If there is one thing I truly enjoy on DVD, it is documentaries on pro-wrestling. You may have seen my reviews for Forever Hardcore and Heroes of World Class, and among others, and I can't get enough of DVDs such as Beyond the Mat, Wrestling with Shadows or the Spectacular Legacy of the AWA. Hell, I loved the documentary-like stuff on the the Vince McMahon disc. I have like a never-ending thirst for this stuff, and I completely marked out when hearing TNA was putting out a DVD that recapped their first year in business. Unlike most other wrestling companies, I've been around since day one of TNA. I've watched the company build up from their humble beginnings and am one of the dozen or so people who have read Jerry Jarrett's book on the creation of TNA. I may not know much in this world, but I do know about TNA wrestling.
"THE STORY" - The DVD began with something pretty neat, audio clips of Mike Tenay talking to "the truck" before the first official PPV went on the air. It isn't that long, but it is something TNA was smart to open the disc with and feels special. Actually, TNA was talking to Keith Mitchell, the infamous TNA director who missed more shots than anyone involved in the history of filmed pro-wrestling.
The main feature, separated into twelve chapters, started off with the Summer of No Worries and this was the summer after WCW folded in 2001in which guys such as Jeff Jarrett, Jeremy Borash and others found themselves looking for something to do. They were all still being paid by Time Warner, but also had a wrestling itch that needed to be scratched. God knows no one watched them, but many of these guys went on Andrew McManus' wrestling PPVs that were taped in places such as Australia and Las Vegas. Jeff Jarrett said that he was considering his options for the future including going "up North" or possibly starting his own wrestling company.
I mentioned Jerry Jarrett's book above, but Jerry Jarrett himself is pretty much persona non gratis apparently as he is all but dismissed in the main feature. Bob Ryder talks about a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico that he had with Jeff and "Jerry," but he never explains who Jerry is and Jeff only references his "old man" once or twice. Now, I wasn't in the room when all this was going down five years ago, but when you read Jerry Jarrett's exhaustive notes and then listen to Bob Ryder's recollections – and remember this is the same Bob Ryder who accused Wade Keller of being on WWE's payroll for saying that WWE was putting out a better show than WCW Nitro, and then admitted after the fact he was only saying that because at the time he was sucking from WCW's teat - I think I know who's version I believe in more. Ryder talked about no cable company wanting wrestling and that he came up with the idea of producing a wrestling company that didn't need a weekly television show. This was fantastic as Ryder went on, without even a hint of irony, saying how great this idea was, not acknowledging in any way, shape, or form of how disastrous in ended up being in financial terms or how wildly they overestimated how many people would spend $9.95 a week ("a reasonable price") to watch it. I guess if WWE put out a DVD on the XFL they'd also be discussing how innovative they were while ignoring the rapidly falling ratings, but it's weird seeing something like that on a documentary not produced by "New York." New York is yet another euphemism for WWE that only people in TNA still use as apparently they are oblivious that it is almost 2008 and you say "WWE." For God's sake, after bringing in Angle, Christian Cage, Rikishi, Booker T and Sharmell, WWE is all but TNA's developmental!
We got to watch part of TNA's very first PPV, including Jeff Jarrett coming down to disrupt Toby Keith singing, "The Angry American." This song has to be heard to be believed. Actually this was topped seconds later when TNA's goof squad came out to separate Jarrett and Keith. Now almost all of wrestling's "security" guys are just indy jobbers getting a couple bucks, but these guys made Ring of Honor's security look like a SWAT team full of professional bodybuilders. Seriously, it's as if TNA went to the White Trash Cafe in Nashville and asked the busboys if they had any retarded, inbred cousins that they could use on TV. Anyway, the DVD then cut to the main event, the "Gauntlet for the Gold," which was a battle royal to determine the first NWA-TNA champion. Toby Keith, now wearing a do-rag, came to the ring and suplexed Jeff Jarrett for revenge~!
