The battle between Jeff Jarrett and Dixie Carter is set for this Wednesday night.
TNA Impact Wrestling and Global Force Wrestling have blurred the lines between reality and fiction, proving–once again–that fact is always stranger than fiction in the world of professional wrestling.
While the WWE monopolizes the industry, a battle remains on the undercard. Though technically under the WWE umbrella, NXT is the second most popular promotion in the country, and Ring of Honor is well-funded and secure through its ownership in Sinclair Broadcast Group. Beyond that, there is a great deal of uncertainty, particularly in TNA and Global Force Wrestling.
For a good chunk of the last thirteen years, TNA held the coveted number two slot. Employing former WWE and WCW stars–such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Kevin Nash, and Sting – allowed the promotion, run collectively by Dixie Carter and Jeff Jarrett, to grow and find a home on Spike TV.
Carter controlled the business, Jarrett ran the creative, and the promotion’s Impact Wrestling television show delivered a small but dedicated audience for nearly a decade. But the network cut ties with TNA last December, leaving TNA without a television network in the United States. History repeated itself a year later, as TNA’s current home for TV–Destination America–will no longer air Impact in 2016.
“The biggest challenge for us is building a brand in the U.S.,” said Carter, who is TNA’s president. “That’s where we need to grow. We’re contracted to Destination America through the end of the year, and we are in discussions going on for 2016.”
Carter and Jarrett also encountered problems. Jarrett was sent home after an affair with Karen Angle in 2009, and Carter replaced him with several different talents, including, most notably, Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff.
“The fact of the matter is TNA had its most successful years when I was at the helm,” said Jarrett, who broke off from TNA to start his own promotion in Global Force. “It’s just that simple.”
The WWE’s market share of the industry allows for certainty. Fans may question storylines or even revolt against the proposed main event of WrestleMania, but there is never a doubt in regard to when the product will be on the air. Even in the face of blizzards and hurricanes, the USA Network airs Monday Night Raw every week. TNA and GFW, however, do not share that luxury.
Uncertainty looms for TNA, as well as for GFW. Jarrett launched his promotion this past January by joining forces with New Japan Wrestling for a successful Wrestle Kingdom 9 pay per view, but struggled to build an audience during his “Grand Slam Tour” throughout minor league baseball stadiums this summer. And TNA, as Carter noted, does not currently have a television provider in the United States as of February 2016.
The solution to all of this uncertainty, of course, was to find each other.
Jeff Jarrett returned to TNA television this past June when TNA needed to generate a buzz on their television programming. So they blurred the lines of reality by calling Jarrett, and built a storyline of TNA versus GFW.
“The legal department reached out first, and shocked would be an understatement,” said Jarrett. “I’ve got great working relationships with New Japan and AAA in Mexico, and other promotions around the world, but it would be accurate to say that I thought TNA would be the last promotion to call.”
Jarrett’s return legitimately surprised wrestling fans, and even caught some of the veterans–including Matt Hardy–off-guard, too.
“There was a big divide between Jeff and TNA,” said Hardy. “But most people in wrestling who are trying to make a successful wrestling company do what’s best for business. And it worked–it gave Global Force exposure, and it was good, strong programming for Impact Wrestling. It was a wild moment. If there is money to be made and exposure to be gained, you learn to drop your ego.”
The on-screen feud between Jarrett and Carter stems over legitimate issues in reality. Carter claims that Jarrett deserted the company, while Jarrett contends Carter, his former boss, was always looking to replace him.
“Everything is real,” said Carter. “Jeff did leave. We stayed and continued to fight this fight, and it’s a fight every day. You read headlines about our demise for 13 years, and we chose–along with the talent that have stayed–to stay and fight. There wasn’t one thing that wasn’t real. Jeff did think I brought in regime after regime to do things differently. We had a lot of success during those creative regimes, and there was a need for me to do that because I could not have Jeff in that position.”
Carter has searched for the right fit as the head of TNA creative, including Jarrett, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff. She also flirted with the idea of bringing Paul Heyman on board.
“I’m a big Paul Heyman fan,” admitted Carter, who explained the two broke bread during a 2010 meeting. “We met that one time, and I would have loved to have found a way to bring him in. But what Paul did for ECW could not be created for us today. In this litigious world we live in, that stuff could never be recreated. You can’t go back and recreate things. I’ve had the biggest names work for us, and it’s just shown me that there’s no magic bullet. So we’re learning from our mistakes from the past and how can we be different and move forward.”
All the while, Jarrett remained a part-owner of TNA–even after he left the company, which was extremely frustrating for Carter. The “Lethal Lockdown” match on Wednesday’s Impact touches on this angle, too.
