ORLANDO, FL- I never knew I was headed into battle when I showed up at Universal Studios for TNA Impact! Apparently “shots” were to be fired on this night. “Nashville sucks” and “We’re not Rednecks” chants echo through the studio, proving TNA is no longer just a regional promotion.

Universal Studios Sound Stage 21 in Orlando is the stomping grounds for the popular NWA TNA promotion that reaches homes all around the world on a weekly basis. Whether it be through TV or PPV, TNA always draws well and does decent in the ratings. TNA is widely considered one of the hottest promotions in wrestling today and refreshing “breath” to a somewhat stale wrestling world.

On Thursday July 15, I was treated to some of the wildest fans in Orlando and spectacular wrestling. The use of strobe lights and the heel and face ramps, pyro, along with a six-sided ring all come together to create an exciting atmosphere. “I think it’s a fantastic, fantastic production and I’am glad to have it here in Orlando.” one fan said.

People call TNA the next big promotion and I couldn’t agree more. Many things have to come together to make it a good promotion. TNA provides the fans with excitment and entertainment three times a week on national TV and PPV. While that’s good in its own right, nothing beats experiencing the action in person and that’s what I did.

Another great aspect is that the crowd can come up with chants on the drop of a dime. When throwing out free shirts to the crowd, Jeremy Borash looks to see which side is the most wild. When he goes side to side to find out who’s the loudest and it’s not your side, you hear about it with the “That side sucks” or “We can’t hear you” chants. A very entertaining bit which also comes out when asked to see which side the cameras should show most on TV. According to a fan who comes every week, “Orlando has the best fans in the world.” I would venture to say that the fans of Orlando are one the most creative of any group I have been around lately.

The cleanliness of the arena is a great assest to TNA as well. Credit for that undoubtedly goes in part to the folks at Universal. The strobe lights and pyro add so much to the atmosphere too. It just comes off and goes together so well that its hard not to be impressed with their production.

When going to a TNA Impact! taping keep this in mind–You can be the last person in and still have an excellent seat. There isn’t a bad one in the house. Aside from ringside seats, there is also an area where fans stand right up against the guardrail, ringside, bloodthirsty and ready for action. Plus admission is free. How can you go wrong?

Those are a few of the reasons fans from all over flock to this great arena that TNA has arranged to use. When I walked up to Stage 21 on that Thursday, I saw a line of fans standing, waiting and yelling. They wanted to get let in so the action could start. It started to rain, so the managment decided to let the fans in to get shelter. By the time I reached the line of fans that was under the giant overhang, it was once again 92 degrees and extremely humid. TNA was making the final ring adjustments and preparations, but this all brought things into perspective–I could tell that the fans in that line knew each other as friends and that only adds to the atmosphere. So TNA is both drawing regular fans as well as new fans, some of whom undoubtedly stumble in unplanned, being at at the Universal Studio playground for the day. If the same people are coming, that means the product is good enough to where on Thursday nights, that’s where people want to be. TNA is not driving anyone away. This day and age you hear people bitching, for lack of a better term, about the WWE product in general; With TNA, the bitching is usually reserved to who’s being pushed or company figurehead Jeff Jarrett–there aren’t many complaints about the wrestling.

The TNA Impact! show is broadcast on Fox Sports Network on Friday afternoons, not the world’s best timeslot. Down the road, perhaps there could be another “Monday Night War.” Because of the previty of the Impact! show, you won’t see a 20-minute in-ring segment and a three-minute match. You will witness incredible action non-stop, hence the title of the promotion. The fans I talked to agreed that it’s great.

Setting up this TV deal was a big thing for TNA managment. They now have the ability to reach fans all over, rather than just those with PPV clearance. I had interviewed “The Living Legend” Larry Zybysko back in April 2004. He told me then that “TNA needs a TV deal.” Zybysko still works for the company and agrees that the product is a great one and a big time contender for WWE. I would have to say, if TNA gets a prime time spot and continues to put on the type of product they have, that WWE could fall lower in the ratings than they already have.

The “Total Non-Stop Action” NWA TNA brings to Orlando is “Cool.” according to one of the younger fans I spoke with. He also went on to say that “Everyone has a lot of fun.” TNA reaches out to grasp audiences of all ages. You won’t get vulgar angles only suitable for adults. You’ll get something the kids can watch, something the whole family can go to. NWA TNA is like your daddy’s wrestling used to be, and that’s what’s good about it.

DETAILS FROM TNA: Impact! is filmed every Thursday at Universal Studios Soundstage 21 and is free for both the guests of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks, as well as the public. Seating is based on availability. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. with a bell time of 6:45 p.m. Free parking is available at the Universal Orlando parking garage after 6pm. Follow the signs to Soundstage 21 for Impact! Call the Universal Studios Impact! hotline at 407-224-6000 for more info.

Chris Sokol is from Long Island, NY and is proud to be the youngest member of the SLAM! Wrestling staff.