Detailed Fan Review of TNA’s Recent Ultimate Fan Xperience

Nick Paglino

Thanks to Michael for sending in the following report:

The TNA VIP Package

TNA put together a special “Ultimate Fan Xperience” for their recently concluded Victory Road pay-per-view.  The price point was initially $299, but TNA encountered ludicrously poor sales.  I could actually hear Mark Madden cackling in my head when I read the report that they’d only sold about 10 tickets for the event.  The organization responded by lowering the price to $99, and since I live within driving distance of Orlando, I thought I’d check out the festivities.

WrestleZone previously posted the press release, but essentially we’re talking about a four-day event which included the following attractions:
On Saturday night, there was an autograph party with more than a dozen TNA personalities.
On Sunday, we began with a pre-show meal with the TNA stars.
Before the pay-per-view, there was a bonus dark match (which will be included on the DVD).
VIP seating for the pay-per-view itself.
An after-show meal/party with the TNA stars in Universal Studios.
On Monday and Tuesday, admission to the Impact! tapings.

Sadly, I’m not just a fabulously talented wrestling website contributor… I have a day job.  So I wasn’t able to stick around for the Monday and Tuesday tapings.  But I wanted to give you a few quick impressions of the VIP package.

The autograph signing on Saturday night was scheduled for 8:00 PM.  I showed up at 7:40, and promptly found myself at the back of a line of about 50 people.  This wouldn’t have been so bad, but I soon realized that there was another line with another 60 or 70 people who had already gone through their initial registration and were just waiting for the doors to open.  Jimmy Hart and Jeremy Borash came out to pump up the crowd a little bit and tell us what order the autograph tables were in (so we could get our photos and memorabilia properly arranged before we walked into the conference room).  We then received a lanyard with a VIP access pass and a packet of 8”x10” press photos before we swarmed the talent.

I just want to say that every single person there was incredibly gracious.  If you’ve ever attended a mass autograph signing before (or tried to keep Chris Jericho from getting into his car), you know that a lot of entertainers consider fan interaction to be a rather painful obligation.  Half of them had to put up with me going all Chris Farley Show on them and stammering through my small talk.

The tables were set up in the following order:  Jimmy Hart, Desmond Wolfe, Doug Williams, Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin (the Motor City Machine Guns), Angelina Love, Samoa Joe, SoCal Val, Taylor Wilde, Jeff Jarrett, Jeremy Borash, Sarita, Ric Flair, and AJ Styles.  In a nice surprise, our packet included signed photos of a few other big names who weren’t in attendance:  Mr. Anderson, Jeff Hardy, Rob Van Dam, and Kurt Angle.  I won’t make you read my impressions of everyone, but here were a couple of highlights for me:

I want to Jimmy Hart to work PR at every event I ever attend.  He was actually standing in front of his table to greet people in a more personal manner, with a TNA employee standing close by to take pictures of him with every single autograph signer.  He even brought along his megaphone from WrestleMania III (which I asked to hold for my photo with him).  I asked him to personalize my autograph, so here’s the text on my 8”x10”:  “To Mike:  Eat your heart out Rick Springfield.  Jimmy Hart”
Ken Anderson signs his photos “Mr. Anderson… Anderson!!”  That cracked me up.
I told Desmond Wolfe that he should bring back his Nigel McGuiness hair, which got a chuckle out of him.  He noted that his current look was a lot easier to maintain and better for getting girls.  I’m a bit of a Chelsea mark, so I can’t argue there, right?  For reasons I never determined, he was asking everyone to think of a number between 1 and 100.  I chose pi, which Wolfe claimed wasn’t a real number.  I came disturbingly close to arguing this point with him (you see, pi is a real number, it’s just not a rational one) before realizing how stupid this would be.
During my brief chat with Chris Sabin, I mentioned how I’d recently re-watched his 2005 Final Resolution match with AJ Styles and Petey Williams (highlighted in this WrestleZone forum post).  He seemed genuinely touched by how much I enjoyed it, and mentioned that the match was a career highlight for him.
Samoa Joe… that guy is not even close to what I’d expected.  He was incredibly laid-back and gregarious, mugging for pictures with little kids and chatting up everybody who came by his table.  I told him that his program with Styles and Christopher Daniels resulted in some of the best matches of my lifetime, and they needed to get Daniels back so they could recreate that magic for all the new TNA fans.  His response?  “We’re working on it, man.”  That’s particularly exciting for me – I’m a big Daniels fan – but great for the company as well.  Hell, I wrote an editorial when Daniels was released complaining about what a bad decision it was.
Sometimes it’s tough to tell how beautiful a woman is when you only see her on television or movies.  Sure, a lot of women are going to look great with professionals doing their hair and makeup, wearing the slinkiest outfits the wardrobe department can paint on them.  SoCal Val is just stunning in person – when she showed up at the afterparty, it was like a spotlight was on her.
Every wrestling fan should make a pilgrimage to meet Ric Flair.  Even though he had to put up with fans sporadically chanting “God, God, GOD!!!” at him.

Sunday was the night of Victory Road, and we started it off with another long stint in line.  Unlike Saturday night’s event, we were outdoors in the heat and humidity of central Florida.  I’m terrible at estimating crowd sizes, but it looked to me that there were more people waiting for tickets than could possibly fit inside the small venue.  For those who have never been inside the Impact Zone, it’s nothing like any televised WWE event I’ve ever been to.  The entire soundstage can only handle about 1,300 people, and we already had well over 100 VIP ticket holders whose seats were guaranteed.  I’d be surprised if TNA didn’t have to turn away people at the door.