“If Jeff wins the match, he’ll retain his shares,” explained Carter. “If he doesn’t, he will not. The match will decide it.”
Behind the scenes, Carter and Jarrett solved the ownership issue. Multiple industry sources confirmed Jarrett gave up his shares for the television exposure on TNA programming. The culmination of the angle occurs this Wednesday at 9pm EST in a “Lethal Lockdown” match between TNA and GFW on Destination America.
Carter also inducted Jarrett into TNA’s Hall of Fame, as well as offered some closure with the company. Jarrett is no longer an owner in TNA, and he is fully invested in his new promotion. Ultimately, he made the deal with Carter for one reason: exposure.
“TNA has an audience on Wednesday on Destination America, but they’re also on in over 100 countries around the world,” explained Jarrett. “They’re on in France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Brazil, and India, just to name a few. So the Global Force brand is exposed internationally, and the talent exchange has been mutually beneficial. That’s a huge component of this. Bobby Roode, who I consider one of the best wrestlers on the planet, has been at our tapings. Eric Young, who I think is very, very talented, has also been at our tapings.”
There is more certainty these days for GFW. Jarrett just announced a television deal with Boulder Creek International, which will air GFW’s “Amped” programming starting in November. There will be a tournament during the “Amped” tapings on October 23 in Las Vegas to crown a women’s champion, tag team champions, a NEX*GEN champion, and a world champion. One of Jarrett’s strong suits in TNA was his ability to build stars like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Jay Lethal, and he plans on doing the same with Global Force. He also plans to bring the knowledge and experience he acquired from his time with TNA.
“I’ve always had the philosophy that you need to have a healthy mix,” explained Jarrett. “You need some legends, some prime time players, some up-and-comers, and then you need your upstarts. A promotion always needs that healthy mix, and TNA has obviously gotten out of balance at times, but I’ve always subscribed to that philosophy and I know I did my best to keep a healthy balance.”
As for his current promotion, Jarrett plans on documenting history.
“We want to do things that are innovative and unique,” said Jarrett. “It’s a slogan in our production department that, ‘We don’t write stories, we document them.’ We want document the stars of tomorrow and help them become household names.”
Unlike Global Force, TNA has yet to find a TV partner, but they have found success in another critical area–creating a must-see character.
Michael Hutter was cut loose from WWE’s developmental territory, and rebranded in TNA as Ethan Carter III. Hutter–along with help from Carter, Executive Vice President John Gaburick, and the entire creative department–built his character into one of the most compelling parts of Impact every week, and he is now TNA’s world champion.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity,” said Carter III. “A chance was all I ever needed, and I’m loyal to those who are loyal to me. My experience working for Dixie has been nothing short of tremendous. There is unheralded negativity thrown at her and this company, when all I’ve ever experienced is a family atmosphere. There is a lot of respect for what we do here. To Dixie, we’re not just gears in a machine.”
TNA has received its fair share of criticism for building its name off nostalgia, but Carter III, better known as EC3, stressed that is a vital component to the growth of a wrestler.
“TNA has allowed me the chance to work with guys who are better than me,” said Carter III, who draws immediate attention with a unique look and talent on the stick. “They’ve showed me the way to becoming champion. The company was established on older names, but you need that name brand value to create new stars. We were very fortunate to have guys like Kurt Angle and the Hardys, and they are guys who are willing to work with the younger talent and give them a rub. They’re less worried about protecting a fictitious spot and more interested in increasing business.”
The 32-year-old Carter III shares similarities with WWE champion Seth Rollins. The two champions appeal to fans through their emotion, tell an amazing story in the ring, and also share a great deal of respect for one another.
“We’re pretty similar guys,” said Carter III. “His route was through the independents and Ring of Honor, and I was always trying to get signed, because I thought WWE would want to create a star out of development and the independent scene wasn’t the way to go. But we had similar tutelage at FCW [Florida Championship Wrestling] from coaches like Dr. Tom [Pritchard] and Dusty Rhodes.
“We’re both die-hard wrestling fans, very passionate, and we want to lead our companies. We came up together, I watch his work, and he sees mine. We know what we had to do to get where we are.”
Carter III was honest when explaining why his four-year tenure with the WWE did not end in success.
“You’re only as good as the opportunity you’re given,’ said Carter III. “You are either in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. But I’m embracing my current challenge as champion. I know this could all end in one second if I’m not doing the job. TNA made decisions in the past that didn’t have the foresight to look to the long-term, but they made a commitment and I happen to be the one benefiting from it. I’m going to do this job to the best of my ability and show an increase in business for them.”
Carter III was not bothered by Jarrett’s return, nor is he fazed by the fact that Global Force has raided the TNA roster.
