Once upon a time there was an American pro wrestling promotion with a different approach to the business called Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (or TNA for short), they showcased a special breed of modern athlete in a unique, six-sided ring, and proudly stood apart from the style of show produced by the global juggernaut known as World Wrestling Entertainment. This “little-company-that-could” breathed new life into the stale and stagnant scene and was poised to blaze an innovative trail straight through major league professional wrestling.
TODAY’S ISSUE: A look back at TNA’s first 3-hour pay-per-view, Victory Road 04.
When the U.S. big league pro wrestling scene dried up in the early part of this new century upon the deaths of both World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling, WWE owned a veritable monopoly. Then old-school promoter Jerry Jarrett and his well-known son Jeff, a former multiple-time world champion, created a new territory associated with the National Wrestling Alliance. They somehow secured exclusive rights to book both the NWA’s world heavyweight and tag team championships, and with a unique weekly pay-per-view format to mitigate their lack of a television slot, they attempted to create a new alternative for professional wrestling fans who wanted more than Vince McMahon’s “sportz entertainment” style of show.
Yes, there were a few bumps along the way, with ridiculous gimmicks like Dick and Rod Johnson (a tag team of essentially giant penises) and the Flying Elvises, among other issues, but by June 4, 2004 the underdog promotion landed a weekly television deal on the small Fox Sports Net cable station, and they showcased their two flagship divisions, the much ballyhooed “no-limits” X Division and their deep and talented tag team field, to their largest audience ever. On November 7 of that year TNA had assumed the standard business model for modern U.S. wrestling companies – weekly television shows that build to monthly pay-per-view super cards. The first such 3-hour extravaganza was Victory Road 04.
At that point TNA’s tagline was “the new face of professional wrestling”, and they certainly tried to be exactly that. After a solid opening video package bringing newcomers up to speed on storylines, the show kicked off with what TNA calls a “gauntlet match”, which is more recognizable as WWE’s Royal Rumble concept. Two men start in the ring and another enters the fray at regularly timed intervals until all the participants are in play, and the only way to eliminate a competitor is by tossing him over the top rope with the last man left in the ring declared the winner. That doesn’t sound like much of an alternative to WWE’s style, but the key was that this was for the 2004 Super X Cup and featured only the high-flying, cruiserweight-style action of TNA’s bread and butter at that time, the X Division. The other noteworthy twist is that when there were only two men left, they battled in a standard match (pinfalls or submissions) to determine the winner.
With the rapid pace set by 60-second intervals and a quality field of competitors including Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Matt “Evan Bourne” Sydal, Spanky (a/k/a THE Brian Kendrick), Michael Shane, Frankie Kazarian, Sonjay Dutt, the Amazing Red, and luchadors Psicosis, La Parka, and Hector Garza, this was a fun and exciting way to usher in TNA’s new era. The match accomplished exactly what an opening contest should: it got the crowd heated up for the rest of the show. Garza won the Super X Cup by outlasting 19 other men and pinning Kaz (who started the match at #1 and went coast to coast) with a slick counter-wrestling reversal into the cover. Courtesy of a very good start, Victory Road 04 was out of the chute and off and running.
After a brief and silly segment pimping an election to decide between Vince Russo and Dusty Rhodes for the kayfabe “Director of Authority” position (as TNA referred to their on-screen authority figure at back then), they slid right into an 8-man tag team match pitting Kid Kash, Lance “Dallas” Hoyt and the Naturals (Andy Douglas and Chase Stevens) against Ron “R-Truth” Killings, Erik Watts, Johnny B. Badd and Irish Pat Kenney (a/k/a ECW’s Simon Diamond).
This was a high-energy romp, which ended abruptly when Killings landed a Pedigree-type maneuver on Stevens, but at least it was fun while it lasted. Thankfully the dead weight on the babyface side of the ring (Killings and Watts) kept their involvement to a minimum, and the former Simon Diamond and Badd carried things for their team. The heel side was chock full of goodness in this match; Kash is underrated in my book, Hoyt delivered a beautiful moonsault that looked amazing although his intended victim avoided contact, and the Naturals were a staple of TNA’s phenomenal tag team scene from day one who understood how to work the formula. The heels took care of business until the faces slipped out the back door with a fluke victory in what was not necessarily a fantastic match, but different enough from WWE fare of the day to feel refreshing.
