Check out more wrestling coverage including new interviews with Dean Ambrose and Jeff Hardy in the Entertainment section of AlternativeNation.net
Back in 2010, I decided to write an unauthorized retrospective/e-book on TNA Wrestling. Writing it was never about the money, I did it to try to tell TNA’s early story from an unbiased perspective, especially with many internet websites trashing TNA and trying to push agendas. I also did it as an exercise in writing to prepare for future projects. This was my first crack at long form writing, at the age of 18 years old.
The retrospective is an oral history, featuring quotes from a handful of former TNA talent and backstage personnel from interviews I conducted in 2010-2011. None of the talent were main event guys, as I didn’t expect any current TNA talent at the time to really get candid about the company or jeopardize their spots. I had interviewed many top level TNA guys though in the mid 2000’s on my podcast BWR, which helped me formulate some of the narrative. I may post quotes from those interviews in the future on AlternativeNation.net to tell some other stories about TNA’s past.
I originally published this online in 2012, but I thought I would republish it here with all of the rumors flying around about TNA for some perspective. I’ve been a loyal TNA fan since 2003, and have always rooted for the company and everyone working there to find success. So if there’s any snark mixed in here, none of it is intended to be mean spirited. Many of the opinions in here of that of the people I spoke too. All photos are the property of TNA, and for anybody reading this who is no longer following TNA, definitely check out Impact Wrestling every Thursday night at 9PM on SpikeTV. You can read the results and rate every match/segment from Thursday’s Impact on Everater and rate the whole TNA roster here.
Here is The Genesis of TNA in its entirety, covering TNA’s history from 2002-2010. This retrospective is in memory of Chris Candido, Randy Savage, and Jill Jarrett, and dedicated to everybody who has ever worked for TNA. If there are any factual errors, feel free to comment. I had no editor! I also apologize for not bolding everybody’s names. Too time consuming.
CHAPTER 1: THE ORIGINS OF TNA
The story of TNA Wrestling begins with the demise of World Championship Wrestling. In March 2001 a new Turner television executive named Jamie Kellner cancelled all WCW programming from TNT and TBS. This caused negotiations with former WCW President Eric Bischoff and Fusient Media Ventures to purchase WCW from AOL Time Warner to fall through. Vince McMahon and the WWF quickly jumped in and purchased WCW. On the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro; which included simulcast segments with WWF RAW is WAR, the show kicked off with Vince McMahon announcing that he had bought his competition. He was shown looking at two televisions that featured the WWF and WCW shows respectively. On the WCW screen was Jeff Jarrett. McMahon then proceeded to publically fire Jarrett. Jarrett had previously worked for the WWF but when his contract ran out in 1999 he decided to leave for WCW. He still held the WWF Intercontinental Championship and had a PPV match scheduled with Chyna for the title. Jarrett and the WWF had a disagreement over pay and Jarrett ended up being paid a large sum of money to drop the title to Chyna that night. Jeff Jarrett claims that the WWF owed him the money he ended up getting from them that night, while WWF officials saw Jeff’s actions as greedy and unprofessional. This incident led to McMahon deciding to not to rehire Jarrett in 2001, and humiliating him on the final Nitro.
With WCW gone, Vince McMahon had successfully monopolized professional wrestling. Television networks wouldn’t touch pro wrestling with a ten foot pole. If the Turner networks canceled WCW Nitro, which despite its dwindling ratings was still one of TNT’s highest rated shows, why should they bring a new wrestling show to their network? There was a short lived promotion in 2001 called the XWF that attempted to fill the void of WCW, but after their pilot television tapings they couldn’t secure a TV deal and many of their big names like Jerry Lawler and Curt Hennig left for the WWF. During all of this time Jeff Jarrett wondered about his future, and eventually decided that he wanted to start his own national wrestling promotion. Jarrett and his father Jerry, a veteran wrestling promoter; put plans in motion to start Total Nonstop Action Wrestling as a weekly PPV wrestling series.
SCOTT HUDSON: TNA began out of the ruble left by the collapse of WCW. When WCW went under we had that brief little run with the WWF and the Invasion angle and then that went nowhere so there was nothing left. During the dying days of WCW, Jerry Jarrett had been one of the less than a handful of potential buyers. When that didn’t pan out obviously, he put whatever resources he had together, got his investors lined up, and he was going to start the company. Obviously I stayed very tight with a lot of the guys from WCW especially Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo. Jeff lived in Nashville and I had some friends in Nashville I was doing indies in Nashville just for the hell of it with Bert Prentice who I knew from WCW, and Vince lived like 2 miles from me in Atlanta. When they started this I would go visit with Vince and just socialize and he told me about the idea that Jeff and Jerry had for the company. This was in the very early days, before it even got off the ground. So I had knowledge of it from the very beginning.
BILL BEHRENS: The idea was very basic and that was that when WCW went out of business that there was a disenfranchised wrestling audience anywhere between 4 to 6 million people that vanished, literally just went away. They didn’t go to WWE they just didn’t go to any other wrestling program. So the assumption was if we give them the stars that they would potentially have missed seeing, and then we go even further than that and we put together a PPV package that for in essence 8 hours of program at least a month, is delivered for the same price as one 3 hour WWE PPV once a month. That we’re providing a good product that people should be interested in. The reality is that didn’t work.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: I didn’t think it [Weekly PPVs] was going to work before I went to TNA, from everything I was told at the time they were working towards television. So with that I thought they’re obviously spending money on something, so let’s hope for the best.
CASSIDY RILEY: As far as the concept of the weekly PPV, I thought it was a good idea. It was different, nobody was doing that. Anything that could put another show on the market in the wrestling business, I thought it was a good idea. Anything to offer competition because there was none out there, it seemed like business in general was really in a slump, so I thought it could only help if we could just get people to find out about it.
SCOTT HUDSON: I remember talking to Vince Russo [about the weekly PPV idea], the way you market it is you pay 40 bucks per month to get TNA and you get 8 hours of PPV quality broadcast. Where if you pay 40 bucks to the WWF you get 3 hours of PPV quality broadcast. We talked about that and the PPV companies wouldn’t let them sell it based on the cheap price, they didn’t like the idea of marketing it as a cheap PPV because there are a lot of those out there. Not necessarily wrestling but a lot of cheap PPVs and they didn’t want to be seen as bragging about how cheap their product was so they didn’t do that. That’s the kind of stuff Vince and I talked about, not like who we’re going to push and who is going to go over and be champion or anything like that.
DAVID YOUNG: When it first started I honestly didn’t think it would succeed. When it first started I honestly thought it was going to last three to four weeks and then it was going to be gone.
SCOTT HUDSON: I thought [the weekly PPV concept] was a terrific idea. It did succeed to a degree; they reached a point business wise that they could never break through. I attribute that more to the quality of the product more than the business model in that it wasn’t that they could never break through because they were doing a weekly PPV it was they couldn’t break through because the PPV to me just wasn’t that good, or good enough to do better, but it was good enough. Before they ended up scuttling that idea and going to weekly stripped syndication and monthly PPVs, it had become marginally profitable, but it would have taken a long time to recoup what they had lost over the first couple of years. But they had gotten it to where the buy rates were at a sustainable level to make it profitable on a week to week basis. Again a lot of that profit would have been going back to recouping that loss that they had incurred, but they would have recouped it by now obviously if they had kept it going.
RUDY CHARLES: From what I understand is it was Bob Ryder, Jeremy Borash, Jeff Jarrett, and maybe Ron Harris sitting out on a lake one day after the demise of WCW. I don’t think WWF was going to hire Jeff, so they were trying to figure out a way to come up with a viable competition. They were kicking around some ideas and I don’t know which one of them came up with the idea for a weekly PPV, but it was kind of on that boat from my understanding is where idea sprang from. It was probably the summer of 2001 or so, the summer of relaxation or something they called it, they were still getting paid by WCW then but they weren’t working the WWF wasn’t using them. They were looking for something so that when their no compete ran up they could do something. Then from that idea they kind of sprang the idea of doing something, I’m not sure if it was there that they came up with the idea for the weekly PPVs or where that came from, but it was something that had never been done before. It was maybe based on the old Memphis philosophy their biggest show of the week was always Monday in Memphis. They had their towns that they toured every week too, but it was kind of a big deal for all of the fans to go to the shows in Memphis. They thought if they could kind of get people in the habit of buying those PPVs every Wednesday, kind of make it a wrestling night because there wasn’t any wrestling on Wednesday at the time.
In the months leading up to TNA’s first show on June 19th in Huntsville the talent roster was a major issue. The Jarretts knew they needed some star power to sell PPVs and they had discussions with the Ultimate Warrior, Scott Steiner, Sting, Randy Savage, and Mick Foley that ultimately went nowhere. TNA were able to sign Ken Shamrock, Scott Hall, Brian “Grandmaster Sexay” Lawler, Buff Bagwell, and others. The concept of TNA was not to solely focus on these former WWF and WCW stars, but it was to expose the audience to the stars of the future. Jerry and Jeff Jarrett scouted independent wrestling shows to find their new talent.
SCOTT HUDSON: I was working a show for Bert Prentice at the Fairgrounds and it was the Last Battle of Nashville or whatever they called it, but it was Chris Harris and James Storm wrestling each other on top. We’d built it up and built it up on TV and over the last few weeks of the house shows to where he brought me and Jim Cornette in, we were the announce team for the TV there in Nashville, and he brought us in to do live to tape commentary for the show. Bert told me that afternoon that the TNA guys were coming. They were about to launch and get everything up and running and they were going to be there to look at the talent and see who was any good and all that. I remember talking to Jeff and Jerry and they said who is good who should we keep an eye out for. I said well everybody on the show is good, but the main event is really going to knock you apart because those guys Harris and Storm are both just incredible. They go okay great you know I’ve heard that from everybody, so everybody who talked to Jeff and Jerry had said Harris and Storm, Harris and Storm not just me. So I went back to Harris and Storm and said look, me and everybody else have blown more sunshine up your skirt today to these TNA guys than you’ve ever thought about. So if you’ve got anything at all, you need to break out and do it tonight, and they did. That match, I’m sure there’s a tape of that match somewhere of me and Corny calling Harris and Storm in their last match before they started with TNA. That match was a mindblower, and seeing how those two guys blossomed was just a wonderful experience because I knew them then. To see what happened to Chris is kind of disappointing, of the two I would have thought Chris would have been the bigger star just because of his look. Storm was actually in my opinion the better worker, but it doesn’t always come down to that as you know.
BILL BEHRENS: There were a series of matches that occurred up in Nashville at two shows being run by Bert Prentice that Jerry Jarrett watched that was one [Chris Harris vs. James Storm] of them and the other one was David Young vs. AJ Styles. The first two people that were relatively hired were AJ Styles and David Young, unless you count Jeff Jarrett. Out of the match they saw and the match they did in Nashville was basically a version of a match they had done for NWA Wildside that we literally just took up there and redid for Jerry. Then immediately after that an awful lot of us including AJ, myself, Jeff, Scott Steiner, and various folk we ended up all going on an Australian tour and it was there that AJ was actually signed. Because of my involvement with the NWA, at the time I was the vice president of that organization, Jerry had asked the question do you think the NWA would be interested in sanctioning TNA. I said I don’t see any reason why not, it sounds like a good idea. We structured the initial one year deal out of those conversations that had the NWA brand attached to TNA for give or take its first 4 to 5 years.
CASSIDY RILEY: I had been working in Nashville for several years for Bert Prentice. After WCW went under, or Vince bought it out, there were rumors for awhile that Jeff was going to try to put something together. So Bert Prentice was running the Nashville Fairgrounds on a weekly basis, so when everything kind of started getting rolling they started looking for talent. Jerry Jarrett and some other guys like Ed Ferrara would come down to the Fairgrounds where Bert Prentice was running his weekly shows and scout talent. That was where after Mr. Jerry saw me work, the first time he didn’t really have a lot to say. Then after the second week he came up to me and I was tagging with Chase Stevens and he’s like I really like you guys, I think I have something for you. So that’s how it all kind of came about originally.
LARRY ZBYZSKO: When TNA first started I had no idea whether they would survive or not. I was real happy that someone started something else because at the end of the 90’s wrestling was so hot with WCW and the wars and I was real excited hoping that another outfit would start. Not only was it something for me to do, it was something for all of the young talent. And the fans would have an option, because I do not like the McMahon thing I don’t watch it and if that’s the only game in town then that’s what you get. So I was real happy when they started hoping they’d do good and kind of an interesting story how they even stayed around.
BILL BEHRENS: There were a lot of mistakes in terms of the business and financial plan realities. It became painfully obvious very early that we that were not going to sell tickets. In fact, hundreds and not a lot of hundreds, of tickets were sold to that first event in Huntsville and basically it had to be given away. It was obvious that financially we had a problem going in.
Despite financial problems and talent concerns TNA soldiered on and on June 19, 2002, they ran their very first weekly PPV in Huntsville, Alabama. The show was headlined by a 20 Man Gauntlet for the Gold to crown a new NWA World Champion. The battle royal featured many names like Jeff Jarrett, Ken Shamrock, Scott Hall, Malice (The Wall in WCW), Buff Bagwell, and others. Ken Shamrock ultimately won and became the NWA World Champion. Dan Severn was actually the NWA Champion at the time but he had prior commitments the night of TNA’s first show. Severn was willing to wrestle but Shamrock had heat with him from their past in the Mixed Martial Arts world, and he refused to work with him which led to the need to crown a new champion. Country musician Toby Keith also appeared on the show, helping Scott Hall eliminate Jeff Jarrett from the Gauntlet for the Gold.
DAVID YOUNG: At that time [the first TNA PPV] was the biggest thing I had ever done in my life. For the fact that it was a packed arena and I had never done a PPV before so it was really big to me.
RUDY CHARLES: For me I was a nobody, I was there as an extra referee. Just to see all of these guys, I’ve been watching them on TV all of these years, some of them I’d worked with but a lot of them I hadn’t and I was meeting for the first time. I was just kind of a fly on the wall and observing everything that’s going on. I thought the PPV itself came off pretty good. It’s kind of infamous now, the problems they had at the very start, they had the preshow match where Cheex who is a big dude broke the ring and they had to scramble before the show started. The legends segment was scheduled to go on after the first match, and they had to move that to before the first match. I think if you look back at the DVD of that you can see some of the people working on the ring while they were honoring the legends.
BILL BEHRENS: There was a lot of pyro and it was a very good show, the very first taping that yielded two programs out of Huntsville was very well done. There was nothing wrong with anything we did there, and the fact the ring broke was an anomaly that creates a lovely story.
DAVID YOUNG: I broke the ring, it was chaotic, it was my match that the ring broke in, me and Apollo.
BILL BEHRENS: Because It happened when big guy Cheex was put in there and that was very entertaining. But that really wasn’t that typical of the night, everything was fairly organized, the only difficulties we really had were getting people into the go area it was sort of makeshift. There were some things that had been booked that Dutch Mantell and I who were in the go area weren’t aware of. We didn’t know that Toby Keith was supposed to run out and do the suplex spot and they’re going when do I go when do I go, and we’re going I don’t know that you’re supposed to go. We were trying to get direction from the production truck and the truck didn’t know. There were some minor communication issues but that happened fairly regularly during my experience with TNA and it continued when we went into the Fairgrounds when we started having weekly surprises and nobody was really told about the surprises.
CASSIDY RILEY: I was actually on the second taping, the vibe was good. It really had, and so many people compare it to WCW, but it really had kind of a WCW feel without all the animosity. I think at that time everybody who was there knew that it was either going to sink or swim, and if it sank none of us were going to have work. So everybody was trying to put their butts to the floor, and there were young guys like myself and America’s Most Wanted and AJ Styles who had never really had a big break and all of us were really deserving of something. So we were really going out there and busting our ass trying to make something happen not only for the company but for ourselves as well.
TNA’s first few shows were very mixed. Jerry Jarrett was the original booker of the company, but he had struggles with his son Jeff and Vince Russo about the creative direction of the company which led to some shows being hit and miss. Jerry wanted to focus the product on the action in the ring, while Jeff was under the influence of Vince Russo and wanted more “Crash TV” type elements added. Despite the creative problems it was clear though from the get go that AJ Styles would be the breakout star in TNA and the face of the company. TNA created an X-Division Championship for high flying wrestlers, Mike Tenay would describe the X-Division for years as, “It’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits.” Years later there was a weight limited instituted, and then ignored, which ended up killing Tenay’s catch phrase. Jerry Jarrett created the concept for the X-Division, while Jeremy Borash came up with the name. AJ Styles was crowned the first X-Division Champion and he also won the NWA World Tag Team titles on TNA’s third show with Jerry Lynn as his tag team partner. Lynn and Styles at first had mutual respect for each other in their storyline, but Styles eventually turned heel which led to the feud becoming heated. After they dropped the tag team belts and Styles lost the X-Division title to Low Ki, they had a best of three series of matches on a weekly PPV in August.
TNA also had random storylines that really went nowhere, like a woman who randomly came out during matches and was given money by Jeremy Borash and Ed Ferrara. TNA also had NWA President Jim Miller on screen as an authority figure, and with all due respect to Jim Miller, he had no business being on television.
To add insult to injury during TNA’s third show they randomly had Miller kidnapped and shown on camera tied up shirtless in all his fat glory with “FU Miller” written on his back. When Miller initially went missing during the storyline announcer Ed Ferrara quipped, “I guess he found catering.” Ferrara also did a brief storyline where he was infatuated with Francine, he went to console her after a match and she hinted at him that she wanted to give him a blow job. Ferrara put his hands up and let her take off his belt and she proceeded to whip him.
There was also a tag team called the Johnsons who were wrestling penises. They wore flesh colored outfits while the announcers would make penis jokes. The weird thing is they didn’t even go all the way with gimmick which meant a lot of the time they were just two guys in flesh colored outfits. Years later WWE ripped the gimmick off by doing a tag team called The Dicks and had them squirt bottles of oil on each other while the announcers screamed, “The Dicks are coming!” There was also a series of “Dupp Cup” matches where you had to score points by doing crazy things to win. If you hit ring announcer Jeremy Borash or the ticket lady, you would get points. Ed Ferrara was one of the first challengers for the Dupp Cup; the stipulation was that if he won he would get to sleep with the Dupp’s cousin. TNA also featured a short lived midgets division where they actually had a wrestler named Puppet who claimed to be a midget killer, despite being a midget himself. There was an infamous segment where Puppet masturbated in a trash can.
CASSIDY RILEY: As far as The Johnsons go, that was just I don’t know. Let’s just be honest, it was crap. But there was some good stuff like the Dupps, I was a big fan of the Dupps.
BILL BEHRENS: I think the original thought process to get attention was trying too hard. It was let’s try to get people talking by doing things that titillate. We had a lot more than that, one of my earliest roles was in Huntsville and it was me rushing to the ring to cover up Jasmine St. Claire before she took her top off. Then we had girls in dancing cages, we had Lollipop go topless in the ring at the Fairgrounds. Midgets in the trash can was the least of it, it was just one of the more infamous.
RUDY CHARLES: I don’t know if I was a big fan of the midget masturbating.
BILL BEHRENS: Actually the more entertaining story was that in that promo that Puppet was supposed to do a line about I believe it was summer breeze or something like that, but basically it was a line that was supposed to have a reference to a douche. Bless his heart; he kept trying to get the promo. Puppet and I had worked together in Australia and I referred to him as one take Puppet because every time we did promos either together or separately we both nailed the promos in one take. Puppet was having a terrible time with this promo and finally he looked and he said he said hey look here is the problem what the hell is this summer spring breeze thing. We had to explain to him that it was a douche reference and then he finally figured the promo out and he got better at it. There were a lot of those efforts and there was also a lot of dysfunction at the beginning as TNA was getting going it was just scrambling. There was too many people doing drugs, too many people drinking, too many little bits of disorganization. It was both big and little all at the same time, we were trying to give the perception of doing something big and at the same time we were operating sometimes very much like a mid level indy.
CASSIDY RILEY: With some of the stuff they were getting on, some of it was getting really close to being that fine line of comedic gold and wrestling entertainment and some of it was just like taking a pile of shit and throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks. That’s kind of my opinion on all of that, there was some stuff that had the potential to be fantastic, and there was a lot of stuff that was just trash.
DAVID YOUNG: There was some stuff I didn’t like, I didn’t like the Johnsons and stuff like that but for the most part I understood what Jerry was going for. He was going for the old Memphis style, it worked then and it was just a different time.
RUDY CHARLES: During those early days they were just trying to throw darts at the wall and see what would stick. There was some good stuff for sure, and there was some bad stuff for sure. But that is going to be the case with any show I think, they were just trying to survive and make a name for themselves. I thought some of those early X-Division matches the athleticism was freakin insane. The people who’d seen AJ and Daniels and those guys on the independents knew what they could do, but as far as a national audience I don’t think they’d been seen too much. I guess they were on WCW some, but TNA really gave them a forum to really shine.
CHAPTER 2: TNA NEARLY GOES UNDER
Behind the scenes TNA were facing major financial problems. Their consultant Jay Haussman had fed them false PPV buy numbers for their first few shows which made TNA think they were doing better financially than they really were. TNA were also told the marketing would be done for them by the PPV company but this never happened. There was a conspiracy theory that Haussman was possibly doing this for Vince McMahon at the time. TNA filed a lawsuit against Haussman, but this was the least of their problems. Their financial backers decided that they no longer wanted to invest in the company.
BILL BEHRENS: We went to the Municipal Auditorium first, the theory was that was a smaller and more affordable building, and it was. But it still wasn’t enough, it was okay we’re bleeding money and right around that time was when one of the two major investors backed out. So you were left with only a minority investor and a mad scramble.
DAVID YOUNG: Everybody thought it was over at that point, I mean everybody thought it was over. I think Jeff was the one that was kind of the glue that held everybody together because when we would have our meetings he would tell us that he was working on another backer and stuff like that. Nothing really changed for us, everything went on, but I’m sure Jeff was probably pulling his hair out behind the scenes.
RUDY CHARLES: It was a very uncertain [time period]. I had lived in Evansville, Indiana which is about two and a half hours from Nashville. Basically I was commuting at the time when TNA first started, I was staying with a friend in Nashville but I hadn’t really moved all my stuff down. I was looking to make Nashville my permanent residence and there was one weekend after all that stuff had gone down, in addition to refereeing I also answered the phones and worked as kind an administrative assistant during those early days. I thought when I left that Friday afternoon I just remember thinking to myself I don’t think I’m coming back to work on Monday. Somehow someway those guys pulled it out and really made it work I guess. It was just a real uncertain time. I remember Jason Jarrett said Rudy as long as you want a job with TNA you’ll have one. I always remember that and I thought that’d be a reward for my loyalty during the early days when nobody knew if we were getting paid, I might have been working for free donating my time. I figured if I can do this and be at the ground level of something, that’d be great and I thought the loyalty would be remembered but that’s okay.
CASSIDY RILEY: I just remember hearing that some people had not got paid, and that’s when Ed Ferrara was leaving for the first time. I just got to the building for a show on Wednesday night and I kind of started hearing some rumblings about what was going on. It’s one of those situations where you kind of hope for the best and expect the worst. I wasn’t real sure what was going to happen, I think that down deep I thought that it was probably going to go under. Just for obvious reasons, but my heart really wanted to say this thing is going to survive because it’s destiny because it has to for the sake of this business. I kind of had mixed emotions about all of that.
BILL BEHRENS: I remember standing with Jeff and Jerry one time when Jeff came up and said Dad you’re worth millions, can’t you just get the money so this is easy rather than us having to try to find an investor. Jerry explained to him while he might have that value on paper, he didn’t necessarily have it liquid. He could realize the money, but it would mean subdividing selling off property, selling out basically all of his assets and his land. This was not necessarily what he wanted or was willing to do at the time; they had already both invested a reasonable amount of money to get started with the other investors. So how much more money do you want to lose? Well fortunately I think it looked bad and then they had the lawsuit with the guy that was lying about some of the PPV buy rates and the PPV deal and all that other garbage. That led to litigation and eventually to his jailing. Finally Panda Energy [and Dixie Carter] stepped up and everything got at least slightly better.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: The story with TNA at the beginning was they had this secret backer who was Dr. Andrews from Alabama who was the knee specialist. He was the secret backer who didn’t want anybody to know he was backing it, but then all of the sudden it leaked out. Everybody found out that this Dr. Andrews was the guy, so he pulled out and TNA almost shut down. At those times I wasn’t involved and some other guys were, because they had no money. I remember Mike Tenay, Don West, and some other guys were working for free for a few months because there was no backer and they were trying to keep it alive. The interesting part of the story was in the mean time this woman Dixie Carter started a marketing company. I guess she was marketing a couple of country western singers or something out of Nashville, so she just started marketing and wanted to market the TNA people as part of her business. But then TNA almost went under because their secret backer pulled out. So Dixie calls her Dad Bob Carter of Panda Energy, and Panda Energy took it over and started putting money into it. Basically her Dad and Panda Energy bought it so Dixie could have something to use for her marketing company. That’s how TNA wound up in existence, they were very lucky. They’re very lucky with the Carters because Dixie Carter and Bob Carter they’re very nice people. Bob Carter is a great guy; Dixie is a really cool woman, very smart in terms of business. But again everybody is lacking the knowledge of the wrestling part of it which is the most important part.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: Jerry Jarrett’s business model was set up to make money, and he was wrong from the get go. But when Dixie Carter took over I don’t think it was an immediate make money type deal, it was one of those where hopefully 3 years from now we’re in the black. I think that was the plan going forward, and mission accomplished.
RUDY CHARLES: Dixie seemed very professional and like she had a good head on her shoulders. Dixie’s PR firm Trifecta had been TNA’s PR firm, and I guess Jeff and some of those guys had gone to some people trying to find the financing. Somehow it came up with him and Dixie, and Dixie was saying how her Dad was looking for something to invest in. Long story short, TNA and Panda ended up joining forces. I thought it was great, if it wasn’t for Panda TNA wouldn’t be here.
DAVID YOUNG: I really liked Dixie. Some people that were there, I’ll be honest with you, we never really saw them that much. They pretty much stayed in the office and stuff.
CASSIDY RILEY: I spoke with Dixie almost on a weekly basis when we were doing the weekly PPV’s. She came in immediately and was like hey you know I think it would be cool if they would do this with you guys and do that. So she came in immediately with ideas, and to her credit she didn’t know a lot about the wrestling business so she dove in head first and was wanting to learn and wanting to be a part and make a difference. I think the world of Dixie and always have, and always will.
SCOTT HUDSON: Well Dixie obviously, you meet her and she just takes your breath away she’s so good looking. Other than that once you get past the fact that you that you’re just truly like, my God this woman is the boss good grief. She didn’t strike me back then as being somebody who could be easily worked. If there was something going on and somebody was trying to work her to get their own angle over or something like that it wouldn’t work with her. I don’t know if that’s still the case or not, but that was what I thought of her.
DAVID YOUNG: She knows a lot more now than she did when she came in.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: Dixie made sure that she would at least say hello to everyone on the roster. Dixie is one of the best professionals I’ve worked with whether it be reality TV, movies, wrestling, anything. She’s very hands on in the fact that if there’s a problem you can come to her, or just making you feel welcomed as a part of her company. As far as the dirty work and the other stuff that was Jeff.
BIG VITO: Dixie was a nice lady, she was learning the business and she always treated me with respect. She was always there.
BILL BEHRENS: Dixie was around and was part of meetings. It was very much of an attitude of that she doesn’t really know the wrestling and to an extent the power beyond me only wanted her to have whatever education they wanted to give her at the time. Everything was a learning curve, and to some extent still is bless her heart. There was a separation between the business aspect of the company in quotations, and the wrestling aspect of the company for quite a long period of time. At first it was okay, everybody seemed to get along in that and eventually it got confrontational and created some problems between Dixie and Jeff that escalated over time and led inevitably when it was possible when Jeff was sent home and Dixie taking much more control over all aspects of the company. The basic feeling was the wrestling people did the wrestling, and Dixie did whatever the business was. Merchandise and she set up the other aspects of the business and leave us wrestling people alone on the creative; you don’t know what you were doing. Dixie was involved in the contracts, at the time Bob Ryder was involved in that until he wasn’t.
During TNA’s financial woes many people left including announcer Ed Ferrara and NWA World Champion Ken Shamrock. Shamrock dropped the world title to Ron “The Truth” Killings before leaving the company. After the dust had settled and TNA had financial support, the creative power struggle became evident.
