In Chapter One we were introduced to NWA TNA, Christian name “National Wrestling Alliance Total Nonstop Action,” a promotion born from the ashes of World Championship Wrestling with a desire to cater to southern American wrestling fans in a way WWE never will. We met two of TNA’s biggest stars — AJ Styles and Cowboy James Storm — and watched them lose. We witnessed the crowning of a new NWA Heavyweight Champion, Ken Shamrock, in a Guantlet for the Gold match, and perhaps most importantly we saw real country music star Toby Keith hit fake country music star Jeff Jarrett with a delayed vertical suplex.
Incredibly, these weekly pay-per-views continued after episode one, the tapes were not destroyed, and the arena wasn’t burned down. In episode two we’ll be sending a few young stars in the right direction, spending two hours establishing that the announce team are heterosexual men who hate both gay people and women, and explaining how much more important celebrities are than wrestlers.
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 because they really want you to watch the latest episode of Impact.
And now, chapter two of the TNA Wrestling story for June 26, 2002.
Two Of The First Three Matches End With A Celebrity Hitting A Wrestler In The Balls
So last week, Jeff Jarrett shoved Toby Keith as Toby was trying to finish his scheduled, wrestling-show performance of ‘Courtesy Of The Red, White, And Blue (The Angry American).’ This week, Toby illustrates the meaning of the song by responding to one attack with years of retaliation. He doesn’t put a boot in Jarrett’s ass, but he puts a Larry the Cable Guy-esque arm up it (pictured). Allow me to set the stage for you, which is probably not overbooked.
Jarrett is wrestling Scott Hall, because last week he got into the face of a bunch of old-timers, and you know nobody represents wrestling tradition like New World Order founder Scott Hall. Hall’s about to win with Insider’s Edge (™ No Mercy) when K-Krush shows up for some reason and bails Jarrett out. That brings out 72-year old Jackie Fargo, on his birthday no less, to knock out K-Krush. Then Brian Christopher shows up to run K-Krush off. Then, after a run-in and outside interference from two people, COUNTRY COMES TO TOWN as Toby Keith becomes the second run-in and uppercuts Jarrett in the sack.
I think the worst part of all is that after Toby interferes, he stays in the ring to lean over Jarrett during the pinfall. Referee Slick Johnson, who you’ll get to know as probably the least appropriate referee of all time, counts the pin and doesn’t seem to give a shit about the celebrity interference. So yeah, a total of five people interfered in this match. Six if you count the ref. This is the second episode.
If it doesn’t sound like the black guy got humiliated enough by being beaten up by a septuagenarian and chased off by a white guy from Tennessee who appropriates black culture to make fun of it, he loses to Christopher later in the show when NASCAR drivers Hermie Sadler and Sterling Marlin rack him in the ropes for like half a dozen comedic bounces. At one point the referee is watching them do it, and when they’re done, he kinda points at them. And then he counts the pin, because ♪ question mark ♪
I was going to make a joke here about how a celebrity could walk into TNA and end up a champion by just interfering a bunch and never wrestling, and then I remembered Pacman Jones. It’s hard to make hyperbolic jokes about TNA, because there’s a chance that at some point over the past 15 years they’ve actually done it. “And then Samoa Joe got a dick tattooed on his face, murdered people with a machete and was kidnapped by ninjas, LOL!” And then nope, and nope, and nope.
In a related note, I think Giancarlo Stanton is a sterling Marlin.
This Is What Happens When Your Announce Team Is Three 50-Year Old Virgins And Your Creative Department Is Beavis
I’m not trying to be a Social Justice Bard or whatever, but if you have ANY compassion for human beings who aren’t straight white males, you’ll be shaking your head in your hands and mumbling “Jesus Christ” by the end of this.
Up first is the lingerie battle royal for a TNA contract, which is actually none of things. It’s not a battle royal, because it’s actually a bra-and-panties elimination match. It’s not lingerie, because as you can see they’re all wearing identical pajamas that make them look like hospital patients. And it’s not for a TNA contract, because (1) every one of these women has been on 2-of-2 TNA shows, and (2) like half of them continue showing up anyway. If you’re following through with the promise of the match, it’s a bunch of ladies in lingerie throwing each other over the top rope. But I guess you can’t trust a ring full of people to go over the top rope and to the floor without hurting themselves when you cast half of it at Rick’s Cabaret.
The least important thing you need to know is that “Taylor Vaughn” wins, earns a TNA contract and, I guess, becomes “Ms. TNA.” You may know her best as “B.B.,” the EMT with gigantic boobs who actually competed for the WWF Women’s Championship in the late ’90s when it was decided in bikini contests and “swimming pool matches.” She also appeared twice in WCW as Kwee Wee’s wife “Papaya.”
The most important thing you need to know is that the entire match is built around [trumpet sounds] a blowjob tease.
