KELLER'S TAKE KELLER'S TAKE: Could Billy Corgan be the best decision Dixie Carter has made for TNA?
May 8, 2015 - 3:56:56 PM
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By Wade Keller, editor
After listening to Billy Corgan’s interview with Chris Jericho on his podcast today, I was sure what my headline would be for this blog entry: Could Billy Corgan be the best decision Dixie Carter has made for TNA?
Over the course of nearly 90 minutes, I nodded along to what Corgan was saying more times than I can remember when listening to anyone talk about their vision for pro wrestling. I nodded so much listening to it at the gym today, I think people would have assumed I bobbing along to upbeat music on my headphones. He gets it.
What’s equally important is that he has the clout to be heard. Corgan is a successful performer and proven businessman. He also is a longtime pro wrestling fan who has been a student of the industry for years. He has more than dabbled in pro wrestling promoting with Resistance Pro. He filmed a pro wrestling-based reality series for AMC last year that got cut when AMC dropped its reality TV division. He has worked with some well known top name wrestlers behind the scenes when promoting his wrestling events, and he has been in locker rooms dating back to ECW in 1999.
He also has just the right amount of ego to stand up for what he believes is right, and just the right amount of deference to not (unnecessarily) step on toes. Other than endorsing something that totally made sense and then writing it off as “arm chair dirt sheet” thinking, I'm not sure there was one thing I’d edit or adjust from what he said. I don’t use those words lightly. (The “arm chair dirt sheet” comment related to espousing that TNA ought to do more clean finishes and utilize better ways to create drama than overwrought screwy endings to matches.)
I’m pretty outspoken about my beliefs about pro wrestling in 2015 - what’s wrong with it and, in general broad strokes, what foundation-fixing would help get things which are off course back on course again. So when I say I wouldn’t change a thing he said or how he said it, it’s practically a once-in-a-journalistic-career statement I’m making. I was impressed.
I’ve heard people with good ideas of what needs to be done at different times over the years. Heck, Bill Watts impressed me back in 1991 when he covertly lobbied for a job as WCW Vice President via a marathon Torch Talk with me - which worked, as he got the job. Of course, if you know history, his brutish bullying management skills and lack of ability to adapt to the reality of corporate WCW doomed any of his ideas from being implemented effectively and turned the wrestlers against him out of the gate.
I have heard a lot of good wrestling philosophies and ideas from people without the connections or clout to be in a position to change anything. I have heard really bad wrestling philosophies from people with the gift of connections and clout who have set this industry back and frustrated me by making the same mistakes based on the same bankrupt ideas over and over. Corgan is a rare combination of good ideas with the connections and clout to make a difference.
It is no coincidence that we share a similar philosophy since we grew up watching the same wrestling product - Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Assocation. His complimenting Jerry Blackwell and his recognition of Blackwell’s underrated greatness in his place in AWA history jumped out to me, in particular.
When Jericho mentioned that Corgan can make TNA more “hip,” Corgan jumped in and clarified that “hip” in pro wrestling doesn’t always mean what people think. He used Blackwell as an example. And he believes there are others out there who don’t fit the mold of C.M. Punk, The Rock, Steve Austin, Batista, Ric Flair, or whomever jumps out in your mind as fitting the mold of being cool and hip who can become big stars and valuable members of TNA's roster.
The main broad stroke that Corgan painted over and over is the need for TNA to create its own stars from the ground up. He recognizes what I’ve been saying since TNA launched - and at times complimented them for almost doing - which is the need to create their own stars rather than rehashing castoffs from WWE and, in TNA’s early years, WCW. Corgan articulated so intelligently and convincingly why that is the right approach.
It’s easy to say “create your own stars,” but not to actually do it. Corgan, though, hit on the key; it’s all about someone having that X factor that you notice in a hotel lobby without even knowing who someone is. He used an example that he once saw C.M. Punk in street clothes at a hotel and didn’t know who he was, but immediately asked someone because he felt this guy exuded star power that translated into pro wrestling. It’s an amazing story if true, and I believe it.
