In what could be considered the professional wrestling industry’s personal take on “The Great Disappointment”, the second coming of the Monday Night Wars is already at an end. To be fair, it was always highly unlikely that the bellicose duo of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff would successfully steer TNA Wrestling to dominance on Monday nights. The invasion attempt has been a costly and ultimately futile exercise. Furthermore, it has damaged the perception of credibility – something TNA only loosely maintained – prior to the company’s move to the so-called “natural home” of televised wrestling.
In all fairness, this writer chose his large heart over his even larger brain in attempting to remain optimistic in the face of almost certain failure. I felt the move to Mondays was both bold and a febrile proving crowd for the company’s long-term potential. So it proved, although not in the manner TNA had hoped. Head-to-head, TNA Impact was obliterated by that old warhorse Monday Night Raw, and after a paltry two months the initially enthusiastic Hulkster – and his paymasters at Spike TV – have scuttled back whence they came to the perceived security of Thursday nights.
Dixie Carter has put a typically brazen and hyperbolic spin on what is a genuine blow to the standing of TNA. Nevertheless, if TNA successfully regroups and makes the most of it’s unopposed timeslot and potential new programming, then the future may yet be bright for the only hope the business has for genuine competition. I have no doubt Vince McMahon will have chortled to himself with an almost nuclear smugness upon hearing the news of the move, but whatever humiliation is experienced by this failure should be taken on the chin and TNA must now forge ahead; onwards and upwards, as they say. Disposing of Vince Russo and his inept lieutenants is an efficient start. With their number one patsy now removed and their bold, Monday night stratagem repulsed, Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff require urgend and immediate progress to ultimately avoid a similar fate.
Your writer and others have stated it countless times, but TNA needs to immediately shed the counter-productive “ex-WWE Superstars” image. High-profile pushes for the likes of Shannon Moore and Orlando Jordan – both of whom failed dismally to make an impression in WWE – illustrates this point fully. TNA has at least seen sense with Moore and placed him in a tag-team. Given the abundance of underutilised talent in the TNA tag ranks, the gifted Moore is now well placed to serve a purpose. As for Jordan: he wrestles like a WWE mid-carder and his interview skills and personality are a figment of Eric Bischoff’s depraved imagination. His vulgar and exploitative bisexual gimmick is an insult to the notion of wrestling as a modern and progressive industry; not that anyone with a brain would accuse the wrestling industry of being so enlightened.
A great deal was uttered by yours truly last week concerning Rob Van Dam and at the risk of repeating myself, the now ex-Mr. Monday Night is by no means the magical personality destined to whisk TNA directly into prominence. His eye-catching stunts aside, RVD is criminally overrated as a champion independent of ECW, and is yet another ex-WWE star who is nigh-on forty and renowned for his self-centred view of both wrestling and the world at large. Given his grandstanding and endless posturing prior to joining TNA, it is little wonder the long-suffering AJ Styles grumbled when asked to arbitrarily terminate his perfectly acceptable title reign. Styles has lost a lot of momentum in recent weeks, as TNA pushed his erstwhile mentor Ric Flair’s interminable conflict with Abyss to centre stage. I truly love Ric Flair, but his every foray into the ring circa 2010 is a crushing embarrassment that betrays everything Slick Ric once stood for.
One of the more compelling rumours concerning the future direction of TNA pertains to the “Hustler” obliquely referred to at the end of last week’s column: Paul Heyman. According to industry scuttlebutt, Dixie Carter would jump at the opportunity to add Heyman to her creative brain trust, and why wouldn’t she? Though frequently undermined during his WWE tenure, the fertile imagination of Paul Heyman still produced numerous grand ideas. It was Heyman’s nous that propelled Smackdown to the status of “most entertaining show in wrestling” from 2002 through to 2004. In that same period, Heyman resurrected his “Paul E. Dangerously” persona (sans the name) and played a vitally important role in the rise of Brock Lesnar to bona fide box-office attraction. Oh, and we probably shouldn’t forget that Heyman was the creative force behind a little group called “ECW”, which revolutionised the whole of the industry in the mid-nineties. No doubt about it: Heyman’s CV holds up to considerable scrutiny.
This being wrestling, nothing is so straightforward. Heyman has many, many enemies in the business, and very few rank higher than the Ted Turner-financed “scourge of ECW”, Eric Bischoff. I’m sure numerous parties will be tempted to argue they managed to coexist at one time under the WWE umbrella, but the truth is slightly more complicated. Eric Bischoff was never afforded any creative power in WWE and was stationed on a separate programme to Heyman; hence they would scarcely encounter one another, let alone interact. In TNA, they would be in each other’s faces constantly, and that is folly. Given Heyman’s combative tendencies and Easy E’s legendary stubbornness, the potential for internal combustion is considerable. Though potentially entertaining, said incandescence would be of no use to TNA Wrestling.
Given the sheer number of ex-ECW employees on the books of TNA, talk has been rife of TNA starting an “Extreme” faction. Any reference to “ECW” – in part or whole – is impossible, given the notorious fact that WWE owns the name, brand and video library lock, stock and barrel. Far from an unassailable problem, this might actually benefit TNA. Shorn of the letters “ECW”, the group would be automatically disassociated from the hateful “WWECW” brand that so maligned the once proud name of ECW. Ordinary fans would then be drawn to the intensity of the storyline, and long-term fans would naturally be aware of who the invaders were and what they still purport to represent. In conventional language, that’s known as turning a frown upside down.
The participation of Paul Heyman is an absolute pre-requisite to this notion taking flight. A vengeful, verboten and unrelenting Paul E. as leader of an embittered and authentically violent troupe, bent on the destruction of TNA wrestling, has enormous potential. It’s nothing short of spine tingling to consider the promo content of an unhinged Heyman, as he rips TNA – and WWE – a new back passage. It would be the gang-warfare that so floats Eric Bischoff’s boat, and the authentic, outsiders’ invasion that so wasn’t the Main Event Mafia. Wrestling purists and veterans such as Jeff Jarrett, Kurt Angle, Ric Flair and (maybe) Hulk Hogan would find themselves aligned with the cream of TNA Wrestling’s young crop in a turf war that could make TNA a very interesting wrestling company once again. Sadly, as far as TNA is concerned, the reality of tomorrow and the promise of a brighter future are so often mutually exclusive. As always, time will tell us all.
Daniel R. Browne.