Monday, January 17, 2011

Dear TNA...

Shark Boy & Chad
This is another guest post from my friend, Chad.

Dear TNA,

It pains me to say this, but I believe it’s time we end our relationship. We’ve had some good times over the past 8+ years. We’ve also had some bad times. But through it all, I gave you the benefit of a doubt and stuck with you.

I thought as long as I was a devoted fan who supported you while the majority of other fans counted down the days until your demise, that maybe you’d see the errors you were making and try to correct them. When you came along back in the summer of 2002, I was hopeful. Here was an alternative to the WWE product that had squandered away the biggest storyline in wrestling history and was more and more focused on "making movies" instead of putting on a good wrestling show. But more and more you gave the impression you didn’t want to be an alternative.

Jeff Jarrett vs. AJ Styles in a cage
 When you started, you captured my attention by putting as much focus on the X Division title and Tag Team titles as you did the World Championship. By showcasing up and coming talents such as AJ Styles, Lo-Ki, Elix Skipper, Christopher Daniels, Chris Harris, James Storm, Sonny Siaki and others alongside veterans like Jerry Lynn, Brian Lee, Ken Shamrock and Scott Hall, you gave the impression you wanted to be a promotion for the future and the future was now.

I don’t mean to imply you weren’t without faults in the early going. Did someone really think a segment with a midget masturbating in a trashcan would make anyone want to see his match? And while I enjoyed it, who read the rules for the Dupp Cup and decided it should be put on air? And I won’t even mention Miss TNA, Bruce. Though you had your faults, I looked past them because, for the most part, the action inside the ring was far greater than the dumb stuff outside the ring.

Chase Stevens vs. Joel Maximo
That’s how I used to feel. Over the last two years though I’ve had a change of heart. While I still saw the occasional glimpse of what drew me to you in the beginning, I was seeing more and more of things I didn’t want to see. Gone was an upstart promotion trying to fill a void in the disappearance of WCW and ECW by trying to blend the best parts of ROH and WWE. In its place was a company who, from all appearances on screen, was trying to be WWE.

After watching the 2011 Genesis PPV, the camel’s back was broken. My patience is gone. Why waste time watching a promotion that either has no desire to improve or simply doesn’t know how. Allow me to mention some of the problems I have with the promotion. Now before I get into the meat of this letter, I have a disclaimer to make.

Ed Ferrara meets Chad
 I didn’t want to write this. I really have been a fan of TNA since the beginning. I made the three hour drive from southern Illinois to the Asylum in Nashville numerous times because I wanted to see the stars live and in person. I would prefer TNA reach their potential and be a true alternative to WWE. Competition is good. And the more high profile places for wrestlers to work, the better the chance of the next great breakout star has of being discovered. Also, hating on TNA seems to be the cool thing to do on the Internet. I don’t care about being cool. I write this simply because I wonder if the people in TNA care about their company or if they’re there to simply cash a paycheck.

The Flying Elvises
 After writing this, I realized I let a lot of wrestling speak slip into the wording. I am not happy with that. I don’t want to come off as a know it all insider. I am nothing more than a wrestling fan who wishes TNA was putting on a near flawless weekly program. Also, I tried to only write about issues pertaining to the onscreen product. I’ve read rumors and stories about some of the backstage happenings, but without being able to verify them on my own I didn’t want to touch on them because for all I know the stories are made up or exaggerated in order for websites to increase traffic.

Anyway. Onto the list of complaints.

AWARENESS: As Kevin and I talked about in one of our YouTube videos, TNA started up a year after ECW and WCW shut down. Because TNA had a weekly live pay per view and former WWF/WCW/ECW stars, I get the impression they simply assumed they’d be the number two promotion by default. Other than being mentioned on various Internet wrestling sites I don’t remember any real promotion about the company before they launched. And lets be honest, if you knew nothing about the company, while channel surfing you saw TNA Wrestling listed would you pay $10 thinking you were getting professional wrestling or some low rent porn? Fast-forward eight years, how much mainstream press has TNA achieved? Kevin made the comment that even at Universal Studios Florida where TNA tapes Impact there’s only one sign up promoting the company. After eight years shouldn’t a company with a weekly show and monthly pay per view have more brand name recognition?