“Jeff’s return made the storyline as real as can be,” said Carter III. “And as for the Global Force wrestlers, competition breeds excellence. But I have nothing but faith in TNA and the people who run it.”
When TNA moved from Spike to Destination America, Kurt Angle and the Hardy’s were champions as those men are known commodities and fans are extremely invested in their characters. Now, with a future that is uncertain, EC3 is the face of the company.
“I still sometimes feel like a 15-year-old about to watch Raw,” admitted Carter III. “But it feels great to be the face of a company, and this is where the hard work really begins.”
More than just certainty, TNA and GFW are focused on survival.
TNA has fought for its survival in many different ways, primarily with a star-studded approach. Carter now admits to over-using Hulk Hogan when he was with the company, and even hints that he could one day return.
“Hulk was the hardest worker behind the scenes and in front of the camera, but we just used him too much,” said Carter. “Too much of anything is too much, especially when it comes to television, and it becomes less special.”
Carter connected with Hogan after his racist comments were leaked this summer.
“I have reached out to Hulk and we’re still friends,” continued Carter. “From my perspective, I have never witnessed anything but the polar opposite [in terms of racism].”
As for a potential return, Carter added, “In wrestling, you never say never.”
TNA is still searching for its first mega star that will bring the company to new heights. EC3 may be the one, but Carter also mentioned UFC fighter Phil Brooks–well-known to wrestling fans as CM Punk–as an integral piece of the future if his itch to return to wrestling ever returns.
“We haven’t talked, but I’d love to,” said Carter. “He’s someone who worked with us very early on. I think he’s finished with pro wrestling, but if he wasn’t finished, I’d love to talk to him.”
Carter, who is a rare breed as a female president in pro wrestling, promises that TNA will survive well beyond its thirteenth year. In fact, she said, she wants more than for TNA to survive–she wants it to thrive.
“TNA will continue exist, and on a level that far exceeds what we’re currently doing,” said Carter. “I’m looking ahead five years down the road, not a year down the road.”
Despite the heat TNA receives at times from both fans and the wrestling media, Carter stressed that the company is extremely important for the industry thanks to the competition it helps create.
“Besides WWE, we’re the only global promotion in the world,” said Carter. “We’re in over 120 countries worldwide and in 19 languages. We made a conscious decision about three years ago to take a step back and focus on young talent. We’ve had some of the biggest names ever on our show. People have given us a hard time about using WWE talent, but after a hot run with us, almost every one of them has worked with WWE again. That is a huge compliment for us.
“I do feel we’ve taken some unfair blows. Competition, no matter who it is, is healthy. It’s absolutely imperative for the industry to grow. There’s a reason that there is a Lowe’s on the corner of every Home Depot, and a Walgreens across from every CVS. It’s important for the industry.”
Carter also cleared up the internet rumors that certain talent have not been paid on time.
“Our accounting is in Dallas, and we’re changing and shifting that to Nashville,” she explained. “It’s not a matter of not having the money, and it’s happened – maybe – a couple of times, at most, in thirteen years. It’s not a function of not having the money, so we’re trying to simplify the issue and bring accounting to Nashville.”
Carter will continue to search for TNA’s next home on television, and her roster, Matt Hardy explained, is fully behind her.
“After the Hogan/Bischoff era, TNA is rebuilding,” said Hardy. “Especially because of that, they’re really appreciative of the talent that is sticking with them and they treat them more like family now than they ever have. The working environment there is great. Morale is good in the dressing room, and Dixie is truly accessible to the talent. She has a smaller operation, but she is much more accessible than Vince McMahon. She’s very genuine with how she interacts with the talent and she’s open to listening to ideas.
“Dixie is so unique because she’s a female in a historically male run sport when it comes to tip-top management. It’s very different working for Dixie. Sometimes, even with Vince, he’s set in his mind and won’t listen to an outsider’s opinion, but Dixie is very good at listening to outside ideas. She has John Gaburick and her team of writers, and she asks, ‘What do you think about this?’ EC3 is a perfect example of this. It’s not just a Dixie vision, it’s not just John Gaburick’s vision, it has a lot of everyone as well as input from his character. Ethan Carter III is the greatest creation of a talent in many years for TNA.”
As for the future, Ring of Honor will remain on Destination America. Global Force will air beginning this fall, and the WWE will be broadcast live every week. With an uncertain future, Carter asks that wrestling fans give TNA another chance.
“If you haven’t watched our product in a while, it’s worth finding Destination America on your cable network,” said Carter. “This is a story twelve years in the making, and it’s as real as it gets. The talent that have chosen to stay and fight for the company are loyal, and they’ve chosen to stay because this is where they want to be.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.