Wednesday, June 11, 2014

TNA Primer: A Guide To The Number Two-iest Wrestling Promotion in America

TNA's present arc can be traced to Magnus as Champion
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Despite what my twitter followers might think, I’m incredibly positive when it comes to professional wrestling. I just expect a lot better than what we get on a weekly basis, on both bigger and smaller stages. I truly believe that wrestling, when it’s good, is the best art form ever.

My relationship with TNA is a weird one. Living near Orlando I’ve had friends who worked for and went to TNA shows regularly, but I’ve never felt an incredible urge to view it. This was during what I refer to has The Hogan Era and I’m not the biggest Hulk Hogan fan so there was no real nostalgia push for me to check it out, and I only recently really got into indie wrestling so there was no drive to check out the indie guys who wound up in TNA. I’ve only in the last year decided to check out the OTHER wrestling on TV.

I suspect that most of the people who are reading this might not have much or any familiarity with TNA, and since I’d like to discuss each episode as it happens without diving into the history of the company to bring people up to speed, so without further ado: the history of TNA, sort of.

In many ways TNA is a company born from failure. Created by Jeff Jarrett, TNA was created to fill the gaping hole in televised wrestling left by the demise of WCW. Some of TNA’s early roster was poached from another failed fill-in for WCW, Xcitement Wrestling Federation. Oddly enough, XWF was formed by Hulk Hogan and several other WCW cast-offs in the wake of their former company closing and was filmed in the same location that would later become the infamous Impact Zone, the home of TNA in Orlando at Universal Studios. XWF’s roster was composed of older legends and younger indie wrestlers (including AJ Styles), a formula TNA carries on to this day.

TNA transitioned from live wrestling to televised wrestling in 2004, when it started broadcasting on the Fox Sports Network. Focusing on the sports element of wrestling, TNA aimed to differentiate itself from WWE by being “real”, which is almost always the worst thing a wrestling promotion can do. They cluttered the web with videos and reality show-esque segments portraying the “real” lives of their wrestlers in order to build up storylines. In theory many of the things TNA was doing to differentiate itself from WWE could have been interesting, but they just never really worked. TNA continued to toil on as the scrappy underdog to WWE’s behemoth multi-million dollar enterprise.

Then in 2010, TNA made an “unprecedented” move in hiring Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. The news was huge both because Hulk Hogan was a huge megastar name and because it seemed pretty obvious no one told whoever hired them that while Bischoff and Hogan were big names that were part of the biggest competition to WWE during the peak years, they were also more likely than not responsible for the demise of WCW. Their failure came in large part because of what they ended up doing to TNA as well; They hiredg their friends who were a part of WWE to large contracts, and they booked those friends to win titles at the expense of younger more-talented wrestlers. Granted, again, older guys had been a part of the company up until this point but had never really required a hefty contract up until now.

Proving that history is always bound to repeat itself, at the time (from 2008 on) TNA reran several angles that were hot in WCW, including a rehashed nWo, a rehashed Four Horseman, and whatever Immortal was supposed to be (nWo again?). Guys like Rob van Dam, whom Hogan had brought in, floundered while taking up significant funds.

Hogan also pushed for TNA to get rid of the six-sided ring that had become synonymous with its product, which is the only thing I will give him credit for during his time in TNA. Apparently that thing was painful to bump on, and it looked like a toy. Along with the cosmetic changes, Hogan pushed to take TNA on the road and to start broadcasting the show on Monday nights against WWE programming. Also under Bischoff/Hogan’s reign, the X-Division (think cruiserweights but much more of a focal point) and Knockout Division (TNA’s women’s division but again more of a focal point) were slowly dismantled to the point where TNA now only has nine female wrestlers working for them. These decisions took a toll on the company both financially and critically.

Things were looking dire.

Then in 2013, contract negotiations between Hogan and Dixie Carter (the legitimate owner of TNA) broke down. Most of the guys Hogan had brought in had left. The money had dried up. And so the Hulkster left, but not before humiliating his now-former boss on television.

Thus ended the Hogan Era and begun the Dixieland Era, with TNA in financial straits and its main authority figure left to look the fool. With Hogan left Jeff Jarrett and later AJ Styles, who was the reigning TNA Champion at the time. In a weird blending of reality and fiction that felt awfully familiar, during the contract negotiations with Styles TNA ran an angle where Styles left with the belt to defend it at independent promotions around the world. Back in TNA, Dixie ran a tournament to crown a new champion, which Magnus, a British-born wrestler who also worked for TNA-run Indian wrestling promotion Ring Ka King, won due to interference. Non-clean finishes would become a heavy theme going forward for TNA. Magnus then turned heel on his opponent Jeff Hardy before joining the Dixie Administration. Styles returned to challenge Magnus, who again won due to insane interference. Sting later left the company as well, losing a match to Magnus on the way out due to similarly insane interference.

That brings us almost to today. In recent months TNA has seen the departure of perennial TNA wrestlers such as the tag team Bad Influence (Christopher Daniels and Kazarian) and Chris Sabin and the entrance of new indie guys like The American Wolves (Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards) and Ethan Carter III (formerly Derrick Bateman and legitimately one of the few good things about current TNA) and even more ex-WWE guys with MVP and Bobby Lashley. Those two would become the new heel authority stable. Oh and Kurt Angle is still around and bound and determined to die in the ring. Oh and Jeff Hardy went insane and is an evil(?) clown fairy king named Willow. And they have a serial killer working for them. Oh and the new champion is a bearded guy who used to tag team with a masked guy and they were best friends, and he’s now currently feuding with said evil authority figure over what’s best for the wrestling business. Oh boy.

Like many wrestling fans I’d really like there to be an alternative to or competition for WWE. I’ve been scouring indie wrestling and have found a few promotions I really like, but let’s face it: wrestling DVDs can be expensive and sometimes it’s nice to be able to turn on the TV on a given night and watch some wrestling. Do I think TNA is an actual good alternative to WWE? No, or at least not anymore. Do I think the ship can be righted? It’d take a lot of fixing but it’s possible. I hope to explore what is and isn’t working on TNA’s weekly programming, and possibly how they can fix things before it’s too late, and I hope you come on this journey with me. Please.

(You can follow me on twitter @dan_spaceman)