Chris Harris
 BRANDING: Another comment Kevin and I talked about was the lack of identity TNA has as a company. If you ask any wrestling fan that has watched TNA for a length of time to describe TNA the answer you’d probably get is, a company that can’t build stars/who rushes matches with no buildup or reason and a company where coherent storylines are the exception instead of the rule. Or they’d tell you; TNA is simply WCW with different initials.

CHAMPIONSHIPS: While I can’t find a direct quote to back up this point, (thus rendering this comment moot) it’s a common knowledge among die hard wrestling fans that TNA head writer/booker Vince Russo views Championships as nothing more than props. If you look at the number of title changes during the time he was on the booking staff, in one year (1999) the WWF title changed hands more than it did in the previous four years combined. And more than it changed between 1963 -1990. Yes, I understand times change and there’s more televised wrestling which leads to more exposure, thus creating an atmosphere for quicker title changes. That’s a whole other topic for discussion. And I should mention, Vince Russo left the WWF in October of 1999 and after his departure the title changed once. But still, 11 title changes in 10 months? How can you build up either champion or championship when there isn’t even time to change the nameplate on the title before someone else gets to wear it? To date their have been 30 World Champions, 48 X Divisions Champions, and at least 49 Tag Team Champions in the eight and half years of TNA’s existence.

VINCE RUSSO: Since I brought him up in the previous paragraph, guess this is as good time as any to talk about him. Vince Russo has been writing for wrestling shows for the majority of the last 14 years. And has been the critical focal point of wrestling fans for at least the last 12. I’m not really sure what he’s been responsible for during that time because every interview I’ve seen with or read about Vince; whenever any of the worst storylines are brought up he distances himself from them. Since I can’t really say for certain what Vince has been responsible for, I’ll simply say his reputation, deserved or not, is a hindrance to the growth of the company. Not that I’d want to take away anyone’s right to work, but when an off camera personality can overshadow what’s going on in front of the camera you have a problem. With his perceived reputation, one would think TNA would be extra careful not to write any storyline or overload a match with shenanigans that could then be used to keep the fire of Russo hate burning.

TITLE MATCHES: At Genesis there were five title matches. Kazarian beat Jay Lethal to win the X-Division title. During the closing moments of the match Kazarian accidentally knocked the ref down allowing KAZ to hit an illegal low blow leading to the pin fall. Madison Rayne retained the Knockouts title after Tara ran in and distracted the referee allowing Madison to use a loaded glove to knockout Mickie James. Beer Money regained the tag titles after Chris Sabin accidentally kicks partner Alex Shelley. Abyss, subbing for an injured AJ Styles, defeated Douglas Williams for the TV title after AJ ran in and hit Williams with the title. Mr. Anderson captured the World Title from Jeff Hardy after run ins by Matt Hardy, Matt Morgan, Ric Flair, Rob Van Dam and Eric Bischoff. Then on Impact, there was a Tag Title rematch, which had the same ending only with Shelley hitting Sabin. Angelina Love and Winter defended their Knockout Tag Titles against Madison Rayne and Tara. Match ended with Mickie James running in and chasing Madison from the ring allowing Winter to get a submission on Tara. Do you see a running theme? Why does every title match in TNA have to have a run in or ref bump or some other type of shenanigans? Winning a title under nefarious means doesn’t make for a strong champion. Between all the quick title changes and wrestlers not being to win titles cleanly, why should a fan care about any title?

The late, great Curt Hennig
TNA NEVER MET A WWE STAR THEY DIDN’T LIKE: I’m not going to say TNA shouldn’t sign anyone who’s wrestled for WWE. I will say they don’t need to sign every single guy who gets released by WWE. When the roster has as many or more guys who made a name for themselves in WWE or WCW or ECW than guys who are associated with TNA, it’s going to be hard to deflect criticism about not being an alternative. I have no problems signing a guy who maybe didn’t get to live up to their potential in WWE and try to make a star out of them. After all, WWE took a guy WCW management said would never get over and turned him into the biggest star of the Attitude Era. Even though TNA has signed numerous WWE talent, the ratings for Impact have barely grown. Shouldn’t management realize at some point it doesn’t matter who you sign it’s how you use them that’s going to attract fans? But let’s look at some of the TNA signings.

