Interview: TNA in 2008

(A little wrestling flashback here: in 2008, TNA Wrestling was the insurgent pro-wrestling promotion in America. Now it’s all but dead, and just about everyone interviewed here – Booker T., Christian, Robert Roode, and Eric Young – is now with the WWE in some context or other)

Backstage at the TNA Wrestling event at the Travis County Expo Center last Thursday, five-time WCW champion Booker T swept the curtain aside. Twenty minutes earlier, he’d been wiped out by a chair shot delivered by Robert Roode. He’d then stood in the ring and signed autographs with fans. In the dressing room, he grins.

“Another day at the office, baby,” he says before swapping compliments with Roode. The same Roode who tried to crack his skull in the ring.

There’s bonhomie in the air, along with good-natured ribbing. “See what I have to deal with?” sighs Eric Young, aka Jeremy Fritz, after a couple of minutes of joshing about aftershave from fellow wrestlers. Tonight he was in the opening match, a 10-minute to-and-fro with “Cowboy” James Storm which was as heavy on laughs as bumps. But before joining TNA, the Canadian wrestler made his reputation as a heel or bad guy, known for his physical bouts. “This isn’t as challenging,” he said, “but I have a knack for comedy matches, and the fans remember those bits.”

Fans also remembered Samoa Joe delivering his patent finisher, the Muscle Buster, to Christian Cage at the end of the first half. That’s where the loser ends up like a bow over his shoulders then gets driven hard into the canvas. The crowd response is always the same: a mix of ow, wow, and yeesh. “That reaction is definitely what you’re looking for,” said Joe. “It may not be complicated, but it’s simple and effective”

So, how much does it hurt? “It depends in what state the ring is in.” said Cage. Worse than one of Joe’s famously stiff kicks? “If he connects with you, it’s like running into a Mac truck, but the muscle buster is pretty tight.”

TNA was originally a pay-per-view only promotion, but with a new weekly two-hour slot on Spike TV and a big push for publicity, these house shows are the first time the promotion has been through Texas. “You need to take it on the road,” said Cage. “We’re not a television sitcom, we’re a wrestling show, and it’s important to get in contact with your fans.

“This is old hat for me,” said Joe. As a veteran of the indie circuit who has performed in America, Japan, and Europe, he’s used to these low-key shows without the glitz and complexity outside of the TV studio. “You gotta make your bones with a live audience.”

“It’s still nothing like my other schedule,” said Cage, referring to the year-round touring in his old gig with wrestling giant World Wrestling Entertainment. These days, he usually does between five and 12 matches a month, as opposed to 20 to 30 in the WWE. While he appreciates the downtime, there are downsides. “If you’re in the ring every night, you build up a bit of a callous, but it you take some time off, those first few bumps really hurt.”

As for Young, there’s another upside to those comedy matches. “I’m adding years to my career with this gimmick” said Young. “And I’m having a ball.”

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