The Birth Of TNA Wrestling – The Story Of TNA Wrestling
Impact Wrestling is bringing back the TNA name for One Night Only in April 2020 with TNA There’s No Place Like Home, I thought it would be a great time to do a weekly series on the history and highlights from one of my favourite promotions of all time. Total Non Stop Action Wrestling provided a platform and opportunity to talent who couldn’t find a home up in Stanford with the WWE. Talent like Elix Skipper, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Matt Bently, Eric Young, Aj Styles, Samoa Joe and….of course The Shocker.
TNA Wrestling was a gateway for me into delving deeper into other styles of wrestling with it’s revolving door of top name talent from around the world. As well as peeking behind the curtain a bit more to understand some of the more insider aspects of the business. I liked the feel of the show and truly believe that at one time it was producing some of the best wrestling programming in the world.
They may have had their ups and downs over the years. They’ve gone through many name changes along the way. They’ve been involved in controversies.
They’ve also given deserving talent a chance to show that they could run with the ball and extend their career. People like Christian, Bully Ray and Drew McIntyre.
Today we look at the beginning of the promotion in 2002 and who was behind the curtain helping to get it off the ground.
This is the story of The Birth Of TNA Wrestling
The end of the Monday Night Wars in 2001 had seen Vince McMahon buy out the second major wrestling promotion in North America, WCW, World Championship Wrestling. The third largest promotion, ECW or Extreme Championship Wrestling filed for bankruptcy not too long after, and McMahon would go onto purchase their assets a month later. The aftermath of these events caused shockwaves through the wrestling world. Vince McMahon owned wrestling and there were many people who couldn’t find a spot on his programming.
Some people were publicly fired live on the simulcast of WWF Raw and the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro. In particular one man was singled out. Jeff Jarrett. Jeff came from a well respected wrestling family with his father Jerry Jarrett an avid promoter and consultant to both the WWF and WCW during his long tenured career. In 2001, Jerry was one of the interested parties looking to buy during the sale of WCW, and lost out to the WWF in the bidding process.
“I’ve bought my competition”
There are various accounts that allege WCW was handed to Vince McMahon on a platter and that he bought the company at a loss, with reports that he paid only $3.5 Million for the tape library, all trademarks and several wrestlers contracts.
Additionally, there was a pre existing clause in a settlement between the WWF and WCW over the initial Outsider’s storyline and appearances of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in 1996 on WCW programming. This clause gave the WWF first refusal if the company was ever put up for sale. World Championship Wrestling was losing millions during it’s final few years. Turner executives Jamie Kellner and Brad Siegel would cancel WCW programming slots on TBS and TNT, essentially killing the product for any interested parties. One of those parties was led by Eric Bischoff and a group of investors, Fusient Media. Fusient Media had signed a letter of intent, raised over $67 million dollars and wanted to have 3 months of TV on Turner Networks. After the 3 months they would begin shopping WCW around to other networks.
Joey Styles, former ECW commentator who was considered by Bischoff as commentator during the Fusient Media Deal recalled;
“Jamie Kellner and other higher ups at the company wanted to make TNT the drama network and they wanted TBS to focus on comedy and sports,”
Eric Bischoff would hear from one of the other investors from Fusient media that the deal was now off due to the lack of a TV slot. With the cancellation by Turner any potential owners would basically have a promotion with no TV and that wasn’t an option. Bischoff later remarked;
“Once Jamie Kellner articulated what everyone was saying behind closed doors, which was, ‘we don’t want anything to do with wrestling in any way, shape or form,’ the deal with Turner had absolutely zero value to us..”
WCW had been sold to Vince McMahon and as mentioned he would scoop up ECW the next month. Three men would go onto contemplate their future within the professional wrestling world. On a fishing trip.
Three Fisherman In A Boat
As detailed by The History of TNA: Year 1 DVD released by TNA Home Video in 2006, the promotion was formed while Bob Ryder, Jerry Jarret and Jeff Jarrett were on a fishing trip in 2001. They were talking about the current state of wrestling and that there was only one major wrestling promotion in all of the United States. The WWF. Ryder felt this led to many TV networks to have a bad impression of professional wrestling. His idea would be to have a company which didn’t rely on traditional television distribution. It would be broadcast exclusively and direct to the fans on Pay Per View.
Over the following year the Jarrett’s would find all the financial backing they required to put on their first show. There has been speculation that Jeff Jarrett used money from his guaranteed AOL Time Warner contract to help make up some of the funds. The same contract that Vince McMahon didn’t want to buy out the previous year. The new show was marketed to bring an edgier alternative to the WWF and fill the void left by WCW and ECW. The company’s only revenue to start with would be through PPV buys at a cost of $9.95 for a live 2 hour show on a Wednesday Night. This was a per week cost for fans and a totally unique, exciting proposition.
