January 2010 marked the arrival of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff to TNA Wrestling, a move which raised more than a few eyebrows and attracted loads of media attention. While Dixie Carter tried her best to sell the new business relationship as “the next step” in TNA’s evolution, it did not go without controversy. Arguments of both supporters and haters of the new regime were based on the duo’s history in World Championship Wrestling. Hogan and Bischoff were among the prime reasons for WCW’s success in the Monday Night Wars between 1996 and 1998, but many would argue they were also key contributors to the company’s downfall.
The January 4 episode of iMPACT! was the official beginning of the Hogan-Bischoff regime and it was also TNA’s first attempt at a head-to-head battle with WWE, an attempt which was repeated several times later in the same year, before the idea was scrapped.
It is now 2013 and Hogan and Bischoff are still part of TNA Wrestling. TNANews.com writers Elto Alexandrov and Kyle Schimanski are here to present their views on the ways in which the new regime has altered TNA programming over the last three years.
Elto: I loved the TNA product in the months leading up to Hogan and Bischoff’s arrival. At the time I was especially drawn into Kurt Angle’s feud with Desmond Wolfe. In addition, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels had occupied the World Championship picture, the Tag Team division was going strong with the likes of Beer Money Inc. and The Motor City Machineguns, Amazing Red was the X Division Champion. The very nWo-like reign of The Main Event Mafia was coming to an end, so I was really glad with TNA’s direction at the time. Hogan and Bischoff, however, had their own vision of the TNA roster. Some of the talent they brought in I was high on, particularly Rob Van Dam, Mr. Anderson and Generation Me, but let’s face it, most of the newcomers were under TNA contracts mainly because they were close to Hogan. Sean Morley (former WWE star Val Venis) had nothing to contribute to TNA. Especially when you get down to the likes of Scott Hall, X-Pac and The Nasty Boys, who are famous for being acquainted with Hogan, it did leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Kyle: I have to agree with you, 2009 was one of my favourite years in the company history. The roster was exceptional and product, while still occasionally misguided, was solid. The initial batch of wrestlers that flooded in with Hogan and Bischoff’s arrival were mostly hit and miss. For every Sean Morley and X-Pac grade wrestler, there was an RVD and Generation Me to balance the scales. The re-hiring of Jeff Hardy and signing of Ric Flair around this time were however, signs to me that the company could attract big names and help elevate the product. The bitterest taste I had from this time, was the signing of Bubba the Love Sponge. He nearly wrecked any credibility that Hogan could help TNA grow into major competition. The Nasty Boyz also, in my humble opinion, rank as some of the worst performers to ever grace a TNA ring.
Elto: If the first flood of new TNA stars was hit and miss, I do feel the talent recruited as of late has been mostly miss and much of it has to do with the company’s new developmental territory, OVW. TNA seems to have adopted a technique similar to WWE’s in that they want to build stars rather than acquire them. Having a developmental territory for future stars comes with implications. I can’t be sure to what extent TNA’s developmental contracts resemble WWE’s, but it is almost certain that they are very restrictive and do not allow for many appearances outside of OVW and potentially TNA. We know wrestlers are not really paid that much in FCW, WWE’s developmental territory, and the conditions in OVW are presumably similar, if not worse. In this scenario, I would not imagine spending who knows how many months in developmental under a restrictive contract would be a risk worth taking for the top indy talent out there, say someone like Kevin Steen or Jimmy Jacobs. I think that plays a huge factor in why we have not seen TNA bring in many established indy wrestlers as of late. A developmental contract with WWE means so much more, because if you make it big, you make it really big, while the payoff to a TNA developmental contract does not really sound as tempting as it should be.
Kyle: I agree wholeheartedly with Elto here. As a regular viewer of OVW, there are plenty of wrestlers who I hope get a call up to the main roster and I am very pleased that wrestlers such as Crimson can develop their skills there. As a big supporter of the indys, I have been annoyed at how many ROH wrestlers have been taken to WWE (and more than slightly jealous) and agree that Kevin Steen, who doesn’t fit the CM Punk build mould, would be a fantastic addition to the TNA roster. Could you imagine Steen vs Samoa Joe on TNA programming? The Gut Check project in TNA is a great way to introduce indy wrestlers to the audience and while I don’t really care whether it’s a shoot or scripted, I am glad they have stuck with it. Wrestlers such as Joey Ryan, Kenny King, Taeler Hendrix and Christian York all have big futures in the company, but there are a few that will slip into obscurity, Alex Silva and Sam Shaw are fine examples. If TNA continue to push for Indy wrestlers, and I hope they do, I believe it may be time to cull some of the roster, particularly some of the ex-WWE talent on high salaries to make sufficient room for the new guys.
