This is actually how I write my first drafts.
I’ve been on a self-imposed moratorium from TNA Wrestling for some very, very good reasons as of late. But over the last two weeks I’ve begun to see things differently. Perhaps it was the launch of Fair to Flair that challenged me to look at wrestling from a slightly different perspective, but I have a new one for TNA. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing a short essay in several parts about TNA Wrestling that will appear here and on Fair to Flair. The very basic thesis behind it is that we are all very likely looking at TNA from the wrong angle. I will look at the evidence presented, and wager a case for the company. There will be 3 or 4 major arguments, and a couple small satellite articles.
You’ll also see a small piece later today about the Rainy Cabin, which is definitely a satellite argument, but still cool.
Next week, the first article will be about Kurt Angle. I call it “Come see the broken man.” I hope you’ll all enjoy it.
“You can have that slut.”
It’s not really a secret to know that Jarrett’s new wife is Angle’s old wife. I always wondered how that affected Angle’s role in the company, and how people perceived Jarrett. On a show 2/3rds filled with backstage segments of Hogan and Bischoff taking over the company, this was the shootiest part of the show. A must-watch, must-be-slightly-confused by. Doesn’t come often.
I hope for Angle’s sake he’s either done with this company or stays away until it all makes some sense again.
“There are two ways to conceive of the cinema of the Real: the first is to pretend that you can present reality to be seen; the second is to pose the problem of reality. In the same way, there were two ways to conceive cinéma vérité. The first was to pretend that you brought truth. The second was to pose the problem of truth”
That’s pretty much how I feel about the problem of the camera and the audience as figures in professional wrestling, and why I like TNA Reaction so much.
On a typical wrestling show, the audience is the extra figure, the guiding spirit of the program. Everything is to please or provoke the audience, to deliver and pull emotion and ultimately catharsis. TNA Reaction is different, because there is no audience. It is the camera that assumes a character, pulling and pushing on the tensions and emotions of the wrestlers it shoots. That’s why Reaction is so interesting. It’s the first wrestling program in fifty years that isn’t a documentary that dispels the audience and creates a new way of looking at our art.
I've got to agree with you on Orton. I swear, if it wasn't for my inherent marking for all variation of the cutter moves, and the spitting on old people, I wouldn't have cared much about him. The only matches outside of his match with Kurt that I can remember enjoying specifically from 04-06 was his matches with Benoit, Foley and Flair. But that's probably because he was in the ring with Benoit, Foley and Flair.
It's nice to have a contemporary historian. I'm trying to learn as much as I can, but most of it is past stuff, and WCW history just starts to run together after awhile. You nailed it on the head describing TNA as a more-or-less bizarro world WWE. It's amazing how a company can attempt to monkey another organization, but still get it so wrong..
Speaking of which, do you agree with the criticism that TNA tries to hard to be like WWE? I feel in a weird way it fits, they just seem to be lagging behind and doing things that are no longer relevant or just providing a watered down reflection of what we've already seen before from other companies. And then when they try to do their own thing, we end up with caskets on scaffolds.
I think I’d like to write a book about WCW as it actually was, without the revisionist history of WWE and the antithetical history of internet marks. Every book I’ve read about WCW other than Eric Bischoff’s has gotten it entirely wrong. To that point, go read Bischoff’s book. It won’t make you like him any more, but he’s telling the truth, and it’s not the reality WWE portrays.
Actually, I think if anything TNA tries to be the flip coin of WWE, the wrestling company VS the sports entertainment company. The problem is, there’s no such thing as either, really, so it can’t help but blend a little. In any business, you have to make decisions every day, and some of these decisions are really difficult and change the business entirely. WWE’s push to PG was a major company-changing decision, and in many ways it’s emboldened TNA do to things that WWE can no longer do. WWE can’t do blood, so you see more blood in TNA. WWE doesn’t want Mick Foley to be himself, so Mick quits so he can be himself in TNA. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being contrarian at times. But it would be nice if TNA stopped to think about why WWE made these decisions.
My favourite case of this is Kurt Angle. Depending on who you believe, Angle stopped working for WWE because a) he wanted to take time off and they didn’t respect his wishes, or b) they wanted to put him in rehab for painkiller abuse. He left the company, and the general opinion was that he would take some time off, heal, and return later. Instead, he showed up at TNA within two months. TNA swiped up Angle without considering his mental or physical wellbeing, and in the long run he might be worse off if he had just taken a year or two to recuperate.
TNA’s salvation is in Reaction, the one and only entirely original and fresh idea they’ve had since the X Division. They’ve completely re-thought how a highlight show should be shot and narrated, and I really hope those ideas seep into their regular program. Impact is two hours of illogical stories and rushed matches. Reaction is a show about professional wrestlers. Sure, it’s still “in character,” but it’s infinitely more fascinating and watchable than Impact.
