How TNA Can Make This Reboot Work
Posted by Wyatt Beougher on 06.30.2014
On IMPACT this past week, we saw the dawning of a new era in TNA Wrestling...for probably the fifth time in as many years. 411's Wyatt Beougher looks at how TNA could make this the last reboot that they need for quite some time.
Introduction: This is my tenth column for the 411's Wrestling Zone, and thus far, the first nine have all focused on the WWE. For variety's sake, I'm going to switch things up for the next couple of weeks and look at other promotions. First up is TNA.
Meet the new boss, hopefully not the same as the old boss.
So, this past week, I covered IMPACT, and it was the first full episode I've watched since before the Bischoff/Hogan era started. I've watched quite a bit of TNA since then, but it's been mostly their PPVs and the YouTube clips of the show (hour 1 of IMPACT goes up against NXT and that's a battle TNA's going to lose ten times out of ten). Needless to say, I was less than impressed. This past week's show wasn't as bad as some recent ones have been, but there were approximately twenty minutes of wrestling in a two hour show. To put that into perspective, RVD and Adrian Neville wrestled for about eighteen minutes in this week's NXT main event, and NXT still managed to have three other matches AND advance storylines. You'd think a promotion called "Total Nonstop Action" would have a little more of that action actually be in the ring. But I digress, as this was the first in TNA's latest attempt at rebooting the promotion.
This isn't the first such reboot for TNA, and it probably won't be the last, but if TNA plays their cards right, it could be the last major overhaul that they need. Obviously, as time passes, there will be roster tweaks and storyline changes that necessitate the shifting of on-air characters, and more than likely there will be shifts in the demographics of power backstage, but in terms of a promotion-wide paradigm shift, I think the company could do with making this their last one, at least for the next several years. So what does TNA need to do this time out to make these changes stick and be successful? In my opinion, it's fairly simple:
This program (hopefully with Joe's regular hair) would be a wise choice for TNA
Build Up Their Own Talent
And no, I'm not talking strictly "homegrown" talent, because let's face it, very few guys who make it onto television these days have come up strictly through a single promotion. No, I'm talking about guys like Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode and Eric Young, guys who got their big breaks in TNA and don't have the stigma of being "WWE Castoffs". Make these guys important for more than a couple of weeks at a time. TNA's near-constant misuse of both Bobby Roode and Samoa Joe is borderline offensive at this point, and it was especially bad when these guys were taking a backseat to a fifty-year-old part-timer in facepaint. Learn from WCW's mistakes, TNA, I'm begging you - there is a place for these legends of the business, but it shouldn't be dominating your television time and making your young, exciting talents look inferior. Let guys like Hardy and Anderson and Bully Ray look like credible main event threats, but make sure they pass the torch on to Roode and Joe and Aries. And then develop some feuds that feature just these younger guys and make them feel like the most important part of the show.
Sign the "Right" Outside Talent
Am I suggesting that TNA avoid signing anyone the WWE releases? Absolutely not, as ECIII is one of my favorite parts of IMPACT any given week. But given the choice to sign a guy like Uhaa Nation or one like Ezekiel Jackson, go with Uhaa. But if the opportunity presents itself, scoop up a guy like Camacho, repackage him as the Son of MENG or Tonga Tevita or whatever and push him - there's a large enough portion of the audience who won't realize that he's Camacho (see: Bateman, Derrick) that he can create a new legacy in TNA. For those fans who do know, hopefully they can appreciate that he's no longer saddled with an insulting, stereotypical gimmick, and he, like ECIII, is young enough that he hasn't quite entered his prime, meaning they could get a decade or more of top-level work out of him. This strategy has worked multiple times in the past for other companies, with the biggest example being "Stunning" Steve Austin, who was repackaged first as "The Ringmaster" and then later as "Stone Cold".
Pick a Creative Team that Knows Wrestling
Dixie Carter, bless her heart, is fabulous as an out-of-touch owner who doesn't really understand wrestling, and I think a big part of that is because, like Austin playing Stone Cold, it's just an exaggeration of her personality. If rumors are to be believed, she gave additional consideration to the ideas that were pitched for the Pennsylvania and New York shows by Tommy Dreamer, Taz, and Bully Ray, and from the past couple of shows and what I've read of the spoilers for the shows through August (which I won't go into detail about), it seems as though that is a good idea. The fans seem to be enjoying the product, and while the shows that have aired have had their issues, you can't deny that there's been an energy on the show that's been sorely lacking for the past few months.
...And Has Public Relations Awareness
My biggest issues with TNA for the past handful of years have been that, like the WWE, they actually have so few likeable face characters, and also that their treatment of women is actually worse overall than the WWE's. Bear with me on the latter point, as I know that the Knockouts division was, for a good long while, the best women's wrestling division of the two major US promotions, but it's their treatment of the women when they're not wrestling that sets them back. For every Gail Kim/Taryn Terrell Last Woman Standing match that brings TNA praise, they have Bully Ray leading Brooke Tessmacher around on a leash and treating her like an animal or Chris Sabin sticking Velvet Sky in a cage. Those things wouldn't be the end of the world, but neither of those women ever got even a small measure of revenge. Just let the Knockouts put on good matches and leave out all the misogyny when you do put them into stories. If creative treated them as equals to the men, the fandom would come around to that idea as well (see: NXT).
