Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Top 5 Reasons for TNA (Impact) Wrestling's Failure

Last week a friend texted me with the message “Eric Young is on NXT. TNA is officially dead.” In a way I have to agree. I mean, no, TNA or Impact Wrestling is still going, but it seems like a wounded animal not long for this world. Eric Young seemed like the Tommy Dreamer of TNA; a loyal mid-carder and beloved underdog. Him jumping ship makes me hope the remaining roster have life-jackets!

Most of the big names from the promotion, those synonymous with the very brand itself have left. Jeff Jarrett, the founder of TNA, left years ago to start yet another promotion. The aforementioned Eric Young, Robert Roode, Austin Aries, and former heavyweight champions Samoa Joe and AJ Styles (whom I might add had been with TNA since the very beginning) are all in WWE.

I want to make clear that I am not an insider in the professional wrestling business. I am a fan and casual viewer.  This list is compiled based on what I, as a viewer, observed. While that may not seem like anything substantial and it is likely that I don't have all the facts necessary to paint a truly accurate picture of what happened in the company, I think the perspective of a viewer is important. The show is, after all, for us the viewers. At one point I was a fan of TNA Wrestling and now I don't watch. These are the problems as I see them and help explain why this viewer stopped watching.

Too much reliance on WWE's (or WCW’s) scraps - Okay, so just because Vince McMahon doesn't want you anymore doesn't mean that you can't be successful elsewhere. What I am talking about are the wrestlers who are past their prime or never popular with fans or in some cases had a bad history that ended with termination.

I'm not talking about Christian, who chose to sign with TNA as Christian Cage. I'm not talking about Jeff Hardy (at least his first run in TNA) who was still a big name. I'm not even talking about Kurt Angle, who while having been let go over drug dependency problems, still had enough gas in his tank to be a big star.

What I am talking about is Kevin Nash and Scott Hall showing up with gray hair and beer guts and instantly being in the main event. I am talking about bringing out Sean “Val Venus” Morley in his old "porn star" gimmick. I am talking about making Bobby Lashley a main event star after he never really got over in WWE. Hell, their first champion was Ken Shamrock at age 38!  From the start they built their company around a past his prime glorified mid-carder! (No disrespect to Ken Shamrock, a true MMA legend.) I'm just saying compare that to Lucha Underground, whose first champion was Prince Puma, a younger guy whose name and talent they established to help build their company around.

At some point TNA starting looking like an 80’s and 90’s wrestling reunion convention. Beyond Hall and Nash, they had Booker T, Scott Steiner, Sting (still using his “Crow” gimmick), Ric Flair, Macho Man Randy Savage and (of course) Hulk Hogan! A lot of those guys shared the spotlight together, taking a lot of valuable screen time from young up and comers. That is a problem.

Look, I mean no disrespect to these wrestling legends; their contributions to the industry have been huge. The problem is their time had ended. These weren’t one time appearances (like a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble). These weren’t just on air personalities like commentators or even managers (yes, I know Nash acted as a manager, but that was later). At a time when TNA needed to establish new names to set themselves apart and create buzz, they instead relied on past their prime talent to be their main eventers and primary draws. That is a huge problem. You can’t hope to beat Vince McMahon by hiring his cast-offs.

Lack of home grown talent - I am not an expert on this, it's more of a suspicion really. My understanding is that most of TNA's talent came from Ring of Honor, Border City Wrestling, WCW or ECW wrestlers that Vince McMahon didn't sign and released WWF wrestlers. Outside of working with Ohio Valley Wrestling from 2011-2013, TNA didn't really have their own developmental territory. (I could be wrong, but I found nothing about it online.) The most TNA seemed to do was sign another wrestler, which more or less means they are pushing what was already established by the wrestler or previous organization. What I am getting at is that TNA needed to do a better job establishing their own talent to make a name for themselves.

I'm not saying that TNA didn't contribute to some wrestlers becoming big names. If not for their time in TNA I doubt AJ Styles and Samoa Joe would have WWE contracts right now. But they were signed from big name independent companies like Ring of Honor. WCW's "Power Plant" saw many big names emerge including Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page and The Giant (known in WWE as Big Show). WWE has had lots of luck in the developmental department, generating stars that literally became the future of their company such as Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar and John Cena. The most TNA seemed to have going for them was rebranding certain talent that signed with them long term, such as Eric Young, Abyss and Jeff Hardy.

This isn't a damning problem for TNA. Obviously not every wrestling promotion can have a developmental territory. However, after existing for a decade, having a television deal, a toy line and being the closest contender to WWE in the United States, I expected some level of talent production, names to replace the old guard. TNA has no future in that regard. Since they never really had enough money to buy everyone's big name talent like Ted Turner did in the mid-90’s, they needed to make their own and overall, they haven't.

Weak main event roster - There were times when I genuinely thought that Jeff Jarrett started TNA so that he could be the face of the company that he could never be in the WWF. He always felt to me like a glorified mid-card wrestler. I didn't dislike him based on his great skills at being a heel, I just really didn't want to see him every damn week on my TV! He wasn't terrible as a main event wrestler, but had nowhere near the talent and presence of bigger main event heels of that era such as HHH, Randy Orton or even JBL... and his matches were as good as taking Ambien!

This was only the start of my issues with the main event scene in TNA. The initial problem as far as I could see was that their X-Division was so good, it made their main events look boring by comparison. Not being able to buy WWE's big names like WCW did back in the halcyon days of the Monday Night Wars, TNA was left with scraps and has-beens (which I have already brought up).