Kurt Angle: Angle was released from WWE after allegedly refusing to seek help for an addiction to pain pills. I don’t think TNA has ever publicly announced if they have a drug testing system in place like WWE does. Whether they do or not, hiring a guy with an alleged drug problem before he proves otherwise could very well put the company in a compromising position should anything happen to said performer while under contract. From a wrestling standpoint, Angle has been a good signing. He’s had numerous good matches during his 4 years in TNA. Of course, as soon as he arrived he was put over Samoa Joe, a somewhat TNA original who had been the dominant force the previous 18 months.

Mick Foley: When Mick Foley arrived in TNA, Jeff Jarrett proclaimed him the biggest acquisition in TNA history. Mick Foley is a legend in the wrestling business and was a major part of the Attitude Era. So as far as being a big name jumping from WWE to TNA, Mick could be considered a major coup. Unfortunately Mick had also "retired" eight years prior to signing with TNA. I use quotations around the word retire due to Mick having a couple of matches per year in WWE to help put over rising stars. Well, rising stars and Ric Flair. I still don’t understand why Mick was built up as being the biggest signing in TNA history. Basically what that told TNA fans is a retired guy is better than any of the guys who have been busting their backs for 6 years. Who needs AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Beer Money or even Eric Young when you have a retired former WWE Champion. That’s like the Miami Heat signing Larry Bird and saying he’s a bigger acquisition than LeBron James because Bird has won an NBA Championship.

Eric Bischoff/Hulk Hogan: No one can deny Eric or Hulk’s place in wrestling history. Few can defend their place in wrestling present. Hulk is so broken down that I’ve lost track of how many times he’s been in the hospital over the last six months due to back pain. Maybe having Hulk associated with TNA can help them sign some licensing deals or get them a little bit of press. But having Hulk beat up the majority of your heel roster, most of whom are TNA Originals, makes your roster look weak. Especially when the heels usually have a 4 or 5 or 6 on 1 advantage. The job should be to build up the next generation, not have the old guard make them look pathetic. Eric Bischoff on the other hand could be used well if his only role was to help the production side of the company. Reactions was a good show and added some depth to TNA. It’s a shame Spike cancelled it. In front of the camera is another story. The "Eric Bischoff" character grew stale at least eight years ago. And the fact Eric gets more screen time then most of the wrestlers again paints a picture that established names who don’t even wrestle are more important than building new stars.

Jeff Hardy: When Jeff Hardy decided to leave WWE in the fall of 2009, he was coming off of a run as World Champion and was arguably the biggest star on Smackdown. TNA signing him would be considered a big deal. There’s just one little problem. A couple weeks after leaving WWE, Hardy was busted for drug possession. Police discovered†262 Vicodin prescription pills, 180 Soma prescription pills, 555 milliliters of anabolic steroids, some residual cocaine and items of drug paraphernalia. While I am a proponent of innocent until proven guilty, Hardy’s bust was a bit more than a simple drunk driving or marijuana possession. Not that I’m making light of either of those offenses. Just saying getting busted for pretty much having an illegal pharmacy in your house is a big deal. I write this before Jeff has made a court appearance. The latest news about the case is Jeff is planning on pleading guilty sometime in January to drug possession. No idea if there has been a plea bargain put into place. During the time since the bust, Hardy re-debuted in TNA, got pushed to the top and held the World Title. In fact Hardy lost the title two weeks prior to his scheduled court appearance. Whether that’s simply a coincidence or not, TNA not only signing a guy, but also giving him that type of push with such legal problems looming over his head is simply incomprehensible. Given the number of wrestling related deaths linked to somas over the past ten years, if TNA really cared about him, instead of putting Jeff back into a wrestling ring, they would make sure he was clean and try to figure out what he was doing with so many drugs.

