strange marriage: what do you get when you combine
Southern-fried rasslin' with '90s-style raunch? Total
Nonstop Action, the latest competitor to WWE's dominion
(Credit: Century Publishing & The Gale Group)
PAIRING OF JERRY Jarrett, an old-school rasslin' promoter,
with Vince Russo, the innovator of "Crash TV"
in sports entertainment, makes for an odd couple right
up there with Felix and Oscar or Julia Roberts and
despite their contrasting philosophical approaches
to the business, the two have come together as the
creative force behind National Wrestling Alliance
Total Nonstop Action, the latest startup promotion
striving to provide an alternative for wrestling fans
in the post-World Championship Wrestling and Extreme
Championship Wrestling era.
the Jarrett-Russo marriage is an unlikely union, the
new company has all the components of a traditional
wedding: something old (the NWA name), something new
(a promotion seen exclusively on pay-per-view), something
borrowed (former WWE, WCW, and ECW wrestlers who are
out of work) and something blue (the use of profanity
and a porn star on the talent roster).
television networks showing little interest in professional
wrestling programming, regarding it as a fad that's
come and gone, Jarrett, the NWA TNA owner and father
of wrestler Jeff Jarrett, developed the concept of
a wrestling company that runs weekly pay-per-views
without having exposure on national television.
TNA, which is based in Tennessee and debuted in June,
produces a live, two-hour program every Wednesday
on pay-per-view at $9.95 per show. The belief is that
if fans are willing to pay $35 for a three-hour WWE
pay-per-view every month, they'd pay $40 a month to
see eight hours of NWA TNA programming.
WWE creative team fights a continuous battle of trying
to write compelling story lines for their `free' programs
in order to keep ratings high, but they still have
to hold back enough to make their pay-per-view worth
ordering," Jarrett said in a statement to fans
on nwatna.com. "That's a battle we won't have
to fight Every one of our programs will be written
without the need to hold anything back."
Jarrett, who also has a stake in the company, Scott
Hall, and Ken Shamrock are the top stars in NWA TNA,
which also has former WWE and WCW midcarders like
Brian Lawler (formerly Grand Master Sexay), Buff Bagwell,
and K-Krush (formerly K-Kwik) in prominent roles.
Some of the best cruiserweights in wrestling, like
Jerry Lynn, AJ. Styles, and Low Ki also are on board,
as are women such as Francine, Shannon (formerly Daffney),
and adult-film star Jasmin St. Claire. The federation
even has midgets who specialize in hardcore matches.
content of NWA TNA shows to this point has elements
of both Jerry Jarrett and Russo's booking styles.
who ran a successful promotion in Memphis for over
25 years and has worked in WWE and WCW (he also headed
a group that attempted to purchase WCW in 2001), said
on nwatna.com that he "loves traditional wrestling
and will see that the core of the product is traditional
wrestling." To that end, Jarrett, who is the
NWA TNA head writer, resuscitated the NWA, which was
the No. 1 wrestling organization in the world from
the late 1940s to the early '80s, and former NWA world
champions Rick Steamboat, Harley Race and Dory Funk
Jr. appeared on the first show.
TNA is definitely putting an emphasis on strong workers,
and the programs have featured some outstanding wrestling
matches, mostly involving the cruiserweight division,
which has been dubbed the X Division.
potential drawback to Jarrett's approach is that the
shows have a bit of a Southern feel to them, which
may play well in Tennessee and some other markets,
but may not appeal to the masses. Country music singer
Toby Keith and NASCAR drivers Sterling Marlin and
Elliot Sadler even appeared in angles on some of the
Jarrett theoretically represents the NWA half of the
equation, then Russo typifies the TNA half, and when
it pertains to Russo, those letters stand for something
other than Total Nonstop Action. When he was the head
writer in WWE and creative director in WCW, Russo
constantly pushed the envelope with scantily clad
women and risque story lines. His concepts launched
the highly successful "attitude" era in
WWE, but his WCW stint was marked by record lows in
ratings, buy rates, and attendance.
