Impact Wrestling Executive Vice President Scott D’Amore is excited to share a chapter of pro wrestling history Tuesday night as Impact airs its “Total Nonstop Action” special at 10 p.m. ET on AXS TV.
The “TNA: There’s No Place Like Home” reunion show, paying tribute to the previous iteration of the promotion, was originally intended to take place during WrestleMania weekend on Friday, April 3 in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, which was supposed to be WrestleMania’s host city. But the coronavirus has completely altered pro wrestling, canceling the vast majority of shows, and the TNA event is among those no longer taking place this weekend.
Although Tuesday’s special was a table setter for the “No Place Like Home” show, it will still air as intended, paying tribute to the memories of TNA and poking a little fun at some of its more perplexing ideas.
“TNA has a groundswell of support and some goodwill, too,” said D’Amore, who played an integral role in TNA history both on and off-camera. “There have certainly been some negative connotations to it, especially during the latter years, but for a lot of years, it was the alternative if you were a wrestling fan.”
D’Amore and David Penzer provide commentary for the one-hour special, which looks back at the history of TNA and its willingness to be different. That was certainly noticeable in the X Division, as well as the progressive display of women’s wrestling led by Gail Kim. There are also some playful moments, like when the current Impact roster tries to understand the rules and regulations to the King of the Mountain match, which debuted in 2004 and used a set of rules that seemed to become more complicated every year for the talent and the fans.
“Look, I’m very proud of King of the Mountain,” D’Amore says. “We’ve had some great moments with it in TNA history, but there is no question that a lot of people don’t quite understand the rules. It’s a reverse ladder match, but before you can have your ladder, you’ve got to have a pin fall. Once you get that pin fall, that’s what makes you eligible to hang the belt—but don’t get pinned because then you go in the penalty box for two minutes.
“I can still hear people asking, ‘Once I’m pinned, am I still eligible?’ Or ‘What happens after this happens?’ All those discussions happened, and there is a part of the show where the Impact roster talks about the rules—but it’s great when Willie Mack knows it spot-on. So we’re looking back at something that hopefully people have fond memories of.”
TNA had a litany of stars from WWE and WCW, most notably Kurt Angle and Sting, but also gave a chance for fresh stars like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode and Jay Lethal to hone their craft on a major television network. Although the low points are infamous, TNA provided a home for wrestlers and built a dedicated audience that craved another option.
“It was important for us not to look down at TNA,” D’Amore says. “We wanted to have that off-the-cuff feel, that chaos. There was nothing you couldn’t explore with TNA. You saw innovation—a six-sided ring, the creation of Ultimate X—and you saw some things you’d like to forget. But we don’t want to run from our past, we want to honor it. We’re honoring our early days and what we created.”
Along with a surprise or two, the show includes names from TNA’s past like Hernandez, Kid Kash, Suicide and Rhino. Another highlight is an uncensored interview from wrestling great Scott Steiner.
Earlier this month, Steiner collapsed at an Impact taping in Atlanta. The situation required immediate medical attention, and independent wrestler Chris “Laser” Johnson was the EMT first on the scene. Steiner soon underwent successful heart surgery, and D’Amore is grateful his friend is recovering.
“That day in Atlanta, we’d spoken for almost an hour,” D’Amore says. “I was happy to have him there, so to have someone grab me and say, ‘Scott collapsed,’ my heart sank. I thank God that he is fine. His doctors were so happy he was at a place where he could receive quick medical attention.”
D’Amore first met Steiner in June 1993, when he skipped his high school English exam to drive to Columbus, Ohio, for his first-ever televised wrestling match where his opponents were the Steiner Brothers.
“There I was in front of 16,000 people when I’d probably never wrestled in front of 600 people,” D’Amore says. “I was nervous as hell, but it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Over the years, I’ve got to know them really well. I don’t know what drives the universe, but Scott is meant to still be here in this world with us, and continue ‘Steiner math’ and be Big Poppa Pump.”
D’Amore has a keen respect, admiration and empathy toward the men, women and fan base that built TNA, which intertwined with his relationship with his late father.
“My father was an immigrant in 1928 from a tiny village in Italy in the hills of Abruzzi,” D’Amore says, noting that the legendary Bruno Sammartino hails from the same region. “German soldiers came into his house with guns pointed. They ran to the hills and he left with nothing. Years later, in 1952, he started D’Amore Construction. He worked there the rest of his life, and I was blessed to work with him.
D’Amore worked closely with his father after he received some sobering news in 2008.
“I’ll never forget my brother calling me at Universal Orlando to tell me that our father had cancer,” said D’Amore. “That’s when I left, the summer of ’08, and went back to Canada to work side-by-side with him. He had a simple approach: You can make a bad deal once, or a good deal over and over again. My father’s principles guide me every day. You treat everyone fair, and we strive to take that approach at Impact.”
Wrestling is an extremely competitive field, with WWE, AEW and NJPW, not to mention Ring of Honor, the NWA and Major League Wrestling all fighting for their place in the pecking order. D’Amore and his team at Impact are working to provide fans with a viable option in the ever-evolving wrestling landscape.
“We have a handful of veterans mixed in, but this is one of the youngest rosters in wrestling,” said D’Amore. “Don Callis, Ed Nordholm and I really wanted to freshen things up and give opportunity to people. So when a Bobby Lashley leaves, we can bring in a Sami Callihan or a Tessa Blanchard. As bodies move, and they’re always going to in this business, you need to continue to keep things fresh.
“There is good talent out there, and we’ve got a stable home with AXS TV. We’ve got fantastic support in ownership, and our future is secure as we make those changes. Overall, we have a great group, a direction, and stability. Our job is to work hard, so that whenever people commit their support to us, we’re going to commit a return on that investment with entertainment.”
Impact’s weekly television has been gaining momentum, particularly in the main event, with the ongoing program between champion Tessa Blanchard, Eddie Edwards and Michael Elgin. That would have played out at the Rebellion pay-per-view scheduled for April 19, but the coronavirus has forced Impact to call off the show. Although the break in schedule will halt Impact’s momentum, the company did right by its talent when it paid per-day talent for the cancelled events throughout the month of March.
“We’ve got a hell of a group that is hardworking, love what they do, and will give you everything they’ve got,” said D’Amore. “There are three more weeks of new content, and we’re examining all aspects of possible ways to continue doing what we love to do. We’ll keep monitoring it, and we’ll do what’s best and safest for everyone involved.”
Tuesday’s “Total Nonstop Action” special is an opportunity for Impact to reflect on its history before striving toward an even more successful future.
“We’re focused on where we are going, but this is a chance to enjoy our past, too,” said D’Amore. “Watching TNA is like visiting an old friend. And if the fans enjoy viewing this show as much as we did putting it together, I’ll consider it a huge success.”