CHAPTER 3: VINCE RUSSO
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One thing is for sure about Vince Russo. You either love him or hate him. Vince Russo began in the wrestling business in the mid 1990’s as a writer for WWF Magazine. He eventually became the editor and started sitting in on creative meetings. WWF’s business began to rapidly decline because their product was simply not reflective of society in the 90’s. WCW had the nWo storyline in full force which caused RAW’s ratings to plummet. In 1997 McMahon named Vince Russo as head of creative after reading some of his fantasy storyline ideas in WWF Magazine. Russo quickly made the WWF an edgier more reality based product, and with stars like Steve Austin and The Rock on top the WWF began a meteoric rise to the top. In late 1999 Russo left the WWF to write for WCW. Russo wrote off and on for WCW up until late 2000, and was criticized for many of his decisions including putting the WCW world title on actor David Arquette. There was also an incident at Bash at the Beach 2000 where Russo came out and cut a shoot promo on Hulk Hogan, publically firing him, which led to a lawsuit. Many fans blame Russo for the downfall of WCW, but in defense of him the company was already bleeding money and the AOL Time Warner merger had taken away control of WCW from Ted Turner. Ratings actually went up during Russo’s initial late 1999 WCW run, but they went down during his later run in 2000. After WCW folded in 2001, Russo was out of the wrestling business. In 2002 when the Jarretts decided they wanted to start a wrestling promotion, Russo told them that they should call it TNA.
Russo did not work for TNA initially when they started but he did give Jeff Jarrett creative ideas, much to the dismay of his father Jerry. Russo went back to work for the WWF briefly in 2002 and literally lasted one day. He pitched the idea of restarting the WWF vs. WCW storyline. Vince McMahon offered him a high paying consultant position, but Russo declined and decided to go to TNA for less money. Jerry Jarrett and Vince Russo constantly clashed over their wrestling mentalities. Jerry Jarrett was an old school promoter who believed the product should be focused on the wrestling and less on backstage skits, while Vince Russo preferred to show backstage skits and have shorter matches with a more rapid “Crash TV” pace. Jeff Jarrett frequently sided with Vince Russo, his creative mentor in the wrestling business. This caused plenty of tension between Jeff, Jerry, and Russo. Russo’s first run in TNA in 2002 and 2003 before he converted to Christianity was highly controversial.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: For some reason, McMahon does his thing he’s in his own world he doesn’t give a shit about wrestling or wrestlers. Everybody else that tried wrestling for some reason think they have to do it like Vince does. They just don’t know what to do, I mean Russo he was one of McMahon’s writers. Why, I have no idea. That’s the only reason he wound up in WCW and [TNA] is because they think he was with McMahon he must know something, he knows nothing. It’s not his fault. He just was never a wrestler, he was selling CD’s in Long Island, why is he in the business? Because Vince hired some writer that he hires and fires every six months and some idiot at WCW came up to me and said hey I stole McMahon’s writer, he wasn’t even under contract! I said he wasn’t under contract because no one gives a shit about him, he’s a nothing. That’s why he wasn’t under contract you dumb shit, they were all idiots at WCW running it.
SCOTT HUDSON: He seemed more passionate because in TNA he didn’t have the hierarchy to answer to. I don’t think he felt the pressure, that’s twofold. One, he didn’t have the pressure of the corporate hierarchy from Turner, and those guys looking over his shoulder. He didn’t have that and who was looking over his shoulder was his best friend, and that was Jeff. So it went from really awful to being perfect for him. You could tell in his demeanor and the way he carried himself, and the storylines he came up with, everything. He was, I won’t say he was a different guy because he really wasn’t that bad of a guy to begin with. If he had been different it would have been bad, but you could tell he was more passionate. He knew he didn’t have to answer to a corporate hierarchy that went from Atlanta to New York and all the way up with 15 levels of bureaucracy to answer to. It was just making sure Jeff and Jerry were happy and that was it.
DAVID YOUNG: At first I didn’t like Vince because he didn’t like me. He grew on me; Vince didn’t like people from the south. He doesn’t like people with southern accents on TV.
CASSIDY RILEY: I remember Vince coming in before they ever hired him. We were at the Municipal Auditorium and sitting down, we had went out and worked a dark match with a couple of guys from Canada and Vince said hey I really like those two kids, talking about myself and Chase Stevens. He’s like I think they need a job. That was one good thing about Vince is like, he always seemed to always be wanting fresh talent and young guys to make new stars, and for that I applaud him.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Russo is not a wrestling guy; he doesn’t have respect for wrestling. According to him he just wants to write a show even without the ring in it you know, stupid skits.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: My whole thing with everything that I read back then was it sounded like Vince Russo talking with different puppets saying it. It was his verbiage, his New York slang. I don’t use New York slang, and neither does Road Dogg. To watch Simon Diamond, Road Dogg, and Jeff Jarrett all using these same kind of words that Vince Russo wrote. It’s just like; does anyone see a problem here? Like imagine watching Lost and Mr. Echo talking just like Benjamin Linus. You’re like what the hell is wrong with these people? Since then I’ve talked with like Sinister Minister and basically there was times at the beginning where he kind of fought to get to work in his stuff, so a compromise was made with those guys. I’m more than positive that Raven had the same kind of deal going.
RUDY CHARLES: I had never met the man [Russo], you hear all these terrible stories like he’s the antichrist and ruined professional wrestling and all. In the early days we actually made a connection because we both went to school at the same university. It’s a place in Evansville, Indiana. He was a journalism guy and I went to school for journalism as well. We did have a little common connection there, he married a girl from Evansville which is my hometown. I think we kind of bonded more so than we would have otherwise. I always liked him, I didn’t like some of the swearing and stuff that he used in the early days before he became a Christian, but that was him.
CASSIDY RILEY: As best as I can remember, when [Vince] came in and went to work, he went to work. He was one of the producers; he came in he started immediately producing segments. He was on the creative team; he had a hand in that. When he was initially brought in he was one of the top guys.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: It wasn’t that Russo had say [creatively]. At the very beginning before Dixie came into the picture, it was basically Jeff. Jeff and Jerry started it, I’m not sure but the story was they were always at each other’s throats, I guess. Jeff was the boss and Russo was basically the work horse. Jeff would come in and say I’ve got my buddy Road Dogg here and I’ve got my buddy this guy here and I want to push this guy so, Jeff would like tell him what to do. Russo would sit there and write all this weird stuff up because he didn’t know. Then Jeff would come in and try and tweak it and Dutch Mantell, who was probably the most knowledgeable guy at the time, would change little things here and there. Jeff was basically the boss and Russo was basically his gopher or right hand man and he did all of the writing based on what Jeff wanted.
BILL BEHRENS: Vince in the early days spent an awful lot of time helping guys on promos.
CASSIDY RILEY: I remember seeing Vince Russo dress Chris Harris up in like a white shirt and like a Fabio style; I think he was trying to make him emulate Fabio. I remember he had Chris Harris smoking a cigarette in a promo; I just kind of sat back and scratched my head. It was so obvious because at that time Chris was such a health freak, not like he is now, obviously I mean he’s out of shape. That’s back when his body was probably in its prime. I remember seeing Chris smoking a cigarette and try and cut the promo and he just couldn’t do it because he was so uncomfortable.
SCOTT HUDSON: I didn’t know that he was writing the show when he was writing it, if that makes sense. I mean I know that he was, let me back up and give a quick example. In WCW when he had the book and he was the writer and the guy, we would have production meetings where Vince would go over chapter in verse everything that was going on the PPVs and Nitro down to the scripted promos and everything. You knew Vince was in charge, if you had a problem you went to Vince with it. But in TNA I never heard that once, it was always Jeff going over the booking sheets. I know Jeff didn’t write them all, and I know that for a fact.
RUDY CHARLES: This is before he was saved and I think that [the storylines] were kind of reflective. In a lot of ways the Vince Russo of 2002 and 2003 was not a very happy man. He was kind of bitter and angry at the world, I think that did come across on his on screen character, and was kind of was true to his real personality at the time.
Vince Russo debuted on screen in TNA in late 2002 when he assisted Jeff Jarrett in defeating Ron Killings to win the NWA World Title. Russo was in disguise as Mr. Wrestling III and unmasked himself to reveal his true identity which caused announcer Mike Tenay to shriek, “Holy shit, it’s Vince Russo!” Russo proceeded to do many worked shoot type storylines like he had done in WCW. Storylines that were presented as real and had internet insider references. He did a worked shoot interview with Mike Tenay where he ridiculed Mike Tenay’s philosophy on wrestling, “If you were the writer of this show, we would have a two hour wrestling match that nobody would watch.” He also wrestled in a six man tag match where he had ring announcer Jeremy Borash acknowledge him as a former WCW World Champion, to the disgust of Mike Tenay. Russo also started up a stable called SEX, which stood for Sports Entertainment Xtreme. This led to many worked shoot promos that included Roddy Piper calling Russo the Osama Bin Laden of professional wrestling and blaming him for Owen Hart’s death.
On June 11, 2003 during the NWA World Title match between Jeff Jarrett, AJ Styles, and Raven, Russo interfered and aligned himself with AJ Styles by hitting Jeff Jarrett with a guitar, causing Styles to win the NWA World Title for the very first time. Russo then became Styles’ manager. Styles and Russo did many skits together including dressing up as horror characters Freddy and Jason.
RUDY CHARLES: It was definitely interesting because even the wrestlers behind the scenes didn’t know what was happening. I just remember one time being backstage and all of the sudden you hear Roddy Piper’s music, and going what the heck there’s Roddy Piper. It wasn’t on the format or anything that I’d seen, so in a way it was good because there were surprises and you never knew what was going to happen. I remember one time one of the Moondogs showed up in a match and none of the guys in the match knew about it so it made it kind of awkward. It made it a little interesting for sure.
BILL BEHRENS: I thought elements of the SEX idea were good and the group that was put together that defined it, which was Daniels, Elix Skipper, and Low Ki, was very strong. I’m not a fan of Russo as on air character, so my comment would be I would have preferred he had not been an on air character. That is just my personal opinion, other people may like him as an on air character. I think he has much less skill at that than say Eric Bischoff does , Eric Bischoff has proven that he’s a compelling on air character.
DAVID YOUNG: [SEX] was fun, much like the nWo it got too big. It got to where everybody was a member of SEX. Once it got so big you couldn’t really do anything with it any more, it kind of lost heat.
SCOTT HUDSON: The tagline was supposed to be SEX presents TNA, that’s what they were going for. Sports Entertainment Xtreme presents Total Nonstop Action, but they wanted SEX presents TNA. It was supposed to be the ultimate heel anti normalcy, who could like SEX presents TNA, how could that be a babyface group. That was going to be the angle, and that was what they ended up doing.
In late 2003 Russo took a break from TNA after being written off following a match with Jeff Jarrett and went through a very dark period in his life. He contemplated writing a brutally honest tell all book about his experiences in wrestling and the people he thought had screwed him. He then found God, or as Russo will repeatedly tell you, God found him. Russo returned to TNA in early 2004 in an on screen role as a babyface for the first time, with his character reflecting his real life changes. Russo also had creative say in 2004, although he has often said his creative role had diminished by that point.
SCOTT HUDSON: I loved Vince even before he went through his conversion to Christianity. He never treated me with anything except respect and class. I just absolutely have nothing bad to say about him or Eric Bischoff; they both were great to me in WCW. He never treated me poorly at all, so when I went to TNA I hooked right back up with everybody that’s there, whom I know most of them already from WCW. Then Vince and I just fell back in it was like riding a bike, so there was never any heat with us. I think the world of him.
DAVID YOUNG: Russo had changed. He came back he had got religion. He was a different person, like I told you before he didn’t like southern wrestlers he didn’t like guys with southern accents. He was really big on New Yorkers and guys from the North, when he came back he was just totally different. He even sat me down and told me that he didn’t like me before until he saw what kind of person I actually was. We went to AJ brother’s funeral and he saw how me and AJ interacted at the funeral, and he told me that after seeing that he saw that I was a good person so it changed his opinion of me in general.
RUDY CHARLES: He [Russo] did seem a lot more at peace, he wasn’t swearing all the time. He just seemed like a more spiritual person, he did seem like a changed man. From every indication I have that’s the case. People have accused him of it being a gimmick but I don’t think that’s the case and I think he genuinely kind of went through some personal changes. It really was amazing to see the difference in him; he wasn’t this bitter sour person anymore. He was just a positive and happy person for the most part, and it was a nice change to see in him.
SCOTT HUDSON: I can’t say that I noticed a huge change in Vince after his conversion, but that’s only because he didn’t strike me as really that bad of a guy before. You can look at the angles that he booked, how could somebody put Judy Bagwell on a pole and that other stuff. As far as how he acted, and using that as the sole measuring device, he didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who when he became a Christian I was all the sudden going to go wow you don’t even seem like the same fella. I just never saw that side of him. It was obvious that he was certainly at more peace with himself. He wasn’t as conflicted over little rinky dink stuff; it didn’t make him mad it didn’t get him upset. But again, that’s only antidotal from me because I never saw it firsthand at all.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: He seemed a little different. You know Russo; he’s not a bad guy in person. He’s just one of these guys that I have no idea why he’s in the business. There’s really nothing to say about Russo because it’s not his fault. The question is why do people who own wrestling hire Russo? How do they think he knows anything?
CASSIDY RILEY: He was always just the same guy; I mean I didn’t know him as well as some. I guess it’d probably be unfair for me to say he changed in this way and that way because that would just be speculation. He was always polite to me, even before and after his rebirth with God.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Honestly I didn’t have any interaction with [Russo] at all when he was first there. It was pretty much like I’m the new guy, I introduced myself to everybody and whatever, but I just listened to my agent. When you’re new you’re just trying to get familiar, you’re going with the flow listening to what you’re told, just taking it all in. It’s a lot to take in when you go to a televised company, coming from indies and doing nothing going to a televised company. Honestly I didn’t know if Vince was the writer, an agent, the booker, I had no idea. I just knew he was a top guy in there. So like I said I didn’t have a lot of interaction with him when I first started.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: My first big promo that I cut on TNA he gave me a script of about 3 pages to read, and I’m more than positive that it’s the longest script anyone’s been given in the history of TNA. I sat there and read it and I went back to Russo, and said that’s cool and all but Jonny Fairplay wouldn’t say a lot of these things. His reply was: “in TNA Jonny Fairplay would.”
You can check out what Vince Russo is up to today on PyroandBallyhoo.com.
CHAPTER 4: JERRY JARRETT
Many often overlook Jerry Jarrett’s importance in the history of TNA. He co-founded the company with his son Jeff in 2002 and nearly went bankrupt trying to keep it alive, along with his construction company. Jarrett originally was the head booker, but later lost his position which led to his son Jeff taking over. Jarrett had many problems with Vince Russo and the Carters throughout his run in the company, which inevitably led to his departure in 2005.
BILL BEHRENS: Jerry was the original booker. Most of the early stuff either he gets credit or gets blamed for, both good and bad. Most of the stuff that people didn’t like they blamed Russo for, Russo was simply helping with the writing and eventually came on board as an on air character. But Jerry was the original booker, eventually Jeff sort of took over with Dutch and Vince writing.
SCOTT HUDSON: I know that Jerry was around a lot. Again I had never met him until I went to TNA. He was around a ton, he was accessible, he was backstage, it was almost like he was like the head coach. If you play football at high school at the college level the head coach sometimes to the players seems more just like the big rara guy while the assistants are the ones that come up with schemes and Xs and Os and game plans. I don’t know what Jerry’s real role was but he was always around and doing everything he could do to keep us pumped up. That’s good stuff, that’s really getting over, that was very entertaining, good job that was great. But again I was only there one night a week; I don’t know what happened Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
BILL BEHRENS: At the beginning the basic problem with Jerry and Vince Russo was very simple. Jerry doesn’t trust Vince Russo and doesn’t like him. He told Jeff that he was a cancer and shouldn’t be around. Jeff and Vince had a much better relationship than Jerry and Vince did. But now you go to modern [Spring 2010] TNA and Jeff is out of the creative, Vince is in the creative [as of March 2012 now he is out too], Jerry Jarrett is not in the company, and Jerry and his son Jeff don’t communicate.
SCOTT HUDSON: Whatever problems they had, one of two things, it didn’t exist while I was there, or if it existed they hid it incredibly well because I never saw anything about that. They were both there while I was there obviously, but I never heard the first crossed word between them. I never heard the first Vince grabbing me and pulling me aside and saying hey look don’t tell anybody this. I mean nothing, nothing like that at all while I was there. So if it was going on, if there was heat there, it was kept incredibly silent or it just didn’t exist. One of those two.
CASSIDY RILEY: I really never saw [tension between Jerry Jarrett and Vince Russo] personally. I read Jerry’s journal, and I was always very close to Jerry, if there was ever anything in question or I needed to know something as far as what I was doing he was one of the guys that I would try to go to for answers because for whatever reason he seemed to take a liking to me early on. Likewise, I thought he hung to me because I knew his past and what he had done in the wrestling business. So I always was just honored that he could take time and sit down and talk to me. He had such a great mind for the wrestling business, that he could convey to people the point that he’s trying to get across and it’s so much easier to work like that than just [somebody] handing you a script and saying memorize it and this is what you are going to be. I never saw any animosity between Jerry and Vince personally, I think everybody was professional and tried to keep it away from the boys as much as possible.
RUDY CHARLES: I don’t remember anything specifically happening. I remember being at the office and one day Jerry wasn’t coming into the office anymore. I wasn’t really sure what happened, I was still pretty low on the totem pole so I didn’t want to ask anybody and get heat or anything. Just one day he wasn’t there, and you kind of hear rumblings. Basically I guess something to do with Vince, Jeff, and Jerry having a falling out. That was in 2003.
RUDY CHARLES: In 2004 when we started going down to Orlando Jerry was still there because he would go down to Orlando with us some.
PETEY WILLIAMS: It seemed like as I started he [Jerry] was having less involvement, that’s what it seemed like. Once again Vince and Jerry were in the same boat, I didn’t have a bunch of interaction with them [in 2004]. Jerry still had a lot of pull he was talking to guys about contracts and coming up with some ideas for shows and stuff like that. He was behind the headset in the Gorilla position and stuff. He ate lunch with us too and he loved joking around with us, so he was a pretty cool down to earth guy. But yeah like I said he left around the same time as Vince, maybe a little bit later.
SONJAY DUTT: [Jerry] was real good, a real funny guy real personable. He definitely was a big help in whatever I was doing, he always made it a point to give his opinion on things and tweak things here and there. He was a smart guy man; I remember he was even in the Orlando days, he’d eat catering with us and he’d bullshit. Man I don’t know what happened between him and Jeff but that’s family matters I guess.
CASSIDY RILEY: From what I’m told it was just kind of like Jerry had a vision and certain people tried to go in different directions than what he wanted to do. But it’s impossible for me to see how you can argue with a guy like that; he’s had such a track record of being so successful in this business. If it was me, and Jerry wanted to take the leads and take the reins and run with it, by all means I would be the first guy to pass it to him and say please let’s see what you can do, and hopefully he can bring this thing out. I really don’t know, I think it was more just kind of everything he wanted to do they were wanting to go in a different direction. He was kind of outnumbered and I think he just kind of had enough of it and by the end of the day he just decided to walk away because he didn’t want to be associated with something that he thought was destined for failure, and I can’t blame him.
SCOTT HUDSON: Jerry and I sat together at my last Orlando trip and had breakfast on the morning of the PPV on that Sunday. He was the same as he always was, just a great guy. Usually we would swap stories because not many of the younger guys would remember the territory days and I do, so we swapped stories about Dutch Mantell, Jerry Lawler, Andy Kaufman, Austin Idol, and Jackie Fargo and that sort of stuff.
DAVID YOUNG: Always [tension] between Jerry and Vince Russo. Jerry never liked Vince. It’s hard to say between Jeff and Jerry, because Jerry would always back anything Jeff said. I will say that, when Jerry was there Jeff was number one.
BILL BEHRENS: Jerry was very supportive of his son all the way through there and similarly Jeff was, in fact Jerry had a number of heart related health scares while we were in Nashville at the Fairgrounds. He literally had, I believe a heart attack, if it wasn’t one it was damn close to one because we had to rush him to the hospital and we all just told Jeff go with your Dad to the hospital. They were very close and maintained that until Jerry wanted to get out and when Jeff didn’t want to get out with him that’s when Jerry wrote him out of his life basically.
DAVID YOUNG: Honestly I don’t know why Jerry left. I know it had something to do with him taking [Koslov] to the WWE. It had something to do with him going to Johnny Ace and saying some stuff about TNA as far as I know, that was the rumor so you couldn’t actually quote me on that for a fact.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I remember [Jerry] went over there.
JERRY JARRETT: The TNA situation is painful to me on several levels. It was in great part responsible for a personal loss. It was painful on a business level. I chose to walk away from the business when I realized I was fighting a battle I could not win. I don’t wish to return even in conversation.
CHAPTER 5: JEFF JARRETT
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Jeff Jarrett was the man in TNA during their early years. Jarrett was the co-founder of TNA and part of the creative team in 2002. Jarrett is widely regarded as a talented wrestler and generally a nice guy, but he received some criticism for pushing himself too hard as the top star in TNA for several years. Jarrett was initially a top heel in the company but was not part of the world title picture. His character felt like he was getting “screwed” by management, there was even a racist themed segment where Jeff Jarrett accused NWA official Ricky Steamboat as picking Ron “The Truth” Killings as the number one contender for the World Title because they were both minorities. Jarrett eventually turned face and won the NWA World Title from Killings in late 2002 and from that point forward he pushed himself as the top guy in the company.
In 2003 he replaced his father as head booker and gained complete creative control of TNA. While Dixie Carter ran the business aspect of the company, Jeff was unquestionably in charge of the wrestling aspect. While Jarrett would drop his title to AJ Styles and others on a few occasions over the next few years, Jarrett remained the focus of the TNA product during their formative years. Jarrett’s title matches became infamous for never having clean finishes, which led to Mike Tenay shouting “Damn you Jarrett!” almost as many times as Don West screamed, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
DAVID YOUNG: I thought Jeff pushed Jeff way too much. I felt there were a lot of guys that he should have stepped aside [for], like Chris Harris and people like that. There were some young guys, that’s the problem with a lot of the guys there nobody wants to step aside and give the young guys a chance.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Jeff Jarrett, decent guy. But there was a time in TNA when it had nothing to do with who is going to draw money; it had to do with who is my friend. So all of the sudden they would say let’s do this idea, and then they’d say oh wait a minute, Road Dogg got released from the WWE he’s my friend let’s bring him in. So they’ll bring him in with no rhyme no reason, then oh someone else got laid off from Vince he’s my friend let’s bring him in. They didn’t know the psychology of how to build things, and it was kind of like who is my friend instead of what’s best for the business.
DAVID YOUNG: Jeff never was a big fan of me at all, his Dad loved me, but from day one Jeff never cared much for me.
RUDY CHARLES: I think Jeff did deserve [his spot]. Throughout history people criticize bookers for pushing themselves and sometime that is the case where they maybe do push themselves too hard, but at the same time a booker has to be able to rely on talent. You know as a booker if you’re one of the talent that you’re going to be there any week. Jeff was one of those few guys in those early days who had experience on the national level that had been in WWE and WCW. People forget it was about a year into TNA until he won the title, he didn’t push himself down the throat, people don’t give him a fair shake because he could have went out and make himself a champion off that very first show, but he didn’t he made a story out of it. I think he is unfairly knocked on that sometimes.
CASSIDY RILEY: Who else was going to carry it? There were points where Jeff had to be the top guy, and you had to put the AJ Styles and those kind of guys up against him like Truth [Ron Killings] to help elevate him. So you had to have somebody in that spot and it made sense really to have Jeff because he had name notoriety than anybody else. You had guys like Buff Bagwell who were coming in and out, but Jeff was the mainstay. With it being his company with him on top, I don’t blame him; I would have probably done the same thing if I was in his shoes because that’s the only way to insure that you’re not going to have some guy come in and put your title on him and make him your top guy and then Vince McMahon comes in and steals him out from under you and then you’re having to totally rebuild. Jeff knew he wasn’t going anywhere, he knew his past with Vince McMahon, so it only made sense to me.
SONJAY DUTT: He was the top guy but if it wasn’t him who would it really have been? As much flack as he gets for being in that position at the time there was nobody else that things could be built around. It’s not like he did a bad job with his role either, I mean we weren’t doing a million buys every week or anything like that. He elevated a few guys too some of the young guys like I remember he did a run with Chris Harris that helped him a lot and whoever else for the month they were trying to build around the Raven thing did great. Locally the stuff was good; in Nashville as in drawing a crowd and what not and trying to help get the name out which is ultimately what the plan was at the time because nobody knew we even existed.
DAVID YOUNG: The whole time I was there Jeff was the most powerful guy in the company. Jeff was the general manager pretty much, he was like Dixie’s left arm. You didn’t go to Dixie, you always went to Jeff. Or you didn’t go to Jeff to be honest with you because Jeff didn’t want to hear it, you went to Terry Taylor.
CODY DEANER: I formed a friendship with Jeff Jarrett. He was very approachable, especially being a guy that was not just a creative guy, he had so many other positions in the company, he was a busy guy.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Jeff’s kind of caught in the middle of the character kind of thing; Jeff is a great worker in the ring. Unfortunately in terms of drawing money, he’s not a top guy. He’s not a Hogan, he’s not a Goldberg, he’s not a Rock, he’s not an Austin, but he’s a great hand. The other thing you had was a whole bunch of new talent coming in, even though they were new talent and they could do all kinds of great bumps, they really weren’t good workers, nobody was over and you had to get them over. Jeff, who maybe shouldn’t have got pushed in the terms of business, but in the reality of the kind of talent they had at the time, they didn’t have much of a choice. Even though Jeff really wasn’t like a big name over guy they knew he could do a hell of a job with it. He could depend on himself and all that stuff. It was like the best you could do at the time while you were trying to develop new talent. Everybody else they brought in at the beginning was guys who were washed up with the WWE, including Jeff.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Some people may say other things but I think [Jarrett being pushed] was a good move, because if you really look at our roster in 04 or 05, Jeff Jarrett was like a household name. He had been in the WWE forever, so if you were to look at our roster on paper just reading off the names and gave it to an average fan, they could probably only pick out a handful of names and Jeff Jarrett was one of them. That’s what they were banking on; I mean smart marks are going to watch TNA, because it’s wrestling. There [are] only so many of them; we wanted millions of viewers rather than hundreds of thousands. I think it was a smart move, Jeff honestly knew how to get heat, he played a really good heel. People in the crowd legitimately hated him; they wanted to see him lose [the title]. What’s good about that is that in the early stages of TNA you see a lot of guys come into a couple of months then leave, they were really short term deals and stuff like that. Once they get in there they demand more money and it’s like, we don’t have that kind of money we have to work with what we’ve got. We knew Jeff since he had the investment in his own company, he’s going to be there to stay there long term. So it was safe putting it on him as well.
SCOTT HUDSON: Whether or not he deserved it, who can say. He certainly did his time and certainly wasn’t a bust, he was a talented guy a good looking guy a good promo guy, he could carry matches and headline a show. I don’t remember anybody resenting him having it, because the idea at the beginning was to make the title mean something. You’ll notice that when Jeff was the champion they kept building guys up for him, and he would never lose the title. I don’t know the exact number but he held that title for a ton at the very beginning. He never even did like a weeklong drop; it was to make the title mean something again. I think the talent appreciated that and I only say that because I don’t know that they didn’t appreciate him.
DAVID YOUNG: Every time somebody new would win the title, automatically we all assumed that it was just somebody new for Jeff to beat. So Jeff would just build a heel up just to make himself look better when he would beat them.
RUDY CHARLES: People for the most part kept [criticism of Jarrett] to themselves. I guess if they had expressed it too verbally and it got back to Jeff they might not have been working there anymore.
DAVID YOUNG: We didn’t care who had the belt as long as Jeff didn’t have it anymore to be honest with you. We just got to where we were just like why is Jeff holding the belt for the 6th or 7th time?
BILL BEHRENS: I actually am one of the people that will always defend the decision Jeff made and his Dad made. You have to remember there are really two things going on, there is a PPV product that nobody’s watching, I don’t care who you book in there you could book the second coming of Jesus Christ and nobody would have watched. Sting at the Anniversary show popped the only time it got to 20,000 buys or more, the rest of the time it was 5,000 to 7,000 buys. It was failing and losing money, a dismal business plan, it is remarkable that the company stayed in business but bless its heart it did. Jeff had to in some way, keep a spotlight on himself because he was also not just the face but also the voice of the company when it came to trying to negotiate various deals. Who could he trust more than somebody who is a partner in the company when it comes to talking first to Fox Sports and inevitably SpikeTV. That was Jeff; AJ Styles was obviously the real face of the company in terms of the fan response. You can point at Sting; you can point at Raven, all the other people that were popular other places before they got there. But AJ was every single year Mr. TNA, for the early years of the company. But he wasn’t the guy you were going to take up to the meeting in New York, and Jeff was. Jeff had to keep the spotlight on him because then he was more impressive and more influential in those meetings that he was going to. Rather than just being another wrestler, he was the top wrestler. It was essential in terms of positioning for Jeff to maintain that spot because of the business side of it. Jeff didn’t do all of the business things well, that one he did very well I thought. I think without Jeff’s ability to be a spokesman for the company outside of the television product, he did well. Where Jeff had difficulties, almost to date but he’s gotten much better at it because of some tough lessons, but the hard part is being a boss and being one of the boys. That was the area where Jeff had the greatest challenge; it was in the management side with the wrestlers. It’s real hard when you’re buddies with a whole bunch of the guys and you want to hang out with them after the show, but also be their boss.
