Sorry for the lack of updates on my side, especially comic-related. I’m in this weird funk I get in every now and then when I’m writing pieces of different articles all at once and can’t commit to one, meaning I end up doing a whole lot of nothing and there’s no output. Hopefully this will at least get me through it.
A couple months ago, I wrote about the history of pro wrestling and had very little positive to say about Total Non-Stop Action, otherwise known as TNA. Even when they had something cool going for them, they were always washed over with more that was terrible. This got worse when Vince Russo was brought aboard and fell deeper once Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff were given roles in creative.
I tried giving them a chance time after time, especially when they tried to go to war with Raw on Monday nights because if anything, that would be the time when they’d be trying their hardest. Everything was a mess and continued to be a mess and I couldn’t bring myself to watch anymore. Part of the nightmare ended a few months ago when they finally fired Vince Russo. WHY they waited so long to do that when the fans were actually chanting for them to do so for years whenever something stupid happened is beyond me.
Not that they were in the clear. Hogan and Bischoff felt the need to include their children. Brooke Hogan was given an on-air role and Garrett Bischoff was put in a story about becoming a wrestler against his father’s wishes. Brooke can’t act and Garrett can’t wrestle, so this is problematic. At least it gave us former employee Scott Steiner’s Twitter rants, which went on forever until TNA’s legal dudes told him to stop.
Interesting thing happened, though. Over the past couple months or so, the online wrestling circles I spy into haven’t really been complaining about TNA. In fact, they’ve been kind of shrugging it off and pointing out that it’s been pretty good. Great, even! Their last few PPVs have been completely solid and it’s been overall really watchable. Now, on one hand, fool me once, shame on you, etc. On the other hand, WWE has been boring the hell out of me lately, even when they’re giving us a feud based on Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk with AJ Lee doing a Harley Quinn gimmick in the background. I want to believe that there might be some kind of good mainstream wrestling out there, so I gave the past few weeks a watch.
Hot damn, this actually isn’t bad!
It could be blamed on a lot of things, from what I understand. Russo being gone, for one, as it’s now written by someone who knows that stories are supposed to have beginnings, middles and ends, plus make some semblance of sense. Bischoff has been hands-off lately, meaning that his storyline is forgotten about. For a limited time, the show is live instead of taped, so there’s this overall drive for the performers to do better. I keep hearing that for the first time in years, Samoa Joe is actually motivated! Of course, it could also be blamed on a broken clock being right two times a day. Latter-day WCW had that and WWE tends to have that.
For the moment, not only am I digging TNA, but I’m finding it just plain better than WWE. And I’m not even talking about the talent. Each side has great wrestlers and crap wrestlers. It’s what they do with them that counts.
1) The Wrestlers Come Off as More Unique
Sometimes I find myself asking myself, “Kofi Kingston has been around WWE for a long while, right? How come I can’t even come up with a description of his character other than ‘good guy’?” And that’s one of my major problems with WWE right now. Their face characters are so BLAND and yet the heels have personality. It isn’t some kind of smarky instinct to just cheer the heels and boo the faces for the sake of being a dick. It’s because I actually tend to connect with them better because they’re able to be creative and occasionally even have a genuine point in their actions.
I don’t really want to root for Evan Bourne or Alex Riley or Kofi Kingston or Ezekiel Jackson or Justin Gabriel or Kelly Kelly or Tyson Kidd. Just slapping hands and smiling doesn’t really do it for me. Even Sheamus is starting to fall into that trap and trying to give him an edge by having him say, “ARSE!” in his threats just isn’t working. Meanwhile, I can see myself cheering for James Storm, AJ Styles, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, the Pope and, heck, even Jeff Hardy.
I feel like everyone gets a better chance to let their characters breathe instead of simply walking out and acting generic.
2) Better Introduction to New Talent
TNA’s recently realized that they have very little in terms of a mid-card or an X Division because they’ve pushed a big chunk of them too high. Now it seems they’re trying to rectify that by introducing a bunch of indy talent. They’ve been doing it in two ways. One is the new X Division tournament where guys like CHIKARA’s Jigsaw and PWG’s Scorpio Sky are showing up randomly to compete under different names. So far that’s pretty cool, especially because TNA and CHIKARA reportedly have some kind of working agreement going on.
