The Mother Brain Files: Cross the Line
By Mother Brain
Competition is best for business. At least that’s what I had been taught in school. When one company over-saturates the marketplace with a singular product, it becomes the equivalent of an over-sized cow ready to explode. That’s what WWE seems to feel like these last few years as its roster as well as its global presence has expanded thanks to the PG rating. Yet, TNA, the one rival organization that should be standing toe to toe with Vince McMahon, can’t seem to measure up on a variety of levels.
When WCW and ECW closed their doors in 2001, it was the end of the wrestling business as we once knew it. The business we followed in magazines such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Inside Wrestling, the late Saturday nights waiting for ECW to air on MSG Network, and the channel surfing between Raw and Nitro on Monday nights was all gone. All left standing was WWE as McMahon sought to expand and split his roster into brands while rewriting wrestling’s history through DVD retrospectives.
A year later, Total Nonstop Action opened its doors down in Nashville with a weekly Pay Per View program headlined by Jeff Jarrett and co-founded by his father Jerry. I didn’t watch the show initially but I remembered the TV ads featuring ex-WWE and WCW stars who were sorely missed. At the same time, I would hear buzz about new stars I never heard of before such as A.J. Styles and Christopher Daniels who were having some of the most impressive matches at the time. It wasn’t until early 2006 when I began watching TNA at the beginning of its Impact! Wrestling program run on Spike TV.
TNA was initially seen as the lesser of evils in comparison to WWE. For many wrestlers frustrated with WWE’s excruciating road schedule and backstage politics, TNA ran all their shows out of the Impact! Zone at Universal Studios Orlando where multiple tapings could take place in a single day, guaranteeing a lighter schedule. Not only were disgruntled WWE stars able to get a fresh new push in TNA but they were also allowed to wrestle outside the company on indie shows and foreign territories. Such company measures attracted the likes of the Dudley Boyz (aka Team 3D), Kevin Nash, Rhino, Scott Steiner, Christian, Jeff Hardy, and countless others. Along with Styles and Daniels, unknown talents such as Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley, Samoa Joe, Chris Harris, and Robert Roode gained a new found exposure and appreciation from the wrestling community. Gail Kim, ODB, Taylor Wilde, Angelina Love, and other women wrestlers were taken seriously as ‘Knockouts’ who were far superior to the WWE’s more fragile ‘Divas’. Eventually, the signings of the icon Sting and later Kurt Angle would bring a great deal of legitimacy for TNA to be a strong alternative reminiscent of WCW’s production value mixed with ECW’s die hard fan-base.
Year after year, TNA would make small steps in getting to WWE’s level. They expanded Impact! from one to two hours on Thursday nights, distanced themselves from the National Wrestling Alliance, and eventually restrained their talents from working outside the company. The more things changed, the more frustrated the talents became with their low pay ($400 per show), career pushes that get stopped dead cold (see Samoa Joe, Christian, Austin Aries, Robert Roode, and eight million others), and chaotic booking under ex-WWE writer Vince Russo. Attempts to gain mainstream media exposure by bringing in mainstream stars from the sports world such as Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones did more harm than good to their product; however, TNA still turned out great matches and retained wrestling’s edge as WWE devolved into a kid-friendly product in the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy. One would believe that in time, TNA would get better in the booking department, boost ratings, and compete on Monday nights against WWE.
Enter Hulk Hogan. The household name of pro wrestling shocked the world by holding a press conference in WWE’s home of Madison Square Garden where he signed a deal to join TNA. Current owner Dixie Carter went into a media and marketing blitz as TNA was set to go head to head against Raw in January 2010 with Hogan as the new face of the company; however, she didn’t sign the guy who made WWE into a juggernaut nor did she sign the legend with half a tank gas left in WCW. This Hulk Hogan had a son in jail, a nasty divorce, and an all around negative image that tarnished him. None of these things stopped him and his old WCW boss, Eric Bischoff, from throwing their weight around to remold TNA as a mainstream wrestling company. They did away with their signature six-sided ring in favor of a traditional four-sided ring, removed the TNA name in favor of IMPACT WRESTLING to sound less risque, took tapings on the road, and attracted more ex-WWE superstars.
Despite best efforts, the move for Impact! to compete with Raw was a colossal ratings failure. Returning to Thursday nights after less than three months, it seemed as if TNA kept finding ways to dig into the past so they can “change forever.” They brought in former ECW stars to do another One Night Stand-like PPV called Hardcore Justice, turned Hogan heel to form the nWo knockoff called Immortal, rehashed an old WCW feud with Hogan and Sting, created another nWo-style faction fused with Sons of Anarchy in the form of Aces & Eights, signed UFC superstars like Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz, etc. Not a single rating went up and all the while, WWE became stronger in the booking department thanks to The Rock, CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan.
As I write this today, TNA is in a state of despair. With money problems that Dixie Carter denies, the talent has become increasingly frustrated and many of them have walked off, including Hogan. Top angles with the Aces & Eights are now irrelevant, Carter is ripping off the Authority angle in WWE by turning into a heel boss, and PPVs are being televised on free television. They’ve exhausted every possible option to improve their business and yet the one option they turned down was Paul Heyman as the head booker (They denied his request to slim down the roster and number of annual PPVs). This all leads to serious talks of a potential sale to the highest bidder. Regardless if the next owner of Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins or the Wilpon family who own the NY Mets, some serious changes need to be done to keep TNA alive.
Competition is just so crucial in wrestling’s success. Of course the McMahons do not view TNA as a threat because of its low ratings and lack of marketing capital. Perhaps TNA needs to do what’s best for business by sticking to its own identity rather than adapting to another. The talent is all there but the bookers backstage are not. Guys like Bischoff and Russo are relics of the 90s who could not recapture their glory days in 2013. This is why the next owner of TNA must hire younger, more fresher creative minds who know how to make wrestling relevant again and win the people on the street before tackling the world.