TNA wrestling are currently filming their second season of Challenge TV's British Boot Camp. Coming off the back of a hugely successful first outing, which saw Birmingham's Rockstar Spud graduate to American all-star, TNA are looking to encourage more viewers to their programming which already ranks amongst the most watched programmes on Challenge.
The Royal Ramblings team were invited for a special sneak peak of the Boot Camp to witness this must-see TV in progress.
We arrived in time to see Boot Camp judge Al Snow in full flow, serving some home truths to a British hopeful. Together with TNA megastars Gail Kim and Samoa Joe, Snow is making dreams and breaking hearts for independent British wrestlers. His brutally honest and sometimes unforgiving assessments were a joy to watch and befitting of the important platform that contestants will benefit from if successful.
One particularly impressive audition came courtesy of Dave Mastiff. A stalwart of the British Indie scene, Mastiff showed that his huge frame and conditioning would not be a liability. Put through his paces by Snow et al, he flipped and jumped before cutting an impressive promo. Masters of their art, the panel were incisive and quick to see through any bluff or bluster, testing all the constituent elements of a wrestling personality. Mastiff appeared to be very much the real deal.
For the panel the task seemed to be as much about providing advice to under-developed talent as it was about judging. On a number of occasions, hopefuls were told to build on a certain aspect of their character or ring-work.
Last year's winner, Rockstar Spud, watched on with a degree of relief. Speaking exclusively to Royal Ramblings about the new format for the show, he told us that "there is not a chance I would have got through this process". Judge Samoa Joe gave Spud the benefit of the doubt. "The first part of process analyses promo work and I don't think he would have had a problem projecting his character but I'm not sure about the physical aspects. It's more difficult than last year but as small as he is, Spud's a high flyer and quite accomplished so he might just have squeezed through".
Speaking exclusively to Royal Ramblings Samoa Joe gave his views on British wrestling: "I've always thought highly of British scene, of course most major companies are based in the US so a lot of these talents don't get as much of an opportunity as the American talents. So I'm pleased we've been able to showcase the British talent that a lot of the world not been privy to".
We at Royal Ramblings were particularly surprised to see how genuine the judging was and the lack of pre-determined outcomes. According to Samoa Joe: "We wanted to set out to give own opinion. A lot people thought this would be pre-concluded process but we're looking for a star".
Earlier in the day, we were granted a short phone interview with Glasgow-based ICW Tag-Team champion and UK wrestling legend Grado. Asking him about his involvement with Boot Camp, we were told: "It's amazing. I've had a baguette with salami and mozzarella". Anyone that knows just how good the hilarious Grado is will want to tune in and find out what part he might play in this TNA talent contest.
We were also granted access to the Boot Camp UK final which saw the contestants narrowed down to a select few, all of whom will be advancing to the second stage of the competition in the US. Drawing over 1000 people from across the country, the evening was a major success for TNA which has huge backing from its UK fans.
Fortuitously, the winner of Boot Camp will be joining Boot Camp season one winner Rockstar Spud and others at TNA's Maximum Impact 7 UK tour in January. Recently announced talents for the shows in Glasgow (Jan 29), Manchester (Jan 30) and London (Jan 31) include Bobby Lashley, MVP and Taryn Terrell all of whom will be performing in a sex-sided ring for the first time in 5 years. Moreover, fans have the opportunity to meet a number of the talents on the tour said by TNA president Dixie Carter to be "our best yet", by purchasing Fan Interaction tickets, which are on sale now from www.gigsandtours.com/go/tna2015gen, www.ticketmaster.co.uk/TNA-Wrestling-tickets/artist/1008830 or direct from the tour venues.
Whoever wins Boot Camp, they're in for a rude awakening. With World Heavyweight Champion Bobby Lashley promising he is "more than ready" for the UK tour but pondering "whether the UK is ready for Bobby Lashley", it will be a brave British wrestler that seeks to climb the mountain to face him. Based on what we saw, the future for TNA looks very, very exciting.
TNA IMPACT WRESTLING is broadcast on Challenge in the UK and Ireland every Sunday night at 9pm.