"What you call the disease, I call the remedy..." -Dicky Barrett
National Wrestling Alliance - Total Nonstop Action has a disease. A disease that is spreading through its systems faster than it can be cured. It is potentially lethal. It is devious. Yet, that isn't the worst of it. Possibly the saddest part is that NWA-TNA gave this disease to itself in wild attempts to expand the company. Poor booking choices seeming grand at the time. Upset workers (and fans) due to the at-a-glance good business idea of making their wrestlers' contracts more exclusive. A company spread too thin too soon because of the hey-maybe-we'll-get-lucky-and-it'll-actually-work Fox Sports cable television series soon to debut.
No, that isn't the worst of it...
The worst part of this disease is that it is contagious. Through shady business practices and blatant power plays, NWA-TNA has angered and in some cases completely alienated the real independent wrestling scene. Most notably Ring of Honor and USA Pro Wrestling. The fans too are outraged. Mere hours after TNA's first major power play of taking "their" wrestlers off ROH shows previously promoting their appearances, petitions were signed. Boycotts declared. A barrage of letters and e-mails sent. In the minds of many indy fans, TNA was, and still is, killing strong independent wrestling. So enraged are the anti-fans that many, in all seriousness and not just in the heat of passion, are calling for TNA to fail miserably in the newest endeavor: TNA Impact! on Fox Sports. If they do, in all probability, it will be such a financial blow that TNA will surely fold. The community is screaming for blood.
Though, is that position justified, considering what it would mean to TNA stars trying to scrape a living out of wrestling? Not to mention the fact that, for better or worse, TNA is the most visable opposition to the increasingly boring WWE monopoly. I don't exactly know where I stand. Even as a diehard Ring of Honor fan, who has seen what TNA's slimey dealings can do to an independent promotion, I don't know if I am the kind of man who would wish doom on anyone. Maybe that isn't true. I imagine not everyone reading this is aware of the flames being sent TNA's way. So to better inform, and even to give myself a greater clarity on the issue, I will start at the very beginning...
--BIRTH OF PATIENT ZERO--
In 2001, with the demise of the old WCW imminent, wrestling promoters staked their claim on the failing company in hopes to snatch it up for a sizeable sum and restore its former glory. Eric Bischoff tried. Jerry Jarrett tried. In the end, Vince McMahon bought his own competition of the last decade, leaving Jarrett to explore new avenues. Jerry Jarrett: former star of Mid-Southern Wrestling in Memphis, CWA, and USWA. Not to mention a famous wrestling promoter as well. He held ownership of World Class Championship Wrestling once upon a time. Though, to today's fan, Jerry Jarrett is former WCW Champion Jeff Jarrett's father.
In 2002, feeling he should strike quickly before other wrestling alternatives to WWE took his spot, Jerry Jarrett formed a new promotion: Total Nonstop Action under the old and barely existing National Wrestling Alliance banner. It was a bold idea. Through a deal with In-Demand, NWA-TNA sought to have a Pay-Per-View event once a week. Every Wednesday for two hours, TNA offerred largely commercial free and talk free wrestling. In time, Jarrett brought in established stars like D'Lo Brown, Ken Shamrock, Jerry Lynn, and of course, his son Jeff. This mixed with some hot up-and-coming stars like Low Ki and AJ Styles.
With the loss of WCW and ECW, promotions like Ring of Honor, Major League Wrestling, and most noticeably NWA-TNA grabbed the wrestling audience that wanted something besides two brands of WWE. TNA went further and began to sign some of their regular wrestlers to contracts, meaning that it was technically no longer an "independent" promotion like ROH and MLW. As time passed, it was said that Jerry Jarrett handed the reins of the company to his son. With Jerry's recent heart problems becoming public, it is widely believed that Jeff Jarrett is now the sole head of NWA-TNA. Maybe that is why it has made a turn for the worse...
Three months ago, now former Ring of Honor owner Rob Feinstein was the center of a scandal in which he allegedly tried to solicit sex from someone he believed was a minor. In fact, it was actually an adult conducting an undercover sting for a vigilantee website. The news broke on the internet (as most wrestling stories do), and it soon spread to local television in Pennsylvania. Not long after learning of the incident, the other heads of ROH took over the promotion. Feinstein stepped down and has not been part of Ring of Honor since. ROH went on with their next show on March 13th without the ex-owner.