AUSTIN CREED: He was cool he was always really nice to me. There was one time that we had some house shows in Georgia, my parents came to the show and I brought them to the back to meet everybody. They met Jeff and I remember my Mom saying you should be really happy. I was like why? She’s like because you have one of the nicest bosses that I’ve ever met. He was always a really cool guy, he was always really nice. I never had any problems or issues with him.
DAVID YOUNG: One time I came to TV and me and Elix Skipper were going under, I went to Simon Diamond and said so what are we doing. He was the agent on the match, and he pulled me to the side and he said go get Elix. So I got Elix and Simon pulled us over and he said okay, you’re both going to get pinned same time Shark Boy’s finish. I said no we’re not, you can tell Jeff that I’ll take the pin but he’s not pinning us both. I said I love Dean (Shark Boy) and I’ll put Dean over every day, but he’s not pinning us both he weighs 170 pounds and it’s ridiculous to even think he could beat us both at the same time. Simon said that he was told to tell me specifically that if I didn’t like my new finishes to tell Elix to never ask Jeff for a raise again, and that was straight from Scott D’amore.
CODY DEANER: I actually came up with the idea for ODB to train me with some redneck training videos, and I pitched it to Jeff. He liked it, and he said write down everything you need for the vignettes and e-mail them to me. So I did, I wrote it all down I wrote down kind of the gist of the idea and all of the materials I’d need like a four wheeler, kegs, paint cans, a workout bench, kind of the atmosphere of the scenario, and a set location. Within like two or three days he had it all set up and had everything and it was all a go. He flew me down to Nashville and we shot it, that was awesome to have someone be so open to my ideas and actually use specifically the exact thing I’m pitching. That was very rewarding; Jeff was really great to deal with.
MARCUS CYGY: I remember my first time down there, I was taking a few pictures with some of the guys, there was one point where Jeff Jarrett actually got mad at me and said you can’t take pictures backstage. He even yelled to put the camera down. I was a bit turned off about that because I always had a lot of respect for him, I still do. I can understand he was under a lot of stress.
BILL BEHRENS: Jeff was clearly in charge of as much as he could be, at the very beginning very much in charge. The stories of Jeff and his late wife [Jill] literally building sets and painting the building are 100% true.
MARCUS CYGY: He was just pushing himself too much in front of everyone. There was too much Jeff Jarrett.
Jeff Jarrett NWA World Title Reigns:
November 20, 2002- June 11, 2003
October 22, 2003- April 21, 2004
June 2, 2004- May 15, 2005
September 15, 2005- October 23, 2005
November 3, 2005- February 12, 2006
June 18, 2006- October 22, 2006
CHAPTER 6: THE X-DIVISION & TAG TEAMS
Outside of Jeff Jarrett’s title reigns, TNA’s early days were defined by the X-Division and Tag Team Division. The X-Division grew even more as the months went by and TNA began to find their footing creatively.
BILL BEHRENS: The X-Division was to the best of my knowledge Jerry’s idea; it just was a good idea. It was a way to embrace the juniors and smaller athletes. During the early days the guys who were standing out Jerry Jarrett saw quickly were guys like AJ Styles, The Amazing Red, Low Ki, Christopher Daniels, Kazarian, and Jerry Lynn of course who became the Godfather.
SONJAY DUTT: It was great, I mean that’s the reason we all got jobs. Me and [Chris] Sabin and all of us that’s the only reason we got jobs was because of that. I was doing indies and the styles that I was doing on the indies suited what they were doing with the X-Division that’s why I was brought in, that’s why we all got jobs. At the time of course like you said it was much more prominently displayed than it was in the later years. At the time it was awesome man, we didn’t have many storylines going on but we went out there every week for 10 minutes or 12 minutes and had kick ass wrestling matches.
DAVID YOUNG: I thought [the X-Division] started out to be really big. I loved the X-Division when we first started it and I think it’s crap now.
SCOTT HUDSON: The X-Division is what separated TNA from the WWE and especially from WCW, because it wasn’t like a cruiserweight division, actually we were told that good grief over and over again, this isn’t a cruiserweight division. That’s what they wanted us to get over, that it wasn’t cruiserweights. It was just a division where it was something between cruiserweights and ECW, and that was how they wanted us to put it over, like it was something we’d never seen before, and it was.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: When the X-Division first came out I liked the X-Division a lot. It had a good name and it gave the smaller guys a reason for being there and a purpose to become more important. Wrestling for years was always a big man business, and it still is basically in terms of drawing money. But the smaller guys because they could do a lot of phenomenal stuff people liked it, it was great television. So the X-Division when it first started, I liked it I thought it was good. It had a bunch of guys from AJ Styles to Christopher Daniels and some other ones who did some great shit, it was real exciting.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Daniels, we call him the patriarch because in his little group he takes cares of Joe, AJ, and Frankie [Kazarian]. He makes all the reservations all that stuff he’s the leader. It’s the same thing with the X-Division I used to take care of the travel and all that kind of stuff.
AUSTIN CREED: [Daniels] is the leader. He is the one who makes sure everything is pumping on all cylinders making sure that everybody is okay. He’s like the father figure for everybody back there, he’s the guy who has been in the business for awhile and knows exactly what he’s doing knows exactly how to do things. He is one of the veterans that you’re not intimidated by and you can easily go talk to.
DAVID YOUNG: Amazing Red stuck out more than anybody in that thing.
BILL BEHRENS: It was obvious from the beginning that AJ Styles was exceptional and different. He has just unique body control and unique skills when it comes to the art of professional wrestling and the storytelling. The athleticism we knew was exceptional but he’s like a sponge when it comes to the stuff that really matters and the spots don’t really matter in wrestling what matters is your ability to get the audience emotionally invested and to tell a story. Allen has learned remarkably well how to do that, his hardest time at the beginning and his first sort of brush with fame was that he was probably the first guy, at least from legend, that turned down WWE to take the deal with TNA.
RUDY CHARLES: [AJ Styles] really is phenomenal not only in the ring but outside he’s a great person man. Real down to earth, when it comes to video games he’ll get a little crazy. I may be revealing a secret but I’m not a very good video game person but I did beat him at Madden 08 or something like 21-14 and he was very upset with that. Come to think of it it wasn’t long after that I got fired maybe it had something to do with that.
AJ Styles, Jerry Lynn, Christopher Daniels, and Low Ki initially were the backbone of the X-Division. AJ Styles eventually left the division and beat Jeff Jarrett to win the NWA World Title with the help of Vince Russo, turning him heel. With AJ gone new young wrestlers like Chris Sabin, Amazing Red, Frankie Kazarian, Sonjay Dutt, and Michael Shane stepped up and began to shine in the X-Division. The first ever Ultimate X match took place in August 2003 with Kazarian, Shane, and Sabin battling it out for the title. The X-Division didn’t solely carry TNA though; TNA’s tag division during the Nashville era was the best tag team division in pro wrestling at the time. The tag team division thrived with teams like America’s Most Wanted, Triple X, 3 Live Kru, The New Church, The New York Connection, The Naturals, and later Team Canada at the forefront.
BILL BEHRENS: America’s Most Wanted and Triple X became defined by those two teams literally; everybody else was just sort of hanging around. That feud in various forms carried over to Orlando, that feud became the lifeblood for quite a period of time. For the company it was just very very good, it just established the tag division.
SCOTT HUDSON: At the time I would have put Harris and Storm [America’s Most Wanted], as the best tag team in the business. I don’t think that’s overstating it too much, I think at worst they’re in the mix, at best they’re it. Whatever else was underneath them, whether it be the 3 Live Kru guys or whoever else they were putting together, the tag division was good.
BILL BEHRENS: America’s Most Wanted was a great tag team, bless his heart if Chris Harris had just listened a teeny bit more to some of the advice he was being given about how to change up his work style, who knows that team never may have been broken up.
The feud between America’s Most Wanted and Triple X was arguably the best tag team feud in pro wrestling in the last decade. Triple X initially was Christopher Daniels, Low Ki, and “Primetime” Elix Skipper but Ki eventually left which made it Skipper and Daniels. The most memorable matches the teams had were a cage match in 2003 and their feud later culminated at Turning Point 2004 when they faced each other in a match where the losing team had to break up, Triple X ended up losing. The match is famous for the spot where Elix Skipper walked on the top of the cage to deliver a hurricaranna.
While the tag division and X-Division shined during TNA’s early Nashville days, a heavyweight by the name of Chris Parks finally got his break as “The Monster” Abyss. Parks had worked on the indies and in TNA under various gimmicks but once he became put on the mask and became Abyss he became one of TNA’s top hardcore wrestlers.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I say that [Abyss] is one of the best big men in wrestling definitely.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Chris is a nice guy and I thought as a talent I think the guy is great, I mean for a big guy. I was feeling sorry for the guy because he wound up doing such brutal shit with the thumbtacks I mean he would come in the back room and need stitches and he’s got thumbtacks sticking out of him and gashes in his arm from glass. The stuff he was doing was brutal, I was getting upset going stop it stop it already I mean my God. But I think the guy is great and personally he’s a great guy. I just did a movie a couple of months ago with him and he’s great.
CASSIDY RILEY: Hell of a worker for a big guy and I’ve taken the black hole slam probably 1,000 times and put him over probably more times than anybody else on TV. As a person he’s a great guy he’s funny as hell. He’s unique, that’s probably the best word for him, Chris is unique.
RUDY CHARLES: He is one of the best big men in the business; he can be insecure at times. But he is great man and so much fun to get to work with him, took a few black hole slams from him took a few chair shots. He is one of my good friends in the business.
DAVID YOUNG: One of the funniest guys in the locker room, he makes me laugh. Abyss to me, you ever seen the movie What About Bob? That’s Abyss. He honestly stands there and all day long, I don’t care if I’ve seen him five minutes ago or if I see him ten years from now I’ll walk up he’ll grab me he’ll hug me he’ll look at me, he’ll go bro are you mad at me? I’ll go like no. Constantly needs to be reassured that nobody is mad at him and that he doesn’t have heat with anybody. It’s usually for no reason. The guys will mess with him too, especially with the office people like Bob Ryder will come walking by and be like oh they talked about you in the production meeting today I’m glad I’m not you.
AUSTIN CREED: [Abyss is] very nice. You think he’s going to be this terrifying guy but he’s got his masters I think he got his Masters in like business, something to do with business. [He is] very smart and very educated. When you see him in the ring like with the mask and screaming and crushing people and bleeding all over the place you don’t think like this guy is really educated, but in reality he is one of the most educated guys in the locker room.
RUDY CHARLES: You remember the whole paranoid Eric Young character? That’s pretty much Abyss. They took Abyss’ kind of true to life persona and gave it to Eric Young, it was kind of funny. The Prince Justice Brotherhood that was Abyss’ former name on the independents was Prince Justice. Those guys they all love Abyss he’s great, it’s a way to kind of rib him a little bit but he’s awesome.
Everybody in TNA, from the X-Division to the tag teams to even the announcers and referees, wanted the company to succeed during the early days, which led to a very friendly backstage environment.
SCOTT HUDSON: The vibe was, I’ll put it this way I’ve worked in every major wrestling group ever except for the AWA and TNA is the one I consider most like home. It wasn’t like going to work it was like going to, if I say frat party that has a negative connotation in many ways, but it was like going to a frat party every time because it was just so much fun. There was no bullshit, there was no heat, there was no somebody’s taking my spot, somebody’s holding me back, I don’t like somebody, I won’t work with somebody because of that finish, there was none of that. It was like the biggest indy of all time, and I guess it was in many ways.
RUDY CHARLES: It was kind of a family vibe in Nashville, it was still pretty new and the guys knew they were part of something special and they wanted to see it succeed because if it didn’t, there’s nothing else out there that’s on the national level other than of WWE. There was an energy, kind of the little engine that could.
SONJAY DUTT: There was no room in that building. We literally were changing upstairs on the very top of the bleachers with no light no nothing. Some of the guys would change literally on the staircase and there was a little room where Jeff and whoever the top guy was at the time would hang out.
DAVID YOUNG: The Nashville shows started out really cool because Nashville fans, it was still kind of old school. Once TNA came in there we kind of desensitized them, we kind of made them go from headlock, takeovers, and arm bars to you had to do like a springboard into a triple flip and had to keep topping yourself every week just to keep the people excited. I think that was part of the problem in Orlando too, they just got to where you just had to keep upping yourself until sooner or later somebody has to take a flesh wound with a gun just to get heat.
SCOTT HUDSON: TNA was, and this is not to knock ECW or Philly or Paul E. who I adore and all those guys and Joey Styles especially, but it was like ECW in that it was like well you can hate on these guys all you want but they’re our guys. That was the way the fans in the Nashville Fairgrounds treated the promotion and the guys, that’s why if you go back and watch those weekly PPV’s they were popping for stuff that should never in a million years should have gotten the least bit of a pop and the people would pop for it because it was like, this sucks but god these are our guys sucking so we’re going to pop, and that helped.
CHAPTER 7: THE HOGAN DEBACLE
Rate Hulk Hogan’s Work On Everater
On October 13, 2003, after Hulk Hogan wrestled a match in Japan against Masahiro Chono, after the match Hogan held a press conference and claimed he wanted to win the NWA World Title. Jeff Jarrett then immediately showed up and hit Hogan with a guitar. It was all set; Hulk Hogan was headed to TNA. TNA confirmed that they would be holding their first three hour PPV Bound For Glory on November 30, 2003. The show was set to be headlined by Hulk Hogan vs. Jeff Jarrett. Vince Russo was sent home temporarily due to his past differences with Hogan.
SCOTT HUDSON: I thought he was coming in, but I wasn’t disappointed or anything like that [when it fell through]. I had worked with him for 6 years [in WCW], it wasn’t like I was going to mark out for Hulk Hogan coming in because I had worked with him so long, I had worked with him before. I thought for the company it was a great coup.
RUDY CHARLES: We thought [Hogan was coming in]. Jeff had gone to Japan to film that vignette with Hulk and people thought he was coming in, it was an exciting time. We thought we were taking the next step, I think everybody was kind of disappointed when that did not happen. I thought he was coming in, maybe I’m an idiot but I don’t know I thought he was.
SCOTT HUDSON: No one was apprehensive, everyone treated it like this is an opportunity for us as a company, we can’t screw this up. We’ve got to make sure our abs are a little bit more defined, our tans are a little bit more even, our work is ten times better than it ever has been you know all that. It was like this an opportunity for us and the company and we’ve really got to turn it up.
BILL BEHRENS: I don’t think any of us really thought it was going to go anywhere. It was just one of those things that, okay we’ve got Hogan on camera and we’re going to run it in the open and you’re going to see Jeff hit him with that guitar all the time simply because it shows that we got this guy. There was a lot of that, getting Sting in for a couple of spots because he owed Jerry Jarrett for his start. Getting the names people know and hopefully it draws attention to the product and none of it worked.
Hogan then started to claim he was injured after agreeing to come in, which caused TNA to postpone Bound For Glory and wait on Hogan. They had Jimmy Hart come to the weekly PPV’s and bring out challengers to face Jarrett to continue the build up. Sting even came back for a few matches with Jarrett to follow up his appearance at TNA’s 1-Year Anniversary Show. Hogan never ended up coming (well, not until 2010), and by 2005 he was back in the WWE.
RUDY CHARLES: Somebody said he hurt his knee and they were going to have to postpone it, the postponement turned into a cancellation. I don’t know if that’s true or not but what I heard was that he hurt his knee.
BILL BEHRENS: I think it was a combo package, he did need some surgery. I think he realized TNA wasn’t big enough yet for him to get anything out of it.
SCOTT HUDSON: I’ll tell you straight up, there were people that said yeah I’ll believe this when he shows up in Nashville. I went are you kidding me? Would he cut this angle with Jeff in Japan? Would he do these promos that he’s done for us? Would he blade himself? Would he do all this stuff if he wasn’t coming? And it was, I’ll believe it when he’s standing right here where you are. Sure enough he never came.
SONJAY DUTT: They announced the damn thing. They announced the whole thing you know and everybody thought it was happening, especially me at the time I think I was 19 or 20 years old going to college, [I was like] hey Wednesday nights I’ll be hanging out with Hulk Hogan or something. I thought it was going to happen everybody thought it would, I mean it was announced what else would you expect? Then he backed out I think that kind of killed morale more with the office than it did with the boys.
DAVID YOUNG: We saw Hogan one time, he actually came to the back and that was it, and we never saw him again. Honestly, none of the guys really thought anything about it I think that was another one of those deals where it was more of an office thing. When I was there we were in the dark about a lot things, most of the time we didn’t know anything was going to happen until it actually happen.
BILL BEHRENS: Hogan still saw the greatest opportunity being WWE and certainly in terms of what happened historically that was right. I just don’t think the timing was there and certainly the money wasn’t.
SCOTT HUDSON: I’ll put it this way, it’s wrestling. There comes a point where you don’t ever assume anything is going to happen until it happens. Even in the days of contracts and downside guarantees and all this other stuff they come up with; you never assume anything is going to happen until it happens.
Once it was clear Hogan wasn’t coming, Jeff Jarrett’s on screen persona for years kayfabed the incident and used it for heat by saying, “Hulk Hogan wanted to come to TNA, well I brought TNA to Hogan.” TNA did have brief talks about doing a 3 hour PPV in early 2004 without Hogan but with big names like Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, but they ended up shelving that idea until late 2004. Despite all of these letdowns TNA did take one major step in spring 2004, they finally secured a television deal.
CHAPTER 8: TNA SIGN TV DEAL WITH FOX SPORTS NET
In May 2004 TNA finally secured a television deal after nearly two years of being in business. They signed a 52 week deal with Fox Sports Net to air their new show TNA Impact in most markets on Friday afternoons at 3PM. Replays in certain markets were later added at 4PM and 2AM. TNA took over Soundstage 21 at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida and turned it into the Impact Zone. They also switched to the six sided ring, which became a focal point of TNA’s marketing strategy for many years. On June 4, 2004 Impact debuted on Fox Sports Net. It was the first non-WWE nationally televised wrestling show since the final WCW Monday Nitro on March 27, 2001. During Impact’s time on Fox Sports Net they had a “Fox Box” on the top of the screen which showed the names of the wrestlers in the match and also the time limit. A championship committee member (usually Dusty Rhodes or Larry Zbyszco) would decide the winner in the case of a draw. Impact was very wrestling driven and in its early days featured a mixture of squashes and some matches with top talent.
BILL BEHRENS: The need for a television outlet became essential, other than what Xplosion was in which were independent stations and various cable entities like Sunshine in Florida and various other things I had helped with, but none of those were going to be big enough or establish the company large enough for it to grow where it needed to, where eventually somebody was willing to pay. These were all people willing to take it on a barter basis or for a very low fee, but you can’t make money paying money out. No advertisers were buying in, so they had to find somebody who was willing to pay for the product. Finally they did in Fox Sports, be it not for a lot of money. At least it began adding positive revenue towards the money they were spending.
RUDY CHARLES: Getting on a TV station where everybody could see us, as it was unless you bought the PPV you couldn’t see the product. So getting on Fox Sports I thought was a really good move in the right direction. They decided to not do the weekly PPVs anymore, if it were up to me, it wasn’t, but if it were up to me I would have liked to have seen us go maybe a few more months doing the Fox Sports Net on Fridays, and then have the Wednesday PPVs to see if that could help build up the numbers. They wanted to try the monthly PPV format and that’s fine I think it’s worked pretty well for them.
SONJAY DUTT: It was cool because it was different and it was a TV deal. I think everybody kind of figured out that the Wednesday thing wasn’t going to work, nobody was buying the show. The business model in itself was kind of flawed it didn’t work and everybody knew that it didn’t work and to succeed in this country they needed television and hey we thought that was the ticket for us. Granted at the time it wasn’t even a national spot, it was all regional channels and half the time it would get preempted because of some baseball game or it would be on at 2AM but hey man, at the time that carrot was dangling in front of us hey all we need is TV and hey we’ve got TV and now the sky’s the limit. It was definitely a step forward.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I thought it was great, originally I wasn’t supposed to be part of any of that deal down at Universal Studios in Florida. We were just finishing up the World X Cup, and that was supposed to be my last thing. They just wanted to sign Bobby Roode to a contract that’s it. Then we had a week off, because we filmed in advance. So I’m just kind of sitting at home and I get a call and Scott D’amore is like alright, good news they want you to sign a contract with the company. I’m like oh, what changed their mind. He’s like they want Team Canada as the first match on the first Impact. He said they want Team Canada because you guys are a hot heel group, we need you guys. We were like alright. I said why do we have to sign contracts, he said because they want everyone who does the show to be under contract. I’m like okay cool, it was only like a one year deal.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I thought it was a good step. The thing about the wrestling business is it’s a television business. Without television, you don’t have jack squat. TNA, to do anything, they needed TV. The only reason WCW got big was because it was owned by Turner, it was owned by a television company. So when TNA got TV, I was happy for them because I knew it was another step in the right direction. But it was weird back then too because the power kept changing.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Everybody on the roster was excited for going down there because we were doing the weekly PPV on Wednesday and then we’d fly down to Orlando on Thursday to film for Thursday and then the show would air on Friday. The atmosphere alone, locker room morale was up we were all just like, all for one, we wanted to make TNA the best company it could be. We were all on the same page, we all dressed with each other in the locker room, it was just great. That was the funnest times I’ve ever had in TNA.
SCOTT HUDSON: That was the stepping stone for them moving on to bigger and better things. That was a huge deal, at the time it was Fox Sports Net’s first foray into pro wrestling. They took a chance, it paid off for them. TNA obviously took a chance and it paid off for them. It was mutually beneficial for both groups, I don’t think anybody regrets a second of it.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Everybody was on the same page fighting for the same thing. We all wanted to make names for ourselves. We all wanted to bring the company to the highest level it could get. We wanted TV, monthly PPVs; we were all fighting for the same thing. We were all working for less than what we ended up working for, but that’s the price you’ve got to pay to take an investment in the company. You’re trying to get the company off the ground, and we did.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: I win the award for greatest villain on [a Survivor Awards show]. I’m sitting in the front row, the host Jeff Probst goes Jonny Fairplay what are you doing here. I said I thought this was the sign up for [Survivor] All Stars 2. He goes oh you’re upset you weren’t on the first All Stars. I go why would I be upset I wasn’t on the first All Stars, I’m in TNA Wrestling you can catch them starting next Friday on Fox Sports Net at 3PM on Friday afternoons. At the time this was on CBS, to advertise a Fox show on CBS is unheard of. This is with 30 million viewers watching this thing plugging TNA plugging Fox Sports Net, this made it past the censors they were in shock that I would even say it. Dixie called me afterwards she’s like oh my god I said it that’s great unbelievable, I was not on that [debut] episode.
SCOTT HUDSON: [The six sided ring] was to keep the uniqueness of the company, something to separate it because what they were looking for was to [say] we’re not WWE lite, we’re a different group. We’re not to be compared to them. They did everything they could to even keep it from looking the same.
BILL BEHRENS: I walked the ropes on [the six sided ring] and just about broke my back. Jerrelle Clark actually got a stinger hitting the ropes. Because the ropes were so short they were really tight, so it took awhile to get used to. The idea was to be different; obviously something similar was in Mexico that’s where the idea came. It had minor problems in that the angles were different on the corners so the guys that were used to doing corner spots were having trouble getting their base. For example AJ Styles stopped doing the spiral tap almost immediately once the six sided ring came into play because he flipped too much. The ropes were tighter so the guys had to learn to work differently but once everyone got used to it nobody really cared. It wasn’t oh golly we wish we were back with the four sided ring, it didn’t become an issue. The only six sided ring that ever became an issue, was we had a little teeny ring that used to go on the road in small buildings. I never understood how small it was until I got into it at a signing in Atlanta, and I couldn’t even imagine how they did matches in the thing it was so small. That was the only six sided ring that everyone really hated.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I even talked to Bob Carter about this; me and Bob had some long talks about it. He asked me what did I think of the six sided ring when they first brought it in. When TNA first brought the six sided ring in I liked it. I liked it because to me, the ultimate fight and the octagon was becoming the hot thing. The six sided ring to me resembled more of like the octagon and the ultimate fight, and I thought TNA was going to go in a different direction than McMahon. Unfortunately, the six sided ring became nothing but like a luchador AAA copy where they could put four more guys in each match and everybody could do leaping spots. When it first started I kind of liked it because it gave TNA a look more like the upcoming hot thing which was the ultimate fight. But then the direction they went with all of the stupidity, it became like a lucha libre bump fest for no reason.
Impact’s early days focused heavily on the X-Division and also teams from the World X Cup, namely Team Canada and Team Mexico. An early Impact also featured an appearance by basketball player Dennis Rodman. Rodman was rumored to have refused to take a guitar shot from Jeff Jarrett; he wanted to hit Jarrett with the guitar instead. This creative disagreement led to Rodman literally doing nothing. He walked out with 3 Live Kru, and then hit on women who were at ringside. Also during Impact’s formative months a new segment with NASCAR announcer Jeff Hammond debuted called “The Six Points of Impact.” Hammond later wrestled in a tag match where he ended up pinning Frankie Kazarian.
TNA continued to do their weekly PPVs for the first three months of Impact. Impact was mainly used as a show to help hype up the weekly PPVs, but TNA eventually decided to leave Nashville and discontinue their weekly PPVs.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I thought it was a smart move actually. By the time we got to Nashville the crowd was kind of burnt out, I think the same thing has happened with the Orlando crowd. They get spoiled; honestly the fans get spoiled because they’re there every week they just sit on their hands after awhile they’re not reacting. I remember the difference between Nashville; we wrestled there one night, and then go down to Orlando. We could do anything in the ring and they’re going nuts because they just want to see wrestling in Orlando. Then back in Nashville it’s kind of like eh, we’ve seen this before. It’s hard on the wrestlers, for me I work harder when the fans are reacting. It makes me push a little bit harder.
SCOTT HUDSON: There was a good bit of resentment from the [Nashville] fans, because they embraced them as their own for the longest time and then to be stabbed in the back like they felt like they were. There was some resentment there, and to a degree I think it’s still there.
SONJAY DUTT: I thought it was great I hated [Nashville], I hated the city I hated the place it was the same fans that would come every week and we needed to change we needed to freshen things up and that was the ticket. I remember during the dying days in Nashville it was even worse because all of those ICP fans would come and for no good reason other than to see ICP and they would be rapping during our matches it was a cluster it was really bad towards the end.
DAVID YOUNG: I thought leaving Nashville was a good move. I thought going to Orlando was a good move. Even though now, I honestly think they need to get out of there because it honestly looks too much like WCW.
CASSIDY RILEY: It had changed for the better. They had moved to Orlando, we were in the soundstage; we had the deal with Fox Sports. The quality of the product seemed to be better. The production seemed to be better.
CHAPTER 9: SEX, DRUGS & MONEY
Here are a series of funny stories about TNA that do not fit into any other topical chapter or any specific time period of the company. Obviously all are just from the perspective of the talent, and may or may not be true!
JONNY FAIRPLAY: We went out one night; I can’t remember whose birthday it was. We went to a bar, and this girl came up to me and said like you’re Jonny Fairplay, this is in Nashville of course. I go yeah, she goes well don’t worry about me I fucked Kid Rock last week I’m used to fucking celebrities. I was like wow that’s frightening, so I’m like hey what’s your name. She’s like my name is Chardonnay, I’m like wow I think I met your Dad Merlot. She’s goes I don’t know what that means. Of course, me being the one with discerning tastes, I bring her back to Jeremy Borash’s apartment. I ask him if he has a condom, he gives me a lamb skin condom which I’d only seen in like 50’s movies. So where Jeremy Borash came across a lamb skin condom and where they can be purchased to this day, I have no clue. I can tell you it was used.
DAVID YOUNG: Never liked [Jeremy Borash] from day one. If Jeff ever came to a dead stop he’d go straight up his ass. Honestly I don’t [have any stories about Borash], we avoided him because we all thought he was a stooge.
