I’m having an odd week. Due to work commitments, I haven’t watched Raw this week yet so am staying spoiler free. Also, I decided against ‘Hell in a Cell’ after the disaster that was two consecutive PPV’s. From reading the write-ups I missed a slightly better show but still nothing to shout about.
Anyway, because of this, I thought I’d write about the last wrestling promotion that I actually watched – TNA. I haven’t really written about the promotion before for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t watch it every week. I try, but there’s only so much wrestling I’ll watch and, moving on to the second reason, it doesn’t really drag me in to its stories because it is so up and down.
This will not be a completely negative column on the product. Nor will it be blindly positive. How could it be? You may also ask, ‘who am I to be commenting on a promotion I don’t watch fifty two weeks of the year?’. Well, I’m the sort of person TNA needs to start watching because they might not have a future. Who am I? A wrestling fan. Simple as that. Just like you. If they don’t begin to pull more and more of us towards them then they are in trouble and no-one wants that. As fans, we need to talk about more than one promotion. More than one product created by one board-room of top tier players.
TNA is pretty big in the UK. Their January tour invariably sells out and they record up to four episodes over here. It must be such a huge, positive experience for the roster when they come here to see thousands of people screaming at the top of their voices. In the same way WWE talent look to Wrestlemania season, I bet the TNA locker-room are looking forward to getting back over here. To be honest, over-booked finishes aside, a lot of the actual matches on Impact are good. You look at the roster page I’d say 50% of the talent is above average to great. Now, I’m not going to go into one of these ‘who would WWE take debates’ because I honestly think, Sting and Angle aside for Hall of Fame reasons, WWE doesn’t need to touch any of the talent here. Which is a shame because I would genuinely love to see Austin Aries and Daniel Bryan got at it. Now, that’s not to say they’d be out of place in WWE, far from it, but how many times have we seen talent come into that huge company and be buried? Do we really want to see that happen to, say, Bobby Roode? Also, with the current growth of WWE developmental, they can’t really be seen to be clamouring for wrestlers from other promotions or the shareholders will begin to question their spending.
The problem with the roster is depth. If I’m saying 50% is ‘above average to great’ then that means 50% falls below that by quite a margin, and I’m not just talking wrestling or mic abilities here. This is a roster that had Rampage Jackson on it, Garrett Bischoff (for now), Wes Brisco and, nationality aside, Rob Terry and Rockstar Spud. Of course, it’s not an exact science. Knux (Knox) does nothing for me but someone else could argue he’s a good ‘big man’ when given the right opponent. I don’t see it though.
The old WWE-rejects line also comes into play but, surprisingly perhaps, there’s only eleven talents on the current roster who used to work there (and that’s including Hogan who has apparently gone and Anderson who has just returned). Of those, Kurt Angle, Bully Ray and Gail Kim are still performing at a very strong level. The others, not so much. This is another problem, and maybe goes back to the talent looking forward to the UK tour idea. TNA doesn’t really seem to push their stars in the same way WWE does. RVD is a case in point. On Impact he was slow, looked bored (or stoned) and genuinely looked like he would rather be anywhere else. On his arrival back in the WWE he was like a new man. As fast and agile as someone his age could be and he seemed pleased to be back amongst the WWE talent. Now, that could say a lot more about RVD than it does about TNA but I still look at a man like Jeff Hardy and just see someone cashing in his cheques for pot and paint.
This idea of being ‘excited’ to work for your company could come down to the writing on TNA. Now, WWE is by no means perfect. The reason I didn’t buy the ‘Hell in a Cell’ PPV is because I’ve been burned twice in a row and the TV product, while still having some great highs, is also making some bizarre errors (like if Punk beat Ryback at ‘BattleGround’, surely that was the time to GTS Heyman and end the feud?!). It must be hard for the TNA roster because the writing is so terrible quite a lot of the time. I don’t need to go into a great amount of detail, just read Fozzy’s weekly reviews. I think he’s pretty fair and genuine in a lot of what he says about the storylines.