The pre-show “meal with TNA stars” was titled a bit optimistically, though.  It was more like “eating from TNA’s catering company while watching wrestlers walk around the soundstage.”  The Hebners came through while I was eating, and Shannon Moore sat at the table next to mine.  Brother Devon came by all smiles, greeting everyone he knew.  I’m not complaining, though, because between the meal and when we actually walked into the arena, some of the TNA stars stood around long enough for fans to get photos and autographs.  I met a shockingly low-key Mr. Anderson right before the show, and I saw Jesse Neal with a big crowd around him.

TNA advertised “special VIP seating” for the pay-per-view, but again, we’re talking about such a small venue that this wasn’t a huge perk.  If you like to stand along the railing for the duration of the show, then it was certainly an advantage to get into the arena early.  But for a person like me, who prefers to sit in the bleachers anyway, this really only meant moving up a handful of rows.

As for Victory Road itself, you can obviously read our coverage of the results for a full play-by-play.  There was a dark match beforehand between Jeff Jarrett and Desmond Wolfe, filmed with just the VIP section in attendance.  They put on a pretty good show, and Wolfe had some funny banter with the fans.  For the ending, Wolfe had Jarrett set up for the Tower of London, but at the last moment Jarrett sprang off the turnbuckle and hit The Stroke for the clean pinfall victory.

I’m not sure how things came off on television, but a couple of quick notes:
The fall Kendrick took from the Ultimate X structure looked pretty wicked.  The match stipulations weren’t explained to the audience, so the crowd wasn’t deeply invested in the submission attempts.  A couple of people behind me didn’t understand Williams had won (since he’d never climbed up to pull down the belt).
In a massive upset, Brother Ray might have cut the best promo of the night.  When he called Jesse Neal a failure to everyone (including “his dead friend”), the crowd really got riled up.  Plus he managed to throw in a jab at Christy Hemme’s Playboy pictorial.  Ray was chopping Neal so hard that it was actually echoing in the soundstage, and Neal had a massive hand-shaped bruise over his kidney after one particularly loud slap.
The Matt Morgan/Hernandez steel cage match tanked.  I groaned at least five times during the match (mostly when Morgan would get thrown into the steel cage – Mae Young takes more convincing bumps).  And Hernandez’s attempts to lift Morgan’s big ass for the Border Toss were pretty botchtastic.
The crowd was pretty evenly split for Flair/Lethal.  Flair’s antics never get old, and Lethal’s theft of some of Flair’s signature moves (particularly the flip over the turnbuckle and strut on the apron) really went over.  I’m not sure why we had to see seven seconds of bare Flair ass, but it was definitely the best match I’ve ever seen involving a 61-year-old man.
MCMG and Beer Money put on a hell of a show – definitely the match of the night.  I realize that I pointed myself out as a bit of a mark with my Chris Sabin comments above, but I highly recommend looking this one up on YouTube.  The crowd was heavily into the near falls, and some of the spots were fantastic.  (As for MCMG finally getting the tag team belts?  Let me just say – it’s about damned time.)
After the great tag team match and (as expected) a strong match between Kurt Angle and The Pope, I thought the championship match was a bit of a letdown.  RVD was out of the action for a long time, and (with the exception of Mr. Anderson doing some great “betrayal” spots) there wasn’t a lot going on in terms of in-ring psychology.

After the show ended, they rounded the VIPs up in the same area where the wrestlers were cutting their backstage promos.  Eventually they led us back into a section of Universal Studios which remained open just for us.  There was another buffet line set up, the arcade was set to free play, and they gave us unlimited access to the “Revenge of the Mummy” ride.  I’m serious about “unlimited,” too – no line at all, sit wherever you want, and they ran the thing continuously no matter how many people were waiting (the second time I went on it, it was only me and two other people).  I thought the TNA guys would blow off the afterparty, but I was wrong – they showed up in force.  If you’re wondering what Jay Lethal does after wrestling a match with Ric Flair, apparently he plays Guitar Hero with random fans.  I left pretty early, but I saw Lethal, Rob Terry, Desmond Wolfe, Doug Williams, Jeremy Borash, Brother DeVon, and Mr. Anderson.  I also managed to sneak in another picture of SoCal Val (hopefully she’ll remember to bring that dress on our honeymoon).

So the big question at the end – was it worth it?  Abso-freakin’-lutely.  For $99, you’d have to be crazy to pass all this up.  Keep in mind that the package also included tickets to the Impact tapings on Monday and Tuesday as well… I only attended two days of a four-day promotion, and I’m completely satisfied with my purchase.  I had a blast, met some great people, and even got a couple of free meals out of the deal.  I highly recommend jumping on this experience if TNA offers this sort of discount again, and you may even want to consider it at the original price of $299.

The only downsides were the amount of time you spend in line and the lack of signs at the hotel and at Universal Studios letting you know exactly where to go.  Hopefully they’ll be able to streamline the process a bit in the future.  But overall, I know that I’ll definitely make room in my budget in case they do it again.

For those of you who are (oddly) curious, I posted a few photos from the event for public consumption here:  http://picasaweb.google.com/michael.sullivan23/TNAUltimateFanXperience.  And of course if you have any questions you can reach me at michael.sullivan23@gmail.com

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