PETEY WILLIAMS: [In Spring 2004] myself, Chris Sabin, Johnny Devine, Sabu, and Jack Evans were the only people who witnessed the fight [between CM Punk and Teddy Hart] with our eyeballs. What happened was we used to eat at this place called the White Trash Café, just a name, that’s where we used to have our catering at; it was right across the street from where we filmed. I didn’t know that they had beef with each other at all; I wasn’t hip to what was going on on the internet. Apparently they bad mouthed each other on the internet; I don’t know the whole story behind the back story. We’re eating and I saw Teddy and Jack walk in there and then me Sabin and Johnny Devine were walking away and they were like hey Punk is in the restaurant and Teddy just walked in, want to see what happens? I’m like what’s going on guys? They said you know [Punk and Hart] don’t like each other. We turned around and pretty much like Teddy and CM Punk walked out and it was kind of like, one of them says you’ve got a problem, he’s like you’ve got a problem? There was like one shove, I can’t remember who shoved whose shirt first. Then it was just a couple of quick punches, Teddy got the upper hand I think like Punk kind of tripped and Teddy kind of tripped him over or something so he was on his ass. Teddy was like punching him, and then Sabu jumped in, this all happened within 20 seconds. Sabu jumped in and kind of tore them apart and as Sabu is trying to tear them apart Teddy still has Punk’s hair and is trying to kick him in the face. Then they kind of both went their separate ways, and the office found out about it and that was the last time I ever saw Punk in TNA. Then after Teddy did his stint with Team Canada that lasted another week, he never came back. You can’t fight, there’s consequences right.
BILL BEHRENS: Vader came in once, hugely out of shape, and in one of the funnier moments got stuck while trying to go in under the bottom rope for a save, which was very entertaining.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: There was one particular wrestler that I would hang around with; he had a fetish for 100 dollar prostitutes. I’ve personally never met a 100 dollar prostitute, however they sound great. I’ve never seen one for less than 5 personally. This gentleman would get 100 dollar prostitutes every week, one week he borrowed 100 dollars because he didn’t have 100 dollars to get the fore mentioned prostitute, I said I would loan it to him only on the condition that I got to see what she looked like, because I’m really curious what you get for 100 dollars. I never got to see what she looked like; I did end up loaning the 100 dollars and never got it back. This person has held championship gold.
MARCUS CYGY: I saw guys like the 3 Live Kru back in 2005 smoking pot backstage, I was really surprised. I thought that was kind of unprofessional, especially when there are drug tests and all of that. Makes you kind of wonder what kind of drug tests are going on in TNA, it’s probably better now. Back then it was kind of surprising.
BILL BEHRENS: We had a lot of guys show up dramatically impaired and it was always very bad. Every time Lex Luger showed up, I had to take Lex away from Universal Studios the first time he showed up there because he was impaired and take him back to his hotel room.
AUSTIN CREED: I guess I’d been there for 3 or 4 months, and that’s when the ribs started. So I had some stuff I would wear underneath my gear so that my stuff wouldn’t be falling all over the place. I went back to my bag to get dressed and somebody had stolen different pieces of my gear. So on the note it was pretty much a scavenger hunt that lasted all day. I had to sing the Notre Dame theme song to Pat Kenney. While everybody was in the Impact Zone getting ready for a meeting I had to sing like cartoon theme songs at the top of the ramp without telling anyone what was going on so everyone just thought I was crazy. I had to go to catering and ask, because they stole my drawers my underwear, so I had to ask the catering lady if she had drawers soup. Everything led me back to my underwear pretty much. It was like an all day thing that Samoa Joe had done.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I know that when [TNA] called Scott Hall [to begin negotiations with him for his January 2010 return to the company], Scott talked to me a lot about what he should do. When they first called Scott Hall they told him they would give him $1500 a show and Scott hung up on them. Then Terry Taylor calls me and Terry’s crying the blues because TNA’s got no money and blah blah blah.
CHAPTER 10: JEFF HARDY’S FIRST TNA RUN
Rate Jeff Hardy’s Work On Everater
Jeff Hardy debuted in TNA in June 2004 at their 2-Year Anniversary Show. X-Division Champion AJ Styles was set to take on Kid Kash, but Kash was injured and TNA needed a replacement. Mere days before the show TNA were able to book Jeff to fill in for Kash, it ended up leaking online a day prior. Jeff had been released by the WWE in 2003 and outside of a shaky appearance for Ring of Honor as Willow the Whisp, he had been largely inactive in pro wrestling and focusing on his music, art, and other activities.
Jeff debuted as AJ Styles’ mystery opponent to one of the loudest pops in TNA history. Hardy and AJ went on to have an entertaining 8-10 minute match that ended in a DQ when Kid Kash and Lance Hoyt (at the time known as Dallas) interfered. Hardy and AJ ended up getting the upper hand fighting them off. Hardy then stayed off television for a few weeks while they did a storyline where Dusty Rhodes was trying to get Hardy to sign with the company. This culminated in Jeff returning in July for a contract signing and beginning a program with Jeff Jarrett for the NWA World Championship.
MARCUS CYGY: It was always negative backstage about Jeff Hardy [during his first TNA run], no one thought he cared no one thought he was trying he was just going through the motions.
DAVID YOUNG: His run was a total waste of time; Jeff just didn’t seem into it. Some TV’s we didn’t even know Jeff was there until his music started playing.
SCOTT HUDSON: Jeff was only in there for a cup of coffee to begin with that first time. But he was, how do you phrase this, he really wasn’t acceptable enough to even me, not that I’m any kind of great big deal, but even to me I never got a chance to talk to him except for the promos. If you had ever seen me do a promo with Jeff, that’s the only times I’ve ever talked to him in my life. Everybody else was always hanging out talking about territories and football and whatever else, but not him. I don’t think he was stand offish or anything he just wasn’t around for that.
BILL BEHRENS: I had tougher times getting Randy Savage to the ring than I did Jeff Hardy.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I liked Jeff, I was there and I was the committee guy when Jeff came in. I like Jeff Hardy he’s an off the wall character but he’s got a great charisma, I got along with him great he’s a very personable guy and I know Jeff’s in his own world but I think Jeff Hardy is very good, I mean the people love him. In the wrestling business, even whether you like somebody or you think somebody’s an asshole, if the crowd buys them it’s their money and their ratings then it’s good for the company, and I think Jeff’s good.
BIG VITO: I spoke to Jeff in TNA and everything was fine and I knew him for a long time.
RUDY CHARLES: I thought it was great for TNA to have a name of that caliber so early on. When Jeff first came in it was him and AJ in a match, I think I might have refereed that. I just thought it was pretty cool to have him as a part of the company, early on there was Jeff [Jarrett] there’s Raven, but there weren’t a lot of guys that had that WWF or WCW background so getting Jeff was a big plus for TNA at the time.
BILL BEHRENS: Jeff is somebody who I’ve helped going back to nearly the very beginning of his career and when he was in TNA I was the one that got him to the go area most of the time, Jeff was having issues at the time, Jeff was not the Jeff he is now, Jeff was not well grounded. The run he had was problematic but it had an awful lot to do with the fact that Jeff was doing it to himself more than anything else. We probably in 20/20 hindsight should have sent him home an awful lot earlier. TNA made a number of those mistakes, TNA sent Jake Roberts to the ring coked out of his mind and had a debacle as a result, and Jeff Hardy was not being good to himself at the time and was doing things that were not good for his health and were not good for his in ring performance all the way around. But one thing that did come from that was that Jeff was able to do some of the things he really enjoys doing, which he’s now being able to visit at TNA as a much more stable young man and a much more grounded guy and that has to do with his creative side, his artistic side, his music, TNA unlike WWE let him do his own thing, whether you like his music or you don’t whether you even understand his music or you don’t, Jeff is very enamored with that and TNA allowed that and one of the reasons his time in TNA in the beginning worked was with a couple of exceptions he did show up and he did go out and he did work hard when he was in the ring.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I think he was probably more over in WWE when he got his second run after he left TNA and he went to WWE, it’s just hard to build a company around a somebody that no shows a lot. Like you read about on the internet he gets suspended from WWE for showing up late. I remember I had to wrestle him once, he literally showed up like an hour before the show started. I had to put together the entire match, and then I was like hey Jeff what’s up this is what we’re doing. He was cool through everything, and I just felt like I’m the rookie he’s the veteran. I shouldn’t be telling him what to do but he was cool with it and we had a good match and I was happy with it.
CASSIDY RILEY: Really the only time you saw Jeff was late at night, you didn’t see a lot of Jeff during the day before the shows. I’m not sure where he was or what he was doing. You might see him a few minutes once we all got there and checked in, and then you wouldn’t see him again until right before he was going to go on. The majority of the time I wouldn’t see him until later in the night and after the show when post game activity was going on.
Hardy’s entrance music in TNA was a song by his own band Peroxwhy?gen called “Modest.” A music video of the song even aired on Impact. During Hardy’s TNA run he was very passionate about his art and music, citing Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots as two of his major influences. Hardy’s fans started to attend Impact tapings as a group once he started to wrestle full time with the company. They dressed up as Jeff and called themselves the Hardy Party, with their ringleader being Hardy Party Joe. Joe was banned from the Impact Zone for a year after people claimed he shoved people to get to the front of shows. Joe’s departure quickly led to the Hardy Party dissolving. Jeff Hardy himself went on to feud with Abyss and Raven. While Hardy was having some personal problems his matches did not seem to be affected by it. He had fantastic matches with Abyss at TNA PPV’s in early 2005 and at Lockdown with Raven. At Hard Justice 2005 he was set to have a rematch with Raven, but he no showed and was replaced by Sean Waltman, which led to him being suspended from the company for 4 months.
SONJAY DUTT: Jeff was a cool dude, I remember towards the end he was no showing and that was obviously an issue. I remember I think he sent a text message that said hey is it okay if I miss the PPV? I remember a story floating around that he texted Terry Taylor and said hey is it okay if I miss the PPV? He just no showed and that was it and they had enough of it.
DAVID YOUNG: At that time I just really don’t think he was into wrestling. He no showed a PPV and he sent them a text that said card subject to change I’ll see you Tuesday.
CASSIDY RILEY: I just remember thinking wow that’s crazy, here we are guys that are fighting like hell to keep a job and he could care less one way or another if he was there or even on this planet.
MARCUS CYGY: I heard a lot of weird stories I think his gerbil got lost or something.
BILL BEHRENS: His snake got in the house and attacked his dog or something I don’t know.
DAVID YOUNG: He actually brought a picture of the snake and showed it to them.
SONJAY DUTT: He was a cool dude man but I don’t know if he took things as seriously as the office would have hoped for him to.
BILL BEHRENS: He missed the plane at home because a snake ate his phone, and I had to get in touch with him and tell him Jeff that’s silly you know how to reach me, we inevitably came to an agreement, Jeff and I, and it held for the remainder of his time there until inevitably he left and that was that after we had gone over the match he would vanish. The deal was when I would call and I made sure I saw him put my name and number into his phone when I would call him he promised me he would show up within five minutes and he did, it was always a little nerve-wracking because they’d be saying from the truck is he there is he there and I’d be going, he will be, I know he will be, and he always did. He’d get there and I’d go okay Jeff you’re going to give me a heart attack here, but thank you for being here son and then he’d go out and do a good job.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I know some of the people in the office were really pissed, and you should be I mean the guy’s got to be professional just because you’re a name because it’s your responsibility to keep the business going and he’s getting paid the money.
MARCUS CYGY: It was just basically a free for all for him, until he took another break and went back to WWE.
Jeff returned in August 2005 at Sacrifice but ended up having a decreased role in the company due to his unreliability. He had a midcard feud with Bobby Roode and then at the inaugural Bound For Glory he wrestled in a Monster’s Ball match against Rhino, Sabu, and Abyss. He then lost a number 1 contenders match against Monty Brown at Genesis 2005, and he was relegated to a scheduled preshow 6-man tag match at Turning Point 2005. Hardy no showed Turning Point, which ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back for Hardy in TNA during his first run in the company.
BILL BEHRENS: Good news was after he had left he got his head on straight he got cleaned up and when he had cleaned up he wanted to come back but by then because of all the things we had to do to get through at the earlier times, Jeff Jarrett wasn’t willing to do it at that point and that made Jeff Hardy angry. The end result was that motivated Jeff to get back to WWE and the end result was positive for Jeff. Sometimes people have to get mad to really get their act together, and when he had cleaned his act up and his friends, Jeff Jarrett and others, wouldn’t bring him back that pissed him off but it also motivated him and the end result was the long successful run he had in WWE, and inevitably led to his return to TNA where he’s happier and more comfortable, he’s having fun and always did at TNA, he just can appreciate the fun now [April 2010] because he’s not impaired.
Hardy returned to TNA in early 2010 and ran into troubles again at Victory Road 2011, but since then has gotten his life back on track and is back in the ring for TNA.
CHAPTER 11: RANDY SAVAGE, DDP, NASH & HALL (THE MARCH TO VICTORY ROAD)
In October 2004 TNA began to hype up their first ever monthly PPV, Victory Road. The main storyline was the feud between Jeff Hardy and Jeff Jarrett for the NWA World Title. The two had wrestled at TNA’s final weekly PPV in Nashville but TNA added a new spin to the storyline. They decided to bring in Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. They both appeared in promo videos on Impact where they both said they had Jeff’s back, making it unclear whose side they were on. Hall and Nash debuted at Victory Road and after appearing to be on opposing sides; Nash swerved Jeff Hardy and aligned himself with Jarrett and Scott Hall.
They became known as The Kings of Wrestling and they began to re-enact the nWo storyline from WCW. On an episode of Impact Kevin Nash threw the Amazing Red head first into a production truck, just like he did to Rey Mysterio in 1996. During this time period Scott Hall yet again was trying to get his life on track, after having been off television for two years following his previous stint in TNA during their early Nashville days.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Scott is a hard nut to crack. I think what it was is a combination; you’ve got to remember Scott Hall came from being Razor Ramon, he came from the big time. And then when they came to WCW, I mean they were over big. And then all of a sudden, Scott’s life went to hell. I mean he had a bad divorce and all that stuff, drinking too much. Now all of a sudden he’s in TNA in front of like a handful of toothless people in Nashville. It was probably depressing as shit, when you go from 22,000 people in Madison Square Garden and all these arenas like Monday Nitro every week and then all of the sudden you’re in Nashville in front of 300 toothless people.
RUDY CHARLES: Scott Hall was very cool to work with. I remember in the Nashville days he pulled me aside and he just said brother you’re a great referee. I’m not trying to brag for myself, but for Scott Hall to pull me aside and tell me that, I was always a big Scott Hall fan too so that was a big honor coming from him. He didn’t have to tell me that, but he pulled me aside and told me that. I always had fun working with him, I wish I could have worked with him more. Maybe I will get to again one day, I know he’s got his personal demons but I always liked him.
CASSIDY RILEY: At that time [2004/2005] I think [Scott Hall] still had that little bit of an attitude where they were better off for having him there and not him being better for being there. He never did anything derogatory to me; he would always speak and say hi to me but I didn’t associate with him a lot he kind of kept off to himself with his own kliq or whatever.
SCOTT HUDSON: Hall has, not breaking any news; he’s got his inner demons and all that sort of stuff so I didn’t see him a lot.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Hall wasn’t there, it seemed like honestly he was there for a month or two. That’s when he started no showing.
BILL BEHRENS: Hall no showing was always the same circumstance, Hall had and has an alcohol problem. If he’s drinking he won’t show up, and if he does show up you really shouldn’t send him to the ring.
DAVID YOUNG: I’ll be honest with you; the way things worked around there is if it didn’t directly involve you, you didn’t really give a shit. Honestly I came in one day and they said Scott Hall’s not there anymore, I was like shit that’s one less. Everybody was trying to keep their spot as it was.
While Scott Hall had already been in TNA, this was Kevin Nash’s first stint in the company. Nash had been infamous in years past for holding guys down in the WWF and later politicking his way to becoming head booker for WCW in 1998, but in TNA Nash began to mentor younger wrestlers and became popular backstage.
SONJAY DUTT: Kevin was cool man right off that bat. Kevin and Scott together, I’ll group them together because they both came in together at that time in Orlando and they were both cool as hell. After Hall left Nash obviously stuck around and he did that Paparazzi thing with us and he really became a good friend of ours. He hung out with us before the shows after the shows, we would go to his hotel and we became good friends and he was a great guy. He even told us hey man you know I’m a lot different than I was in the WCW days which I can’t even comment on what happened during then. To us he was nothing but the coolest dude in the world.
CASSIDY RILEY: I like Kevin. Kevin’s a hell of a funny guy man. I thought it was good to have him back, he was a little bit older and he wasn’t the same, I don’t know if he had the same drawing power as he did in the nWo obviously. Numbers and everything would have been a lot up, but I really liked Kevin. He was a funny guy and he didn’t mind sitting down and talking to you and trying to teach the younger guys some things, so I always liked Kevin.
DAVID YOUNG: We needed name value. Back then, AJ Styles could walk through the mall, and nobody knew who he was. Kevin Nash walked through the mall; everyone knew he was Kevin Nash. Honestly I think that they were a good addition to the company, they needed people like that to grow.
AUSTIN CREED: [Nash] is awesome man, he’s one of those guys that you know you can go talk to for advice. He’ll always be there to joke around with you; he’s one of the coolest guys that I met down there.
SCOTT HUDSON: Kevin is a very smart guy, whatever negative reputation he has he doesn’t deserve. He’s totally, at least in my experience with him, which has been a long time, he’s a team player he knows what’s he’s doing. Nothing negative at all, great guy to work with great guy to hang out with.
RUDY CHARLES: You hear those horror stories about [Nash], but the experience that I’ve had with him in those early days and even towards the end of my run was just positive. He felt kind of misunderstood and people would always say he wants to do things for Kevin Nash, but from what I’ve seen he was always trying to work with the younger guys and help put them over. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself but the whole thing with the PCS [in 2006], that was a way to really help define some of those guys characters. I mean they were great wrestlers but what was their character, they didn’t have one. That was a way that Nash was trying to help and be funny and add to that.
PETEY WILLIAMS: We all had one goal in mind; we all just want to do what’s best for this company. The higher we elevate the company, the more we’re going to compete with WWE, the more money we’re all going to make and we’re all going to become rich doing it. I mean simple plan right, so with The Outsiders coming in you’re thinking like this is our shot, these are the names that we need to bring in to elevate our status. I’ll tell you what man Kevin is one of the coolest guys he used to like, we dressed in separate locker rooms and stuff, and Kevin used to come in our locker room where the X-Division guys dress. He would sit down there and he would shoot the breeze telling us stories for like an hour, I mean he’s awesome.
BILL BEHRENS: I always felt badly for Kev who is a friend. Kevin is the first to admit he was a jerk particularly back in the WCW days and during the time the Kliq was in effect at the WWE and they just got away with everything. He’s the first guy to say hey the money was being thrown around and everyone was trying to be in power and I was a guy pushing for my spot. When he got to TNA he really did want to contribute and the Kevin Nash that is in TNA now puts a hell of a lot into what he does in the ring and really cares about what he is doing. Kevin Nash went out of his way to put both Sean [Waltman] and Scott Hall into rehab with WWE’s help. Literally flying to get Sean and facilitate him, and facilitating Hall into going into rehab. In both cases they fell off the wagon. So the initial run started out with them having fun and when Hall imploded again it was very frustrating for Kevin and it remained frustrating for Kevin. Eventually Kevin gave up.
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were not the only talent to debut at Victory Road, the show closed with the debut of “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Savage wound up only staying in TNA for one month but he made quite the impression backstage. Savage first quit the day after he debuted only to return the next week; he was also rumored to have turned down a fight with Hulk Hogan backstage at Victory Road and hired a bodyguard after the incident. At Turning Point 2004 Savage was set to team up with Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles against the Kings of Wrestling, but the Kings kidnapped him before the match. Savage eventually ran out at the tail end of the match in a long sleeve shirt looking out of shape, he threw some weak punches and put Jeff Jarrett in a headlock before falling down on him and pinning him.
RUDY CHARLES: It was pretty cool to have [Randy Savage] there. My understanding was he wanted to win the title, coming in. I don’t know the whole story behind it, but something happened and he was there one month and gone the next. So I’m not exactly sure what happened, whether it was over the title thing or not. At least it gave TNA video clips to use of the Macho Man.
SONJAY DUTT: It was cool being in the ring with Savage and meeting him and what not and stuff like that. I don’t know what he did, was he in there for more than a week for something? [Turning Point] is where he won with a punch to the face, it was unbelievable awesome stuff.
SCOTT HUDSON: Randy is exactly like he is on camera. That was the only time I had a chance to work with him, but I know that what you see on camera, he’s not talking about that same sort of stuff but he’s wound that tightly. He’s very much a perfectionist guy, you don’t mess around. He wants to know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, what word is your cue out and all of that.
BILL BEHRENS: First of all Randy is extremely limited and he drank all day. The first time I had to send him to the ring I literally had to help him up the ramp, he just had to be seen at the end of the show, that’s all we needed. I’m trying to get a cue from the truck when because I know he’s not going to get out there easily. I literally finally just called the cue myself because I knew it was going to take him awhile because once he was at the top of the ramp I couldn’t walk him out. I had to hope he could get out there himself. He did that spot then he did an in ring spot where he couldn’t hit his own moves and he couldn’t throw a punch bless his heart. Then after that he was supposed to do another spot an actual match, and he went to Jerry Jarrett and said I won’t do it unless I win the title. Jerry Jarrett talked to him and talked to him and then left the meeting came to me and said: this man is insane. That pretty much was the end of Randy’s run.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I don’t think [Savage] did much for the company honestly; literally he was there for like a PPV and maybe two TV shows. I think he was there for honestly a month, I mean he didn’t do much. I remember Christopher Daniels asked him he’s like, Mr. Macho Man or whatever you called him, Mr. Savage, we have a match and I’m going to do a top rope elbow, I just wanted to make sure that’s okay with you. He’s like brother more power to you because I can’t do it anymore. I mean Macho Man’s great, just hearing him talk and stuff like that, I’m like this is what this guy is like in real life.
BILL BEHRENS: I only had to deal with him once he got to the go area and that was enough of a challenge. The rest of the time he would, Bruno and Tilly who eventually joined the company had some kind of hookup where they used to bring a big trailer gimmick. The stars, particularly the most dysfunctional stars, would go in that and pretty much just drink. Randy was one of the guys that did that, so his run was bad all the way around. It made it clear that there wasn’t going to be a good final run that Randy Savage would have in wrestling.
Diamond Dallas Page debuted in TNA on the Impact following Victory Road. DDP had previously retired in 2002 due to back injuries but was able to strengthen his back with yoga, which made it possible for him to make a comeback in TNA. DDP’s first feud was with Raven, and for some reason that was never fully explained Erik Watts was involved too. DDP left TNA in May 2005 after a bizarre tag team match where Phi Delta Slam interfered to help Monty Brown pin him.
CASSIDY RILEY: I liked Dallas; I’ve always admired him for coming into the business so late and being able to have the career that he has. I will say this; I’ve seen e-mails where he would write out the whole match. E-mails like word for word the whole match I twist your arm you look at the crowd and grimace. Step by step by step with the people that he was working with. Like he would literally lay shit out a week and a half and advance. Literally I tell you step by step, this is how you will sell this and this is how you will do that and I will do this. I mean inch by inch and mile by mile he lays everything out.
RUDY CHARLES: [DDP] was kind of cool. Very detailed, wants the matches to be perfect, which is a good quality. I remember I think I just worked one match with him and he gave me the diamond cutter. As a fan it was kind of neat to be able to do that for him.
SCOTT HUDSON: The only thing wrong with Page is that he started so late in life that he never really got a chance to be at the top of his game when he was physically capable of performing at that level. Other than that he was terrific, I just wish he had started when he was 18 rather than whatever it was 33.
PETEY WILLIAMS: DDP was cool; he always tried to give my advice. I remember [in December 2004] me and Sabin worked a match, he loved it. He gave me some pointers how any vet does. He was always cool with me. I don’t know how easy was to get along with but I never wrestled him, so it’s a whole different story.
BILL BEHRENS: For me [DDP] was a little difficult. In general DDP is a nice guy, but he was a little bit, I don’t want to say stand offish, but he would bring his yoga mat over to the go area and stay off by himself. Then it would be time for his spot and he was always extremely protective that he could hit his finish because if he didn’t hit his finish the crowd would be grumpy. He was very much preoccupied with his spot as opposed to what the potential greater good of the company was. His perception was his spot was the greatest good of the company. So there was always that kind of back and forth, I remember getting pissed off because I needed my referees as runners. I sent all the refs and they were all on the babyface side and the babyface side was the opposite side of the building away from everything else, it was totally isolated. This meant that I had to have somebody run to the other side of the building to the trailers to get the babyfaces for their cues. DDP rolls up his yoga mat and goes to one of the referees and goes hey go take this to the office for me boy. I need these guys; you’re a big boy you can probably pick up your own freaking yoga mat. Of course the dickhead had already left to run his thing over and I ended up getting pissed off at him. That was my memory of DDP, TNA was never a place for guys who believed the show needed to be built around them. A lot of the stars that came in, sometimes because they just had a strong belief in their own value, believed that they had to be very protective of their spot, regardless of what else was potentially more important. I always perceived DDP to be one of those guys. The part that was frustrating was anybody perceiving they were a star when nobody was drawing a dime really, there were no stars. The only stars honestly were the guys working hard, the people that were being talked about weren’t the DDPs they were the AJ Styles of the world. Those were the guys making probably slightly less money and working harder for it.
SONJAY DUTT: He was actually really cool; DDP was a real cool guy man. I remember I hooked him up with my gear maker he got gear from the guy that makes my gear. He was a real nice guy a real cool guy down to earth taught me that yoga bullshit he was a real nice guy.
In November 2004 shortly after Victory Road when the big names were coming into TNA they had a two night primetime Best Damn Sports Show Period special which featured Jeff Jarrett vs. Jeff Hardy in a cage match, Tom Arnold wrestling midget Teo, and also an interview with Lex Luger, who was not on the TNA roster and did not appear again until 2006. TNA’s hope was that this primetime special would make Fox Sports Net give them a better timeslot, which never happened.
Also during this time period WWE were filming an ad for their Royal Rumble PPV on the Universal Studios lot where TNA were taping. Some TNA producers and wrestlers decided to go over to the catering area of the set with a camera crew including BG James, Shane Douglas, Ron Killings, Konnan, Abyss, Traci Brooks, and others with milk, cookies, and balloons for WWE stars. The incident was referred to as “Cookiegate” by TNA and they started to hype up the airing of the video on Impact. WWE threatened legal action against TNA if they aired the footage. At Turning Point 2004 TNA had Tim Welch walk around backstage dressed as Vince McMahon along with a Triple H impersonator, looking for the Cookiegate tape. They found a tape backstage, but it was the Best of D-Ray 3000 so the fake Triple H smashed it with a sledgehammer. Later in the show a midget “senior TNA official” confronted McMahon and hit him in the groin, and he was stretchered out into an ambulance. Dusty Rhodes then aired the Cookiegate video which mainly featured BG James talking to Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio with their faces blurred out talking about Vince McMahon and mahi-mahi.
TNA’s first few monthly PPVs received wide praise from internet wrestling fans and journalists alike. TNA even used quotes from internet sites in advertisements for replays of the shows on Impact.
CHAPTER 12: DUSTY RHODES
Dusty Rhodes began in TNA simply as a wrestler and mentor type figure off and on in 2003 and 2004. Dusty was beloved by the fans and wrestlers in this role, but things changed in November 2004 when he was named head booker. Jarrett and Russo were out, and Dusty was in. Jarrett still remained a powerful figure in TNA despite losing his spot as head of creative. There was a lot of hope and excitement when Dusty was named booker since many of the wrestlers had grown wary of Jeff Jarrett, and Dusty explained to the younger X-Division wrestlers that he planned to get them over by helping develop their characters. TNA were just starting out with their monthly PPVs, they had a new booker, and things were looking up. Sadly Dusty ended up being a complete disaster as booker.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Here’s what Dusty did. Dusty came in and he told Bob Carter that it’s all messed up and these guys don’t know what they’re doing and in six months Dusty’s going to double their ratings and double their buy rates. So basically Dusty bullshitted Bob Carter into saying that I ran this and that and I’m Dusty and I’ll double it. So Bob Carter said okay I’ll give you a chance. So Dusty came in he basically, he didn’t really get rid of me but there wasn’t much for me to do since Dusty took the role as the head guy.
BILL BEHRENS: Dusty played into the fact that Bob Carter was a Dusty Rhodes fan, Dusty changed when he got the book Dusty and I have always had a back and forth, Dusty wouldn’t talk to me for a year because I had told him something about how to run his own company when he had asked me into a meeting years back, his Turnbuckle company, and what I told him proved to be what happened and he ended up in debt as a result of not listening, and so he was made at me. Well he eventually got over being mad at me and realized he had been sort of a dumbbutt and eventually then we became close and he did several spots for me at my company for me for free which were some of my greatest moments ever. It was like that with Dusty, and when he came to TNA as a talent initially he was just one of the boys, when he came to TNA the second time as a talent he was just one of the boys. He was good with the young guys he was good with everybody he was happy to be there and did whatever he was told. He used to hang out in the go area most of the time with me and with the rest of the young guys. It was Amazing Red and Sonjay Dutt, those were his two favorites. He would just be a pleasure to be around, and then he got the book and it was like night and day.
