Source: Ernest Bowker of The Vicksburg Post
In the late 1990s, professional wrestling was as popular as it’s ever been.
Each Monday night between 1997 and 1999, nearly 8 million people tuned in to watch either World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Raw” or World Championship Wrestling’s “Monday Nitro.” Wrestlers such as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin became mainstream stars, while established veterans such as Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan took their popularity to new heights.
But as quickly as it began, the boom was over. A mix of bad business decisions, apathetic corporate management and changing tastes shuttered WCW in 2001, and it was purchased by its main rival, WWE, for $4.2 million.
From the ashes rose another wrestling company.
A new promotion called Total Nonstop Action, or TNA, began in 2002 and reeled in many of the top stars of the time. Over the next eight years, those wrestlers and a new generation of up-and-coming stars would build TNA into the second-largest wrestling outfit in the United States. On April 30, TNA will put on a show at the Vicksburg Convention Center.
“We are very excited to have TNA wrestling in Vicksburg,” said VCC sales and marketing manager Erin Powell.
“I take special pride in being here from the beginning,” said TNA wrestler Abyss, whose real name is Chris Parks. He appeared on TNA’s first show in 2002 and has been a regular since 2003. “A lot of people said we wouldn’t make it a year — and then we made it two. They said we wouldn’t make it two years — and then we made it three.”
The Vicksburg show will feature champion A.J. Styles and top challengers Abyss, D’Angelo Dinero and Jeff Hardy headlining the card. The event is a non-televised “house show,” which typically focuses more on the action in the ring and less on the soap opera-like storylines often associated with wrestling.
The house shows are relatively new to TNA. For the first few years of the company’s existence, its matches were held almost exclusively in Orlando, Fla., as a way to keep travel costs down. That was popular with wrestlers, who didn’t have to endure the grueling 52-week travel schedule other promotions have, but it kept fans from making a connection with the wrestlers. Establishing a tour is part of TNA’s push to compete with the wrestling world’s reigning heavyweight champion, WWE.
“The biggest thing that sets us apart is our access to fans,” Parks said. “After the show, we’ll do meet-and-greets with the fans, they can get in the ring and take Polaroids with us. Our competition doesn’t have that level of access.”
Last fall, TNA brought wrestling icons Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair into the fold and put them in a marquee role as tag team partners to Abyss and Styles, respectively. TNA also signed on former WWE champions Hardy and Rob Van Dam.
The biggest splash, however, came earlier this month when TNA moved its weekly televised show “TNA Impact” from Thursday to Monday night. That put it in direct competition with WWE’s long-running “Raw” program and rekindled talk of the late-’90s “Monday Night Wars” between WWE and WCW.
“Us moving to Monday nights, all it was was us continuing the growth and maturation process,” Parks said. “The move to Monday nights was us taking the next step.”
There have also been direct references to WWE in some of TNA’s biggest storylines. It’s something that would have been unthinkable in the wrestling business as recently as 20 years ago and straddles a fine line between selling their own product and raising awareness of the competition. But manager Jimmy Hart, who himself is a WWE Hall of Famer and has been in the wrestling business for 29 years, said it’s a necessity these days. With the rise of internet message boards, fans are much more knowledgeable about the backstage workings of the industry. Wrestlers often switch companies, and having a former champion from one brand suddenly show up on another gives both the wrestler and the promotion instant credibility in the ring.
“Every now and then, they’ll talk about it because the fans know,” said Hart, a Jackson native who now works for TNA. “If a guy like Jeff Hardy shows up and you act like you don’t know who he is, you look stupid.”
TNA presents a slightly different style of match than WWE. Some TNA matches feature plenty of high-risk aerial moves, while in more traditional matches wrestlers tend to vary their moves. TNA also relies more heavily on “gimmick” matches. For example, its next pay-per-view, called “Lockdown,” is a week before the Vicksburg show and features nothing but steel-cage matches. Parks said if the company plays up those differences, it will ultimately set itself apart from the competition: “We feel we’re a strong alternative.”
The stronger TNA gets, Parks and Hart both say, the stronger professional wrestling, as a whole, will be.
“You always check out what the other guy is doing, and you want to top it,” Hart said.
Source: Ernest Bowker of The Vicksburg Post