In Chapter 11 of the NWA TNA story, TNA went out of business. The Total Nonstop Action totally stopped for two weeks, thanks to a “Best of the X-Division” special and the first anniversary of 9/11.
In the next chapter, [fanfare] the fine potted plants and cardboard cutouts at Panda Energy step in to bring the show back to life with a bigger budget, more stars, and (eventually) an emphasis on the second best woman named Dixie Carter to ever appear on television. It’s back, and it’s not going away! Ever, apparently!
If you’d like to keep up with these columns as they go, be sure to check out the NWA TNA Wrestling: The Asylum Years tag. I’d give you a direct link to the shows but the Global Wrestling Network redirects everything to their main page. I don’t think anybody’s paying attention. Did everyone already cross the line?
And now, chapter twelve of the TNA Wrestling story for September 18, 2002.
Make Some Noise
We return from hiatus with Goldy Locks announcing that tonight’s pay-per-view features (1) a Gauntlet for the Gold Tag Team match to crown new NWA World Tag Team Champions, and (2) the NWA TNA debut of Sean ‘Syxx-pac’ Waltman, who as you see has grown out his stomach hair a little bit so he doesn’t look weird standing next to the blood-soaked wookiee Scott Hall has become.
So, the promo Syxx delivers is the one you’re used to hearing. “I was in the big companies and they are just SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT, now that I’m in this smaller company it’s about WRESTLING, because I’m a wrestler and love wrestling!” That works when you’re like, popping into the local indie. When you show up on the 12th episode of NWA TNA and claim you’re here instead of WWE because you want to be a wrestler and not a sports entertainer, God, where do I even START pointing out shit to you? Did you not see the one wrestling dick tag team, or the other wrestling dick tag team, or the hardcore division built around midgets pushing incestuous rednecks’ heads into outhouse toilets, or anything involving The Bullet, or anything involving a wrestler’s girlfriend showing up for an unexplained reason, or BRUCE, or goddamn Screech from Saved By The Bell showing up in this very same episode to have a celebrity boxing match with the timekeeper? And that’s like 0.01% the amount of things that aren’t “wrestling” in TNA.
Anyway, since “Gauntlet for the Gold” and “Syxx is here” are the points of the episode, Syxx does not win the Gauntlet for the Gold. More on that a little later.
But No, Seriously, Screech Is On This Episode
In 2002, FOX took the world by storm with two whole episodes of Celebrity Boxing, the show that asks, “what if we did bum fights between people who used to have better things to do? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing?” Episode one famously featured Danny Partridge beating the shit out of Greg Brady, and current Hollywood darling for some reason Tonya Harding putting the fear of God into a lady who claimed the President harassed her. With all the big stars out of the way, episode two featured Darva Conger vs. Olga Korbut. If you claim to remember either of those people, you’re lying. Darva Conger doesn’t even remember Darva Conger.
The highlight of that episode (which also included former WWE star Chyna getting punched in the eye by a man famous for committing so much statutory rape the teen came to his house and shot his wife) had to be the long-awaited brawl between Arnold Horshack, the geek from Welcome Back, Kotter getting beaten nearly to death by Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers, the geek from Saved By The Bell. That performance was enough for the folks at TNA to go [dog ears up] and book Screech for a celebrity boxing match on their wrestling show. Because CROSSOVER APPEAL.
Screech tries to fight Jeremy Borash, who is like, “no, fight Don West.” So Screech tries to fight Don West, who is like, “no, fight this possibly mentally handicapped timekeeper the audience has never seen before.” So Screech ends up “celebrity” “boxing” Tiny the Timekeeper for 30 seconds before comically knocking him out. This GIF is easily the best part:
Tell me there’s a GIF that’s more Year One TNA than, “Don West tries to use a broom handle to ring the bell for a celebrity boxing match between Screech and a timekeeper and accidentally knocks it off a cooler.”