SONJAY DUTT: Dusty initially was awesome; he took a liking to me and Red. Me and Red were like his little buddies, and he took a liking to us he would always bullshit with us and hang out with us. It was cool, Dusty was a real nice guy a real cool guy I mean he was in Nashville for some time too he was in there a lot so we were familiar with Dusty from then he came in and started booking. I remember he had a booking meeting, it was just X-Division guys, he said to all of the X-Division guys hey I’m going to spotlight you guys there’s no reason why you guys shouldn’t be world champion. He singled out Red I remember, and me and Red thought hey this is cool man he already likes us he took a liking to us all the time he made nicknames for us the whole nine yards. So when he took over booking and he did the speech to the X-Division guys we were feeling pretty confident that things were going to look up or something was going to happen, and honest to god the next week I didn’t get booked for god knows how knows how long.
DAVID YOUNG: I worked for Dusty when he was running Turnbuckle, the independent, and we got along really good. And then Dusty called me and asked me to come back because my contract was to the point where they either had to pay me to sit at home or they had to use me so Dusty called me and he said hey I’m going to go ahead and bring you back and start doing something with you. My first week there I beat Shark Boy and it took me, Chris Candido, and both of The Naturals to do it and then after the match they kind of carried me around the ring like I just won the Superbowl and so the next week I kind of thought I was going to be doing something with Candido and The Naturals, so I get to the PPV and I look and I’m in a dark match and it’s like 2 minutes and I’m going under. So I thought to myself well maybe he’s going to do it on TV on Tuesday. Tuesday roles around and I get there and I look there and we’re in a dark match and it’s a tag match and it’s two minutes and I’m going over. So I went to Terry Taylor and I’m like what is going on, explain to me what Dusty’s doing. Terry was like, look Dave this going to be the stupidest answer I ever give you in my life but maybe he just forgot what he was doing. He said go talk to the man, be respectful, and just ask him. So I went to Dusty and asked if I could talk to him, and he said sure and I said I know you said had a plan for everybody and that we had to look to the future and so much think of what’s going on right now but I kind of felt like I was going to be doing something with Candido and The Naturals. He kind of looked at me and said so what gives you that idea, which pissed me off and I was like well shit Dusty I don’t know if you watch your own show or not but last time I was a here I won a match and they carried me around like I had just won the Superbowl. He said look I’m going to be as honest with you as I can he said I have to use you, I don’t have to push you and as far as I’m concerned you’re never going to get a push here. Well I appreciate your honesty Dusty so I went to Terry and said I quit. I went to get my bags and Terry grabbed me and he’s like please don’t go things are about to change I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but trust me something’s about to happen. Dusty got fired the next week.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: I think Dusty is the smartest management, other than Dixie Carter, was the best person that I worked with there, other than probably Jimmy Hart.
CASSIDY RILEY: I love Dusty, you know what, people can say all they want about Dusty I’ll never say a bad word about him because he’s the one who re-signed me full time to my contract. Dusty for a little awhile was like a father figure to me in this business. I could go to him and shoot him straight and he would shoot me straight.
RUDY CHARLES: It was kind of a new direction for sure, he had his style and there were some good things he did and some things that weren’t so great, but I think for the most part it was good. A lot of people didn’t like his style but I was okay with it. We were still doing okay in ratings and I thought the stories for the most part were pretty interesting. Could it have been better? Sure. But could it have been worse? Sure. I thought he had a good run.
SCOTT HUDSON: He was leading the production meetings; I’ve known Dusty for a long time, great guy. Totally professional fella, laid it all out for us we knew exactly what was going to be happening and why it was happening and where it was going that sort of thing.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Dusty is usually a one man show, if Dusty’s going to run it it’s Dusty’s shit. The way Dusty had it set up was it was his ass was on the line, so I’m sure everybody else involved was trying to sabotage him anyway they could to get rid of him.
When Dusty became booker he also became the on air Director of Authority. TNA did an online election between Dusty and Director of Authority Vince Russo for the DoA position. Russo had already planned to leave the company, so the election was ultimately meaningless, knowing the internet’s hatred of Vince Russo though he never had a chance at winning. Dusty won, and became the Director of Authority.
He started sitting in a pickup truck in the back with hay for several segments per show. The pickup truck was his son Dustin’s, who coincidentally joined TNA shortly after Dusty got the book. Dusty wasn’t alone in the pickup truck, for most shows he was joined by TNA Knockouts Traci Brooks and Trinity. At the time they were the only two females in the company with significant television time. This all culminated in a horrendous match between The Harris Brothers and Phi Delta Slam where Traci was managing The Harris Brothers and Trinity was managing Phi Delta Slam. The stipulation was that if The Harris Brothers won, Traci would become Dusty’s personal assistant. If Trinity’s team won, she would become his assistant. Realistically, why would either of them care about being Dusty’s assistant? Also why would the two tag teams actually care?
Many talent criticized Dusty’s approach to booking at the time. TNA were still a relatively new show on Fox Sports Net, and this was their first national exposure. Dusty’s backstage pickup truck segments and the way he booked the product frustrated many members of the roster. It felt like a hick show, and many storylines lacked continuity. Despite Dusty’s shortcomings as a booker, the X-Division shined while he was there but this was solely because of the work ethic of AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, who were in a lengthy program with each other at the time (and seemingly still are).
DAVID YOUNG: Everybody hated him when he was booking. Everybody would sit there and they would be like who in the hell believes that two hot girls are going to sit in the back of a pickup truck with this fat bastard. I mean who is going to watch that on TV and believe it?
BILL BEHRENS: That was just to appeal to Bob and it gave him an on air role but that was the least of their problems. What limited ratings there were weren’t improving they were getting worse the wrestling was not as well booked and it became necessary for a variety of reasons to make a change over time.
SCOTT HUDSON: I was only there one day a month. I can’t speak for the guys who were there more than that, but as far as how I was treated by him, great. No problem at all.
JONNY FAIRPLAY: Dusty Rhodes was given the roster and he looks and he goes who is this Jonny Fairday and why are we paying him so much money, I’ve never even seen him. They were like oh that’s Jonny Fairplay from Survivor, he still gets paid he’s in LA, he goes nobody will work with him, no he’s a nice kid he was on Survivor, he goes well hell I’ll put him with me, I know he’s more famous than three quarters of this roster, which is actually true. He brought me in they had me in the back of the pickup truck with him and the girls.
One of the most infamous Dusty era storylines was Trytan, played by former Red Shirt Security member Ryan Wilson. Wilson was a giant, and during TNA’s early days in Orlando they sent him and Jimmy Hart around the park to attract tourists to attend TNA shows. Many strange video packages with a woman whispering “He’s coming” aired on Impact to hype up Trytan’s debut. This led to a feud with Monty Brown which culminated in a confusing match at Destination X 2005 where the lights went out and Monty then pounced a mystery masked man and pinned him, and Trytan was nowhere to be found. After this match Tryan barely appeared in TNA again outside of a few tag team matches.
Dusty even had creative disagreements with his own son Dustin. Dustin wrestled in TNA as himself, but he wanted to do a Goldust type of character that would later end up being Black Reign during his later TNA run. On second thought, Dusty might have been right about that one.
BILL BEHRENS: One of my favorite stories and it’s true is I sat in on the production meetings as the go area boy and I used to ask questions which you got to do sometimes like somebody says blah blah goes to the ring and cuts a promo, then you’d say does he bring the mic to the ring or is he handed the mic at the ring. You sort of have to know which of those so you know where the mic is. So normally that was a very benign question and one I asked multiple times every meeting, for some reason they never remembered to put that in the format. The very first meeting after Dusty got the book the first thing he said was my favorite is Sonjay Dutt, my golly Sonjay Dutt he was fantastic Sonjay Dutt is great, Sonjay Dutt never got booked again. Amazing Red was great, Amazing Red never got booked again. All the sudden Bruno and Tilly are getting booked, Bruno and Tilly drove him around bless his heart. At the very first meeting I said Dusty does blah blah take the mic to the ring, and he said yeah he takes the mic up his fucking ass. And I went alrighty now, I looked at Mike Tenay and he looked at me, and I went okay. Then later in the same meeting we had Sabu in a spot and I looked at Mike Tenay and he looked at me and I looked at Mike Tenay and I said you bastard Mike you’re not going to ask the question and you know you have to ask the question and you know you’re going to want to ask the question but you’re going to make me ask the question aren’t you motherfucker. I went Dusty, is Sabu acknowledged as a former NWA Champion, because he was and we were with the NWA at the time and that was the second time Dusty blew my ass out. Of course I looked at Mike Tenay and I said you are a bastard for making me have to ask the fucking question and he just keeled.
During Dusty Rhodes’ run as booker, TNA debuted a PPV that would become a staple for the company. In April 2005 TNA held their first ever Lockdown PPV, where every match was held inside a steel cage. The first Lockdown was headlined by AJ Styles vs. Abyss.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Lockdown started as a joke. I just think it’s overdone, because cage matches don’t mean anything, or does anything mean anything unless it’s built up right. So when you have Lockdown every match is in a cage so what’s special when everything’s in a cage. The way it started was they were having a meeting when Dusty was running it for his six months and someone said something about why don’t we put this in a cage too and it was just a stupid idea that Dusty made a joke saying well hell let’s just put every match in a cage. And Dixie jumped up and said great idea I love that idea. She didn’t even know it was a joke. That’s how Lockdown came about where every match is in a cage because Dusty made a joke about it. It was a joke and now that’s their big PPV and everything’s in a cage. But you know when you break down the reality of it, why is everything in a cage?
BILL BEHRENS: We thought Lockdown was a joke when it was announced, but it never was. A lot of us said this is the stupidest idea we’ve ever heard and to this day I think it’s a dumb idea.
SONJAY DUTT: I hated it and I honestly thought that it was just going to be that one time. Then when it happened the next year and it happened over and over I was like okay well they’re just going with this to the fullest they’re not going to give up on this idea I didn’t like it.
CASSIDY RILEY: You know it’s one of those things when you first hear about it you just go like [sigh] oh my god. But then you make the best of it and I think it actually came out to be something different and something unique. That’s how creative shit is born, just accidentally. I think it ended up being a pretty good philosophy and it gives them a hellacious PPV every year.
DAVID YOUNG: We thought it was stupid going into it but the first night was so good. The AJ vs. Abyss match kind of set the standard for Lockdown.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Honestly I thought Lockdown was a little bit over the top. Doing a whole PPV with all cage matches and then like every cage match had a stipulation. I’m like man it lost a lot of its luster. The cage match was the big thing on the show. Now we’re doing every match as a cage match, I remember Dusty Rhodes had the book and me and Eric Young teamed up, and Dusty was like maybe one of you two guys bleed. And I’m thinking, everybody is going to be bleeding so if I bleed it’s not going to mean anything whatsoever because everybody is going to be cutting themselves in the cage and stuff like that. I thought the cage was a little bit overdone, I really did.
SONJAY DUTT: I tell you the cage was literally touching the ring ropes, so I didn’t know this. You get in the ring, every time you would run the ropes your elbows would just be shredded from the cage and I just hated it.
AUSTIN CREED: I like when in southern wrestling the cage matches they’re the end all be all, finally got you there’s nowhere to run. It was hard to do stuff when every match is in a cage because you couldn’t do certain things because that would ruin the show for everyone else.
In May 2005, TNA finally had enough of old Dusty Rhodes, and he was removed as head booker after only six months on the job. Dusty had not delivered the big numbers he had promised.
MARCUS CYGY: The general feeling was that they were just putting up with him it was kind of like a joking matter, nothing was really serious until he was out.
BILL BEHRENS: Initially they didn’t want to displace Dusty, they wanted to find a way to basically mildly move him out of the way and Dusty just said screw that. But then after that Dusty ended up doing exactly what he said he’d never do, he ended up going to WWE and being part of a booking committee and even better he had to start using a computer there because Dusty never used computers when he booked he’d write everything down on legal pads which he’d done his whole career because when Dusty does TV he goes I’m making movies baby, and he would make movies. He’d write everything out and somebody would have to transcribe it to the script, he’d never work off the printed script he’d always work off of his notes.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: So Dusty’s idea of being successful of course was doing a bunch of skits starring Dusty and bringing in Dustin Rhodes, of course. Needless to say six months later Dusty bombed and Bob Carter got rid of him. Then when they got rid of Dusty then that’s when they brought me back to be the head of the championship committee. It was just funny how things worked, Dusty basically conned Bob Carter into saying he’s going to make it great, six months later Bob gave him the boot.
BILL BEHRENS: Dusty didn’t want to be on the booking committee but they knew that, Dusty enjoys booking very much and can do a very good job he’s got an interesting style of booking. Dusty has wonderful ideas and tremendous destination.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: TNA went through a lot of growing pains because again you had wrestling people that started it and of course everybody wants the power and all of that. Then you have Dixie Carter who is not from the wrestling business that winds up buying it who knows nothing about the wrestling psychology part and at the same time she doesn’t know who to trust. She doesn’t know if Jeff Jarrett knows what he’s doing, she doesn’t know if Russo knows what he’s doing, she doesn’t know if Dusty knows what he’s doing. So these people are just kind of taking guesses and whoever gives them the best line of bullshit gets a chance at running the thing for awhile.
CHAPTER 13: CHRIS CANDIDO’S DEATH
At TNA Lockdown 2005 Chris Candido fractured both his tibia and fibula and dislocated his ankle. Because of the all steel cage match gimmick at Lockdown, TNA had a cameraman in the ring and Candido injured his leg while trying to avoid him. Candido had surgery the next day and actually showed up at the Impact tapings following his surgery. He then collapsed at his home on April 28th and died at the hospital due to a blood clot from a complication during surgery. He was 33 years old. Candido’s work at that week Impact tapings aired the following afternoon, and eerily he was one of the main focuses of the show. At the time Candido was mentoring The Naturals, so he came out on crutches to support them during their tag team championship match with America’s Most Wanted and he ended up helping The Naturals win the tag team titles. The final image of the show was Candido lying on the ground crying in happiness holding the tag team titles, followed by an RIP Chris Candido graphic. Candido’s death was arguably one of the biggest tragedies in TNA’s history; he was well liked backstage and had overcome his drug addiction.
BILL BEHRENS: [Chris’ death was] one of the great tragedies in this business because he got his act together and was a pleasure to be around in the last years of his life. I helped book him and got to know him, just a tremendous guy I had known him in Smoky Mountain back when he and Sunny were together. Just a great guy, tremendous head for the business, always a hard worker, small guy but everything he did was believable. His time with Jim Cornette was a blessing for him because he learned so much in Smoky Mountain, his bad habits really started after that. When he got up to WWE he was with Tom Pritchard who at the time had bad habits. The guy though that came into TNA was clean as a whistle and had his life together, if he hadn’t had a fluke medical issue coming out of an easy operation, it’s just a tremendous shame. He was very well liked and would had a job for the rest of his career in TNA had he lived.
SONJAY DUTT: Chris was awesome, Chris was a great guy. I came up on the indies in Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and stuff so I knew him for years doing those deals. He came in and he was awesome in his role and I mean it was scary unbelievable, it was completely unbelievable just this freak accident you know you really can’t attribute to anything else but just being a freak accident man, but he was a hell of a dude.
DAVID YOUNG: Probably the saddest thing that ever happened the whole time I was there, to be honest with you. I really liked Chris, and I was there when he broke his leg. Sonny Siaki took it really hard, I had to call Sonny and tell him Chris died. Sonny and I were really close because we were roommates the whole time I was down there. We all loved Chris, we really liked him a lot he was a really good guy and he was really trying hard. The day he broke his leg he was in the lobby of the hotel when he got in from the hospital, they were going to do surgery the next day and put plates in his leg. He was in the lobby crying because he was in so much pain and he was afraid to take a pain pill because Dusty Rhodes had told him that if he even heard of him taking pain medicine he would be fired. So he wouldn’t take pain medicine for his broken leg, we had to get Dusty to give him permission to take his pain medicine.
CASSIDY RILEY: I was the first guy that came in when they brought Chris in, they had him putting guys over and they were going to use him as a little bit of an enhancement role and kind of test him out, test his attitude I guess. Then after he had been in for little awhile they decided to start giving him a little bit of a rub. I was the first guy who laid down for him in the middle of the ring and he came up to me afterwards and hugged my neck and told me what a fantastic match he thought it was, and I agreed it was probably one of my better matches since I was there. We had such natural chemistry in the ring and Chris even went to the creative team and pushed to do like a Ricky Morton/Ric Flair angle between me and him, that’s how highly he thought of me and my work. I loved Chris, the wrestling business and the world in general lost one of its favorite sons and a fine good man the day he passed away.
TNA held the Chris Candido Memorial Tag Team Tournament in his honor later in 2005, with the winning team receiving a tag team title match. Candido was known for mentoring young talent during his later years so the tournament paired up veteran wrestlers with young wrestlers. Sean Waltman and Alex Shelley won the tournament, and received their title shot at Unbreakable 2005. Waltman no showed the event so midway through the match Chris Candido’s brother Johnny jumped the rail to team with Shelley.
CHAPTER 14: MONTY BROWN
“The Alpha Male” Monty Brown was one of the most charismatic performers TNA had from 2004 to 2006. The former NFL star was a part of TNA briefly in summer 2002, but because of financial disagreements he left the company. Brown returned in 2004 with a further developed character. Brown began to talk about his “Serengeti” being the ring, and how his opponents would feel “The Pounce….period.” Brown’s promos sounded like a cross between The Rock and The Ultimate Warrior, while he worked Goldbergesque squash matches against the likes of Lex Lovett and Jerrelle Clark.
Despite being a heel in 2004 the fans instantly got behind “The Alpha Male.” He quickly jumped into feuds with top TNA stars like Jeff Jarrett, Abyss, and Jeff Hardy. Brown defeated Kevin Nash and DDP in a 3-way match at Final Resolution 2005 to win an NWA title match against Jeff Jarrett later than night. Fans were clearly behind Brown and were ready for a title change, but Jarrett ultimately went over. Brown then turned heel and aligned himself with Jarrett and he was never quite the same. TNA’s mishandling of Brown is often regarded as one of TNA’s biggest blunders.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I think they should have probably pulled the trigger on Monty; they should have gave him the title. That’s my belief anyways, like I said if you watch our show he had a lot of charisma. His promos were really good, he was a solid worker, he had a super over finish, it was just like a shoulder tackle but the way he put it over it was like man this is great. I wish they would have done more with him in WWE too, he’s an awesome guy. Just traveling down the road and stuff, really down to earth, always there to help, super nice guy. I think he probably should have got a title run.
RUDY CHARLES: I liked Monty a lot he was a pretty cool guy. I think he was in line for a title run had he stuck around [in TNA], I’m not 100% on that but I think he left to go to WWE. Had he been there still he would have been in line to continue to be a top guy. I don’t know that I can say that they misused him I mean the Pounce was a freaking killer move, the guy he took it and he was super popular with the fans. I don’t know that I can say that they misused him.
CASSIDY RILEY: He was so young in his career he didn’t really have any experience, but he was such an athlete so he could still come in and handle the situation. There are some ways I did feel like he was kind of mishandled. You have got a guy with that size and that athletic ability, let’s give him the ball and let’s let him run with it. That goes back to I think certain people were scared he might get over too much.
SONJAY DUTT: Monty was actually my roommate in the Nashville days, so I’m kind of biased towards Monty. Monty is a fuckin tremendous human being, I don’t know if he was misused or not man I know they should have pulled the trigger with him. In my opinion they should have pulled the trigger with him when they could have and they missed the opportunity I think he wrestled Jeff Jarrett [at Final Resolution 2005] that was it, everybody thought that was the time for him. Maybe it was maybe it wasn’t I don’t know I’m not a booker but I honestly thought hey this is it he’s got to do it here light the rocket under him and go for it, motherfucker had everything, top to bottom he had everything man.
BILL BEHRENS: Monty was limited, when you look at somebody and should this guy become champion you also have to ask is he the guy that can work with a diversity of people on a diversity of shows every single week and have quality matches or, a little Goldbergesque is he defined primarily not by his ability to tell a story but by his impressive personality and a finish move the people love to see. He and I used to joke in the go area because at first the babyface and the heel go areas were in the same place and they always were in Nashville and it changed in Orlando and we went to babyfaces on one side and heels on the other. I used to tell Monty that no matter what curtain he came out he was always a babyface, only because the crowd wanted to see his finish. Even when he was a heel or he was a face, he bounced all over the place it never really mattered; he was always a babyface no matter what because that is what the crowd wanted him to be. But Monty, indications were his promos ran long, they meandered, he really needed to tighten them up, and he was given the mic way too often live in the ring which was not ever a good idea. His constant line was that he was going to be on the Serengeti and then you would get the Pounce, and that was the tag out. The Pounce part always played, the Pounce period was the ending. But the rest of it used to wander all over the place and made make any freaking sense quite honestly. Meandering weird promos can sometimes play. It’s worked before; I honestly don’t think necessarily that Monty was badly booked; I think that they tried what they could with Monty in the spots they thought best. I don’t think they thought he was ready as the guy to carry the ball. TNA was one of the tough situations as it wasn’t a place where really they could develop anybody, everybody had to get developed in the ring.
Despite Brown’s limited move set, he was clearly over but after his heel turn in March 2005 he never was a face again and was pushed aside for TNA’s latest big acquisitions. Brown eventually left TNA in fall 2006 after financial disagreements. On one of Brown’s final shows with TNA, Hard Justice 2006, a fire in the rafters caused the show to be postponed and Brown cut a memorable improvised promo backstage. Brown left shortly thereafter and signed with WWE.
DAVID YOUNG: It was political and I thought it was bullshit. Monty was great I think, it was all about money. They signed him for a certain amount and then when his deal rolled back around they decided they didn’t want to pay him that amount anymore. I don’t know how you negotiation contracts but negotiating down is usually not an option. Monty had a job where he was off making 150-160 thousand a year as a personal trainer so he didn’t give a shit. He knew WWE would sign him, and it was weird to me how he went from having the best promos in the company and [TNA] were so high on him to his promos are stupid and we really don’t want to air it. It was all money, it had nothing to do with his talent, it had nothing to do with what he could or couldn’t do, it was just they didn’t want to pay Monty that money and he didn’t want to come down on his price.
SONJAY DUTT: I heard it was over pay and I can’t imagine it being over anything other than that.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I don’t know if it was a money issue or his contract was expiring, it had to have been a money issue. I know that Monty personally trains on the side and makes a lot of money doing that. I think he just wanted to do the TV shows and they started doing house shows and you don’t paid as much on house shows as we do on TV’s and PPV’s. So I think Monty was like I don’t want to do these house shows because I can make more money doing my own thing. Everybody always had disputed with the contracts because they would want to take a percentage of our indy money, there was a draw system it was really complicated. Maybe Monty got fed up, I’m not 100% sure though.
DAVID YOUNG: I don’t think [Monty] cared as long as he was still getting paid. The straw that broke the camel’s back with Monty is we were doing a TV, and Monty was called by Terry Taylor while he was in the middle of his layover flying to Orlando and told to go ahead and go back home they don’t need him. He was half way to Orlando already and they told him they didn’t need him.
CASSIDY RILEY: I have ties to Monty a couple of different ways. I liked Monty, we were close friends. The night he debuted in WWE is the night that I got signed because I went out there and put him over and made him look like a million dollars. I remember they didn’t want him to do his Pounce for the finish and so, we wanted to work again because he thought that once they saw it they would change their minds. I remember, he hit that Pounce and I tried to take the biggest and craziest bump that I could. When I got back that bump is what got me signed with WWE, and that match, I like Monty a lot.
CHAPTER 15: SCOTT D’AMORE’S BOOKING COMMITTE
In May 2005, after Dusty Rhodes got the boot as booker, he was replaced by a committee headed by Team Canada coach and backstage agent Scott D’amore. D’amore had experience as a promoter with his own promotion Border City Wrestling in Canada, where many Team Canada members and X-Division talent had worked. D’amore and his team initially veered away from the southern vibe that TNA had while Dusty had the book, instead going in a more wrestling based direction that was very popular with internet fans. D’amore’s booking though did divide portions of the TNA locker room, especially those who had been supporters of Dusty Rhodes. D’amore and his team booked TNA for the next year and a half.
RUDY CHARLES: Well, I guess a lot of people weren’t very happy with Dusty, but that’s the nature of the wrestling business where there’s change, myself included. Change is the only constant. The people who had the authority felt it was time for a change, so they decided to bring in kind of a team. I think it was Scott, Mike Tenay, Jeremy Borash, Dutch Mantell, and Bill Banks. It was a five man crew or something like that.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Jeremy was always in there taking notes, and leaking information out on the computer.
MARCUS CYGY: A lot of [the talent] were happy because a lot of them worked with Scott up in Border Cross Wrestling in Ontario. Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, all of Team Canada. Scott was one of the boys so it worked well with them, where as Dusty was an outsider coming in running the show. It was a breath of fresh air for everyone because they could actually work on the same level as Scott D’amore, where as Dusty was looking down on everyone and basically bullying people.
CASSIDY RILEY: I was kind of branded one of Dusty’s boys when Scott D’amore took over the book; he kind of pushed me out of the way. He did not like Dusty at all they just did not jive, maybe it was a style of booking or whatever but when Scott D’amore took over the book I was kind of pushed out of the way so they weren’t using me as much.
DAVID YOUNG: Both guys [D’amore and Dusty Rhodes] were the same, it was a buddy system. Dusty brought in Phi Delta Slam and started pushing them and anybody that was Dusty’s hunting buddy became world champion. He stopped pushing all the Canadian boys; he stopped pushing Petey Williams and started jobbing him out. So when Scott D’amore took over he decided that the Canadians had been done like shit so it’s time to treat everybody else like shit and make the Canadians all superstars. That’s just the business, it’s not what you do or who you are and don’t get me wrong, all those Canadian boys are talented as shit but there was a lot of other guys there that deserved just as much of a push as they had.
MARCUS CYGY: [Scott] for sure played favorites. I actually still speak with Scott sometimes. It’s kind of a patriotic thing I think on his part, push the Canadians. Us Canadians like to help another Canadian out.
CASSIDY RILEY: I think [D’amore] is a piece of shit and you can quote that…let me just rephrase that, as a person I don’t have any personal problems with Scott, but I thought his booking was the shits.
PETEY WILLIAMS: As soon as Scott became the head booker we were pretty much on the internet. I thought those were some of our best shows we produced. I don’t think they were worried about ratings or anything like that; they were more focused on the product. Honestly I think that’s where we need to get to, is just focus on the product stop worrying about the ratings, focus on good pure wrestling. I remember they offered Scott the book, but he was like let’s have a committee so I’m not the only guy to make the decisions. Let’s have more than one brain because that will get a good spin on everything. That’s when he brought in like Tenay was a part of it, I don’t even know. But it was like three or four guys, Terry Taylor. There was a bunch of guys; I know Scott’s always been a fan of Terry Taylor because of his track record. Terry has written some of the highest rated ratings in all of wrestling history, like he wrote some of the highest ratings for RAW and WCW. Terry has a good track record; he knows how to tell a story.
SONJAY DUTT: Scott is a great guy, Scott is the reason I got my job in TNA initially. So I came in because of Scott he brought me in, I kind of became one of Scott’s good friends. When he took over I felt okay this is something that’s good you know Scott has always liked my work. It turned out to be good his booking philosophy was a lot different from whatever else was going on so it was really match heavy where the focus was on good wrestling matches. I remember that was when we didn’t even have TV that’s when we had the internet show, every week man there were these kick ass matches but fuck man nobody was watching them because they were on the damn internet. I think at the time, they were doing monthly PPVs right? Those numbers were doing real good under Scott; Scott was awesome man I’ve got nothing bad to say about Scott. Scott is a hell of a dude one of the smartest motherfuckers you’ll ever meet in wrestling.
CASSIDY RILEY: All he wanted to do was take care of his Canadian guys and look what it got him; it got him booted out the door finally. You can go back and you can seriously look from the time he takes the book and watch every one of those guys that was in his cliq, Canadian guys Shelley and Sabin, everybody who had any dealings with him got pushed. If you notice the first time he took the book Raven dropped the belt to Jeff Jarrett on a house show for his company to help pop the town for his personal wrestling company Border City Wrestling and that was done to try to help Scott, I guess you could say back pocket, because it was done to help pop his town and his promotion. So they dropped the TNA title on a house show, and Raven never got a rematch, and that was done at a Border City show at Scott’s show. That sums it up in a nutshell; Scott was in for what was best for Scott.
