On October 23, 2005, Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling presented its first-annual Bound For Glory at Universal Studios’ Soundstage 21 in Orlando, Florida. This night, in many ways, should have marked a serious turning point for the direction of TNA. The event, which was originally scheduled to feature an NWA World Title Match between then NWA Champion Jeff Jarrett and the challenger, Kevin Nash, found itself without a main event the day before the event was set to take place, when Nash complained of chest pains and had to call 911. With Nash out due to what appeared to be heart problems, TNA scrambled together a new main event match. The result of this last-minute booking was to put the NWA Title on a new contender, one whom the fans would not necessarily see coming – Rhino. At the time, Rhino had been somewhat aligned with Jeff Jarrett, although, by the time Bound For Glory was set to take place, that alliance had been downplayed (although, not completely dissolved) in favor of a newly-formed alliance between Jarrett and America’s Most Wanted. Rhino was still a heel going into Bound For Glory, even going so far as to gore Raven during the pre-show*, but the events of that night would change everything, not only for Rhino, but for the fans of TNA.
After defeating Jeff Hardy, Abyss, and Monty Brown in the Monster’s Ball match, Rhino was injected into a 10-Man Gauntlet For The Gold** featuring Samoa Joe, Ron Killings, Sabu, Lance Hoyt, Abyss, Jeff Hardy, Monty Brown, Kip James, and AJ Styles, which Rhino then won. Jeff Jarrett then made his way down to the ring to face his new opponent, and seven minutes later, Jarrett found himself on the receiving end of a Gore, down for the count. The King of the Mountain, who had gone to incredible lengths to rob Raven of the NWA Championship just a month prior with the help of Scott D’Amore, America’s Most Wanted, and (allegedly) Larry Zbyszko, had just been defeated by an unstoppable force. Rhino, a man who had just endured an alleged 24-hour lockdown***, a Monster’s Ball match, a 10-Man Gauntlet, and a title match with the most dominant champion in TNA Wrestling history, stood victorious over the former King of the Mountain, with the NWA Title belt in hand.
Had Bound For Glory ended here, Rhino would have been made to look like a world-beater. Instead, Rhino was immediately punked out by AMW and Team Canada, who, along with Jarrett, proceeded to beat down the new champion and stuff him into a casket. Rhino was then saved by the 3 Live Kru and Team 3D, who then gave Rhino back his newly won title. This, unfortunately, would be a sign of things to come, as, come November 3, 2005 and a special prime-time edition of Impact, Rhino would drop the NWA Title back to Jarrett in what could be seen by TNA fans as one of TNA’s darkest moments. But, regardless of the beatdown following Rhino’s victory, TNA fans quickly embraced their new hero, Rhino.
After defeating Jeff Jarrett for the NWA Title, Rhino was arguably TNA’s top star. Given, AJ Styles was, and likely always will be, TNA’s Poster Boy, Rhino was probably TNA’s top name-brand talent at that time****. Rhino, who had been regulated to jobber status in WWE, found himself at the top of TNA, with a fan reaction that most baby faces would kill for. In fact, if one goes back and watches the November 3 Impact special, they will see just how over Rhino as the NWA Champion really was. It is as if the crowd was saying, “The King is Dead! Long live the new King! Long live Rhino!” It couldn’t have been more obvious what the fans wanted to see. They wanted Rhino to hold the NWA Title. They wanted him to gore everyone in his way. And, above all else, they wanted the old King, Jeff Jarrett, to stay dead. Unfortunately, the fans never got their wish. Just under two weeks into his reign, the new King, Rhino, was dethroned by none other than the very man fans didn’t want to see back on top, Jeff Jarrett.
Now, the reason I’ve gone to so much trouble to retell the events of October 23’s Bound For Glory event, and the subsequent NWA Title rematch on November 3 is because, as much as I love TNA as a wrestling fan, their mistakes are often painfully obvious, and only work to further harm what little credibility TNA has among wrestling’s most loyal and knowledgeable fan base. As a growing national company, looking to compete head-to-head with Vince McMahon and his corporate wrestling empire, TNA cannot afford to make these sorts of mistakes, but they do, constantly, and while I feel that some of the criticism TNA endures is somewhat unfair (especially in comparing them to WCW), it’s also unfair to turn a blind eye to TNA’s blunders and pretend that everything is okay in TNA.
One of TNA’s top stories right now is how all the former ECW guys in TNA are all pissed off with Vince McMahon for bringing ECW and ruining its legacy. Leading that charge these days is the last man to hold the ECW World Heavyweight and World Television Titles, Rhino. For whatever reason, the powers that be in TNA believe that having Rhino berate McMahon on television and (allegedly) torch the ECW World Titles is going to be the big program that finally gets Rhino over. It also appears that the people in charge in TNA have completely forgotten the crowd reaction that Rhino received each and every time he stepped into the Impact Zone during his nearly two-week NWA Title reign. TNA already had Rhino over once, but they killed it off before they could even draw money with it, and, because of a little advent known as Internet Spoilers, news of Rhino dropping the title back to Jarrett on TNA’s big Prime Time Special on Spike TV spread like wildfire, leading to a disappointing rating which has impeded TNA’s progress to this very day. The fans were ready for someone, anyone, to take down Jarrett for good. TNA really could have put anyone in that spot, including David Young, and had gotten a good reaction. But, when Rhino did it, there was something special about it. There was a backstory behind Rhino that TNA fans could get behind. Rhino was a man on the path of redemption, and TNA fans, smart as they are, knew the history. They knew about Rhino’s drug problems, his divorce, his release from WWE, and how the WWE staff treated him during his tenure. They had also seen Rhino get back on his feet and gore his way through TNA, even winning the NWA Title. TNA fans were ready to get behind Rhino and support him, but TNA threw it all away.