"The Genesis of TNA," was the next chapter and included Jeff Jarrett talking about selling the idea of a weekly wrestling show for ten dollars to all the PPV companies. We also got to see some original roster member photos from 2002, which included Scott Hall, Low Ki (Senshi), and Brian Lee. In what I thought was a great line, Jarrett said, "I'm proud of the fact we even got it off the ground." This was said after Jarrett talked about how hard it was going into meetings getting the financing from people who probably thought he was from Mars as he gave his sales pitch. I've criticized Jarrett a lot in the past, and probably will dish out more in the future, but I gained a lot of respect for him in this DVD, at least for how he comes across as a speaker. I think I have a better understanding now of how he was able to convince seemingly rational people why he should have been on top of TNA for years, despite all evidence pointing the other way. I'm sure it is equivalent to how Triple H can justify burying almost the entire WWE roster at his expense. In a one on one conversation, these guys – as the saying goes – could sell ice to an Eskimo. That's a very strong trait to have, especially in a business like wrestling.
Bob Ryder talked about an indy show run by Brent Pertice that TNA used to give their announcers some seasoning. At that show, the company discovered several other talent and signed them to deals, including Abyss, James Storm, and Chris Harris. Both Harris and Storm are interviewed throughout the DVD. Harris comes across fine, but Storm, in his cowboy hat and sunglasses, comes across as the biggest douchebag in the world. For all I know he may be the nicest guy you could meet, and if so, someone should have told him on the day of the shooting that he comes across like a complete goof. I actually enjoyed listening to Don West, if only because it seems like this was a Don West that was completely different than the guy on TV. This Don West was very soft spoken and described what it was like announcing a wrestling show when he really didn't know much about the sport. We also got to see a photograph of the third guy in the booth at the time, Ed Ferrera. Okay, forget everything I said about James Storm, seeing Ferrera, the whitest white guy in the universe, sporting to-the-ass dreadlocks, has got to be the goofiest looking guy on the DVD. I'm a big fan of Ed, but man, that look is one for the books.
June 19th, 2002: The First Show was up next and Jarrett talked about all the pitfalls they faced leading up to the very first PPV, including lighting issues. This got ol' Double J to trot out the absurd logic - that seemingly everyone in wrestling has – in which no one outside of wrestling could possibly understand the incredibly complex world of pro-wrestling or, GOD FORBID, do it better. You'd couldn't convince for me a single second that after two weeks a quality television writer (such as JJ Abrahms, Jeph Loeb, Josh Whedon, and Sean Ryan to name just four out of hundreds) couldn't write a better wrestling show than Dutch Mantell. I guarantee you that I could write a better show than Dutch Mantell. To me, the biggest problem with wrestling is that so many guys in wrestling (see Jeff Jarrett, Dutch Mantell) don't watch or look at any other form of entertainment or sports in the real world and adapt their product to what the public fancies. I don't know if it is true or not, but the current buzz is that Dutch Mantell doesn't believe in submission finishes, which is why the current version of TNA has so many stupid finishes. I doubt it's that Dutch Mantell hates UFC or MMA in general, it's probably more likely that Mantell has never even watched UFC and has no clue that today's wrestling audience will accept a tap-out as more believable than a fucking Boston Crab after a steel chair shot. Why can't Mantell not believe in Karen Angle, or run-ins, or constant SWERVES?!! Okay, end of rant.
Don West talked about having panic attacks leading up to the show and how legendary WrestleCrap wrestler Cheex broke the TNA ring right before the very first show went on the air. Being able to watch video of Cheex again was worth the price of admission alone. There were also some great pictures and footage of the crew (including the Harris brothers) working fast to fix the ring up until, literally, the last second. More priceless moments followed, including the Flying Elvises fighting AJ Styles, Low Ki, and Jerry Lynn. It may seem like a million years ago, but at the time the internet had a lot of love for TNA thanks to matches like this. The segment ended up on a bizarre note as footage aired of Jarrett taunting several members of the Tennessee Titans who were at ringside. One of the Titans jumped the rail and completely manhandled Jarrett. This was a Triple H-versus-Raw-Roster type beatdown. Then this guy's teammates started giving Double J a beatdown. Very odd that people in the wrestling bubble always stress that wrestlers are "larger than life" and how much skill it takes, but they are as star struck as ten year old girls screaming for Brad Pitt when "celebrities" enter the world of wrestling and routinely hold their own, or even get the better of allegedly pro-athletes.
