Have you ever walked to the edge of a cliff, thought to yourself, “I shouldn’t jump off of this cliff,” then jumped the hell off the cliff? And then like 40 feet down you’re like, “I told myself I shouldn’t have jumped off that cliff?” Welcome to the first of many, many NWA TNA “The Asylum Years” pay-per-view reports, brought to you by the brand new Global Wrestling Network.
Every Wednesday for the next two weeks (and Thursdays once Lucha Underground ends for an undetermined period of time) we’re going to be looking back at the very first TNA slash Impact Wrestling slash Global Force Wrestling slash Impact Wrestling Again Question Mark shows, which took the form of weekly pay-per-views — not a joke — featuring a mix of up-and-coming independent talent, guys from WCW still desperate for WCW to exist, and hillbilly pop culture. Think of it like Wrestling Society X, except it’s two hours long and lasts for 15 years.
For a look at the current show, make sure you’re reading LaToya Ferguson’s fantastic Aces & Ehs of Impact Wrestling. In lieu of the normal Best and Worst format, I’m going to (attempt to) tell you everything you need to know about a particular episode, and how it ties in to the wrestling worlds that came before and after it.
So up first, here’s what you need to know about the very first episode of NWA TNA Wrestling, originally aired on June 19, 2002.
The Show Is Called “Total Nonstop Action,” But The First Action Doesn’t Start Until 18 Minutes And 22 Seconds Into It
Meet your announce team, from left to right: Don West, the anthropomorphic Hawaiian shirt famous for screaming at you in the middle of the night until you buy baseball cards over the phone; “The Professor” Mike Tenay, the adult-sized turtle who got 20 years of an announcing career by pretending he knew about international wrestling on Nitro; and Ed Ferrara, a championship Jim Ross impersonator and wrestling writer who for some reason decided to show up to this thing looking like a vampire who gets killed during a rave in Blade. Ed stops on the ramp with a microphone to say he’s all about “TNA” but not Total Nonstop Action if you know what he means effectively burying the company’s double entendre before they’ve even sat down.
You could say they have charisma as a three-man booth, if your definition of charisma is having a 45-year old man watch a wrestling show, scream AAAAAGGHHHH at the top of his lungs at literally anything that happens, then multiplying that by three.
The opening promo for the completely new wrestling company is to bring out a bunch of legends and, from what I can tell, people those legends go to church with and honor them for their contributions to everyone else’s companies. From the beginning, TNA’s been in this weird spot where they can’t decide if they like being connected to other promotions or are completely separate, so you’ll have someone bring out Dory Funk, say LOOK HOW GREAT DORY FUNK WAS, and then spend two hours having everyone they employ beat up Dory Funk and say he sucks.
For example, after giving full entrances and introductions to all three announcers, we give full entrances and introductions to Harley Race, Dory Funk Jr., Jackie Fargo, Bob Armstrong, French tag team specialist Corsica Joe, Tough Enough winner for the 1953 season Sarah Lee, wrestling super agent Bill Behrens and Starrcade’s own Ricky Seamboat to put over the National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Championship and make the night’s main event: a 20-man Royal Rumble, with the final two remaining competing in a one-on-one match to crown a new champion. Perfectly fine, right?
Well, the response to this is Jeff Jarrett showing up to shit-talk everyone in the ring and say the idea of a battle royal to crown a new NWA Champion “sucks.” That would be fine, except he’s then interrupted by The World’s Most Dangerous Man Ken Shamrock, positioned to be the company’s top babyface and champion, to agree with Jarrett that the match sucks. Then they’re both interrupted by Scott Hall, cutting a promo from the crowd about how he ALSO THINKS THE IDEA FOR THE MATCH SUCKS, but Jarrett and Shamrock should shut up and just live with it. So are they honoring history, or do they think it’s horrible, or do they just hate that this show and company exists?
There’s A Backstage Interviewer Named ‘Goldy Locks’ Who Reacts To Everything Anyone Says Like She Has To Take A Dump
First of all, how do you name your blonde backstage interviewer Goldy Locks and then put a bunch of pink in her hair? Also, how do you hire a woman whose shoot name is MOON SHADOW and decide to call her “Goldy Locks?”
Goldy becomes a … well, I don’t want to say “important” character on the show, but she eventually becomes a manager. Right now her job is to interview people backstage, sell everything they say by quickly looking at them with a concerned face and then quickly looking back at the camera like Jim from The Office, if Jim always had to poop. Nearly every screenshot of her is one of these faces.
Above, she’s interviewing Mortimer Plumtree, who looks like sort of a prep school Mike Quackenbush with a 100% Mike Quackenbush name. More on him a little later.