Next up was a midget match. Bad move, TNA. This hurt the overall flow of the event and throttled back the intensity. They didn’t need a “cool-down” moment yet, so it just came off as an interruption in the show. After Midget-Mania, Scott Hall made an appearance to cut a promo. Hall and Nash were set to be in opposite corners for the world title match in the main event between Jeff Jarrett and Jeff Hardy, but Hall claimed Nash wouldn’t be able to make it to the arena that night. This, of course, guaranteed that Big Sexy WOULD in fact appear. It’s shocking to think promoters still believe that sort of swerve will work in the modern era considering they used it to death for years and we all know the drill by now. After Hall’s promo it was on to the NWA world tag team title match between defending champions Team Canada and challengers 3 Live Kru.
The champs, Bobby Roode and Showtime Eric Young, defended against BG James and Konnan of the 3LK. Roode and Young were hungry and showed great continuity, fire, determination, speed, and a healthy dose of cheating thanks especially to the presence of wily veteran Coach Scott D’Amore at ringside. The challengers, longstanding veterans who know every trick in the book, looked sort of silly in the role of gullible good guys being played by the evil champions early in the match, but I was a huge Team Canada fan so watching them work classic tag team heel magic was a thing of beauty. Eventually 3LK member Ron Killings spoiled the plans of Coach D’Amore, and Konnan delivered the K-Factor (sitout face-buster) to Bobby Roode for the win and new NWA world tag team champions were crowned. Again, this match was surprisingly short, but high-impact and fast-paced enough that it was fun to watch. I’d have preferred to see the heels go over here, but they needed balance for the rest of the card so 3LK got the duke.
Next came another misfire, as TNA attempted to relive a famous moment in pro wrestling history from 20 years earlier by putting Rowdy Roddy Piper and Superfly Jimmy Snuka in the ring together with a microphone and a coconut. It’s one thing to honor legends of yesteryear, but trying to capture lightening in a bottle for a second time was the wrong direction for TNA to go at their inaugural ppv extravaganza. They could have paid tribute to a few classic performers and moved on with their new direction instead of trying to live history backward. The segment nearly recovered some usefulness when the brash and disrespectful Kid Kash interrupted and tried to attack Snuka, which would have been effective for promoting Kash as a dangerous, malicious heel. Instead, the weak and feeble Superfly fought off Kash’s attack, rendering the Notorious K.I.D. useless in the process. Shane and Kazarian came out to help their X Division brethren, but Sonjay Dutt evened the odds and nobody really got over as a result of this whole mess. This was a wasted opportunity for TNA; rather than using the legends to help get their own guys to the next level, which is actually a great way to elevate a less famous wrestler, they just took ten minutes out of the show for nothing.
The next contest was a women’s match between Trinity and the debuting Jacqueline of WCW and WWE fame. Trinity’s NYC (New York Connection) stable-mates of Glenn “Disco Inferno” Gilberti and Johnny Swinger were at ringside, and you might have guessed they interjected themselves into the action and ensured victory for Trinity via a very well executed moonsault. From an in-ring perspective this was slow and boring but at least it was short, and it did establish the NYC as a cheating heel stable, so for angle-advancement purposes it was ok.
Then TNA took a unique approach to the hardcore brawl in their original creation, the Monster’s Ball. The participants, Raven, Abyss, and Monty Brown, were kayfabe locked in solitary confinement with no food, water, light, or contact with the outside world for 24 hours leading up to the moment they were released to head straight to the ring for this three-way war. They even sold their eyes readjusting to the bright arena and pyro after having been in the dark a full day – nice touch! The story of this unusual battle was the diabolical Raven against the unstable monster Abyss and the ultra-macho Alpha Male Monty Brown. Raven was a one-of-a-kind force in the business, Abyss was a very good big man, and Brown should have been the next big thing, but TNA never pulled the trigger on his expected championship reign. That’s a lot of talent in one big donnybrook, and it lived up to expectations. After plenty of carnage and hardcore chaos, Brown speared Raven through an upright table in the corner with his “Pounce” finisher for the victory in a very entertaining bout that satisfied and got the ppv back on the right track.
Now that the show had regained it’s momentum, they headed for the promised land: the X Division title match with reigning X Champion and captain of Team Canada, Petey Williams facing the challenge of TNA founding father and triple crown winner, the Phenomenal AJ Styles. THIS is the match that many fans paid to see. It was a true showcase of the no-limits style and flavor of TNA’s calling card, the X Division. Anyone who enjoys fast-paced, high-impact, innovative offense combined with great wrestling skill and ability should go find this match. More than a spot-fest or a battle between the Styles Clash and the Canadian Destroyer, AJ and Petey put together a beautiful wrestling match here. This time the treachery of Coach D’Amore paid off, as he created an opening for Williams to invent a new delivery method for his wickedly awesome Canadian Destroyer finisher, and the champ retained. This sort of action was the reason the X Division earned such a following in the early days of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling; it was an outstanding match and very entertaining.
