- I didn't always hate TNA. In fact, I still don't. I hate the lack of success TNA has maintained for over a decade. I hate the squandered opportunities presented to them in the form of a deep pool of Independent talent, older stars as hooks for casual fans, and at times hot free agents that have either willingly left WWE or questionably cut for whatever reason could be found. More than anything, I hate how TNA has been ran. Poor marketing being the biggest crime, but also constantly trying to present itself as an equal to WWE than a true alternative. Just because WWE feels the need to present 20-minute monologues every week doesn't mean it's the right move for everyone, or an entertaining concept to keep shoving in our faces every week.
NWA-TNA (Total Nonstop Action, and yes, I hated the name back in 2002, too) started much like the WWA and XWF: With WCW and ECW gone, there was a chance for another company to make a name for itself. With a combination of top Indy talent, some unknown up-and-comers, and a laundry list of "cast-offs" and "has-beens", there was room for a new #2. XWF? Didn't even make it to TV or a PPV deal until years after the company folded. WWA? Hung in with an occasional PPV (poorly produced, typically) before being dissolved and merging it's Championships with... yep, NWA-TNA. Finally, on June 19th, 2002, NWA-TNA was born. I wasn't expecting too much, but was excited to see another option of wrestling programming, especially with WWE in a considerable funk at the time (and as 2003 came knocking, pushed me almost into exclusively caring about TNA and hating the WWE product).
Things weren't too pretty. The show opened with a LONG talkie segment with a bunch of geezers (to be fair, Ricky Steamboat was higher caliber than that, but when he's standing next to a woman named Sarah Lee, you're fucked). Then Jeff Jarrett, Ken Shamrock, and Scott Hall all came out and declared that crowning a new World Champion through a knock-off Royal Rumble (Gauntlet for The Gold!) was stupid. Note, all three weren't on the same page of the booking sheets: Jarrett was a heel, the other two were faces. In TNA's defense, this happened first because of ring issues, but again, it's TNA's fault for letting a 500 pound fat fuck in the ring who looked like he had zero idea how to work a match.
The first match featured A.J. Styles, Jerry Lynn, and Low-Ki jobbing to three ELVIS IMPERSONATORS, none of them "true" caucasian: Sonny Siaki (Samoan), Jimmy Yang (offered as Japanese, but I'm sure he's as Japanese as Pat Tanaka), and Jorge Estrada, latino. The match was good, but it goes to show that three well known names on the Indies were put on the losing end of a match against a comedy trio. Think The Shield doing the job to 3MB. That's what this would be like.
Also featured... midgets! The Dupps, a Hillbilly Family that was most definitely banging each other (Bo, Stan, and Fluff, their sister/girlfriend), going over a talented duo in Christian York and Joey Matthews (that's TWO tag matches where the comedy heel team, COMEDY HEEL TEAM, goes over). Oh, and Ed Ferrara was there, sporting DREADLOCKS. And some guy named Don West who had zero experience calling wrestling, but tons of experience shilling crap. He was a mainstay on HSN (or QVC, whatever) and was a pretty good hard-sell.
And with that... we have THE GAUNTLET FOR THE GOLD... (for the record, I cannot find a watchable version of the episode, but I'll cover the Gauntlet Match and then jump into Week #2, which I've never seen)...
#1 is former Chosen One and Double J, Jeff Jarrett, and #2 is Buff Bagwell (who Mike Tenay and Don West cream over like he's the next coming of Jesus). TNA annoyingly leaves the clock on the screen at all-times, because it's TNA. Buff clearly holds back on Jarrett's tights as he tosses him over the top rope. Buff with the Blockbuster, but Jarrett pops right up and back drops him out at 1:02. Maybe he can have his Momma call and complain. #3 is The Ragin' Cajun, Lash LeRoux. Unless you followed WCW in 1999-2000, you probably won't remember or have any clue who LeRoux was. Short answer: Jobber. Jarrett with the Stroke, and tosses Leroux at 2:28. We ignore there's 20-seconds left and just send out Norman Smiley as #4. He tries to be funny and goes for the Big Wiggle, but Jarrett low blows him, hits the Stroke, and tosses Smiley at 4:02. #5 is (El Gran) Apolo, from IWA Puerto Rico. No idea who the dude was in 2002. He interrupts Jarrett's streak, doing little of note. #6 is K-Krush, formerly K-Kwik in WWE (Mike Tenay still calls it WWF). He helps Jarrett. #7 is Slash (with James Mitchell), formerly known as half of PG-13 (don't ask which, I don't care). Apolo treats him like a Jobber. Don West calls a DDT "cool." #8 is Del Rios, looking like an obvious clone of Scott Steiner, complete with "S" symbol on his tights, platinum blonde crew-cut, and goatee (Ed Ferrara: He looks awfully familiar...). Del Rio is probably better known as Spellbinder in USWA, a.k.a Phantasio for one televised WWF appearance. #9 is Justice. It's an unmasked Abyss, completely void of interest. All he does are big boots. He gives Del Rios the Blackhole Slam before it had a name or someone over doing it. Who knew a Kane clone would be a career making gimmick? #10 is Konnan. Woo? At least it's a name. He hits random people with forward tumble clotheslines, and it's still a lazy battle royale.
