Here's What I Think: TNA's "Aces and Eights" Faction vs. the NWO
Occasionally, I like to just sit down and write what I think about something in pro wrestling. I'll randomly pick out a subject and throw my thoughts at it in "editorial" format. Feel free to comment - as there are no right or wrong answers.
Remember the 1990’s WCW? We saw a faction emerge called the New World Order (NWO) that wanted to overtake WCW. They had a strong heel leader in Hollywood Hulk Hogan who held the World Heavyweight Championship, coupled with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in secondary roles. X-Pac led a group of mid-card players that joined the faction.
WCW needed a savior. That came primarily in the form of one man – Sting. He went from the blonde charismatic surfer dude to a dark, Crow-like character who would rappel down from the rafters, pull out a black baseball bat, and chase off the NWO when they would attack WCW.
You don’t remember all of that? Perhaps you should have turned on iMPACT on Thursday night for your refresher course.
We have a faction that has emerged in Aces and Eights. Their strong heel leader, Bully Ray, holds the World Heavyweight Championship. His long-time tag team partner Devon holds a secondary role along with Mr. Anderson. DOC (formerly Luke Gallows) and Knux (formerly Mike Knox) lead a contingent of mid to undercard talent that has joined up. And they’re out to destroy TNA.
TNA needs a savior. It seems like that man will be AJ Styles, sort of. He’s gone from charismatic, clean shaven, and colorful to a beard-wearing, darker, brooding man who stands at a distance and watches. Much like Sting did in his initial return in the Crow gimmick, he stands with a brooding, solemn look as he watches the goings on and says very little, if anything. And much like when Sting returned, both sides are looking for an answer from AJ Styles as to where he stands.
Seeing the parallels yet?
I admit that there isn’t much that’s new when it comes to storylines in wrestling. There are a lot of “copycat” storylines from the past that get recycled and tweaked to provide a more current frame of reference. And when well executed, I really don’t take issue with it as it can provide for entertaining viewing and matches with a satisfying payoff. My problem is that Aces, or NWO 3.0, just has not been handled consistently well.
For the first nine months, Aces was not presented as a legitimate threat. They would get the upper hand in gang-style beat downs, but would lose key matches that made them look weak. Then came the big turn – Bully Ray revealed himself as president in a shocking moment at Lockdown. Bully picked up the World Heavyweight Championship and Aces began to pick up speed, not only getting the upper hand in beat-downs but also getting key wins.
Thursday night, at least for this viewer, it started to jump the shark again. At the end of the show, Bully called out Hulk Hogan, threatening to end Hulkamania. Hulk got the upper hand on him, only to have Bully bail and have the gang join him as backup. Before the gang could attack though, the lights went out and help arrived.
Sting. And a baseball bat. And the gang scattered after a few bat shots.
So here’s what I think:
First, TNA lost me here by having a pair of senior citizens chase off their “hot” heel faction. Hogan and Sting combined are around 110 years old. Hogan is unable to wrestle due to the numerous surgeries he has been through. Sting can still hit his “signature spots” and move around, but he is at a stage where he should be a featured attraction like Undertaker, not a major player in a main-event angle.
Next, where did AJ Styles disappear to? At the beginning of the night, AJ appeared in the crowd and with Bad Influence’s plea to reunite Fortune it seemed his place in the story might come into more focus. But instead, he got shoved right off the picture when Aces destroyed Joseph Park. By the end of the night, he was forgotten. If the plan is to make AJ the “savior,” why was he not involved in that main event segment angle?
Third, how does TNA pay off this angle at present if they keep it focused around Hulk Hogan and Sting? How does Hulk or Sting become any more “over” as a result of this focus? If anything, Hogan and Sting are overexposed, and they don’t draw like they once did. The answer, in my mind, is that Hogan and Sting need to be “bit players” in this angle. Guys like Styles, Storm, Daniels, Kazarian, etc., should be the guys that TNA should rely on to carry this story. Especially now that TNA is expanding its reach by being on the road and broadcasting live, these are the guys that can become even more popular among viewers, and perhaps draw more viewers who aren’t familiar with the product.
I am not declaring that the Aces and Eights storyline will be the thing that buries TNA once and for all, just as the NWO story was not what ultimately undid WCW and brought it to an end. However, they’re missing an opportunity in utilizing a similar past storyline to put over the right talents and build for their future.