The first TNA moment after a bunch of NWA legends put over the NWA Championship just for a heel, a face and a tweener to show up and say it sucks is Goldy Locks interviewing “Puppet,” a dwarf who wants “midget blood” because he’s a dwarf, you see, and therefore hates midgets. You’ll get to know him intimately during these early shows, as he both pulls a gun on Jeff Jarrett and masturbates in a trashcan. Seriously. Not at the same time, though, sadly.
TNA’s First Show Begins With Two Of TNA’s All-Time Greatest Homegrown Champions Losing To The Most Embarrassing Gimmicks You’ve Ever Seen
This, which you might not believe if you started watching wrestling in 2015, is AJ Styles. He’s currently a major player on Smackdown and easily one of the best pro wrestlers on the planet, and the only wrestler to have held the NWA, TNA, IWGP and WWE championships (as well as the Ring of Honor Pure Wrestling Championship and like 20 others). From the second episode until like three years ago, he was the face of TNA. Absolutely synonymous.
Note: this is the first episode.
No, that’s not Texano.
This, which you might not believe even if you’ve been watching wrestling your entire life AND watched these shows when they originally aired, is Cowboy James Storm. He’s won basically everything a human being can win in every incarnation of TNA, including 7 NWA Tag Team Championships, 7 TNA Tag Team Championships, half a dozen tournaments and the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. He even showed up in NXT for a set of tapings only to go BACK to TNA. That’s how much he liked it. He likes it so much he murdered Mickie James there.
Both Styles and Storm appear on this very first episode, and they both lose. Ho ho ho boy, wait until you see who they lose to.
Styles and Jerry Lynn and Low-Ki team up to lose TNA’s first ever match to The Flying Elvis Impersonators, a trio based on a Honeymoon in Vegas reference. Really.
The Elvises — Sonny Siaki, Jorge Estrada and future racist question mark cowboy Jimmy Wang Yang — are actually really good in the ring, but you’re not doing anyone a service by dressing up the three winners of your FIRST MATCH EVER as characters from an even-then 10-year old Nicholas Cage movie. Imagine if WWE launched 205 Live or whatever and the first match was Neville and Kalisto dressed up as characters from The Weather Man.
Yang pins Styles with a corkscrew moonsault, the same move Styles uses to defeat pretty much everyone else in TNA, so maybe he gained it through osmosis, or he’s like Mega Man.
I bet now you’re wondering who James Storm loses to, thinking that it can’t be much worse than three desperate-to-be-on-television cruiserweights dressed like a singer who’d been dead since 1977. What if I told you it was also a tag team match, and that Storm’s partner was lucha libre and WCW veteran Psicosis? It couldn’t be THAT bad, could it?
Enter: THE JOHNSONS.
Yes, that is a tag team that is literally giant nude penises. “Rod” and “Richard” “Johnson,” managed by Mortimer Plumtree. So yeah, imagine if Mike Quackenbush got really drunk one entire year and decided to make Chikara into porn. That’s the Johnsons. AND THEY BEAT JAMES STORM AND PSICOSIS.
Amazingly, “they are penises” isn’t even the weirdest part about the Johnsons. You’ll see them pop up on WrestleCrap sites sometimes, but they never really go past the penis thing. The weirdest bit is that Plumtree is their manager because when they were kids, these two guys were his “tormentors.” They bullied him, so he went to Harvard and became powerful enough to make them his servants. Now they do what he tells them to do and wear what he tells them to wear. Which means the characters aren’t penises, they’re lobotomized men a bullied child makes dress up like dicks and wrestle for him as a power move. And when they don’t listen to him, he spanks them with his big college hazing paddle. How was this company still in business 25 minutes into their first episode?
What if I told you they weren’t even the worst tag team on this episode?
Okay, Maybe The Johnsons Are Worse, But The Dupps Are Pretty Close
TNA’s plan for success was to (1) run in places like Alabama, seen here, and (2) appeal to the southern American audience WWE has always been embarrassed of thanks to Vince McMahon growing up in North Carolina and hating it. To do this, they simultaneously overcompensated trying to appeal to southern audiences and, because they’re a hateful mess, making fun of them.
That’s where The Dupps come in. They were a team during the dying days of ECW, and came to TNA in the form of “Bo Dupp” (like “bowed up,” get it) and Stan Dupp. You can figure that one out. Bo is Otto Schwanz, a Hardy Boyz trainee who had a cup of coffee in WWE, mostly as 1/2 of a team that would lose a handicap match to the Big Show. Stan fared much better as Trevor Murdoch, winning the WWE Tag Team Championship three times with Lance Cade and briefly attempting a singing gimmick.
