Un-Civil War: The Birth of TNA Wrestling

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Brian Damage

This year we will see more of Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling. Its creation follows a decade or so on from the formation of Total Non-stop Action (TNA) and it is how that company was created that is the focus of this piece.

It all started…innocently enough…on a fishing trip. A former WCW employee and website host Bob Ryder accompanied by the father and son team of Jerry and Jeff Jarrett sat in a boat and talked wrestling. Bob Ryder and Jeff Jarrett talked about their futures…as WCW was just bought out by the WWE. With no other alternatives…wrestling had become a one company show. Jerry Jarrett…..who was formerly a successful wrestler/promoter in the Memphis territory was happily retired.

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The elder Jarrett was now out of the wrestling business and in construction and project development. He had offered his son Jeff a job in his business…but Jeff just wasn’t ready to hang up his tights. Instead, Jeff and Bob Ryder was dreaming of starting their own wrestling promotion. A promotion that would be the alternative to the WWE…a mantle once in place for WCW. The talk became more passionate and the idea began to blossom into a plan.

The only issue…was they needed Jerry Jarrett and his years of wrestling expertise to come on board. It took a lot of convincing…but once Jerry decided to join the idea and gather up financial backers…this once random idea on a fishing boat started to grow legs.

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On May 10th, 2002…TNA wrestling aka Total Non Stop Action wrestling was born. It started…interestingly enough…as a pay per view only company at first. The reasons behind that concept were simple…after years of monster television ratings with the WCW/WWF Monday Night Wars……interest for the wrestling business began to dry up. June 19th, 2002…TNA held its first pay per view show with a team called the Flying Elvises Vs Jerry Lynn, Low Ki and Aj Styles as the first televised match.

As TNA wrestling was slowly growing a solid fan base…the power structure behind the scenes started to unravel. The concepts of what TNA should be and not be…became a source of tension. On one side, you had Jeff Jarrett who wanted the TNA brand to be young, hip and edgy. On the other side was Jeff’s father Jerry who wanted to keep TNA wrestling very traditional. The biggest sticking point was whose ideas and concepts would win out.

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Enter Vince Russo…who as we all know…had some great success in the WWE’s ‘Attitude Era’ under the direction of Vince McMahon. He later defected to WCW to turn around that company with failed success. Russo and Jeff Jarrett were friends and in a lot of ways…felt loyal to Russo after Russo was loyal to him in both the WWE and WCW. Vince Russo was the antithesis of what Jerry Jarrett believed pro wrestling to be.

Russo was about sex and soap operish storylines, titles were just TV props and had no significant meaning to him as a creative writer. Jerry Jarrett believed in pro wrestling telling the story and where winning a title meant something special. It was obvious that this was a relationship that was destined to fail…and it did.

Jeff Jarrett had to make a decision…either Vince Russo goes or his father goes. Would he pick crash TV over a traditional wrestling product? In Jeff’s eyes…at least business wise…the decision was easy. He felt that wrestling needed to evolve and adapt to the ever changing times. Jeff believed Russo’s vision for TNA had a longer shelf life than that of his father Jerry’s. So with that, Vince Russo was in and Jerry Jarrett was out.

The decision…although strictly business…turned extremely personal. Jerry felt betrayed by his son and the two would have a bad falling out. The father and son would stop speaking to each other for the next 10 years or so. Not only did the rift have them stop communicating as a family…it also pushed the Jarretts into business rivals.

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Jerry Jarrett had discovered a future wrestler by the name of Oleg Prudius. Oleg was a large man who stood 6’6 inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds. He had a background in martial arts and was very agile for his size. Instead of signing him to a TNA deal…Jerry took Oleg Prudius to the WWE. Prudius would later be known to WWE fans as Vladimir Kozlov.

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It didn’t end there…the rift became so bad that when Jeff’s first wife Jill died of cancer….Jerry did not show up for the funeral. Birthdays were missed…Holidays spent apart…all because of a difference in wrestling philosophies and who should run the business of TNA.

As it turned out….Jeff Jarrett would sell a majority stake in his company to Dixie Carter and eventually was phased out of TNA’s plans in 2013. That led to Jarrett forming a new company called Global Force Wrestling. Jarrett and Dixie started a new partnership and that led to Jeff being inducted into TNA’s Hall of Fame. Thankfully, Jeff and Jerry began speaking to each other again in 2015 and have begun to repair a very strained relationship.

When Jerry Jarrett was asked if he had any regrets about the formation of TNA wrestling…Jerry was quick to respond with a “Yes.” I can’t say I blame him one bit.

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3 thoughts on “Un-Civil War: The Birth of TNA Wrestling

  1. I can understand what Jeff wanted in order to appeal to fans that needed something that wasn’t WWE or anything in the past but he did take the wrong approach. I think Jerry Jarrett knew a lot but I think his idea of tradition was something that was too old-school. Another problem is that while Jeff is a good wrestler. His ego did unfortunately hurt the company as he wanted to be the man but I don’t think fans buy him as a main eventer or a draw. Now TNA is on its last legs as GFW could be the last shot that Jeff needed not just to revive his career but also give audiences something other than the WWE but he’s going to have to deal with Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, New Japan, and other indie organizations that already have something going that is drawing fans away from “sports entertainment”.