Kyle: One thing that will be consistent in my memory of Hogan’s period in TNA is the regular “Throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality he has brought to the company. From the ranking system to X Division weight class right through to the “TV Title must be defended regularly” nothing seems to last very long and is quickly forgotten about. While I loved the six-sided ring, I felt it helped TNA stand out among it’s competition, it was very gimmicky and unnecessary and I am completely fine with returning back to the standard four sides. We have seen the collapse of the X-Division and the Knockout division during Hogan’s period but I will maintain the tag team division has maintained (for the most part) a regular high point. One thing that irks me to no end was the abandonment of the King of the Mountain match at Slammiversary, those matches are such staple in my nostalgia for TNA.
Elto: I had completely forgotten about the ranking system! You are absolutely right, “inconsistency” is the key word when it comes to TNA booking and creative work and it was especially obvious at the beginning of the Hogan regime. Over the last year it seems like things have been sort of balanced out and the company is more aware of whom they want at the top of the card and where they want to go with certain storylines. I know many were impressed by Bully Ray’s recap videos from several weeks ago, in which he reveals the entire Aces & Eights plan as it has progressed over the past nine months. We don’t know how much of it was planned from the very beginning, but the storyline does have a sense of logical development. The question is, why did it take TNA so long to get on track? In my opinion, just when the company was going strong in 2009, Hogan and Bischoff came in with a blatant lack of knowledge about the product and the characters. It was evident in the way they pushed Abyss and AJ Styles. They were not familiar with why they were popular, they were not familiar with their history in TNA, so what was the obvious thing to do? Pair Abyss with Hogan and have him wear his colors. AJ, on the other hand, ended up being Ric Flair’s protege. Remember he used to have highlights in his hair at that time? It was a decision by Hogan, who wanted AJ to stand out. The thing is, Hogan and Bischoff were not building on what had already been established, they were starting afresh.
Kyle: Definitely! When Hogan and Bischoff arrived, they essentially rebooted the company and it’s taken nigh on three years for them to find their feet and realise the direction they wish to head in. I speculate the reason it’s taken so long was the backstage war/power struggle between Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo against Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. I am mixed on Hogan and Bischoff obsession with the “group invasion” angle, I like the Aces and Eights gimmick but could not care for any of the wrestlers bar Team 3D. This is in complete contrast to the Immortal stable, I hated the gimmick but loved the wrestlers! I think now wrestlers are semi-creating their own gimmicks once again (Bad Influence for example) and are not as Elto said, copying legends gimmicks. Abyss, in Hogan’s colours with his ring of power was one of the worst things I have ever seen in TNA.
Elto: It is great to see that the creative work makes more sense nowadays. Things simply do not feel as forced and wrestlers are given more freedom to shine with their own skills and personality.
MAIN EVENT PICTURE
Kyle: I am divided heavily on this subject. In 2009 I was delighted with AJ Styles as Heavyweight champion and like Elto previously mentioned, “home-grown” wrestlers were at the forefront of the main event picture. I had no objection to strapping RVD, he was fresh and hot at the time. Since then however I was not satisfied with the main event picture. Jeff Hardy’s multi-reigns annoyed me, especially because of his condition at the time. Mr Anderson for me has never truly been the “Number 1″ guy and his two reigns fell flat. I was worried at this point that only friends of Hogan would get strapped. I was beyond relieved when Storm, Roode and then Aries held the belt. Maybe Hogan settled into by this point and realised the fantastic talent that deserved to be at the top, maybe he learned the error of his ways or maybe it was someone else’s call.
Elto: I do think the Hogan regime was successful in establishing a credible main event scene. At the end of 2009 we did have Styles defending the world title against the likes of Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe, but until September’s No Surrender Pay-Per-View, I felt like the main events were the most boring aspect of TNA. It is a horrible thing to say about any wrestling promotion, but let’s look at the stars who occupied the top of the card prior to those last few months of 2009. Kurt Angle was very overexposed by that point with the whole Main Event Mafia story going on. Mick Foley and Sting were the main event at Lockdown earlier the same year, both of them having runs with the world title. The likes of Booker T, Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner also had prominent spots in the company, so I really felt that at the time TNA was doing its best to showcase the oldest of its wrestlers. Ever since Hogan and Bischoff came to power, Austin Aries and Robert Roode have brought new energy to the main event picture and no matter how much some can hate on Jeff Hardy, Hogan’s current poster boy, he is currently in his prime and he is running hot with a solid fanbase.
