It’s fair to say that TNA/Impact Wrestling has had a lot of ups and downs over the years. The current D’Amore/Callis era is once again positioning the company as viable alternative rather than copying what worked in other companies like the Hogan/Bischoff era.
This week marks the 17th anniversary of TNA’s first ever show. In the beginning, the promotion ran a series of weekly PPV’s, starting on June 19th, 2002. Considering AEW had a big debut show last month, we decided to look back at TNA’s first outing.
The show hailed from the Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The arena had similar set up to the TNA Asylum in Nashville they ran regularly in the first few years. Already you can see how far the company has come because the Impact Zone this is not. There were problems before they even went on air as the dark match featured one a 400 pound wrestler who broke one of the ropes. Jeremy Borash later revealed the only reason that wrestler was hired was to be TNA’s Rikishi.
The show kicked off with a long promo featuring Ricky Steamboat and several legends from the NWA. Jeff Jarrett, Ken Shamrock and Scott Hall all came out to help set up the gauntlet match main event for the NWA Championship. Not the hottest start to your first show.
On commentary we have Ed Ferrara – whose look could be described as John Travolta in Battlefield Earth – Don West wearing a colourful shirt Milton Jones would be proud of and Mike Tenay who actually made an effort. The first official match featured a star-studded team of AJ Styles, Low Ki and Jerry Lynn vs The Flying Elvis. It proved to be a showcase of the X Division style that TNA would be known for. The crowd were really into it as this style was still fairly new to people. Nowadays, with so many promotions, we’re use to this style. In a baffling move, AJ Styles ate the pin for an Elvis win. The Elvis’ weren’t bad. It was just hard to take them seriously when they’re dressed as Elvis. At least it was Jimmy Yang that got the pin #JimmyYang4HOF2020.
Speaking of baffling, the next match was between two dwarf wrestlers as Teo took on Hollywood. The match didn’t last long and just seemed to be an excuse for the commentators to make small puns. It’s always good to establish yourself as being different from your competitors, but this wasn’t the way to do it.
The women’s division
For many fans, TNA was doing the women’s revolution years before WWE was. The likes of Gail Kim and Awesome Kong helped pave the way for the female stars we see today. This next segment was the complete opposite of that as we are introduced to the competitors for next week’s lingerie battle royal to crown Miss TNA. Out of all of them, the only ones who could be considered wrestlers were Mickie James and Daffney. It ended with an awkward cat fight between Francine and Elektra. Clearly women’s wrestling was still a few years from being taken seriously.
So, you’ve got a team of Psicosis and James Storm, who are two great athletes. So, what do you do with them? Have them lose to a team dressed as dicks. They were taking on Richard and Rod, the Johnsons, a team which who are nothing more than a pun. Storm and Psicosis did a good job wrestling around the lumbering Johnsons before Storm was put away with the worse TKO I’ve ever seen.
Next, we had another strange segment where an interview with two NASCAR drivers got interrupted by K-Krush (better known as R-Truth). Krush hated the fact that PPV time was being taken up by two non-wrestlers which somehow made him the bad guy. Before things could escalate any further, Brian Christopher of all people came to make the save. All whilst dressed in the same gear he wore as Grand Master Sexay.
Another tag match came next pitting Christian York and Joey Matthews (the future Joey Mercury) against Stan and Bo Dupp who looked like the prototype for Cade and Murdoch. Most of the match saw commentators make dumb redneck jokes about the Dupps – like implying Stan’s girlfriend Fluff was also their cousin. A flat finish as Fluff drips York off the top allowing Bo to make the cover.
Before the main event apparently the show wouldn’t be complete without a random Toby Keith concert. I had no idea who he was either. Thankfully Jarrett came out putting an end to that. Jarrett starts off the gauntlet match for NWA Championship with Buff Bagwell, who despite getting a good response, is quickly eliminated. What followed was a mix of fresh and familiar faces.
- Lash LeRoux
- Norman Smiley
- Del Rios
- Justice (the future Abyss)
- Rick Steiner
- Scott Hall
- Toby Keith (Yes really)
- Chris Harris
- Steve Corino
- Vampire Warrior (formerly Gangrel)
- Devon Storm
- Ken Shamrock
- Brian Christopher
It was meant to be a new entrant every 90 seconds, but it didn’t work out that way. Twenty seconds remained on the timer when Smiley came out. Vampire Warrior came out with no count down or music.
Malice went on a dominant run getting the most eliminations, with things coming down to him and Ken Shamrock. When it came down to final two it was a one on one match with Ricky Steamboat as the ref. After Malice dominates for the first few minutes, Shamrock wares him down with an arm bar and an ankle lock. Countering the chokeslam into a belly to belly suplex allows Shamrock to be crowned the new NWA Champion.
They talked a lot about continuing the great history of the NWA, yet devalued their main event by including a country music star. The final shot of the PPV wasn’t even of the new NWA champion. It was Jarrett complaining and brawling with Keith and Hall.
We’ve talked about how Shamrock on our Superstars that never reached the top show, so it was nice to see him win a world championship. Having said that, he was one of three people who could believably have won this match along with Jarrett and K-Krush.
As dominant as Malice looked, I could never buy him as NWA champion. Also, the submission spots went on for ages, only for a belly to belly to be the finish. IT seemed pointless since commentary had been putting over Shamrock’s MMA background. I also thought the Gauntlet match went on for too long. It probably took more than 30 minutes before we got to the final two.
As a whole, this is not a show that has aged well. The fans seemed happy to have an alternative to WWE as there were few at this time. Nowadays, with the independent scene being what it is, a show like this wouldn’t match up. While there was some new talent that would eventually become mainstays of the company, most of the card seemed to be made up of WWE and WCW cast offs.
They say you have to start somewhere, but looking at this show there is no indication that TNA would be considered genuine competition to WWE just a few years later.