"We had an idea that most people thought wouldn't work," said Bob Ryder, to start off the chapter titled Will TNA last? I wonder if Ryder acknowledges, even today in front of only his family, that THE IDEA DID NOT WORK? Jarrett said that everyone outside of his wife doubted him, but he lived by the motto: without great risk, there is no great reward. Tenay said that he saw a glimmer of hope after the first several weeks as the in-ring talent was there while Borash admitted he might have been a little naïve in believing that there was no chance this company wouldn’t be successful. AJ Styles came across really strong in this segment saying he didn't think the company was going to last and that he believed the Jarrett's agreed, "after the debacle in the beginning." I'm not exactly sure what to make of Styles' vague statement. I assumed he was talking about the weird stuff that went down with Jay Hassman (who, among other things, mislead TNA into believing they were drawing outrageous PPV buyrates), but he might have been talking about something else since Hassman is not directly referred to during the entire DVD, but instead is off-handedly brought up in stories from Ryder, Jarrett, and Dixie Carter. After six months though, AJ was totally sold on the viability of TNA.
Dixie Carter, definitely the hottest owner in the history of wrestling, headlined the next chapter, "The Carter Family." Here's an interesting nugget, Dixie's mother's maiden name was actually Jarrett. Who knew? Dixie described meeting Jeff Jarrett just out of college, but didn't believe him when he said he was a professional wrestler. Actually, with the way Jeff Jarrett dresses, I can see that. She probably thought he was a professional clown. Years later, Dixie recalled watching David Letterman and hearing Letterman talking about Jeff Jarrett the wrestler. Wait a second, when the hell was David Letterman talking about Jeff Jarrett?! That can't possibly be right. Anyway, Jarrett described going to Dixie's publicity company while he was looking for new financing. Dixie brought up backing TNA to her father, Bob Carter, head of the gigantic utility company, Panda Energy.
Dixie acknowledged the "growth factors" TNA was dealing with, which I ran through the Kayfabulator 5000 to reveal she was talking about the ridiculous idea that wrestling fans would pay $9.95 a week for a low-rent wrestling show. Dixie talked about how bad the TNA set looked ("it wasn't even second rate, it was third or fourth rate") and described going to Home Depot with her husband and giving the show an Extreme Makeover. They didn't even have enough money to hire a painter, so she was doing the stuff herself. There's another person I gained a whole new respect for in this documentary as Dixie came across very well in her interviews and seemed like person who didn't mind getting her hands dirty in order to succeed.
Elix Skipper said in "The Rise of the X-Division" chapter that he was excited to be a part of a company that would show that the smaller guys could bring something to the table. Don West talked about the first X-title match with Lynn, Styles, Low Ki, and Psychosis (from the second PPV) as the match played in the background. God damn that match was awesome, and it's included in full in the bonus section. Styles described how great it felt to be the first ever X champion. Some guy named Andrew Thomas also gave his thoughts on the X division and all I could think was who the hell is Andrew friggin' Thomas?! It reminded of every WWE DVD when all of a sudden Steve Lombardi or Bruce Pritchard would appear. I think this guy may have been the referee in the X title match, but you could have put "Some Guy From The Crowd" under his picture and I wouldn't have thought twice about it. After everything was done, this segment shows quite simply how little TNA has done with the X division in five years. They talk a big game, but when it comes time to walk the walk, they are just slightly better than WWE when it comes to dealing with cruiserweights, and think about what that is saying. I'll believe that TNA stands behind the X division as one of their signature products when they put it on the main events on the PPVs and not bury it in some sort of six man bullshit in the opener.
The next chapter was titled "The Tag Teams" but probably should have been called TNA Provides Fellatio to America's Most Wanted as the entire segment dealt with Chris Harris and James Storm. To be fair, I think the tag team division was pretty weak back then. Does anybody remember the Red Shirt security? The Naturals?