PETEY WILLIAMS: [Jeff Jarrett] still had say over a lot of things, you’ve got to remember he owns a portion of the company so he gets to have a say. I think he still had a lot of say in like what happened with his character and stuff like that. That’s good because you should have creative control over your character. Ultimately he still had a say with what was going on, I think he was still in the booking meetings and stuff. He just wasn’t writing the shows like before. I’m not really sure what happens in the office, it’s tough to say but I’m sure he’s always had a little bit of say in what is going on.
CASSIDY RILEY: Scott knew where his bread was buttered and even though Jeff wasn’t officially the booker, it was kind of like Dutch [Mantell], those guys were true to Jeff and they were Jeff’s friends and so they were going to do what was best for them but they were going to keep Jeff’s best interests in mind to keep getting a pay day also. I don’t blame them, it’s business, you’ve got to feed your family sometimes you’ve got to do stuff like that.
CHAPTER 16: SAMOA JOE, RAVEN & THE INTERNET ERA
Rate Samoa Joe’s Work On Everater
On May 27, 2005 TNA aired their final Impact on Fox Sports Net after nearly a year on the air. Ironically the final episode aired only two weeks into AJ Styles’ world title reign, meaning outside of two weeks TNA’s entire run on Fox Sports Net featured Jeff Jarrett as champion. TNA were tired of being on Friday afternoons with little financial benefits, they wanted to grow. It was a major risk and initially after leaving Fox Sports Net since TNA were without a television deal. They were focused on negotiating with SpikeTV and WGN. SpikeTV appeared to be a long shot, while WGN seemed far more likely. TNA were heavily rumored to be near a deal to air Impact on Monday nights on WGN, but the deal fell through in June. Many wrestlers were worried about the future of the company. TNA continued to run monthly PPVs and also began to broadcast Impact online with the help of Real Networks and BitTorrent. They began to tape four Impacts at a time with no pyro to save costs.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I wasn’t afraid, I’m trying to remember, because like I said TNA for me was a fun thing to do, it wasn’t a big money thing so it really didn’t matter one way or another.
DAVID YOUNG: Yeah, we thought [TNA] was over then too. I wish I could tell you, we defended it don’t get me wrong, because they were trying to do the internet feeds and stuff like that where people could watch the shows on the internet. We thought it was doomed, we honestly didn’t think that it was going to last much longer after that. But, once again Dixie and Jeff got with Spike and look at them now. I wish I had a dollar for every time a nail has been put in the coffin of the company.
SONJAY DUTT: Everyone was [scared] man, nobody knew if we would have jobs. The fucked up thing that has always kind of happened there is nobody would ever address anything, so you were always kind of kept in the dark. I would get all my information fuckin from the internet just trying to find out what was going on, everybody was kind of scared, is this thing going to last? Are our checks going to clear? Are we going to have a job next week? It was a scary time, but props to Dixie Carter and her family for weathering the storm and seeing that through.
CASSIDY RILEY: Absolutely [we were worried]. Anytime it affects your livelihood and you take a hell of a shot business wise you have no choice but to be a little bit concerned. That’s how we’re making our living, so you have worry a little bit. You hear the rumors, the grumblings, and the speculation. You’re not sure, and in that situation I think the best deal would have been to come out and say okay this is what, and they may have but I don’t really remember, these are the options we’re looking at, this is what’s happening. A lot of the time they would rather keep you in the dark and not let you know for whatever reason and that made you even more nervous. That was right around the same time that Matt Hardy had left WWE and been fired from WWE. Matt had, from what I understand, was seriously considering coming to TNA and when they lost their TV deal that’s what turned him away and he decided not to come because of that.
BILL BEHRENS: Pitches were made to a number of people, but WGN always wanted to get paid. Everybody that has gone to WGN plus historically has always been told how much the time period was going to cost. WGN had not really been receptive historically and everybody that said that they had a program that they were starting in wrestling always said that WGN was interested, because WGN was always interested if you were willing to pay 1500 to 2000 per half hour they’ll put you on. They sold an awful lot of paid programming. I never believed there was a deal that was close with them where TNA would have benefitted financially.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: We heard there might be a deal with WGN and we knew it fell through so automatically all of the boys got really scared. But you know it was just a few weeks and then Spike was there. We had our meetings, Dixie never once didn’t think we were going to get a TV deal, I mean she really does. I will say that, Dixie believes in that product, she honestly does, she believes that she has enough talent in that locker room to keep that show on TV. I don’t think it’s the wrestlers that are bad, I think it’s the writing and production.
RUDY CHARLES: It was a little nerve wracking because when we stopped being on Fox Sports we weren’t on any TV. They had it for about 3 or 4 months, the summer of 2005 I guess where they had us on the internet where you could watch us there, but we didn’t have any TV exposure. It was kind of a nervous time for everybody, wondering is this going to be the end of the run what’s going to happen. I think there was talk about WGN, but when the opportunity with Spike came up they wanted to jump on that.
MARCUS CYGY: No one really knew what was going to happen. I remember talking to a few people, the upper bosses like Dixie and company kept saying we’re working on a new deal and negotiating. I think they were negotiating with WGN and Spike was one of them and I don’t remember the other one was. Yeah that went on for about five months and you kind of lose hope, but you’re always hoping for the best. I remember in June 2005 I was speaking with Jimmy Hart and the deal with Spike wasn’t announced until August 2005 but Jimmy was telling people backstage and even to me online that the deal with Spike was locked, it was signed and done. Jimmy got really in trouble for that, I don’t know when he left the company but he left shortly after that, he broke the news too early.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I remember when they said we’re not going with Fox Sports Net, I remember they said either Spike, I remember them saying it’s a real long shot with Spike, WGN is probably more like our shot. So they’re like don’t worry, they said don’t worry. We’re like okay, and then we heard WGN fell through and it was kind of like, what? What’s happening now? As soon as WGN fell through it was like Spike came right away. It wasn’t like a big will we lose our jobs what’s going on. You knew something was up if WGN wasn’t pulling through. I was shocked when we got on Spike, I was like really SpikeTV? I’m like wow I thought you guys said it was such a long shot. But I think they had to pay to be on Spike, like most companies don’t have to pay to be on a network. I think it was something like that, there’s a couple ways it goes. I think it was either we get to be on the network but they keep all the advertisement money or something like that or we have to pay to be on there. I can’t remember, it wasn’t a regular deal like most shows get.
BILL BEHRENS: To the best of my knowledge TNA knew that had the deal coming with Spike and already had that put to bed. At that point it was just is it this going to be these guys are going to continue to run it or are the contracts going to start one right after the other and things just didn’t work out that way. To the best of my memory there was no panic scenario that was occurring at the time.
News of TNA signing with SpikeTV was leaked in July 2005, while the official announcement came at Sacrifice 2005.
SONJAY DUTT: I didn’t think [TNA] was instantly going to be competition, I don’t think that crossed anybody’s mind but I think we thought the Fox Sports thing happened that was a step forward this was a bigger step forward. I mean Fox Sports the penetration that channel got was just nothing compared to what SpikeTV was getting.
CASSIDY RILEY: I thought [the SpikeTV deal] was great, I knew it was the next big step for them. I thought it was going to be really good, we were all excited. The only thing that I wasn’t sure why they did it, it seemed like once we went to Spike they treated it as a completely new show and didn’t acknowledge anything that he had done before then. We still had our loyal fans who had followed us all the way from the weekly PPV’s to the Fox Sports Net down to Spike. It didn’t make sense to me at least, it could have been network business or whatever, but it didn’t make sense not to acknowledge some of the stuff that had previously happened in the career of TNA before Spike. That was really my only complaint about that, but I knew it was going to be good for the company.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: When they made the deal with Spike I definitely figured that there’s a ray of hope because again in the television business you need to be in cahoots with the network. Spike network at the time was plugging themselves as the network for men, the wrestling show would have fit in to Spike’s thing and Spike needed programming. Pro wrestling will always get you a rating, I knew it was a good deal and I was happy about it and it worked out for me because I was on it.
MARCUS CYGY: There were big parties that night [the SpikeTV deal] was announced, it was pretty exciting. It felt legit because it was the former network that was carrying WWE RAW.
SONJAY DUTT: This is something good something forward hopefully the network is behind it pumps some money into this advertising wise and we can move forward as a team, at that time it was that team atmosphere it was that team environment that was bred into us and we all kind of felt it.
Since SpikeTV’s deal with WWE didn’t expire until October 2005, TNA had to wait until then to debut on the network. Despite lacking a television deal, the internet era of TNA in summer 2005 was quite an eventful time for TNA. Ring of Honor star Samoa Joe debuted with TNA at Slammiversary and began his win streak that lasted for over a year. During TNA’s internet era Joe had some of the greatest matches in TNA history including the classic three way match at Unbreakable 2005 where he took on AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels for the X-Division championship.
SONJAY DUTT: [Joe] was awesome man, it was fresh it was new it was done the right way. He was the man at the time, I don’t know what happened but he did fizzle a little bit but at the beginning man it was great because it was fresh it was new it was exciting and the fans took to him man it was great.
CASSIDY RILEY: Joe is a good big guy. When Joe came in and they put him on that undefeated streak for awhile he was putting out some real good matches and doing stuff a guy his size shouldn’t be able to do.
RUDY CHARLES: Joe is cool man he’s just an intimidating guy, his in ring persona is intimidating and kind of a killer. Behind the scenes he’s not a whole lot like his character, he’s a cool guy and he jokes around he’s funny.
PETEY WILLIAMS: If it wasn’t for Samoa Joe I never would have met my wife. Every about six months I say Joe I’m never going to stop thanking you but I just want to thank you for introducing me to my wife. Then we get teary eyed and cry and make out, just kidding. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have met my wife and I thank him all the time for that.
Raven also finally captured the NWA World Title after two years at Slammiversary 2005 in a King of the Mountain match against AJ Styles, Abyss, Monty Brown, and Sean Waltman. During Raven’s run in TNA up until that point he had constantly talked about how winning the world title was his destiny, and after a storyline where Jeff Jarrett attacked a fan Raven was inserted into the King of the Mountain match. Raven’s title run included feuds with Abyss and Rhino, who had recently debuted in TNA.
DAVID YOUNG: I don’t think [Raven winning the world title] did a lot. I mean honestly, I don’t think it did a lot for the company one way or another. We didn’t care who had the belt as long as Jeff [Jarrett] didn’t have it.
SCOTT HUDSON: I love Raven, he and I have been together, he only started a couple of years before me. He’s a terrific guy, smart smart man.
PETEY WILLIAMS: [Raven] is outside of wrestling and in wrestling too a very smart individual contrary to what you think from him on TV he is very very intelligent.
CASSIDY RILEY: It was the best and worst time of my career [working with Raven]. It really was, I mean I enjoyed it but sometimes Raven, he is so smart and has such an in depth brain for the business sometimes he would drive you crazy analyzing stuff and over analyzing stuff. There were times where he wanted me with him right by his side 24 hours a day and all I had to do was do a run in during his match. Man I can do this in my sleep come on. But there was times when he drove me crazy with stuff like that but overall it was a good experience, I’m glad I got to do it and be around him a little bit because he really does have a good mind for the business.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: To be honest with you I thought Raven and the whole Flock were dead back in WCW I thought it was stupid. To be honest with you [Raven didn’t deserve the world title], I thought Raven was already old news, and they wanted me to do some stuff with Raven and I said what the heck. If it helps you out, it was just a weird time to because at that time I decided to get myself a hair transplant. I refused to be a bald guy so I got a hair transplant and after I got a transplant I wanted it to grow in even so that’s why I ended up doing that shave my head do the wig [storyline]. Then that all turned into a cluster too.
CHAPTER 17: THE SPIKETV ERA BEGINS
When TNA re-debuted Impact on SpikeTV, the format changed. They were initially on Saturdays at 11PM and months later switched to Thursdays at 11PM. There was a new theme song, the stages had been upgraded, and there was no more “Fox Box” with a time limit on top of the screen. Like Cassidy Riley stated TNA was also presented as a new promotion. Old storylines weren’t completely ignored but for the most part many were abandoned. Raven never sought revenge against Jeff Jarrett for taking his world title and never even got a rematch for that matter. Video packages also aired introducing audiences to wrestlers like AJ Styles.
The ending to the first Impact on SpikeTV was very significant, Kevin Nash returned after a lengthy sabbatical and the formerly Dudley Boys made their debut in TNA under the name Team 3D. Team 3D had previously been in WWE and felt low balled during contract negotiations with WWE Head of Talent Relations Johnny Ace so they decided to leave WWE for TNA. During their debut they were wearing “FU Johnny Ace” shirts, which must have been confusing to non internet wrestling fans that had no idea who Johnny Ace was. They immediately began feuding with TNA’s top tag team America’s Most Wanted. America’s Most Wanted and Team 3D wrestled on the very next show in a match which ended in a DQ, after the match 3D were beat down and bloodied and did not appear on television for a few weeks. America’s Most Wanted, who were part of Jeff Jarrett’s stable “Planet Jarrett” at the time which also included Team Canada, did a funeral segment for Team 3D with other Planet Jarrett members. 3D would eventually return and get revenge in the storyline against America’s Most Wanted.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I mean this in the nicest possible way, Bubba’s a dick, but I mean that in a totally nice way. He just had that New York mentality you know what I’m saying, he’s really cool. Devon, he’s actually a real cool guy. I remember when I used to watch wrestling when I was young, my Mom always used to always love Bubba and thought he was such a sweetheart and hated Devon and thought he was a dick. Then when I told my Mom Devon’s the nicest guy Bubba’s the dick, I’m like you’ve got this all wrong and I told Devon that and Devon laughed too he’s like yeah yeah you get that a lot on TV but once you meet us.
Kevin Nash was set to have a rematch with Jeff Jarrett for the NWA World Title at TNA’s first Bound For Glory PPV. Bound For Glory was advertised as being TNA’s big PPV, their WrestleMania, despite the fact that besides the clever name it really wasn’t any different from any other TNA PPV. The day before Bound For Glory Nash had heart problems and went to the hospital. Many internet fans thought he was just trying to get out of jobbing like many perceived he did in WCW with fake injuries, but in this case Nash was worried about his health due to a family history of heart problems. Nash wouldn’t appear on TNA programming again until May 2006, when he began his alliance with X-Division star Alex Shelley. With Nash out, TNA quickly had to come up with a new main event. At Bound For Glory they held a 10 man Gauntlet For The Gold to determine who would face Jarrett in the main event, Rhino won. Earlier in the night Rhino had also been in a Monster’s Ball match with Jeff Hardy, Sabu, and Raven. This meant that Rhino would wrestle three times on the show. In the main event Rhino shockingly defeated Jeff Jarrett to win the NWA World Title. The title reign was short lived though and Rhino was quickly sent back to the midcard.
During this time Jeff Jarrett also began by far the most confusing storyline in wrestling history with former WWE Diva Jackie Gayda, whose claim to fame was managing metrosexual wrestler Rico in the WWE and having one of the worst matches in the history of RAW. Jackie came into TNA saying she knew a secret about Jarrett. She also feuded with Jarrett’s valet Gail Kim, who had also recently debuted in TNA. On one show Jackie had a tape recorder, and on another she had a videotape that supposedly contained the secret. The storyline went on for months, and in the midst of it Jackie won TNA Knockout of the Year 2005 despite only being in the company for just about one month in 2005. At one point Jeff Jarrett sent Alex Shelley to go videotape Jackie and the tape was used as blackmail to get her to join Jarrett’s stable and not reveal his secret. So basically Jackie had a tape that she was going to use to reveal Jarrett’s secret, and then Jarrett blackmailed Jackie with a tape of her secret so she wouldn’t release the tape of his secret, when there was never even a hint at what either of their secrets were. My head hurts. Shortly after this in real life Jackie Gayda became pregnant so on Impact Gail Kim told her that because she was pregnant she was fired. Jackie was never on TNA TV again, and her secret was never revealed.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I remember Jackie Gayda, one of my favorite divas. Nice hot looking chick, Charlie [Haas, her husband] is a good guy. It must have been another one of those deals where they started something off and then changed their mind, or they started something and then Jackie’s deal was up. It could be a bunch of different things, and knowing TNA they probably decided well this isn’t getting over this isn’t helping Jeff let’s do something else.
During the early SpikeTV era the X-Division was still dominated by AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels. Joe defeated Styles at Turning Point to win his first X-Division championship. The three would have a variety of different rematches in the ensuing months but in the end Joe was still the undefeated X-Division Champion. AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels would go on to form a tag team.
Larry Zbyszko was the on air authority figure during the early days on SpikeTV, feuding with Raven. Zbyszko was replaced months later by Jim Cornette.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: When Cornette got released from WWE, Cornette was one of Jeff Jarrett’s good buddies. So then they wanted Cornette to replace me because it’s the buddy system. That was fine with me because the way they were going I didn’t really care.
Early on during the SpikeTV era TNA also created contracts that would make their talent exclusive. A good portion of the roster continued to work on week to week deals but these contracts allowed TNA to lock up guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe.
BILL BEHRENS: [Jeff Jarrett, CFO Frank Dickerson, and I] talked in theory about something that would allow them to sow up the talent exclusively finally which they really hadn’t been able to do with the way the contracts were written before. The talent was just paid per show but could book themselves out on the indies, they were just glorified indy guys working for TNA across the board. Everybody was only beholden to TNA as much as they were; they were still making a lot of money out on the indies because TNA was only running one show a week with no house shows, one or two shows. We ended up getting together and coming up with a way to change the contracts and [doing] what we call converted contracts. I resigned from WWE; I was brought back to TNA. By then Frank Dickerson was out or going out right in the middle of all of this right as we’re doing this deal, and Kevin Day was coming in. We were still writing the contracts which became called converted contracts which basically meant TNA would agree to a certain amount of money for certain stars it started out with about 13 people and expanded to 20. People we gave a guaranteed amount of money per week, but it was called a draw. Then TNA would guarantee a certain number of dates again and draw certain ranks, so whatever you were being paid x amount of money, then there were credits. The credits being TV, PPV, house shows if they ever happened but at the time there weren’t house shows, indies, that TNA would book and collect the money on. Well they needed somebody to do all of those bookings and I was brought in to develop that business and basically come up with the money to make these contracts work and for two and a half years we brought in just shy of 2 million dollars doing that.
CHAPTER 18: CHRISTIAN CAGE
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In November 2005, for the first time ever a wrestler decided to jump ship from WWE to TNA. At that point many wrestlers who came to TNA and had formerly wrestled for WWE had either been recently released like Raven, or had been on hiatus from the business like Kevin Nash and DDP. Christian was the first wrestler to choose to leave WWE for TNA. He was getting many fans behind him in WWE despite being a heel, but WWE refused to push him as a top talent. When Christian’s deal expired with WWE he immediately made the jump because of his frustration with being held down and also because of WWE’s strenuous travel schedule. Christian went back to his name he used on the independents, Christian Cage, for legal purposes, and he made his TNA debut at Genesis 2005. Christian cut a promo talking about leaving WWE and clearing up rumors about being lowballed during contract negotiations, and then stated that he wanted Jeff Jarrett’s NWA World Title.
At Genesis Team Canada also offered Christian a spot in their group, and he hinted at joining before taking off a Team Canada shirt to reveal a TNA shirt. Christian was very over during his early months in TNA and was pushed as a top babyface for the first time in his career. Christian took part in some very funny segments with Monty Brown and Jeff Jarrett during this time period, including a segment where he dressed up as Jarrett. Christian went on to defeat Jeff Jarrett for the NWA World Title at Against All Odds 2006 and went on to hold the world title two more times during his run. He also formed a stable called Christian’s Coalition with AJ Styles and Tomko. Styles had some of his funniest TNA moments on camera with Christian, constantly seeking his approval.
DAVID YOUNG: Christian was great, honestly I think when he was there he had the best promos of anybody in the company. I think he brought the best out of [AJ Styles], you got to see a side of [AJ] that you didn’t normally get to see and I think Christian helped a lot with that. I think Christian’s work rate is unbelievable I really do I just don’t think they did what they should have done with Christian. His problem with TNA was that, and it’s the same shit he’s going through with WWE right now, they wouldn’t put him in serious wrestling matches they kept putting him in gimmick matches. I mean he had to do ladder matches, he had to do barbed wire matches, he had to do cage matches, it was never just going there and actually wrestling a match, and he hated that.
CASSIDY RILEY: I thought it was probably the first really good move, the first guy who came in who had a run with WWE who could really possibly make a difference. TNA had a brought a lot of older names and they didn’t seem to really help anything but I thought Christian was young enough and fresh enough and had that connection with the audience where he would be one guy who might really make some big changes and bring some awareness to the company so I thought he was a fantastic acquisition for the company and he’s a great guy, hell of a worker and funny as hell. When it comes time when that bell rings he can get in there and he can go and he gets the job done.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I remember the first time I saw him, I said hey nice to meet you I said I just wanted to let you know I’m a big fan of your work. He says well thanks I’m a big fan of yours too. He did the show and later on that night we went to the bar, he’s the fastest eater I’ve ever seen in my life. It was cool man I was excited for it, he was getting hot like real hot on WWE television. The crowd was really getting on his side; I think that was a big acquisition for TNA, a really big one.
RUDY CHARLES: I was pretty excited to have Christian as part of the company, he’s another guy that I was a big fan of personally and professionally and he’s a great worker. So to get the opportunity to work with him was an honor on my part. He was one of those guys that has a ton of experience with WWE and came in and really brought that to TNA. They used him well and had him as a star but he put over and really helped build the credibility of a lot of the TNA guys too.
SONJAY DUTT: Christian was cool man Christian was another guy who was real down to earth. No ego no nothing come into our locker room and hang out with us, always wanted to work house shows no house shows motherfucker wanted to go. I can’t say the same for everybody, but he was a great addition I think. He was a little star power they wanted, they got that they pushed him to points that WWE was never going to. Maybe personally that was something that he wanted but he was definitely a good addition. He never had a bad match no matter who it was against never had a bad match, he always worked hard. Every house show he always wanted to go. It was cool because a lot of the guys that would come in some of them we didn’t see as being hip to the new generation and new styles and what not but he was always with it.
AUSTIN CREED: I didn’t really get a lot of time talking to him. The time I did the only thing that happened, he was getting ready for some match and we were all messing around in the locker room and he said something about how his abs were popping, and I turned to him because I’ve got some pretty good abs going on, I said when your abs look like this come talk to me. He pats me on the shoulder and he goes, hey let me know when those abs make you some money kid. So I’m like okay I’ve got you. He was a pretty funny guy, I liked him.
MARCUS CYGY: The excitement was really up there for Christian coming in. It was one of the first big jumps someone made crossing over from company to company. I got the sense that a lot of people were thinking the ratings were going to really increase as a result of Christian, but it didn’t actually transpire into what people were hoping. It made everyone realize this is going to be a tougher battle than what everyone was thinking as far as competing with the WWE. Near the end of his run I thought it was just too much hope for the possibility of one wrestler carrying a company on his back is just not possible. It’s going to be a progressive thing; you look even today with Hulk Hogan not one person is going to do it.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I liked Christian, but again here’s the deal with guys like Christian. Christian I think is a great talent in terms of working and watching him on TV but he’s not a big money draw. What TNA was doing is they would get guys that every wrestling fan knows is a mid card guy and they try to put him off like a superstar. So all they’re basically doing is saying hey we’re TNA and we’ve got all of Vince’s left over guys that you don’t care about anymore. They really should have made their own stars and forget bringing in Christian, bringing in other guys maybe outside of a couple. Or if you do it do it right bring Christian in and have the TNA guys beat him and then get Christian out of there, so it looks like the TNA guys are great.
In November 2008 Christian decided to leave TNA and return to WWE when his contract expired. Many rumors spread that he was frustrated with Jeff Jarrett’s creative vision of TNA and that he was upset with the way he was being used, stories spread regarding this as far back as 2007. Despite this, the main reason Christian left TNA was because WWE were simply offering him more money.
RUDY CHARLES: I was really disappointed when he left, I think I’m not sure what the whole situation was, probably came down to money is my opinion. He probably wanted X amount, and there was a bidding war between TNA and WWE and WWE won. He was a professional, even when he knew he was going out the last thing you saw of Christian Cage on TNA was getting beat down by the Main Event Mafia but he was a pro to the end. He went out and did his job and helped get those guys over, I think he’s a true professional.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I remember when he left [in 2008], at that point it was a whole different locker room morale than when we first got down to Orlando, what was that 2004 or something. It was just totally different, I don’t know if you could just see the change because I’m one of the few guys who had been there from 2004 to that point. It was like a whole different company, it didn’t seem like everybody was on the same page. It almost felt like everybody was out for themselves. I think they were, I think Christian did the right thing he was looking out for himself. He’s probably like this isn’t for me I’m going to go back. Honestly I know he took a big pay cut to come to TNA, he was making way more in WWE. I think he just wanted to have a change really, see if he could elevate this company. He had a lot of great matches and stuff like that did a lot of great things for TNA, that’s what I’m thinking now that he decided that he did as much as he could with TNA and I’m going back. I’m going where the money is.
SONJAY DUTT: I heard it was over pay, but if you put yourself in this guys shoes if he’s got an opportunity to go back to Vince [McMahon] and make the money that he was making compared to what he’s doing in TNA. Also man a lot of the time for guys it’s not just about the money but it’s about being presented in a bigger light, and he wanted to do other stuff I think he wants to do acting and stuff and maybe WWE is the ticket to jumpstart himself into other ventures and stuff. Guys that have been there and done that and then come to TNA they sometimes at a point, I think you kind of realize the ventures I want to do, maybe this isn’t the catapult that I need to get into those other things and he went back. I think it’s pretty much cut and dry.
BILL BEHRENS: Christian honestly was pretty happy. One of the primary reasons Christian didn’t renew with TNA had very little to do with him being unhappy with how well he was being used and all that kind of stuff, it had a lot to do with the financial crisis and the fact that Christian has a really nice expensive house and even though he had been wise and invested his money, he invested his money. All of the sudden the nest egg didn’t become as big a nest, and another run with WWE where you can make real money became a better idea. TNA wasn’t going to belly up to the bar and give Christian the same kind of money that he has as an upside in a WWE deal. The reality of the WWE deal is not your downside, but what you can make on the upside. I was talking, for example, to a recently released talent who just got his commission check from a video game and the commission check was for $20,000. There is no one at TNA right now on an entire commission check from all merchandise that makes that much, on a quarterly basis it just doesn’t happen. That’s the dramatic difference between the two. Jeff Hardy had as little as $150,000 downside at WWE, when he left had made well over 1 million dollars in the previous year, which is one of the reasons Jeff Hardy can sign with TNA and make considerably less money, dramatically less.
CHAPTER 19: STING
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Shortly after Christian Cage came into TNA, an even bigger name signed with the company. In December 2005 at Turning Point after Jeff Jarrett defeated Rhino to retain his world title, the lights went out and an image of a scorpion was shown on the screen. A spotlight then shined on a chair in the ring with Sting’s trademark baseball bat, boots, and jacket lying on it. On the New Year’s Eve edition of Impact when the clock stroke midnight, announcer Mike Tenay announced that Sting was coming to TNA as confetti dropped from the ceiling. Christian Cage also announced that at Final Resolution 2006 it would be himself and Sting taking on Jeff Jarrett and “The Alpha Male” Monty Brown. On the very next Impact Jarrett and his lackeys including Monty Brown and Eric Young did a “Tribute to Sting” parody segment where Brown, Young, and others came out dressed as Sting during different time periods of his career. The buildup culminated in Sting’s return at Final Resolution 2006, where the fans chanted “You’ve still got it” at Sting. Sting pinned Jarrett to win the match.
Two weeks later Sting made his first appearance on national television since the final WCW Nitro in 2001 and announced that he was retiring, and that Final Resolution was his goodbye to the wrestling business. The retirement was part of Sting’s storyline with Jeff Jarrett. Sting left which began a storyline with Eric Young telling Jarrett he didn’t think Sting was really gone and acting paranoid which began to get him over as a babyface. Jarrett then sent Alex Shelley to film Sting’s family and find out if he really was retired. This led to Sting initially returning as Steve Borden at Destination X, without any of the facepaint or Sting gimmicks. Scott Steiner made his TNA debut by attacking Sting to end the show. By April 2006 Sting was regularly on Impact and began his never ending feud with Jeff Jarrett.
RUDY CHARLES: Here’s another guy who was super over with the wrestling fans for years and years, for TNA to get him I thought was a big asset. He made a couple appearances for us in the Fairground days at the Asylum [in 2003 and 2004]. But to have him on a regular schedule I think was great. I loved the story that they did because he comes out for the PPV and then on Impact he says he’s going to retire. There were some workers that called him up and said is this true Sting? I thought it was a great story and he was another guy who was great to work with. Real down to earth, you could sit down and talk with him. It was just an honor to get to work with him too you know. I think he’s another one of those guys that was always good about helping getting the younger talent over. I just remember he had a couple of matches with guys like Eric Young and made Eric look like a superstar, and Eric’s great anyways. Sting could have done whatever because he’s Sting, but he didn’t he wanted to help get the younger guys over.