Kyle: Yes I agree, people often attach the stigma of TNA being a “retirement home for WWE wrestlers” since Hogan arrived, but the fact is there was more than enough veterans occupying the main event before he came in! The main event picture has had guys like The Pope and Matt Morgan getting chances in the Hogan regime and he has certainly freshened up the scene. I am not a Jeff Hardy fan and do not feel that he should represent the company. He has made too many mistakes and brought too much negative attention. I disagree that he in his prime, he is slightly slower and less fluid in the ring as he once was and often seems too distracted and disinterested. Surely he can’t make THAT much money through his merchandise for the company? However, I am happy Bully Ray occupies the main event scene just now, he has worked harder than ever before, is in the shape of his life and is delivering memorable and interesting work.
PERSONAL WORK FOR TNA (in-ring, promos, etc.)
Elto: When comparing TNA programming back in 2009 to the current product, I find shows have gradually developed a different feel over the last three years. I hate to use this phrase, but TNA feels less indie than it felt several years ago, and much of that change comes from the ring work. I do think the match tempo has slowed down just a bit and more attention is paid to storytelling and character. This is a good thing. It is a basic principle in wrestling that it is not about what maneuvers you can execute, but when you execute them. Even the most breathtaking of spots need to be paced to achieve an emotional response from the audience. TNA have always had better matches than WWE in my mind, but I think that over the last three years the ring work has truly gone to the next level. Even though the wrestling has been diluted a tiny bit, that has only made it better, because the TNA talent seems to be better than the WWE talent in finding that balance, making the fans emotionally invested and still having a dynamic match.
Kyle: I will admit when Hogan and Bischoff decided to switch back to a standard four-sided ring, I wasn’t happy. However, in hindsight it never defined the product and what perhaps made the company look “gimmicky”. The biggest achievement for me is the production standards. Looking back at TNA throughout the years (From the Asylum to the Impact Zone) it has never looked as professional as it does today. While they have torn through a few gimmick ideas, such as the ranking system, I am delighted with the Gut Check program and truly hope they stick with it for the long term.
Elto: It’s true that TNA has done its best to look as “major league” as possible and I also think the roster has done its best to match the rising standards. TNA has always had talented wrestlers who try their best to put on a great show. Yes, we do have the Garrett Bischoffs and the Robbie Es who fail to entertain at times, but that is more of a talent recruitment issue than a problem of individual performance. The stars carrying the product, the likes of James Storm, Robert Roode and Austin Aries, they have risen to the occasion and have only gotten better with time. Over the years we have seen them grow as performers and as entertainers and they are the ones who deserve the credit for putting on amazing matches and finding the balance between awe-inspiring moves and storytelling, as I explained above.
Elto: The initial hopes within TNA were that Hogan would attract tons of media attention to the promotion, and for a while, I think it did. Hogan’s involvement with TNA was a controversial topic and it certainly got people talking. For the last three years Hogan has very much been the face of the company and honestly, I think it is a good thing. Hogan is arguably the biggest name in wrestling history and having him in your company certainly helps in terms of legitimacy. I think Hogan does create a good image for TNA, and his very presence sends across the message that yes, TNA is for real and it is here to stay.
Kyle: Hulk Hogan as a brand is internationally well known. The media attention he has brought to the company has been nothing short of fantastic. Living in the UK, I can honestly say prior to him joining, TNA was nowhere near well as known as it is now. The publicity he brought to the last two tours over here was exceptional. While I cannot deny that occasionally he self promotes too much instead of pushing the product, having his image at the forefront is the biggest reason newspapers, TV shows and radio all promoted TNA over here.
Elto: As much as I like what Hogan has done for TNA in terms of publicity, however, I do have to raise another point. Seldom do I see someone like Bobby Roode or even Jeff Hardy, who’s the company’s top babyface and an established name in wrestling, do interviews or promotional work. It’s always Hogan. I agree his image has been a good thing for the company, but he won’t be around forever. Building stars is not all about booking and title reigns, it is also about making particular names relevant in other media. Hulk Hogan’s fame has been very beneficial for TNA, but I would like to see him gradually distance himself from the cameras, so that others have the chance to raise their public status. TNA needs to find the next face of the company.
