DETROIT — Total Nonstop Action Wrestling has never had a show outside of its Orlando studio or Nashville, but on March 17, that all changes with the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre.

On that night, TNA invades the Compuware Sports Arena in the suburban Detroit town of Plymouth with Jeff Jarrett and Rhino headlining the card. It’s an event that has been in the making for quite some time, but only recently came to fruition.

“To be honest, I was a little concerned at first,” Compuware Sports Arena general manager Matt Blasy said. “Anytime you bring in an event like professional wrestling, you have concerns for your building. I have lost touch with the wrestling world throughout the years and did not know much about TNA. I have been contacted by several wrestling groups in the past and have been a little skeptical on whether or not the event will be successful. Because I did not know much about TNA, I thought this may be a similar situation.”

Back on January 20, the day tickets went on sale, more than 1,000 tickets were sold at the Compuware box office and online. And as of a week ago, in excess of 2,000 had been purchased for the event that looks to hold around 4,500 fans. By contrast, most TNA shows in Orlando’s Universal Studio hold approximately 900.

Scott D’Amore and A1 sign TNA posters at a Plymouth Whalers OHL game on January 28. Photo by Matt Mackinder

“The time is right for TNA to venture out,” said promoter Rudy Hill, formerly Rude Boy in TNA, of Bizzar Tours. “Compuware is a great venue. It’s not a bingo hall. I think, too, it should be stressed that TNA is a family-oriented company. You’re not going to get some sleazy, bullshit live sex show or profanity. You’re going to get straight up wrestling. And we’re bringing our own refs and (broadcaster) Mike Tenay and (ring announcer) Jeremy Borash, too.

“I think it’s strange, too, that the day we announced TNA was coming here, suddenly the WWE announces that Saturday Night’s Main Event will be at Cobo Arena [in Detroit] the next night. I mean, come on. The competition between us and the WWE is a lot closer than some might think.”

Bizzar Tours is also the official promoter of the Detroit-based Insane Clown Posse rap contingent. Both Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope will be on the St. Patrick’s Day card, but haven’t revealed in what capacity. The rappers have worked for WWE, WCW and TNA over the years and make their home in the Detroit suburbs where their roots are.

It’ll also be a showcase for several TNA stars that are from the area. Rhino is from Dearborn, Sabu is a Detroit native, Chris Sabin hails from Pinckney (near Lansing) and Monty Brown is from Saginaw. Scott D’Amore (Windsor), Petey Williams (Windsor) and A-1 (La Salle) grew up just across the border in Canada.

“It’s actually sort of a homecoming for several of us,” said A-1, who will face Shark Boy. “I’m pumped and excited for this. What better place is there for this event? We’re going to tear the house down…and Team Canada will come out victorious.”

To promote the event, TNA wrestlers have been in the Plymouth and surrounding communities doing autograph signings and such. Back on January 28, A-1 and D’Amore were at the Plymouth Whalers-Saginaw Spirit Ontario Hockey League game and on February 15, Brown, Sabin, Alex Shelley and Team Canada’s Eric Young joined Whalers players Jared Boll, Mike Letizia, Gino Pisellini and Steve Ward as well as Tarick Salmaci from TV’s The Contender at the Livonia Mall a few miles outside of Plymouth.

The St. Patrick’s Day show should also bring together people that wouldn’t normally get to see TNA stars on a personal level.

“At most indy events, you don’t really get a type of show your friends and family can come to,” said D’Amore. “But here, it’s a local show with a lot of guys from this area. Guys like Sabu and Rhino and Sabin, this is home for them. But I really feel this first show will give TNA the leverage to branch out and become more of a national product.”

The home rink of the Whalers will need to undergo serious alterations to accommodate TNA. And those changes will also come down immediately after the event as the Whalers have a game against the Saginaw Spirit the next night.

“We will have to take the glass out and put flooring down over the ice,” explained Blasy. “Then, TNA will come in and put their ring in as well as additional lighting and sound. We will also put 1,000 seats on the floor. For this first show, we are trying to keep the production as simple as possible.”

But why Compuware? And why not Joe Louis Arena, Cobo, or even the Palace of Auburn Hills? It’s simple — WWE has exclusive rights to those buildings. Even so, TNA believes it can pack Compuware and lay the groundwork for future shows in the 10-year-old building.

“Coming to Compuware is a smart decision from a business standpoint,” Hill added. “But believe me, the building doesn’t come cheap. But that night, we’ll get all the profits from concessions, souvenirs, everything. And you look at who’s all on the card and it’s a pay-per-view lineup.”

“We have already discussed establishing a long term relationship with TNA,” Blasy said. “Our main goal is to make this first show a success and build it from there. We are always trying to bring more events to Compuware Sports Arena and it would be great to have wrestling added to the list.

“I have been impressed with what I have seen and feel it is a good fit for our facility. It has been emphasized that the show will be for the entire family and we are hoping to attract the same people for this event that come to Plymouth Whalers games. We have been cross-promoting the events because we feel it is a perfect fit. In looking into it further, I realized that TNA is an established organization and is quickly gaining a very large following.”

TNA president Dixie Carter also has high expectations for the Plymouth show.

“So far, all indications are great,” she said. “I think that they’ve exceeded all of our expectations and we’re thrilled. I think the word is starting to get out there. It’s one thing to see these guys on Spike television; it’s another thing to see these guys in action in real life.”

Plans are also being made to bring TNA to other big U.S. cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and even Canada. And talk of a summer show at Compuware is also being mentioned, but not confirmed. But for the present, the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre has the potential to set a new precedent with TNA and give Vince McMahon some hefty competition.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY MASSACRE (Matches announced as of Feb. 15)

  • Rhino vs. Jeff Jarrett (advertised as NWA World Title match, may change with Christian now champ)
  • “The Phenomenal” A.J. Styles vs. Samoa Joe
  • “The Alpha Male” Monty Brown vs. “The Future” Chris Sabin
  • Sabu vs. Abyss
  • Shark Boy vs. Team Canada’s A-1
  • Ron “The Truth” Killings vs. Team Canada’s Bobby Roode
  • The Naturals vs. America’s Most Wanted

Tickets are available at Ticketmaster outlets or online, at the Compuware Sports Arena box office or by calling Compuware at (734) 453-6400.

– with files from Greg Oliver