Like virtually all professional wrestling fans, I am sincerely hopeful that Dixie Carter and TNA Wrestling will not come to regret abandoning the safe haven of Thursdays in the sun for the potentially treacherous dreams of Monday night prime-time. Many a pro-WWE ?fan? (or ?Mark?, as they are more commonly known) has already denounced the move as tantamount to booking one’s own suicide party. This rather dreary prognostication may turn out to be one hundred percent accurate, but even the zealots in John Cena t-shirts should know better than to long for the premature demise of any potential rival to Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment’s vice-like grip on mainstream pro-wrestling.
Despite the usual guarantees of uncertainty, dissemination and rampant self-aggrandising, most fans welcomed the arrival of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff to TNA. Such positivity speaks much more to the failures of Vince Russo than it does the potential impact of Easy E and the Immortal One. Under Russo’s spasmodic penmanship, TNA had increasingly sunk under a river of gimmicks, insider indulgence and utter nonsense. Though the boys (and gals) invariably grafted, the pillock with the pencil never failed to render such efforts moot. It was assumed then, that nothing could be worse than Russo and his bulbous cohort Ed Ferrara.
Since seizing control amidst much fanfare in early January, Hogan and Bischoff have rung the changes. Out went the six-sided ring and soap opera Impact shows. In their place came a regular squared circle and a return to the classic WCW Nitro format of intense chatter and short, decisive matches featuring name players. It must be said, the early results were more impressive than anticipated. Naturally, TNA was suddenly saddled with several new performers of limited stature (Orlando Jordan, Sean Morley etc.) desperate veterans (The Band) and the high-flying, deeply religious world champion inexplicably donned an ill-fitting suit, turned heel and started impersonating his new mentor ? Ric Flair ? very badly indeed. However, the X-Division stayed strong, the women were given appropriate focus and the various pushed acts generally warranted the attention.
It’s clear that Bischoff and the Hulkster have their favourites. Newcomer Ken ?Mr.? Anderson is a marvel on the microphone but a bore in the ring. To give the man his due, he is beginning to grasp the fact that the Impact regulars demand more for their money than a ten minute headlock. The former Elijah Burke, ?The Pope? D?Angelo Dinero, has an intriguing gimmick, oodles of charisma and decent ring skills. Anyway you slice it, witnessing either of these two men in any capacity makes for a far more entertaining prospect than watching Sheamus kill a crowd stone-dead on Raw.
Kurt Angle has found himself temporarily lowered in the pecking order but his majestic grappling skills, salary and stature ensure this will be only a temporary state of affairs. Despite his numerous injuries and propensity for verbal incontinence, TNA still needs Kurt Angle. Certainly Ric Flair will, when he manufactures an excuse to wrestle him at some point over the coming year. This just leaves the man both Hogan and Bischoff apparently believe is a hot prospect and potentially the TNA ?Ace?: Abyss.
I happen to like the Abyss character and the zany fella behind the mask, but the limited and over-exposed ?Monster? is most likely unworthy of the embellishment he is now receiving on a weekly basis as Hulk Hogan’s padawan. I?m sure WWE appreciated the free plug for its Hall of Fame and Hogan’s bizarre, melodramatic and egotistical overstatement of the relevance of his rather ghastly HOF ring. Watching Abyss flouncing about like a badly-dressed Ming the Merciless wannabe left this writer rather bemused.
Naturally, this interminable nonsense was used as the foundation for the debut of Monday Night Impact and a tag match featuring Abyss and AJ Styles. Oh, and the small matter of a barely mobile Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, making their TNA in-ring debuts as the respective partners. Dixie Carter even purchased a Times Square billboard to hype the show and Hogan’s return to televised combat.
On the night, hopes were high that TNA would blow them all away and ignite a spanking new Monday Night War. TNA pushed the boat out again with a brand new theme and WWE-like pyrotechnics. Interestingly, the heavily hyped Hogan/Abyss versus Flair/AJ match opened the show. The sight of Hulk hobbling prior to executing his trademark poses did not fill this writer with glee. Ric Flair looked marvellous, until he removed his robe and did his absurd backdrop spot, which gets worse every time he does the damn thing. Flair is credible and occasionally brilliant in his new mentor role. The illusion is shattered by the flabby, wrinkly and breathless OAP who stumbles around the ring like a drunken wedding singer. Hogan did very little here, except fall over ? awkwardly – on cue. The match was a shambles waiting to happen that was little more than a set-up for the return of the enigma that is Sting.
The mindset of Steve Borden is seldom predictable. Despite being the founder (and leader) of the Main Event Mafia, Borden felt morally unable to associate the Sting character with the regular group beatings the MEM inflicted on its hapless victims. Juxtapose this attitude then, with the leering and violently irrational Sting who remerged on March 8th and embarked on a killer heel turn. Battering Hogan and Abyss with his trusty black bat, Sting left them easy pray to a pair of AJ/Flair chair shots.
Sting then trudged off and was confronted by an outraged Dixie Carter. Demanding answers, the southern belle instead found herself throat first against a wall as the apparently psychotic Sting refused to provide an explanation. I?m at a loss as to how to explain Borden’s sudden willingness to vigorously embrace the dark side, but I certainly approve. This was the best heel turn in years.
The industry scuttlebutt pointed to a Hogan heel turn; nixed at the last minute, owing to the cat having escaped the bag. It’s uncertain just what direction TNA would have proceeded in had ?Hollywood? returned on March 8th. Given the utterly dilapidated state of his body, it is difficult to believe Hogan planned on resuming physical activities in any capacity beyond a one-off performance. We are talking about Hulk Hogan, however, so anything was (and is) possible. Truth be told, a full-blown heel Sting is, in the short-term, a much more exciting proposition. Alas, at a time when TNA really needs long-term focus, March 8th was all about the moment?
In next week’s piece, I will conclude my overview of what precisely TNA accomplished during it’s Monday night debut, and I?ll analyse where TNA is headed going forward, taking into account the highs and lows of week two of ?Monday Night Wars? mark two. You see, even I can be hopelessly optimistic when I put my mind to it.
Until next week,
Daniel R. Browne.