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Iron Jung #5: TNA - Turns, Nonsense, Aimless. The Crystal Ball for the Future of Wrestling's Number Two



18 May 2008

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Yo Yo Yo let me speak on this. No it’s not Konnan, he’s too busy sorting out his K to the I to the D to the Neys. But this week’s column is linked to K-Dogg. You see he has a problem with TNA. And so do I. While Konnan may want money from TNA for discrimination, I’m ensuring TNA get none of my money. This week I am going to focus on the number 2 wrestling promotion in the USA and explain why being number 1 is a pipedream which won’t ever happen. Yes it really is that cut and dry.

When TNA first burst onto the wrestling scene in 2002 I, like many, was excited. Throughout history it’s easy to see that the fan is given the best quality wrestling at a time when competition is high. With no competition, a wrestling company can get sloppy, lazy and most of all disinterested. The formation of TNA offered something to the disgruntled WWE fan or any wrestling fan wanting more from sports entertainment.

When it first began it obviously had some issues. The weekly PPV idea was never going to work but they had a solid foundation in their roster and in their product. The likes of Ken Shamrock, Jeff Jarrett and Scott Hall were decent workers and established WWE stars whom the casual fan remembered. Yet at the same time it gave TNA the ability to introduce the likes of AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Low-Ki to a larger stage, while also giving deserved pushes to talented WWE cast-offs such as Raven, D-Lo Brown and Ron “K-Kwick” Killings. The potential was certainly there and when they abandoned the weekly PPV format for the more effective monthly PPV approach in 2004, it seemed that TNA could only go from strength to strength.

Yet four years later and TNA are no closer to WWE. So what happened?

Well WWE certainly haven’t put their foot down and pulled away. Sure their annual profits are enormous but a huge majority of that isn’t down to their current wrestling product. More importantly this shouldn’t matter to TNA. They should want to cement their status in the world of professional wrestling regardless. And there, lies part of the problem. When I watch TNA I feel like I’m watching WWE-Lite. The controversial angles, ref bumps in main events, General Manager figure, and silly backstage segments and over the top gimmicks is something you’ll find in any random edition of Raw. So why watch it on a show with less established names, poorer production values and the world’s most annoying crowd? There isn’t any reason is there?

Secondly comes the man who partly built the foundations of WWE Attitude. Yes its everyone’s favourite “let’s swerve the audience by not turning the heel face but the face heel and then the heel face, but then heel goes heel again and the face becomes a woman” guy, Vince Russo. Now Russo, with the editorial help of Vince McMahon, was the brains behind WWE overtaking WCW in 1998. Their television was smart, striking, violent and edgy. Unfortunately nobody had told Vince Russo that 1998 finished quite a while ago and people have shockingly enough, moved on. Russo is still peddling out the same crap, which feels incredibly passé now and embarrassingly lame. To make matters worse there is no Mr McMahon to weed out the good from the inanely poor. Which inevitably means while we sometimes get the good, its surrounded from every angle by a giant heap of rubbish.

In Layman’s terms it’s Russo overdrive. If he’s got an hour of TV, he’ll have 3 teased turns, 3 gimmick matches and some form of controversy. Us naïve wrestling fans longed for the days of TNA getting 2 hours of TV a week, in the vain hope that this would mean Russo would flesh out his ideas and give them room to breathe. Of course the logical but certainly not cynical fans just said he’d do twice as many teases, turns and gimmick matches. And low and behold they were right. Watch the last PPV for an example of this.

I actually joked a few weeks ago on the TWO forum about there being a steel cage handcuff parking space match where you have to pin your opponent, then handcuff them to a cage and then drag them into a parking space outside in order to win. A week later we get given the build for a match, which is a battle royal which turns into a ladder match which turns into a hair versus hair match. I mean that’s so absurdly over-the-top you couldn’t even make it up. The only people who would pay to see that are people who enjoy being confused in life. Yet this is a main match on their last major show. And to top it all off we get a rematch of the previous PPV main event, a week later on free TV.

Now before you all jump up and say “WWE did that” I’ll agree with you and say yes they did. But that was in a very different climate. They needed to do something to draw viewers in a fierce and tight battle with WCW. TNA’s rivalry with WWE isn’t even close. WWE are so far ahead at this point, TNA may as well not exist. So why do TNA throw away buyrates they so desperately need by having a main event rematch on free TV? And not just any rematch, but one between their 2 biggest “stars” who’s match on PPV gained critical praise universally? The mind boggles it really does. 1 step forward, 437 back.

For TNA to move forward in wrestling they need their own identity. Yes the booking is generally awful, the misuse of talent is poor and their direction is misguided but when it all boils down to it, they are all secondary to this truth they need to address.

In 1996 and 1997, WCW had some crap matches, crap booking and loss of focus. But the direction was there. They knew the New World Order was the major draw and they knew they had to keep that and their feud with Sting strong. So despite the fact Meng got a match every month, Glacier looked like an idiot and Dennis Rodman fell asleep in his major match, they were still number 1. ECW frequently had some craptacular booking decisions but the identity of the promotion was never questioned. We knew where they wanted to go and what they wanted to be. Sure there would be some mistakes, some trips and bumps, but they had an understanding of who they were. The audience understood ECW’s character. Do TNA know who they are?

At the moment, they are a poor man’s WWE and that simply doesn’t cut it. Heck and WWE’s identity is rather confusing at the moment too, but that doesn’t matter because they are the number 1, they are the benchmark, the pinnacle of the sport. They aren’t the ones who need to take every opportunity they are given in order to progress. To succeed and progress, TNA need to be an alternative to WWE.

But TNA does not understand that and I don’t think they ever will. They want to beat WWE at their own game of sports entertainment. And that won’t ever happen in a million years. Russo seems convinced that his brand of crash TV featuring more gimmick matches, teases and turns than ever before will defeat Vinnie Mac eventually even though he’s been trying and failing since 1999. Can’t he take the hint? The signs are obvious for everyone to see but them. Until they open their eyes and take heed, the wrestling landscape won’t alter in the slightest. I truly, honestly, deep down in my heart of hearts wish they could see the writing on the wall. But it’s as if they don’t want to. This stubborn attitude is a dangerous mantra to have and one that can only be destructive to any possible momentum. But if they don’t change, WWE won’t ever need to worry about TNA; they’ll never ever be a threat. Maybe someone should tell TNA and at least give them a chance, us wrestling fans deserve better. Unfortunately they seem more concerned with turning half the roster or creating a gimmick match so confusing even the announcers don’t get it. How do they honestly expect to catch WWE with stuff like that? It’s amazing it really is.

Iron Jung

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