Guest Editorials GUEST EDITORIAL: TNA's Legacy - Helping Future Wrestling Promotions Avoid The Same Mistakes
Aug 23, 2014 - 9:51:06 AM
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Guest Editorial: TNA's Legacy - Helping Future Promoters Avoid The Same Mistakes
By Gavin Duenas (@GavinDuenas), PWTorch reader
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News has come through this week that TNA Impact's future on Spike TV has been secured until the end of 2014. While only a temporary reprieve, I have a feeling that a long-term deal will eventually be struck, whether with Spike or somebody else. However, in my opinion, if TNA does go out of business it would be a good thing for the wrestling industry, and the fate the promotion has deserved for most of its existence.
The continued survival of TNA has provided a lesson that is wholly damaging; that you can consistently run a company poorly - doing almost everything wrong on a Creative level - and yet stay in business.
I will not take any pleasure from seeing any of TNA's employees lose their jobs. Well, maybe a couple of people, but certainly not the wrestlers who work so hard to entertain their audience, or the people like Jeremy Borash who live and breathe TNA and have given everything to help it succeed. Thankfully, the wrestling industry always has a place for people with talent; the independent scene can be lucrative, while companies like Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA certainly welcome good workers.
My feelings about TNA are in no way based on any personal prejudice against the promotion itself; there are a lot of things that TNA should be praised for as a company. Sadly, their wrestling product is not, and rarely has been, one of those things. The promotional aspect is rotting and has been rotting for years. I've said it before: TNA is wrestling done wrong. Not only done wrong, but done wrong over and over and over again.
Wrong to be preoccupied with everything other than putting on a coherent wrestling product that showcased, accentuated, and celebrated the strengths of the wrestlers on the roster in a way that would get viewers invested in their matches emotionally and financially.
Dixie Carter's huge announcements and "nice surprises" that under-deliver; changing every X Division match to a triple threat for no apparent reason, and then changing back again; the top ten list of contenders that was voted for by fans until it was quietly scrapped when they voted for the wrong wrestler; the Wrestling Matters campaign and half-hearted attempts to rename the company Impact Wrestling; changing the number of sides in the ring, then back again, then back again, then back again; all in lieu of presenting wrestling the way that every successful wrestling promotion has been presented.
The wrong people have been employed in key positions, repeatedly, using the same ideas that worked in a different era but are out-of-place in today's era.
Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest stars the genre has ever seen, but his value was as the centerpiece act of a promotion during his physical prime. That moment has gone. He even admitted this month that looking back on his matches in TNA i "a nightmare." But, that opinion has no value after-the-fact. Basic research into Hogan's track record should have told TNA that he is not capable of being anything other than the focus of everybody's attention, which in turn was bound to damage the active wrestling roster.
Unfortunately, it has been a theme of TNA's existence that egos and politics and selfish motivations come ahead of putting on the best quality wrestling product, and usually those egos are the same ones that put WCW out of business.
When Kurt Angle was released by WWE due to his drug addiction, TNA instantly signed him up and put him in pay-per-view main events. Make no mistake, it was common knowledge within TNA and the industry as a whole that Angle had not kicked his addiction; the company only did something about it when he was publicly exposed.
Jeff Hardy, another wrestler with a history of addiction, was indulged by TNA to bring star power to its roster at any cost. He was not only also featured in pay-per-view main events but it was during one of these matches that the extent of his chemical dependency was revealed at the infamous Victory Road 2011 PPV. Clearly, TNA was happy to profit from these wrestlers while their addictions remained a secret from the majority of the audience, in spite of the toll their respective wrestling styles took on their bodies, so the show of support and understanding once those addictions became public knowledge was nothing beyond an entirely hollow and transparent public relations exercise.
Angle and Hardy, like Hogan, Sting, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, and others, contributed star power to TNA's roster, but were eventually dragged down to TNA's level, rather than TNA using the available stars to elevate the company.
