Rarely do two opposing forces meet without causing a chaotic storm. Yet, Josh Boutwell (TNA iMPACT Recapper, Viva La Raza! Columnist) and David Stephens (RAW Recapper, That’s a Wrap Columnist, Co-Host of ‘The Teachers Lounge’) have managed just that, because there comes a time when even enemies must stand together.
David Stephens: I have to admit that as the RAW Recapper, I tend to have a particular bias towards the WWE. That being said, I recently came across a blog which highlighted some points I see on a daily basis. Truthfully, I felt very disheartened. Now, word to the wise, it is a terrible idea to read a blog written by your boss (Hunter Golden) and decide to refute it. However, it is worth noting that it is not just his words that I found offensive, but rather the general mentality towards those who enjoy the TNA product. In the eyes of an ever increasing number of internet fans, if you watch the show you are an idiot and a dullard. God forbid if you actually enjoy it. If that’s the case you might as well grab a fistful of pills because it is obvious that you are going nowhere. Are you kidding me? That’s an atrocious and demeaning stance to take. Come on, really? Instead of immediately dismissing the product and its fans, let’s take a look at the positives in TNA Wrestling.
Josh Boutwell: First off, it’s not the same. People whined and cried about wanting an alternative to the WWE after WCW and ECW were bought out. TNA is that alternative. Whether you like them or not, TNA is that alternative. The X-Division has been and always will be my first response when someone asks why it’s different. Now, the X-Division as of recent has been put on the back burner but hopefully with the push of guys like the Guns & Generation Me that won’t be for much longer. Some call it ‘acrobats’ and just plain ‘awful’, but its DIFFERENT than what you see everywhere else. It’s exactly what TNA’s name is, Total Nonstop Action. High flying, counter wrestling, and big moves. And then, there’s tag team wrestling. Tag Teams have always been a big part of TNA from the incredible feuds between America’s Most Wanted and Triple-X, or L.A.X. and AJ Styles & Christopher Daniels, or Team 3D and AMW, or to the more recent amazing Beer Money-Machine Guns feud. There is still a ton of fans that love tag teams and TNA gives those fans that fill of great tag team wrestling.
David Stephens: I’d argue that it isn’t even as cut and dry as saying that TNA is an alternative to WWE. There are literally hundreds of promotions all across the country and worldwide. To say that TNA is just an alternative over simplifies their product. If over a million people a week are tuning in to TNA simply because it is an “alternative”, then why hasn’t another promotion been successful? Why can’t ROH get bigger TV deals? Why did ECW fail so quickly and pathetically? Don’t even start with me on that topic. I’m referring to the highly disappointing TV run on what was then TNN which TNA has crushed both in viewers and longevity. Yes, TNA has a better timeslot than ECW had, BUT certainly not at first. They have it now, because they earned it. Let us not forget the fact that TNA started out not as a weekly TV show, but rather as a weekly PPV. Are you kidding me? The fact that they were brave of enough to attempt such a gimmick is only second in craziness to the fact that it actually worked. Josh, I like the fact that you point out that it isn’t just the “old” TNA which was strong, but even the current product has it’s very strong motivating factors for viewers.
Josh Boutwell: I agree 110%, Dave. TNA worked it’s way up from a weekly PPV to the horrendous Friday afternoon time slot on the even more horrendous Fox Sports Net. It was so horrible that I had to actually set my VCR every week (no DVR back then, baby!) just to catch it because it was off by the time I got home from school (still in high school back then). Then, they decide not to renew their deal with Fox Sports instead to hunt for another TV deal. All the while having absolutely no TV time and just a simple weekly internet show to sell their PPV. It went like this for a full month all while certain ‘journalists’ (like the king of the jackasses Bryan Alverez) said they wouldn’t even last those 30 days to get a new deal. They sign the deal with Spike TV and work their way up from a horrible late Saturday night time slot into prime time and then from one hour to two hours and the Thursday night time slot of course. Despite those that don’t want to give them their credit and say “they just have a rich owner that can keep putting money in”, TNA has made it through all the struggles and while companies like XWF, WSX, etc. have come and gone TNA still stands. With over 1.5 (usually) million viewers each week for Impact the “nobody cares, nobody watches” view point by morons just doesn’t fly. TNA has, from the start, brought uniqueness (sometimes bad) back to wrestling. From the invention of the amazing Ultimate X Match to the very unique King of the Mountain Match or bringing back Wargames style matches with Lethal Lockdown. The very first ever all-Steel Cage PPV (which is easily the most fun PPV of the year for me) or the introduction to America of the six-sided ring. Even, the bad with things like Elevation X. For a company that people claim “only steal things or rehash old things” (and I have said they do it at times too much) they sure have created their own uniqueness as well. TNA has it’s fans, and yes they need to continue to grow, but they have proven they’re here to stay whether you like it or not.