I've always been a big fan of sporting places having a cool name, such as Michigan's The Big House or the Yankee's The House That Ruth Built, so I enjoyed the next segment: "The Asylum". The talking heads discussed the "positives" of going from an actual Arena to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. "Smaller" becomes "intimate" and so on and so forth. Dixie talked about how hard it was at times to get all the seats filled and described a fan who used to pay money for front row seats getting so upset at a Don Harris heel turn. Dixie said, "all we need are three or four million just like him." It's good to see TNA ended up finding a much better alternative that almost combines a small arena with the Asylum with The Impact Zone in Orlando.
"Raven versus Jarrett" was next, and it may be hard for people who weren't there to understand how big this was. The Raven of 2002 was a much different guy than the one currently on TV. He was in great shape, not nearly as far removed from his epic run in ECW, was the first big name who left WWE for TNA, and could cut a promo with the best of them. The build up to the Raven/Jarrett title match is, to this day, one of my favorite things TNA has ever done. Don West talked about the thousands of people who were lined up outside the building and we even got footage of that line. An incredible visual. Raven described why the feud worked so well and this guy still has a great wrestling mind.
"Looking Back at Year One" has all the talking heads reminiscing about how special the first year was. Styles talked about it setting the tone for future years, Chris Harris considered it his real "start" (despite being in WCW earlier), Bob Ryder said it showed "we know what we're doing" after they lasted past a year (don't get me started on how delusional that is), and Don West felt they all survived something and felt they all should feel lucky that the company actually had a year two. A lot of other guys were proud of the first year, but one guy had me laughing as Christopher Daniels gave the most cliché filled interview ever about his love of the company and started talking about how "everybody gave.." and I said out loud "110 percent", and after a small pause Daniels said, "110 percent, blah blah blah." I love Christopher Daniels, to the point where I can't believe he's not one of TNA's top five guys, but his stuff here was so by-the-books that it was shameful.
In between each chapter was a TNA MOMENT. These included: Ken Shamrock winning the very first NWA TNA title, AJ Styles and Jerry Lynn winning the TNA Tag Titles, Ron Killings winning the title, AMW winning the tag titles for the first time, Jeff Jarrett wins the title against Ron Killings with the help of Mr. Wrestling III (Vince Russo), Roddy Piper debuts in TNA, Jarrett beating Christopher Daniels and is celebrated in-ring with wrestlers including D-Ray 3000 (a poor man's Human Tornado) and Amazing Red (an even poorer man's Rey Mysterio Jr), and AJ Styles beating Jeff Jarrett with the help of Vince Russo.
BONUS FEATURES: Four full matches are included on the DVD. Low Ki vs. AJ Styles vs. Psychosis vs. Jerry Lynn for the NWA X-Title - this is one of those matches you need to go out of your way to see. Fantastic, off the charts stuff and is still one of TNA's best ever matches. It's so good that I don't even mind that Jerry Lynn is in it. Low Ki vs. AJ Styles vs. Jerry Lynn for the NWA X-Title in a ladder match - again, awesome match. America's Most Wanted vs. The New Church (Slash & Brian Lee w/Jim Mitchell & Belladonna) for the TNA Tag Team Titles - Decent enough tag match. I complete forgot about the TNA cage dancers until this match when the camera work started off focusing on some cameltoe. Now that I think about it, I miss Lollipop. Whatever happened to her anyway? Jeff Jarrett vs. Raven for the NWA Title - Oh man, how great was it to see Raven come to the ring with Alexis Laree (Mickie James in WWE). She was just a b-cup at the time, but still hot as hell. Speaking of hot, the crowd was intense for this match and went bananas (in a bad way) when Jarrett got the win. Neat to see Sandman, New Jack, Justin Credible, Sabu, and Perry Saturn in TNA though.
