The Crow's Nest - Missed Opportunities: Aces & 8s
Jan 29, 2013 - 5:48:03 AM
1) Missed Opportunities: Aces & 8s (01/29/13)
Spoiler Warning: This column contains spoilers from the upcoming set of TNA tapings. If you haven't read the spoilers yet, or don't wish to have certain surprises spoiled for you, I suggest you click that handy "back" button on your chosen internet browser immediately. You have been warned.
June 14, 2012. Orlando, FL.
TNA was set to celebrate the first inductee to the newly created TNA Hall of Fame. To the surprise of very few people, Sting was the first name announced, and this night was supposed to be his. But, because this is wrestling, things did not go quite as planned. Three masked wrestlers stormed the ring and attacked the Hall of Famer before disappearing back into the darkness.
Fast forward a few weeks to the July 5 edition of Impact.
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netHulk Hogan receives an envelope from an unknown sender, containing a picture of the "dead man's hand" and a note telling Hogan that the sender would be seeing him next week.
The "Dead Man's Hand"
The next week, this group of unknown masked wrestlers made good on their promise, showing up on Impact and beating down both Hogan and Sting. This pattern of random beatdowns would continue, all seemingly building towards a big moment where we, the fans, would find out who was behind this group of thugs.
October 14, 2012. Phoenix, AZ.
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netTNA's biggest show of the year, Bound For Glory, had finally arrived, and Aces & 8s was finally set to have their first official match. Sting and Bully Ray would team against two of the masked thugs in a No-DQ tag team match, with the added stipulation that Aces & 8s would be granted unlimited access to TNA if they were victorious. To the surprise of very few people, the thugs were victorious after more of the group interfered in the match. Many assumed that we'd finally find out who the leader was, putting a face to this currently anonymous group, but that did not end up happening. One member was unmasked, however, but it was not the man in charge. Devon became the first member of Aces & 8s to be unmasked, revealing that he hadn't actually left TNA at all.
November 1, 2012. D.O.C. (aka Luke Gallows) is unmasked by Joseph Park after a brawl between Aces & 8s and the TNA roster.
January 3, 2013. Mr. Anderson accepts an offer to join Aces & 8s. Later in the show, Mike Knox is unmasked by Kurt Angle after he and Devon lost a tag team cage match to Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe.
January 17, 2013. Taz reveals himself to be a member of Aces & 8s at Brooke Hogan and Bully Ray's wedding.
January 31, 2013 Garret Bischoff and Wes Briscoe will be revealed as the newest members of Aces & 8s
For those of you keeping track at home, that's a total of SEVEN unmasked members of Aces & 8s. Already that's a pretty big roster, but what makes it even worse is the fact that there's still more members yet to be unmasked. On top of that, the group still has no official leader.
But wait, there's more!
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netAces & 8s have had a total of 17 matches on TNA programming so far (not including shows that have been taped but not aired yet). Considering these guys are supposed to be a merciless group of brawler thugs, it'd be reasonable to assume they'd come out on top most of the time, right? I mean, how are we supposed to take these guys seriously if they're not kicking ass and taking names?
Well logic apparently has no place in the group's booking, because their win/loss record is atrocious. SIX wins, TEN losses, and ONE draw. No, you're not reading that incorrectly. This group that's supposedly the most dominant force in the company has only won about a third of their official matches. Granted, they've been pretty successful in beating down some of the top names in the company and that does count for something, but they've shown they're unable to get it done when it really counts.
Alright, now that we're done with that history lesson, let's dive into what I'm trying to get at here.
The storyline of a group of thugs destroying everything in the company is not a revolutionary bit of booking. It's been done before (nWo, Immortal), it's being done now (The Shield, Aces & 8s) and it will be done in the future. The reason it keeps getting used is simple: it works. It's so simple, bringing in a group of bullies who stop at nothing to achieve dominance. Unfortunately, despite being so simple, it's still surprisingly easy to screw up the execution of this storyline concept. Case and point, the current Aces & 8s situation. TNA missed the boat on a potentially great storyline, and there's a handful of things that contributed to the failure of the storyline. What were they? Well, dear reader, I'm glad you asked, because that's exactly what I'm going to go over here.
