Jeff Jarrett’s opening a new wrestling promotion, and Toby Keith will have involvement. You’ll forgive me if I do the time warp back to June 19, 2002, when Jeff and promoter-Dad Jerry staged the inaugural outing of NWA: Total Nonstop Action in Huntsville, AL.
As a grab at mainstream attention, country megastar Toby Keith was part of the evening’s festivities, performing his controversial new song, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”, a patriotic declaration against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. After Keith was asked to soften the song’s aggressive overtones for an Americana-themed ABC television special (at the request of newsman Peter Jennings), Keith refused. As Vince McMahon has often demonstrated how controversy can be lucrative, the Jarretts brought Keith in to perform the forbidden music, in exchange for a handful of headlines.
Jarrett would disrupt the song, swinging the spotlight to his villainous brat act. Keith responded by attacking Jarrett in the ensuing battle royal for the NWA Championship, dropping Jarrett with a picture-esque (even for a legit wrestler) delayed vertical suplex, and then aided Scott Hall in throwing Jarrett out.
After helping Hall beat Jarrett in singles action the following week (taped the same night), Keith and Jarrett wouldn’t cross paths in the wrestling realm for over eleven years.
This past fall, rumors swirled that a celebrity had jumped into the mix to purchase TNA. While early notions were that Smashing Pumpkins lead man Billy Corgan (no stranger to wrestling via appearances in ECW, Ring of Honor, and his ownership of Resistance Pro Wrestling) was considering putting up the capital, it would later be revealed that Keith was indeed the mystery buyer, with “The Chosen One” at his side.
The deal would fall through, reportedly after Dixie Carter’s father Bob wanted to ensure his polarizing daughter’s role with the company (sans actual ownership) would be etched in concrete forever, Keith and Jarrett walked away, and are building the stage for their own show.
April 7, the day after WrestleMania XXX, will feature some sort of announcement from Jarrett regarding this ambitious project, an attempt to put a third superpower (if you consider TNA anything more than purgatory with ropes) on the national stage.
Little about the project is official, but Dave Meltzer has let out a few notions about the company, including a potential January 2015 launch possibly on Country Music Television. Keith is presumably to CMT what the Kardashians are to E!.
Meltzer’s sources also indicate that the TNA locker room is openly rooting for the company to succeed, since life under Jarrett and Keith has to be better than Dixie, the since-turfed Bruce Prichard, and reportedly a Vince Russo currently lurking in the shadows, wielding the poison pen.
If you’re a wrestling fan that doesn’t fully embrace WWE for whatever reason (they don’t push the guys you like, the commentary is robotic, it’s too childish, they self-fellate more than a lecherous contortionist), and you’re too far beyond giving a damn about TNA’s two-steps-forward, down-escalator-drift-backward that has become their MO, you should probably join TNA’s roster in rooting for the unnamed entity’s success.
Thinking about it, there’s a good chance it would succeed.
For one thing, Keith is absolutely loaded. Forbes.com lists Keith’s 2013 net worth at a staggering $320 million. The richest star in WWE, aside from the McMahon family, would probably be John Cena, who probably hasn’t topped $30 million in career earnings, and if he has, not by much.
$320 million, that’s almost five times what WCW lost in 2000, and there are no guaranteed contracts and dwindling PPV/attendance returns under Keith’s nose as of yet. You can sign a major star for $2 million downside a year.
If Keith’s willing to part with money to get the best talent available, and WWE hasn’t fully figured out how to compensate talent with the Network eradicating PPV bonuses, what would stop a Dolph Ziggler or an Alberto Del Rio or a Christian or an Antonio Cesaro from going from $400,000-$500,000 downside a year (merely an estimate) to, say $1.2-$1.3M a year if Jarrett says he’s worth the scratch, and Keith ponies up?
Another advantage would be Keith’s near-bulletproof status, especially if the show ended up on CMT. Country Music Television is, interestingly, owned by Viacom, who also own Spike, the same network that has yet to extend the contract of Impact Wrestling.
But not putting the cart before the horse on that, it’s not as though Spike would see anything in TNA, save for Hogan when he kicked around, as a marketable network cornerstone. CMT, as I’d mentioned, would likely view Keith as rustic royalty, and give benefit of the doubt to a man who’s had a chart-topping song every year for two decades running.
Keith’s also a proven entrepreneur thus a wrestling promotion wouldn’t be his first dance as a suit. The singer owns fifteen restaurants, named “I Love This Bar and Grill”, across the US from California to New York, some of which have been open for nearly a decade, and there are plans for further expansion. Either Keith has sound business acumen, knows how to hire the right people to make decisions, or both.
The April 7 announcement is a mere two weeks away, though it’s nowhere near as anticipated as WrestleMania XXX one day earlier. For fans that have screamed for an alternative that isn’t Dixie-fried, maybe they should turn a curious ear and eye to what Jarrett and Keith have to say that Monday.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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