Year One Special Appearances is a quick montage of all the people who appeared in TNA during the first year including Chris Rock, Harley Race, Percy Pringle, Brian Christopher, BIG VIS~!, Dustin "Screech" Diamond, and Hacksaw Duggan among others. It was weird seeing CM Punk being listed as I thought he was a TNA regular at that point. An original TNA wrestling commercial that was the very fist ad that aired on local Nashville TV stations in June of 2002. It features Teo, the hardcore midget, so nothing wrong with that. Chris Harris and James Storm's TNA tryout match that was talked about in the main feature. No announcing, and heavily clipped. And finally, A Tribute to Curt Hennig. James Storm, Mike Tenay, BG James, and Chris Harris share their thoughts on Mr. Perfect.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. To steal a phrase from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, The History of TNA: Year One is two different things. It tries to be a real documentary, focusing on one hell of a crazy year, but it also tries to pull a trick out of WWE's bag with the Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD and present things in a glaringly one-sided way. I'm not saying do a warts-and-all DVD, but you could almost come to the conclusion after watching this disc, and especially if you only watched Bob Ryder's parts, that TNA was unbelievably successful. Casually, there are problems mentioned, but they are usually quickly glossed over. It would almost be like watching a documentary on The Titanic and have one person after another talk about how elegant the ship was, how well designed it was, how impossible it would be to sink, etc, etc, and then end the documentary without even mentioning that the ship sank on it's maiden voyage. Not once, during the entire DVD, was a single flaw of the weekly PPV concept discussed. None of the bizarre booking was talked about. No one said where the name TNA came from. Instead, we got to get one talking head after another saying how "everyone said we would fail" and not admitting that the idea was a complete and utter failure. The tip-toeing around the Jay Hassman situation was particularly aggravating, especially when Jeff Jarrett talked about "the case" "pissing him off" and unless you already knew what he was talking about, you'd have no idea what "the case" was or who it involved.
So in one sense, the DVD is a must buy to see a lot of people say things with a straight face that are completely mind-blowing. Mike Tenay calling the weekly PPV concept the "smartest move ever" is one of my favorite quotes from any wrestling DVD. When they aren't trying to blow smoke up your ass, Dixie Carter and Jeff Jarrett come across as likeable human beings that you would like to hear more from. I thought that AJ Styles stole the show as far as all the talking heads, and there were a lot of people interviewed for the main feature. The production values were great, with solid photos and never-before-seen video adding to what the people were talking about and a wonderful look back at a tumultuous year. Hell, we even get to see a case study of what a Company Shill is every time Bob Ryder opens his mouth. I think if Pepsi Clear ever decides to a DVD, they should get ol' Bob to let us know how great it was.
The four bonus matches included range from very good to downright absolutely fantastic, so that gets a big thumbs up. The rest are what they are, not great, but nothing bad either. A little too short in my opinion. After seeing the Cheex segment, I would have loved a bonus feature with something along the lines of What Were We Thinking? in which a small spotlight was put on the Johnsons (two guys dressed as penises, seriously), Ed Ferrera, Vince Russo's S.E.X., Tiny the Timekeeper, Nikita Koloff as Mr. Wrestling IV, and the Rainbow Express among other things. There is nothing wrong with having a sense of humor about yourself and to not acknowledge they were a part of the early charm of TNA just isn't right.
Despite it's flaws, The History of TNA: Year One is a fun look down memory lane and I'd love to see a Year Two volume, especially with a little truth serum mixed in to freshen things up. There's no reason to be ashamed of your past, not when you've accomplished as much as TNA has over the course of the last five years. Embrace the good, acknowledge the bad, laugh along with the goofy, and I guarantee that people will respect your product, no matter what it may be. CLICK HERE to get a copy of this DVD delivered to your door, or head on over to www.TNAwrestling.com for more information.
DVDs: Guest Booker with JJ Dillon, Wrestling Society X: The Complete First and Last Season, XPW TV: The Complete First Season, Before They Were Stars: Samoa Joe, Shoot Interview with Scott Hall, Shoot Interview with The Sandman, Rey Mysterio: Biggest Little Man.
Books: Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling's Rebel, , Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling. James Hold's Remember the Aloe, Moe.
COMIC BOOKS~! Headlocked, Scarface: The Devil in Disguise.
Special thanks to Keith Lipinski for his help in this review. Check out Keith's weekly audio show that happens to feature Chris Jericho and Larry Sweeney this week. Talk about a pair that beats any three of a kind~!
Derek Burgan can be seen wasting everyone's time with wrestling DVD and comic book reviews over at Wrestling Observer and the world famous Wrestling Enjoyment Index at Figure Four Weekly online~! Don't forget about his Opinion Pieces at World Wrestling Insanity and goofiness at WrestleCrap as well. Whew! Derek can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).