About a week later, news broke about NWA-TNA asking AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels to distance themselves from ROH. Which meant either TNA was worried about Feinstein still being involved or that they wanted to lock down their top wrestlers as they approached their Fox Sports television deal. This meant going against what was written in their contracts. That being that TNA contracted wrestlers can work for independent wrestling companies so long as it didn't conflict with TNA PPV dates. That's how most made the majority of their living. It was particularly outrageous in the case of AJ Styles, who at the time, was Ring of Honor Pure Wrestling Champion.
The fan backlash to the news was massive and unforgiving. ROH and indy fans in general sent endless mail to TNA pleading with them to reconsider, and in some cases, threatening to no longer buy TNA Pay-Per-Views and merchandise. To calm the situation, ROH head booker Gabe Sapolsky flew to NWA-TNA headquarters in Tennessee to meet with Jeff Jarrett. According to Sapolsky, he didn't get to discuss reaching a compromise. He was given what can only laughingly be called a legal document. A couple paragraphs about Feinstein not being part of the company and that ROH be held [i]financially responsible[/i] if Feinstein hurts TNA. "Financially responsible" could mean anything. It could mean that TNA could bankrupt ROH on even the rumor that Feinstein stopped by to remove his belongings from ROH offices. The point is that is was vague and confusing. Not what legal documents should be.
Legal documents are pages and pages of details and technicalities so that neither party could be hurt through shady dealings. This document, however, basically meant that ROH would have to completely put its future in what was becoming a rival company's hands. Because there was no time limit given in the document, TNA would have had ROH in its palms [i]forever[/i]. It is shady, unprofessional, and in the legal world, absolutely absurd. This was a power play, and as power plays go, this one was very thinly-veiled.
For some reason, ROH president Doug Gentry actually signed the bizarre document in hopes of making nice with TNA. However, that wasn't enough. TNA had the gall to demand the same ridiculously thin contract be signed by ROH's main silent investor. This time, the potential signee refused. It was plain to see what TNA was trying to do. Much like a few days before, the internet wrestling community was enraged. TNA had gone too far in many fans' minds. Some defended the actions as "business is business," but most slammed Jarrett's unprofessionalism. As ROH prepared for their next show, which was to feature AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, TNA made their latest power play. Despite what their contacts originally led the wrestlers to believe, TNA had banned all contracted workers from Ring of Honor.
The community flooded with petitions and boycott signatures. Many who had bought TNA products and ordered shows in the past, myself included, vowed not to do so again until Styles and the other banned grapplers could appear at ROH events again. Some even declared that even if TNA rescinded the ban, they would still never support the company again. TNA had made enemies of its greatest fans.
Mere weeks after telling Styles, Daniels, Lynn, and others that they could no longer have their paydays in ROH, NWA-TNA pushed just a little bit further. In a plan that is said to officially start today, June 1st, all contracted wrestlers are now subjected to a 15% booking fee for any non-TNA show. Meaning that if a wrestler were to make $100 per show in, say, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla or World-1, $15 goes to TNA. That means that indy wrestling promoters, who are more often than not just barely making ends meet, must either pay more for a wrestler to receive his asked fee, pay the same and hope the wrestler can accomodate them, or simply be forced to pass on booking the wrestler altogether. Fans of smaller indy promotions were outraged because this meant it was less likely that they would be able to see their favorite stars considering some promoters couldn't afford it. Considering the state of little indy promotions everywhere, it could be financially devastating for anyone not named Jarrett.
About a week after the news of the impending money problem broke, local New York indy promotion USA Pro Wrestling announced that they could no longer book contracted TNA stars. Not only because of the new monetary burden, though. NWA-TNA, in yet another power move over the little guy, wanted creative control over how someone like Christopher Daniels would be used. Meaning that TNA could decide, amoung other things, who won or lost Daniels' match in another promoter's company. USAPW head Frank Goodman felt he could not run his company with outsiders having creative control of his matches, feuds, angles, and results.
The independent wrestling fans had had enough. Anti-TNA sentiments have flooded indy shows. Jarrett should be concerned. A lot of these fans are what kept TNA afloat in its first two years. A "f*ck TNA" chant rang out in a USAPW show. Understandable, considering the recent news. It spread, though. It was contagious. The same chant echoed in 3PW. At a Ring of Honor show I attended last month, a fan held a large sign, usually unheard of in an indy show, with the same defiant message. It hung over the guardrail the entire show, if I recall correctly. I imagine it will be shown on the tape and DVD once they are released.