Not everyone has an eye for whether someone has that X factor. Corgan believes he does. He isn’t stuck on one body type or a certain height or a certain pedigree. As he and Jericho agreed, it’s all about the ability to connect with an audience. As Corgan said, perhaps a little too coarsely, the bulls— that will get a wrestler a pop at a VFW show isn’t the same thing that will translate to getting over on a weekly TV series. Terry Taylor pulled his hair out trying to get that across to wrestlers in TNA during his time behind the scenes there, and has taught it to the Seth Rollins types during their time under his guidance in WWE Developmental. Sometimes it takes a while to drive that point home with young wrestlers whose style is akin to creating exciting video game matches "that entertain people" instead of drawing money as part of a roster-wide effort that tells larger stories.
Corgan says he is part of a three-man creative effort with Matt Conway and Dave Lagana, and he feels he has an equal voice already in terms of at least being heard and having his vision considered. He is grounded enough to know, as he puts it, that TNA is a battleship that needs to be steered in a new direction, but it will take deliberate consistent effort to get it moving in the way he believes is best for TNA’s growth.
His vision is large, but his expectations are realistic in terms of what it will take to get there. His ideas could turn out to be great, but TNA just isn’t in a position to execute them with any noticeable positive effect. I think it’s a good fit, though, and has a chance to really give TNA the identity that it has been searching for and never found in all of their years in business.
I was impressed with the way he explained how he will deal with wrestlers, by telling them he respects the journey they've taken and then working with them and tapping into parts of their potential on-air characters they didn’t even know they had. I wish Jericho allowed him to elaborate more on his ideas for Bobby Lashley.
I had suggested to Dixie Carter on my PWTorch Livecast when she was a guest of bringing in a rotation of standout indy wrestlers who have earned a certain bit of buzz in respected circles and letting them test their ability to connect with crowds at TNA TV tapings for concrete six or twelve week programs, and then perhaps rotate them off TV nine out of ten times, but maybe in the process find that next big star or valuable full time year-round roster addition. She didn’t seem particular enamored with giving TV time to someone TNA wasn’t committed to long-term.
One of Corgan’s beliefs is the need for TNA to scour the indy scene and find that next Jerry Blackwell type - a wrestler who doesn’t fit the stereotype of what WWE is looking for - but has that same X factor that he saw in C.M. Punk in a hotel lobby, and then give them a shot on TV. TNA needs someone with a good eye for talent to give more wrestlers a chance on their stage to connect with the crowd. Having short-term story arcs with new wrestlers from the indy scene who get a chance to show what they can do, but without that virtual "leap from first date to life-long-commitment” type of situation TNA now has (dark match to multi-year contract that Dixie seemed to feel was working well enough), is a way to test as many of those “potential next C.M. Punk/Jerry Blackwells” of the indy scene so TNA has the best chance to find that next big star. What TNA lacked was a trust that there was someone who could recognize who was a keeper and who was expendible. Corgan may be that guy.
As a 48 year old veteran successful still-touring rock star, Corgan is that right mix of having real-world entertainment experience yet also being in tune with the culture of teenagers and those in their 20s and 30s. As a tenured pro wrestling fan dating back to the 1970s AWA product who has followed it through so many changes - advancements and setbacks - over the last 40 years, he is among few people who tie together what the pro wrestling industry has become and what used to better that it should go back to.
He kept stressing that there are ideas from the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s that were tremendously successful, but they need to be fit into the reality and culture of 2015. Old ideas aren’t inherently good or bad, nor are new ideas. The key is to understand what ideas are timeless with pro wrestling fans of any generation, and then link those ideas with characters who connect with the crowd in a 2015 context.
Corgan didn’t talk in empty generalities and cliches. He cited one concrete example after another of what he learned from pro wrestling history and then explained his vision in a way that, I think, can resonate with a head of a company like Dixie Carter, a veteran or rookie wrestler he works with behind the scenes, media (wrestling or general mainstream) who can create a buzz that leads to momentum within social media and a changing of the perception of the TNA brand, and the paying fans or TV viewers who are open to loving pro wrestling but haven’t been hooked in a while.