SONJAY DUTT: Sting was cool because they presented [him] as something special. I think Sting alone is a good addition but they really did good with the way they presented Sting’s character at the time. Didn’t he retire after a match and then he was gone, and then [Alex] Shelley was taping him at his house or something. That was cool man I thought it was interesting it was different, because at the time when they signed him full time in the back of my mind I’m like how do you make this guy a full time gig you know this is I think a nostalgia act that you can bring in once in a blue moon. But as a full time character I didn’t know how it was going to work, but they made it work and they made it work well.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I thought at first when they brought Sting in it might not be a bad idea, but the way Sting is I’ve never been a big Sting fan. Sting is a very lucky guy; he wasn’t that good in the ring he’s not a good interview guy other than the scream. I mean he was so dead in WCW we had to dress him like the Crow and drop him from the ceiling for a year and not let him talk to get one match out of him. I thought for TNA it was okay because to get some notice for a short time. We were even in talks with him and do you want Sting in here give him a year deal then get rid of him. Right now [spring 2010] Sting is totally dead.
MARCUS CYGY: I met Sting and I have a lot of respect for him he’s one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. I tried talking to the guy and he wasn’t very interested in talking, he’s very quiet. I’ve heard amongst the other wrestlers as well that he doesn’t really care he’s kind of just going through the motions. I remember Bischoff used to speak about Sting during the WCW days about him not caring and having the passion as well, I can definitely see that being the same issue with him in TNA.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I mean his heart is not in it, he doesn’t want to be there anyways so why bother? Now it’s just getting dumber and dumber, old news.
DAVID YOUNG: He didn’t talk to any of us, period. Honestly I mean he had his own dressing room he didn’t get dressed with the boys. He stayed as secluded from us as possible. He’s another one of those guys that we never knew he was there until his music actually started playing. Unless you were directly involved with him, in his match, he didn’t have anything to say to you.
CODY DEANER: I saw [Sting] usually helping guys that he was working with at the time, if he was working with Abyss he’s talking and helping Abyss, if he was working with AJ you’d see him hanging around a lot with AJ and giving AJ advice. So he would mainly stick to whoever he was working with. I never approached Sting to ask him for advice, so I can’t say whether or not he would have given it to me. But he’s a very nice man, and I’m sure if I would have went out of my way to ask him for some advice or ask him to watch my match or give me some feedback I’m sure he would have. I just never did, I had other people that I went to to ask for advice so I never really went to him.
CODY DEANER: Sting was always visible, he wasn’t a guy that would hide and you’d never see him around and he’d only come out when he was working, no he was out and about and very visible and approachable.
CASSIDY RILEY: I got to spend not a lot of time with him, but I got to spend some time with him. We are both Christians so we discuss our faith, I think he’s a stand up guy as a person, I think as an athlete he kind of lost a step coming back. The main thing that was so frustrating about him coming in for guys like myself that were younger guys who were going out there and we were busting our butts man week in and week out giving it all we had. There would come times when we would all ask for a little bit more money, and the company would tell us there’s no more money there’s no more money, but then they would sign guys like him to a big deals and they couldn’t even afford to give us an extra 50 or 100 bucks a night. That to me was the biggest and most frustrating thing about some of those guys coming in.
AUSTIN CREED: I’ve never had a problem with [Sting], he’s always been really nice to me. I never [felt] bad vibes from him for anything. He’s always really humble whenever I talk to him, it’s like bro you’re Sting you don’t have to be like that but he is which is really cool.
BILL BEHRENS: Sting has done everything good or bad in TNA. He’s worked very very hard sometimes and he’s coasted other times. When Sting is motivated and he has been a few of the times he’s been great. He’s a generally nice person regardless there’s not a bad thing you can say about Sting the person really, I’m sure somebody can I’m not going to be one of those people. There are times when Sting for a variety of reasons has not had his heart in being there, and yet was.
Sting has constantly been on top throughout his run in TNA. He won the World Title at three consecutive Bound For Glory PPV events defeating Jeff Jarrett, Kurt Angle, and Samoa Joe. Every year though when Sting’s contract would come up, he would contemplate retirement and tell TNA he thought this might be it. This constantly led to TNA giving Sting strong contract offers which made him stay.
RUDY CHARLES: I don’t know maybe that was a negotiating ploy, I’m not sure how old he is but he’s had a great run. He might have just been saying that to get them to sign him for another year or so.
BILL BEHRENS: Many times that he has wanted to step away literally, for whatever reason Dixie has kept bringing him back and bringing him back…he just wants to retire. One of his plans and he’s now just beginning to realize it is he wanted to move to Texas, which his wife didn’t want to do which was part of the problem. He wanted to start a church, that’s still a goal of his and maybe all of this is to continue to generate money to go towards that dream or maybe another dream, I haven’t talked to Sting now in over a year so I don’t know. I know he was back and forth as to whether he was going to come back this most recent time [early 2010] in fact, depending on whose story you want to believe [he] no showed a PPV. If you watch his performance, like for example at Bound For Glory in Atlanta when he worked Kurt Angle. He worked his fucking ass off and should have retired after that match. It was the best match I’ve seen him do in over a decade, he stepped up that night.
CHAPTER 20: TNA IS ON SALE?
In 2005 and 2006 rumors were spreading that people were attempting to buy TNA. The reality is Panda Energy themselves were trying to sell TNA. With millions of dollars already dumped into TNA, Panda were tired of sinking money into it and were looking to recoup their losses. There were two main entities that had meetings about possibly buying TNA, the main one was Morphoplex. Morphoplex was one of TNA’s main sponsors during their early days on SpikeTV, airing cheesy ads featuring TNA talent like Larry Zbyszko.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: The rumors were [that Morphoplex wanted to buy TNA], but the truth of the matter is that the TNA people approached, they were the ones that came up with it and said would you like to buy TNA? They were looking to unload it, it wasn’t the Morphoplex people. This [Morphoplex] guy was kind of a fan of mine and the Morphoplex guy has an office at Universal, and bumped into me. He was really impressed by the way that I looked for my age. I always worked out, but I never did roids and I don’t drink or do all that shit. For a guy my age, I’m 58; I don’t look any different than I did on AWA classics. It was weird because I just had a hell of a match with some kid on an indy and my lower back was sore, so I was walking a little slow and this guy came up to me and said hey look I’ve got some stuff and he gave me some Morphoplex. Then in a couple of weeks I felt great, not only did I feel great I started looking better and some people started asking me if I was on roids. It’ll do what steroids will do for you, but you won’t die and kill you liver, it’s really good stuff. So he gave me it and basically he made me a deal where they paid me to do commercials for them. Morphoplex was interested in advertising on TNA’s show and getting involved with them because they had some products coming out that would replace steroids. So this one guy Rich Dickerson who is the head of Morphoplex, and then they had a man that was working for Panda that was in there running the money for TNA and his last name was Dickerson, it was the most amazing coincidence. But they had a meeting and wondered if Morphoplex wanted to buy TNA. Morphoplex didn’t want to buy a wrestling company, they were into supplements and they had no knowledge and no interest getting involved in a TV show. They were up there trying to get their product off the ground.
MARCUS CYGY: I remember those rumors too. I remember asking Lee South about it too and Bill Banks. Bill I thought was lying to me a lot but Lee would never lie to me and he didn’t know too much about it.
BILL BEHRENS: There was a pleading courtship in terms of, is there somebody that will make Bob Carter whole and take over. The reality is with almost every one of these deals the only thing people are willing to do, the same problem Cary Silken is having with Ring of Honor and on everybody that has offered to buy the company. It’s similar to what happened in the auto industry, nobody is willing to come in and take over the debt. People are willing to come in and take over the day to day operation, and remove the obligation to incur greater debt from the owner, which is basically what happened with a lot of the auto industry. The guys came in and said we’re not taking over the debt but we’ll take over the operation and we’ll rebuild the company that way. Those were the deals that were relatively there, nobody really bellied up.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: From what I understand you’re talking about over 20 million dollars that Panda had put in. At one point they were even approaching a friend of mine, they were trying to sell TNA for 10 million dollars or something. Even though Bob Carter is Dixie’s Dad and all of that he still answers to the Panda board and the stockholders and all the sudden the energy company is out 20 something million dollars for a TV show that isn’t going anywhere.
BILL BEHRENS: There was this flaky guy out of Ohio that in theory had a bunch of money and tried to buy the company at one point, and that was a bunch of BS also. He was just a jerk, bless his heart. He at least got a couple of people excited for half a minute that there was a possibility he could do that.
The potential buyer from Ohio was Dave Nelson, the promoter of NWA Ohio who had barely been in the wrestling business for a year. Nelson unsuccessfully tried to purchase TNA, and after not being able to he changed the name of NWA Ohio to the World Wide Wrestling Alliance. At a show he had wrestlers including Hacksaw Jim Duggan come to the ring to “sign exclusive contracts” with his company. He claimed he had a national TV deal with ESPN 2 and said he was going to run a PPV. Nothing ended up happening, and by 2006 Nelson had dropped off the face of the earth.
CHAPTER 21: KURT ANGLE
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On August 25, 2006 Kurt Angle was shockingly released early from his WWE contract. WWE.com’s official statement read, “Due to personal issues, Kurt Angle has been granted an early release from his contract. WWE looks forward to establishing a new relationship with Kurt in the near future.” It wasn’t an ordinary release, Angle had told Vince McMahon that he was going to rest his body and then come back. News quickly spread that Angle was pursuing a career in MMA, which made people think that there was no chance that he would come to TNA.
In September TNA started promoting that they would make the biggest announcement in company history at No Surrender. At the event the on air authority figure at the time Jim Cornette announced that TNA had finally gotten a permanent primetime timeslot, and that Impact was moving to 9PM on Thursdays. He then said that wasn’t the actual major announcement, and directed viewers towards the video screen. A video played that showed Kurt Angle announcing he had signed with TNA. Nobody in the company knew outside of a few people, even announcer Don West said “shit” and Mike Tenay squealed like a schoolgirl.
RUDY CHARLES: I was actually one of the few of the inner circle that knew about [Kurt Angle signing with TNA]. There were probably 5 or 6 guys in the whole company that did. So that was super super hush hush. What I did is when I knew the spot was coming up I was just kind of out in the Impact Zone just to watch people’s reactions. I just remember when the vignette played on the video wall and he said he was coming to TNA, people were going crazy man. I’m getting cold chills just thinking about it that was one of the loudest times I’ve ever heard the Impact Zone. It was a special moment; it was definitely one of the top five biggest moments in TNA history acquiring Kurt Angle.
MARCUS CYGY: Kurt Angle was another high hopes savior for the company just like Christian. I was really excited because it was a huge surprise. No one knew about Kurt coming in at No Surrender. It was a big landmark, I think he’s done well for the company he’s certainly [created] a lot of great moments for the company.
SONJAY DUTT: I think everybody thought that [Kurt Angle] was like going to be the savior and things were just going to ultimately tomorrow turn around and every motherfucker was going to fuckin watch TNA and know TNA existed I didn’t think that was going to happen but I thought it was obviously a great catch. So it’s like wow this is fuckin somebody who is fresh off Vince McMahon’s TV, not just somebody but a top guy this guy was there when wrestling was at its peak he’s relatively young and he can work his ass off. At that point it was the biggest acquisition that we had gotten.
BILL BEHRENS: Kurt’s deal was very advantageous to Kurt but equally advantageous to TNA which is why Kurt appeared so much. On a per show basis Kurt’s deal was very very good for both parties. It kept Kurt busier than he probably wanted to be though, that’s why I had him on every house show when I was booking them, because of how his deal is structured.
Angle debuted a few weeks later and immediately began feuding with Samoa Joe, who was still undefeated at the time. After guest enforcing Bound For Glory’s main event Angle had his first PPV match against Samoa Joe at Genesis 2006, where he defeated Joe and ended his undefeated streak. They would go on to have a few more matches before ending their feud. Angle eventually went on to win the TNA World Championship in mid 2007 and eventually won every male title in TNA. His wife Karen also eventually became an on air character, and after AJ Styles aligned himself with the Angles he began lusting after Karen and they eventually began a romantic storyline.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: I think Kurt Angle is great, unfortunately now here you’ve got a guy who is very good. Not only is he very good, he’s an Olympic Gold Medalist. The guy is surreal, they bring Kurt Angle in and I’m very excited, I think this could really help TNA. What do they do for a whole year when they bring Kurt Angle in. They bring Kurt Angle in, and I remember he was in like a week right they just brought him in and the announcers are screaming oh my god this what we’ve been waiting for, we’ve been waiting for he just got in? They threw together in like three weeks; as soon as he got there they put him with Samoa Joe, and they did a good buy rate probably the best buy rate they ever did. But it was so fast it was over, then they did another one and another one. So that faded away in three months, and then they spend a whole year about who is fucking Kurt Angle’s wife. I mean you’ve got an Olympic Gold Medalist, and a guy who is a great talent. Instead of making him look like a star, the whole television show is about who is fucking his wife. It makes Kurt Angle a complete idiot, you know what I’m saying, it makes him meaningless. Then it turns out to be a shoot anyways.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I was excited about [Kurt coming in]. I was a big fan of Kurt Angle, a really good wrestler. He’s helped me out along the way and stuff, it was a pleasure working with him. It’s just weird because sometimes you know he’s hurting, you know he was broken necks and stuff and they work him real hard in TNA, like nonstop. I couldn’t even imagine working the schedule and those matches like main event all the time they’re pushing his body to the limit. He already has like broken necks and stuff like that, so sometimes he’ll walk around and you can tell Kurt is hurting real bad, and he’s got to do like a 20 minute match with Samoa Joe later on that night. I respect when he walks out there, you can’t even tell he was walking around all hurting in the back. He just like flips and a switch and he’s like go go go. You have got to respect that, he’s got a heart and he can go man.
AUSTIN CREED: Kurt Angle was really good to me; he was always giving me advice and everything. I’d say hi and bye to him every once and awhile just like when I first got there. One day me and [Johnny] Devine were wrestling around in the ring, Kurt was sitting in the crowd talking to somebody just watching. When we got done I went back and he goes hey, did you used to amateur wrestle? I was like yeah, he was like yeah I could tell that’s a pretty good thing you’ve got going on there. After that he would always talk to me, [it] was an amateur wrestling bond.
DAVID YOUNG: Kurt was super nice. Every time I’ve ever been around Kurt he’s been super super nice, he’s a really approachable person. He’ll sit and talk to you, he’s super super nice. I don’t have any problems with Kurt Angle at all; in fact I think Kurt Angle and AJ are the best two workers on that show. I mean as hurt as Kurt is and honestly if you can see him in the back he is hurt. I mean he’s always in pain, and to see him get in the ring and do what he does, he’s a machine. He is one of the most amazing guys on that roster.
CODY DEANER: Kurt, he is a really hard guy to read. I consider myself a person that can read people pretty well, I can read their moods. I can read when they’re angry when I shouldn’t approach them, I just consider myself a person that can read people, and I could never read Kurt. I always thought that he was angry and mad. He’s so hard to read, I always thought the way he carries himself he’s a strong guy and he can burn a hole when he looks at you and you wonder if he’s trying to intimidate you or not. I found when I actually talked with Kurt, that you cannot judge a book by its cover. I will personally admit that I was really intimidated by Kurt Angle because I was reading his exterior and I was going this guy doesn’t look like he’s very happy today I shouldn’t approach him. Actually I walked into the locker room once and he was sitting right beside my bags and Kurt usually didn’t change in the locker room I was changing in, but he had come in there because he was talking with certain talent. But he was in our locker room, which wasn’t always the case. He was sitting right beside my chair, and looking like he usually does with that look on his face. I was like oh crap and I will admit I was a little bit intimidated but I sat down and started changing and as I kind of have my head down and was putting my boots on, I hear hey Cody how’s it going? I looked up and it was Kurt. He said you’re really good. I said what? I was kind of taken aback. He said you’re really good at what you do, you are very entertaining, I enjoy watching you on the program, you are an asset to this company keep doing what you’re doing you are doing a good job. I [was like] thank you Kurt, he was kind, he was soft spoken, he didn’t have to say that to me. He had other stuff he was doing, he was working with some other people and he didn’t have to say that to me. I am not in any position of power; he has nothing to gain by saying that to me other than the fact that he is just a kind man. He went out of his way to tell me I was doing a good job, and I appreciated it and it was a nice thing. I realized then, I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, he was an example of that lesson. I was judging the way he kind of looks and carries himself as being an intimidating not so happy fellow, but that’s not the case he’s a very kind hearted and sweet man really. I think Kurt Angle is misunderstood.
CHAPTER 22: RUSSO’S RETURN & THE KNOCKOUTS
Kurt Angle coming to TNA may have been the biggest story in TNA in September 2006, but there was also a massive creative team overhaul which coincided with Angle’s signing and TNA’s new primetime timeslot. Scott D’amore and his booking committee were out of power, and Vince Russo returned to TNA after two years to work on creative with Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantell. Russo had previously left TNA in 2004 to explore his newfound religion. He launched a short lived religious wrestling promotion called Ring of Glory, but otherwise he stayed away from the wrestling business. Russo returned in 2006 because he felt Jarrett needed his help, especially with Jeff’s wife Jill beginning to enter the final stages of breast cancer (Jill later tragically passed in May 2007). Russo’s return was met with mixed reactions backstage.
RUDY CHARLES: That was a time where they’d had that booking team in play [with Scott D’amore]. It’s one of those times where all the sudden there is Vince up at the office, I’m not sure what’s going on. I come to find out they had kind of had a shake up and the creative team is now Jeff, Dutch, and Vince. I had always liked Vince, I was glad to see him back. I thought he in a lot of ways breathed some new life back into the product you know. Each guy has their own philosophy so he kind of took it in a different direction. It was interesting and exciting times.
SONJAY DUTT: I thought okay obviously it’s going to be different I knew that the concentration that Scott had on matches was pretty much going to be done with that regime just because of what they favor over what Scott favors. But I didn’t think it was bad, I didn’t know what to expect. I really didn’t think this is going to be a negative or a positive I just thought hey this is different and maybe this could be advantageous to me, maybe it could be advantageous to X-Division guys because this regime is a little bit more character driven, more personality driven, more vignette driven shit like that so maybe this is good for us. Ultimately you could say that it was, we all got characters, we all got personalities, and we were all presented in a much different light than we were in the past regimes that were in power.
BILL BEHRENS: There’s always been a pocket in the industry that have difficulty with the Vince, and the basic difficulty that people have with Vince is that some of the beliefs he has are inconsistent with what a lot of us believe to be true. With that said Vince also has good ideas and is a talented man, and coming in to help write the show with Dutch and Jeff, and I learned a good bit about what little I know about booking from Dutch Mantell having worked with him in the earliest part of my booking experience at USWA when he took over for Mike Samples. So I always had great respect for Dutch in general as a booker, and Vince really was the guy that was writing the show Dutch and Jeff were more booking the show. Vince really, and Vince will say this point blank, until July  he never was booking. People were on the committee and called the booker whether it was Jeff or Scott D’amore.
DAVID YOUNG: Actually we were all happy about Russo coming back at that point because most of the young guys were getting pushed when Russo was there so we had [dealt] with the D’amores and everybody else so we actually had high hopes when he came back in.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: The politics always kept changing, and then all of the sudden out of the blue Russo is back. Half their friends were back then everything got weird so I played golf and took a break…When Russo came back I just kind of shook my head because I realized TNA wasn’t going to go anywhere quick, because I know what their philosophy is.
PETEY WILLIAMS: At that point there was so many booking changes, like Jeff was in, then Dusty was in, then Scott was in, then it’s like okay now who is in charge? Okay Jeff’s in charge again, oh and Dutch. And now they’re not in charge, and Vince is in charge? It [was so] different all the time, at that point I was like alright somebody would hand me a sheet of what I got to do for the day and I was like just get it done.
Once the creative team of Jeff Jarrett, Dutch Mantell, and Vince Russo took over the product went in a different direction, based more on gimmicks than the wrestling based product Scott D’amore and Mike Tenay championed. There were many controversial storylines and gimmicks at the time including the former New Age Outlaws going under the name VKM, Voodoo Kin Mafia. VKM are the initials for Vincent Kennedy McMahon. VKM would trash WWE and their new version of DX and many fans thought TNA came off as desperate for attention with the storyline. Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley formed the Motor City Machine Guns in 2007 and became a fan favorite tag team, despite never holding tag team gold until 2010.
Sting and Abyss also began a feud which involved many infamous gimmick matches and a storyline where Sting said he knew Abyss had shot his own father in the back three times, sending him into a coma. Then Abyss’ manager brought Abyss’ mother to the Impact Zone and said Abyss’ mother had actually shot his father and that Abyss was just trying to protect her by saying he did it. Mitchell later brought in his “son” Judas Mesias to feud with Abyss. Before researching this I actually thought Mitchell was Abyss’ storyline father, but I got that confused with the Undertaker, Kane and Paul Bearer WWF storyline. At some point Sting and Abyss were having a match at a PPV which prompted the first “Fire Russo” chants. Despite Russo’s infamous reputation in the business many wrestlers noted how open he was to working with talent on their characters and storylines.
RUDY CHARLES: I sat in on every creative meeting for three and a half years. I think people were quick to blame too much on Vince, it was a three member booking team. Ultimately Jeff had the veto power, but if Vince felt passionately about something or Dutch did they would explain their side of the story. Sometimes Jeff would say okay let’s try it that way, sometimes he’d say no I really think we really need to do it this way.
PETEY WILLIAMS: So Team Canada broke up and we did our first PPV in Detroit [Bound For Glory 2006]. So I was in a battle royal match, no big deal. I asked Vince, I had just moved to Orlando, I think he had just got the book again, I said hey Vince what have you got for me am I on TV’s [or] whatever, he’s like oh yeah stop by The Impact Zone and we’ll talk if we got time. I was like oh great, I just moved to Orlando and now it’s like I’m getting the cold shoulder, so I’m like whatever. So then I’m the last man in the 20 man Battle Royal, and I come out the place goes nuts. I get in the ring and I do the [Canadian] Destroyer, the place goes nuts. I get eliminated and I come to the back, I’m watching the next match and Vince comes up to me and he says hey Petey good stuff out there, he’s like hey man I have a great idea for you, listen stop by the Impact Zone on Monday or whatever it was tomorrow, he’s like I want to sit down I want to go through some ideas with you, and then he leaves. I’m like is that what it takes, he saw that I was over and that the fans liked me, and that’s when he tried to turn me into a United States character, you know he spent a lot of time with me trying to work on that character and it didn’t go well so he stopped fighting for the character and stuff. A year passes by and at the next Bound For Glory Vince was like you know Petey, we’ve got to come up with a character for you. It was kind of like this is it, if this doesn’t work I don’t know what to do with you. So then that’s when we came up with the Maple Leaf Muscle character, I pitched that to him and he loved it. He gave me some promo time and then he loved the backstage promo and he was like hey Petey listen, he’s like this character that you are doing back here in this promo, if you don’t portray the same character in the ring this isn’t going to work. I’m thinking like man I have a match tonight this is the only time I can do it, so I go out there it was like a four way match Scott Steiner was in there I had some interaction with him. I get backstage and Vince is standing there with a straight look on his face and he goes hey Petey, come here. I’m like oh shit, he goes why didn’t you tell me that you could do this earlier? Oh my god this is great, we could team you with Scotty down the line, and I’m like oh thank god.
SONJAY DUTT: They asked me what I wanted to do character wise and I presented them the character I always wanted to do that Bollywood superstar, I wanted to come to the ring and do a whole dance number like Bollywood movies and this and that and they told me that at the time Ron Killings was imitating Hollywood movies or something and it was too similar, I don’t know. They had some ideas for what they wanted to do with me and Russo personally asked me my opinion what I thought what I felt, from there the Guru [character] was born and we worked very closely from that point on.
CODY DEANER: [Russo] was very open, and very willing to talk with you. It was refreshing for me as a new talent coming into a big company. I’d never really worked extensively with a national company before and I was kind of expecting to have to pitch ideas to a middle man or have to go through somebody but that wasn’t the case. I would talk with Vince Russo himself backstage, I would correspond with him through e-mails. He was very approachable and very willing to be acceptable of creative ideas from talent. He was excellent to work with.
RUDY CHARLES: It’s funny because some of the stuff [internet fans] blamed Russo on was a Dutch idea or Jeff idea. You can’t win sometimes.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Russo used to make fun of [Steiner] right to his face. He’s like you know what we’re taking one take whatever you say, we’re taking it. [Scott] is like no no no, I don’t want to stumble with my words. Vince is like no man that’s good. He’s like you have all this pent up frustration you want to release it. [Scott] is like I don’t want to look stupid! [Vince] is like no this is good this is great.
CODY DEANER: We were handed, I don’t want to call it a script, we were handed a format a quote on quote, with what was the gist of whatever we were trying to accomplish but I was told specifically numerous times from Vince Russo himself that the things that were written down were not my lines I had to memorize and do. He wanted me to be myself, get the same ideas across but in a creative way in a way I thought Cody Deaner would do it. That was really nice because I’ve heard horror stories from the WWE, you know you’re handed a script. I’ve seen [WWE scripts] and I’ve been there because I’ve done work with the WWE and been backstage and seen guys being handed a script, and seeing them walking around backstage and memorizing their lines. TNA is not like that.
RUDY CHARLES: There was definitely some memorable stuff going on at that time, some good stuff I thought some of it wasn’t so good. I think for the most part, Vince’s philosophy I guess has always been kind of throwing an arrow and seeing what lands. I think a lot of stuff was pretty good back in those days, as the ratings were kind of going up and up at the time.
Dutch Mantell was also a vital part of the Jarrett/Russo/Mantell team. It was his idea in late 2007 to start the Knockouts division, TNA’s first foray into womans wrestling. The first Knockouts champion was Gail Kim, and she entered into a lengthy feud with Awesome Kong. Long term though The Beautiful People, originally consisting of Angelina Love and Velvet Sky, proved to be TNA’s top drawing female act.
CODY DEANER: Dutch Mantell came up with the idea for the Knockouts division, and his philosophy was that he wasn’t going to make these girls powder puff divas that hit each other with pillows. He was going to make them ass kicking, yet sexy, wrestlers. They’ve done just that, so they appeal to both demographics, they appeal to the guys that just want to look at eye candy, but they also appeal to the wrestling purist who wants to see good wrestling. The girls are a very important part of the show, and that’s proven in the ratings.
AUSTIN CREED: The females in TNA are the best female wrestlers, they’re very good wrestlers they’re amazing and they were putting on some good matches. Not to say that I wouldn’t have liked to see more X-Division stuff too, but their matches and the time that they got was used well by them.
PETEY WILLIAMS: They wanted [Scott D’amore] in charge of the Knockouts division. Honestly he did really good things with the Knockouts, he worked really really hard with them. I used to see him backstage like going through all the stuff; he was the guy to do it, even though I know he’s always hated womans wrestling. I’m the same way I’ve always hated womans wrestling, no offense to them I just, I don’t like it. I think he was the same way, but I think he knew how to tell a good story I think.
CODY DEANER: [The Knockouts] are very talented women, they’re very talented performers and they deserve the spot that they [were] getting on the show in my opinion.
CODY DEANER: Angelina, I actually grew up in the business with Angelina Love. She was actually my manager 9 years ago on the indies, I worked a lot with her I’ve known her for years. So it was cool to get to work with her again in TNA.
BILL BEHRENS: It was always touted that the Knockouts segments are always the highest rated. 9 out 10 times those segments were in the 5th quarter hour, the hour that would come in at 10PM or whatever. Now the way television is viewed and if you watch the flow of almost all of these shows in general there is an artificial peak if something good is going on in the 5th quarter hour, particularly among male viewers, there is a habitual process that occurs at every hour where you [go back] to something you rejected you’re a fan of it, call that wrestling, or you’ll just frickin change channels to show up with something, and there is the element of oh hot chicks. You’ll all of the sudden stop and as long as your audience is there for approximately five minutes, it’s going to accrue to that quarter hour. So the end result is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, the Knockouts were usually in the 5th segment and the 5th segment is usually a bumped segment over the 4th if they have not maintained flow in the first hour and usually TNA doesn’t.
CHAPTER 23: MICK FOLEY, BOOKER T & SCOTT STEINER
By 2008 TNA was starting to experience a division in the locker room. With big names like Sting, Kurt Angle, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, and Booker T in the company they had their own locker rooms while the younger talent like the X-Division wrestlers had their own lockers. Initially the division was friendly, mainly necessitated by the design of the Impact Zone.
AUSTIN CREED: Obviously everybody in the X-Division it all just clicked because you know you’re all in the same boat going through the same stuff. All of those guys we got really close.
