Total Nonstop Action wrestling celebrated its 11 year anniversary this past week. In that time it has become the 2nd largest professional wrestling promotion in the United States and frustrated pretty much every single thinking wrestling fan in the world. It was founded by Jeff and Jerry Jarrett quickly after the demise of WCW, mostly because Jeff had severed his ties with the WWE (WWF at the time) and had nowhere to wrestle. Supposedly Jeff and his Papa were out fishing one day when the idea of starting their own promotion came to them. They were going to bypass the need for a television deal entirely and go straight to pay-per-view on a weekly basis. Thus, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling staged its first show on June 19th, 2002.
In the subsequent 11 years, TNA has been through many changes, experienced many ups, arguably more downs. It has put on some of the best wrestling matches you could ever wish to see, coupled with some of the most self abusive booking imaginable. It gave Vince Russo a job. It has given performers such as AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Robert Roode and Samoa Joe a television platform to perform on. It also gave Orlando Jordan a 3 minute clean win over Samoa Joe. Questionable.
A lot of people are very quick to bash TNA, and to be fair they often have their reasons. Still, these people refuse to see the things that the company does well, and often don't even bother to watch the product. For whatever reason, there has been built up a mythical competition between TNA and WWE, and people therefore judge TNA against the WWE. This is both pointless and self defeating. TNA will never be in the same financial realm as WWE; no wrestling company in the US will. This leads to lower production values, less name value in the people it can bring into the company, lower ratings and buy rates. Despite this, TNA is a clear number two, and that is something to shout about. In the interests of optimism and birthday cheer, let's have a look at what the company does well, and can do better in order to, at the very least, provide a legitimate alternative in professional wrestling.
One thing you can't really levy at TNA is a fear of trying something different. Throughout their 11 year history, it has been a story of trying one new thing after another. Heck, the company even began with a fairly unique weekly PPV system. Then there was the six sided ring, with the two separate entrances for faces and heels. It had its detractors, but it was different, and gave TNA a unique identity. They've also tried all manner of things with regards to interesting matches. Some of these often come across as a total cluster chump, such as the Feast or Fired and King of the Mountain matches, but gimmick matches such as Ultimate X have taken off and become something integral to the company.
As previewed last week, the Bound for Glory Series is something TNA have done which is genuinely different and provides for some intrigue and quality along the way. Sure, tournaments are nothing new in pro graps, but by having a summer long league type tournament they give themselves a lot of scope for storyline creation and road testing potential matches. It also goes a long way to establishing the importance of the World Championship in the promotion, and professional wrestling was built on the integrity and importance of its champions. WWE has been very guilty of treating its belts as secondary in the last however many years, and by making it clear that the TNA World Championship is the be all of the company TNA have stayed true to one of the pillars of wrestling.
Years ago before Hulk Hogan arrived on the scene, TNA had a good reputation for one thing in particular, and this was its X Division. The last few years have seen it take many steps backwards, but by providing exciting high flying action they really took on new fans that missed the cruiserweights of WCW and early 2000s WWE. TNA would be wise to seriously rebuild this division. Professional wrestling in the US is full of smaller wrestlers who fit what is expected of the X Division, and some of the talent is astounding. Right now, the division seems to consist of Chris Sabin, Kenny King and whoever plays Suicide, and the days of the X Division title match main eventing pay per views is long gone. All it takes is the signing of say, 5 or 6 guys, and giving them the TV time they enjoyed years back. People crave excitement in their entertainment, and this division can provide it.
The same can be said for its tag team and knockouts divisions. Years ago, these were strong and respected, full of fantastic talent and genuinely interesting stories. Even as recently as 2010, Beer Money and the Motor City Machine Guns put on a Best of 5 series that was quite simply the best series of tag team wrestling I have ever seen. Now, they are a shadow of their former selves. Once again, the talent is there to be snapped up, and the position TNA is in as the legitimate 2nd promotion should give them a leg up on picking up the best of the independent scene. Tag teams like The Young Bucks, The Bravado Brothers, 3.0, RockNES Monsters and American Wolves deserve a bigger platform, and the chance to prove that tag team wrestling is still relevant in 2013.
The amount of talent with regards to female wrestlers is also unbelievable, and in 2013 it should be a major wrestling promotions priority to have a strong female division. Wrestlers such as Rachel Summerlyn, Cherry Bomb, Amazing Kong (Kharma in WWE), Mia Yim and Portia Perez are just waiting to be picked up, and TNA would be wise to get right on this. Despite the recent upturn with Kaitlyn and AJ, the position of women in WWE is awful. Giving them a platform on their television show would do wonders for TNA as an alternative.
The biggest reason that TNA has received the bad press from fans that it does is because of the amount of exposure it gives to older guys whose best days are long gone. There is absolutely no reason why Sting should be getting a title shot in 2013. Hulk Hogan does not need to be on TV anywhere near as much as he is. Even without bringing anyone new in, TNA has such an immensely talented roster including a lot of people who have never been on WWE TV. It has the talent to create its own stars. AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Austin Aries, James Storm, Bobby Roode, Chris Sabin, the list goes on and on. These are the guys TNA should be building around. Once they get past the insecurity and paranoia that leads to Hogan and Sting dominating, they'll be cooking on gas. This point has been ploughed into the ground however, and every fresh start seems to be followed by two 24 inch python shaped jumps backwards.
My initial optimism at the beginning of this column has decidedly cooled. Over the last 11 years, TNA has had opportunity after opportunity to establish itself as a clear alternative, yet it hasn't reached the heights that it should have. I believe this is due to an inherent insecurity, and in trying to establish its own identity it has merely cultivated a reputation for being a WWE-lite. This is clear every time anyone is released from WWE, and everyone jumps to say they'll be main eventing in TNA before long. Whilst this accusation was valid a few years back, I would say its not so much now. Sure, there are many guys in TNA who used to be in WWE, but the majority of them now never got the time they deserved in WWE. Luke Gallows, Mike Knox and Matt Morgan are all talented big men who deserved more. They aren't The Nasty Boys, Orlando Jordan or whoever else.
I want to TNA to succeed. Whilst I'm not entirely sure why this is any more, I know it to still be true. However, being a fan of TNA is starting to feel like what I assume disappointed parents feel like once their kids reach 30 and still haven't achieved anything. No one truly expects them to become proper competition to The McMahon Empire, but that shouldn't be the point. They can be the alternative. They have the talent, they have the freedom. It's up to them. Happy Birthday guys and gals.
And there we go. Where do you stand on TNA? What would you like to see the company do differently? Is it time for a new number 2 promotion in US professional wrestling? Just how good was that Beer Money/Machine Guns series? So many questions.
Drop a comment in the lonely comment box below, find me on twitter at @pingvinorkestra or just give a good old fashioned email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It's weird that I consider emails old fashioned? Thanks for reading.