Stylin? and Profilin? – ?Is TNA Relevant Now??
I?ve spent a lot of time over the past month or so thinking about how to write this column. In fact, I knew what I was going to write about almost as soon as I finished my last column. TNA vs. WWE. The impact (no pun intended) of the January 4th battle between the two promotions. What was the impact? Did this head to head showdown really matter? Is this foreshadowing of things to come? There are a lot of questions to be answered coming out of this showdown that wrestling fans everywhere have been talking about.
Personally speaking, I think this showdown was very significant. First and foremost say what you will about Spike TV and whether or not THEY think this show was a success. To me, January 4th was about TNA and their desire to compete with WWE programming on Monday nights. They?ve spent seven years building their company using the a business model that billed them as the anti-WWE wrestling promotion. They?ve been doing it for years. It goes back as far as Billy Gunn and Road Dogg (aka Kip James and BG James) taking pot shots at DX in 2006. The January 4th show was filled with shots at WWE programming and Vince McMahon either explicitly or implicitly. They even integrated it into the fan interviews on the January 4th show. And by the way, after listening to those fans talk, are you really convinced that TNA is a superior wrestling product? We?ve got the moron who has tattoos of the TNA logo on his arm and the girl who defined pro-wrestling as chair shots and blood acting as spokesmen of TNA. Really? I mean that’s the best that you can do? How sad. I wouldn?t expect anything less from TNA. Anyways, my point is simply that there are plenty of shots at the WWE mixed into TNA programming all the time. It’s part of their model, its part of their brand. It’s who they want to be, and how they want to connect with fans: We?re not the WWE. Okay, that makes sense. In fact, I think it’s a great idea in theory. A lot of people do not like the WWE style of wrestling or feel that the WWE is far too focused on the dramatic aspect of professional wrestling rather than the mat aspect of it. Fair enough. With that all being said, if you want to be the anti-WWE, can I make one suggestion to Dixie Carter? STOP HIRING EVERY WRESTLER WHO USED TO BE IN THE WWE AND PUSHING THEM AS IF THEY WERE SCREWED BY THE MAN! Do we even need to run down the list at this point of guys who they?ve taken from the WWE and turned into core players on their roster?
Elijah Burke/D?Angelo Dinero
The Nasty Boys
So you?re essentially looking at 35-40% of TNA’s roster consisting of former WWE employees who made a name for themselves with your primary competition. Now, don?t get me wrong. A lot of the guys listed above I like, and I even think they can have a place in pro-wrestling despite their advanced age and/or lack of skill. But, these are the guys that TNA has built their show around. Specifically, the January 4th show. The whole show was about these guys debuting and eating up air time. Let me ask you another question Dixie Carter: How do you really expect to differentiate yourself from the WWE when your show has the same wrestler’s on it that we have historically associated with the WWE? I mean really? If your roster, and the wrestler’s that you feature in your storylines are the same guys we saw in the WWE, what do you think the fans are going to associate your product with? Chances are it isn?t going to be your product, because people aren?t going to be tuning in to see your product. They are going to be tuning in to see the guys that they remember who wrestled on WWE programming. The ratings showed that as well considering they fell dramatically after the Hogan segment at the top of hour one. The truly sad part about the decline in ratings over the course of the show is that the main event was the one area where TNA could actually shine. I personally did not care for AJ Styles vs. Kurt Angle. But, at least you?re highlighting your world champion and giving him extended exposure. While I am not a fan of Kurt Angle and think you?re insane if you think he’s a good wrestler at this point, he is a name that people know. So in that respect he’s going to keep the fans unfamiliar with TNA interested in watching the match with AJ, which will in turn let these same fans get to know AJ Styles a bit. Regardless of how you feel about Kurt Angle or the match itself, this at least makes sense from a marketing standpoint.
