TNA – How has it come to this?
I came to TNA later than most people I suspect, indeed to give you a little history so that you know where I am coming from, I watched the WWE first of all in the 1980’s, then I lost touch with it due to it not being on UK Television at a time I could follow or it was not on at all then I rediscovered it in 1999 when I got the full Sky Package.
Instantly I was transfixed by these larger than life characters and the colour and the craziness of it all, what hooked me in besides my natural enjoyment of wrestling? It was different to anything else I watched on TV and that also applied to both WCW and of course ECW which were running at the time.
When both WCW and ECW became no more then like others I watched just the WWE until one day probably about 3 years or so ago now I was channel flicking one night as you do and I came across wrestling which was not WWE, the fact that it was wrestling would have hooked me anyway but what really grabbed me was the six sided ring, the competitors and the incredible moves that they were doing (x division) and the rabid crowd.
I very quickly became hooked on what I learnt to be TNA recognising former WWE names such as The Dudley’s and Kurt Angle and others, contrary to belief of a lot of people that actually added credibility to the product for me and also it helped me to want to watch it as I was curious as to what they were like since leaving WWE.
As the months wore on I realised that I was enjoying TNA more than WWE with it’s more exciting matches, it’s livelier crowd, it’s zanier moments, bear in mind this was a particulary dull time in the WWE unlike now and at that point in time I think that it was absolutely fair to describe TNA as having the better roster or at the very least making better use of their roster.
Then the news broke of Hulk Hogan joining, at first I was excited, Hulk was a childhood hero of mine so like with anybody I don’t think that you ever fully shake off the warm feeling you have to your childhood hero’s but then I observed people on various forums criticising this move by TNA saying that it was going to take away the essence of what TNA was all about.
On the first show under the ‘new regime’ we saw of course besides The Hulkster himself the likes of Eric Bischoff and Rick Flair and Jeff Hardy and painfully The Nasty Boys, we also had an incarnation of Val Venis (cannot even remember the character’s name but I do remember both the character and the wrestling style being incredibly dull).
As the weeks wore on we were ‘blessed’ to have the reincarnation of the NWO, in some ways this might have worked if they had combined the old blood with some new blood but no we had just some of the originals, doing the same old thing but the difference now was that these were old men, they were doing nothing new, they were copying a formula from 10-15 years back to the letter and sadly that is what TNA has become by and large, some kind of a nod to the ultimately failed WCW.
There was a brief resurgence of the old ECW as well. we had the tribute show which I did enjoy and I felt it was well done but it should have been left there, instead we ended up with a number of guys again well past their sell by date signed up to wrestle on a regular basis, luckily the folly of that call was seen unusually early by TNA standards.
The worst element of the time though was the loss of the six sided ring and the decimation of the X Division, yes I know that they still technically possess one and that they still have the annual Destination X show but X Division matches in a six sided ring using the unusual and original angles created by such a ring created in turn original and breathtaking matches which you did not see anywhere else so it made it an identifiable product which differientated itself from WWE and others and even now a few years on the Destination X is often the most eagerly anticipated TNA event of the year and that is because TNA attracted a niche audience for it’s product.
I guess that having an exciting and original product catering to a decently sized niche audience (around 3 million people per week globally) was not enough though and so the dismantling of an exciting and fresh and young product began and it re-emerged as, well the same as the WWE but with a roster where the talented young guys who put on such breathtaking matches being gradually replaced by much older and less mobile ‘names’ who previously had appearing in WWE and were now at the tail end of their careers and had found a reasonably well paid retirement home in TNA, so the previously thrilling multi man matches with bodies flying everywhere doing moves that you never saw elsewhere with the crowd going totally nuts for it was now replaced by a ‘more mature’ product as I once heard Hogan describe it as which apparently was what TNA required to gain credence and to grow particulary internationally.
So now instead of anywhere between 4 and 8 terrific and hungry talented young competitors producing high speed original moves we had standard singles matches between a couple of 40 something year old’s who were already past their prime and as such knew it so had also lost the edge hunger wise and therefore were producing matches of a far slower pace which had absolutely no originality in them and typically were played out to near silence in ‘The Impact Zone’.
The tag team division (remember the sequence of matches between Generation Me and Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money were simply stuff to salivate about) was destroyed with guys either leaving the company or split up into singles wrestlers.
Even the Knock Out division which was way beyond The Diva’s from WWE for enjoyable viewing as well as length and quality of match was slowly torn apart.
Many people slate WWE for their product being PG but people barely seem to realise that TNA is not a PG product because let’s face it when do they take advantage of the added creative freedom that permits them,yes you get the odd hardcore match which can boil onto a level which is rarely seen these days in the WWE, I do not expect nor want them to produce bloodbaths every single week but they could go harder on the storylines and cater to that audience which has supposedly been turned away from Pro Wrestling due to the WWE’s child friendly product.