And, look at the wrestlers TNA could have employed for a fraction of the cost of former WCW names, who were obviously destined to be stars well before WWE "discovered" them. One look at the work of Daniel Bryan, C.M. Punk, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, or Cesaro on the independent scene would have proved their potential as featured stars of a national promotion. Punk, arguably the most impressive all-rounder of his generation, was in fact employed by TNA during its early years. His role? A lackey for Raven, whose best work had come in the mid-'90s. But, because these stars were not on national TV during the 1990s, their value was seen as small change compared to a lower or mid-card free agent who even had a cup of coffee on WWE TV in the 1990s.
It is not like TNA never had the opportunity to create stars and truly get behind them, but it seems that the desire was always to present an ensemble cast of main-eventers rather than getting behind one undisputed top act. While honorable, this is not an approach that has a history of success in the wrestling industry. On the two occasions one star was billed above all others, both were company executives; Jeff Jarrett and Hulk Hogan, one who had proven time and time again in an otherwise perfectly credible career that he clearly lacked the skills to be a leading man, and the other whose body was so broken down that TNA had to invest in a rampway to the ring so he would not have to climb the ring steps.
The opportunity was there to capitalize on the marketability of home-grown acts. Samoa Joe, early in his TNA run, showed signs of being as good an option to headline a wrestling promotion that the entire industry offered, before his role was muddied by the creative department. James Storm and Bobby Roode were both primed to break out as stars as they entered World Title matches on pay-per-view, but the promotion could not bring itself to give the fans the satisfaction of seeing a new babyface champion crowned. Eventually, both "took their ball and went home," removing any heroic qualities.
When Austin Aries won the World Title to give those fans a rare moment of satisfaction, he was then billed as a fluke champion, and turned heel against the audience's wishes. When fans demanded Desmond Wolfe be given a World Title shot by overwhelmingly voting him to the summit of the top ten rankings system, he quickly lost to "prove" that the audience was wrong.
Then again, when does TNA give its fans any satisfaction? Major storylines often end before the heels had received their comeuppance, with the notable exception of the recent Dixie Carter table bump. Look at the amount of television time that was invested in the Main Event Mafia, The Band, and Aces & Eights - three failed attempts to recreate the New World Order, whose main likeness to that faction was that they were never soundly beaten by the good guys.
One of the TNA creative department's proudest moments was the way it managed to explain Bully Ray's heel turn as the leader of Aces & Eights retrospectively. While a noble effort, this still was not without its flaws, because it was TNA's own booking that forced them to put the explanation together retrospectively. In truth, watching the story unfold in real time, it was incoherent and full of holes; if the turn had been planned out meticulously ahead of time and the details covered while it was unfolding, there would have been no need for an explanation afterwards!
Constantly rehashing dated concepts - from the NWO to "worked shoots" to garbage matches to overbooked finishes to stuntfests to re-focusing on an "ECW" brand they do not own every 2-4 years - whether they worked the first time around or not, and with no understanding of the importance of context, is a fundamental lack of judgment that can not possibly lead to success.
As for fostering brand loyalty amongst its audience, TNA turned Dixie Carter heel and had babyfaces Hulk Hogan and A.J. Styles cut on-air farewell promos announcing that they were quitting the company because it disgusted them so much. And they never came back, leaving the story open-ended with no resolution.
If TNA's latest television deal serves only as a postponement of its downfall, the summer of 2014 will serve as a fitting epitaph to the promotion. Filming in the huge and lucrative New York City market for the first time, unable to sell more than a few hundred tickets, dedicating precious prime time television minutes to celebrating a completely separate promotion that went out of business 13 years ago, whose intellectual property is owned by TNA's biggest rival, TNA's central storyline was a middle-aged female non-wrestler suffering a broken back at the hands of a heroic babyface named Bully.
This is a wrestling promotion that does not deserve to stay in business. It has struggled from the start, been kept alive by Panda Energy and a sweetheart deal from Spike TV, squandered said money and sweetheart deal, and even when the Creative and marketing approach was obviously failing, no changes were made. I want TNA to disappear from the industry not for my own pleasure, but because I want future wrestling promoters to learn from its mistakes. TNA's demise could be its greatest legacy; the only way anything positive can come out of its contribution to the industry is for wrestling's future leaders to learn why it failed.
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