Here, they are cousins who have sex with their sister and also eat their own boogers for some reason. Not sure where TNA picked up the stereotype that rednecks eat their own boogers, unless there’s a Jeff Foxworthy book of MadLibs that fell into the wrong hands. In addition to making Goldy Locks look like she has to shit something fierce, they easily defeat future Rastafarian Ninja Turtle Christian York and future WWE Tag Team Champion and front office type Joey “Matthews” Mercury.
A real eye for talent in this first episode.
The Stuff Meant To Appeal To The South Is Actually More Uncomfortable
On a show with minority wrestlers being put in Elvis gimmicks, wrestling penises who are sexually abused bullies, and sister-fuckers who eat their own snot, the most uncomfortable part of the episode has to be when K-Krush, who you may know better as WWE’s R-Truth, gets into a race war (in two definitions) with NASCAR drivers Hermie Sadler and Sterling Marlin.
Because Alabama, a young, frosted Jeremy Borash who looks like he should be playing triangle for Smash Mouth interviews two race car drivers AT LENGTH about how the races are going. That brings out K-Krush, who is rightfully like, “why are we talking about race car driving on a wrestling show?” That quickly turns into him saying that HIS KIND are actual athletes because they run for touchdowns and dunk basketballs, but THEIR KIND — white people, if this is too complicated for you to follow along — aren’t. Sadler, whose voice lands somewhere between Slim Pickens and Winnie the Pooh, gets in Krush’s face about how he looks bad, with his braided hair and baggy jeans, and how these fine (white) people in Alabama know NASCAR drivers are truly athletes. That causes a fight, and hip-hop representative of Caucasia Brian Christopher shows up to defend “his kind.” Not even kind of kidding about any of this.
The worst part might be dorky-ass Brian Christopher pretending to call K-Krush a “motherfucker” before calling him a “mo-fo.” This sets up a match for next week, which I’m legitimately shocked wasn’t a lumberjack match where NASCAR guys stood around the ring with leather straps.
Toby Keith Is Here, And He’s Feuding With Jeff Jarrett
To complete the appeal to the American south, country star, sub-Fieri restaurateur and future rumored Global Force Wrestling investor Toby Keith appears on the show to perform his 9/11 anthem ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).’ It’s the one where he threatens to put a boot in Osama Bin Laden’s ass, if your brain had been kind enough to erase that for you.
In the middle of the performance, Jeff Jarrett shows up and cracks me up so hard I have to stop the feed and collect myself.
Amazing. “WE’LL STICK A BOOT IN YOUR ASS, THESE COLORS DON’T RUN, UNCLE SAM WILL BOMB YOU UNTIL [gets mic knocked over] aw hey the mean guy messed up my song!” He might’ve never invested in GFW, but GF yourself, Toby.
There’s A Midget Match, But Puppet Isn’t In It, And No Midget Dies
This week’s midget showdown is between “The World’s Smallest Extreme Athlete” Teo and Hollywood, who is actually from Tennessee, but calls himself Hollywood because of his attitude? Really all you need to know is that it’s 2002, so everyone’s gimmick is either “I’M HARDCORE” or “I look like Eminem.” Here we have one of the former and two of the latter.
Teo picks up the win with a “swanton bomb,” which is more accurately described as “falling sideways off the top rope.” Teo eventually feuds with the Dupps in a match that literally ends in an outhouse, and tries to sexually assault one of the cage dancers on the wrestling show.
Even Less Prestigious Than The Midgets, It’s The TNA Women’s Division
As you might know, eventually TNA’s Knockouts division, mostly led by Gail Kim and Awesome Kong, were the precursor to what WWE considers their “women’s revolution.” It was the first time since Madusa tossed a women’s championship in a garbage can that women’s wrestling was portrayed as a serious, athletic competition with compelling characters and great matches.
In 2002, however, TNA has not yet tried to distance themselves from the fact that their wrestling promotion is named TITS AND ASS, so the “women’s division” is Don West and Ed Ferrara introducing a parade of women who will compete next week for a TNA contract in a lingerie battle royal. That’s a battle royal where you’re eliminated by having your clothes taken off, if you were wondering.
There are some actual wrestlers in here, including WCW’s Daffney and future 6-time Divas/Women’s Champion Mickie James, who looks like she might be 11 years old, but the hype segment for the mach is mostly ex-ECW valets Francine and Elektra arguing about who is the “queen of extreme.” Trust me, this segment is Savage/Steamboat compared to the lingerie battle royal.
Also, Before I Forget, There Are Cage Dancers
Eventually some of them become characters, too, but all you need to know now is that (1) they’re “cage dancers,” and (2) their only cage dancing move is “hold one of the bars with one hand and look back and forth.”
