Professional wrestling is an industry. That goes without saying, but there is more to the profession than WWE, a lot more. I don't know the exact number, but I would hazard a guess that there are close to a hundred promotions running shows across the United States alone at the moment. Even to us wrestling fans, the people who watch the sport on a possibly daily basis, we could probably only name a handful of the things. Whilst WWE is way out ahead as the biggest, it is without any shadow of a doubt that Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling, or TNA for short, is the second biggest. It has the second biggest reputation, a roster full of some of the biggest names in the history of wrestling and a multi-mega bucks parent company bankrolling them.
TNA gets a pretty rough deal with wrestling fans from time to time. Over the years, I have watched as often as possible because the sheer quality of their roster has been undeniable. They've been responsible for some of the finest wrestling matches of the last ten years, so the pain of some of the horrible storylines has been lessened. For every Claire Lynch storyline, you have AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels making magic happen for the millionth time. For every Samoa Joe Nation of Violence you have a Motor City Machine Guns/Beer Money Best of Five. For every Hall of Fame ring Abyss receives, you can find Gail Kim and Awesome Kong putting on female wrestling clinics.
Over the last month or so however, TNA has been in the middle of a public relations nightmare, bouncing from poorly timed releases to practically abandoned house shows to not assisting with medical bills for its talent. It's fair to say it's been a pretty awful few weeks for Dixie Carter's company. A piece of news came out this week though, which puts the cherry on the top of the cake and has broken the back of this particular camel.
Taeler Hendrix, the first female winner of the Gut Check competition was released recently. From what I can gleam she asked for or was on the verge of asking for her release, so no problems there. During a recent radio interview however, Hendrix would claim that she was told she was 'too heavy' for TV. Initially it seemed this quote was attributed to Dixie Carter, a claim that was quickly put right by Hendrix herself. Whether it came from Carter or not is irrelevant. It is her company, and as owner she bears responsibility for what goes on there.
Of course, the first port of issue is whether the claim is true or not. However, Taeler Hendrix is a young woman who worked hard to get to where she did, and she seems aware that the wrestling business has a long memory, so there seems no reason to doubt it. Also, is anyone truly surprised at the quote? That's one of the saddest parts of this whole story. No one is surprised, given the past conduct of TNA with regards to its female employees. The company is called T'n'A for god's sake.
Body shaming is a huge problem in society as a whole, not just professional wrestling. It is flat out one of, if not the worst form of misogyny. The days of wrestling being purely about an individual's talent and ability may be long gone, but that doesn't mean the whole world has to flip completely. But this is Taeler Hendrix (see image above) we are talking about here. Even in an image obsessed world, who could begin to claim that she is too heavy? The hypocrisy and double standards at work are absolutely mind boggling.
I'm not going to claim that TNA is alone in doing this. WWE has a pretty horrific history of on camera body shaming. It's one thing to have your heels talking down to women because the natural arc of that story would lead to them getting their comeuppance. However, the last few years have seen pretty much every major babyface take time to make all manner of remarks towards Vickie Guerrero. The recent AJ/Kaitlyn story has seen body size brought into it by the heel who wouldn't suffer any consequences from the bullied. Finally, do we really need to re-visit the Piggy James storyline?
TNA does have a horrific history of female worker treatment however, with a number of cases jumping to mind. The first that jumps to mind is Taylor Wilde being recognised working a minimum wage job at Sunglass Hut whilst she was the reigning Knockouts Champion. This was during the time that the Knockouts were proving to be the biggest ratings draw for the company, and they were still losing some of their top talent due to poor pay, despite bringing in old names from the past on god knows what sorts of deals. The overriding feeling was that they saw their female talent as being entirely faceless, that they could survive losing a Gail Kim or a Kong because they could find easy replacements.
Then there is the story of Shannon Spruill. Spruill, better known as Daffney, suffered a multitude of injuries whilst working for the company. Now, I can hear the clogs working overtime, wrestling is a physical sport, injuries happen all the time, the company can't be blamed for what happens in the ring? Well, not quite. TNA, especially during the Vince Russo years, has a reputation for practically bullying its workers into dangerous spots.
