For the first time in about a year, I decided to watch TNA this week. Or Impact Wrestling. I was drawn to it for a few reasons. Number one. Nothing else on once the endless repeats of ‘Friends’ had finished. Also, I was interested in seeing how the New York crowd could lift the product in the same way the UK crowd does at the start of every year. Finally, and strangely, I wanted to see the angle with ‘evil boss’ Dixie Carter.
What I saw genuinely surprised me. It surprised me so much that I decided not to write about Lesnar and Cena as I have intended to. I spent so much time shaking my head it was unbelievable and it was all topped off by a final segment that made me shudder.
To start, I’ve talked about TNA before. I think it’s important that WWE has rivals, no matter how small. Also, it’s important that fans have other companies to watch. Different rosters. Yes, WWE is essentially ‘the majors’ but there is nothing wrong with watching the indies. TNA is in a lot of trouble right now but I genuinely hope it survives, as much as I myself am not a fan, it would be bad for wrestling fans and the company workers themselves if the product disappeared. Yes, there is New Japan and Ring of Honor and, soon, Global Force Wrestling. This is without even mentioning the smaller promotions which either can or can’t be caught on the internet or iPPV’s.
TNA has its place in the wrestling world and although to some it is badly losing its way, it will hopefully continue and find a road to travel on which can see it one day grow. Every product has ups and downs. Hell, all you have to be is a WWE fan to know that. Every year we dread the autumn as it is usually the time when Creative throw their papers in the air and shake their heads, unable to come up with anything.
To get back to the episode though, I was shocked how bad TNA has become and yet how easy it could be to rescue. Firstly, I was amazed at how WWE-lite it has become. Impact always was a bit bad for this and there comes a time when some of the top guys do move around from promotion to promotion and, if you watch enough, the same faces will appear. Fourteen of the current roster (fifteen if you include, er, Willow) are ex-WWE and, let’s be honest, still have strong links with the big company. Names like Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy can be with TNA for as long as they want but they will always be associated with WWE. Nothing they have done with Impact can match their work at various WrestleMania’s, RAW episodes and Smackdown Fridays.
Is this an unfair comparison? Yes, I suppose it is. TNA can’t hope to match a WrestleMania or even an average episode of RAW. Is it wrong of me then to say that, for instance, Kurt will never be up there with his WrestleMania XIX main event again Brock? Again, maybe it is. Their histories though, their backgrounds, are WWE through and through though. It’s why TNA wanted them. It’s why TNA pushed them above their ‘home-grown’ talents. It’s why TNA doesn’t change their looks or styles and re-package them (er, apart from Willow).
Maybe this is more my problem but then, on Sunday night, I sat shaking my head as Team EC3, for their extreme rules match, paraded Snitsky shouting ‘It’s not my fault’, Ryklon (Ezekiel Jackson) touting his ECW connections and Rhyno promising a ‘gore’. Perhaps the latter aside, to so completely hark back to WWE days was painful. Hell, Snitsky shouting that catchphrase was so tired it harkens back to punting Lita’s baby into the crowd. That TNA ‘Creative’ would let them rob so mercilessly from their WWE days was as painful the audience as it no doubt was for the wrestlers.
From there we careered headlong into the TNA Champion, Bobby Lashley and his manager MVP (and Kenny King). Again, this felt tired. An ex-WWE guy pushed to the top immediately at the expense of TNA faithful. MVP talking about the ‘franchise’ just made the comparisons even clearer. The segment was only saved by Bobby Roode coming out and demanding a match before, oh my, TNA ‘originals’ in Austin Aries and Eric Young made the save as Roode was beaten down.
Again, I don’t want this to be a complete attack on TNA, or this specific episode, but Impact is its own entity. It is a company in its own right. Let it be like that. Stop making wrestlers regurgitate the same old flannel that WWE Creative made them say ten years ago. One of the most exciting times recently for TNA was when Aces & Eights began to assert their authority. Again, this tailed off but no more so than Nexus or NWO. At least it felt fresh (to a point) and had people talking. Bully Ray felt like he could consign Team 3D to the past as he took this new group forward.
Also, the company has some great talents in Austin Aries, Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode. That’s without even mentioning Magnus, James Storm and The Wolves. The Knockouts division easily outdoes the ‘galmour-fest’ that WWE promotes on the back of Total Divas and the X-Division still seems to provide exciting matches (and a deserved win for Joe after Angle spoke down to him).
