Ever since the arrival of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, TNA Wrestling has continued to take a half step forwards and several gigantic leaps backwards. In January of this year as an attendant, fee-paying fan, I witnessed all the things that were good and noteworthy about the TNA experience with my own eyes, and in living color. The energy and youthful vigour; audience participation and hard-hitting matches; it was all there, present and correct as the core TNA roster rocked the house in my hometown. The comparison between that experience and the one that presently greets me on Bravo TV (in the UK) is the proverbial night and day.
It is clear now that the grand plan of the Hogan/Bischoff axis was to transform TNA into a hybrid of WCW circa 1997, and WWE circa whatever crossed Hogan’s demented mind. They have allowed Vince Russo to continue to pollute the airwaves with his scattergun approach to booking, in the process transforming TNA into an illogical medley of heel turns, unflatteringly short matches and pointless tributes to dead eras. Instead of building the product up around the youthful talent already in situ, TNA has spent countless irreplaceable millions on the likes of Ric Flair, Jeff Hardy and the man with the most unjustifiable ego in wrestling, Rob Van Dam. It has all failed miserably.
In a previous column, this writer attempted to be as positive and optimistic as possible about the development of EV2.0 – an asinine moniker if ever I’ve heard one – and Four Horseman wannabes Fortune. Despite subsequently being castigated by a witless mark for my temerity, my assertion remains accurate and correct. If TNA had elected to avoid the hollow tribute route and present EV2.0 as an invading squadron, then an excellent and viable feud might have been birthed. The ultra-violent invaders should’ve been presented as a threat to the ideals of TNA (Hah!), and in place of Fortune should have stood the youthful rearguard action of TNA.
Instead, TNA created Fortune as a vanity platform for Ric Flair, allowing him to vigorously (and shamelessly) promote himself at the expense of his troops. Naturally, TNA presented as babyfaces the ancient and utterly irrelevant malingerers of days long since faded into an increasingly dim memory. Rather than use the last of that era’s cache with wrestling fans to bolster their own future, TNA decided to advertise a dead product that is legally owned by Vince McMahon. Everyone tells me Dixie Carter is a lovely woman (and not just visually) but in anyone’s tongue, that is a staggeringly naïve way to do business.
One of the things I liked most about the TNA product – once upon a time – was the Knockouts division. In an era where WWE has made a mockery of almost every aspect of its in-ring presentation, the Knockouts division was the icing on the proverbial cake. As the overly stocked, ill-prepared dolly birds littering WWE bored everyone senseless, TNA created a division with actual characters and storylines, and – gasp – occasionally great matches. Under the auspices of the TNA triple threat, this once proud and distinctive addition to the TNA arsenal has been strip mined, and reduced to an endless feud between the various members of the Beautiful People. The unique and talented likes of Daffney, ODB and Awesome/Amazing Kong have either been buried, sacked or essentially pigeonholed into quitting the promotion.
At this point, TNA is lurching desperately between one idea and another. Idiocy in the boardroom has necessitated Rob Van Dam’s removal as champion, and that isn’t a loss to anyone. Though eminently capable of having good-to-great matches with numerous personalities, RVD has become overexposed and serves no purpose to the TNA ratings overall. His track record as a drawing card, and marketable main event-level wrestler is largely a figment of his own (and Hulk Hogan’s) overactive imagination. The ascension of Van Dam to the top of the mountain only served to highlight, underline and italicise the prevailing, Russo-propagated myth that “ex-WWE equals fan interest” in TNA. This utterly nonsensical idea has been rendered moot by the continuously anaemic ratings for TNA – on television and on pay-per-view – during his championship reign.
The likelihood of Paul Heyman arriving in TNA is increasingly remote, given the power Hogan and Bischoff still wield (and despite their myriad failures) and the reluctance on the part of Dixie Carter to bin the old guard. The latest push for Kevin Nash – and the continued yearly renewal of his new friend, a clearly disinterested Sting – only heightens the belief that the old boys are, to paraphrase Jesse Ventura, dug in deeper than Alabama tics. Naturally, the silver titans have not been pitted against new opponents, but Jeff Jarrett and Hulk Hogan. Oh, and when they desired to send a message to Fortune, what did they do? Attack Ric Flair – mid promo – of course. All things considered, it’s hardly surprising that locker room morale in TNA is fading fast.
My contempt for the current WWE business model has only intensified my hopes that TNA might present a viable alternative, but the truth is glaringly different. TNA is, at present, directionless and resorting to overbooked desperation and transparent tributes to the past to resuscitate its already meagre standing. Prior to the arrival of Hogan and Bischoff, TNA enjoyed the confidence of Spike TV and was pulling consistent television ratings, and pay-per-view buyrates never fell below the ten to fifteen thousand barriers.
In less than one year, the current administration has overseen a disastrous shift to Monday nights (and back again) and lost the confidence of its most important benefactor. As for the pay-per-view market: ten thousand buys would be an improvement as it stands, and the talk is TNA will consider abandoning such events entirely in the near future. That isn’t a revolution or progress that is dismal, glaring failure. For TNA and Dixie Carter, that failure will be terminal unless somewhere, somehow, someone is afforded power to bring TNA back to where it was in 2009. As for going forward, here’s hoping. There is a major part of the ECW legacy that is desperately needed by TNA at this point, and it has nothing to do with Tommy Dreamer or Raven…
Daniel R. Browne.