Matt Hardy: This is the one that has made me decide to stop watching TNA. Much like with Vince Russo, I’m not saying Matt shouldn’t be allowed to make a living in wrestling. All I’m saying is Matt’s signing with TNA is another example of TNA management caring more about signing "names" instead of building for the future. After Jeff left WWE, Matt was still there floundering around the mid-card scene. Other than a run as ECW champion, Matt has never gotten the same type of push Jeff received during his solo run in WWE. When Jeff started getting pushed to the top in TNA, Matt started posting tweets and YouTube videos that made one question his sanity. At one point he had two twitter accounts and was having a feud with himself. Basically what it boiled down to was Matt wanted out of his WWE contract and was doing whatever he could to get released. So lets see, a guy doesn’t like his current situation and instead of being a man and finishing out his contract or asking for his release and accepting the decision of the company, he makes himself look like a crazy fool in order to get what he wants. Sounds like the perfect employee any company would want. Of course once he was released it was only a matter of months before he would show up in TNA. Why wouldn’t TNA want to push a Hardy Boyz reunion? They can push a team that’s been around for 14 years that people know instead of pushing the next generation (Generation Me) who are already in the company, and barring any unforeseen injury, could be the future of TNA tag team wrestling. Again, let me state, I don’t think the Hardyz should be put out to pasture simply because they’ve been around for over ten years. I’m simply saying TNA sacrifices their homegrown talent for the sake of getting the newest ex-WWE employee. If TNA wants to be a major player, they have to create stars, not take stars. 
 TEST, RIKISHI, RANDY SAVAGE, SEAN MORLEY and OTHERS: TNA has the habit of bringing in ex-WWE guys, putting them in main event matches, having them beat TNA originals and then the ex-WWE guys disappear as quickly as they appeared. If someone is not under a long-term contract, there is no reason for that person to win matches. Use them to establish guys that are going to be in the company six months down the road.

EV2.0: Back in August, TNA scrapped plans for one of their Pay Per Views and turned it into an ECW tribute show. WWE had done two previous ECW reunion Pay Per views and brought back the ECW brand for 4 years before cancelling it in 2010. So there was no real reason for TNA to do an ECW show other than, hey people know ECW and ECW stars are more well known than TNA stars, so why shouldn’t TNA have an ECW themed show? While the show as moderately well received and several of the ECW wrestlers showed they can still put on a good match, within four months of the show, the only guy still around is Tommy Dreamer. Once again I ask, why sacrifice TNA stars for the sake of pushing established names?
HEEL/FACE/HEEL/FACE: Another staple of companies when Vince Russo is employed is the constant changing from face to heel for most of the roster. If you skip a week or two of TNA programming there’s a good chance the next show you watch will have someone who has changed alliances. The latest example is Pope D’Angelo Dinero. I’m pretty sure he was a face at the December 2010 Pay Per View. Now a month later he’s a heel feuding with Samoa Joe. Why? What made him switch? I shouldn’t need a flash card to know who’s good and who’s bad from week to week. In the "good old days" a turn was built up over time. And the person turning usually had a good reason, or at least thought they did. When a turn is built up over months instead of days, when the turn happens it has more of an, pardon the wording, impact. Much like rapid title changes, multiple turns don’t build characters. It makes apathetic fans.

COPYCATS: "Stonecold" Shark Boy, "Black Machismo" Jay Lethal, Abyss Hogan, "Nature Boy" AJ Styles. How does copying other wrestler’s gimmicks (and gimmicks made famous by WWE guys no less) establish a wrestler for future growth? The purpose of a gimmick should be to create a connection between wrestler and fans that want to see the character be successful. It shouldn’t make fans think of a former, bigger star who has no connection to the company. Originality is a missing quality in most of today’s entertainment entities.

 AM I WATCHING TNA OR WWE: If you were to keep track of the number of times WWE is either directly mentioned or hinted at, it would probably be the same if not more than the number of times TNA is mentioned. Just another example of how TNA comes off as a bush league promotion that wants to be the top dog instead of a company focused on building their brand. I don’t advocate the days when WWF or WCW would act like a debuting wrestler was a newcomer to the sport. Simply pointing out the way TNA portrays wrestlers. If Sean Morley would have faced AJ Styles, the commentators would have painted Sean’s WWF European title run as a bigger accomplishment than AJ being a multiple time TNA Grand Slam champion. If the commentators and wrestlers treat WWE as a bigger deal than TNA why should fans care about TNA?