The other thing is the Gut Check segment, where a new hopeful tries to make it onto the roster while Taz, Al Snow and Bruce Pritchard debate whether he/she stays or goes. This is usually pretty weak from what I’ve seen, mainly because it involves these guys coming up with bullshit reasons why they hate the wrestler’s style for the sake of coming off as critical. Like how a wrestler’s confidence or experience could be a plus one week or a minus the other depending on how the judges are feeling. Dumb. At the very least, this has been brewing with an angle about PWG talent Joey Ryan failing the Gut Check and pestering the company for being a bunch of idiots. And to be fair, he speaks for a lot of the fans with that.
WWE is also introducing a lot of new talent, but at a questionable pace. Guys like Antonio Cesaro and Damien Sandow are all getting the TV time, but I’m not sure if they’ve done enough with them. At least when Alberto Del Rio first showed up, they made him a big deal really fast. More unfortunate is how badly WWE has been using NXT. A couple years ago, NXT was there to give the company new workers and they were incorporated into the fold fairly quickly, thanks in big part to the Nexus angle. Then the show became this weird corner of the WWE where nobody ever really went anywhere or did anything of note. One of the wrestlers Maxine just left the company because she was sick of never being allowed to do anything but spend her career on an internet-only show.
But it gets better! WWE changes NXT completely to the extent that it’s now in its own arena with its own atmosphere and became a more high-profile version of their developmental federation Florida Championship Wrestling. They have a pretty damn strong roster, including Husky Harris rechristened as Bray Wyatt in what has potential to be the next big thing (seriously, he plays that role beautifully). It even has the unbelievable commentary team of Jim Ross and William Regal! Unfortunately, WWE, in their infinite wisdom, has decided that they really want this show to be on TV and if it’s available on the internet, that will only hurt the product. So while they air it around the world, they figure that it doesn’t need to be shown in any form in the US and to make sure, they hammer down on anyone who tries to upload clips onto YouTube.
To review, WWE has a great show based on showcasing new talent and they want to make sure that nobody in their country can watch it. Holy shit. That’s like when Prince hired Kevin Smith to do a documentary about him and then proceeded to throw it into a vault so that only he could enjoy it.
3) Look! Stuff is Happening!
Back in the late-90′s, one of the big reasons why wrestling was so memorable was because just about everyone had something to do. It wasn’t just the main event or bust. We had Steve Blackman feuding with Ken Shamrock and Chris Jericho feuding with Dean Malenko. Everyone was kept in the foreground without having to rely on title matches to make people seem like a big deal. And really, that’s one of WWE’s biggest flaws these days. There are so few storylines going on for anyone to care about, especially when titles aren’t involved. They should be putting guys who aren’t doing anything against each other and treat it like a big deal. That’s one of the reasons why Mark Henry vs. Sheamus was such a cool feud last year. They should be setting up stuff like Jack Swagger vs. Tensai or some shit. And when they have matches? The commentators should actually TALK about the matches and not whatever segment is ending the show.
TNA has so much stuff happening that they can barely touch all of it in a single show. That’s good! People have criticized the big AJ Styles/Christopher Daniels storyline headlining the show and that’s okay too because that isn’t the only game in town. That’ll tie into my last point later.
When everybody gets their share of face-time and aren’t dedicated to making the top guys look better, then I care a whole lot more.
4) Ego Check
WWE and TNA share a major similarity right now. They both feature two of the biggest egomaniac assholes in wrestling as authority figures. WWE has Triple H as the COO while the GM character in TNA is Hulk Hogan. For the past two years, Triple H has proceeded to hog the spotlight, take enjoyable feuds and center them around him, verbally bury the roster as not being on his level and win against everyone who isn’t the Undertaker. Why? Is Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar REALLY that good for the future of the company, especially if Triple H wins?
