On June 19, 2002, TNA Wrestling held their first-ever show. In celebration of their upcoming 13th birthday, we’ll have a number of TNA-centric articles celebrating the good, the bad and the ugly of TNA/Impact Wrestling over the last 13 years.
“Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.” – “Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V),” Pink Floyd, 1975
Last week I had the absolute pleasure of going to the movies and seeing Mad Mad: Fury Road. It was the first Mad Max movie I had ever seen in its entirety. I’ve seen bits and bobs of The Road Warrior on television, but Fury Road was my first full foray into this beautiful nightmare of the post-apocalypse: where pale War Boys make their teeth shiny and chrome before they are witnessed on the road to Valhalla; where an albino Bane chases a skinnier Bane and a one-armed warrior across the desert to reclaim his property; and where ex-Undertaker protégé Nathan Jones (in a surprisingly great performance) fires a huge-ass gun into the air and laments the death of his baby brother who was perfect in every way.
Much of the thrill of seeing my first Mad Max movie was precisely because it was my first Mad Max movie. It was new. When you’ve been subjected to the same things over and over again—the same formulas, the same clichés, the same plotlines—it allows the really new and unique to stand out from the pack and command your attention. Fury Road looked and felt to me like a new experience, and I have been enthralled with the film ever since I saw it. I felt the same way when I saw The Dark Knight back in 2008. I thought, Wow, not only is this film great, but it feels new. I have never seen a superhero movie done this way.
I bring up the subject of new experiences because I want to talk about a new experience I had over ten years ago. In autumn of 2004, I had been a wrestling fan for a little over a year. WWE was my gateway; it was also my only source. Other companies like Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and the entire continent of Japan were completely unknown to me.
So imagine my joy when I flipped through the channels one day and landed on Fox Sports Net. Hey, it’s wrestling, I thought. I’ll watch this. But this wasn’t the massive spectacle of WWE that I was used to seeing. The arena was a lot smaller, the production looked cheaper, the ring had six sides, and I had absolutely no idea who the wrestlers were. I kept watching, though. Why? Because it was wrestling. And because it was new.
That was my first ever experience with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. I was oblivious to their existence before that day, but now that I had discovered them, I was intent on watching every week. After all, TNA was a brand new fix to satisfy my growing wrestling addiction.
The memories are permanently embedded in my brain, clear as day.
I remember the new, young wrestlers that I had never heard of before, but would come to know very well: A.J. Styles, Christopher Daniels, Chris Sabin, America’s Most Wanted, Bobby Roode, Petey Williams, Alex Shelley, Sonjay Dutt, Monty Brown, Abyss, Shark Boy. T.J. Perkins, then known as Puma, was merely nineteen-years-old but already a three-year pro when I first saw him in the X-Division Gauntlet at Victory Road 2004. Lance Archer was still going by the name Dallas and acting as Kid Kash’s bodyguard. Matt Bentley was still Michael Shane. Neither they nor I had any idea of where their futures would take them (or the massive success many of them would have), but I was determined to go along with them for the ride.
I also remember the new, older wrestlers that I had never heard of before: Jeff Jarrett, Raven, Jeff Hardy, Jerry Lynn, B.G. James, Konnan, Diamond Dallas Page, Erik Watts, Johnny B. Badd, Johnny Swinger, Glenn Gilberti. With the exception of guys like Lynn, Raven, Hardy, DDP, and Jarrett, I did not like these older wrestlers as much as I did the younger wrestlers. The younger guys put on better matches. Johnny B. Badd and Erik Watts were, well, Johnny B. Badd and Erik Watts. In 2004.
I even remember those who weren’t so fortunate to find further success: Mikey Batts, Jerrelle Clark, Sonny Siaki, Jason Cross, D-Ray 3000, Phi Delta Slam, David Young, Buck Quartermain, Lex Lovett, and Tritan… *sigh*… Tritan.
I remember when Comcast put up a free TNA match on their On Demand service every month; that was where I discovered Ultimate X. Chris Sabin, Michael Shane, Christopher Daniels, and Low Ki battled it out for the X-Division Championship in a new match type that grabbed me by the throat from bell to bell.
I remember the entrance music. Dale Oliver wasn’t as skilled in coming up with iconic themes as Jim Johnston, but I still enjoyed them: “I Am” for A.J. Styles, “My World” for Jeff Jarrett, “Scream” for Raven, “Modern Oz” for Chris Sabin. Were many of them rip-offs of popular songs? Hell yeah. But that didn’t stop me from downloading a bunch of them and putting them on my iPod. Who has two thumbs and 37 TNA entrance themes in his iTunes library? This guy.
I remember the moment. The moment. Turning Point 2004. America’s Most Wanted vs. Triple X in a Tag Team Steel Cage match. Elix Skipper, with balls the size of grapefruits, walked the top of the steel cage and hurricanrana’d Chris Harris all the way down to the mat. And this wasn’t your typical modern-day WWE steel cage, where the top has some width to it. Standing on top of a TNA cage was like standing on top of a fence. One slip and Skipper would have been done. But he didn’t slip. The crowd went nuts. Mike Tenay and Don West went nuts. I went nuts. I had never seen anything like that in pro wrestling, let alone in WWE. If discovering TNA on Fox Sports Net got me in the spaceship, Elix Skipper walking the cage slammed the door shut and ignited the damn rockets.
But time marched on. And as the years passed and the new car smell faded, TNA slowly turned into the decaying carcass that it now is. I won’t go into details; that would take way too long. But bad decisions—in booking and business—turned me off of TNA. They made so many mistakes and mishandled so many great wrestlers that they reached the point of irredeemability in my eyes and the eyes of many other people. TNA went from being this new, exciting product—this fresh alternative to what I was used to seeing with WWE— to being a downright embarrassment.
It’s sad and shameful to think of what TNA could have been. It’s also a waste of time. Life is full of coulds, woulds, and shoulds that have the potential to plague us for years. We can’t change the past; we can’t fix the awful mistakes that TNA made. But we can learn from them. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, as the saying goes. So if we don’t want the new, unique wrestling products to end up like TNA, we are going to have to keep history by our side at all times.