If it hadn't been for their early use of the NWA heavyweight title and Jeff Jarrett's involvement, I would honestly have suggested that TNA had treated their X-Division title as their heavyweight championship. Think about it, the X-Division matches were far and away the most popular and exciting. The X-Division stars not only became some of the biggest names in TNA but also were some of the most respected wrestlers from independent companies like Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate; names like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Low Ki and Austin Aries.

For the first few years of TNA's partnership with NWA, allowing them to use the NWA Heavyweight Championship, the only champions were Ken Shamrock, Jeff Jarrett, Ron Killings and AJ Styles. Yes, there were other challengers that never won such as Malice and Curt Hennig but those four were the only ones considered as viable for the championship (based on possible factors as popularity and length of contract). That's a pretty narrow field for the first 4 years of a wrestling promotion's main event scene. Compare that to the holders of the X-Division championship during that time: AJ Styles, Low Ki, Syxx Pac, Jerry Lynn, Kid Kash, Sonny Siaki, Michael Shane, Amazing Red, Chris Sabin, Kazarian and Petey Williams.

I looked up something very telling of TNA’s main event situation that also plays into my preceding reasons for the company’s issues. I found that out of the 26 wrestlers that held their heavyweight championship (both NWA and TNA) only 9 were not previously established in WCW, ECW or WWE. They were AJ Styles, Abyss, Samoa Joe, James Storm, Robert Roode, Austin Aries, Chris Sabin, Magnus and Eric Young. The majority of them held the title in only the last five years! You can make an argument that Ethan Carter III should count as number 10 as his character seems to be different than his persona in NXT/WWE. Even with him added, that’s a measly 38%! For a company in existence for almost fifteen years, that is terrible!

Trying to become WCW - I didn't feel like this started until Kevin Nash and Scott Hall showed up and instantly inserted themselves into the main event picture with (surprise!) Jeff Jarrett by forming the Kings of Wrestling. An influx of veteran, often over the hill, former champions from WCW and WWE continued to show up and that eventually became the Main Event Mafia, another 3 letter acronym group that took over the spotlight much like the New World Order. I also think it's worth mentioning that while many had left WWE, only Kurt Angle was purely from that promotion. Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner, Booker T, Sting and Jarrett all made their biggest names for themselves in WCW with only Nash first winning the heavyweight championship in WWF as Diesel.

Then came the big change, the point where the people behind TNA Wrestling were sure they would finally be able to go head to head with Vince McMahon. They hired Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan to run their creative department. Suddenly Hogan became an on-air personality as well as part time wrestler. He got rid of the six-sided ring, one of the most iconic aspects of TNA Wrestling that helped set that promotion apart from its rivals. They brought back Nash and Hall along with Sean "Syxx-Pac" Waltman. They brought in Sean Morley. They even brought in the recently "retired" Ric Flair.

The obvious problem here, beyond what I’ve already covered, is that you can’t hope to build a skyscraper using blueprints for one that collapsed. If Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan really had such amazing ideas, then WCW would still exist or at the very least Hogan and Bischoff would have made their own successful wrestling promotion.

Samoa Joe destroys the X-Division - I am conflicted as to whether or not this should be number one, but in the end I feel like this was the beginning of the end for me as a fan of TNA. I'll start by saying that I think Samoa Joe is overrated. I can see why TNA wanted to push him. He has a unique look; he’s quick, agile and can do some good high risk moves for a guy his size. However, I also think he is deliberately stiff and very sloppy with his moves. My friend and I had predicted that at some point Samoa Joe would either paralyze or kill an opponent by being so careless. That very nearly happened in WWE against Tyson Kidd, who suffered a possibly career ending broken neck and is lucky to be walking let alone breathing. (Note: This apparently was an isolated incident and Samoa Joe appears to have a decent track record when it comes to safety in matches.)

Let me back up a second and say that this, while likely not intentional, was also taking a page from the WCW playbook. The powers that be in TNA probably felt like they were building Samoa Joe the same way WCW did Goldberg, by having him wreck a long succession of opponents to create "The Streak." But that isn't the page of the playbook I am talking about. Samoa Joe running through the X-Division absolutely had shades of Kevin Nash steamrolling their cruiserweight division back in the day.

It was a bad idea for WCW but a far worse idea for TNA. While it was a massive waste of amazing talent, WCW didn't need their cruiserweight division as they had a lot of big name talent for their mid cards and main events. TNA didn't have those big names. In fact, for a long time all TNA really had as a draw was their X-Division. Back before they had a TV deal, when all they had were weekly ten dollar pay-per-views, what got people talking was the X-Division. What got people paying for those pay-per-views every week was the X-Division.

To feed all that talent to a guy to build him as a main eventer was foolish and disastrous. The X-division was always billed as being “not about weight limits, but about no limits.” By being so entertaining, the X-division didn’t feel like a mid-card; it felt more like one of the rings in a three ring circus, a co-headliner that often outdid what was supposed to be the main event. By having Samoa Joe crush each and every wrestler, going undefeated the entire time, it made the X-division look weak. It debased them to mid-card status and lessened the value of the belt. It took much of the thrill out of watching. Honestly, it killed TNA for me. I kept watching for a little bit. Angle losing clean to Austin Aries helped restore some of the X-division’s clout, but the damage had already been done.

Maybe you agree with this, maybe you don’t. Like I said, I don’t know all the facts. I am speaking purely from the perspective of a former fan and the problems that I saw with the product.

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