There's simply too many people involved in the group
One of the secrets to getting a stable over with the crowd, for either face or heel reactions, is to let the crowd connect on some level with the wrestlers. Easiest way to do that? Limit the number of people in the group at first, and once they are established, THEN look into adding more people. Just look at The Shield as a perfect example. Three guys, none of them known to the fan base at large, debut out of nowhere, but because there wasn't a whole group of them, each wrestler has had the chance to make a connection with the fans.
Aces & 8s started as three masked wrestlers beating people up, which turned into more masked guys beating people up, which turned into a bunch of masked dudes and Devon beating people up. Devon, as an established star already, was the perfect choice as the first reveal for the group. TNA had done a masterful job of planting the seeds in the minds of the fans that Devon was done with the company, and that he hadn't exactly left on the greatest of terms. He did disappear from TV for a while and kept up the ruse on his Twitter, so when that mask came off at Bound For Glory, it was an actual surprising moment. I assumed at that point that the masks would start coming off the whole group and we'd have some faces to put to the dastardly deeds, but I was wrong. Mostly, anyways.
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netSix more people have since been introduced to the group, four of which have ZERO connection with the fans. On top of that, we've still got a handful of guys who are still in their masks. For a group that's only been actively competing (not including the pre-unmasking time) for a little over 3 months, that is just too many people. TNA should have stuck with Devon, D.O.C., and Knox at first, let Devon get the two new guys over as a monster tag team, WAY before even thinking about introducing anymore members. That point is especially true given that TNA chose to fill the group with relatively unknown wrestlers. Actually, that segues into my second point…
There is no real star power in the group
I like Devon, don't get me wrong, but he is NOT a main event guy. When it became clear that he wasn't actually the guy in charge, I assumed we'd be seeing the real leader come out soon. But after every subsequent unmasking, I began to lose more and more hope.
Look at the group's roster right now: Devon, D.O.C., Mike Knox, Mr. Anderson, Garret Bischoff, Wes Briscoe and Taz. Do any of those names scream "diabolical leader" to you? Anderson and Taz may both be former World Champions, but neither of them really scream "leader" to me. Anderson, despite all of TNA's efforts, is just not a big-time player that the fans have gotten behind (just look at the very mild reaction the crowd gave to his recent heel turn) and Taz hasn't wrestled a match in almost 7 years, and hasn't been an ACTIVE wrestler for over a decade. He's a commentator that turned heel, that's it.
The group is far too big to not have a big name thrown in the mix. Someone with actual star power that can drive the storyline forward and add some real credibility to the group. There's a reason I was throwing around names like Jeff Jarrett and Kurt Angle as possibilities to lead Aces & 8s, and that's because it would add immediate credibility to the storyline. How can TNA fans get behind a group of nobodies? Sure, they might come out on top in random beatdowns, but once again I have to point to their actual match record, which if you remember, is atrocious. I need to be able to believe that someone in their group could take out the World Champion in a real match.
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netThis lack of star power is really only a problem because of the sheer number of people involved in the group. The Shield is just three relatively unknown wrestlers, but because there's only three of them and they've only actually wrestled an official match once (and won it), they're still a believable crew of thugs. Instead of adding more unknown wrestlers though, they are now associated with the likes of Paul Heyman and CM Punk.
I dug the surprise revelation of Taz at first, because it did seem to come out of nowhere, but now I'm not so sure. If TNA was going to introduce a non-wrestling personality to the group (presumably in a manager capacity) it should have been someone with some clout. Even someone like Eric Bischoff would have worked, because the average fan (re: not a member of the IWC) only hates him because he's a major asshole on TV. He would be a PERFECT heel leader for the group, and it would even work with his character as he'd have some motivation to want to get back at the company. Long story short though, Aces & 8s needed a big name to boost their credibility, and TNA dropped the ball on it.
The booking has been terrible
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netI've already touched on this point, so I won't go into too much more detail here.
Booking a group of thugs should be easy. They show up, they beat the holy hell out of everybody who gets in their way, and they don't lose too often. Sure, they might run away from a couple of fights, but they will do whatever it takes to come out on top. When the time comes that they have to start competing in actual matches, that same logic should apply.
