way thing didn't work... Jeff Jarrett should have been used as a major player, and he was. The "make-over" - sans guitar, crew cut, and "slap nuts" phrase - made him fresh again. He should be used a main eventer and should become a mid-carder only if others on the roster leapfrog him in terms of ring work, mic work, veteran presence, and reliability. Claims he should be used as anything less than a top tier player for TNA is a case of reverse nepotism...

Pat McNeill, Torch columnist (5.0)

This was far from a perfect debut outing from the new NWA-TNA group. However, the show was priced cheaply and Jerry Jarrett did enough things right that it would be a mistake to write them off completely at this point.

The actual wrestling in this wrestling company needs some work. For a lot of the night, it alternated between spotty and sloppy. Elektra and Francine may have given us "action," but they lack the looks and the wrestling ability to stack up to Trish Stratus and Molly Holly. Don West is the biggest announcing disaster to hit this business since Artie Donovan. The Brothers Johnson weren't funny, they didn't get over, and many of the fans didn't even get the joke.

The bit with K-Krush and the NASCAR drivers was borderline offensive, especially the stuff about "our people" and "your people." Toby Keith got the William Shatner push, beating up Jeff Jarrett after Dubba J had buzzsawed through some real wrestlers.

And yet, and yet...

The set design and layout were well done. The production was about ten times better than the fledgling World Wrestling All-Stars. Mike Tenay was sharp as the main guy, after being the sidekick on wrestling telecasts for so long. Ed Ferrara made a couple of flubs, but was still a better choice than the usual startup heel announcers. The problems with the in-ring work can be fixed after the wrestlers have a chance to work out their ring rust and work with each other.

The pacing was good. J Sports and Entertainment seemed to remember that this was a show I had paid for, and didn't try to bury me in video packaged to tell me why I had already paid for it. They played it straight. It was wrestling, not something pretending not to be wrestling. The midget match was, uh, short, but that was the right length for it. They tried to elevate new talent. In fact, they did more to get Malice over as a killer in one show than WWE has done for Brock Lesnar in two months.

Scott Hall and Ken Shamrock aren't the long-term solution to anything. Jarrett is an upper mid-card guy who should be the glue that holds this silliness together, not the standard bearer. Based on tonight's two hours, I think NWA-TNA recognizes that, and plans to build their own stars. It can be done. If this company can remain financially viable that long, and they can generate enough publicity and word-of-mouth to get fence-sitting fans to give them a try, they might be able to last more than a couple of months. And pro wrestling will be better off for it.


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