Also Celebrity Boxing This Week: Hermie Sadler
Remember Hermie “Hermon” Sadler, the Todd Chrisley-esque NASCAR driver the NWA put over their current World Heavyweight Champion in a wrestling match because he was supposed to drive a stock car with TNA logos all over it? He’s here again this week to announce that, and to cosplay Samuel L. Jackson. Fun note: he doesn’t qualify, and nobody ends up driving the TNA car.
Anyway, Hermie’s here this week to stand up to ANOTHER TNA Champion, “Miss TNA” Bruce.
Bruce once again challenges a “fan” to get in the ring and wrestle him for the Miss TNA crown, and selects a blonde he cheap-shots as she’s getting through the ropes. On commentary, Hermie uses his finest, genteel dandy voice to say that Bruce’s segments are when he has a “coffee break.” He’s just like us! Bruce obliterates the poor lady, and Hermie has to get into the ring to physically make the save with — get this — an inverted atomic drop.
I can’t decide if “NASCAR driver saves buxom blonde from violent cross-dresser” is perfect booking for an early 2000s southern territory or what Vince Russo types into Google when he wants to masturbate but doesn’t have a lot of time.
Fun note: When Bruce is surveying the crowd for a possible opponent, the crowd starts a big chant for Athena. As you might’ve noticed, any screen shot I’ve taken from these early shows with the crowd visible contains a sign for “Athena,” often several, which seems strange for a person who’s never been on the show. If you were wondering, this is Athena:
Athena was the “ring girl” for the early days of TNA and became unbelievably popular, because when you run a wrestling show in front of the same crowd every week, some random stuff gets hugely over. Blue Pants, I’m looking in your direction. Before showing up in TNA, Athena was a manager and wrestler in Kentucky and Tennessee, and most famously wrestled at the Western Kentucky State Fair (because “Western Kentucky” is a state) against David Flair. No lie. As far as I’ve been able to tell, this is the first time a wrestler acknowledges the crowd’s love of Athena, and the camera even gets a quick shot of her.
You’ll be seeing Athena again later in 2002 when Russo gets fed up with people liking her and includes her in maybe the actual, objective worst segment in TNA history. A segment that makes AJ Styles’ tryst baby with Claire Lynch look like Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Can’t wait until we get to that.
As For AJ Styles, He’s Had A Fashion Makeover
Make … under? Make-sideways?
After having most of the show so far dedicated to him and his beef with Jerry Lynn, Styles takes a backseat (boyz) this week with a show-opening victory over Kid Kash that probably would’ve been better if anyone on the TNA roster was heel or face. They’re all these “bad ass” anti-hero tweeners raging against each other over nothing, so aside from some cool moves here or there, it’s hard to get into what anybody’s doing. There’s a huge difference between “shades of grey” and “everyone acts like a 15-year old skater who got sent to their room by their mom.”
Example: Jerry Lynn has an NWA World Heavyweight Championship match against the Truth later in the show, so Styles cuts a pre-match promo saying their feud isn’t over, and that the only thing supporting Lynn tonight will be “his jock strap.” That’s the kind of burn you can only get from a dude with two pictures of himself on his shirt.
The Bullet’s Ass Calls Somebody
I know this revelation might shake you to your very core, but it turns out the masked “Bullet” who’s been standing up to Jeff Jarrett for Bob Armstrong by doing a bunch of Road Dogg moves is actually The Road Dogg Jesse James. “Jammes.” Only now he’s taken the name “BG James” — the B stands for “Brian,” the G stands for “get it, got it, good,” and that is NOT a joke — and kinda looks like the ass-end of a dog. Seriously, look at that screen shot and tell me you can’t imagine his mouth as a dog’s asshole. Brother looks like Eminem fell asleep under an apple tree and woke up 100 years later.
Incredibly, James tops his previous look later in the show by adding … well, look at it:
It looks like the top half of his head spontaneously became an army helmet. The man’s scalp looks like the end of a breakfast sausage. I think the most amazing part is that Buff Bagwell returned to TNA wearing that outfit and is still not the least fashionable person in the segment.