Initiatives which I supported have come and gone, little touches such as the restoration of The Television Title and the pledge to have it defended on TV every week did not last long.
The Gut Check was a disaster partly as it was known with at least some of the characters winning it were already in OVW (TNA’s training ground) so therefore pretty much already in TNA and then of course the winners were barely if ever in some cases seen again until they got released so what the hell??
Open Fight Night lost me very early on, I think that possibly the first couple of Open Fight Night’s kind of worked but after that it was a joke, surely if it truly was an Open Fight Night then each time the first match up would always be the main title, the fact that you have a locker room full of wrestlers all of whom should want that title more than they want their tea, yet hardly an Open Fight Night passed with anybody actually challenging the champion, why not?
I do respect TNA for trying to be different on these occasions but the execution was shit rag poor.
A common theme amongst this is TNA displaying hardly any business acumen whatsoever, the decision to go on the road for a fan was exciting, new arena’s, new fan’s surely this would re-invigorate the product, not really and it has cost the promotion apparently hundreds of thousands of dollars which they did not have – did they not do their math before making the decision to go onto the road??
The way that TNA have gone is like me opening up a garage selling Porsche’s in the same town where there is a large national franchise selling Porsche’s, I would never be able to compete, the already established monolith would be capable of obtaining superior models at a cheaper price than I could bring to the table and they would be far better equipped to offer various support packages such as warranties than I could manage, why? they are established, they possess the trust, the reputation and the big bucks so I would be an absolute fool to attempt to replicate what they do but on a smaller scale with inferior models, only one way that would end up for me and that is where TNA are currently heading.
I find it incredible that in some respects TNA is behaving like (with respect) a small indy promotion in terms of their business planning, small indy promotions have legitimate reasons as to why they may make poor business decisions, they are often ran by one person in their spare time who in reality has no experience or training in the business world but a global corporation such as TNA with it’s global television contracts and the multi billion dollar oil company backing it is making such rank bad decisions which have ended up costing it immense sums of money that surely somebody there has to carry the can?
So what for the future? Should TNA just give up? After all they are likely to require several years of further trading to recoup the sums of money they are leaking left, right and centre, their reputation is in absolute tatters, with the talent recently released, the associated bad press particulary with the release of Jesse Sorenson,the fact that many hardened wrestling fans openly mock TNA all means that if they do continue the scale of the task in terms of turning it around is monstrous.
Does wrestling need TNA? I absolutely feel that wrestling does need a ‘second’ promotion, realistically it is going to be extremely difficult for anybody to compete with the WWE, it is not just about finances, some people claim that if the company behind TNA pulls its full financial muscle it has the ability to financially outmuscle WWE, that I do not know the facts about but it is the reputation that is so important.
Whether a revitalised TNA or AN Other promotion had an incredibly wealthy and determined backer to the point where they were offering financial inducements to the John Cena’s and CM Punk’s of the world to leave WWE and join their promotion I honestly still think that it is unlikely that they would do such is the glowing reputation WWE has and the sultry one by pretty much all other tried and failed at being major promotions have.
One aspect of TNA which fans who continually openly mock it appear to be blind to is that if you study your history of wrestling you will learn that the commonly agreed golden periods have been when there has been serious competition to WWWE/WWF/WWE, it forces them to up their game and produce an ever better product, when they have no competition or no meaningful competition then they can complacently dominate the wrestling market almost irrespective of what their actual quality of weekly output is and we saw the evidence of that between around 2005 and 2012 where for large parts of that seven year period WWE was almost dormant in terms of developing it’s product and it’s new character’s relying heavily upon the same main eventers and being forced to resort to ageing part timers to headline the main PPV’s due to having failed to develop sufficiently from their own current talent pool new guys who could main event say Wrestlemania, whilst they are clearly addressing that now with success it does emphasise the point I am making, do you really feel that WWE would have acted so lazily if they had a strong second promotion challenging them for the top draw on TV?
Realistically though I do not feel that TNA can ever reach WWE’s level in America in terms of Television Rating’s, crowds, PPV Income, Merchandise Sales and the like but what TNA absolutely can do and in my book should focus strongly upon doing is to develop their own product which if they did it correctly would prove to be a profitable venture and a popular one with fans, here is my suggestion:-
Allow Hulk Hogan’s contract to expire, he has clearly failed to elevate TNA to the levels they hoped, any talk even now from the likes of Dixie Carter that Hogan has raised the profile of TNA is sorry to say absolute tripe, TV ratings in America are down by between 10 and 15% now compared to the pre-Hogan days, how is that raising the profile? It is universally agreed that the in ring product is vastly inferior now to the pre-Hogan days and that TNA have lost their way, their identity and most of their money.
