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MR. TITO STRIKES BACK - TNA is just 1 Wrestler Away from Challenging the WWE
By Mr. Tito
Sep 24, 2013 - 10:48:46 PM
Honestly, I can't complain too much about the WWE right now. The WWE is getting a taste of "Life after Cena" with their top drawing superstar, John Cena, on the injured reserve. Without their top guy, it appears that the WWE Creative Team is actually trying to make compelling storylines and giving better attention to the midcard for a change. For the past few years, the WWE just rode on the John Cena fumes and let the rest of the roster basically exist. Now, wrestlers are getting thrust into the new McMahon/Triple H Corporation storyline, Randy Orton is finally a heel again, Daniel Bryan is getting a shot, CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman has been awesome, we have a growing tag division, the United States/Intercontinental Titles aren't treated as jokes, and the Divas Division hasn't been bad.
Life is good for the WWE. No complaints with the current situation and I'm patiently waiting to see how the Orton vs. Bryan storyline plays out. While the WWE has been unable to replace someone of a singular drawing power like John Cena, they've improved the overall quality of the WWE to improve all of the wrestlers collectively. Did you hear those pops for Goldust and Cody Rhodes trying to attack the other night? WWE Creative is on a roll!
But a promotion who isn't on a roll is TNA Wrestling, or as the Hulkster insists that it be called (brother), Impact Wrestling. No real growth in viewership despite the salaries paid out, increased production values of shows, and attempting to go on the road. Rumors of financial woes are swirling as some wrestlers are reportedly getting paid late while TNA might begin actually letting some wrestlers go. They recently signed their longtime star, AJ Styles, to just a 3 month extension. Mr. Anderson and Mickie James, according to the recent headlines, are about to be let go. There was talk a short while ago about letting Sting go (which created many "Sting to WWE" rumors, again). From my Indy sources (yes, I have them), I've heard it from wrestlers for the past 2 years that TNA's owners have been "looking at the books" closely and worried about growing expenses without much of a return.
Honestly, I don't know what to believe... But when I tune into TNA Impact Wrestling, I'm like "meh". Some nights, they have good shows... Others, just crap. The former WWE stars that have joined TNA that haven't caused me to "want more". Most of have been wrestlers that were in the WWE's midcard and the promotion could have done without. I'm happy for Bully Ray, but we've seen his prime days in the WWE and the psychology of him just being a Tag Team wrestler in the WWE yet he's a World Champion in TNA, I don't know... Yeah, I know, wrestlers like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were regular Tag Team wrestlers before they made it big... But the Dudleys were a tag team for over 10 years and Bully Ray was in his early 40's when he became TNA Champion. We've seen the likes of Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy give us their very best in the WWE and due to the wear & tear endured from those years, it makes it difficult for them to draw well in TNA.
Meanwhile, Sting, former WCW superstar is in his early 50's! Hulk Hogan is still trying the Hulkamania act but as an authority figure. Yikes.
TNA is portrayed as a retirement home for many WWE performers whom Vince McMahon no longer wanted or could afford to lose.
Doesn't have to be that way. While I repeatedly rip the WWE for not reviewing their massive video library of WWWF/WWF/WWE, American Wrestling Association (AWA), NWA Mid Atlantic and later World Championship Wrestling (WCW), World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) footage... Any promotion should be highly recommended to know their pro wrestling history. Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. For any growth periods, there typically exists at least 1 of 2 things: (a) unique Superstar wrestler/draw or (b) groundbreaking storyline.
Where would the 1980's WWF be without Hulk Hogan? Vince McMahon Sr. didn't see the drawing power in him during 1979-1980 and reportedly got pissed when Hulk Hogan wanted to film Rocky 3. The WWF's loss was AWA's gain. Hulk Hogan, once he turned babyface, he grew rapidly as a wrestler and his charisma was able to shine when not being stuck as a heel. Vince McMahon Jr. soon took over and realized his dad Sr.'s mistake. He acquired Hogan and Hogan's best years were yet to come. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was "Stunning" Steve Austin in WCW from 1991-1995. He kept growing as a midcarder through the 1990's and seemed to be on his way to a World Title push in 1994. Then, WCW management decided to bring in Hulk Hogan and agreed to give him creative control. Suddenly, Steve Austin was laying down for Hogan buddy "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. A bigger, angry Steve Austin was released by WCW during early 1995 and would make his way to the WWE during late 1995. His best years were yet to come.
