I’m sure at some point in the future an in-depth look at TNA Wrestling’s turbulent journey, a path that took it from weekly pay-per-view under legendary promoter, Jerry Jarrett and his son, Jeff to a promotion that collapsed after its opportunity to run on national TV under Dixie Carter, will be written to chronicle a history of the organization. Despite my usual self-loathing and pessimistic view point, I wouldn’t punish myself with that level of drudgery of a project. Instead, I hope this article will be more entertaining than some of TNA’s more notorious moments, and it will detail a trip during an era when most still thought the group had the potential to get off the group, which was before their infamous stint on Monday night under the direction of Hulk Hogan before it was sold to Anthem Entertainment to rescue it from bankruptcy.
By mid-2009, the company was still stocked with many of the talent that garnered some hype for it and those that would ultimately reach bigger exposure elsewhere. Lockdown, an all cage match event, was created by Dusty Rhodes, who worked for the Nashville-based group early in its existence before he eventually took a job within the WWE developmental system until his passing in 2015. Even Canadian betting review websites would not have predicted the outcomes. Every match inside of the cage had its critics, claiming it took away from the stipulation, which might be true, but it still become a staple of the TNA calendar, even if just for its unique presentation.
The event also provided the narrative for Mick Foley’s fourth autobiographical release, “Countdown to Lockdown,” a memoir that chronicled his rocky exit from the WWE the prior year, as well as his arrival in TNA. Mick, a bonafide legend for everything he had done in his career previously, would later require several surgeries to repair the damage from his risky career, and thankfully, seems to be doing better today. However, at the time, his run in TNA was viewed by most pundits as his last big run as an in-ring wrestler so there was a level of curiosity if Foley could boost the position of the company. At this particular pay-per-view, Foley was scheduled to clash with a former foe, Sting, who he competed against years earlier during one of his stints in WCW. At 50, this TNA run was seen as definitely the icon’s last run on television, because while he made headlines with his surprising WWE debut a few years later, in 2009 the general consensus was that if Sting was going to ink a WWE contract, he would’ve done it already. Plus, he took a big money deal to work for TNA so it appeared he would retire under that banner.
Around the time that Sting was cashing those mega checks from Dixie, and Mick was penning early pages of what became his fourth wrestling book, I was in college for the Communications degree that I earned a few years later. On the Saturday before the pay-per-view, one of my wrestling pals, Joe Folino called me and explained that he was able to get four free tickets to the event, which was being held at Temple University in Philadelphia, roughly a five-hour drive from Western, PA. He landed these tickets from an outdoor website, which all these years later is still puzzling, considering that I’m not sure how fishing techniques have anything to do with professional wrestling. Joe’s family has been friends with my family for years, but both of his brothers couldn’t make the trip on such short notice so he asked if I would tag along so he didn’t have to make the trip alone. While Joe has a family of his own today, over a decade ago, he had considerably less responsibility so an impromptu trip across the state didn’t seem too odd. I had been skeptical about the TNA product at times, but knowing that Sting was in the latter stages of his career, and that I hadn’t got the chance to see him wrestle in person before, I figured it was worth the journey for the chance to see him live before he hung up the boots.
On just a few hours sleep, I prepared to make the trip to Philly, despite the fact that I had class the next day, but hey, my homework was done and there were free tickets to a pay-per-view. Joe being the older, wiser wrestling fan was tasked with being the driver, while I had to make sure to shuffle a solid rotation of classic wrestling themes on his MP3 player for the road. Our rendition of the the Fabulous Rougeaus’ “All American Boys” song probably could’ve won us an award at a karaoke contest somewhere. About two hours into this road trip to pro wrestling prosperity, just as we proclaimed, “from Montreal to Memphis!” we saw another wrestling-related reference. It wasn’t The Big Bossman, but the red and blue lights halted this adventure faster than a ratings drop during a Disco Inferno promo. A very nice state trooper informed Joe that hs was speeding (allegedly) and would be given a $167 ticket. I’m no Clarence Mason, but I don’t think the defense of being overly enthusiastic while jammin’ Rougeaus song would’ve helped his case. Ironically, knowing that his pocket would be lighter after the trip, Joe’s foot became lighter as well and we made the rest of the journey at the suggested speed until we arrived in Philadelphia.
When we parked and got to the venue, I saw what looked to be workers from the building with tickets in their hand. This along with the fact that Joe was able to get free tickets on less than 24 hours notice was an indication that this pay-per-view probably didn’t sell well. I’m going to try not to criticize too much of the Dixie Carter marketing strategy because that’s one of the most discussed aspects of her tenure as the owner of the organization, but it speaks volumes about TNA’s inability to advertise the product when they couldn’t sell a hardcore pay-per-view in Philadelphia. When we navigated through the hall ways of the arena and found our seats, I saw why tickets were so easy to obtain. Aside from the floor seats and people scattered throughout some sections of the camera side, the ENTIRE other half of the venue was empty. I’m not sure how the production managed to shoot the show without revealing just how sparse the audience was, but they deserve credit because it was somewhat shocking to see such low attendance for a promotion that had national TV exposure for almost five years.
