Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is it the Fed or the Players?

In the mid 90's, I was a HUGE NBA fan. My team was Seattle. My player was Gary Payton. He was on my very first chase set trading card and I owned a jersey, which was a hard one to find where I lived at the time. I followed his career from Seattle to Milwaukee to Los Angeles to Boston and finally, to Miami where he FINALLY captured a ring before retiring. My favorite team was the Seattle Supersonics NOT for the franchise, but for just one player. When people say they followed the Chicago Bulls for Michael Jordan, I followed Seattle, Milwaukee, LA, Boston, and Miami for Mr. Payton.

Jeff Hardy was my Gary Payton wrestling counterpart. As it turned out, though, I was ALREADY watching TNA by the time Hardy came in, but when the news came to my door that Jeff Hardy, THE Jeff Hardy was going to be wrestling AJ Styles in TNA, my pulse hit the ROOF. Fast forward a decade and we're faced with something new. In the same way that Los Angeles, Boston, and Miami made it ultimately possible for Gary Payton to win a championship, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Global Force Wrestling are potential playing grounds for some of the most talented wrestlers on the planet thanks in no small part to TNA's foolish games of fiscal "chicken" at the negotiation table with their talents and the current scandal plaguing WWE involving stocks and losses and foul play as it relates to both.

When Hardy and AJ Styles faced off for the first time, I knew I had come across something interesting....something special. In news related to all of this, a pair of TNA's finest performers have been in talks with Ring of Honor, namely Bad Influence in its entirety. They come on the heels of AJ Styles' most recent defection, placing Kazarian, Christopher Daniels, AND AJ Styles under the same card confines, making it an automatic money making card, no matter where they find themselves on it....guaranteed.

The talent exchange wars are underway, folks, and right now it has become a race to lockdown as many decent talents under contract without breaking the bank and still try to make money in the offset of those leaving for other promotions. Where does everything land, however? THAT is the question to be answered in the coming months.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Could/Would/Should They?

In the last column, I made a promise to bring a few things up that could help put out the house fire. One guy made a striking comparison of TNA being a house fire that officials are trying to put out with water pistols. You know who you are and you won't get any arguments from me on that front. To that end, I'm going to put those grievances on display here AND what TNA can do about it.

1. There's too many copycat stories between TNA and WWE.
Let's face it, if one company has some success, it seems only natural that the other will want to cash in on the innovation REGARDLESS of who holds it right now. Nevertheless, TNA has got to be stopped from venturing down the same road as their competition, so they have to pull the plug on the similarities and that may mean going off script and sharply turning away.

2. People leaving in crowds makes the company look bad.
Hernandez, Kazarian, Daniels, AJ Styles, Sting, and Chris Sabin all leave in the first 5 months of the year and Austin Aries is about to be right behind them. This is NOT the kind of impression to leave with the fans of the product. Yes, you may be bringing up new stars. Yes, you may be trying to overhaul the brand, but it shouldn't be at the expense of losing out on pivotal members of the roster; ones who have been difference makers in feuds and in the forward movement of the product. Losing out on members who have been HUGE factors to the X Division in the history of the brand is a big deal because they can be re-integrated into the division to bring up those up and rising stars who can raise the banner and, much like the problem had been with WWE, without of those homegrown veterans to do that, you have a crop of untrained, unproven recruits who haven't earned ANYTHING in the eyes of the fans.

3. TNA is still invisible.
In spite of having been around for over a decade, TNA is STILL not on the casual fans' radar. My question is "Why not?". The answer is that TNA has been trying to get by on their reputation alone, which is a dangerous thing. Anyone who goes to a site like NoDQ.com or Lordsofpain.net or any other news site that has a columnist on staff will tell you that TNA does NOT have the best reputation in the business right now and with good reason. The sad truth is, TNA's street cred went down shortly after Samoa Joe was put down by Kurt Angle and thus was fed to the Streak Curse or at least that's where I mark the turn. I can get more into that elsewhere, but the point is, without a true moneymaker who believes in the product anymore, it's going to be tough to convince the casual fan to stick around for long...unless they can do some SERIOUS promoting and that leads me into.....

4. Put the positives on display!
It's tough thing when some of the best X Division performers leave all at once, because it makes it INCREDIBLY difficult to accentuate the positives of TNA's most innovative division. Jerry Lynn, AJ Styles, Petey Williams, Low Ki, Sonjay Dutt, Michael Shane (Matt Bentley), Kazarian, Daniels, and the list goes on and on of the pioneers of the division, most of whom are gone or are on an appearance by appearance basis. I really pulled for this division with its "no limits" mentality and with Austin Aries bringing in the "option C" hinge pin, making it possible for smaller guys to get a shortcut to cut their teeth on the main event scene. The problem comes when the X Division is merely a cardboard cutout of its former self. It frustrates me that the format TNA has chosen to run with as it relates to their division make virtually no mention of the X Division in any form.