But then you consider homegrown WWE talent. The WWE developed both the Rock and John Cena. They were 2 individuals that you never saw on a big pro wrestling stage before and were thus unique to their promotions. The WWE botched the Rock's debut in 1996 with the "Rocky Maivia" babyface gimmick but once Rocky turned heel during 1997, he grew in leaps and bounds as a superstar. 1 year later, he was WWE Champion at Survivor Series 1998 and the rest was history. John Cena was a member of the Ohio Valley Wrestling "Class of 2002" but wasn't considered to be one of the bigger hyped stars. Sure, the WWE gave him a nice debut against Kurt Angle, but the expectations were on Randy Orton and especially Brock Lesnar to be the biggest stars from OVW. John Cena kept working hard, despite the vanilla babyface gimmick given to him at first... By luck, he stumbles upon a rapper gimmick just as the movie 8 Mile, starring wildly popular rapper Eminem, hits. Cena now had the persona to match his improving ability as a wrestler. He kept getting better and better until 2005 when he became "the man".
In each case, what do you see? THEIR BEST YEARS WERE AHEAD OF THEM!
TNA has acquired WWE wrestlers past their prime and expecting YOU to watch. Fans want to watch wrestlers they've never seen before OR wrestlers pushed who were under-appreciated by other promotions. Go relive WCW during the mid to late 1990's. While the additions of many former WWE talents helped boost WCW's roster, notably Scott Hall and Kevin Nash who should have been bigger main eventers in the WWE, WCW began to acquire many former WWE wrestlers past their primes and began to give HUGE contract extensions to many veteran wrestlers who were done peaking. Meanwhile, what quietly helped make WCW a big success was all of the Luchadore and ECW younger talent it raided to stock the midcard. Those wrestlers were under-appreciated and you saw how quickly Chris Jericho grew once he had a better opportunity in the WWE. Ditto Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. Better yet, ditto Rey Mysterio who had a very successful WWE career and was a big fan favorite with a bigger spotlight. All wrestlers held down and waiting for an opportunity to shine.
However, with TNA, they just aren't making the right WWE talent acquisitions and the timing of the purchases are off. You could argue Christian was a good TNA purchase because the WWE wanted him back later and Christian remains employed with the WWE to this day. Even won a World Title. Kurt Angle's best years were behind him and after we got over Angle burning the WWE on the release during 2006, we lost interest. "Meh" to the NWO and ECW wrestler returns... Many other WCW and WWE wrestlers have tried to stick in TNA but again, their best years had already passed... TNA is against a WWE Corporation who can afford to keep their top stars. John Cena and Randy Orton were NEVER available for TNA to pickoff, and ditto for CM Punk during 2011 with a contract extension... You also saw how hard WWE fought Brock Lesnar over that no-compete clause. They did NOT want Brock Lesnar to ever consider joining TNA wrestling.
Thus - TNA should have searched elsewhere. The WWE thumbs its nose at the Indies. WWE loves to manufacture its own stars or reprogram any wrestlers with experience. The independent scene is still relatively stocked with lots of talent to acquire. TNA should have embraced the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) brand name and attempted to use that brand to network as many independent promotions as possible. TNA could have used the entire nation's indy scene as a feeder system to keep the TNA roster stocked with fresh talent and then sign any guys who have any potential to be major stars. They sort of did this during the mid-2000's when they acquired someone like Samoa Joe. Joe was a stud in Ring of Honor and had the right look, size, and big match talent that should have easy for any promoter to recognize. TNA should have pushed Samoa Joe to the moon and that should have been the unique wrestler that drew fans in. He should have been TNA Champion for years... Instead, TNA opted to make Joe tap out to Kurt Angle, as TNA management was high on that "WWE candy" and though Angle's acquisition would expand the company.
In addition to unique Main Event talent, you need groundbreaking storylines. Aces & Eights is NOT that groundbreaking storyline. Neither is a storyline against a big name authority figure... ECW reunion, no. NWO reunion, no. Main Event Mafia... Zzzzzz... Unfortunately for TNA, they've had some weak creative team members. Guys like Jim Cornette and Dutch Mantell (now Zeb Colter in WWE) are good traditional minds but their storylines weren't jumping off the screen. Vince Russo hasn't been the same since he became burned out from excess work in the WWE during 1999. TNA has cycled in several other WWE backstage personnel. Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff have heavy creative input and it's not working. Bischoff did 2 things right during 1996 and both involved stealing... Raided talent rosters everywhere and stole an invasion angle from Japan. The guy got lucky, too, that WWE was in major decline. Stars aligned but Bischoff hasn't been much of a creative success since 1997. All downhill since then but yet, in Hulk Hogan's opinion, all TNA needs to do is give Bischoff the "keys to the car" and a "huge pile of money" to be successful. Didn't TNA do that for Hogan and Bischoff with lots of Panda Energy money spent and them having personnel and creative decisions? TNA passed up on the only creative guy out there, Paul Heyman, and now the WWE will hold onto Heyman forever much like they just did for Jim Ross.