David Stephens: OMG! You said you agree 110%! Well that’s like totally not possible man! You can’t be more than 100%! What’s wrong with you?!?
Sorry, had to get that out of the way because people who say those idiotic things are the ones that we are dealing with on this issue. I think we have done a pretty decent job of laying out the framework of TNA’s past. I’m so tired of people saying that TNA was just created by money marks and those past their prime. Has there ever been a promotion that wasn’t? VKM is one of the biggest marks on the planet. And there is NOTHING wrong with that. Why would you ever want a company run by those which didn’t have a passion for the product? That’s such a ridiculous argument to make against TNA. So, let’s move forward to the current incarnation available Thursday nights on Spike TV.
Josh Boutwell: Exactly, and before we go any further I have to say this. If you hate the current product, whether the storylines, the wrestlers, the booking, whatever then that is fine. My problem with these certain people is the ones that hate it just hate. Don’t bother watching the show, just say it’s ‘awful’ to be cool. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. That’s why there is a ‘channel up and channel down’ buttons on your remote control people. Moving on to our current situation. I’ll start with the Tag Team Division which is banging right now. Starting with that excellent (and feud of the year in my opinion) program that just went down between Beer Money and the Motor City Machine Guns (the two best tag teams in wrestling, period). Now The Guns are moving on to Generation Me, another unbelievable athletic and talented young tag team. A possible heel turn after their beat down of Shelley at “No Surrender” could mean they’re going to pull out some personality from these two to go along with the great wrestling. Also, don’t forget Team 3D, F.B.I. (if they’re going to stick around which I doubt), the new London Brawling, and of course Beer Money are still here as well. The other two major things going on in TNA right now would be Fourtune vs. EV2 and who in the hell is Abyss’ “They”? Everyone and their mamma thought it was Fourtune but Abyss said explicitly that is not the case and we will find out 10-10-10 (Bound for Glory). I have my theories (Paul Heyman, James Mitchell, and even Bischoff himself) but regardless this thing has people talking because no one really knows who it’s going to be, which doesn’t happen often these days in wrestling. I’ve been excited about Fortune since it’s started and with the additions of Douglas Williams and Matt Morgan it gets more intriguing. People have complaining about the ECW guys getting so much shine here but I don’t mind it because guys like Sabu, Raven, Dreamer (surprisingly since I’ve always hated the guy), FBI, etc. can still go! Not only that, now Dave’s buddy Kendrick is getting a rub with the EV2 guys and the Fourtune guys are going over. How awesome did AJ Styles look in damn near ripping Dreamer’s eye out at No Surrender? This thing, to me, can and is adding a little edge to ‘pretty boy’ AJ that hasn’t been there before. I said on Sunday during the PPV we hadn’t seen AJ get that physical or passionate in a blood feud. You can also see where AJ is coming from with being pissed at these outsiders coming into AJ and it comes out in the feud. Kudos to Dreamer for stepping his game up to. There are fun things going on in TNA right now. The Beautiful People vs. Beautiful People feud has been fun and should get even more fun heading into BFG. The X-Division has got to get more shine and is one of my biggest problems with TNA right now. Give Amazing Red the ball and let him run with it. And I still haven’t even talked about the World Title picture! We just saw a Match of the Year candidate (yep, I said it Hunter) between Kurt and Hardy and The Pope is still the man!
