Words from the World of Wrestling (#20): TNA and Wrestlemania
By Benjamin D. Hagen; bhagen516@gmail.com

Last month, I praised CM Punk and Rey Mysterio for what remains my favorite match of the year: a fantastic television match from the 2/12 edition of Smackdown.

In addition to praising this match, I also predicted that Punk’s new ?creepy? turn in this Straight Edge gimmick would prove to have lasting legs and that it would become one of the best dimensions of Smackdown’s brand. Given the amount of air time WWE devoted to this feud on the 3/12 edition of Smackdown (exactly one month later!), I hate to say: I told you so.

For all the doubt that Punk’s early title reigns generated, his character development since his title loss to the Undertaker last October has offered his best promo work. While his independent wrestling days might have seen him develop a sharper delivery, none of that work touches the moment we saw last Friday: interrupting a birthday song for Rey Mysterio’s little girl. What an amazing moment! From the slow walk to the ring, to the progression toward Mysterio while he cut his promo, to the slap, to the extended birthday song that haunted Mysterio and his family up the aisle, Punk hit everything, delivering the best heel promo this year (which says a lot, I think). Whether you?re a fan or not, I think it’s safe to say that Punk’s job is more than safe, and he’s managed to make himself into an important facet of the Smackdown roster, whether he’s champion any time soon or not.

If Edge wins at Wrestlemania . . . yeah.

I would also like to point out that Luke Gallows is awesome. I loved his early matches against Koslov (when he was still Festus), but this week’s match against Kane, while far from a ?classic? and far from ?memorable,? showed so much promise. I hope they keep this guy around. He’s far more interesting than their Intercontinental Champion.

Following up on my TNA analysis, however, I think I have to take back some of what I said. Last month’s TNA PPV was really promising, I thought. Hogan kept his appearance to a minimum; Bischoff had a great backstage segment with Joe; they had an exciting series of short matches to determine a #1 contender; etc. There were certainly some embarrassing moments, but I can?t help but feel that that PPV was a step in the right direction.

While I would like to stay positive in my column this year, commenting on things that I like, I think I have to express a bit of disappointment (mostly because I expressed hope last month).

(negative feelings)

Now that they?ve gone to Monday night, viewers can?t get away from Hogan or Bischoff. Even as each segment emphasizes that Hogan is not there to ?take over? or to ?wrestle,? a great deal of airtime (too much airtime) is devoted to trying to make those emphases clear. While I don?t think that TNA is beyond repair, they really need to get their act together and to decide what Bischoff’s role actually is: he’s in a feud with Jarrett, with Foley, potentially with Hogan, initially with Abyss, wants to ?push? the X-Division (what evidence have we seen of this?), with Flair/Styles, etc. In each of these feuds, from segment to segment, he goes from trying to rile up the crowd as a face (making a triple threat X-Division title match on the 3/8 show) to arbitrarily relagating Jeff Jarrett to ?referee? to taking up airtime with a ?hair cut? that no one cares about.

Bischoff is a great on-screen character, but TNA needs to make up its mind concerning how to use him. Let’s have one feud at a time, please.

And don?t get me started on the HOF ring of power. While I find it hilarious that Abyss ?hulked up? and did the ?you!? Hogan-point at the end of Impact, I can?t help but feel that I?m not supposed to be laughing. I?m supposed to be excited, and that’s just not happening. You know how you get Abyss over? You make him murder people. You Vader-ize him. You don?t give him the ?power of the Hulkamaniacs.? For the love of God . . .

(end of negative feelings)

Regardless of the poor ratings TNA has been getting on Monday night, I still think they can sort things out. They have one hell of a roster, and?with the right balance?Hogan and Bischoff and company can still help the company garner higher ratings. I like that they want to put on ?good? shows, and I really think they can, but as long as Wrestlemania is around the corner, that show and the energy that surrounds it will be hard to overcome.

Speaking of this energy, I can?t remember feeling this excited about a Wrestlemania in a while. I?ve enjoyed the last several Wrestlemanias for their own individual qualities, but none of the match-ups quite intrigued me the way this year’s does. From a simple fandom viewpoint, who wouldn?t want to see Bret Hart climb back into the ring? For all the doubts that might surround how well his fight with Vince will come out, I can?t help but feel excited at the prospect, and it strikes me as uncanny that Bret’s presence on WWE television has managed, within only two months, to feel ?normal,? erasing thirteen years of absence and about nine years of being inactive in the ring.

Tack on the stellar WWE Title match between Cena and Batista (a rematch of their great encounter from the 2008 SummerSlam event) and what has amounted to a fun feud between Jericho and Edge (even if it can?t match the other title bout in star power), and we already have a Wrestlemania with more intrigue than many of its predecessors. As much as I didn?t really want to see Undertaker and Michaels again, the writers have changed my mind. With so much on the line, they have transformed a feud that couldn?t possibly live up to the bar they set last year into something that might not have to. With the ?No Disqualification/No Count Out? rule, I expect that we?ll see a much different match, one that will end with Taker’s Death’s Gate submission.

Regardless of criticisms of Michaels, regardless of criticisms surrounding the insistence on a return match, regardless of criticisms of their match last year (which I disagree with for the most part), I admire the precision and the deliberateness with which WWE laid the foundation for Wrestlemania this year and the careful way they?ve gone about giving each match its own build-up. I know a few wrestlers have been left off the card . . . but I?m sure they?ll find a way to include them.

If anything, this year’s list of matches should emphasize just how strong WWE’s upper and mid cards are in 2010. I don?t think it’s been this strong since 2000 . . .

Until next month, my lovelies.