A strange marriage

A 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)

THE 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 Lyle Lovett.

But 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.

Although 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).

With 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.

NWA 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.

"The 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."

Jeff 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.

The content of NWA TNA shows to this point has elements of both Jerry Jarrett and Russo's booking styles.

Jarrett, 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.

NWA 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.

One 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 early shows.

If 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.

Even 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 its inception.

Tag 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.

On 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.

The melding of traditional wrestling and shock television begs the question of whether fans of each form will be turned off by the other.

Jerry 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.

In 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."

Jarrett went on to say that WCW didn't prosper under Russo's direction because "the company structure would not allow anyone to be successful."

The 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.

Industry 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.

Jeff 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.

"Wrestling 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.

"We're stay-at-home, great entertainment every Wednesday night."

Meanwhile ...

AS 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 support.

The 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.

The 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.

World 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.

According 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 pay-per-view.

Lastly, 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.