Hogan was guilty of this too. Lord knows we had to see him make the show about him. He’d wrestle Flair every now and again while Abyss would wear Hogan’s Hall of Fame ring and act like it gave him superpowers. I don’t know what happened in the interim, but from what I’ve seen, that kind of bullshit is nowhere to be seen. Hogan is running the show on-air, but it doesn’t go farther than that. He puts over the talent and puts his strong promo skills to use to move things along. He’s part of the show and he’s important, but he doesn’t dominate everything that’s going on.
I have too little respect for Hogan to see this going on for too long, but I really hope he’s able to linger on this style for as long as he can before having to face Bobby Roode on the next PPV or something.
5) Taking All Comers
WWE has this bad stigma when it comes to people who were successful elsewhere, especially the indies. It took a load of hard work, complaints from high-ranking wrestlers, insistent fans and outright miracles for guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to get where they are today. They’ve been looked down upon for being indy darlings, had to learn WWE’s special in-ring style and had to endure years of being buried until breaking out due to being naturally talented to the point that the company has no choice but to get onboard.
Compare that to Austin Aries. Aries had a TNA run for a little while and while I wasn’t following it at the time, it seems pretty basic on paper. He left for a while and at one point tried to join WWE. When they were putting together Tough Enough, the USA Network wanted Aries as one of the contestants. Kevin Dunn, a gigantic douche in his own right, rejected him as well as Joey Ryan. So Aries was deemed unworthy of hanging with the likes of Silent Rage, the guy who went on to win Tough Enough, do nothing and then get fired. Or what’s-her-name whose claim to fame is calling Melina vs. Alicia Fox the best wrestling match she’s ever seen, losing the competition and then being brought in anyway to be one of Brodus Clay’s dancers. She was more worthy than Austin fucking Aries.
TNA brought Austin Aries back in and didn’t think, “This guy’s too small,” or, “This guy didn’t get popular here, so to hell with him,” or, “Let’s depush him for a while and see if he REALLY WANTS to earn his spot.” No, they saw him as talented, gave him the longest X Division title run in the company’s history and now have him headlining one of their PPVs in a world title match.
6) We DO Need Another Hero
WWE’s been doing their Be a Star campaign lately and it’s become the butt of a lot of jokes because of how hypocritical they’ve been. Cena would insinuate his opponents were gay and whenever someone called him out on it on Twitter, he’d block them. He only stopped because enough people complained to the company in charge of the campaign. Face characters Hornswoggle and Vince McMahon think it’s hilarious to make fun of Jim Ross’ facial paralysis.
An anti-bullying campaign mixed with wrestling would be great if it wasn’t for the fact that the bullies are the good guys we’re supposed to cheer. John Cena is the best example of this. Sure, he hangs out with sick kids a lot and that’s commendable, but in the context of his in-ring character, John Cena is a horrible human being. He treats his so-called allies like shit (Zack Ryder, Kofi Kingston, Big Show, ESPECIALLY Rey Mysterio) in ways that should paint him as an asshole, only WWE refuses to acknowledge any of it and plays it up that he’s the biggest hero ever. Cena slut-shaming Eve as a way to get out of his Ryder storyline is one of the more reprehensible things WWE’s done in a while and his match with Michael Cole a few weeks ago wasn’t much better. Cole points out that Big Show’s heel turn is vindicated and rather than debate him, Cena forces him into a match and beats him up in the most homoerotic way possible. Someone put it best by comparing it to if Spider-Man decided to just beat the everloving shit out of J. Jonah Jameson one day. That doesn’t make him look like a hero. That makes him look like a bully.
TNA has a bully in Bully Ray, formerly Bubba Ray Dudley, who had found a new lease on life somewhere along the line because good God is he entertaining these days. He’s currently involved in a storyline where he’s antagonizing Abyss’ “brother” Joseph Park (the first time I’ve found Abyss interesting and it was worth the wait) and not only is Abyss coming to Joe’s rescue, but Joe’s gone from quivering mess to a guy who won’t take it anymore and is ready to fight Bully Ray on his own terms. Look at this guy, being a star like that.