As for the former point, who are the current top faces on IMPACT right now? Eric Young and Bobby Roode are the faces in the current main event storyline, but the guys getting the biggest face reactions are Bully Ray and Willow. Young's likable enough, Roode's face turn makes sense (plus he's talented enough to pull it off), and Willow is just Jeff Hardy being a weirder version of himself, but Bully Ray has done all of the following in the past twelve months: adultered, brought his mistress to the ring by a dog chain and essentially treated her as either a sex object or an animal, done everything in his power to destroy TNA, threatened to murder an opponent's children, broke into a woman's house and threatened her, and broke into her office and threatened her. Yet he's the most well-liked guy in the company? For threatening to put a nearly fifty-year-old woman through a table? I get that Dixie's a heel and people want to see her get her comeuppance, and that Bully has always been known for being willing to say or do anything to get a reaction out of the crowd, but she's also a non-wrestler and this isn't 1996 anymore. Point of fact - last March, Bully brought controversy down on TNA for using repeated homophobic taunts and slurs to an audience member in Chicago - that's not the kind of press the company should be looking for in 2014, and continuing to allow that same performer the same leeway isn't going to endear the company to its critics. (And, again, I've read the taping spoilers, so I know what happens, and I'll just say that I hope that is the end of the Bully Ray/Dixie ordeal.)
Less of this, please...
Ditch the Tired Storylines
TNA has has some combination of evil owner/evil general manager/evil whatever in place for years now, as has the WWE, and at this point, I think they should try something new. As mentioned, I think Dixie is a fantastic heel, but she'll never touch the combined brilliance that Triple H and Stephanie have ascended to since the build-up to Summerslam last year. The first thing that they need to do (and an area where WWE fails miserably) is use Taz and Tenay to describe the chain of command in TNA. Dixie owns the company, but has no control over what actually happens on the shows, because there is a Board of Directors who controls that by way of their appointed Director of Wrestling Operations. At least that's how it looks right now, with Kurt Angle being appointed to the latter position this past Thursday, and that setup would actually work perfectly. Dixie gets to remain on-screen but her schemes should revolve around regaining control of wrestling operations, and Angle should be a Jack Tunney/Gorilla Monsoon type of authority figure - he steps in when he's needed and does his best to make impartial decisions that benefit the company. If TNA actually went that route and had Angle be Dixie's primary foil, it would be a breath of fresh air not just for the company, but for wrestling in North America in general.
And, most importantly…
...and more of this.
Make It About the Wrestling
At this point, TNA's best hope of gaining new fans is marketing itself as an actual alternative to the WWE. To do that, they are going to actually have to become an actual alternative to the WWE, rather than a different take on a very similar concept. I am not one of those conspiracy theorists who think the Eric Young title reign was TNA copying Daniel Bryan's storyline, but right now, TNA is caught in the middle - their storylines aren't as strong as the WWE's and their wrestling is now, on average, of a lower quality than what you can see on NXT (or any match involving anyone called up from NXT in the past two years). But it doesn't have to be that way - TNA doesn't have the same self-imposed limits on their in-ring action that the WWE does. Where WWE has banned piledrivers and blood, TNA could take a page out of the classic NWA/WCW playbook and put on matches with head-droppy goodness and blade jobs (when they actually mean something, not like Bram this past Thursday). The key, though, is to make sure they still feature psychology and selling and everything that makes those big moves and big moments actually feel important.
The obvious exception to this, at least in the short-term, is the X Division. If TNA wants to make people care about the X Division again, go back to doing what made it so great in the first place - great matches. Eventually, I'd like to see storylines, psychology, and selling, but for now, to re-establish the division, just put your most talented wrestlers out there and let them go nuts for twenty minutes. If you really think Manik, DJ Zema, and Crazzy Steve are the future of the division, give them the opportunity to show your viewing audience. Less than five minutes of horribly contrived multi-man spots aren't doing anyone any favors. In this instance, they need both less and more, but in the right areas. The matches could do with less convolution (except for the necessarily complicated nature of Ultimate X) but a lot more time. Save the multi-man schmozfests for big occasions and just let your champion have a compelling, back-and-forth match with a challenger, or have two challengers put it all on the line for a shot at that champion. If the in-ring action is good enough, that's really all the story that you need. Make the rivalries based on actual competition and not one guy sticking up for his friend who hates clowns. TNA as a whole could stand to go back to that bygone era, as it would give them a chance to attract the "professional wrestling" audience, rather than competing with the WWE for the "sports entertainment" audience.
Wyatt Beougher is a lifelong fan of professional wrestling who has been writing for 411 for over three years and currently hosts MMA Fact or Fiction and reviews Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.