David Stephens: You started to touch on something which I really, really like. People tend to get far too smarky when it comes to wrestling nowadays. Guess what, I don’t give a crap what happened in Japan 20 years ago. All that matters, is today. See here is the thing, the wrestling media elite may appreciate those types of stories and matches, but the truth is that the vast majority of fans haven’t the slightest clue as to what they are referring. See, that’s the beauty of professional wrestling. Far too often people look down on it for its carnival roots, but to me that has always been one of its most redeeming values. Wrestling has historically been more about the personalities than the actual wrestling in the ring. TNA has taken a risk by focusing more on the “Total Non-Stop Action” elements of the product. It is a risk because historically it just hasn’t worked. The WWE would be nothing without the characters that made it so strong. You have a company such as TNA which comes on your Television screen and shouts out the fact that there may be angles and characters, but at the end of the day it is all about the action in the ring. The bulk of wrestling fans don’t know how to react because they haven’t seen pro-wrestling presented in this manner before. They scratch their heads trying to figure out whether or not they are supposed to cheer, because they haven’t seen a crotch crop yet. The genius in pairing the likes of an Eric Bischoff with a Vince Russo and an AJ Styles is the transformation we have seen in the product over the past several months. For instance, they have AJ Styles, a wrestler who for better or worse is simply an amazing wrestler. But that’s it. No one knew a thing about the guy other than that he could go into the ring and make a joke out of every competitor he faced. Russo & Bischoff have worked him into stories where AJ now has a character and voice. The AJ of today is far better than the AJ of 2003. The crazy ability is still there, but now so too is a strong foundation of character & substance. This is the challenge TNA faces by changing directions, but one that will be successful. It’s important to not fall into the 1999 mentality of viewing wrestling by 15 minute segment ratings, but instead by allowing it to grow. It’s been less than a year since Dixie Carter took the company in this new direction. The change will take years, but it will be successful if allowed the time it requires.
Josh Boutwell: And again I pretty much agree with everything said. Touching on AJ was definitely something that needs to be said. If you look at anything about AJ Styles from 8 years ago, whether on the mic or in the ring, and then look at the man that some call the best wrestling in the world today, it’s two VERY different people. Back then AJ Styles was athletically phenomenal (see what I did there) and there was no one out like him. He threw a million things at you in the ring and it captivating the audience whether it was crazy Suplex into Backbreaker combos or Springboard Shooting Star Presses or the million variations of planchas and dives or his signature moves like the Spiral Tap and the Styles Clash. When it came time to get on the mic it got ugly. He was forced and just flat out uncomfortable. The man that stands in front of the camera today is confident, brash, and passionate on the microphone but that’s not where it stops. In the ring AJ has slowed himself down (probably good for his body as well), he still throws out the incredible moves we knew him for, but now he knows where to place them and when not to do them at all. When’s the last time you saw the Spiral Tap? Exactly, and the next time you see it you’ll go “OH DAMN THE SPIRAL TAP, WE HAVEN’T SEEN THAT IN YEARS!” just like the last time you saw him pull it out. The same goes for the Springboard 450 Splash, he pulls it out more often than the Spiral Tap but it still seems like a big deal when he hits it, making it that more special when someone kicks out of it as well. Now, all of this didn’t happen immediately when Russo and Bischoff paired him with Ric Flair (though it sure as helped). It started when TNA years ago put him with Christian and then Kurt Angle and got to watch and learn from those two veterans in and out of the ring. And it continues today with the greatest wrestler of all time (Ric Flair). People always complain about character development in TNA (and again there’s not enough) but AJ is not one of those that someone can complain about. There are also other great characters emerging in TNA now, new and old. From The Pope (my favorite right now) to Mr. Anderson down to Sabin and Shelley showing more character as babyfaces down to Generation Me now and the best heel team in wrestling, Beer Money. It will take time but it’s getting there.
