Total Nonstop Uncertainty, Part 01
Having dedicated my Wrestleview birth pangs to the ebb and flow of WWE, I thought it high time I had a gander at Vince McMahon’s so called competition, the absurdly named Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, or TNA for short. Now, before we begin I am aware of the hoopla surrounding the release of details concerning the most positive revenue growth in TNA’s near seven year history. I sincerely congratulate them. Despite my all-round cynicism and often facetious mode of address, I retain very high hopes that a genuinely credible alternative to WWE will emerge, for the good of the business. TNA (new figures and all) isn’t there yet. I’m not out to stoke the fires of markdom in any fan, but the relevant truth is simple and easy to understand: TNA, for all the graft and phenomenal acts of escapology circa 2002-2004, enjoys the luxury of opposition status by default; less through its own ingenuity.
Were it not for the deep, giving and fantastically ignorant pockets of Panda Energy, TNA would not have made it past 2005. Right now, Impact on Spike TV draws numbers that tickle the dangling tootsies of Sci-Fi’s hateful interpretation of ECW. It’s no secret where the Slum of Extreme resides on the list of priorities for WWE (To quote the Great One’s parlance: Rock Bottom) Whilst some may interpret any encroachment on WWE ratings as progress, credible opposition must extend to credible competition. Occasionally vexing the non-existent momentum of the WWE C-Brand is scant indication of upward mobility. The dreaded truth of the matter is without the enormous licensing fees paid by the Spike network to TNA (which enabled the company to run in the black for the first time last year) those same deep pockets that saved the Jarrett’s from oblivion a few years back would have slammed shut or run dry. If Spike TV pulls the plug on TNA in the near future, then Dixie Carter-Salinas boasts and Kurt Angle’s delusion of self-sufficiency and prosperity will be exposed as the precarious house of cards they most certainly are, and all those conditional, highly-leveraged, “positive” statistics will dwindle and fade very quickly
Compounding my burgeoning sense of uncertainty concerning TNA is the presence of an individual who to this day inspires outright vitriol in the hearts and minds of all long time wrestling fans. A man who’s arrogant chest thumping and mark-driven, scatter gun penmanship damaged WCW beyond all repair. The man who actually tried to destroy Ric Flair: The one and only Vince Russo. I witnessed first hand Russo’s “genius” and have thus cast my eyes over inquests, dissection and eulogies as pertains to the once mighty WCW. No apologist will ever justify what this man was allowed to do in the name of competition, and his shrill, bombastic plagiarism belongs in the 1990’s, when Vince McMahon was able to filter the inanity in order to enhance his own product in what was then a contemporary fashion. Without an editor of the intelligence and personal diligence of Vinny Mac, Russo is like some unhinged storm of sex, outrage and downright bizarre jiggery-pokery.
You only have to look at the proliferation of increasingly wacky gimmicks and gimmick matches in TNA since the inception of the Russo era; the stupendously crap “Last Rites” match between Sting and Abyss (featuring gimmicked tombstones, coffins, drawing pins and the obligatory “Fire Russo” Chants) immediately springs to mind. Or, how about the mind-blowingly rubbish “electrocution” cage match between the Dudley, sorry, Team 3-D and LAX; memorable only for the sight of Devon feigning electrocution by impersonating a goldfish with a vibrator up it’s rectum. To add insult to injury the production crew got the timing wrong on several occasions, ergo the subsequent Zeus-like lightning bolts exposed wrestling in a way a million bad John Cena punches couldn’t hope to achieve.
Since Vince Russo was handed the book, the in-ring product of TNA has declined sharply, whilst the number of ex-WWE cronies and veterans has sharply increased, alongside the potty personae (Only TNA would market a kid’s character as Suicide) and degradation of logic. Some of you may recall Russo’s decision to turn WCW superhero Bill Goldberg babyface in June 2000. One of the most sanctimonious, po-faced pros in the business, Goldberg hated the idea from the start. Russo convinced him it would be like Hogan in ’96 all over again. In reality, the turn bombed in an atomic fashion, and Bill was back playing face in three months. Vince Russo later admitted why he turned Goldberg heel. For the shock of it. Because no one expected it. It didn’t matter that no one wanted to boo Goldberg, and that no plans had been drawn up (let alone implemented) as to how best utilise their new found monster heel. Rhyme and reason just inconvenience the master plan. Its the reason people don’t debate the demise of WCW anymore. The reasons are there, rammed down your throat every time you watch an old WCW tape.
The Vince Russo Modus Operandi is summed up in two words: Shock Value. Russo is right to see wrestling and wrestling fans as fickle, but wrong to think escapism and realism are mutually exclusive. Why do you think certain people spend good money on building a cradle, installing a car seat and buying an expensive steering wheel and brake set just to stare at a TV screen displaying a video game? It’s not complicated. They want to experience the fantastic in a real-world context. It’s the same reason soap-operas exist; the need to live life vicariously through someone else’s eyes. Wrestling distilled to it’s essence is very similar: An exciting morality tale of good against evil told in an episodic fashion, evoking real-world sensibilities and motivations. This concept has always been alien to Vince Russo, hence why he turns wrestlers from good to bad at a blurring speed and loads his cards with gimmick after trick after angle. Its why an announcer used a real-world reference to turn himself into a make-believe scoundrel, distorting the lines between fact and fiction. Vince Russo has never grasped the fundamental simplicity of wrestling, trying instead to blitz the mind with a dazzling array of acts and colours, none of which is memorable. Every time a character, whom a fan has been raised to care for, is pointlessly turned without explanation or emotional transition, his or her value is diminished. Why care when the next minute the person you care about has beaten up his best friend just because you didn’t expect it. Of course you didn’t. Things like require time in order to have an impact. Done capriciously, without the the proper care and consideration, it comes across as crass and cheap. Vince Russo in a nutshell.
My concern for TNA is real and fancy figures, in tandem with self-congratulatory, daft-as-a-brush drivel should not dissuade the keen and the true. A little later on I’ll consider further the good and the bad of wrestling’s “organization in opposition”. Until then, I’ll let all you boys and girls ponder the Vince Russo conundrum. God knows some of us have been, for what feels the journey from twinkle in the milkman’s eye all the way to valhalla. Until next time.
Daniel R. Browne.
For those who might have noticed, I haven’t forgotten my promise regarding Triple H and those twenty facts. Anyone who wants them only has to email and ask. However, for the rest of you I’ve decided a drip feed is more appropriate. One a week until I get bored, starting from now. Please feel free to ask any questions. I always look forward to them. Ta for now.
In 2003 WWE began a classic Rocky-style push and build up for former WCW headliner Booker T. This process included a particularly unpleasant promo where Triple H rubbished the significance of the WCW Title (Despite it being of the same lineage as the NWA title Triple H once so worshipped when worn by the likes of Harley Race and Ric Flair) and played the so called “Race Card” (“People like you don’t get to be champion, book”.) Having gone all the way, bringing up Booker’s criminal past and difficult upbringing, it was imperative the underdog tale be taken to its logical conclusion i.e. a Booker T babyface championship win at Wrestlemania, as has been tradition since the event’s inauguration. Alas, on the night, Hunter went over clean in a one-sided contest after one partially blocked pedigree and a twenty second delay between delivery and count. Booker, the man who had overcome prison, indigence and colour was felled by a pre-match caving session, one pedigree and fifteen minutes. To add insult to injury, the feud was binned and Booker had to wait another two years before finally being granted a title run. For me, there’s not been a more blatantly selfish act of character assassination perpetrated by one professional against another for quite some time in wrestling. Triple H strikes again.