Fan-friendly event bringing fireworks to coliseum

File/Brad Nettles/staff Jeff Hardy gets ready to whip A.J. Styles into the ropes.

TNA is marking its 10th anniversary as a professional wrestling company this year, and there’s no better way to celebrate the milestone than by bringing its popular Impact show to the North Charleston Coliseum on this holiday weekend.

The Friday night event will mark the organization’s first visit to the coliseum.

Alan Coker, marketing manager for the Coliseum and the Performing Arts Center, said the show promises to be a memorable occasion.

“Those in attendance will be able to say they witnessed the first-ever TNA Impact Wrestling event at the North Charleston Coliseum,” Coker said.

“We’re excited to welcome TNA Impact Wrestling and their fans for what is hopefully the first of many events to come. Fans can expect an up-close and personal evening with some of the biggest names in professional wrestling.”

Those names include reigning TNA world champion Bobby Roode, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Austin Aries, A.J. Styles, and lovely but lethal TNA Knockouts Gail Kim and Miss Tessmacher.

TNA, which stands for Total Nonstop Action, may feature an impressive talent roster, but the company’s calling card is its fan-friendly, interactive live-event experience.

Friday night’s loudest — and “craziest” — fans will get to go backstage to meet their favorite TNA stars.

Up close and personal While some companies don’t allow fans to get close to the talent, TNA welcomes such interaction at its shows.

“I can’t think of another wrestling company in the world that allows as much fan interaction as Impact Wrestling does at its live events on the road,” said TNA Knockout Velvet Sky. “There are so many opportunities to interact with the wrestlers on the show. You’re guaranteed to meet your favorite wrestler, and get a picture or your shirt signed or an action figure signed.

“There’s always three or four autograph signings throughout the show,” the Connecticut-born wrestler adds. “There’s a meet-and-greet at the beginning. During the show, (ring announcer) Jeremy Borash asks for the loudest fans, and the fans he thinks are making the loudest noise get to go backstage and meet their favorite wrestlers and get autographs. Then there’s intermission, and we always have some stars signing in the ring at the end of the show.”

Former world champion and Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, who will be making a rare live-event appearance, is excited about the North Charleston show.

Angle, who spent the first part of his career in WWE, sings the praises of TNA’s connection with its fans.

“When we have live events, you’re going to most likely get 10 to 20 autographs from the wrestlers. You’ve got meet-and-greets, autograph signings and a chance to get in the ring and take a Polaroid with the stars. It’s more of a fan-friendly experience. For the kids, it’s just a really cool thing.”

TNA Impact’s interactive experience, said Angle, is in stark contrast to WWE.

“In WWE, you’re not allowed over the gates much less the ring. That’s their world, and they don’t want anybody near it,” he said, speaking from firsthand experience.

“I was told when I had my car to keep my head down, go straight to the car and leave the arena. When I go outside now, there’s fans waiting, so I’ll go over and sign autographs. It’s a very different experience.”

Angle said he has been encouraged by the 10-year-old company’s steady progress and increased visibility.

“We’re not like the monster up north, but we’re getting there,” said Angle, alluding to his former employer. “TNA has come on strong, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that TNA is very fan-friendly.

TNA’s evolution TNA has evolved from a monthly, pay-per-view-only concept to the second-largest wrestling promotion in the U.S. and a television product that is seen in 120 countries and in 17 languages worldwide.

TNA, whose flagship Impact Wrestling series is broadcast Thursday nights on Spike TV, recently signed a multiyear contract extension with the network.

TNA debuted on Spike TV in July 2005. Over the past seven years, the ratings have grown from an average of 700,000 viewers at launch to nearly 2 million today.

That growing bond with the audience, Sky said, has been a result of the company’s intimate connection with its fans.

The company, which is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., and films its weekly TV shows at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., has nurtured that relationship, increasing its nontelevised live events from 25 to more than 100 a year.

“We have a lot more leeway (at the live events) to interact with the fans than we do at our TV tapings,” Sky said. “TV tapings are all business, but at the live events, we get to have more fun. The matches are longer, and there’s more interaction with the fans.”

WWE vs. TNA Gail Kim, whose longest-running title reign in TNA Knockout history recently came to an end at the hands of Friday night’s opponent, Miss Tessmacher, has been on both sides of the wrestling fence.

A former WWE women’s champion, Kim left that company late last year to return to TNA. It was her second run with WWE, and she says she’s unlikely to return for a third.

“You can never say never in terms of anything in life, but for me, I’ve experienced it twice and kind of know what makes me happy in life, and it’s doing what I love, and this company (TNA) provides that for me.”

Kim, a 12-year ring veteran who married celebrity chef Robert Irvine in May after meeting him on the set of “Dinner: Impossible,” said the fact that TNA has a woman as company president makes her situation there that much better.

“From my experience of being a woman, because this world is so male dominated, having a president like Dixie Carter makes a difference for us. I’ve always been more drawn to the sport of wrestling, and of course it’s entertainment, as well. But for a woman like me, who enjoys being inside the ring, it’s just a better place for us ... a better platform. They allow us to do what we do best, and that’s entertain the fans in the ring as well as character development.”

Carter reflects that fan-friendly passion.

“I think it’s just me. It’s my personality. I love people and I’m a very appreciative person, and I know more than anybody else that TNA would not be where it is today without our fans. So it’s my opportunity to get in front of people and shake their hands or hug them and say thank you, thank you for your support and listen to what they like. They truly have a voice.”

“This company is like family,” Kim said.

If you don’t believe it, adds Sky, she encourages fans to give the show a try.

“If I were going as a wrestling fan, I would have the time of my life.”

Local show The tentative lineup for Friday night’s show includes the following matches: Austin Aries vs. Bobby Roode for the TNA world heavyweight title; Jeff Hardy vs. Christopher Daniels in a Bound for Glory Series match; Kurt Angle vs. The Pope; Cowboy James Storm vs. Kazarian; A.J. Styles vs. Gunner; and Miss Tessmacher vs. Gail Kim in a TNA Knockouts title match.

The event, presented by Direct Auto Insurance, gets under way at 7:30 p.m. Fans who purchase a $50 ticket will receive a special Meet and Greet with TNA stars at 5:30 p.m. (redeemable with ticket the night of the show).

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 937-5517, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.