Same Old, Same Old: TNA Wrestling’s Lack Of Progress

Around the time that MVP made his TNA debut on the January 30 episode of Impact Wrestling, one phrase that characters kept throwing around on television was “a new beginning”. The lengthy Aces & Eights storyline had come to an end, as well as the regime of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, whose departure had been announced at the end of 2013. In addition, the company’s financial difficulties had caused a large-scale roster shake-up, involving numerous releases and failed negotiations, most notably in the case of AJ Styles, who had been generally perceived as “the face of TNA”. A new page in the book of TNA’s history was not only needed, it was inevitable. MVP’s populist character was established as an antagonist to President Dixie Carter’s dictatorship and the leader of the new era. Matt Kunka recently published an article on the new characters and various creative changes that have taken place ever since, and while the product has changed massively over the past few months, its biggest issue is, sadly, alive and well.

For a promotion with the documented ambition to dethrone WWE as America’s sports-entertainment giant, TNA has paid little to no attention to how a mainstream wrestling roster should be structured. In Vince McMahon’s organization, it is very easy to tell when a superstar is of higher rank than another, and those positioned at the top are the stars whose appeal transcends the boundaries of professional wrestling. Pop culture icons like Hulk Hogan and The Rock are the most obvious examples, as their names are familiar to the masses, including those who are not interested in WWE programming. In comparison, while the likes of Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton are considered “top guys”, and their popularity overshadows that of the mid-card, it is also more constrained by the realm of wrestling than that of the aforementioned mainstream heroes. I have referred to it before as the hierarchy of professional wrestling, and I have emphasized the importance of this social structure by explaining that if a name draws viewers that otherwise would not tune in, the viewership has potential for expansion.

In contrast, a huge percentage of the TNA roster can either vaguely be referred to as “top guys”, or has been in recent memory. Former WWE superstars such as Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy, for instance, tend to be among the highest-paid due to their presumed drawing power. Workers like Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode and Abyss are regarded as the promotion’s most recognizable homegrown names. The number increases drastically in consideration of the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, which has been held and fought for by an astonishing number of competitors, some of whom arguably do not deserve to be placed in the “main eventers” category. Chris Sabin is a fine example, as it was in July 2013, following long injury-related absences, that he implemented Option C and gave up his newly acquired X Division Championship for a shot at Bully Ray’s World Championship. Sabin went on to end the title reign of a performer who at the time was being built confidently as the top heel in what felt like a rather shocking victory.

Eric YoungOn the April 10 episode of Impact Wrestling, Eric Young won a 10-Man Gauntlet Match to earn the No. 1 Contender spot for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, and went on to defeat Magnus for the title in the main event of the same show. Similarly to the booking of Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX, not only did Young pull double duty, but he did it with a storyline injured arm. In combination with an underdog gimmick and a long beard, the show might have come across as a rip-off too blatant to be taken seriously, especially considering how many eyes were set on the WWE product around the biggest wrestling event of the year.

It is extremely worrisome to see that TNA’s creative team is paying more attention to rival programming than its own, ignoring basic principles of storytelling and character development. In an effort to replicate wrestling’s most overwhelmingly positive moment of the last year, someone in the back forgot that any payoff should be preceded by a build-up. When it comes to what should be the most prized possession in the company, a falling out with Abyss is not sufficient in the weeks leading up to the title change, especially with a long history of comedy gimmicks which have kept Young very far from the main event scene. Meanwhile, the former champion is a wrestler whose career has gone through progression, allowing his character to feud with the likes of Samoa Joe and Sting before stepping up as Dixie Carter’s “chosen one”. As much as it resembled the relationship between The Authority and Randy Orton, the fans thought it was more about elevating Magnus than it was about copycatting WWE. In a roster filled with established talent and former World Champions, however, no one predicted that the new face of TNA would defeat the likes of Jeff Hardy and The Samoan Submission Machine only to drop the belt to a mid-card mainstay.

As talented and hard-working of a performer Eric Young is, putting the World Championship on him is another spontaneous creative decision which contradicts reason and contributes to TNA programming’s inconsistency. Recent years have compiled a long list of workers that have been pushed hard out of nowhere only to be demoted or left off-television for lengthy periods. From the waves of former WWE names that flooded the promotion in the Hogan-Bischoff years, through numerous botched pushes and the releases of people who were once billed as “the future”, the roster is in chaos. TNA has been criticized for not giving their young talent a chance to shine, but in reality, the situation is different. Most are given their five minutes of fame only to be taken out of the spotlight before they can actually start drawing.

In the words of fellow writer Kyle Schimanski, it is the “throw at the wall and see what sticks” mentality. I would add that there is no way it can stick if it is not thrown hard enough. Until this method is abandoned, no TNA star will ever be booked with enough consistency and confidence to be able to reach out to the masses and expand the promotion’s fanbase. In addition, failure to improve Impact Wrestling’s continuity would make TNA’s new beginning feel just like the one we were promised when Hogan and Bischoff came in four years ago.

And while Eric Young’s title run is yet to show its worth, the timing of it has not been off to a good start.

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  • Chris

    Couple small observations about TNA booking.

    It seems that TNA is purposely trying to fast-track their storylines. I am wondering if this is a strategic decision and an overall trend in wrestling. They book their shows very much like a regular TV series does – with quick payoffs to avoid the viewer getting bored and turning the channel. It makes sense on some level. If you are waiting for too long for a story to unfold, you may loose interest.

    Another observation is that TNA seems to be trying to pair up established stars with their younger talent:
    - Mr. Anderson vs. Samual Shaw.
    - Willow vs. ECIII and Spud
    - James Storm vs. Gunner
    - Samoa Joe vs. Magnus
    I think this is a smart move and one that can only help TNA’s future.

    That’s just one man’s opinion

    • Elto Alexandrov

      Here’s to hoping that these guys’ pushes will not be spontaneously stopped once creative runs out of ideas for them.
      One major concern in my mind is Samuel Shaw. Last week might have seen the end of his feud with Mr. Anderson, and the question is, how do you develop his character from here? TNA has a history of simply giving up in situations of this kind. Remember Joey Ryan and most Gut Check winners for that matter?

  • Alex Barie

    Loved this article, Elto! Here’s my problem with the whole thing – No payoff for Samoa Joe. Now I am not sure if he will be kept into the main event scene in the coming weeks, but writing him out of the Battle Royal and not having him win the championship was almost a waste of time for the company and us. I know patience is needed but it’s been five years since Joe was World Champion.

    • Elto Alexandrov

      The audience was being prepared for a potential Samoa Joe title reign. The same cannot be said for EY.

  • Bob’s Diner

    Great article. I’m reminded of the whole Austin Aries/Jeff Hardy debacle, the crux of which caused me to stop watching this promotion for the last time; you build someone up, start making him seem legit, then pull the rug out from under him for no reason other than to cash in on some kind of WWE thing. It is one of the reasons this company will never be taken seriously