Francine gets eliminated from the match, so Clifford the Muppet’s weird dad Ed Ferrara goes over to “comfort her” by grabbing her boob. Francine’s response to this is to get on her knees like she’s going to blow him. Ed is just like, “oooh, yeah, this seems completely fine,” and stands there like the Me Underwears guy from The Room while she takes off his belt. The camera stays on them, too, because the TNA production team was like, “I know we said this was a wrestling show, but if public sex starts happening, film it.” She just beats him up with the belt, though, and we watch the entire thing while the only two wrestlers in the match you’d maybe care about — Daffney and Mickie James — are eliminated off-screen.
When Taylor wins, Francine attacks her, whips her with the belt and takes off her jammies. This feud continues next week despite Francine “not having a contract,” because maybe TNA realized they couldn’t build a division by bringing in 10 women, only inviting four actual wrestlers, then sending 9 of them home so you could hire one Hooters waitress.
If all that’s not bad enough, they do two (2) “woman interrupts the match to bother the ring announcer” angles on the same episode.
The first one features Aleesha, best known as Ken Shamrock’s sister and then girlfriend Ryan Shamrock, approaching Jeremy Borash in the middle of a match and shaking him down for money. As we learn in the coming weeks, Aleesha is a talent scout who “scouts talent” by standing around during matches and then making people give her money. And then she disappears, and nothing ever happens. Leave the memories alone.
Note: they totally spelled it phonetically as “Aleesha” because they didn’t trust southern wrestling fans to pronounce “Alicia,” right?
The second features the glorious Bobcat, a woman with the name and grace of a utility vehicle. You may know her as one of Godfather’s Hos. She’s the one who won the Hardcore Championship and then immediately lost it. Here she’s the manager of David Young, an early TNA-era journeyman who spends like four straight years teaming or feuding with the Disco Inferno. The gimmick is that Bobcat wants to mindlessly celebrate and I guess have sex with anything that moves, so she like, undresses Jeremy Borash and sits on his lap until it distracts Young enough for him to lose to Apolo.
By the end of it, Don West is screaming about how someone should “put her in her place,” and Mike Tenay’s calling her a whore. And the irony is that while she’s supposed to be distracting David Young from concentrating on his match, the announce team losing their shit over a dirt mall Sable trying to get the ring announcer’s dick hard is ten times more distracting.
If West’s commentary for Bobcat makes you retroactively uncomfortable during this, don’t worry: at least she wasn’t gay.
Don West Cannot Handle Gay People
This is going to take a lot of explaining.
So, as mentioned in chapter one, ECW sex joke lyricist Joel Gertner manages Lenny and Bruce, the “Rainbow Express.” They’re a team of gay guys who wear pigtails and rainbow trunks, hold each others’ hands, etc. etc. It was supposed to be Lenny and Lodi from WCW, but Lodi was injured, so they subbed in Kwee Wee and pretended it was the same thing. They were taken off of WCW TV because of standards and practices, so TNA’s putting them on pay-per-view and turning the gay stereotype up to whatever’s a hundred notches past 11.
The tag team match is supposed to be the Rainbow Express vs. the Dupps, but the Dupps won’t wrestle them because they don’t want to touch gay guys. Seriously. So TNA has to scramble to find any two jobbers who’ll agree to wrestle homosexuals, and find these guys walking in the door an hour or so into a two-hour pay-per-view taping:
Yep, that’s James Storm and Chris Harris, the team that would become America’s Most Wanted. Before Beer Money, and arguably after, AMW is the TNA wrestling tag team. They defined the company’s tag legacy. They had almost all of the company’s best non-X-Division matches in the early years, including a 2004 match of the year against Christopher Daniels and Elix Skipper. They were a 2-time Tag Team of the Year and 6-time NWA Tag Team Champions, and they started teaming because some sister-fucking hillbillies wouldn’t wrestle gay people and they happened to be walking in the door at the same time. T-N-A, T-N-A, T-N-A.
Storm and Harris win the match, too, and there are many, many good things ahead for them. Unfortunately, things aren’t as good for the Rainbow Express. In an incredibly 2002 American South situation, you’ve got the heels — Joel Gertner and Ed Ferrara — cutting promos and doing commentary about how their sexuality doesn’t matter, and how people need to chill and be tolerant because gay people are just human beings with different sexual preferences who lead functional lives in society. Then you’ve got the face announcers — Mike Tenay and Don West — practically VOMITING on commentary when these two gay wrestlers in rainbow pants do anything kind of gay. They tag each other in by kissing each other’s hands, and every single time Don West is like AUGHHH THIS IS DISGUSTING, THIS MAKES ME SICK, THEY DON’T GET SPECIAL RULES BECAUSE THEY’RE SPECIAL PEOPLE.