Once again, look at The Shield. Since debuting over two months ago, the group has bested some of the top names in the company simply by showing up, beating them down, and getting the hell out of town. They've competed in ONE official match, and they beat three of the biggest names on the roster in a TLC match. They've been booked exactly as they should have been, and they're now over as legitimate threats.
Compare that to how Aces & 8s is perceived. Sure, they can come out and beat down the company's top names, but when it comes to actually competing? They can't get the job done. TNA has failed to book them as a dominant group by having them lose as many matches as they have, and that has crippled the credibility of the group.
TNA should have limited the number of actual matches the group competed in, and had them win the majority of matches they did end up having. TNA could have built the guys involved in the stable as monster superstars that can steamroll over any competition, and considering the group is emulating a biker gang, that would have been the smart (and believable) way to go. Instead, we've got a bunch of punks who can never win the big one.
It took too long for the members to be revealed
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netUnless the mask is a big part of the gimmick, like Rey Mysterio for instance, it's nearly impossible to get behind a masked wrestler. Aces & 8s was, for a very long time, a group of anonymous thugs, none of which had any sort of character at all. While that strategy worked at first, there is no need for it to still be going on now.
As soon as Devon was unmasked, TNA should have unmasked a couple more members to stand beside him. Have them come out on the next Impact, just five of them or so, and come out to the ring. Announce who they are, why they're there, and just introduce themselves as the new badasses on the block. Hell, they could have even shot a segment in their "clubhouse" to get it done, similar to how The Shield introduced themselves as characters via pre-taped segments. It's so simple.
By taking so long to reveal the members of the group, TNA continues to set themselves up for failure. I could understand taking a bit of time to unmask a big name, but was there any need to delay the revelations of Luke Gallows and Mike Knox? The average fan is only going to know them from subpar mid-card runs in WWE. The longer TNA takes to reveal members of Aces & 8s, the more the fans are going to be expecting a game-changing event. Had TNA immediately introduced Knox and Gallows as Devon's enforcers, they could have started their build immediately. I'm not saying that they'd both become overnight sensations, but it would have given them time to develop as individual characters, and it would have given TNA the chance to actually introduce them properly instead of as "surprise" debuts. Had Devon come out on the Impact following Bound For Glory with the two of them, he could have introduced them to the crowd and hype them up as monster forces who weren't to be messed with. Instead, they got unmasked by the people they were trying to beat down but failed to do so.
I get that TNA wanted to keep that element of surprise in this storyline by keeping the fans wondering who would be revealed next, but they needed to do more sooner. Devon was a nice start, but was it enough to make that big impact the group should have had? Not by itself, no. TNA was basically trying to get the fans to buy Devon as a main event heel, and because Devon had no help from other, real characters, it just didn't work. It's been almost 8 months since Aces & 8s first appeared in TNA, and they're STILL unmasking people. At this point, the low-mid card of the group should be revealed, and any future unmaskings should be surprises people will actually care about.
At the end of the day, TNA could have had a great thing in Aces & 8s. It could have served as a launchpad for new talent to get over quickly, and a way for a couple of existing talents to elevate themselves higher up the card. Aces & 8s could have been a great heel stable, some kind of mix between the nWo, Nexus, and The Shield.
Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.netInstead, we have a bunch of mid-card and lower wrestlers who can't seem to win a match if their lives depend on it. Their beatdowns are predictable, and despite having almost been around for almost a year now, they have done NOTHING major or especially memorable. Add on to that that they still don't have a real leader and there's even more members yet to be revealed, and it's pretty easy to see that TNA has failed at almost every turn with this storyline. There have been a few entertaining moments, don't get me wrong, but overall? Nothing special. The entire Aces & 8s storyline has been a series of missed opportunities and wasted bits of potential, and that's just very unfortunate.
Well now you've heard my thoughts on Aces & 8s, what do you all think? Did I miss anything in describing why the storyline has been a failure? Did I overlook something that you think has made it successful? You all know the drill by now. I'm on Twitter quite a bit, and because I'm such a nice guy, I've made it quite easy for you to reach me there by adding that handy follow button at the end of my column.
I've got a new column project in the works with another columnist right now. I'm not sure when it's going to officially start, but it's going to be a lot of fun. But until next time, thanks for stopping by.
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Written by TheCrow exclusively for LordsOfPain.net