This is part two of a multi-part series discussing the progress that TNA Wrestling has made over their ten-plus year existence. This time, we look at the two most fundamental items of any promotion - the talent and booking - to see how they've affected the company's growth. As always, feel free to comment either here or on Twitter.
So we started by giving TNA credit for what they have accomplished in yesterday’s piece. But as I mentioned, TNA is behind the curve. Why is that? Let’s start with two key elements of any wrestling promotion and see where TNA stacks up.
I don’t think one can fault the talent that TNA has assembled over time. Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Bobby Roode, James Storm, Gail Kim, Kharma (known then as Awesome Kong), and a host of others have all graced the TNA ring at some point. All of these people are known as good workers, have held championships, and brought something to the table to build around.
Along the way, TNA has added bigger free agent names, like Kurt Angle and Christian (who since has returned to WWE) that have added to the visibility of the product. Angle’s work ethic – that admittedly works against him at times – surely rubbed off to some of the other more home grown talent.
Like any promotion, celebrity spots have happened in TNA. We saw former NFL defensive player Adam “PacMan” Jones play a role for a short time. Jenna Morasca, a winner of the “Survivor” reality show, worked quite possibly the worst match of all time against Queen Sharmell at Victory Road in 2009. Fortunately, none of these folks were made champion as was David Arquette in WCW’s final days. Did their involvement hinder the company? It’s debatable, but I say no.
Two glaring issues that stand out with regard to TNA’s talent and the progression of the promotion is its depth and utilization. I won’t address either topic in full in this piece, but there is no “future” on the TNA roster right now and I question how some guys are used.
From the depth perspective, the future is essentially non-existent. Aside from Magnus, there’s no real up-and-comer to get excited about for the future. Who will step in when the 36-year old AJ Styles moves on, or leaves wrestling? Who is going to be the next star when Kurt Angle finally hangs up the boots from a Hall of Fame career? Those questions are unanswered right now.
I also question the utilization. Many of TNA's originals have been left behind for talent that came over from WWE. Bully Ray has done a great job in his role and is in prime position to put someone over at Bound for Glory if they choose to go that route. But Sting and Kurt Angle have been on top for so long while others are "just short." That leads me into my next topic.
Down through the years, TNA has gotten booking decisions right, and they’ve gotten them wrong. This is true of every major wrestling promotion – not everything is a home run. This is the first big issue that I can put my finger on that has placed TNA behind the curve in its development though and that starts with one man: Vince Russo.
Vince Russo takes a lot of heat from Internet fans along with his share of love. He earned his stripes in WWE, working on the creative team during the Attitude Era. In those days, Russo had a filter in Vince McMahon. As a result, Vince Russo was party to a revival in WWE that broke the 84-week ratings losing streak to WCW, and it made him a hot commodity in terms of booking and writing.
Did his WWE success make Vince Russo look like a better booker than he truly was? The point can be argued that it did given his work in WCW where he didn’t have the filter, which ended up falling flat. I look at the early decisions of TNA booking when he arrived in 2002 and it seems that Vince Russo just wasn’t the confident booker that is needed in a growing promotion.
Russo’s “crash TV” style ended up failing in WCW without the filter of Vince McMahon, and it didn’t work in TNA because he lacked that same strong wrestling mind to filter him. The lack of confident booking really hurt. I could run through the list of examples but most fans are familiar with them and they are an article to themselves.
In frustration, fans chanted “Fire Russo!” at pay per views and television tapings. One has to wonder if perhaps those fans have gotten frustrated and turned away. That equates into lost revenue through low ratings (advertiser dollars) and pay per view buys. Lost revenue turns into money that cannot be invested back into the product in some way, and played a part in setting the company back.
Dixie Carter thought she would move the needle in 2009 though, bringing in a wrestling mind to help. That mind was none other than the Immortal One, Hulk Hogan. Hogan brought a whole lot of name recognition along with him given his status in the industry. TNA needed a big-time player and they certainly got it. I won’t dispute that Hogan probably forgot more about the business than I know.
Here’s the Hogan problem though in terms of booking. TNA quickly became the Hulk Hogan Show, and to some extent still is. The “Immortal” angle where Hogan “took over control of the company” took center stage for most of 2010. The current story between Aces and Eights and the Main Event Mafia centers primarily around an issue between the World Heavyweight Champion, Bully Ray, and who? Hulk Hogan.
If you’re going to utilize someone of the stature of Hulk Hogan in an angle, the goal should be to get younger talent over in some way. Hogan isn’t able to wrestle any longer, so he would have to be able to do that with promo work. That hasn’t really happened, I’m sorry to say.
I can’t recall any new talent really being put over from the “Immortal” faction war. And the payoff of that war for control of TNA was between two men who between them at the time were a combined 110 years old. And arguably, the only young talent that truly is worthy of being put over in the Aces and Eights angle is Magnus. Fortunately, it appears he is getting his opportunity to shine right now.
Hogan’s role has diminished of late and many speculate that he may be next in line to pack his bags and walk away from the company when his contract expires due to budget cuts. Time will tell if that happens or not, but it could be a good thing for TNA. His presence hasn’t moved the needle nearly as much as Dixie Carter may have hoped, and it does not appear to have helped get TNA, and its younger talent, over any further with mainstream fans.
In the next installment, I want to analyze the problem of “business synergy” between Bellator and TNA. While certainly more recent than most, I believe the decision that was made in this regard has not helped the product. Stay with me, and I hope you’re enjoying the read. Be sure to comment and share!