5. Knockouts or Valets?
In TNA's case, you CAN'T have it both ways. You either have valets or you can have Knockouts.....this means that TNA doesn't have the money to spread around to women who can't get things done in ring. If we're trying to cut waste, this is one place to start. Look, I'm not opposed to a woman who is easy on the eyes walking her man to the ring, but if you're only going to be eye candy, take a number and sit down behind the curtain. Christy Hemme got lucky and was injured in the right place at the right time and was able to segue into ring announcing and, ultimately, into a place on the creative team, but there aren't many women who get that kind of shot. That said, you need to pick which you want.

This is where I ask the second half of the question: Is the Carter family willing to do what is necessary?

Think about this: If anyone wants to defend Dixie Carter now, consider who has been at the helm of negotiations for domestic network presences the past few years. For years, it was Jeff Jarrett. Then, when he was shown the door for misconduct, Dixie stepped in. When it became clear she was having trouble, Hogan and Bischoff stepped in and helped negotiate terms with Spike to solidify their presence there. Now that Bischoff is gone and Hogan has turned to Vince, who do they turn to? Dixie turned to a talent agency to try and help smooth things over with Spike OR shop the product around to other networks to try and secure another home before the contract runs out this fall.

There is no one else who has a better chance of securing TNA's assets than Jeff Jarrett. His 35-ish percent of the shares in the company make him the BEST shot of ensuring the well-being of the roster once they've worn out their welcome with Spike....which may be sooner than later, if things don't change soon.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Point of No Return?

I've been watching. I've had my ear to the ground....but I have no idea what TNA's plan is. They hired a big name talent agency to scout and negotiate new network deals to secure their future on the domestic market, but in the process, they've allowed some contracts expire that have been major players in TNA's history, particularly of late. Kazarian, Daniels, Hernandez...I have to admit it, folks, I don't understand.

This blog began back in 2011, in the first successful year of the Hogan regime. During this time, a great  many critics claimed TNA would be going under, even though their revenues were up. Bear well in mind that Hogan, Sting, AJ Styles, Bad Influence, and a host of others were still on the TNA payroll. I have theories as to where things turned south, but the truth is, right now TNA is hobbling. Had the Carter family simply sold TNA back to Jeff Jarrett and the wrestling business conglomerate without the strings, we may be looking at a company better for it, but now, the money bags have gotten so tight that production crews have threatened to walk out unless their pay has been brought up to date. Granted, checks were cut before things got ugly, but the damage has been done, folks.

So the question on my mind tonight is simple...has TNA passed the point of no return? Sure they've lightened their load. Sure, they've made some good deals in the past few weeks with international players. Sure, they've sought out help in securing another tv deal once their run with Spike is over, but the truth of the matter is that without television, TNA is pretty much dead in the water. By the time TNA loses TV coverage, everything ends unless the Carter family sells, TNA finds itself another TV home, or they lose the confidence of the rest of their roster, whichever comes first.

To make this perfectly clear, I'm not calling for the death bells, but I AM saying that there must be a stop gap to prevent the Carter family from losing out on the entire investment made to keep TNA above water in the early days. Another question I've been grappling with is whether or not Jeff Jarrett would be willing to fold TNA into his Global Force Wrestling promotion even now, under the conditions TNA is currently faced with. That would mean buying out all contracts and libraries and basically everything he doesn't already own in terms of TNA stock.

Here's the long and short of it all, people....TNA isn't what they were 2 years ago and even less what they were 5 years ago, but they're still around. Is it possible to turn the nose of the plane back up? I happen to believe it's possible, but a few things HAVE to happen on the talent and format side of things in order to shore up the losses....those I'll put up next time AND I'll give you all the remaining portion of my mind on the subject of turning things around.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Freak of the Week.....

I'm going to jump straight into nerds-ville for just a moment. During the 10 year run of Smallville, there was a HUGE portion of the show dedicated to, what I call, the "Freak of the week". This, of course, is in reference to the weekly monster that must be dispatched in order to keep the show moving forward from one portion of the arc to the next. In each case, there was a long term villain, but on the short term, you had only the one to deal with every week.

I bring this up to draw a parallel. What has TNA had AT LEAST ONE of in each of the 12 years they've been around? If you guessed "a faction", you'd have won the grand prize. If you don't believe me, allow me to draw up a list....