THE IMPACT ZONE: I don’t have a problem with TNA taping Impact at the Impact Zone. WCW used to always tape at Center Stage. RAW started out being taped at the Manhattan Center. If it’s a better business decision to stay at the Impact zone then to take Impact on the road, then TNA should do what is financially beneficial. That said, by keeping the show in one location, a location they can’t sell tickets to, they can’t expect to garner much growth. And they’re going to have a high percentage of fans who are there for every show. Fans who have the tendency to get caught up with being on TV and start to focus more on getting themselves over than caring about what’s going on in the ring. While Impact is fine being taped in the same location, no Pay Per View should be done from the Impact zone. After all it’s not the Impact/Pay Per View zone. If TNA insists on doing 12 PPVs a year, they need to hold those shows outside of Orlando. Pay Per Views done at the Impact zone come off as live episodes of Impact. There is nothing to make them feel special.

GIMMICK MATCHES: TNA bookers have never met a gimmick match they couldn’t make confusing or kill interest in. Reverse battle royals. King of the Mountain matches. If a match takes more than two or three sentences to explain the rules the match is likely to be too confusing. TNA has a Pay Per View, Lockdown, where all matches are contested in a steel cage. The steel cage match’s original purpose was to be the final match to either prevent one wrestler from running away or to keep people not involved in the match out of the match. Guys who aren’t even feuding should not be put into a cage match. And if you’re going to do a show with nothing but cage matches, cage matches should be used sparingly if at all throughout the rest of the year. If you have a monthly cage match, what makes Lockdown special? Then there’s the Feast or Fired match. Imagine your boss gives you and three other co-workers the pick of four envelopes. In three of the envelopes is a bonus check. In the fourth is a pink slip. Would you risk being fired for the sake of a bonus check? Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t. So why would any wrestler risk being fired for a possible title match?

DIXIE CARTER: At the end of the day all of the ills of TNA rest of the shoulders of Dixie Carter. After reading comments she has made and watching her you shoot interview, I get the impression Dixie has no clue about wrestling much less running a wrestling promotion. She talks about being a Hulkamaniac and watching the Von Erichs in Texas. That’s about the extent and depth of her expressed wrestling knowledge. When asked about fans chanting, "fire Russo" her response was she told the writing staff if the fans chanted it again someone other than Russo was getting fired. I don’t run a company so this is a hypothetical situation for me, but if I was the head of a company and the people who pay to support the company are calling for the dismissal of one of my top employees, I think my reaction would be to figure out why they wanted him fired and try to rectify the situation. Not to tell my staff if it happens again someone else is on the chopping block. I have never met Dixie, nor have I had any communication with her. I can only base my opinion on interviews and tweets. My opinion is Dixie doesn’t understand wrestling but enjoys being around wrestlers and being a part of the team. She comes off as being more interested in the fame aspect than building a successful company. Does she sit and watch the shows and offer criticism? Or does she watch the show and count the number of times she’s mentioned or shown on camera?

Those are some of my complaints with TNA. I have more but I think I’ve said enough to justify my decision to stop watching TNA. Before anyone tries to defend TNA by saying WWE is guilty of some of the same things, I will agree. But WWE is an established promotion. And while they’ve lost a substantial number of fans over the past ten years, unless something major happens they will continue to replace a decent portion of their fan base from year to year. I want TNA to succeed. I want them to be a strong #2 promotion, or #1 if they can rise to it. I think TNA has the in-ring talent to put on a solid competitive product. I’m simply tired of the bad storyline and WWE/WCW reruns. Tired of seeing someone who could be the next big star get pushed down the ladder because WWE went through another round of cuts.

I don’t claim to have all or any of the answers. I won’t say I could run a better company. All I am is a fan that has enjoyed wrestling for 28 years and wants to see the best out of any company. I doubt anyone from TNA will read this. If anyone does, I doubt they would respond. But if anyone does, I would be interested in hearing your feedback. Am I just a stupid mark who takes wrestling too seriously? Have I said anything that resonates and has been addressed amongst staff? Good or bad, I’d be interested in some feedback. So here’s my email. I promise not to name names should I be contacted. And if TNA becomes a quality promotion, you can let me know so I can start watching again.

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