The first, Ring of Honor, was founded by Rob Feinstein and booked by Paul Heyman protege Gabe Sopolsky. Like ECW it was a gritty, no-frills indie promotion with an emphasis on the in-ring product. But unlike ECW the wrestling was technically-based instead of hardcore. Veterans like Christopher Daniels, Low-Ki, and newcomer Bryan Danielson were showcased, and the company would bring in several international stars from time to time to give the product some flavor. In lieu of a weekly TV show, very card would be available on VHS and later DVD, via RF Video. Though it would take several years, ROH would come to be a major influence on the wrestling industry, just as ECW had done previously. But we'll get to that.
The other new company was owned by Jeff and Jerry Jarrett, and was to be an NWA affiliate. For some reason they called it Total Nonstop Action, or TNA (get it?), and the NWA gave them permission to use the sanctioned NWA World Championship as it's top belt. The product was without a weekly cable timeslot, so instead they ran weekly two-hour PPVs from a venue in Nashville, which was a helluva financial commitment for anyone wanting to follow along. For the most part TNA felt like a continuation of 2000 WCW; the top stars were either WWE castoffs or former WCW stars, and the product was needlessly raunchy. The one innovation though was the newly created X-Division, which was similar to WCW's Cruiserweights, except there was no weight restriction. The division was initially built around Jerry Lynn and hot new indie star AJ Styles, who would prove to be TNA's franchise player for the next decade. While TNA wasn't exactly classic stuff, it did at least provide an alternative to an increasingly frustrating WWE product.
|AJ's reign of awesome began in 2002.|
After King of the Ring 2002 it was clear WWE was casting their lot with the prodigious Brock Lesnar. He'd won the annual tournament and would be facing the Undisputed Champion at SummerSlam. I had some reservations about his ability to deliver a PPV main event so early in his career but was excited for the company's focus on a young star.