1. Sports Entertainment Xtreme
2. Latin American Xchange
3. Immortal
4. Main Event Mafia
5. Team Canada
6. The Frontline
7. Aces and Eights
8. The New Church
9. The Gathering
10. World Elite
11. Planet Jarrett

This is just the surface, people. Some of these groups lasted for years while others just a few months, but regardless of how long they were around, it's clear that TNA has been trying to capture that lightning in the bottle phenomenon that was the nWo. To face facts, TNA was able to pay MORE talents per appearance when a faction was running. To be fair, WWE has had MORE of their share, but in that same 12 years, the number has been FAR smaller, particularly of those that have lasted long enough to even show up on a list that WASN'T a rehash of a former incarnation. But before I start sounding like this is yet another WWE vs. TNA column, let me just say that this is merely to illustrate a potential problem for TNA.

Now we have the Menagerie and, as fond as I am of the gimmick they're using here, it's still yet another faction and TNA hasn't had a strong history of making good splashes in the wrestling mainstream with their stables. Maybe 4 out of the list above rank higher than all the rest combined, but aside from the MEM, LAX, Team Canada, and the potential World Elite and the Aces and Eights had, none are infamous. I'm a TNA guy, but now when I see a new stable coming down the pike, I dread a drug out, over thought mess like the Aces and Eights debacle filled with frivolous wasting of time and disappointing twists and, though the final twist might be good, it wouldn't make the climb to get there forgivable.


Friday, May 2, 2014

The Managerie......

It seems that right now, TNA is spending some time building up a most unlikely character. Why unlikely? Because this is a guy that hasn't been given a fair shake as a singles performer so far. He was shafted by WWE by being given a dead end character as a psycho ex-boyfriend of the then newbie Kelly Kelly and when TNA gave him a biker gimmick with the Aces and Eights, I was ecstatic because he really is a talented guy. I'm referring, of course, to Knux. The problem with the biker gimmick was that he was so overshadowed by the depth of the stable and the leadership thereof that even then, he didn't get the chance to shine. This time, however, all that will change.

The Managerie is TNA's newest stable and if things progress as I'm hoping they will, this could be something special. Because of the nature of the stable, a carnie roadshow of sorts, it invites a very cerebral group of people of potentially join in the madness. As for who I would pick as the stable side characters? THAT'S the fun part of this column.....

1. Willow....This one shouldn't surprise you, especially if you saw his pre-debut promos, which were genius, by the way in my humble opinion. If he is given the chance to speak on behalf of the Menagerie  on occasion, we'll be looking at a nice addition to the group.

2. Abyss.....If his entrance music doesn't lend itself to this group, I don't know what does. Besides that, if Knux is able to drag the dark brooding character back out instead of this whatever funk he's in now, I'm all for it.

3. Raven.....A dark carnie stable BEGS for Raven to be a part of it, even if only for a short time as an enforcer for the group. If his presence is brought in as punctuation for the story of the stable, using Lockdown as an example followed by Slammiversary or whatever they chose to use as a bookend PPV to feature him, I think fans would wildly welcome his House of Fun back for another round of anarchy.

4. Dr. Stevie....If TNA has burned their bridges with Daffney, that's a shame as her presence alongside Stevie Richards was one of my favorite little mini-feuds vs. Abyss. The dark carnie vibe would very much lend itself to what he was more than able to bring to the table. Provided that Knux would still be leading this faction and he was used as backup reinforcement in a punctuated way as with Raven, I think Dr. Stevie would be a nice return to put on the books.

5. Sami Callihan....I realize that he's already been signed with WWE, but that doesn't mean he'd be any less suited to this particular stable. He has the mic skills to serve as a right hand man of sorts.

Any one of these guys could provide a decent bit of support if TNA has the scruples to put this thing together the way it COULD be done. So far as we're aware, only 4 members are on the docket and for anyone who has been living underneath a rock, there is only ONE reason for TNA to EVER feature a stable.....to put a spotlight on more people at once. From The New Church to Immortal to Aces and Eights, TNA has been running stables and factions since the beginning and with each new incarnation, there is also a new idea to put up to the litmus test of public opinion.

Had the Aces and Eights included the new members they were initially planning and if the story had run shorter, it could have been TNA's crowning jewel storyline, but when it felt as if the storyline was stalling for time, it grew old and stale, leaving little payoff once the big reveal was finally done. If TNA wants to have ANY success in the realm of stables, there MUST be a few rules they can follow in order to find their footing and have consistent results......THAT, however, is for another column.