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  2. Pingback: This Week in Wrestling 2015 week 41 | Ring the Damn Bell

  3. What was left out of this article — as tends to be the habit with most of the articles on this site — are the facts and/or nuances that made (insert topic here) something historically noteworthy beyond a Wikipedia mention. In this case, what made NWA TNA successful in gaining recognition as something more than just another product (enter Dixie and Panda Energy), and a viable contender to the stranglehold WWE had on the industry at the time moving forward, was a culmination of everything the sport had to offer athletically, stylistically, and aesthetically.

    Specifically, NWA TNA was everything WWE wasn’t (masturbating midget and incestuous cousins gimmicks aside), and the biproduct that rose from the ashes of the infamous ‘Monday Night Wars.’ Because of which, it extended the second golden age of wrestling three to five years beyond its historical mark, and probably beyond what it should have in way of mass appeal. This latter footnote has been argued contentiously over the past decade, yet has to be agreed upon on one level or the other due to the greater disconnect that the WWE hadn’t expected as an adverse reaction to buying up the now defunct WCW, but had to contend with nevertheless.

    Fans of the sport felt personally wounded and lost when the WCW died. They did then what modern fans are doing now in seeking viable alternatives through the underground and/or indie scene. The contrast here, however, and it is important to note that at the time the influx of stars to rise through the indies before eventually becoming current mainstays in the WWE were lacking serious refinement. So the void that was left post WCW offered little more than what the WWE had to offer less you went abroad for your wrestling fix — New Japan, All Pro Japan, British based All Star Wrestling, or Lucha organizations that rose and fell with the coming tide. But even then the overall business model was regionally based in both story line and structure as opposed to being marketable for a greater palette and/or a wider audience. Specifically, Ring of Honor and Chikara were in their formative years, and OVW had just became a training ground for the WWE so there was little contrast to the overall ‘WWE style’ being offer up to fans which makes the advent of NWA TNA somewhat fated in many respects.

    In short, though Jerry Jarrett took a leave from the company, the grounding was set with fresh faces — some of whom were pilfered from NWA Wildside, new styles, back and forth wrestling, and an entrenchment in tradition that Jeff couldn’t help but carry forward regardless of his inclinations to do otherwise. From Styles to Harris, Killings to Brian Christopher, each had the NWA system ingrained in them. The same is to be said of BG James, Kip, Shannon Moore, among others that would adorn NWA TNA with their in and out of rings offerings.

    Jeff did, however, shift NWA TNA into TNA Impact, and in doing so allowed — bad business practices, the Bischoff/Hogan years, and an overall lack of direction — inevitably rob from the company its overall deviation from the WWE product. But if you were to look back at the first five years of the company, what lies there is not only the best of what (NWA, WCW, and/or an offshoot of the territorial days by extension) tradition brought to the table, it met with varying styles and/or techniques from around the world that the WWE was floundering in addressing — Lucha, Japanese mat wrestling, Catcher Catch Can, Sambo, (ECW) hardcore (and in some ways what would inevitably born into Chikara, ROH, and the influx of underground indie shows going for more of a ‘niche’ audience). But NWA TNA brought something else truly unique to the table that it should historically be recognized for through its Crash TV meets Tradition in a No Holds Barred battle — it offered the solution for what ails the overall industry at this point in 2015 — the lack of compelling episodic television married to cultivating the inner personalities of its players into recognizable characters.

    Where no idea is a bad idea until it really is, Russo’s best work came during this period. In essence, he had but a handful of ‘drawing’ stars to relish in the limelight. But rather than making them the predominant focal point of each and every show, Vince had to give opportunities to no name players, and build them up into what would be the next generation of athletes within the business, and the anchors of TNA going into the ‘Impact’ age of its history. Wrestlers like Abyss, America’s Most Wanted (Chris Harris and James Storm), Triple X (Low Ki, Elix Skipper, and Christopher Daniels), Eric Young, Bobby Roode, and the list goes on. But Russo’s best work also stems from being bridled else it would have been a repeat of the waning days of the Monday Night Wars all over again. Whether it was Dixie, Jeff Jarrett, or some other backstage player, I am uncertain. But whatever the case, you knew each week that nothing was going to be predictable, and anything could happen. This is sorely lacking in the modern WWE product as you well know.

    But I would be remiss if Don West, Mike Tenay, Jeremy Borash, and Dusty Rhodes weren’t given a tip of the hat for what they did as announcers. Any and all angles are made better by your broadcast team regardless of what took place in the ring. And there are but a few in the history of the business that sold an angle as well as they could call a match — Gordan Solie, Gorilla Monsoon, Vince McMahon, or Bobby Heenan to name a few. But it was this team during the formative years that gave NWA TNA its serial like quality and made the growing number of fans not only buy into the weekly pay-per-views, but the stories and in-ring psychology that would play out like a Shakespearean drama.

    From the X-Division to the X-Cup challenge, NWA TNA was daring in its approach to be something unlike the WWE. And in doing so, it offered many an homage to the techniques and tradition that the sport of kings have cultivated over the past 100 years. Whether Jerry Jarrett stayed or went, it mattered little during this fractured period of TNA’s young life. The influence of what Jerry knew and believed in reigned out in every show in one way or another — and in some ways through his son though Jeff might not care to admit it. So with anything else in either this life or the universe as a whole, there lies a symmetry amid the chaos, and a poetry to all things great and small. And perhaps this, coupled with the previous thoughts by the original author, is the best way to sum up this period in the sport of Kings, and that which the NWA TNA had to contribute to it.

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