It’s pretty obvious that TNA never planned for Rhino to get over as the NWA Champion. If they had, I doubt that even the biggest of backstage politicians would have been able to talk any booker into allowing him to get his heat back so quickly after having booked a face contender to go through hell and back to defeat the heel champion. Unfortunately, this is TNA, and Jeff Jarrett has veto power over anything a booking committee wants to do. That’s a clearly documented fact that you are more than free to go and look up yourself. So, Jeff and his crew gets to beat down and humiliate Rhino after Rhino had survived a 24-hour lockdown, a Monster’s Ball match, a 10-Man Gauntlet, and a match with a fresh World Champion, so much so that both Team 3D and 3LK have to come down just to save Rhino from being carted away in a casket. Why? Good question. Booking 101 would suggest that having the heel beat down the face in such a fashion would be a good way to help promote a future rematch between Rhino and Jarrett for the title, but doing it right after Rhino just beat Jarrett and half the world to become champion seems counter-productive towards building Rhino as a credible champion. Had Jarrett simply waited until the Impact tapings to do the beatdown, it would have made more sense, and it would have made Rhino look stronger at the end of Bound For Glory, when he won the belt. Instead, Rhino survives a four-way hardcore brawl, and 10-Man Gauntlet, and a world title match, wins the belt, but all of a sudden can’t handle an assault by AMW, Team Canada, and the guy he just beat to win the title in the first place. Rhino essentially beat all the top contenders to the NWA Title, in some cases twice, as well as the NWA champion in the same night, then gets beat up by the Tag Team Champions, a bunch of midcarders, and the guy he just beat for the title. Do you notice how I’m repeating myself here? I sure hope so. Just in case you didn’t get it the first few times, Rhino had beat the world, won the title, then got beat up. How the hell does someone who just beat all the top contenders and the NWA champion look good getting beat up by midcarders and AMW just after winning the NWA World Title? He doesn’t. Plain and simple. Thank Jeff Jarrett, kids.
So, you’re probably wondering, “What the hell does any of this have to do with what’s going on in TNA today?” Well, Jeff Jarrett, once again, is the NWA Champion that no one wants to see, in a feud with an aging relic of professional wrestling, mere months away from Bound For Glory, TNA’s premier pay-per-view event (so they say). Instead of the injury-prone Kevin Nash, we now have the “transitional champion”-prone Sting. We also have Rhino, desperately scraping for scraps of the Main Event, less than a year after he was proclaimed by TNA fans as their new King, more than likely being set up to be in yet another Monster’s Ball match going into Bound For Glory. We are right back to where we started last year. Instead of a new and exciting product, we’re getting the same old thing we’ve been getting from TNA for over four years now.
In this week’s column, you were giving only one example of an opportunity TNA has had to change the landscape of their product and produce a true wrestling alternative to the WWE’s practice of favoritism, nepotism, and egotism. For anyone who has followed TNA long enough, you know this isn’t the only example. There are others. In a world where we are desperate for competition, we easily embrace those who stumble into positions of power. I have said many times in this column that TNA’s success may actually be based more on WWE’s incompetence than on quality of the TNA product. The truth is that WWE is not nearly as incompetent as they are lazy. WWE knows how to put on a good wrestling show. They simply don’t. Meanwhile, TNA has all the tools to build a good wrestling show, and a strong alternative to the WWE product, which, even in its prime, has never entirely been about the in-ring “wrestling”. TNA’s problem isn’t in the tools, though, it’s in how they use them, or, in today’s case, how they weren’t used. Had Rhino been given a longer reign, different contenders, and more faith from the powers that be within TNA to deliver the goods, TNA, and wrestling itself, could be a much different place. The fact of the matter is that he wasn’t given that chance, and now, we’ll never know what might have been.
* TNA claimed that the first 30 minutes of Bound For Glory was going to be free. The free portion of BFG, though, replaced what would normally be TNA’s free PPV pre-show, thus, why I still refer to it as a pre-show. To call it anything else would be insulting to my readers’ intelligence.
** TNA uses the word “Gauntlet” to describe a match similar to WWE’s Royal Rumble, where participants are entered at timed intervals and eliminated only after being tossed over the top rope and having both feet touch the floor. This is not to be confused with more traditional forms of Gauntlet matches. In TNA, a Gauntlet For The Gold usually indicates that the Gauntlet is for a title, or, more commonly, for a title match against the current champion.
*** One of the stipulations of the Monster’s Ball match is that all the participants are supposedly placed into lockdown for 24 hours prior to the match, without food, water, or light. This stipulation, like many gimmick-match stipulations, is not necessarily strictly adhered to. This may go to explain why Rhino, who should still have been under lockdown at the time, gored Raven during the pre-show.
**** This was before TNA had officially signed Christian Cage to a contract. Sting and Scott Steiner would not join TNA until 2006.
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