though Russo did not officially join the NWA TNA staff
until July 9, it's no secret that he and Jeff Jarrett
are longtime friends, and it was widely believed that
Russo had been feeding ideas to the company since
teams such as the Big Johnsons (Richard and Rod),
who are a pair of masked wrestlers in costumes that
are supposed to make then look like giant male appendages,
and the Rainbow Express, an over-the-top homosexual
tandem, had Russo's fingerprints all over them. Ditto
for the signing of baseball card infomercial pitchman
Don West as a commentator, which was an idea Russo
was pushing when he was in WCW.
the July 17 show, Russo's influence was obvious, from
the heavy use of sexual innuendo and sophomoric humor,
to a midget wrestler ripping off a woman's top (she
was wearing a bra), to a catfight between Francine
and Jasmin St. Claire, who was wearing a white, wet
T-shirt after having been thrown in the shower.
melding of traditional wrestling and shock television
begs the question of whether fans of each form will
be turned off by the other.
Jarrett's decision to sign Russo actually created
quite an uproar among fans on the Internet. Russo,
a polarizing figure who is regarded as a genius by
some and a buffoon by others, had been announced by
WWE as having joined its creative team on June 20.
But after his first meeting with the writing team
and WWE chairman Vince McMahon the next day, he instead
was offered a job as a consultant. Russo rejected
the position and subsequently joined NWA TNA.
response to negative feedback, Jarrett defended his
hiring of Russo in a statement titled "To All
Concerned NWA TNA Fans" on the company's Web
site. "I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why
everyone just assumes that I'm a weak nelly who could
be so easily influenced by one employee as to forsake
my 40-year history in this business," he wrote.
"I'm following the same formula that I've followed
for 40 years in producing quality wrestling shows.
In the territory days, I tried to have people help
me who had different opinions than myself. I can tell
you why I went after Vince Russo and was successful
in bringing him in to be on our staff. Vince had a
successful run in WWF and that's a fact."
went on to say that WCW didn't prosper under Russo's
direction because "the company structure would
not allow anyone to be successful."
Russo factor aside, NWA TNA clearly is fighting an
uphill battle. On one hand, the demise of WCW and
ECW has created a void for a startup promotion to
fill But on the other hand, the industry as a whole
is in decline, which would suggest that this is the
worst time to establish a new company and attempt
to make it profitable.
sources estimate NWA TNA needs 50,000 buys every week
just to cover production costs. For perspective, toward
the end, both WCW and ECW were doing approximately
60,000 buys with the advantages of national television
and major stars. Early numbers for NWA TNA's first
show on June 19 project 65,000-90,000 buys, although
the actual numbers were not available.
Jarrett conceded in an Associated Press story that
NWA TNA can't presently compete with WWE, but he still
feels there is room for another company in the marketplace.
fans are tremendously loyal, and if you deliver, if
you put out compelling story lines, great action in
the ring, some celebrities, then they'll find you,"
Jarrett told the AP. "It's 10 bucks on a Wednesday
night. You can't take your family to the movies for
under 50 bucks. You can't go to a concert for under
a hundred bucks. You can't go to a hockey game or
basketball game for under $200.
stay-at-home, great entertainment every Wednesday
NWA TNA BIDS TO BECOME A A viable alternative to World
Wrestling Entertainment, the three startup promotions
that emerged last year are either dead or on life
X Wrestling Federation, the company owned in part
by wrestling manager Jimmy Hart and wrestlers Greg
Valentine and Brian Knobs that promised "to bring
back all the tradition, excitement, and fan-friendly
action" to wrestling, has basically given up
trying to do business in the United States after spending
months trying to negotiate a television deal.
federation is not planning to run any more house shows,
but it recently sold footage from two days of taping
in November 200t to a station in Puerto Rico for a
series of programs there, The hope now is of following
up with a tour there.
Wrestling All-Stars, owned by Australian concert promoter
Andrew McManus, set out to be an international touring
company with a presence on pay-per-view in the United
States. Although its initial tours tours of Australia
and Europe were profitable, buy rates for the pay-per-views
were not good, attendance declined on subsequent tours,
and the European tour scheduled for July was postponed
due to poor advance ticket sales.
to the company's Web site, the WWA, which had featured
Jeff Jarrett and several other wrestlers currently
in NWA TNA, has rescheduled the tour for November
and plans to tape the show in Dublin, Ireland, for
anyone remember John Collins' Main Event Championship
Wrestling? Didn't think so. Collins made some grandiose
statements about having TV deals and running three
separate territories, but none of it materialized
and MECW was over almost before it started.