There can be little doubt – after the endless sabre rattling, hyperbole and swollen optimism taking place beforehand ? that Dixie Carter must have been very disappointed with the final Monday 8th head-to-head ratings. Despite a herculean push that included a Times Square billboard and the promise of surprises galore, Monday Night Impact was trounced by just another edition of Monday Night Raw. This was less a brave new era in wrestling history and more another minnow with delusions of grandeur punching decades above it’s weight.
Privately though, the powers that be in TNA will be keenly aware of the task that faces them and the truth that if TNA is to grow to become an empire, it will not happen overnight. The ‘shock and awe? tactics on display during the March 8th debut show were not in themselves surprising. However, the focus should now be on maintaining and further honing the sound fundamentals upon which successful wrestling companies are built.
As it presently stands, TNA boasts an exciting and cutting-edge array of technicians, strikers and cruiserweights perfectly placed to form a truly stellar mid-card, all anchored by the still-prestigious X Division title and the largely listless Global championship. It is no secret that structurally, Eric Bischoff is essentially transforming TNA into WCW circa 1997. This is by no means surprising; given the mid-nineties WCW formula is generally acknowledged ? from opener to main event ? as the most complete wrestling format in the history of the business.
The major concern regarding the WCW/TNA comparison is the so-called ?glass ceiling? erected above the WCW mid-carders not associated with the New World Order during the promotion’s glory years. This was the first major error in what became the collapse of World Championship Wrestling, and Eric Bischoff must work harder this time to avoid becoming star-struck and a mark for his own success. The strong pushes afforded AJ Styles, D?Angelo Dinero, Desmond Wolfe and Ken Anderson indicate an awareness of this truth, but time will tell if the lessons have been learned. Elsewhere, the omens are less auspicious.
It is apparently the contention of both Bischoff and Hulk Hogan that Chris ?Abyss? Parks possesses all the tools to become a major player in the future of TNA. Hogan, who is afflicted with the antiquated, WWE-enforced belief that ?bigger is better?, is attempting to singlehandedly transform the uncomely and ungainly Abyss into a star, seemingly by association. Though the million-dollar bandwagon has gained some measure of success thus far, the aforementioned assertion ? and push ? is in this writer’s opinion dead wrong. Abyss does not have the all-round package necessary to become a genuine player, which is why successive TNA bookers saw him as a transitional oddity for the big boys to occasionally amuse themselves with. Naturally, Hogan (and Bischoff) knows best though.
TNA built the Monday Night debut show around Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair: two legends with absolutely no business being in the ring in the modern era. Whilst this didn?t exactly constitute a stunning surprise, it is still staggering that the TNA hype machine proffers sound bites like ?the future? and ?we are wrestling? and then books two sixty year-old relics in the prominent positions. Flair, who has not been a genuine drawing card in nearly twelve years, bled a veritable fountain of claret and generally looked atrocious. Amazingly, Hogan was even worse. It was a transparent attempt to claim a short-term victory that yielded nothing beyond short cuts and hypocrisy.
As I mentioned last week, the violent and largely unpredictable heel turn of Sting was amazingly well done in the first place. Alas this momentum was squandered later on when Sting was booked to lose in seconds to the debuting Rob Van Dam and then absolutely beat the tar out of him in retribution. The Impact regulars were left utterly deflated by this very strange exercise in introducing your so-called ?new company ace? and chanted for Van Dam in vain. Though RVD exacted vengeance (of a sort) on the following Impact with a beat down of his own, this was still an exercise in counterproductive booking. This was essentially an angle, and as such Sting should have been booked to call out Hogan, batter him, and then have RVD make the save. Ego overruled logic in this instance.
The fact that TNA would even use possible jailbird Jeff Hardy fails to inspire confidence. He treated TNA with almost complete contempt five years ago and though he has become arguably the most consistently popular performer in the business, he faces the very real prospect of doing time sooner rather than later. He is therefore (and at best) a short-term fillip. If TNA had any confidence in his continued presence ? let alone commitment ? to TNA then the AJ/Hardy match from the previous Impact would have been a PPV main event.
The honest truth is TNA Wrestling possesses numerous qualities necessary to achieve genuine success. It has a wonderful array of talent, across the board, that sincerely want to perform and triumph, and in Dixie Carter an owner who genuinely cares. The Knockouts division is the finest of it’s type anywhere in wrestling today and there’s no reason whatsoever why the Motor City Machineguns and Generation ME can?t become the modern day equivalent of Edge and Christian and The Hardy Boys and carry a truly phenomenal tag scene to even greater heights. Add to this the still peerless gifts of Kurt Angle and valuable veterans such as Mick Foley and Jeff Jarrett, plus all the names mentioned earlier (and the returning Samoa Joe) and the ingredients are all there. What’s the problem then? Put simply, the Hulk Hogan vanity show.
Hulk Hogan has accepted his position in TNA because of his financial problems (stemming from his high profile divorce) and need for endless ego gratification. The first few Hogan/Bischoff shows worked in part because of an exercise in restraint that utilised quite marvellously the credibility and standing of Hogan and Bischoff within professional wrestling. Hogan as ?Sheriff? and Bischoff as the cunning strategist made for compelling scenarios that added to the TNA product as a whole and bred intrigue. This restraint has since been dispensed with amidst Hogan’s insatiable need to be the star of the show. Everywhere you looked (prior to the March 8th Impact) you were bombarded with the image of Hulk Hogan (not TNA Champion AJ Styles) as the face of TNA. This was a predictable and uninspiring tactic that has shattered the myth that Hulk can draw outside of the carefully managed WWE machine and weakened his position within the group.
When you get down to it, TNA has not really changed fundamentally in the three months Hogan and Bischoff have been running the show, yet at their behest TNA has well and truly gone for broke. A few cosmetic upgrades and pushes for the unworthy (or the ancient) has generally been the theme. Mercifully, Hogan/Bischoff have not meddled with the sound mechanics that were already in place, but then neither did the much-maligned Vince Russo.
Hogan and Bischoff were brought in to establish a strong and clear creative direction and, after a surprisingly strong start, that direction now extends to building the show around an increasingly useless parade of veterans (including themselves); a man who is quite likely destined to spend his next couple of Christmases behind bars and a glorified hardcore jabroni. This does not inspire confidence to say the least. I ? and everyone else ? will give them time because the wrestling business desperately craves their success. Unsurprisingly then, all we have at this point is hope, longing and conjecture. Here’s hoping, boys and girls.
Daniel R. Browne.