Let me start out by saying that I no longer follow the “insider” wrestling news in great detail on sites like www.1wrestling.com (is this still THE site- not even sure anymore). I don’t keep track of when wrestler’s contracts are up, rumors on who the mystery partner for wrestler X is, what the ratings were last week, who the writers are, or anything else. What I write here is based solely on watching the programming that makes it to air.
For a period of maybe 3 yrs or so, around the time that WCW and ECW disappeared and the WWE no longer had competition, I stopped watching wrestling all together. I have a TiVo, so I would still record Monday Night Raw, but the majority of time I didn’t watch it. My only regret about this was that I missed some of the last matches of Eddie Guerrero and He Who Must Not Be Named.
WCW certainly had its faults, but there were some things that they did right:
- The NWO: Up until that time (from my memory) there were only two groups: the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. When the New World Order came along, not only were they adding excitement by giving the illusion that Hall & Nash didn’t even work for the company, they also created a new dynamic by having a third option. You could decide whether to cheer or boo them. They may have feuds with some of the good guys or some of the bad guys. In other words, they introduced a shade of gray. Whether we are talking about books, TV, or movies, I find that characters like that much more interesting (and believable).
- New Japan/Mexico exchange: They introduced the American audiences to some of the top Japanese and Mexican wrestling talent
- Tap out/submissions: This is a big one. Before this, submissions were usually ended by the person “passing out” in the ring, or someone else throwing in the towel. WCW had actually educated the fans that weren’t familiar with mixed martial arts about the idea of submission holds and tap outs.
Around 3 or 4 years ago, I started watching wrestling more regularly. Part of what got me interested was seeing Daivari pop up on my TV screen when TiVo switched channels to Monday Night Raw. Daivari had wrestled in the Minneapolis area as Shawn Daivari and trained with me at Eddie Sharkey & Terry Fox’s wrestling camp. He was 17 when he first got in the ring.
Some time after that I saw a few more pop up like Austin Aries (Austin Starr in TNA), who also trained at the same camp, and other guys that wrestled occasionally in the area like CM Punk and Mr. Kennedy (Ken Anderson).
All things considered what really got me watching wrestling again was seeing the first SpikeTV telecast of TNA wrestling.
TNA- THE GOOD
In the WWE and ECW combined, there are probably 5 or 6 wrestlers (including the ladies) that I care about watching. The rest get TiVo’s dreaded fast-forward button. BTW, I don’t watch Smackdown– can’t stand the announce team.
In TNA, it was damn near the whole roster. Petey Williams, A.J. Styles, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Kaz, LAX, Sabin, Shelley, Lethal, Sonjay, Daniels, the entire X Division. Anyone who’s watched it would know what I’m talking about. Many of those matches had one amazing move after another.
TNA- THE BAD
Despite all the good, there are a lot of things about this promotion that are making it difficult to watch.
- Marketing Products: Promotional tie-ins make the company (or at least the network) money, but you have to be careful of how you push it. Although the Jackass movies seem like they could be a good fit for wrestling fans, having their wrestlers suddenly become pranksters and push each other around in shopping carts was not the way to go. When the crowd starts chanting, “WE WANT WRESTLING” over and over, chances are you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Ring Veterans: I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, having guys like Sting, Kevin Nash, and Scott Steiner gives some credibility to the promotion. On the other hand, sometimes it feels like either they are having too much influence, or “management” thinks they’re more important than they should be. I’m leaving Kurt Angle out of this because he’s still at his peak, although the addition of his wife was a poor one.
- VKM vignettes: Ok, this was already done to death in WCW. We get it. TNA is the underdog. Crashing a WWE show somehow makes them cool. Whatever.
- The Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts: Just like the WWE tends to do with their Wrestlemania and Survivor Series Pay-Per-Views, this is what the creative people think will bring in new viewers. You take two airings that happen during the holidays, when people may be watching their programming for the first time, and you put on something that is a perfect example of why more people don’t watch wrestling. Do they think this is really what people tune in to see? Wrestling fans don’t want this- they watch in spite of it to see the matches.
The same goes for the “loser wears a turkey suit/reindeer suit” matches. You might get a room full of relatives laughing over Thanksgiving dinner, but they are laughing AT you. They are not tuning in next week to see which animal will be next.
Would the NFL put on something this completely ridiculous to get people to tune into the SuperBowl? (Oh, yeah, forgot about the half-time show. Paula Abdul??)
- AJ @ Grandmas: Here’s a guy that was voted MVP how many times, and now they’ve got him acting like a scared kid hiding out at grandma’s house. Where’s the fast-forward button?
- Sudden Cases of Gimmickitis: After all of the great X-Division/cruiserweight matches we’ve seen, suddenly they decide that everyone needs a strange gimmick. Sonjay Dutt is now a “guru” going around with a tamborine hugging people? Jay Lethal channeling the Macho Man? Petey Williams– okay at least that’s not as far fetched. Again, why do they think they need to do this?
- Lethal looked like he may be dropping the gimmick on the 1/24 show, but now Sharkboy is channeling “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Maybe TNA can only affort one psychic medium to make this happen, so they have to switch off (not sure how they were able to do this since these people aren’t dead yet ;-). Maybe after they realize what a stupid idea it is to actually blatantly rip off WWE characters, they can have Lethal channel Muhammed Ali. I’m anxious to see him use the “Rope-a-Dope“.
- Black Reign: I sort of want to applaud them a little bit for trying something different, but the whole schizophrenic wrestler gimmick isn’t working for me. In some other medium I might be able to believe that Dustin Rhodes would not be aware of his alter ego- except that it’s being broadcast on international TV! Watch the friggin’ tape for God’s sake! Yes, that was you! Don’t keep acting like you don’t know what everyone was talking about! Why do you think you’re getting two separate paychecks?
- Judas Mesias: I could throw Rellik in here too (I refuse to do the backwards ‘k’), but Mesias is a bigger pain in the ass to watch because of the white contacts and the “blood” he spits out of his mouth at the beginning of the match. Last I checked it’s not 1985 any more or I’d still be listening to Def Leppard‘s Pyromania. Even Gene Simmons is saying, “that is a little over the top.”
- Sharkboy hospital sketch: This is the one that really put me over the edge. This has to be the worst thing I have seen in recent memory. Not only was the whole premise (hate to keep using the word) ridiculous, but the dialog was loaded with “fish” puns. They seriously need to call a truant officer on the 4th grader that wrote that crap.
What does this say for the fate of TNA? They seem to be playing tug-of-war with the direction the company is going. The angles and sketches keep getting more and more silly, and then they have a great cruiserweight match or put on something good like the Japan Invasion show. It’s like the company has a split personality (maybe Dustin is doing the booking?). I don’t know if it was the move from a one hour to a two hour weekly show or not, but it seems like they are trying to fill the additional hour with anything but actual wrestling.
There’s a saying that goes, “If it’s brown, flush it down“, and TNA wrestling is looking a shade darker every week. A couple more hospital sketches and I’ll be reaching for the handle…or at least the fast forward button.