As I mentioned before, the current storyline with AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels is looked down upon for being outrageously stupid, especially after the recent developments. To get you caught up, Daniels had been bugging AJ for months about evidence of something corrupt going on. It became a thing about AJ and company owner Dixie Carter having an affair. AJ and Dixie were debating on coming clean and telling the world the truth, but kept wavering and saying that they didn’t have to.
They were getting to leave when this random woman showed up, claiming to be a friend of Dixie’s who was going through a nasty drug addiction. AJ was brought in due to his high moral character to help her out. Now, the actress is horrible and the segment was a complete mess until it became and angry AJ taking out Daniels and Kazarian on his own. That part was cool. Despite the misfire and bad acting, there was another part of this that I seriously liked.
See, saying AJ was there because he’s a good guy isn’t really enough. What makes him come off as heroic is that he’d rather have the world believe him to be a cheating jackass having an affair with the boss than exploit a woman for her secret drug problems. He put her reputation over his and that makes him seem like a guy worth cheering for.
It also helps that this leads to him fighting Daniels, while Cena’s storyline leads to him facing Big Show. Yeah, I’ll go with the former on that one.
7) Things Have Meaning
This is the most important one… and it’s about importance. Remember any time John Cena lost the WWE Championship? He usually tended to kind of ignore it and either move on or act like he’s #1 contender again because he said so. When Wade Barrett told him to do his bidding or be fired? Cena was fired and then proceeded to show up on a weekly basis regardless, making the whole thing kind of pointless. When CM Punk threatened to leave the company with the title? Cena acted like it was going to be a big deal because of the belt’s meaning, but after Punk made good on his threats, Cena shrugged it off and acted like he didn’t mean any of that after winning the replacement belt. Leading into Wrestlemania, he made a huge deal about what losing to the Rock would mean to him and what happened? He lost and then proceeded to ignore it while moving onto the next program. There’s no repercussions for anything that happens to John Cena, so why bother giving a shit?
And it’s not just him. Remember when Jack Swagger won the World Heavyweight Championship? You know, Jack Swagger? The guy who’s been a jobber for the past three years or so? That guy? Remember when wrestlers were pushed into the title picture and not had the title used as a prop to push them? When winning the Royal Rumble didn’t mean curtain-jerking Wrestlemania? I certainly recall when being a champion in WWE meant something.
TNA has done a great job making things seem important and it’s refreshing. There is no #1 face making everyone else look lackluster in comparison. There are a number of top face candidates on the roster. Right now they’re doing the Bound for Glory round robin tournament, which builds up the main event for the Bound for Glory PPV itself months down the line. This, done correctly, is pretty major. Not only is the world championship seen as a big deal, but all these matches are part of a bigger picture. Also cool is that these matches bleed into the house show circuit, so house shows have a hand in the future of the company. That’s pretty rad!
Not to mention the big Austin Aries vs. Bobby Roode match they’ve set up. Hogan tells Aries that he can have a title match against Roode at the next PPV, but only if he drops his X Division belt to do it. This makes people groan because doing so might weaken the belt’s emphasis. Instead, Aries comes up with a third option where he’ll give up the belt for the title match, but only if that offer is there for the X Division champion every year from here on out. Both belts look important and there’s even a new little gimmick to book things around.
I can’t comment on Devon as TV Champion since I haven’t seen any of that and I can’t say much positive about the Knockouts Tag Team Championship since one of the co-holders is a male comedy wrestler. I will say that a Tag Team Championship match main evented the last episode of iMPACT, so that speaks volumes about the company’s treatment of the tag team division compared to WWE.
If you ever watch Botchamania, I’m sure you’ve seen the paid advertisement for CHIKARA in the intro where Maffew proceeds to label WWE as “boring”, TNA as “suffering” and CHIKARA as the alternative. While I love me that CHIKARA, the statement is incorrect. As it is right now, TNA isn’t “suffering”. It’s actually pretty damn good. I don’t know if they can make it last, but for the future of the business I hope they do and I hope that jaded wrestling fans might follow in my decision to give it one more chance.
At the very least, I’m planning to buy my very first TNA PPV on July 8th.