Reaction to the TNA-Mania of Late
Everybody loves an underdog story, especially in wrestling. Everybody also loves competition. Especially in wrestling.
It's a strange situation we find ourselves in right now, as we see a lot of Internet support of TNA/Impact Wrestling, while WWE programming is definitely not at its best. It makes a lot of sense that fans of WWE who are losing their passion for their product would find solace in Thursday nights on Spike. The Hogan-led (in kayfabe) program has a lot going for it, and there's no time like the present to give it another shot. I'm all for it. If TNA starts reaching new grounds, and pushes WWE to switch gears and work harder to compete, there's nothing but upside for the future of wrestling. And it's hard to argue that today's WWE is at one of the lowest points of entertainment. For whatever reason you can list, the excitement for WWE is lower than I've ever witnessed since the “New Generation” era of 93-97. If I asked for everyone to email me their biggest complaint right now about the WWE, there would be a plethora of reasons given to me. It's not just one thing or person that exemplifies everything negative, there's a laundry list.
So, the hype for TNA is louder than ever. I can't deny it makes me giggle a bit to myself. It's especially funny how TNA fans defend that promotion non-stop. I find it akin to the religious pushing their imaginary friend as the true savior when humanity of any region is facing some sort of tragedy. When the spirits of Americans were down in September 2001, it didn't take long for the kooks to come out of the wood work to preach.
Are TNA fans religious zealots? No, it's an extreme comparison for sure. But the point remains that the preaching gets louder when faith is low.
I don't hate TNA. In fact, there's a lot of things I wish WWE would copy or at least make their own from the Thursday night format. TNA demolishes WWE in terms of long term planning. TNA uses their authority angles much better than WWE does. TNA uses their TV time much better with their stars by giving them less in ring action for free, creating more excitement for the PPVs. Cutting back the PPVs was genius, and shows that ‘less is more’ still works in 2013. Their backstage segments are filmed beautifully. The fact that they don't have a John Cena to book their promotion around means that their roster is spread out very evenly, and no one loses a lot of steam by being fed to a single star.
There's a lot of going for TNA/Impact Wrestling. And every once in a while, I'll tune in and I've enjoyed the shows I've watched. TNA is a very respectable federation. With all those positives, why is it a distant #2?
I have to blame their roster above all. A controversial statement, but a fact nonetheless. Bolstered by former WWE names, TNA struggles to make stars of their own. This isn't their fault – WWE has much more money and resources to find prospects and development them. TNA has slim pickings after the WWE draft is over, so it leads to a lot of guys who just don't cut it. WWE has also been a lot less hesitant to pick out indy darlings, which was one of the better farm systems TNA could once take advantage of.
This isn't to say TNA doesn't have their own stars. They've done a great job developing Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe into homegrown talent who are former TNA Champions. And there's no doubting that these guys are talented. But, they aren't stars. Every wrestling promotion has had their list of pushes that aren't warranted, WWE included. The difference here is that these 4 guys are the cream of the crop for various reasons, but still aren't draws. This means lots of Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy title runs, with Hulk Hogan being the face of the company.
AJ Styles is a prime example. He is one fucking amazing athlete. But there's no brains behind his wrestling. TNA plucked him early to form a spotfest heavy X Division. He's stuck around, and worked his way into a main event spot. Ugh. I've given him plenty of chances to prove himself. Sadly, he's still just a spot monkey wrestler, with atrocious mic skills. He's not terrible, but he's not special enough to give me reason to get behind him or his storylines.
Samoa Joe is in a similar position. His booking is tremendous (but wait), as he's always treated like a beast who can break out at any point and eat up the competition. The problem is that he's been treated like this since he debuted in 2005. That's 8 years of being told he's a monster, but never seems to deliver. It gets hard to take seriously after all this time. I know this is a common complaint about Kane in WWE. The difference is that Kane is never in a top spot. He'll be World Champ, and be in the mix in a multi-challenger title match. But there's no risk in seeing him unseat anyone in the WWE Title race. Joe on the other hand is presented as someone who should do just that in TNA. It doesn't work that way.
Bobby Roode was labeled TNA's HHH when he turned heel in 2011. That's something I agreed with then, and still do. He's a very reliable performer in almost every way. Face or heel, in the ring or on the mic, Roode delivers. But was HHH ever THE guy? He sort of became the guy in 2002 on Raw, but it wasn't without criticism and complaints. WWE was adjusting to the brand split, and no one benefit more than HHH being the Raw champion for his lengthy run. The flipside is that he ate everyone up, and only really got Evolution over in that time frame. Meanwhile Smackdown was led by Brock Lesnar. You tell me how much of a star WWE had in HHH overall. Roode is a great asset, but like HHH, he's not the guy to anchor your promotion around. He's a bishop or knight in a game of chess, but he'll never be king or queen.
Austin Aries is one of the only guys who can do everything, and do it well. There's no denying he can wrestle, talk, antagonize or be a hero. But, much like similar guys in WWE (Christian, Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes...etc) he doesn't have the look. No matter how many people reading this understands that wrestling doesn't need to be a big man's sport, the people in charge disagree. And it's because most people do think the same way. PEN15 jokes aside, size matters in sports. That's why there is a tale of the tape for fighting sports, with weight classes dividing rosters in MMA and boxing. Wrestling can work past it once in a while. But in the end, everyone is always looking for the comic book look for their stars. It's not entirely fair, as Austin has all the tools to succeed, but you can't force people to suspend disbelief as often as wrestling attempts to do in terms of wrestlers and their size.