The show itself was fun, even if not every match delivered an epic performance. Something that should probably be forgotten completely is Danny Bonaduce’s two-minute exhibition against Eric Young. I’m guessing Vince Russo pitched, “Partridge family, bro” at a production meeting. In the actual pay-per-view opener, Suicide,who I think was being portrayed by Christopher Daniels in 2009, did an insane dive from the top of the cage that was very impressive to see in-person as the TV cameras didn’t quite sum up the height of the dive. The rest of the card went from average to entertaining with nothing blatantly terrible. The Lethal Lockdown match, including the spot on top of the roof of the cage was wild.
Before I tackle the main event, I must point out a few comical side notes during the under card. At one point, there was a family sitting a few seats down from us, and one of their kids asked us, “Is this Smackdown?” We told the youngster this was TNA, a different wrestling group. Her response of, “Where’s John Cena?” confirmed that this particular family took the offer to get free wrestling tickets because it was professional wrestling, but clearly had no idea what show they were watching. But, they didn’t lack enthusiasm, as for the majority of the night, instead of cheering for wrestlers she didn’t know, the young girl yelled, “Hit him with a stick!” regardless of who was in the ring. Finally, when a kendo stick was later used, she seemed ecstatic that some type of stick had been used on the wrestling show that she didn’t know the name of.
As the lights dimmed for the main event and The Icon’s music hit, I got chills, as getting to see Sting live was imminent . Even at Sting’s age, the charisma, the face paint, and the howl were electric. Still, Mick Foley is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time (I actually showed him one of my leg surgery scars at an indy show when I was 14 and he said I was hardcore, but that’s another article for another time) and I wanted to see him win the championship so that he would have a better conclusion to his career than being yelled at in the headset by Vince McMahon on Smackdown. The match itself was really entertaining. I wouldn’t necessarily put it up there with the bouts from either wrestler’s prime of their career, but it was certainly a solid bout that had a historic atmosphere to it.
So, the hardcore legend claims the title and that’s the finish of the story, right? Would that really be an appropriate conclusion to the swerves this article has taken so far?
With the rush of the main event keeping us alert for the dive back to Western, PA in the middle of the night, we departed Temple University just minutes after the pay-per-view went off the air so I could get home in time to go to Greater Allegheny University for class the next day. Not surprisingly, interstate roads at 1 AM can all start to look the same and as Joe checked the GPS to make sure we were still on course, he noticed that the signal was temporarily lost in the location we were traveling. I’m not sure how this is possible, but the screen literally said, “Nowhere, PA” so we can say were in the middle of nowhere during the trip home. When the GPS was back on track and with about two hours left in the journey, we stopped at the only place we saw with lights on and wanted to get food and fuel for the rest of the drive back. Roy Rogers isn’t a chain that exists in the Pittsburgh area, but Joe told me, it’s a chicken place so I walked up to the counter, but before I could order, a rather sad-looking fellow that appeared to be bored to tears working the night shift simply said, “No chicken.” His answer later revealed that Roy Rogers, an establishment that was built for orders of chicken, had run out of all of its chicken. The only good thing of stumbling upon this rest stop at such a late/early hour was that the coffee stand had just got in fresh baked goods for the next day so I bought half a dozen danishes to share with Joe and a red bull to hopefully keep me awake.
After being in the middle of nowhere and finding no chicken in that well-known destination, we finally made it back to Pittsburgh at around 6:15 AM. I got home close to 7 AM and thanked Joe again for letting me tag along before he went back to his house to catch a few hours of sleep before work. I had class at 10 AM so I got a little less than two hours of sleep before the 15-minute commute to Greater Allegheny, where I also had a night class at 6:15 PM so it was a full day of classes. With as ridiculously expensive as college is, I never just randomly didn’t go to class because you pay for the credits whether you’re in the seat or not. So, I made sure to be there for the start of the 10 AM class. By the time, I shuffled into the night class, a biology class that I actually got a 90% in, I probably resembled the zombie that The Sandman caned on the Sci-Fi channel. Mrs. Mitchell, a very nice lady that taught the class and knew I was a wrestling fan, asked if I was tired. I confirmed that yes, I was very tired, but had seen Mick Foley at a pay-per-view in Philly the night before. She replied with, “Foley from WWF wrestling?” At this point, I was too exhausted from cage matches, Roy Rogers, and the educational process so I said “yeah” and got ready to take notes for the next two hours and fifteen minutes.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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