Kyle: I agree that other names need to start doing more promotional work for the company, although I will say that Jeremy Borash is very underrated and unacknowledged in the vast amount of interviews and promotional work he does! I feel it should be the homegrown talent (Styles, Roode, Storm, Abyss, Daniels, etc) that should be at the forefront of the promotional side and would love for them to get higher-profile interviews to help expose the product. I know Jeff Hardy is the top babyface and all, but he is often seen in a negative light, the type of attention TNA does not need. His interviews are far too self-involved, usually speaking about his recovery and/or his music. I don’t believe he truly loves the company and as such should not spearhead the promotional work.
Kyle: I didn’t believe at any point that Hogan and Bischoff would be around for the long haul. At many points during their time it has seemed like they have been ready to jump ship onto other endeavours. However, it appears I am wrong! With the success of the UK tour, Lockdown and moving out the Impact Zone, TNA hasn’t had a future look this bright since 2010. The scaling back of the PPVs is refreshing and I for one am looking forward to the mini gimmick PPVs.
Elto: I like how TNA is going from a creative standpoint. As I already said, they seem to have found their tone and I completely agree with Kyle that the company simply feels more professional today than it did years ago. Have Bischoff and Hogan taken TNA to the next level? Yes, especially now that the weekly shows are on the road, it does feel that way.
Kyle: Being on the road is doing wonders for the company. They are drawing great audiences and the product is more engaging because of it. I truly hope TNA does go back to scouring the globe for talent, because Japan and Mexico have the some of the best wrestlers alive today (Actually, what happened to Jeff Jarrett bringing talent from AAA? Why did El Zorro never debut?) and stop hiring ex-WWE wrestlers. In my opinion this is one of the best ways to be seen as the alternative company and not a knock-off, particularly with the high production values nowadays. While I am all for a developmental territory, I agree that the company is too small for a lengthy developmental process. Ideally I would like to see the developmental territory (OVW) merged into TNA programming, preferably to replace Xplosion and therefore expose the indy wrestlers to the audience and help make the step from development to main roster easier.
Elto: OK, Kyle, I have a question for you. If you were Dixie Carter and you could go back to year 2009, would you still bring Hogan and Bischoff in or would you rather take a different route?
Kyle: Good question Elto! It is a resounding yes for me. While I do miss the pre-Hogan and Bischoff days, I know a lot of that is nostalgia tinted and there was just as much problems (if not more) than there is today. As we’ve discussed there has been plenty of high and low points during Hogan’s tenure but to me the positives far outweigh the negatives. The biggest highlight for me has been the professionalism and production values that has been instilled. I seen this on the tour and I see it weekly in the production standards of Impact. The product may have lost some of it’s identity in the process and has become. as some say in a negative context for some reason, into WCW 2.0. It might because I was on Team WCW during the Monday Night War, but I do not see this as a negative thing. Personally, I think the negatives of Hogan’s time in the company are quickly balanced out, the inconsistency of the X-Division for example is balanced out by the usual high quality of the Tag Team Division. The dissolution of the Knockouts is balanced out by the legendary names and star power brought in etc. For me the only real negative thing has been the handling and booking of Jeff Hardy. The Victory Road incident is real black mark for TNA and unfortunately it happened during Hogan’s time.
What about you Elto, would you still bring in Hogan and Bischoff? Also, what do you think has been the biggest positive and negative during their era?
Elto: Yes, I would definitely go with Hogan and Bischoff. As we have said several times, TNA is taken much more seriously as it is right now. The biggest positive has to be the main event scene. A star’s credibility is built through consistency, and nowadays we very much know who the leaders are. Aries, Storm, Roode, Angle, Hardy and Bully Ray, these are the top names in the company. The new talent coming in is the most troublesome aspect for me, as I do not believe the developmental system works for a promotion like TNA, which wants to establish itself as an alternative to WWE. A developmental territory certainly helps workers find their own persona, or gimmick if you will, helps them discover their own strengths and how to use them, but the issue is with the quality of talent coming in. Years ago TNA seemed more dedicated on discovering the best wrestlers out there and developmental conditions have restricted their talent recruitment techniques in some ways. The resolution to this problem may come off as a bit too simplistic, but if a wrestling promotion wants to be “major league”, then it needs to provide “major league” paychecks. Otherwise why would the lengthy developmental process be worth it for a top indy wrestler?
It seems Kyle and I have ultimately decided that Hogan has been a good thing for TNA. What about our readers? What is your take on the matter? Feel free to continue the debate in the comment section.