The TNA praise is heavily in favor of their storylines. This is where I get confused, as there’s nothing to write home about here. TNA has a long running storyline of an invading biker gang called Aces and Eights. It’s a decent angle that incorporates talent up and down the roster, from TNA Champion Bully Ray (in a career defining role) to Garrett Bischoff. The heel biker group does battle with TNA, and anyone Hulk Hogan (as TNA GM) puts in their way. Nothing too original, but it’s no doubt well done. I guess for the TNA fans, it’s so well done that it makes up for everything else that is failing. The other storylines outside of this aren’t making an impact on me.
The Knockouts seems to be doing some decent stuff, but the characters are bland and boring, making their rivalries tame.
The TNA TV title was booked to be defended weekly on TV. That lasted 2-3 months. That’s good long term thinking, right? Now, it’s around the waist of Abyss. OK. Nothing bad about it, but I don’t see the hype.
The TNA Tag Team titles have been well booked. It honestly reminds me a lot of when the WWE Tag titles are in a great spotlight. The combination of single stars without much to do has been a successful foundation for TNA and WWE in their tag divisions. For TNA, the Bad Influence tag team is doing remarkable stuff, and the combination of Aries and Roode have lots of potential. Sadly, much like WWE, there aren’t many face teams to cheer for against these entertaining heel duos. Storm and Gunner? Chavo and Hernandez? C’mon!? Sorry, it’s not working for me.
X Division title – I have never been a fan of the division, as it’s generally booked without any storyline with spotfest type matches. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my thing. Once in a while, they switch things up and book the title as something important. Right now it’s in a decent place with the circumstances of the Destination X PPV where the X Division champ can trade in the title for a TNA Title match. But, as we’ve seen it doesn’t last long.
I’m not going to say TNA storylines are balls. My point is that a single long term angle isn’t enough. I do wish WWE could have the long term planning TNA is showing, but overall I’m not seeing something mind blowing here.
Now, this isn’t to say these storylines and wrestlers that TNA fans are bragging about don’t exist. I think there needs to be an understanding about perception. I could be classified as a casual TNA fan, and with that it seems that these storylines can catch on if you watch on a regular basis. Tune in weekly, and you might catch on to a lot of the subtlety and nuances that could be making these grandiose impressions on the TNA faithful. But if you’re only catching it once in a while, you can’t fall into the wave of momentum. This is just a theory, because I know damn well that we wouldn’t be having this conversation if there was some truth behind the claims made by these loud fans. Yes, we often have loud mouth morons ranting about things without basis, but we’re talking about TNA here. It has been the bitch of the wrestling world for over a decade. With the amount of praise online that we are hearing about TNA these days, there’s bound to be some sort of fact behind it. I just don’t see it, and my theory is that TNA grows on you after routine viewings. If this is the case, it might be tough to garner enough attention to be elevated to competition for the WWE. I hate having to admit to the possibility of having a shorter attention span, but it will be difficult to get people in tune to a storyline in the middle of it. And that is natural: nobody likes watching a movie starting from the hour mark, or in the era of TV on DVD, not starting at episode 1 of season 1. Where wrestling can work around this is NOT through WWE's overuse of recaps. What both companies need to do more is build solid feuds that are shorter. Too often are the shorter feuds badly executed. Then again, these poor angles might be cut short for a reason.
In a perfect world, there would be storylines for everyone. And even with the augmented amount of TV time for wrestling, that will unfortunately never happen. It’s too bad that the fondest of the early memories I have of angles weren’t the major ones involving Hogan or Flair, but the midcard ones. Jake Roberts vs Rick Rude, with the Snake’s wife. Shawn turning on Marty. Demolition and Powers of Pain double turn with Mr. Fuji’s involvement. In modern terms, these feuds were only a month or 2 long. But they worked because they weren’t on a weekly basis.
This is definitely something TNA should be commended for, as many of their non-main event storylines (as unimpressive as I may think they are) aren’t shoved down my throat on a weekly basis. They understand the restrictions of a 2 hour program for their full roster, and we might not get the next chapter of a storyline until a couple of weeks later. It’s probably asking today’s viewers to wait more than a couple of weeks to find out what happens next with someone like John Cena or Austin Aries, but TNA finds some sort of balance when making us wait to find out the next chapter for someone like Magnus.
But, is that waiting time another reason it’s tough to get into TNA on a routine weekly basis? Perhaps.
One thing that should definitely be said, and understood, is that TNA is no longer WWE-lite. When Hogan does his press and calls it a different product, he’s not lying like usual. TNA is definitely offering something WWE does not. But just because WWE isn’t firing on all cylinders does not mean TNA is the new ECW in terms of being the underground favorite. TNA is still very flawed. Until they can offer up a show that is a good starting point, a chapter 1 of sorts, TNA will most likely never gain me as a weekly viewer.
And on that note, Peace out
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