The first major concussion came from taking a choke slam from Abyss through a table covered in tacks. Going on accounts from other TNA workers, Daffney was very tentative about this spot, hesitant even. Well, Terry Taylor and Russo assured her that she would be fine, that in the case of injury everything would be taken care of. Russo even went to pains to say how important the spot was, how vital it was for the feud to continue. Daffney goes ahead with the spot and lo and behold, injury comes. This is followed by a pretty big hospital bill. After months of wrangling, TNA decided that, despite their prior claims to the contrary, they weren't responsible for the injuries Daffney sustained.
Further concussions would follow, and despite running a concussion storyline with Mr Anderson at the time (and thus his not being cleared to work because of the 'concern' Dixie has for her employees), Daffney would be again bullied into working a run of TV tapings. This time she would stand her ground, only to be informed that she had been pulled from a photo shoot because if she 'won't' work the tapings, they don't want her doing the shoot. And all this without mentioning the Rosie Lottalove débâcle. Rosie, barely out of the Team 3D training school and as uncoordinated as they come, severely injured Daffney in a dark match try-out. Any financial assistance forthcoming? No, of course not.
Let's make one thing clear as well. TNA is not an independent promotion. They are a national company with a megabucks parent company. They have a TV deal, their roster is full of the best known wrestlers outside of the WWE. Lancaster Championship Wrestling this is not. Even ECW, a company that practically haemorrhaged money, would pay the medical costs of wrestlers for injuries sustained on their watch. Vince McMahon and the WWE, for whatever you think about their ethics, do the same. The working conditions in TNA, especially those for the women, sounds absolutely disgraceful.
But hey, TNA is experiencing money problems right? That explains the recent spate of released talent. Joey Ryan, Taeler Hendrix, Crimson, Matt Morgan, D.O.C (Luke Gallows in WWE), Jesse Sorensen. All gone, because of cost cutting. Understandable, all of that talent were hugely underused, but you can't showcase everyone and costs must be cut. I could easily swallow all of this, if it weren't for the recent introductions of Rampage Jackson and Tito freakin' Ortiz. You can argue for crossover appeal, but neither of these guys are relevant in 2013, and I want my professional wrestling to feature, oh I don't know, professional wrestlers.
Also, how can the company continue to justify keeping names like Hulk Hogan, Sting, Eric Bischoff and, as much as it pains me to say, Kurt Angle on the books if money is an issue? In the three years that Hogan and Bischoff have been with the company they have made zero strides forward, so claiming that Hogan brings in a certain amount of casual fans holds zero water. Sting is also losing name value, and Angle is a shadow of his former self. A shadow that can still wrestle with the best yes, but a shadow with serious personal issues that openly talks about going back to WWE. If cutting costs is needed, why not start with the anchors that are weighing you down?
It is claimed by many that bashing TNA is in fashion, that people do it because that's what you do with TNA. I don't want to do that, many of the workers on the roster are among my favourites in the world today. Austin Aries, Bad Influence, Bobby Roode, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Gail Kim and many more. But, when you look at the big picture, TNA deserves all of the criticism it receives and then some. So far this is a 1500 word column that hasn't gone into their tendency to ape what worked once in the 90's in WCW, the broken promises to workers, the horrific nepotism, the obsession with surprise reveals and unpunished sexual harassment cases.
Therefore, it is with sadness that I say that TNA needs to die. The wrestling world desperately needs a new number two promotion, one that can make better use of the wonderful talent that exists around the globe. Whilst the company dying would be bad news for its talent in the short term, the simple fact is they deserve so much more than they are getting, and with the quality many of them possess they would not struggle to find something better. The misogynistic, short sighted, backwards thinking world of Dixie Carter, Hulk Hogan and chums has run its course.
That'll do for now. What do you think? Where do you stand on the responsibility of TNA for the welfare of its talent? Is it time for a new number two promotion in the US? Leave a comment in the newly awesome comment box below, or let's discuss further on the wonderful world of Twitter (@pingvinorkestra) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Until next week folks, have a great weekend.