It is almost as if TNA doesn’t really trust its talent though. Hell, there is now talk of brining in Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez and if that happens, you can bet they’ll go straight to the top of the title ladder within hours. How must that make Aries, Roode and Young feel? Even the aforementioned Eric Young only appeared to get his title run because over at the WWE, another bearded small guy was celebrating a big win. Is it any surprise that Bobby Lashley is in a main event storyline with Brock Lesnar beasting everyone across the way?
What really shocked me though, and left a horrible taste in my mouth, was the ‘table’ angle with Dixie Carter. Apart from the fact that TNA had tried to start a Twitter trend of #ithappens, thus destroying any doubt from the storyline even if you did manage to avoid the online taping results, it also became a worrying display of violence against Dixie.
In recent years, wrestling has had to be careful about how female wrestlers/managers interact with the male wrestlers. Whether this is mixed tag-matches where both have to tag the same sex wrestler in or the 7ft hulking brutes not putting their hands on the villainous female managers (hence why Vickie was constantly dropped in horrible substances). We know at some point that Stephanie will get her comeuppance but it will more likely be by being fired or dropped in a garbage truck. Yes, 2008 saw Vickie Geurrero hit by several tombstones but the backlash was bad enough to make WWE rethink these segments in light of Linda McMahon’s run for senate and the company as a whole considering the ‘violence’ it portrays on screen. The portrayal of female wrestlers still isn’t great but the ‘violence’ has been re-evaluated.
The final segment of TNA saw Bully Ray confront Dixie in the ring only to have her team (which included Rockstar Spud over-selling and over-acting like a kid in a pantomime) get beaten down, even King Mo (TNA still trying to push the Bellator links). So far, so so. The problem, for me, came when Dixie left the ring only for the roster to block her on the ramp. Let’s just take this out of context for a moment. A goading group of men pushed a woman into a certain violent attack by a man as they encircled her and cheered.
Is it wrong to take it out of context? Okay. A goading group of wrestlers pushed Dixie back into the ring and then encircled the area and cheered on Bully as he attacked her by slamming her through a table. It still feels wrong. It left such a nasty taste in the mouth that, yes, ‘evil boss’ storyline aside, it felt like a violent attack by a man on a woman. Yes, too, some of the Knockouts were out there but they were completely outnumbered by the large male roster. The fact that Bully sat there smiling as Dixie lay unconscious was even worse. Actually, to make it worse, TNA’s website is now stating that Dixie has ‘broken her back’ (along with ‘Bully Ray putting Dixie Carter Through A Table...From Every Angle’). Stay classy TNA, stay classy.
I know that when you watch wrestling it’s all storylines and heightened characters. One of my favourite wrestlers is, and always will be, The Undertaker. Sticking it the boss is as integral to wrestling as the cage is to UFC. The build and pay-off to this though felt wrong. It has to be said, but it reminded me of ‘The Accused’ starring Jodie Foster, an important and upsetting film and yet here we are, twenty-six years later, seeing a group of men goading and cheering as a woman is smashed through a table.
TNA needs to move on and grow up quickly. They genuinely thought that Dixie getting powered through a table would give them a much-needed ratings spike. It didn’t. Yes, maybe it’s because so many people knew it was going to happen anyway but also maybe a modern audience doesn’t really want to see that sort of thing. Again, maybe you could attack me because I haven’t watched for a long time and so haven’t seen the build to that moment. My reply? I still would have hated that moment and how the wrestlers were made to be part of it. If Aries can be punished for his physicality towards Christy Hemme last year, how can the same product think it can get away with it in a storyline?
TNA, please, become your own product. You’re not WWE. You’re not ECW. You’re not the Attitude era. Think about it. Those last two entities were products of their time. This is 2014 and, for all the goodwill towards another televised wrestling promotion and the great talents you’ve got, it will not last. Why have ratings trailed away? Why have Spike taken away the TV rights? Watching on Sunday night, it was clear to me why. Uncomfortably clear.
I also write at www.whatculture.com and my most recent article is ‘The 10 Best Ever Angles Involving Brock Lesnar’ and can be read here http://whatculture.com/wwe/10-best-ever-wwe-angles-involving-brock-lesnar.php
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