I would sit down with all of the key decision makers of TNA and I would say to each and every one of them forget WWE, forget all about them, allow them to do their thing it is not relevant to us, we need to create a product which will attract those people who still love wrestling but who have tired of the WWE PG stuff and who have also lost interest in our stuff, we need something new,fresh, innovative, exciting, something which will be TNA’s own and when people turn on they instantly know that it is TNA.
I would suggest putting show’s on in smaller arenas to save costs and to shoot only live shows to avoid the spoilers and also burnout from the crowd who have been there for about 6 hours when shooting shows back to back – you make the crowd drained, it affects the wrestlers and comes across poorly on TV so look for arena’s which hold between 3000 and 5000 people and again to save costs look to shoot a whole month’s worth from the same state but across four different arena’s, America is such a vast land it can lend itself to this suggestion and the saving in costs with the constant transportation and also the improvement in the perception of the product with all of it being live and the destruction of spoilers will all aid, Smackdown always gets less viewers than RAW, a number of reasons but one is perception, another is one is live, the other is not and spoilers play their part so avoid the Smackdown syndrome and keep it live.
I would forget all about employing former WWE guys as ‘names’ it clearly does not help TNA either to grow or to attract new viewers, that formula has been tried and has failed so instead I would look to make TNA the King Of The Indy’s, I would look globally at the indy scene and do my utmost to recruit as many of the top indy guys as is possible but again to try and save costs and also to keep it fresh I would not look to take them all on permanent contracts, yes you run a risk of losing them to WWE but WWE is so stacked with talent right now including in development that there is a limit as to how many more they can take on so look across the States and the leading lights in ROH, CZW and so on, look across Europe at the Tommy End’s of this world and of course the UK talent, look into Mexico at the many flying luchadors and pick out some of the best, move into Japan and assess leading talent there and bring them in and then having recruited rotate, so you use some guys on short term contracts such as 3 to 6 months, if somebody is particulary getting over you still possess the option to give them a full time contract but this way it works for TNA as they are having to make less financial commitment and it works for the talent as they are being showcased on television and it would produce all kinds of incredible matches and storylines most of which would be totally original and fresh and the rotation would mean you would not end up watching the same matches over and over again as is currently the case in TNA.
You would be guaranteed top quality in ring action if you hand picking the top guys, even the top indy guys would cost considerably less to bring in then ageing former WWE guys, the indy guys would be hungry and most of them are well rounded from hundreds if not thousands of matches on the indy circuit so bring a strong all round game to the table including mic work.
I would absolutely return to the six sided ring, I would have X Division absolutely loaded with multi men matches on most of the shows, I would have a hardcore title to emphasise that this is no PG product and really capitalise upon the potential for matches there, I would have a tag team division with some of the world’s best team’s in there, imagine the best of Japan against a team of the best luchadors from Mexico?
I would have my heavyweight title but my heavyweights would not be as sizeable as they are in WWE, I would focus more upon guys who yes are big and powerful but who can also move, I would also be constantly looking to develop new match types or to use ancient rarely used today match types.
I would do a similar format with my knockout division recruiting leading ladies from around the world and I would ensure that they were given strong storylines and decent opportunites to actually wrestle.
I would make it a storyline heavy promotion but without reverting to long winded promo’s at the expense of high quality matches, cut them short, use them enthusiastically and also make use of modern technology, use graphical representations relevant to the feud with appropriate backing music, always emphasises much more the drama of the feud.
I would also commence and conclude each show with a short discussion panel of prominent wrestling media related people both building and reviewing the show and follow it up with a magazine program which would be live and last for an hour where people discuss the show just finished and in particular the direction of the storylines and ponder on what might happen next, you could also include some profiles and interviews on this as well.
For a potential roster and I know that there are many variants upon this but just for the men’s division how does this sound to you?
Mad Man Manson
Motor City Machine Guns
Half a dozen of the leading luchadors from Mexico
Would a combination of a number of those at any time in unique match types in a six sided ring make you watch?
In reality Hulk Hogan’s contract does look like it will expire and given the amount of times that WWE has mentioned Hogan of late I suspect that he will be heading ‘home’ this will free up sizeable funds but will TNA use it to replenish a depleted roster or to deal with debt, I obviously am not ofe with their financial details but I just hope that they do realise that being WWE mark 2 does not work and that innovation is the key and that they hold the courage to move forwards on that otherwise in time TNA will become a loss leader that their funders will tire of carrying and then TNA shall be no more and the wrestling world will be the poorer for it and there will be less opportunity’s for the wrestlers themselves on the indy circuit to break out of that and into the big time so come on TNA sort it out!