Whether Corgan is an asterisk in TNA and pro wrestling history or one of those rare “right person, right time, right circumstances” creative influences who can elevate a company to new levels of success, I don’t know. Corgan sounds confident and comfortable that TNA’s structure - it’s management, co-creative staff, TV partner, and roster - give him something to work with. His first TV taping with TNA is tonight. I'm excited to see his vision come to life on Destination America in coming weeks and months.
-10 Years Ago, the top story in the Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly Newsletter was a major change in TNA's creative structure. Dusty Rhodes was out. My report stated: "Dusty Rhodes resigned as head booker of TNA on Tuesday. At a meeting with Dixie Carter, Bill Banks, Scott D’Amore, and Jeremy Borash, Rhodes was asked to be part of a writing committee, rumored to be headed by Jerry Jarrett. Rhodes wasn’t interested. He is in good standing with the company and will remain as an on–air Director of Authority, although he is somewhat disgruntled over how his booking run went. Rhodes was hired last year to replace Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantell as the lead TV writer. He immediately rubbed some wrestlers the wrong way when he talked about his belief that older, established, name–brand stars were more important than building young stars. He did, though, espouse promoting the X Division wrestlers better by developing their personalities. There was debate within TNA whether he managed to do that. Kevin Nash spoke out against Rhodes’s booking in a 'Torch Talk' interview published six weeks ago, pointing out what he felt were flaws in his booking. Since then, Rhodes has felt he was a marked man, and like Mantell, began just going along with whatever he felt his superiors wanted just to save his job. He had spoken out against the all–cage format publicly, saying it was something he was against but went with because Jerry Jarrett and Dixie Carter wanted it. Buyrates and TV ratings during Rhodes’s term as booker were not strong, with decreases in both categories."
-Check out my 80 minute interview with historian and author George Schire from yesterday's PWTorch Livecast as he talked about Verne Gagne's memorial and funeral: CLICK HERE.
-Listen to my take on the day's pro wrestling news every day as a PWTorch VIP member with the Wade Keller Hotline. Every single day for over five years and counting, VIP members have heard my take on the days' news, big topic issues, and latest major TV shows. It's one of dozens of benefits that come with a VIP membership. Check out details and sign-up info HERE I'd love to have you as a member.
-20 Years Ago this month, I interviewed UFC's original match-maker Art Davie. He asked him about the challenges of educating the American sports fan to what UFC's product was and fighting the image that UFC as a brutal gladiator blood sport. " It's completely counter to that," he said in a Torch Talk now available in its entirety to PWTorch VIP members in our back issue library. "It represents a victory of emotion over reason. The fact of the matter is it is intrinsically safer than even boxing where you have removed all the defensive elements. In boxing you mandate that people are continually separated and strike each other so they are hit 40 or 60 times in a round with a padded fist. Everybody in boxing and out of boxing knows that as soon as you put a boxing glove on a man's hand you turn it into a weapon. In the interest of safety we ask our fighters not to wear gloves. You punch a man in his head with your bare hands, it's like punching a bowling ball. The hand will break before you are able to do cerebral trauma. It's emotion over reason. The politicians fan that flame. They can't solve crime, they can't solve poverty, they can't solve the deficit, what they think they can solve is, my god, this bare knuckle, brutal event. The fact of the matter is there's a lot of cultural prejudice against it. The average American understands wrestling and boxing, but doesn't understand the difference between thai boxing, tae kwon do, or jiu jitsu. Part of it is a cultural prejudice. Since it's Asian, oh, it's that crazy chop sakie stuff from over in Asia. We don't know the what hell it is. Therefore, there is a tremendous educational job needed. I could tell you from advertising, you can get people to change their brands, and that's a hard job, but to get them to change their habits is almost impossible with even the best advertising and marketing available."
-Listen to my analysis of the last handful of WWE PPVs with Steve Austin on "The Steve Austin Show" including last month's "Extreme Rules" and WrestleMania 31. Check it out on iTunes or ad PodcastOne.com. Also, hear about how I started the Torch and my background as a wrestling fan dating back to the late 1970s and as a journalist dating back to 1987 on one of Steve's first podcasts, available HERE
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