Keeping the good times rolling, Triple X (Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels and Primetime Elix Skipper) faced America’s Most Wanted (Wildcat Chris Harris and Tennessee Cowboy James Storm) in a “last team standing” grudge match that highlighted the outstanding tag team division TNA boasted in those days. The rules of the contest stated that when a man was pinned, he was forced to answer a ten count and if he was unable to regain his vertical base by the referee’s count of ten, he was eliminated from the match and his partner was required to go it alone from that point forward. Yet another innovative take on a classic match type. Triple X took the early advantage courtesy of some fine double-teaming and quality cheating, and eliminated Cowboy James Storm by exploiting his heavily wrapped and injured right knee, making it was two-on-one for Skipper and Daniels against the Wildcat. Harris quickly recovered and eliminated Daniels, evening the contest to a mano a mano affair, and after a few more minutes of action he nailed Primetime with his swinging side suplex finisher, the Catatonic, onto a steel chair for the pinfall and the eventual victory when Skipper was unable to answer the ten count. But Daniels returned to the ring immediately after the bell sounded and Triple X pummeled Harris, punishing him for having the gall to defeat them. Daniels and Skipper really got over as a dangerous faction here.
After finishing off the useless DOA election angle, the American Dream Dusty Rhodes was announced as the new general manager-equivalent for TNA, which would lead to such quality segments down the line as the overweight, elderly retired former champ making important decisions from the back of a pick-up truck with amazingly beautiful, toned, young women hanging all over him. Dusty cut a victory promo too – whatever. They thankfully moved on to the main event, featuring company founder and NWA world champion Jeff Jarrett defending against the Charismatic Enigma Jeff Hardy in his first main event push. Hardy’s world title aspirations wouldn’t come to fruition until two weeks ago at WWE’s Armageddon ppv where he won his first world championship. As you would expect, Hardy sacrificed his body for high-risk offense and bump after bump of backbreaking falls off, on, and around the ladders in this intense contest. Neither Hall nor Nash accompanied their man to ringside as advertised, but when Hardy looked to have the match won Hall arrived and delivered the Outsider/Razor’s Edge to prevent him from climbing the ladder, and security “escorted” Hall from the party. I wonder how many times THAT’S happened to old Gator Scott…
Hall got involved again later, and for ten minutes Hardy valiantly fought off both former nWo 2000 members until Kevin Nash finally arrived. Of course Nash wasn’t really there to assist Hardy, as anyone who’s watched American professional wrestling for at least six weeks would have realized. He joined Hall and Jarrett, ensuring the King of the Mountain retained his crown, and the “Kings of Wrestling” faction was formed. In the aftermath, Nash challenged the locker room to try to knock the new stable off their high horse, and AJ Styles and 3LK showed up to take a crack at them. When the heels dominated everyone and nobody was left to challenge the Kings, none other than the Macho Man Randy Savage debuted in TNA which led to the main event of their second ppv, Turning Point.
As far as ladder matches go, this might not have been the best I’ve ever seen, but for a world title main event on U.S. pay-per-view, it was far superior to the boring punch-and-kick stuff WWE was churning out at their monthly shows back then. So again, as an alternative, TNA was on the right track in November of 2004.
Unfortunately as the years have gone by TNA has tried to become an exact replica of WWE, snagging every free agent with any name value (even if his prime was 10 years ago or more). They mimic WWE’s “sportz entertainment” booking style, and no longer feature the X Division as strongly as they once did, nor is their tag team division the best in the world as it used to be. But for a brief while, TNA really seemed to be the alternative to WWE’s slow, plodding, hackneyed, heavyweight-dominated style, and there was once again excitement in the air about pro wrestling in the United States. If only TNA had stayed the course and been comfortable in their own skin instead of donning the dried up husk of WCW and trying to paint it to look exactly like WWE’s, we might actually have seen another great war between wrestling promotions, instead of Panda Energy’s little sidekick to Vince McMahon’s schoolyard bully.
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears each Monday morning on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
Speaking of TNA, Paul Marshall discusses Jarrett’s company in his Total Nonstop Weekly.
Resident CHIKARA expert Jonathan Kirschner brings all the latest on the larger-than-life indy fed in his Chikarticles column.
John Wiswell is undertaking a huge task, attempting to break down the 100 best matches of 2008 from WWE, TNA, and several indies, and it all begins with part 1.
Mark Allen celebrates the impending return of WWE Superstars in This Week in ‘E.
Finally this week, Blatt shares his 10 Thoughts on Monday Night RAW.