I've been challenged, folks. This gauntlet thrown down is one that I have been coming to battle with surprisingly little these days as critics are being silenced by what TNA has been bringing to the table. I keep bringing up the critics. Why? Because columnists like myself and others on the most popular professional wrestling sites on the internet are influences on the wrestling culture. We inform, offer opinions, reason, rationalize, and watch the patterns of our chosen federation to throw our support behind. We help sway and analyze what tactics are working for one federation and what aren't for others. It is the columns we write that help people form the opinions they hold.
So when I'm confronted with a question that begs to be answered, I research; I ask questions; I go to every source I have at my disposal to find answers to the question posed. Today, I find myself on the precipice, ready to take some of the questions to task.
1. What is the state of WWE?
I write this particular question to illustrate a point. Right now, WWE is in the middle of a kind of internal upheaval, with Vince McMahon FINALLY realizing that the soap opera writers he hired aren't doing the quality job he hired them for. In fact, there have been times during creative meetings when he approves ideas that directly contradict progress made in a show from the previous week and when confronted about it, he shrugs, claiming that if he doesn't remember what happened last week, how are fans going to?
I keep hearing about high quality matches WWE performers are putting on. John Cena jokes aside, with very few exceptions, I am still waiting for the kind of intensity WWE had when Cena debuted in 2002. Stone Cold Steve Austin, a voice I happen to respect, said that only three or four guys really want it...the biggest payouts, the biggest prizes, the most title defenses. Some are simply happy to be on TV. That says a lot about the current roster and about the kind of morale in the locker room. When guys like Zack Ryder and Tyler Reks have to go to YouTube and other social media outlets just to garner fan support to force WWE's hand, you know there's a problem.
After systematically dismantling the white hot summer of Punk last year, WWE has had difficulty putting anything together worthy of note. The Rock vs. Cena was a failure, despite high buyrates, leaving a great many critics to wonder why Cena would lose to a ring rust-clad Rock; the 3rd hour of Monday Night RAW has sent Vince into a spiral, firing a 10 year tenured writer just to prove a point that no one is irreplaceable, and the main event (barring Ryback's risky rush to the championship) is laden with disposable champions. I call them such due to the fact that they have been so consistent in pushing whichever feud Cena has been in AHEAD of their own World Title picture, making the titles look cheap and unworthy. WWE's recent history of trial and error booking has led to the dismantling of The Miz, Jack Swagger, and even Christian, who is a proven champion and yet has been relegated to a secondary role in the title landscape.
Combine that with an undercard that has no rhyme or reason and you have a roster filled with dissatisfied people. Anyone who voices an opinion to the contrary of management becomes a jobber; JTG is case in point. Upon voicing his belief that he has more to offer than he's been given, he began a losing streak. In fact, only one man in the new era has been able to garner enough fan support on his own to get a mini push out of the white tower in Stamford, but where is he now? Zack Ryder is right back where WWE found him, tucked neatly in the bustle of the undercard, lost in the shuffle. Some on the roster are strong workers, but since WWE is running into the problem of a congested mid-card and a glass ceiling few are allowed to break through, you'd never know it.
To cap off their problems, the Cruiserweight Division the WWE Network promised to deliver has been stalled as the prospect of a fan supported network hasn't sat well with cable and satellite providers. So, with the smaller wrestlers having to perform on the lesser shows like Superstars, Main Event, and Saturday Slam, the two flagship shows have no longer been a haven for the new and up and coming performers. Some claim that WWE is in the midst of a Tag Team renaissance, but once again, history is against the prospects of WWE maintaining airs on that front. They've already disassembled Truth and Kofi as a team in the running. That leaves just a couple of legitimate teams to dispute the current lack of order.
2. The State of TNA?
Since 2010, the Hogan/Bischoff regime has done something interesting. In 2 years, they have meddled, interfered, hired, fired, and made some dramatic changes. I've gone back and watched some footage from 2006 and though a great many matches were top notch, some of the booking left MUCH to be desired. When the announcement was made that Hogan and Bischoff were coming into the company, I was excited that finally TNA had caught someone's attention.....namely Eric Bischoff.
During the mid-90's, Eric Bischoff's ascent to the top of the WCW ranks behind the scenes allowed him to do things differently. His reputation as being someone who would listen garnered him a great deal of favor. Nevermind how events ended with WCW, because there is plenty of blame to go around, from Hogan to Nash to Bischoff to Russo to the executives in the white tower at Turner, who in response to the AOL/Time/Warner merger delivered the death blow. The fact is, it was a little storyline that put WCW in the driver's seat, combined with his innovations made to the roster itself.
This is why I bring all of this up....Bischoff knows how to cut costs in a wrestling promotion while still making the product look more professional. His negotiation abilities have allowed TNA to maintain a consistent home on Spike TV and have secured some of the wrestling business' best behind the scenes people. Guys like Dave Lagana, Bruce Pritchard from the creative team, who are WRESTLING people are now making a difference in the way TNA is being viewed by the critics. The decision to take away the 6 Sided Ring was a tough decision, but it was made to clean up the product. While I STILL miss the 6 sides, it now makes sense and even though I called for a storyline to be brought to the table to explain it rather than simply sitting down to TNA on Thursday with 6 sides and then that Sunday at Genesis it being replaced by the traditional 4 sided ring.
The depush of the specialty divisions has been for a purpose, so I'm beginning to see. The X Division has languished and floundered under the championship reign of Zema Ion. The fact that Austin Aries is now a top tier star proves that TNA can make a legitimate champion out of the undercard, but Ion has needed something to push him outside of his comfort zone, something to freshen his take on the character he portrays and to give him a reason to fight.....HENCE RVD. Why not give a guy like Zema Ion or Sonjay Dutt a big name on their resume of defeated heroes? Despite having slowed a bit, RVD can still deliver a decent match. More importantly, however, he can sell a loss like a million dollars. A loss handed to Rob Van Dam means something. Not just to fans, but to anyone who beats him.
The Knockouts Division has been cut down to create new champions, which is why Tess was given her shot and why Taeler Hendrix was brought on board. In fact, with the possible addition of the Blossom Twins hailing from the U.K., and the return of Velvet Sky, TNA's Knockouts roster will be notched and ready to thrill once more.
There have been losses and some have been substantial, but as a company, TNA is growing their fanbase quicker than WWE is losing theirs. The lines in the sand are being drawn and with Ryback as the only thing in WWE's chamber, the battle isn't looking good for the big man on the hill. Contrast that with a revived faction storyline, fallout from a white hot feud ending in a street fight on Sunday, and the potential for a new main event come Turning Point, TNA is sitting on higher ground.