I think it’s fair to say I have something of a “love/hate” relationship with professional wrestling. Many of my fondest memories stem from my love of the medium and the many extraordinary moments and feelings I can still vividly recall. I can state with almost total conviction that regardless of what may subsequently occur in my life, I will always have a special place for the weird and wonderful world of professional wrestling.
Sadly – for those expecting a gushing and optimistic approach to this week’s column – that was the beginning and end of my largesse. Various incidents and issues have arisen recently to test my patience to the limit. Chief among the culprits is TNA Wrestling and the increasingly harebrained creative approach of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff.
After a patient and intriguing start, TNA has descended into a dizzying blur of gimmick matches, rubbish storylines and illogical feuds. This was always a distinct possibility of course; sue me if I didn’t attempt to embrace optimism at a time when the business needs an alternative brand like never before. As such, it brings me no pleasure denouncing the current direction of TNA. In the space of three months I have gone from watching Impact without fail to watching it only if I have absolutely nothing better to do. That is the opposite of progress, boys and girls.
The most obvious problem is the proliferation of ex-WWE stars and veterans in the key positions. Granted, this was a definite issue prior to January 4th, but said concerns have gone on to reach epidemic proportions since then. There exists no credible argument as to why the useless, washed-up and altogether disruptive Band members Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Sean Waltman continue to find employment in the mainstream. They contribute nothing of note and as Waltman proved recently – yet again – they bring nothing but strife. There continued presence is an insult to everything TNA purports to stand for.
I don’t intend to use this entire column to list each one of TNA Wrestling’s myriad ills. That would take far too long. It’s nevertheless hugely depressing to witness TNA Impact becoming every bit as nonsensical and contradictory as the very worst excesses of WCW Nitro. The tag division is stagnating; the once-proud Knockouts division is now only a thousand times superior to the WWE Divas (as opposed to a million) and the mid-card scene is almost non-existent. In it’s place is a revolving “face of the week” and an endless display of Hogan/Flair/Jarrett/Sting bloodshed. It is soul-destroying to consider those four were wasting everyone’s time feuding amongst themselves ten years ago.
In many ways though, the veterans are eclipsed in the “useless” stakes by most of the ex-WWE brigade. Shannon Moore is not over in the slightest and has done nothing – in WWE or TNA – to justify his push, nepotism notwithstanding (Shannon is good friends with Jeff Hardy) The girls still swoon and less than a year ago he was the biggest babyface in America, but those days suddenly seem long in the memory. Jeff Hardy circa 2010 is a lazy, unmotivated and incompetent waste of space; desperately conning TNA out of the last decent paycheque he’ll see before he sees the inside of a prison cell. Naturally, TNA has gleefully allowed Jeff to dance about in his preposterous war paint, achieving nothing of consequence. WWE really lucked out when this moron declined to sign a contract extension last year.
This brings us rather neatly to the self-proclaimed “saviour” of TNA: Rob Van Dam. The hubris and self-confidence of RVD is surpassed only by his over-inflated opinion of his own worth, and although he now wears the TNA world crown, his tenure in TNA has been characterised by booking stupidity and Van Dam’s own infernal arrogance. It may have been “cool” (and even laudable) to verbally trounce WWE when few others possessed such fortitude, but RVD doesn’t do himself (or anyone else, for that matter) any favours when he publically talks up Hogan’s poisonous “approval” and belittles the “young guys” in the locker room; many of whom saw pushes derailed and friends and colleagues sacked to make room for RVD and his sizable salary.
RVD might be in denial about it, but the arbitrary decision to elevate him to championship status was born of desperation, not the inescapable star power of Rob Van Dam. TNA desperately needed an Impact ratings boost and a return on an investment they have bungled spectacularly from the moment Sting was permitted to thrash Van Dam – like a jobber – on his debut. The elevation of RVD hasn’t provided a discernible boost to ratings or general interest, and has served to exasperate the already disheartened AJ Styles still further. Just like he did with Bill Goldberg in the Georgia Dome, Eric Bischoff let Hulk Hogan lead him up the garden path in Orlando. Couple this with Ric Flair’s rambling self-parody and interminable feud with the truly awful Abyss (which seems to exist only to promote the WWE Hall of Fame) and the irritation of AJ suddenly has the backing of thousands.
In his short time in TNA, RVD has gone from hot to not in record time. The grand plans of Eric Bischoff have either failed to materialise as promised (the so-called ranking system is finally happening, apparently) or represent little more than barrel-scraping, gay-baiting nonsense Vince Russo is only too happy to pen (and I hope “Christian” Vince observes the fallout from Chris Kanyon’s tragic demise and feels suitably ashamed) The news of Russo’s probable departure is a glimmer of hope for TNA in uncertain times. Officially, Russo is taking some time to address “burnout”. Unofficially, Russo has spent three years writing almost relentless drivel and, as head writer, is the first person to be blamed for the catastrophic failure of TNA on Monday nights. My joy at his removal is tempered by the fact that Hogan and Bischoff will most likely promote a timid “yes-man”, who they can then castigate and dispose of when the time demands. The name “Terry Taylor” springs to mind.
The hiring of bigoted blob Todd “Bubba The Love Sponge” Clem made sense to Hulk Hogan and nobody else. Recent developments imply TNA might now be rid of the useless clown, but the damage has been done. In his brief TNA tenure, Clem alienated countless fans and cost the company the services of one of its more capable female wrestlers. Given the entirely dishonourable reasons for his initial hiring (he is Hogan’s primary cheerleader) and the continued de-emphasis of the X Division and the counter-productive treatment of Desmond Wolfe and the recently fired Christopher Daniels, questions should be raised of Hogan’s overall competence. With the Nasty Boys and now Bubba unceremoniously dumped, “Hollywood” is fast running out of expendable lackeys.
In the Motor City Machineguns and Generation ME, TNA potentially has its answer to the Hardy Boys and Edge & Christian. Never mind though: the obese and the ancient are better suited to a modern wrestling product than the young and the talented. While we’re at it, TNA Wrestling seem to be utilising the patented “Gail Kim negotiation technique” in dealing with the gifted and beautiful Tara, and as such are running the risk she will take her abundant talent and enthusiasm into retirement rather than continuing to assist the listing Knockouts division. Naturally – given the currently threadbare women’s scene – this makes no sense whatsoever.
Ultimately, the current plight of TNA is the responsibility of Dixie Carter. She’s beautiful and apparently a charming, “southern belle” stereotype, but right now she needs to grow some balls and carpet Hogan and Bischoff for their pandering, arrogance and failure. Allowing Russo to walk away with a cover story, rather than a stern rebuke, was disappointing but hardly surprising, and Dixie seems to retain the faith that TNA will “get there in the end”. Sadly for her – and for wrestling in general – TNA will not reach the Promised Land unless drastic and immediate change is implemented and TNA finally outgrows its fascination with the past and the passé. This needs to happen right now, and if I was Dixie, I’d be gauging the immediate and future plans of a certain “Hustler” in the hope they include TNA and, just maybe, another wrestling revolution.
Daniel R. Browne.
P.S. Given her decade’s worth of effort and dedication to the WWE cause, the Lilian Garcia “horse face” gag left a particularly bad taste in my mouth this week. The cruelty on display wasn’t surprising in the least and neither were the perpetrators. For the record, those classical Adonises (ahem) Jerry Lawler and Vince McMahon should refrain from throwing stones in glass houses. The same goes for Triple H, and as far as Hunter is concerned I “nose” what I’m talking about…