Despite all of this, they were only able to pull a 1.5 rating and couldn?t keep viewers interested past the Hogan segment. Whether those viewers went to watch the Fiesta Bowl or to watch Bret Hart’s return to RAW is irrelevant. To me, that says that TNA just doesn?t have it and that their January 4th showdown with RAW should be viewed as a company wide failure (not necessarily a network wide failure. I?m sure Spike TV was pleased with the numbers). For all the promoting and big names you brought in that’s all you could manage. They had the opportunity to differentiate themselves against the WWE, and instead trotted out the same guys that were pushed in the WWE and WCW from 1996-2001 (and some guys that no one remembers i.e. The Nasty Boys). How do you really expect to differentiate yourself? Who is in charge of your marketing and why do they still have a job? They followed this up with a 1.26 rating on their January 14th show. That is not good news. They were pulling 1.2 to 1.3 through most of 2009 anyways, so their net gain in viewership was approximately zero. Well done TNA. Now to be fair, I think that part of that was due to the fact they probably had some viewer’s who did not realize that they were only on Monday night for one night only. But still, to get almost zero retention out of that is sad.
Now it seems hypocritical of me to attack TNA for trotting out a bunch of old guys wearing their Depends when the WWE trots out Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels on the same night. That’s a fair statement. I guess to me the difference is about execution, purpose, and direction. TNA was supposed to use the January 4th head to head show against RAW as a coming out party to showcase how different they were than the WWE. Well, instead they showed us a bunch of old WWE guys and answered most of the ?Where are they now? questions that likely populate wrestling forums on the internet. But sadly there really weren?t many unanswered questions about guys like Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, and Jeff Hardy anyways. Hall is drunk, Waltman is (or should be) in rehab with Chyna and Hardy is on trial for drugs. The Nasty Boys were working at the Citgo until January 4th. The end. We know the story behind these guys, what they bring to the table, and why they aren?t relevant (with the exception of Hardy). We know that WCW collapsed when these guys were in charge and influencing booking decisions backstage. This isn?t new. We?ve seen it before. The story has been written. Why rehash it? Then there are guys like Kennedy and Kendrick. While they are not going to help differentiate you from the WWE, they at least have upside. I for one have never understood the negativity towards Kennedy. I tend to believe that he got into the WWE’s doghouse, had a few strokes of bad luck and that was that. He could be a real steal, but he still doesn?t differentiate you from your competition like you want.
The guys on the TNA roster who wrestling fans may be interested in, like the X-Division guys or Hernandez, weren?t given the time of day on this show. Sure the X-Division opened the show, but it was a complicated cage match where no one understood the rules and we got a bogus ending that made no sense. Hernandez wrestled a short tag match and was on TV for maybe five minutes. These are the guys that differentiate you from the WWE and they got virtually no air time? Well done TNA! Well done, indeed.
On the other hand, RAW at least had somewhere to go with Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart. We know what happened, but we?ve never gotten closure or seen the aftermath of the Montreal Screwjob. What happens when HBK and Bret Hart come together again? What happens between Bret and Vince? These are untold stories. While they certainly aren?t going to give the WWE something to build their company around, they at least fill a short-term need and help draw in viewers and buy rates if Vince vs. Bret culminates at Wrestlemania. That’s something I don?t have a problem with. As fans, we?re given a story that we?re familiar with, but never got closure on. We play things out and ultimately we end up getting the closure we want on the grandest stage of them all and then the WWE moves on. Either way, this feud isn?t going to be the most dominant storyline in the company. It will be important, but it won?t be shaping the future direction of the company.
Stars from the 1990’s and early 2000’s are a tricky bunch to figure out in wrestling these days. I don?t think they are useless, but they are also obviously not the future. That’s the difference between TNA and the WWE. While Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and Triple H still main event a larger proportion of PPV’s than they should, they are slowly transitioning into supporting roles. There is at least an effort to make fans care about guys like Kofi Kingston, Sheamus, CM Punk, and John Morrison. While it has yet to be seen how successful those efforts are going to be, those guys are just as relevant on WWE programming as Triple H and Shawn Michaels these days. In my opinion, the same cannot be said for TNA when comparing their home grown stars vs. the older ex-WWE castoffs that fill out their roster.