#11 is Joel Gertner... introducing The Rainbow Express and Gauntlet Participant Bruce (with Lenny Lane). #12 is RICK STEINER. I'm guessing he's doing to clothesline people and no-sell. Those clotheslines look quite stiff. He overhead throws Slash out at 16:22. He powerslams Justice and clotheslines him out at 16:48. #13 is MALICE (formerly The Wall, and managed by James Mitchell). He chokeslams random people. Bruce gets tossed at 18:10, and K-Krush at 18:15. Del Rios gone at 18:20. Konnan gone at 18:30 in the wussiest bump since a Bushwhacker in the Mania 17 Gimmick Battle Royale. Malice pulls down the ropes on Steiner, eliminating him at 18:46. #14 is Scott Hall. Apolo hangs around on the top rope forever, then blows the spot after having a good 30-seconds to set up. Hall with the Razor's Edge on Jarrett, too bad pinfalls don't count. #15 is... Toby Keith? He gives Jarrett a suplex (no doubt as revenge for interrupting his performance earlier in the night) and helps Hall toss Jarrett out at 21:28 to the biggest pop of the night, which isn't really saying much. #16 is "Wildcat" Chris Harris, before AMW existed, or Braden Walker. #17 is the Vampire Warrior, formerly Gangrel, jumping the gun. #18 is Devon Storm, formerly Crowbar. #19 is Steve Corino. #20 is Ken Shamrock, rounding out the field. Wait, I guess Toby Keith WASN'T a real entrant, so that's only 19. Would've been nice had there been an official ruling on the situation. I guess Harris and Vampire Warrior were both LATE to the ring, in this case The REAL #20 is Brian Christopher. Still not as disappointing as Rey Mysterio at #30 in the 2014 Rumble. Harris, Storm, and Gangrel all get tossed in one big heap at the 29:30 mark. By Jerry's Kid. Corino gets tossed out by Christopher at 29:54. Shamrock tosses Christopher at 30:29. Apolo is gone at 30:47 courtesy of Malice, and Hall is gone at 31:04, leaving Malice vs. Shamrock...
Seems kind of unfair that Malice has been in the ring for about 15 minutes, while Shamrock has been in for about three, and sporting some hideous sideburns. Malice with a big boot and side slam for a near fall. Suplex gets two. Shamrock goes for a sunset flip, but Malice blocks. Shamrock ducks an elbow, then counters a Chokeslam with the Cross Armbreaker! Malice hangs in and grabs the ropes to force the break. Shamrock blocks a big boot attempt and slaps on the Ankle Lock. Malice grabs the ropes, but Shamrock pulls him off and Steamboat doesn't force the break. BULLSHIT! Shamrock keeps the hold applied, but Malice makes it to the ropes again. Malice goes for the Chokeslam, but Shamrock counters with a belly-to-belly suplex for the three count, giving us a NEW NWA World Heavyweight Champion at 37:44. ** For the whole thing. A weak-sauce Rumble clone that had decent moments of competent booking, and a half-decent one-on-one encounter to end the match, but overall, just not very good. Lack of roster depth for believable contenders, and a parade of Jobbers in a match that only had 20 participants.
And now... WEEK #2. June 26th, 2002.
- We recap last week's shenanigans, including Jackie Fargo unfairly making Jeff Jarrett the #1 entrant of the Royal Rumb... er.... Gauntlet For the Gold Match. Ken Shamrock ultimately won, surviving 3-minutes of Gauntlet Hell and conquering a tired giant named "Malice" (a.k.a The Wall).
- We recap last week where a couple of NASCAR guys (Hermie Sadler and some other dude) get into it with K-Krush, because black people hate racecar drivers. Yes, it IS a race thing, judging by K-Krush's promo. Brian Christopher stands up for all honky's who enjoy driving with the left turn signal on for 500 miles, and we have a match scheduled for later tonight...
- Backstage, Goldylocks is with "Puerto Rican Superstar" Apolo. 5-seconds later, some valet known as "Bobcat" introduces us to David Young and interrupts the whole thing, so we cut back to the ring.
- Ricky Steamboat, still wearing his referee shirt from last week, introduces us to the NEW NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Ken Shamrock. Father James Mitchell interrupts things, which serves as a distraction for Malice to sneak up from behind and Chokeslam him to Hell.
- We recap last weeks X-Division 6-Man Tag between A.J. Styles, Jerry Lynn, Low-Ki, and the Flying Elvis Impersonators. The winning team will NOT be represented in tonight's Round Robin Tournament to crown the 1st ever X-Division Champion. Because it's TNA. The X-Division means NO WEIGHT LIMITS, except when it's enforced. Tenay chalks it up to controversy creates interest... make your own joke.
Low-Ki vs. A.J. Styles is next. Low Ki with kicks, but Styles nips up into a hurricanrana! Styles goes for a German Suplex, but Low-Ki counters with a roundhouse kick. Styles goes for the Styles Clash, but Low Ki fights out of it. He crotches Styles along the top rope and takes him down with a brutual Dragon Sleeper! Low Ki lays Styles out with a kick to the face. He somehow lands on his feet doing a corkscrew moonsault, but runs into a clothesline. Styles rolls through with a German Suplex and finishes Low Ki with a front facebuster for three at 4:20!