Super uncomfortable. Pretty uncomfortable at the time, too, unless you were … TNA’s audience, I guess? The intent is bad, the performance is bad, the reactions are bad, the alignments are bad, the presentation is bad, all of it’s bad. And as you might’ve guessed, it gets worse before it gets better.
Still, all of this is how you launched a company in 2002. Don’t forget that the first match on the first Ring of Honor show ever was Da Hit Squad putting Allison Danger through a table and dropping gay panic tag team “The Christopher Street Connection,” to quote the announce team, “right on their big gay heads.”
In This Week’s Performance, The Role Of Glacier Will Be Played By NWA Heayvweight Champion Ken Shamrock
Wondering what’s up with the NWA Heavyweight title scene following last week’s Gauntlet for the Gold? Well, Ken Shamrock shows up in sandals and cargo shorts to accept the challenge of Father James Mitchell, aka WCW’s Glacier-baiting James Vanedenberg, and his “Disciples of The New Church.” Was gonna joke about how much of an e-fed faction that was, and then I remembered he abandons that group to manage both “The Gathering” and “The Lost Boys.” If he’d ever managed “the Undertaker and Kane’s OTHER brother” he would’ve been living the dream of every ’90s teen wrestling fan with 40 hours of free AOL and more than 40 hours of free time on their hands.
Next week, Shamrock faces Disciple Slash, a goth version of Wolfie D, one of the two tiny white rappers who used to play out the Nation of Domination. He’s also a 16-time USWA Tag Team Champion, because in the USWA if you win one belt, you win 20. Jerry Lawler’s a 30-time Heavyweight Champion, and that’s not even a joke. Let’s not talk about his 52 runs with the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship before that.
THIS week, Shamrock gets snuck up on by the 6-foot-10, 340 pound Malice, because if The Wall was known for anything in WCW, it was his stealth. This 7-week title reign is going to be a real roller coaster!
As legend has it, TNA’s very first match was a dark match featuring Cheex, a 400-pounder from Virginia, who broke the ring and caused the entire show to get shuffled around at the last minute. He’s a Rikishi joke, because “fat guys with wedgies who put their butts in your face” was big in the early 2000s. But while Rikishi was an actual pro wrestler, Cheex might be the most unhealthy person you’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring. Dude looks like a Milk Dud became a human being and wasn’t told he had to breathe to stay alive. He gets blown up walking to the ring. For real.
Spend 17 seconds watching Cheex sit down on a man, and tell me if you think it looks like he could’ve gotten up without help.
Look at it. Really soak it in. There’s a 95% this guy has to shit standing up. As a fun note, Cheex wrestled at one of the first indie shows I went to in Virginia in the ’90s, back when he was known as “Rolling Thunder.” Brother could’ve been named “Jake The Fat Man” and he would’ve had a better handle than “Cheex.”
Two additional notes:
- Cheex’s manager is, and this is not a joke, “The Brown-Eyed Girl.” This entire gimmick is one step away from the “Shitty Beatles” joke from Wayne’s World.
- His opponent is Frank Parker, of NWA Mountain State intro video fame. “Welcome to the violent world of Frank Parker! I got sat on by a guy who looks like Rick James chewed Willy Wonka’s three-course dinner gum!”
And Then AJ Styles Stepped In To Save The Entire Show
On a show full of wrong, this is absolutely right.
The main event is an X-Division showcase pitting AJ Styles against Low Ki, Psicosis and Jerry Lynn in a “double elimination” match. It’s what it sounds like, you have to be pinned or submitted twice to be eliminated from the match. That’s cool on its own, but this was done in an era when Michinoku Pro and Toryumon were still in the process of deeply influencing the American indie scene and Ring of Honor had only put on four shows, so this style and pace weren’t ubiquitous yet. It gave the show an identity, and briefly stepped away from the Vince Russo Blue Collar Comedy Tour for a second to actually exhibit the future of wrestling. When Styles wins, Tenay calls him the future of the business. And hey, he was right. He just had to get away from TNA.
Everyone kills it in this. Psicosis is the least important, but he’s the best he ever is on American TV without the mask here. Jerry Lynn is easily one of the best and most unheralded workers of his generation, and it’s a shame he spent the entirety of his time in WCW as their worst domestic masked guy. Low Ki is the eternal answer to, “who should’ve been a huge star but wasn’t because of shit completely unrelated to what he does in the ring?” That guy is your favorite wrestler the first time you see him. And then there’s AJ Styles, with his baby face and Jinder Mahal arms, hitting Spiral Taps and Styles Clashes and looking like he did for so long before Japan happened.
It’s really good. It’s not as good as Don West insists it is, saying we’ll be telling our grandkids’ grandkids (somehow) about how we witnessed the crowing of the first X-Division Champion, but maybe he’d just watched the rest of the episode.