Anyway, Bagwell and Brian Get It Got It Good James decide to team up in the Gauntlet for the Gold, because the show’s under new management and they haven’t totally decided yet which stories they want to keep and which they’re jettisoning into space. Don’t expect to see The Dupps or Taylor Vaughn again!
Rest In The World
Almost certainly the most important moment of this episode is the pay-per-view debut of future 434-day WWE Champion, cult hero and UFC also-ran CM Punk. Younger fans may know him as that thing WWE crowds chant when matches are boring. His first appearance involves him being the least physically threatening person in a triple threat tag team match for a spot in a 10-team gauntlet match to set up a third tag team match. Killer. Punk teams with Donald Trump against the dick-grabbing duo of the Hotshots, and the also debuting team of Derek Wylde and the Embassy homie Jimmy Rave.
It’s honestly really crazy to watch basketball shorts-era CM Punk, still a few years away from the original “summer of Punk,” wrestling on television. The guy really didn’t seem ready to be there. Nobody in the match did, really, except for Ace Steel. Watching this at the time, you probably thought Ace Steel was going to be a big deal and Punk was, at best, going to get on Raw once as a security guard. Funny how that worked out. And funny how none of that worked out in TNA!
America’s Most Wanted Kinda Sorta Heeled Their Way Into Their First Tag Team Championship Win
The actual Gauntlet for the Gold is a fun watch, but bizarre. It’s a tag team Royal Rumble where members of teams enter one at a time in a random order, so the announce team has to like, scramble to explain which teams are in the match. For example, Brian Lawler is the first entrant, and they have to explain that Disco Inferno is his tag team partner, because that’s never been announced or established.
The larger point of the match (and the two-on-two “finals” match that follows it) is that Chris Harris and James Storm — eventually TNA’s second greatest-ever tag team, America’s Most Wanted — 100% luck their way into winning the NWA Tag Team Championship. Brian Lee and Ron Harris dominate the entire gauntlet, are one of the final two teams, completely dominate Storm and Harris in the championship match, then lose when they get rolled up trying to hit their finisher.
All in all the entire experience isn’t bad, and we know how good Storm and Harris eventually get, but it’s such a bizarre series of decisions on paper. Spend the entire show setting up this gauntlet match where teams have to be registered to compete (the Hotshots do a whole thing about “giving up their spot” to be in the triple threat match, and Goldy Locks shades them for being the tenth ranked team anyway). Then suddenly have teams show up and announce they’re in the match, or form backstage on a whim (Bagwell and James) and get in. Even when they’re doing well, TNA is TNA, I guess.
The World Title Match Is Maybe The Least Important Part Of The Show
Finally we have The Truth vs. Jerry Lynn for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, which honestly should be good, but isn’t. It’s really hard to figure out why. They never seemed like they were on the same page, Truth’s offense is too basic and uninspired to control matches as a heel, and the entire thing is overbooked to the moon.
During the match, the entire X-Division shows up to watch at ringside. You know, because Jerry Lynn, the guy who poached Styles from the division to be his tag team partner, immediately turned on him and then attacked him for several weeks to steal that division’s title, is competing for a non-X-Division championship? The finish, which honestly has nothing to do with Jerry Lynn OR The Truth, sees Sonny Siaki once again turn on his division (or just Lynn? Or something?) and cost Lynn the match. The division chases him to the back, which gives Truth the win.
If that’s not enough, the post-match involves BG James showing up to insult Truth on the mic, which causes the two of them to fight. So then Jeff Jarrett runs out and attacks James, even though he hates both of them, which brings out Scott Hall and Syxx to fight the heels. I don’t know how they manage to book the entire show into the finish of these main events, but bless their hearts.
- Jeff Jarrett vs. BG James in the match everyone’s been waiting to see without masks
- Syxx vs. Brian Lawler in the Vince McMahon Memorial Light Heavyweight Division Dream Match
- The Truth challenging for the X-Division title and losing, because he’s no Hermie Sadler
- No Hermie Sadler!
- an old lady chases Bruce with a broom