I can still recall the peculiarly mixed sensation that befell me upon hearing both Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff proclaim Chris “Abyss” Parks as a “major superstar in the making”. My reaction was something between bewilderment and intense amusement. With some three decades worth of experience between them, surely Messrs. Hogan and Bischoff had some concept of what makes a (so-called) superstar “super”.
The Abyss character has been kicking around TNA for seven years; oscillating between an uninspired Mankind tribute and some of the worst soap opera this side of the Corporate Ministry (another Vince Russo creation). Aside from a quite phenomenal pain threshold, at no point in his tenure has Parks’ alter ego looked like legitimate star material. That is, until Hulk Hogan took one look at the TNA roster and concluded – like the man who taught him everything he knows – size matters above all.
It’s hard to articulate just how stupid (and disrespectful) the Hogan/Abyss mentor saga really was. TNA wasted a rub from Hogan on a man who had no chance of running with such a push, and built Abyss’ new gimmick around Hogan’s apparent immortality. Astoundingly, that wasn’t the worst of it, oh no: The Pièce de résistance was undoubtedly all the attention lavished on the WWE Hall Of Fame ring. That TNA would willingly promote – celebrate, even – iconography directly associated with its so-called direct rival, is truly and utterly astonishing. That this risible saga (which eventually “evolved” to encompass Ric Flair) died on its arse is a rare instance of true justice in professional wrestling.
Hogan and Bischoff may have endorsed Abyss, but the man himself was predictably incapable of carrying the can. The hardcore TNA fans are genuinely fond of him, as they are of many longstanding characters, but he is not championship material. His best work has come in psychotic hardcore environments and not the main event bracket, and the matches pitting AJ Styles against Abyss were a significant letdown after the splendour of Styles’ encounters with the likes of Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and the incomparable Kurt Angle. Fans quickly tired of their silly feud and Abyss was back in his natural territory i.e. the mid card, quick sharpish.
Sadly, Abyss has been returned to top-level prominence on the back of the forthcoming arrival of the TNA-ECW faction. It’s far too early to know if wrestling’s latest attempt to pilfer the legacy of ECW will be any more successful than WWECW or the sympathy for Shane Douglas brigade. What is clear though, is Abyss seems much more at home playing the basket case with a penchant for claret than he does a cuddly, yellow and red monster. His association with the faction is yet to be revealed, besides which it’s largely irrelevant anyway – the larger point of this boiler room melodrama is to provide Hulk Hogan with an opponent come Bound For Glory.
The Abyss mega push has always been about Hulk Hogan. Hulk was supposed to go “Hollywood” on Abyss during the original Monday Night Impact, but the heel gig went to a still-befuddled Sting instead. Hogan and Abyss went the mentor route, and you just know Hogan will book Abyss to tear through all manner of young, hungry and capable athletes before he decides Hulkamania is the only force capable of stopping the fallen Monster. Judging by the amount of offence Hogan has thus far allowed himself in his showdowns with Abyss, an egotistical, broken-down, perma-tanned sixty year old is a more effective weapon than half the TNA locker room. Isn’t it amusing how the more things change, the more they stay the same?
In truth, Abyss is but one part of the larger problem for TNA. Creatively, the company is beyond lackluster and whilst Hogan is involved, beyond redemption. In the seven months the Hogan/Bischoff axis has been in control, they have presided over the demise of both the Knockouts and X division, and severely damaged the likes of Samoa Joe and “Nature Boy” AJ Styles. They have handed the main event scene to a collection of ancient and/or unmotivated ex-WWE stars and, most damningly of all, they have eroded the already precarious individuality of TNA. The move to Mondays was bold but always doomed to failure, and right now Dixie Carter had better hope old Paulie is up for the challenge of attempting to rescue the group before it drowns in a sea of recycled ideas and blood red ink.
If, as has been rumoured, pro wrestling’s original “evil genius” Paul Heyman does indeed arrive and is handed the keys to the TNA castle, certain things need to change immediately. For starters, TNA needs to become a group with a clearly defined identity. The grand plan of the Hogan/Bischoff regime has seemingly been to inhabit the space vacated by the now PG-13 WWE. As of this moment, TNA is essentially a low-rent facsimile of WWE circa 2005, with none of the emphasis on athleticism and youthful verve that typified the company previously. Heyman (or whoever) will need to excise the veterans and rebuild TNA around a smaller, tighter budget and a hungry, diverse and authentically unique roster. The restrictions imposed on WWE performers means TNA can proffer a more aggressive, hard-hitting and risqué approach to its product that might – if executed successfully – rediscover the spontaneity and dynamism of a bygone era.
Even if Heyman declines what is virtually mission: impossible, it is time for Dixie Carter to take a long, hard look at the TNA product. Prior to inviting the remaining killers of WCW to join their existing TNA brethren, the group was making very limited headway. The product wasn’t consistent and there were still numerous, malingering veterans. Despite these truths, the company was still something of a rough diamond. Lots of hungry youngsters, meaningful championship belts and passionately loyal fans are all bedrocks of a successful promotion. TNA Wrestling had all of these things and, most importantly of all, was operating in the black.
In seven months the waters of hope have been further muddied and the group is losing money hand over fist. Professional wrestling needs TNA to, at the very least, survive. The likes of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff (and Kevin Nash, for that matter) have long outstayed their collective welcome and the time has come for a new, revolutionary dawn. To quote the late, great Owen Hart: “Enough is enough, and it’s time for a change!” Amen, boys and girls.
Daniel R. Browne.