SONJAY DUTT: That was our crew. Me, Petey, Jay, and the [Motor City Machine] Guns. That was the crew we always rode together we traveled together we roomed together we did everything together man. Frankie, Joe, AJ, and Daniels [was the other crew], our two groups man we were so tight man.
AUSTIN CREED: The divide that I saw initially was there were separate locker rooms down there. It’s just because there’s so many wrestlers so they have to have x amount of places to get dressed so everybody has an area. There’s an X-Division locker room, and there’s I guess a regular guys locker room, and then some of the vets have their own locker room. That was like the main divide, but other than that everybody got along everybody hung out with everybody in catering it was a really big family type feel. I’ve heard a lot of things from a lot of locker rooms how it’s kind of cutthroat and you don’t really say much to anybody you just kind of keep to yourself. You feel welcome the day you walk in the door [at TNA] and everybody is really caring and willing to take you in.
CASSIDY RILEY: I just remember there were a lot of people, we had two trailers that we changed in and then you had the group of guys who changed over in the main production office for the studio and so that was kind of the top stars over there [like] Nash, Jeff, Scott Steiner, and all those guys kind of, they dressed in one section and then the rest of the boys dressed in the trailers on the other side.
CODY DEANER: There was a veteran locker room somewhere, I never was in it or saw it I’m not a veteran. There was kind of two trailers backstage where various talent would change and then there was veterans kind of changed in another locker room somewhere in another studio, but they would come into our locker room because there was a massage therapist that was in the locker room that I changed In so you would see talent coming in there, that necessarily didn’t change there coming in and they’d be waiting to get a massage or getting something done, fix their bumps and bruises and their sore necks and backs and they’d mingle around and talk. Like a guy like Kevin Nash, for a guy that didn’t change in our locker room he spent a heck of a lot of time in our locker room. He changed elsewhere but he was always in our locker room hanging out and telling stories, cool guy. So the locker room situation there was kind of two trailers that kind of the lower card mid card guys would change in, and then the Knockouts had their own trailer beside another studio, and then the veterans had a locker room somewhere inside the production building somewhere.
AUSTIN CREED: Some of them [came in to hang out with the younger talent]. Like Steiner and Nash would come hang out sometimes. But usually they had so much stuff going on that they didn’t have time to come and do anything.
PETEY WILLIAMS: [Scott Steiner] keeps to himself a lot; I hear stories about him back in WCW he was not a dick, but mean and like a bully I don’t know whatever the case may be. It seems like when he came to TNA, he was I don’t know maybe he had kids since he had kids he’s more calmed down in life I don’t know he was a really cool guy, I really liked him. I think he respects you if you look like a wrestler, like if you’re all cut up and if you have abs and stuff and look like you work out, I think he respects that. I think maybe that’s why he liked me.
RUDY CHARLES: Scott is cool. I heard all these horror stories about him in WCW you know, but he was one of those guys when I first met him I wasn’t sure what to think.
CODY DEANER: [Steiner] surprised me because Scott Steiner has had a lot of heat on him, fans give him heat and there’s a lot of rumors and a lot of stuff that’s been said about Scott. I never really saw Scott when he was supposedly a hothead and this fly off the wall crazy guy. My whole time with TNA he was nothing but extremely pleasant if you can believe it, very approachable, funny, kind guy. Not anything I expected based on rumors and stuff that I heard, he was not a hothead he was very down to earth. I will share one little inside story with you. This was actually before I signed with TNA I was at a BBQ at Jeff Jarrett’s house and Scott Steiner was there and he cooked us all burgers we had a little grill out and he cooked everybody burgers on this little tiny grill, there was 15 to 20 of us and there was Big Poppa Pump sweating his balls off over the grill making us all burgers. Scott Steiner makes one mean burger. He’s a funny guy. I think sometimes people do laugh at him instead of with him, but he is a funny guy as well. He does have a good sense of humor and he’s a really nice guy. A lot of people do end up laughing at him rather than with him, I don’t like to take part of that he’s a nice person.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I don’t know I mean Booker T like I said I like the guys that are there and they want to help the younger guys, I didn’t get that feelings from Booker T honestly. You know he was a great guy in the locker room he was funny and stuff like that, honestly what I look for is guys like Kurt Angle and Scott Steiner it’s like to pass the knowledge down. That’s what it used to be, way back in the day it used to be to help the next generation get over and build them up. I got that feeling from a lot of guys, I didn’t really get it from Booker T. Maybe it’s because I don’t expect that from everybody, Booker T is busy so I understand that he can’t be there to help all of the young guys but you know.
CODY DEANER: I don’t really have an opinion on Booker, I never really talked to him. I don’t like to judge people but I’m really indifferent to him.
RUDY CHARLES: Booker T’s cool man, he’s just kind of laid back. I just remember one incident, I had messed something up in a match and he’s just like man don’t worry about it, I was just kind of freaking out about it because I’m thinking oh god. It wasn’t something terribly bad but it was something that some people were upset about, he said don’t worry about it it’s okay stuff happens just go out there next time and do your job you know.
SONJAY DUTT: Booker was cool man Booker took a liking to me man he liked my work, I guess he liked that I’m just a hip hop kid man I love hip hop that’s my life that’s my culture expresses my way of living and I guess he noticed that.
Despite big names like Booker T coming into the company Samoa Joe finally won TNA World Title at Lockdown 2008 by defeating Kurt Angle, long after his hot undefeated streak run was over. James Storm of America’s Most Wanted and Robert Roode from Team Canada also formed Beer Money in 2008, which became the top tag team in the company for the next two years. In September 2008 former WWE champion Mick Foley jumped ship from WWE to TNA. He debuted in a non-wrestling role and quickly became an authority figure; on television he shared power with Jeff Jarrett, who had began to acknowledge on television that he was TNA’s founder.
RUDY CHARLES: I talk about top five moments in TNA I think that was another one. Foley here’s this guy with a ton of experience super charismatic; I think it was just huge to have him on board. I got to do a pretape with him, where he was just saying who are you? Rudy Charles, senior referee. That went back and forth a couple times it was kind of silly but it was just fun getting to work with him, he was real cool.
SONJAY DUTT: [Mick] was to me like hey it’s another big name. That’s it; I didn’t think that anything different was going to happen. I didn’t think that all of the sudden things are going to change or anything, but it was a guy with big time name recognition and they brought him in so ultimately that can’t hurt the company, it’s going to help. But what can that person bring to the company other than just his name value what else can the person bring?
CODY DEANER: It was an honor to get to work with Mick. I got to do a lot of backstage vignette stuff with Mick which was a lot of fun, and I got to know him on a more personal level and I got to hang out with his kids. It was an honor to work with Mick because when I was just starting to get in the business Mick was main eventing for the WWF and he’s a guy I really looked up to as a young talent. When I got into the business I was about 150 pounds soaking wet and I wasn’t really sure if I had a chance and then I looked at Mick Foley and it was like this guy is not in good shape and isn’t the greatest athlete but look what he’s done he’s a champion so he was an inspiration to me. Also for anyone that’s met Mick Foley will tell you how down to earth and nice he is, which is really refreshing because for someone that’s had the amount of success that he’s had, but for him to still just be a down to earth dude that walks around in sweat pants and crappy t-shirts and crappy Hawaiian t-shirts and bushy hair and scraggly beard and he’s just such a down to earth cool guy. It’s really refreshing for a guy like that that has a lot of money and has had a lot of success to be as cool a guy as he is, it’s refreshing.
The X-Division began to receive less of a push and many long time TNA talents began to lose their jobs by late 2008 and early 2009, which brought locker room morale down. Many thought that this was because of the high priced talent that was brought in and the large difference in pay between the mid carders and big names. TNA felt they needed to cut mid carders to pay for the big names.
BILL BEHRENS: The greatest quantity of the crew makes less than $70,000, the highest percentage of the wrestlers. A large percentage of that crew make less than $50,000 and a significant number make less than $35,000. The quantity of people who make more than $100,000 is probably 10% of the talent; more than $200,000 probably represents 5% of the talent.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I used to have so much fun there; it ended up by the end of my run there it felt more like a job. I would just get stressed out, almost like I was going to work every day. I’m like man this is what I strived for my entire life. This is my dream, to be a pro wrestler. I’m like how could it just ruin my dream in five short years of working there.
CASSIDY RILEY: The guys who had helped build that company from day one were getting pushed to the side for the bigger names and it sucked for us. There were a lot of people who weren’t happy about it at all.
SONJAY DUTT: That time the vibe completely changed man. Once Petey [was released] it was fuckin like everybody was shocked, it was shock and awe. Me and Petey, the two of us were there the longest, [besides] James Storm and AJ Styles who I think were on the first show, me and Chris Sabin and Petey were there the longest. We never fucked up, we never showed up late, we never bitched, we never fuckin fought with creative, we did what we were told. I felt we were model employees man, I think that’s the case at any job, if you go to any job and a model employee gets let go for no good reason it’s going to cause a little uproar between everybody. Because hey if you’re going to [release] that guy, who is to say I’m not next? That was kind of the thought process that was going on when Petey happened, and then a month later the exact same thing with me. Especially at that time I was still talking to everybody every week that was still there and everybody was just telling me how things were kind of down and people were thinking hey man I could be next?
PETEY WILLIAMS: I think the more and more guys came in, I think the morale got low especially when the guys that helped bring TNA off the ground, build it up, when you slowly start seeing those guys get released from the company just to fill x, like whoever the star is coming in. It’s just like man who is next? Like who is going to be next? Then it’s like okay Petey you’re gone, I remember Sonjay was like am I going to be gone next? Do I have something to worry about? [They were like] oh no no you’re safe. Next week okay you’re gone, Jimmy Rave you’re gone, they got rid of Creed, Daniels where does it stop? I can count on one hand how many guys have been with TNA since the start.
CHAPTER 24: MAIN EVENT MAFIA
In the fall of 2008 on TNA television veteran wrestlers began to talk about how the young wrestlers lacked respect for the veterans. The seeds for the storyline were planted at Victory Road 2008 when following Samoa Joe’s title defense against Booker T he continually beat him down, leading to Sting coming out and trying to calm him down. Joe gave Sting the finger, which led to Sting hitting Joe with his baseball bat. Months later Sting defeated Samoa Joe at Bound For Glory with the help of Kevin Nash, and on October 23rd on a special Las Vegas edition of Impact, the Main Event Mafia was born. The original members were leader Kurt Angle, Sting, Kevin Nash, and Booker T.
Scott Steiner joined the Mafia shortly thereafter, and they constantly talked about how they demanded respect from the young wrestlers. AJ Styles and Samoa Joe retaliated by forming a group of young wrestlers, under the name Frontline. Mick Foley and Jeff Jarrett were mentors for the Frontline. The two factions feuded with each other from late 2008 to early 2009. The tension between the factions slightly mirrored the backstage situation at the time, with wrestlers like Petey Williams and Sonjay Dutt being released in the midst of the storyline.
RUDY CHARLES: [MEM] was just one those things where all of the pieces fell together. You had all of these guys who had a world title at one time or another in their career, the stars aligned. I think it was really good for TNA at the time it was their top story for about a year. I liked the Main Event Mafia a lot because the whole underlying story was Sting believed a certain way and here’s these other guys who are kind of riding his coattails but don’t really believe what he says but are kind of doing it to appease him. I thought it was a good story and I thought it was entertaining there was some good stuff. The episode, and it’s not just because I was wrestling on it, but the episode where they took over Impact was one of my favorite shows just because you had all of these crazy different things going on. You had Scott Steiner doing the [ring] announcing, it was insane. It was a fun time for sure.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I don’t know I wasn’t a fan of that. You could see it didn’t last too long; I didn’t like the name Frontline. They wanted to call us, I don’t know if this is a joke but like Ecstasy or something I don’t know. I was trying to come up with names too where are some of the ones I came up with, oh shit I don’t remember I should have wrote some of this stuff down. We came up with Frontline and I still wasn’t a fan of the name Frontline I mean like shit I put the name brand Frontline on my dog for fleas, that’s what I think when I think Frontline. You could tell it didn’t last long, okay if you look at the nWo days it would be all the nWo and then they would come out in the main event and they’d beat up like Lex Luger, or just two guys. There would be eight guys on two, so the nWo should win, and then Sting would come out and make the save. That was a great formula it worked for years. But then with the Main Event Mafia it was like eight of us good guys would run in and two of the Main Event Mafia guys would beat us up. I was like man, no wonder people aren’t getting behind us, they don’t want to cheer for us because it looks like we’re just a bunch of guys trying to go out there and we’re always losing. They’re thinking like there are eight of you guys you can’t take on two guys? I think they should have done it how they used to do it in the nWo, they should have had like two good guys and then have all of the Main Event Mafia jump us, to make it look like they needed that and that would elevate us younger guys higher. It didn’t happen like that, and [the Frontline] lasted what a couple of months. It could work but it didn’t.
SONJAY DUTT: [The Main Event Mafia] was an attempt at doing something good I guess I don’t know. I didn’t think it worked at all, but they were trying and I don’t know if they were trying hard or not but they were trying, but it didn’t work and that obvious to anybody.
The Frontline silently faded away by spring 2009 and the members split up and began to individually feud with members of the Main Event Mafia. Sting had tension with Mafia leader Kurt Angle and was hinting at aligning himself with Jeff Jarrett and Mick Foley, until Foley hit him with a chair on a March 2009 episode of Impact during a tag match. Also around this time color commentator Don West turned heel, which vastly improved his announcing work and led to some hilarious banter between himself and Mike Tenay. After Mick Foley hit Sting with a chair and began his feud with him he became an active wrestler in TNA for the first time since debuting, he defeated Sting for the TNA World Title at Lockdown 2009. TNA’s ratings began to rise during this time period, breaking their previous ratings records. World Champion Mick Foley began feuding with Jeff Jarrett and cut some hilarious heel promos during his title reign. He talked about how if he regained the title at Slammiversary 2009 he would not defend it until Bound For Glory 2010. He said he wanted to be world champion forever and when he died Robot Foley would be the champion. He also wrestled a cardboard cutout of Rocky Balboa and called defeating it the second greatest day of his life.
RUDY CHARLES: I liked the story they were doing with [Mick] being the world champion, he said now AJ here when I defend my title in a year I think you are the first in line to get a title shot. I thought there was some entertaining good stuff they did with him.
Foley lost the title to Kurt Angle in the King of the Mountain match at Slammiversary 2009 with the help of Samoa Joe, who turned heel and joined the Mafia. On an episode of Impact following Slammiversary the Main Event Mafia turned on Sting and kicked him out of the group. Just under a month after Slammiversary, a major story broke that sent shockwaves through TNA.
CHAPTER 25: JEFF, KAREN & KURT
In July 2009 an anonymous TNA employee called into the Bubba The Love Sponge Radio Show and said that Kurt Angle’s ex-wife Karen was romantically involved with Jeff Jarrett, and that she and her kids had moved in with Jeff and his kids. Kurt and Karen had divorced the previous October and she had left TNA at around the time of the divorce. The caller said that Kurt Angle was furious and that Jarrett was likely to leave TNA, or at least lose his power.
Shortly after the story leaked Dixie Carter sent Jeff Jarrett home and he lost significant power in the company. Vince Russo was named the new head of the creative team. Dixie had been having a power struggle with Jarrett for a long time, and some say that the Karen Angle situation was merely the final straw.
SONJAY DUTT: It’s a sticky situation man, that’s why you don’t mix love life and work place. Dixie did what she had to do in the best interest of her company.
DAVID YOUNG: I wasn’t there, but it made all of us laugh. It made me laugh I called Elix [Skipper] and told him and hell I just told Elix about it the other day he didn’t know.
CODY DEANER: Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of reaction to it. At the time when it happened I wasn’t there, I was kind of coming to the end of my run with ODB and I didn’t really see a lot of the kind of backstage reaction to it firsthand. It was kind of hush hush really, it wasn’t really something that a lot of people talked about, not out in the open. It wasn’t a locker room gossip thing where all of the boys were sitting around talking about it. I’m sure people were talking about it definitely in their own little circles, but it wasn’t something that was really talked about publicly in the locker room.
PETEY WILLIAMS: I heard about that, I heard about it before the fact that it got published on the Spongebob. So I mean people knew, or Spongebob what was it Bubba The Love Sponge whatever? I heard about it and the way it came out it came out exactly the way they said it happened so there’s got to be truth behind it. So Jeff was living with Karen and Angle’s kids, you act like that’s never happened in wrestling before.
DAVID YOUNG: I didn’t get to meet Karen, so I don’t know what kind of person she was, but I mean look at her, can you blame him? I mean honestly he didn’t do a damn thing none of us wouldn’t have done. I’d take an ass kicking from Kurt.
AUSTIN CREED: [Kurt] was going through a lot of stuff; I talked to him a little bit about it. It was really rough on him obviously, there was more than one thing going on in his life so you could tell he was stressed out. He was working his tail off every night at house shows and TV’s, you know putting your body what we go through in the ring and on top of that having all of that stress pent up inside you it’s rough on you. Seeing him go through all that stuff it was rough.
SONJAY DUTT: When it happened I was like okay, I never understood why the guy was removed from power. Okay whatever he did it was in his personal life, that’s one thing. Maybe if Kurt really wanted to kill him, I don’t know what the exact details were.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Who cares about Karen Angle getting screwed? Do a porno for Christ sake.
CASSIDY RILEY: I really thought it was kind of a shame to a certain point. That concept came out of his brain that was his brainchild his baby; he put up his personal money to get the ball rolling on it. To me it was just kind of a bad deal, I can see maybe limiting his power a little bit but I would always think you want to keep him some sort in the loop. Jeff went through a lot when his wife passed away and even when she was sick I remember him after TVs a lot of times he would catch a red eye flight back to Nashville just so he could get back home and spend as much time as he could with her. The guy went through a whole lot, I don’t know I have mixed emotions. Business I can see this is why Dixie did it, it’s her baby now she’s funding the money she’s writing the checks. But [you think they would say] let’s just kind of keep him around a little bit in the role, maybe reduce his role a little bit but let’s not knock him all the way out regardless of the reason. I’ve heard the same story; I’ve heard it was because of the situation with Karen also and they decided that if they had to lose either him or Kurt that it would be a bigger blow to the company at the time than to lose Jeff.
RUDY CHARLES: Kind of my philosophy was, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you look at our ratings, I say our because I was a part of TNA for so long it was a part of me and I still say that sometimes even though I’m not a part of the company, but you look at TNA’s ratings they were going up and up. I felt that TNA was definitely going in the right direction. I felt that Vince, Dutch, and Jeff made a great team, they didn’t always agree and they didn’t always get along but at the end of the day they were passionate for trying to put out the best product possible.
MARCUS CYGY: I think [Jeff] did get screwed out of his own company, but it was only a matter of time before it was going to happen.
SONJAY DUTT: Jeff had his allies, and Dixie had people that were her allies. If a decision needed to be made, Jeff had his people on his side and Dixie had people on her side. I don’t know if I would have classified it as a [power] struggle, but that was apparent to everybody at the time.
BILL BEHRENS: Catch 22 of being one of the boys and being a boss. Anybody that has the book for a long period of time will over time get heat and it will be suggested that they’re not doing a good job.
RUDY CHARLES: Jeff has a good mind for the wrestling business and I think he and Dixie if they could ever coexist I think could have been a great team. It’s a shame to see his company he helped founded, and now if he has indeed lost power like they say it’s a shame.
BILL BEHRENS: Jeff’s issues had more to do without detail, had more to do than [his relationship] with Karen. They were tied probably a little bit to the frustration factor that occurred and Bob Carter’s frustration with the Konnan lawsuit. Those together did result in Jeff going home but also resulted in Dixie being able to pull the trigger on the power struggle between her and Jeff which had been, to that day, you do the business I do the wrestling. Dixie then changed that, to do that she wanted to re-imagine the booking team. The end result of that was phasing out a number of the people that were closely identified with Jeff and or had been part of the “wrassling” aspect of the booking team from her perspective.
Some of Jeff Jarrett’s closest allies were released in the following months after he lost power. BG James was fired from his agent position; Dutch Mantell was fired from the creative team, long time referee Rudy Charles had just been released the month prior. Jim Cornette was later released too, mainly due to his differences with Vince Russo and Jeff Jarrett not being there any more to help the two coexist.
AUSTIN CREED: It sucked because I was good friends with Rudy, I’m good friends with Dutch. Whenever you see one of your buddies let go it’s hard on you. Because those were some of the people you hang out with and you become accustomed to seeing down there and accustomed to getting advice from and help and things like that. It was weird, it kind of had people on coals for awhile because they didn’t know if it they were just slowly going through and letting everybody go at this time. It was kind of a weird couple of weeks.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: Dutch Mantell was a nice guy he was a smart guy I don’t see why if Jeff messed up you would clean house. But then there’s probably more to the story, [like] Dixie wanted to make changes for a long time and this is like the last straw.
CODY DEANER: I was off TV for about a month and a lot of changes happened between the time that I finished up my feud with ODB and then the next time I went to TV. So a month had gone by and I could definitely tell that the backstage atmosphere had changed, not for the better. It was more subtle, I don’t mean like people were running around or talking behind people’s backs or backstabbing people or people positioning for power, it wasn’t anything that was out in the open. It was more just how people in the back carried themselves as a whole. The company morale I would say more so than kind of what was being said or gossiped about. Instead of people walking around with everyone’s got a smile on their face and everyone is super happy to be there, you just noticed more faces down looking at their feet when they were walking around. You saw less smiles and less people staying around and joking around and hugging and ribbing each other. I noticed a difference; I noticed the morale wasn’t as high.
Just a few weeks following Jarrett being sent home color commentator Don West was replaced by Taz, West had announced every show in TNA’s history with Mike Tenay up to that point. West was given a new role in the merchandising department. Since his heel turn in early 2009 he had been shining and his hilarious new smart ass character added a new dimension to TNA’s product. Some backstage second guessed Dixie Carter’s decision, and fans online protested the move. Taz had only been in TNA for a month and was fresh off WWE television.
CODY DEANER: I don’t have any problems with Taz on a personal level or a professional level, Taz is a great guy and a great talent. I personally didn’t really like that move only because I felt that Don West was just coming into his own and starting to really get comfortable being the heel commentator, being the Bobby Heenan voice of TNA. I think he was just starting to come into his own he was just starting to click, and was really good. He was just doing really well in my professional opinion, Don is another great talent. He’s really good at what he does, and he was getting better every [show]. The value of the broadcast team and the commentators is downplayed nowadays compared to what it was. The person that’s commentating the matches is the voice of your company. Don West and Mike Tenay were the voice of TNA. It was good in the sense that it was different, that was one thing that I know management was trying to do in a lot of ways. They were wanting to set themselves apart from the WWE, which was why the six sided ring was introduced. Mike Tenay and Don West, how they would commentate matches, was different. It had not been a long time since Taz had stopped working with the WWE, so you had a former voice of the new era of the WWE now on TNA and you’re making that the voice of your company. That’s a really important role, I think that was another problem with the move was that you’re making the voice of TNA an ex-WWE guy, and not like an ex-WWE guy from 10 years ago, we’re talking an ex-WWE guy that was just the voice of the WWE less than a year before that. I can’t emphasize enough, Don West I felt was just coming into his own.
After the dust had settled TNA’s new creative team consisted of Vince Russo, Ed Ferrara, and Matt Conway. Ferrara had previously worked in TNA during their first few months in 2002 while Conway was a young man relatively new to the business. Dixie Carter handpicked him to join the creative team.
RUDY CHARLES: [Matt Conway] had been in the creative meetings for about a year before then. He was kind of an understudy for Vince, he is a bright guy.
With Russo now fully in charge of TNA’s creative team for the first time ever he began to push young talent. AJ Styles won the TNA World Title at No Surrender 2009, Eric Young formed the anti American heel stable World Elite, and Matt Morgan received a main event push. The Main Event Mafia also broke up following Bound For Glory 2009. TNA’s ratings started to slightly go down during this time period.
BILL BEHRENS: If you in fact look at last year in 2009 and you take Vince at his word, if you look at what Vince said in 2009 he said you can’t give me credit for anything that happened prior to July of 2009 when he took over the book. So I go okay that’s cool so what I can do and anybody can do if they want to is you can go run the numbers of the shows in the first six months and run the numbers of the shows in the second six months [of 2009] and compare the average of those two six month periods. The first six months deliver a 1.2 rating and the second six months delivers a 1.07.
In fall 2009 Dixie Carter was rumored to be looking for new people to head the creative department, not to completely displace Vince Russo but to supervise the creative department. In November Dixie made her decision, and it changed the face of TNA forever.
2014 Note: Jeff and Karen later got married, and the couple seem to get along well with Kurt Angle and his new wife.
CHAPTER 26: HULK HOGAN & ERIC BISCHOFF
Written By The Owner
Once upon a time a little boy walked to the door of a whore house near his home. When the madam answered the door and inquired what the boy wanted, the little boy responded that he had saved his money and had $2.00. He asked if he could buy two dollars worth of the clap. The madam, being amused, replied that he could purchase a dose of the clap, but first she had to know the reason. The little boy began his story. “Well, I can go home and give it to our maid. She will then pass it on to my dad. He will then give it to my mother. My mother will then give it to our milkman, and that is the SOB that ran over my bicycle.”
Once upon a time a spoiled little rich girl talked her billionaire daddy into buying her an interest in a professional wrestling company. Once the little rich girl had a taste of the excitement, she decided that she wanted to be in front of the camera instead of behind the camera. The owner of the company was now in a difficult situation because rich daddy was a major investor. As time went on the pressure between the owner and the rich daddy and his little rich daughter became so tense that the owner decided life was too short to spend every day fighting with people who did not respect the business. The owner chose to leave the company he started. Honesty was not a trait of either the daddy or the little rich girl, so the owner was not treated fairly when he left. The little rich girl was now free to become a glamour girl on television and show the world that she could make big strong wrestlers bow to her every word.
The owner was so happy to be away from the little rich girl and her billionaire daddy, but he often marveled that the daddy would continue to spend millions and millions to allow his precious daughter to be a television star. He wondered if there was no end to the amount of money daddy would continue to spend. One day the owner heard the story of the little boy wanting to buy a dose of the clap and bingo, a great professional wrestling angle was hatched and the owner could determine just how much daddy would spend.
The owner had heard that a clever fellow with a terrible track record in the professional wrestling business, but a great gift for selling himself, was pitching the idea of starting his own wrestling company to potential investors. His pitch was that the fans would come in droves to see the old wrestling stars come out of retirement and become active (well somewhat active) again. The clever guy was touting the “Babe Ruth” of wrestling, Hulk Hogan as his main attraction. In spite of his old age and deteriorated physical condition, the Hulkster’s need for money was making him eager to go again in the ring. The Hulkster had all of his old pals that were old, but still eager for another 15 minutes of glory.
The owner got a call that the investor was interested in the clever guy’s plan and was willing to consider investing the 8 million projected start-up cost. The owner began to put his great wrestling angle in motion. He told his contact to tell the investor that he was willing to get back into the wrestling business and to check his track record against the clever guy’s track record. The investor called back the next day excited about doing the deal. He flew the owner and his wife to Las Vegas and put them up in a grand suite at the Palms Casino. The investor had a soundstage on the Palms property. The meeting went well and the investor related the funny stories about the clever guy and how unprepared he was in their meetings.
Now the owner had checked out the investor and realized that he was perfect for the angle because of well…….er………..ha………… his track record. The owner called Hulk and told him that he was getting back into the business and wanted him the main attraction. The owner then contacted the Hulk’s main gofer, Jimmy Hart, and also Hulk’s buddies, Big and Bigger. He got word out everywhere that he was getting back into the business. Hulk and his buddies were excited because now they heard that the LA investor was going with the owner instead of the clever guy. The sting was set.
The little rich girl heard that the owner was getting back into the wrestling business and Hulk and all his buddies were joining him. She called daddy and pleaded for just a few more millions to buy Hulk and friends, which would propel her company and deal a fatal blow to the owner.
Hulk was calling the owner daily, so the owner knew that when Hulk quit calling him, the little rich girl had swallowed the bait. Hulk quit calling and the owner then called the investor and advised that he had thought it over and didn’t want to start a wrestling company with him. The owner then put word out that the deal with the LA investor was dead, so Hulk would quickly sign with the little rich girl and not play too much hard ball. The sting was in.
Hulk brought the clever guy, his gofer, Big and Bigger, and more faded stars than even the owner anticipated. The parties began and celebrations were scheduled before there was an event to celebrate. Champaign flowed and money flowed faster. Hulk’s ego assured the little rich girl that she could defeat the monster WWE, so tactical mistakes compounded the money drain.
The owner watches the circus in amazement. He smiles in the thought that he could work a great wrestling angle with wrestlers and the little rich girl and the billionaire daddy. He is wondering if daddy will allow the money drain to reach 200 million.