Jerry Lynn vs. A.J. Styles is next. He runs through Styles with a clothesline and the cradle Piledriver gets three at 4:45!
Jerry Lynn vs. Psicosis (1 loss) is next. Psicosis comes off the top with a missile dropkick. Lynn blocks a German Suplex, takes Psicosis over with a snapmare, and sends him across the ring with a flying headscissors! Lynn from the second rope with a bulldog for two! Psiosis sends Lynn to the floor with a hurricanrana, then follows with a somersault plancha! Back inside, Psicosis comes off the top with a spinning leg kick for two. Lynn counters a slam with a reverse DDT for two. Psicosis heads to the top and jumps into a dropkick. Lynn with the Cradle Piledriver, and Psicosis is ELIMINATED at 7:45!
Jerry Lynn vs. Low-Ki (1 loss) is next. Low Ki kicks him in the chest for two. He plants Lynn with a slam and comes off the ropes with a twisting elbow drop for two. Whip to the corner, Lynn gets a boot up on the charge. Low Ki rolling kicks Lynn on the top rope and goes for a hurricanrana, but Lynn rolls through with a sunset flip for two! They exchange blows until Lynn puts Low Ki down with an enziguri! Lynn takes Low Ki over with a back drop, followed by a pair of dropkicks. Lynn leg drops Low Ki across the middle rope. Low Ki counters the Cradle Piledriver by locking in a cross armbreaker! Lynn powers up and slams Low Ki back down for another near fall! Low Ki goes for a Fisherman Buster, but Lynn counters with a DDT! Lynn with a short-arm clothesline and the Cradle Piledriver for three at 12:04, ELIMINATING Low Ki!
Jerry Lynn vs. A.J. Styles (1 loss) is next. Styles returns the favor from earlier with a brutal clothesline, but it only gets two. Lynn counters a Powerbomb with a sloppy hurricanrana. Styles gets up first and connects with a spinning heel kick for two! Whip to the ropes and Lynn connects with a tilt-o-whirl backbreaker for two! Styles blocks a sunset flip and connects with a corkscrew splash from the apron for two! Lynn comes exploding out of the corner with a DDT for two! Styles counters a suplex with a neck breaker for two. Styles runs into the corner and Lynn plants him with a running Ligerbomb for another near fall. Styles counters a Cradle Piledriver with a back breaker. Styles Clash connects and gets the three count at 16:07!
Styles and Lynn obviously continue, one loss apiece, and now Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat is the Special Referee to determine the 1st ever X-Division Champion. They trade rights, with Styles taking the upperhand. Charge to the corner, and Lynn rolls him up for two. They work through a series of counters for near falls. Styles with a back slide for two. Lynn slips out of a full nelson and cradles Styles for two. They nail each other with a clothesline for another awesome double-wipeout spot! Styles knocks Lynn to the apron, and gets hung across the top rope for it. Lynn pulls him to the floor and throws him into the security rail, with Styles flipping himself upside down on the impact. Styles fights Lynn off, comes off the apron with an Asai Moonsault into an inverted DDT! Back inside the ring, Lynn blocks the inverted DDT, hangs Styles across the top rope, and plants him with the draping DDT for two! Lynn connects with an awesome facebuster after one of the most amazing sequences I can recall ever seeing. Words cannot describe it. Styles fights out of a Cradle Piledriver and connects with a DVD into a back breaker for two! Lynn blocks a suplex and counters with a brain buster... for two! Lynn hooks a Sleeper, but Styles quickly escapes with a Jawbuster. Lynn crotches Styles along the top turnbuckle and takes him down with a Super-Plex! It only gets two! Lynn sets him up for it again, but this time Styles knocks him down and hits the Corkscrew Press for the three count at 25:58, becoming the NEW and 1st ever X-Division Champion! ****1/2 Absolutely fantastic. Obvious credit mostly goes to Styles and Lynn for busting out some of the most exciting wrestling the era had to offer, never taking a rest, and for the most part, pulling off everything so smooth that you suspended disbelief that this was designed to be a spotfest, and turned into one of the best matches in TNA History. Low Ki and Psicosis had lesser involvement, but were equally good with what they were allowed to do. Everything wrong with the first hour of this show was completely nullified by how awesome this one match turned out.
Final Thoughts: The first hour of this PPV was such a Dumpster Fire. Mediocre matches (at best), babyfaces using outside interference from "Celebrities" to win, Cheex and the Brown-Eyed Girl, teasing a split between a midcarder and his obnoxious valet during their first appearance, an embarrassing and degrading segment featuring the Women in a Lingerie Battle Royale, Don West's uncomfortably over-the-top homophobia towards the Rainbow Express... and then it was all made right with a half hour of amazing X-Division action, specifically from Jerry Lynn and A.J. Styles. I can't recommend watching the whole episode straight through, but the Main Event is one of the best in TNA History.