It is with a considerable amount of pride and no small degree of pleasure that I bring you the 52nd iteration of this column. Although ?the fifty? tends to be the more classical landmark, I have elected to honour fifty-two, as it represents the first full calendar year of my weekly column on Wrestleview.com. It has been an honour to have this opportunity, and I thank all those who have made it possible. They have my gratitude in full.
Over the course of my inaugural year I have received correspondence from a wide variety of wrestling fans. Many of you have written to praise me for a particular point or piece (and if I haven?t said it already, thank you very much!) At least one lady has routinely contacted me with a detailed dissection of my arguments and as such, could be considered my number one fan or critic, depending on your point of view. You know who you are and regardless of whether I?ve agreed or disagreed with you over the last year, thank you for caring enough to keep getting in touch.
Getting down to business, it’s been a peculiar seven days in the world of mainstream professional wrestling. The abominable WWE version of ECW was unceremoniously booted off the airwaves this week after a less than stellar lifespan. Long time readers of this column will be aware of my rather deep-seated antipathy towards the brand, owing to the damage it wrought on the name and legacy of the original ECW. It goes without saying that I?m not sorry to see it gone. I thought it was a fitting summation of just how irrelevant ?WWECW? had become that WWE saw fit to terminate Christian’s classy ECW championship reign in favour of Bad News Allen wannabe Ezekiel Jackson. Far from being impressed and hopeful for the champ’s future, I?ll be amazed if Jackson has a job a year from now. As title switches go, it was a thoroughly pointless exercise.
WWE has slowly started to reveal aspects of just what the ECW replacement concept – WWE-NXT – is intended to be. It’s clearly a radical (by WWE standards) idea that is somewhat akin to UFC Ultimate Fighter, yet in adherence to kayfabe. The mentoring aspect is intriguing and could lead to some amusing car crash moments, but the structure of the show itself is of some concern. How precisely does the NXT roster progress with their mentors in storytelling and matches? Will there be an NXT championship belt? All these are questions I?m certain will be answered by WWE in due course.
Now I?m sure many of you were left bemused by the new moniker assigned to the former Brian Danielson; henceforth known as Daniel Bryan. For the record this perplexes me to, as does the sight of a ten-year veteran being portrayed as a rookie by the utterly clueless WWE. If that wasn?t foolish enough, Bryan’s mentor will be none other than The Miz. Very, very bizarre and potentially fatal for the once super-serious Danielson, who?ll have to really go some to recover his reputation after he’s subjected to the holier than thou WWE sermons and browbeating, he?ll doubtless undergo on a weekly basis on NXT. I obviously haven?t seen a second of the new show but already my hopes are not exactly stratospheric. I sincerely hope I?m wrong. With an untried champion and a major feud that may not even yield a match (Hart/McMahon) not to mention the impending departure of two legends (?Taker/Shawn) these are compelling (yet testing) times for WWE.
The worst kept secret in professional wrestling was blown wide open this week when the powers-that-be in TNA, Hulk Hogan and Dixie Carter, revealed to the world that Impact has been transferred to Monday nights, head-to-head with WWE Raw. This is a rather brassy move that is an essential moment in the hopeful progression of mainstream pro wrestling. Wrestling fans can but hope that the Hogan/Bischoff approach can continue to build interest in TNA and allow the league to become legitimately competitive.
Given the historical evidence and general pessimism of the average wrestling fan, hopes were not high for the future creative direction of TNA under Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. Sure enough, the names and faces that appeared on the Australian Hulkamania tour quickly made their introductions in TNA. The immediate prominence afforded the likes of washed up old boys Hall, Waltman and Nash (naturally) bred only uncertainty, and the peculiar treatment of TNA Original Samoa Joe hardly inspired optimism. Nevertheless, the approach was quite often entertaining and seemed to be succeeding where it mattered (the ratings).
The Hogan/Bischoff ?good cop, bad cop? routine has been very convincing thus far. Hogan has been accepted immediately in the role of ‘sheriff?, and Easy E is as delightfully smarmy as ever. Their curiously wavering personae and aggressive implementation of their ideas and plans has created an air of intrigue that TNA has long lacked in the authority department. Couple this with a fine thread of WCW-style traditionalism, the clever new ranking system and (gasp) booking conservatism and thus far, the approach has steadied the TNA ship and created an air of optimism.
It has only taken Hogan a couple of months to renege on his stated intent not to wrestle and, shock horror, his return will coincide with that of Ric Flair. As much as I love Flair, neither he nor Hogan should be anywhere near a wrestling ring at their respective ages and physical conditions. It concerns me that the never-ending conflict between Hogan and Flair will be prioritised over the TNA Champion (AJ Styles) and the rest of the roster. The talk of Hogan turning heel on his newfound comrade Abyss only muddies the water further, as does the new ?Bischoff Army?. This seems to confirm Bischoff’s full-blown transformation into an evil heel authority figure. I?m undeniably concerned yet suitably intrigued by the potential of these developments and where ?Hollywood? Hulk Hogan fits into all this. We shall have to see.
The next steps for TNA are crucial. Perseverance will be the major requirement in the coming months, as TNA must press hard and consistently to gain traction on Monday nights. Wrestling fans are ready to embrace a new direction, but the veterans and occasionally risqu? ideas of Eric Bischoff must be logically conceived and serve a purpose greater than shock value. They must also be married to the existing traditions of TNA. This will hopefully yield a modern yet familiar product that attracts old and new fans alike. If this happens, TNA may yet grow to become legitimately competitive. After a surprisingly strong and restrained start, now is the time.
As we approach Wrestlemania season, the speculation starts now. Elimination Chamber will serve to set the final table for ?Mania and as we hurtle towards that date, in 2010 the names Hogan, Flair, Michaels, Hart and Undertaker are yet again the names in the frame. For some reason, this writer is left slightly unnerved by that truth?
Thanks for reading, dear friends
Daniel R. Browne.