The Jarretts would use their connections within the industry to set up a licensing deal with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). This deal would allow the new promotion to use the NWA World’s Heavyweight Title and NWA World Tag Team titles on their programming with total booking independence. This really helped to give some legitimacy to the new promotion with a world title which had at that time over 50 years of history attached.The title had been won by legends like the American Dream Dusty Rhodes and of course the 16 Time World Champion, the Nature Boy Ric Flair. The relationship would also help bring a new generation of eyes to the National Wrestling Alliance product as a whole.
In 2002, Jeff and his father created a limited-liability company, J Sports and Entertainment and opened a new pro wrestling promotion, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA). This would be introduced to the world as National Wrestling Alliance – Total Nonstop Action or NWA:TNA with a press release at the time;
Below is the Press Release Taken from the wayback machine’s cache of nwatna.com from May 2002 : https://web.archive.org/web/20020602093111/http://www.nwatna.com/release/
“(iN DEMAND; J SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT ANNOUNCE NEW
WEEKLY PPV WRESTLING SERIES
NWA: TOTAL NONSTOP ACTION TO KICK OFF JUNE 19, 2002
New York, NY (May 9, 2002)…iN DEMAND LLC and J Sports & Entertainment, Inc (JSE), today announced a new weekly series of PPV wrestling entertainment events premiering on June 19, 2002, and continuing every Wednesday night for 52 weeks. The series will be available at a suggested retail price of $9.95 per telecast and represents the first weekly original programming available exclusively on PPV.
The new series will be called “NWA – Total Nonstop Action” and will feature nationally and world-renowned superstars from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), the oldest professional wrestling sanctioning body in the world. The NWA’s heritage is the foundation for professional wrestling today, and this new venture repositions the NWA brand for the 21st century.
Appearing on initial programs will be top names such as, former World Champion Jeff Jarrett, former UFC Champion Ken Shamrock, NWA legends Dory Funk Jr. and Harley Race, hardcore midget Puppet, Puerto Rican sensation Apolo, and young high-flyer A.J. Styles. These top athletes, representing a diverse array of wrestling styles, will be joined by the luscious “TNA Girls” as well as other top free agent wrestlers from around the world who will be announced in the weeks to come. The live events will be held at various arenas and coliseums throughout the country.
In addition, superstars from both the entertainment and sporting worlds, as well as “infamous” celebrities, will make guest appearances on a regular basis to create this new, multi-faceted approach to wrestling entertainment. The first broadcast will feature country music superstar and CMA & ACM Male Vocalist of the Year, Toby Keith, and current NASCAR Winston Cup point leader, Sterling Marlin.
“Our show fills a void currently in the marketplace,” said Jeff Jarrett, President of JSE. “With its fast paced storylines and Total Nonstop Action, we will give fans,
“Each show will be a spectacular, in line with the quality of programming expected from a PPV broadcast,” said Jerry Jarrett, Chairman of JSE and a well known wrestling promoter and industry leader for over 35 years. “Because the storyline continues on a weekly basis, fans will want to tune in each week. It was important for us to offer this entertainment at an affordable price level. Viewers can obtain 8 hours of this original, high-quality entertainment on a monthly basis.”
“This is a great opportunity for iN DEMAND, our MSOs and affiliates,” said Daniel York, SVP Programming and Development, iN DEMAND. “With weekly consistency and an affordable price point, we expect the new series to appeal to wrestling fans, and are confident it will attract new fans to the category.”
“NWA: Total Nonstop Action” will premiere every Wednesday at 8pm ET with an encore presentation scheduled for the following Sunday at Noon ET (time approximate). The Sunday broadcast will often serve as “lead-in” programming for iNDemand’s recently announced NASCAR iN CAR ON iN DEMAND series.”)
For General Media contact:
Dixie Carter, Public Relations contact for JSE
Joe Boyle at iN Demand
The name TNA was a play, on the more common meaning of “T&A”, from the extreme beginning of the millenium. This being the only reason the “TNA Girls” were mentioned in the press release. We’ll be looking a lot deeper into how women’s overall role in TNA evolved soon.
Partnering with iN DEMAND, an established PPV provider, would give TNA a beginning run of 52 episodes. A full year, to find their feet in the programming and wrestling landscape.
Of course the name Dixie Carter would go on to much more prominence in the coming years but back in 2002 she was credited as Public Relations contact for J Sports Entertainment. Their first show aired on June 19, 2002 live on PPV with the promise of a new NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion at the end of the night.
The then, current, NWA champion Dan “The Beast” Severn was unable to attend the event, leading to NWA officials stripping him of the title before the show and effectively vacating the championship.The stage was set for a new legitimate player in the wrestling business and it would soon be time for them to show the world what Total Nonstop Action Wrestling was all about.
But we’ll be talking about the first episode of NWA:TNA in more detail next week.
We’ll have many more things to talk about the coming weeks but let me know in the comments below your first memories of TNA. Do you remember the hype on the way to that first show? Did you even think it would make it to the first show?
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