Now, NWA-TNA is ready for the final stage of its self-inflicted disease. Later this week, the company will finally debut its Fox Sports television series "TNA Impact!" Now, wait a minute. Having a new show is bad? It is when the fanbase isn't there to fully support it. This may have had a fairly good chance of success six months ago...but now? During the height of anti-TNA feelings in the wrestling community? It seems like as bad a business move as the "contract" that jump-started this mess.
Can a fledgling wrestling company (with many former fans boycotting) survive a national cable television program? Well, let's look at Extreme Championship Wrestling's downfall. Ah, yes. The old ECW on TNN catastrophe. ECW fans were staunchly loyal to their wrestling company of choice. Yet, because ECW spread itself too thin (amoung a few other financial woes), the show failed. Ultimately, ECW did too. It invested too much in the creation and production of ECW on TNN to survive its low ratings and cancellation.
TNA is in a worse position. Both in terms of fan dedication and in terms of television networks. I don't have the exact figures in my hands, but I venture to guess that Fox Sports Network has less of a following than The Nashville Network/The New TNN/Spike TV. Diehard sports fans probably aren't going to like TNA on their network anyway. Most hardcore football and baseball fans I know dislike and poke fun at wrestling because it isn't a "real" sport. I don't think TNA Impact! will be well-received by Fox Sports followers. Wrestling fans are already taking bets on how long NWA-TNA will be in business with this new burden.
So, do I want NWA-TNA to fail? I don't know. My loathing of their business practices and what they have done to me as a loyal ROH fan is pretty palpable. Yet, there are always chances for redemption. Maybe Jeff Jarrett will hand over day-to-day business operations to someone with more of a conscience and a sense of honor. Maybe the contracted TNA wrestlers will voice their opinions to management and force change. Maybe TNA head honchos will retract the latest wrestler limitations.
Maybe not. I still don't feel quite right wishing a company into the gutter considering some of my favorite wrestlers make their livings and support their families there. AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels' names keep coming up in this column. They are two of my favorite workers in the world right now. I hope they survive this. I really do. As a reasonably compassionate man, I feel for TNA's workers and future. As a wrestling fan...
Choke on your disease.
Thoughts about TNA? Questions about anything at all? Send everything to Trophar@Lycos.com and I may just respond if I'm in a good mood.
The archives of Beauty in Wrestling are in a transitionary stage. After ongoing problems with my free hosting provider (you may have noticed the images in older columns aren't working), I've decided to buy a domain name. It will be ready soon.
After a lot of consideration, I have decided that I would like Beauty in Wrestling to be more "pure" of a wrestling column. In the last six months, I've written a lot of Wrestling Museum columns about old matches and Mr. Thomas' Wild Ride columns about meeting fans from out of state and seeing independent shows. I've enjoyed both, but I think BIW would be better, at least to me, focussing on regular opinion columns like "There Can Be Only Two" and "Diamonds." So, for the time being, that is what will be expected in future BIW columns. I may write one or two more Wild Ride pieces over the course of the rest of the year if it strikes my fancy, but Wrestling Museum, for the most part, is gone. It was a lot of fun, but I'm not a reviewer. I'm an opinionated wrestling fan who works best when spouting off about [b]current[/b] events.
[b]MAILBAG - THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE[/b]
"I bought an ROH DVD recently with Dragon on it and he was amazing. Gotta love that Cattle Mutilation, the name alone hurts."
"I love that column on the American Dragon. I wish he had not lost his contract to the WWE. I know he had another shot at them and wrestled on Velocity and what not but still. He is a great worker and I hated to see him be one of the guys cut when the WWE cut ties with Memphis. I was in Oxford, MS at the time and watched MCW all the time and PPW which was another fed that had the WWE first lost it to MCW and then the two feds joined back to together for a while until WWE pulled out of Memphis. I saw Spanky and American Dragon put on some great matches. Reckless Youth and K Krush were down there at the same time putting on some great matches with various people. Regal was down there too along with Jim Neidhart. Some great workers down there when it got off the ground. The Mean Street Posse blossomed down there as well. MCW did house shows in Oxford and I used to catch the shows when I could."