Looking forward in the wrestling business, TNA still has a shot. As I assess the WWE roster, they have a lot of good wrestlers but don't yet have the drawing successor to John Cena. Without John Cena now, wrestlers like Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, and CM Punk are doing well at the top and I'm a big fan of Alberto Del Rio leading Smackdown. With Brock Lesnar as a part-time wrestler, I'd argue that those guys aren't as strong individually as John Cena as a major drawing power. Collectively, they're good and are keeping the WWE ship floating right now... But I'm talking a few years from now when all of those guys are ready to retire along with John Cena. Who replaces those top guys? And are they as big as John Cena, let alone Lesnar, Orton, Punk, and Bryan?
Overall, I like the WWE roster. People rip John Laurinaitis for his tenure as VP of Talent Relations following the great Jim Ross, but Ace restocked the WWE well. Triple H has taken over talent and the WWE has just opened a new developmental facility. They are taking the NXT show seriously... The roster is getting thick on solid in-ring talent. If you ask me, I'm a big fan of Roman Reigns, Antonio Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, Titus O'Neil as up and coming talents currently in the WWE. There's always room for the likes of Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, and even Heyman's new henchmen in Ryback and Curtis Axel to grow. I've given up on Dolph Ziggler, as he seems to be self-destructing lately with some recent anti-WWE comments. And for all I know, Daniel Bryan is just entering his prime even though he's receiving the Main Event push now. This push could just be introducing the world to Daniel Bryan...
But are they the next John Cena, the one who can draw strong on merchandise and houseshows? Do you believe that ANY one of those wrestlers could cause the WWE to give fans and parent refunds if they are not on a particular houseshow due to injury? I just don't see it yet, although there are many good wrestlers who get lucky and click with the fans. John Cena got lucky with a gimmick change that coincided with the 8 Mile movie coming out. Otherwise, he wasn't the standout Ohio Valley Wrestling call-ups.
Thus, without that strong draw at the top, it would be expected that the WWE continue to have quality booking as we've seen since the weeks leading up to SummerSlam 2013. The Creative Team contains the same members, so thus it's expected that the booking momentum could cool down. John Cena will return during 2014 and the creative team could get lazy again. Then when John Cena leaves, can the strong booking start back up again? I just don't know... But what I do know is that there doesn't exist a wrestler, as of yet, who can replace John Cena as a strong draw. Just not there yet...
With that in mind, there could be an opening. WWE, with John Cena, is drawing 4 million viewers and appears to be unable to grow beyond that. When Cena, Lesnar, Orton, Bryan, and Punk are maybe gone OR past their primes in a few years, that number could come down a bit. Unless, of course, someone from the developmental ashes rises...
TNA actually has one last chance to succeed. They are just over 1 million viewers with a Thursday night prime time slot on a decent cable channel in Spike TV. They need to find that ONE individual wrestler that TNA has that the WWE doesn't have and can't have. It's quite difficult to assess whether any WWE castaway would help TNA right now. You could maybe argue CM Punk when his contract expires in 2014 but the injuries are taking their toll. Could TNA, too, bring back the CM Punk from 2011 that was a rebel and drew well with adult fans? Could TNA effectively get someone named Phillip Brooks, as the WWE owns some trademarks of the CM Punk name even though Punk created the CM Punk character. Especially if CM Punk bolts to TNA during 2014, the WWE might attack with their lawyers to blunt the impact of the promotional jump. But again, the WWE can match a TNA offer as a cash rich corporation. Secondly, if TNA does get Punk, will they use him correctly?
Otherwise, they have to figure out who on the current TNA roster "has it" and particularly wrestlers who don't have "WWE" on their resume. Start to gradually push them and use the former WWE wrestlers on your roster to put them over while their contracts are expiring. See what wrestlers click with the fans and push accordingly. Cycle out all of the former WWE wrestlers. Someone like Bully Ray can still have a successful singles career as a heel, but he's just not a #1 strong drawing guy. He's a complementary wrestler that can help the #1 guy look stronger as a regular opponent. IF none of the wrestlers on the current roster "have it", cut your losses and go after the best and brightest on the Independent Circuit. Raise capital by letting certain contracts expire to acquire young indy talent hungry for the Spike TV Thursday Night spotlight. Introduce fans to NEW WRESTLERS to check out.
The important thing is TNA find and push wrestlers who have YET to peak or are STILL in their prime years.
But all it takes is 1 superstar... One wrestler to captivate an audience and give them someone to idolize in the business. 1 wrestler who isn't a has been from another promotion. 1 wrestler whom the fans have never experienced yet as a Main Eventer. That's all it takes... Don't believe me? Go research the careers of Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, John Cena, and the Rock. By the time that the WWE got them, they were yet to see the prime years of their careers and the WWE made money off of them for years.
Just takes one... Figure it out, Dixie Carter, or your promotion is toast unless Spike TV renews your television contract for a few more years and if daddy is still willing to remain in the wrasslin' business.
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