It’s fair to say that TNA loves the over-booked finish almost as much as Teddy Long loves tag-team matches (and, yes, I know how the Bryan v Orton match turned out so it’s a horrible trend). Also, some potentially great plots just fizzle out into nothing. The current Aces & Eights story is a perfect example. There was this great renegade biker gang. Yes, we’ve seen it before (I’ll get onto that) but still, it worked. Then they added member after member after member. When you’re in a faction where Anderson is one of your big names, you know you’re in trouble. Then, almost as quickly, members got fired or left. Aces & Eights is just a sad sight now as Bully tries his best on the mic but he’s stood next to the aforementioned Brisco and Bischoff, and we’re supposed to take them as a threat?!
What TNA does have, though, are some top wrestlers. Again, one of my favourites, Austin Aries can often just be sublime in the ring. Then there’s Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels. Add in Bobby Roode, Chris Sabin and James Storm and there are some great one-on-ones. These are guys that will fight for their company. You can tell. It needs more than a gang of hardcore TNA wrestlers to make the product. When you look at them (and then add a sprinkling of Angle) if they’re on week after week then you know, as a wrestling fan, there is something to tune in for. They’re good on the mic. They’re good in the ring. They care.
If only the writers cared enough. Actually, this past week the writers really earned their money because there was more mic action than wrestling action. I was shocked how little actual in-ring fighting there was. Again, I know WWE is just as bad, if not worse. They do, however, have over six hours of product a week. TNA has two and it has to make it count. If it wasn’t Hogan hobbling out and mumbling away for twenty minutes, we’d have Sting doing his best ‘Al Pacino random shouting’ impression.
These days we’ve got Triple Dixie coming out and doing the same thing. I’ll be honest, I’m assuming the writers don’t get paid much at TNA because their work is poor at best. Hell, I’ll knock up a few six month storylines for free for them because I couldn’t do much worse. I’m genuinely shocked that they’ve gone with the Dixie ‘power-mad owner’ storyline at exactly the same time that WWE are doing it. How many times can we watch that story play out? Then we have AJ leaving with the title ‘Punk-style’. We have the faction that gets too large and dissipates to nothing in Aces & Eights (did Bischoff learn nothing in WCW?) and we have a Main Event Mafia who are doing nothing because, originally a few years ago, they did nothing also.
However, through it all, I keep looking at the roster and thinking, ‘it should be better than this’. I do, however, think that that roster gets messed around horribly. There have been better columns written on this very site about the wellness policy problems in the company. The lack of care for their wrestlers. The money problems. Through it all, guys like Joe, AJ and Daniels stay. Then Rampage Jackson appears. And Tito Ortiz. Then you wonder, ‘what’s the point?’. I know it’s because of the Bellator links but it is a complete slap in the face for the workers of a small promotion when you see someone like Rampage get a big debut, or Ortiz getting online attention through the anonymous videos. To be honest, it would make me very angry. This is probably why they’re doing this story with AJ now, to show the audience that they do care about the TNA Originals, but it feels like it’s too little too late after the Hogan/Bischoff era (with a dose of Nash on the side).
I do look at TNA and worry. I want the company to succeed; I really do. I think it would be a sad day if the promotion went away. I know there is ROH and New Japan (and others) but TNA is as close as we currently have to well, not a rival, but an alternative on mainstream television. It’s falling away though. I don’t feel a pull to watch the product and why would I possibly want to watch two maniacal leader stories when WWE can afford the bigger brush strokes?
To end, who am I to say all of this? I’m a wrestling fan. Yes, some of you will know the product better and will have watched it for longer. I appreciate that. TNA needs more followers. It needs them badly. To that end, someone like me, and I’m no different to most of you, needs to feel the pull to watch Impact every week. They need me to care. That company needs to care about its product and its talent more. The problem is, I don’t think they do.
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.