The First Gauntlet For The Gold Is Your Main Event
It’s supposed to be a staggered entry over-the-top rope battle royal with a new competitor entering every 90 seconds, but the timer is completely arbitrary and guys show up or leave whenever they want. I dunno. Oh, and as previously mentioned, the point is that when you get to the final two, it becomes a one-on-one match for the NWA Heavyweight Championship with Rickety Dragon Steamboat as special guest referee.
I can’t possibly break this thing down hold for hold, so I’ll divide it into sections.
Wrestlers You Know
- Ken Shamrock, who looks like he celebrated his WWE release by growing out those chin-beard fake-out sideburns Vince McMahon would never let him have
- Jeff Jarrett
- Scott Hall
- K-Krush, aka R-Truth
- Brian Christopher, because K-Krush needs supervision
- Buff Bagwell, almost a year after embarrassing himself off of television with one match
- Rick Steiner
- Konnan, who is contractually obligated to be a part of every new wrestling promotion with a TV deal
Wrestlers You Might Know
- Justice, who I guess is Joseph Park’s OTHER brother, besides Chris. You know, Abyss?
- Steve Corino, the “King of Old School,” former ECW Heavyweight Champion, Ring of Honor announcer/personality and current WWE Performance Center coach
- Apolo, a muscular Puerto Rican wrestler who gets like, four separate runs in TNA without ever really being anything
- Chris Harris, the “Wildcat,” who you either know as one half of TNA’s second greatest James Storm-related tag team, America’s Most Wanted, and from his unforgettable WWE ECW run as BRADEN WALKER
- “The Vampire Warrior,” better known as WWE’s Gangrel, now wrestling on a show that can’t afford what White Wolf charges to call him “Gangrel”
- Norman Smiley, an effeminate British black man who looked like George Jefferson in a pair of banana underpants whose gimmick was that he was scared of everything, screamed weird, and tried to hump everything. Current NXT trainer, because pro wrestling is amazing.
- Lash LeRoux, a WCW jobber with a Cajun gimmick and sideburns shaved to look like Ls who everyone likes for some reason, including me
- Bruce of the “Rainbow Express,” a gay panic tag team. Because just like Ring of Honor, TNA’s first show happened in the early 2000s and had to include really tacky homophobic stuff. Bruce is former WCW wrestler Allan Funk, aka KWEE WEE, escorted to the ring by Lenny Lane and managed by both ECW’s Joel Gertner and an elaborate, graphic poem about how girls want to have sex with Joel Gertner
- Devon Storm, mid ’90s indie sensation who had a respectable WCW run as David Flair’s friend “Crowbar”
- Malice, also known as WCW business strongman THE WALL, most famous for threatening Hulk Hogan from the top of a hotel
Wrestlers You Don’t Know
- No, that’s not Scott Steiner. That’s not even Petey Williams, it’s Del Rios, a 100% Scott Steiner clone with the same look and gear minus the personality, wrestling ability and like 40% of the muscle. Best known in another life as WWE’s wedgie-giving magician mime Phantasio. If your response to that was, “Jesus Christ, PHANTASIO was on the first TNA show?” congratulations, you’re just like me
Country Singers You Unfortunately Know
- In TNA’s first “big moment,” Toby Keith gets revenge on Jeff Jarrett by suplexing him and eliminating him from the match. Oh, it shoulda been a cowboy*
So How Does This End?
With about six, bad, rushed minutes of Ken Shamrock vs. Malice, which wouldn’t have been final two in that Gauntlet for the Gold if you’d asked me to book it 30 different ways. The highlight is either Malice being forced to work a “submission style” for clearly the first time in his entire life, or Ken Shamrock breaking on a count of seven, and Ricky Steamboat letting it go, possibly because he doesn’t believe Ken Shamrock knows how wrestling works. Shamrock wins by countering a chokeslam into a belly-to-belly, becoming the new NWA Heavyweight Champion and, if early booking notes are to be trusted, totally bridged the gap between wrestling fans and MMA fans and made TNA the most popular wrestling promotion on the planet.
Anyway, the post-match nonsense is Jeff Jarrett brawling with Scott Hall — the final two you probably would’ve picked for the Gauntlet, right? — with the NWA legends badmouthing Jarrett and promising that next week he’ll get his ass kicked. Just to clarify, the major angle on the first episode of TNA Wrestling is Jeff Jarrett feuding with a country singer and 71-year old Jackie Fargo. And AJ Styles and James Storm both lose. And also Phantasio is here.
Who’s up for [checks notes] … oh God, 56 more of these?