In last week’s column this writer professed to a genuine and sincere hope that TNA Wrestling – presently under the auspices of three of the four chief architects in the destruction of World Championship Wrestling ? would step up and be counted at a time when the WWE is at its most vulnerable in over a decade of entertainment. After a week of revelation followed by a week of trepidation, TNA presented the first pay-per-view event of 2010 ? Genesis ? and the first of the so-called ?Hogan and Bischoff Era?. The result was a disheartening and almost vulgar affair that has already eradicated a fair amount of the optimism afforded the new administration and their promises of change.
The popular shift that culminated in Barack Obama assuming the Presidency of the United States has elevated the buzzword ?change? into the social lexicon like never before. The term has been coined by numerous heralds of difference in uncertain times, from entrepreneurs through to careerist politicians and now professional wrestling figureheads. Change, these men and women say, represents progress in stilted times. Perhaps this is an honest assertion; so long as the change combines a revolutionary fervour with a pragmatic determination to succeed. Otherwise, the net result is paranoia and anarchy. The decision to dispense with arguably the one indelible piece of TNA iconography ? the six-sided ring ? is an example of change wrought for the sake of appearances.
The six-sided ring was a peculiar yet novel construct that before a single word was uttered or punch thrown, differentiated TNA from its competition. As a practical implement I personally felt it was inferior to convention and brought negligible benefits to the experience of professional wrestling. It was, however, different, unique and eye-catching. It was a trademark of the TNA experience. Dispensing with it on a whim is a potentially foolhardy move that risks enhancing the culture of conformity. Hulk Hogan is the driving force behind the change. His public dismissal of the six-sided ring as a child’s plaything was misguided and without merit, and he was roundly booed by the Impact regulars who detested the elitist tone of Hogan and partner in crime Eric Bischoff.
When an interloper assumes power he does well to mind the natives. As is typical of wrestling, the loyalists suffer the injustice of creative sideswipes as a direct result of their loyalty. Hulk Hogan had repeatedly denigrated TNA prior to his arrival, with the ?Bush League? jibe in particular rankling long into the night. It probably didn?t cross Dixie’s mind, bless her, that a lot of her precious fans are the same sorts who even as WCW plumbed hitherto unheard of depths of creative infamy, kept watching to the bitterest of ends. They are the great elephants of wrestling circles and remember, with unerring clarity, the last time Hogan and Bischoff held dominion over a wrestling promotion. The resulting distrust and fear echoes long and loud. These people once turned on Hulk Hogan for the creative ruination he brought to WCW upon his arrival, as Bischoff sat supping a Martini giggling like a an overly eager groupie. Add to their ranks the new generation who value athletic competition in shades of ?original? and a backlash is brewing. Hogan was booed out the building after arrogantly insulting company founder Jeff Jarrett on Impact. The seeds of resentment are thus sown.
TNA Genesis ? the first pay-per-view of the Hogan/Bischoff era – failed to rise from the artistic torpor of its opening promo. The booking was essentially harebrained and symptomatic of Vince Russo’s usual incompetence. Though elevating the potential match quality, the shift from the Outsiders to Kevin Nash and Sean Waltman was an obvious bait and switch that diluted interest in an already questionable match. The only small mercy was a Beer Money victory. Said booking again handicapped the popular ODB, who was rendered unnecessarily inferior by the manner of her loss. That the bloated and redundant Sean Morley was granted victory over TNA stalwart Daniels can only have seemed logical to someone with a tiny brain. Then there were the unexplained absences of Mick Foley, Jeff Jarrett and Samoa Joe (who is in deep, deep trouble as of right now).
The introduction of Ken ?Kennedy? Anderson underlined the accepted conviction that from a promo and character perspective, Anderson possesses the requisite skills and charisma to prosper in main event scenarios. Alas, as ?beneficiary? of a modern WWE wrestling education, Anderson is as banal between the ropes as he is dynamic outside of them. His encounter with Abyss was a dull collision that swiftly erased the momentum of Anderson’s audience friendly pre-match routine and induced ?boring? chants from the Impact regulars. Granted, Abyss was a strange and frankly unhelpful choice of opponent for him but Kenny boy will have to work harder that he did here to ensure any measurable progress in TNA. Anderson has long been associated with potential stardom, and in order to realise that promise he needs to cutback on the self-destructive outbursts and bullish stupidity and focus on staying injury free – another major obstacle ? and having great matches. His ?world shattering? arrival at Genesis was at best, distinctly underwhelming.
It is no secret to regular readers of this column that this writer considers ?Nature Boy? Ric Flair to be on balance, the most complete professional wrestler in the history of the sport. It is precisely because of this belief that I have on occasions lambasted Flair for his personal and professional failings. Watching the quite extraordinary send-off WWE afforded to Flair after his ?retirement? in 2008 only accentuates that impulse. Ric Flair has never accepted the truth of his demise; the limousine riding and rowdy nights are consigned to posterity. In the place of the once trim, wealthy fashion plate VIP is a balding, worn out and financially destitute OAP in a splendid suit. The athleticism and stamina that once made Flair the consummate ring general has long since faded and with every year he continues to wrestle he does damage to his once peerless legacy. Sadly, the physical and financial cost of living such a Devil may care lifestyle has left him with little choice. It is for the money that Flair has thus returned to something closer to his spiritual home after his largely celebrated second WWE tenure ended in mild acrimony last year.
The conclusion to the AJ Styles/Kurt Angle world championship match was marked by Flair’s explicit involvement, leading to an AJ victory and heel turn. Flair has always preferred the role of heel, and his association with AJ is intriguing but ambiguous from a creative standpoint. Flair ? from champagne Charlotte – is a legendary carouser and lover of fine clothes, modes of transport and the ladies. AJ Styles is an uncharismatic hick from Georgia and regarded as a connoisseur of wrestling video games. He is half Flair’s age and still on his first wife. Their affiliation is odd and the attempt by TNA to literally transform AJ into the new ?Nature boy? lacks verisimilitude and could ultimately damage AJ in the long run. As for Angle, he is the only human being on Earth who might have a decent match with Flair so you can bank the house they will find an excuse to wrestle. Angle remains the go-to guy in TNA and he will doubtless find his ring wizardry sorely tested by the need to haul both Flair and Hogan to something watchable in the near future. As a consequence, Kurt will be – even more than usual ? one to watch in 2010.
If anything, Genesis served as a welcome helping of enforced sobriety for those left giddy by the Hogan/Bischoff/Russo shock convention on January 4th. AJ Styles is the only longstanding TNA performer to benefit thus far from the so-called new dawn. The likes of Desmond Wolf, Daniels and Samoa Joe have seen their pushes diminished or disintegrated before them in the wake of endless hyperbole, skits and the Hogan codger’s convention that has seen TNA suddenly invaded by yet more ancient and/or failed performers from yesteryear. Eric Bischoff is a first rate television producer and his revision of the TNA product will yield dividends in the long run, but creatively there is cause for concern. No one said it would be easy, but thus far the intention seems to be to turn TNA into a lower grade WCW circa 1997, right down to sting in the rafters and Scott Hall slurring on air. For the sake of all wrestling fans everywhere, we had better hope the well runs a little deeper than that. It’s taken a decade for TNA to reach this point and as Eric Bischoff – in particular ? is aware, it can all come crashing down in a heartbeat. That would be a tragedy for professional wrestling.
Daniel R. Browne.