David Stephens: I think we are both trying to articulate is the fact that people need to give the product time. Now granted, it has been around for 8 years, but compared to the monstrosity that is the WWE, it’s a baby. You simply can’t flip over to Spike TV and expect to find a show on the same level as WWE RAW. Actually, “level” is the right word because that immediately implies that the product is inferior, which is not a fair stance to take. What I mean is that from a production standpoint, TNA is simply not able to compete. The fortune that Panda Energy is willing to spend on the company pales in comparison to the fortune of Vince McMahon. To be honest the fact that TNA looks as good as it does on a weekly basis is pretty damn impressive. Let’s face it, fans are sometimes more into the fire that accompanies Kane than the actual match itself. TNA just cannot afford those types of expenditures, which brings us back to the importance of the actual wrestling. Sure, the argument can be made that TNA has spent a lot of money in the past year on guys such as Hogan, Bischoff, Mr. Anderson, RVD and Jeff Hardy. But they did so as a calculated risk. Did all of them pay off? Probably not, but that’s why it is called a RISK. I’m willing to get out on a limb and say that there is credence to the fact that extra attention was given to the company after the acquisition of guys such as Hogan. I know of many people that have seen an episode of TNA solely because they heard Hulk Hogan was on it. Did they keep all of them as fans? No. But if one out of four non-viewers start watching the product, hell, one out of ten non-viewers start watching the product, then your viewership will increase and the risk would have been well worth the gamble.
People are quick to point out a dip in the ratings for TNA between 2009 and today, but they seem to forget about the fact that ALL WWE shows have also seen a dip in ratings during that same time period. The average rating for an iMPACT broadcast in 2009 was a 1.14, in 2010 they have so far averaged 1.03. Seems pretty bad, until you realize that in that same period RAW has fallen from a 3.54 to a 3.38; Smackdown has fallen from a 1.94 to a 1.84, ECW/NXT has fallen from a 1.15 to a 0.96; and poor Superstars has fallen from a 1.14 to a 0.74! Could it be that maybe TNA isn’t the one struggling…but rather we are experiencing a general depression in wrestling viewership? Dare I put on my thinking cap and consider such bold ideas??
Josh Boutwell: Time is what it’s all about and honestly the fact that wrestling fans as a whole are so impatient (I mean back in the day, we had feuds that went on for over year, now if one goes over 4 months people are bored) and people want a company that is going to make WWE sweat in the way that WCW did, ignoring that WCW was around LONG before they ever gave WWE even close to a run for it’s money. Like you said, TNA has been around for a little over 8 years. Compared to 60+ years of the WWE. Hell, even Ring of Honor is technically older than TNA (granted only by a few months). And as far as all the money spent on stars this year, it was a risk most definitely for a guy like Jeff Hardy (with all of his legal troubles) as well as Hogan and Bischoff (due to all the horror stories about them backstage). I too have had people tell me that they heard Ric Flair or Jeff Hardy or RVD was on TNA and checked it out. Some said, “I didn’t like it” while others would point out seeing this person or that person and thinking they were cool. That’s what that was about. Hogan most definitely did not do what TNA hoped and prayed he would do and that’s make TNA a factor with the WWE immediately, but let’s be honest Hogan is as irrelevant in wrestling today as he’s ever been.
Granted all of this TNA defending going on here, I know TNA has problems (as any promotion does). The major problem with TNA Wrestling in my opinion is the advertising and marketing. The fact of the matter is that there is just not enough people STILL that know about TNA. Some major marketing overhaul has to be done. You rarely see a commercial outside of Spike TV hyping up Impact or hear a advertisement for a house show on the radio. They have the internet game down pat, now it’s time to promote outside of the internet more. Billboards, posters, flyers, whatever has to be done.
David Stephens: I think that is an appropriate note that wrap up this first edition of Josh & Dave’s RAW iMPACT. Will there be more? Don’t be surprised if these two opposing forces unite again in the future. Until then, thanks for reading. I hope we gave even the direst TNA haters something to marinade on for the time being.