So I’ve been thinking all week about how to describe my apathy towards the blassé Bound For Glory show this weekend, and I think I’ve found the perfect way to do it: talk about One Night Stand 2006, and how far we’ve come since then.
One Night Stand 2006 was meant to be the platform for the rebirth of ECW in the WWE: they were highlighting a new breed of freshly employed wrestlers, they were relaunching ECW on Tuesday nights on Sci-Fi, and they were finally ready to give Rob Van Dam the WWE Championship. 2006 WWE was a very different place from 2010 WWE. Though they were firmly out of the “Attitude” era, they weren’t anywhere near the PG presentation we have now. In fact, you can actually look at the three months between One Night Stand and Unforgiven as the time where WWE realized that hardcore wrestling was not going to carry the show, and they needed to make some drastic alterations to the entire brand.
You can’t expect a bunch of idiots who can’t hold a real job outside of independent wrestling to hold a real job, and that’s a mistake I won’t make again. Guys like Sabu and Van Dam were caught with drugs, other guys couldn’t take directions from the bookers, and Heyman, well, Heyman has this problem with authority. I get it. I empathize. I’m not sure I’d be totally fine if someone bought my company and told me how to run it.
And then there was Kurt Angle, the guy we wanted to repackage as this great herald of pure wrestling. He and Van Dam were going to feud for six months and be the highlight of our year. But he had to fall off the painkiller wagon and we let him go, hoping he’d go home and collect himself and come back a healthier superstar. And we all know how that turned out.
But they didn’t know any of that when they decided to relaunch the franchise. One Night Stand 2006 is perhaps the most important show WWE has presented in the last five years, because you can look at that show and see exactly how WWE became what it is today, and how TNA has failed to learn from WWE’s mistakes.
Let’s focus on five wrestlers, three who are performing in some fashion at Bound For Glory, and two who still work for WWE.
Rob Van Dam: One Night Stand might have been the crowing moment of his career if he hadn’t fucked it up a month later with drug charges. Within three months, RVD didn’t work for WWE anymore, and would go into relative reclusiveness until this year, where he debuted for TNA, and changed exactly 0% of his character. To his credit, he appears to have not aged a single day.
John Cena: One Night Stand 2006 was the apex of the side of the crowd that hated John Cena and wanted him dead. One can say that John hasn’t changed much, either, though you can hardly blame that on John. Would you change your style if you sold a zillion t-shirts a week? That’s sort of what’s most interesting about John Cena: his character claims to be pure of heart, but how pure would his heart be if merchandise weren’t in his favour?
Mick Foley: I’ve talked plenty about Mick’s transition to WWE guy to guy who couldn’t stand WWE anymore, and One Night Stand was an early indicator that his tenure might soon be over. The entire narrative is on display in Hardcore Diaries, from Mick’s passion for great storytelling to WWE creatives inability to let that creativity out. Mick is undoubtably an artist, and WWE corporate eventually grated on him so much that he had to leave.
Kurt Angle: One Night Stand was essentially the debut of the Kurt Angle we would enjoy in TNA, a dedicated wrestling badass with little patience for inferior performers. One Night Stand was also the first time they let him simply mop the floor with a top-level performer, an underprepared Randy Orton. Compare this Angle to the Angle from Wrestlemania 22: once a great sports entertainer, this Angle is pure wrestler, and that transition is one of the things that led to his dismissal. He was an athlete in a world of performances, and it wore down his body tremendously. Having said that, it’s probably my second-favourite Kurt Angle match ever, and his best match in WWE.
Randy Orton: If anyone has taken the last four years and really changed every single aspect of his character, it’s Orton. Whereas Cena, Van Dam, Foley and Kurt are all still pretty much the same people, there is literally no comparison between 2006 and present day Orton. It’s not just his haircut and tattoos: his muscle structure is different. Also different: in 2006, Randy Orton was a terrible wrestler. It’s not that he was just outmatched by Angle, who made a show of mocking Orton throughout the match, but that his offense drew no heat whatsoever. Since this time, Orton has learned to make a crowd go crazy with a sleeper hold. You can say he’s benefited hugely from the transition to PG, and he certainly has, but it’s often overlooked how much he’s gained from the upgrade to high definition: Orton is the best looking wrestler in the history of professional wrestling.
It’s not out of the question to look at TNA as an alternate universe to WWE. What if WWE employed Sting? What if WWE kept the hardcore revolution going? What if WWE had a better cruiserweight division? What if WWE let Ric Flair and Mick Foley do basically whatever they wanted? As I mention in my upcoming book, TNA exists as an answer to open questions and concerns about the WWE. In fact, I’m sure WWE is happy to have TNA exist, as it shows exactly why WWE didn’t make those decisions. TNA proves that WWE was right, every time.
That’s how we get a card like Bound For Glory 2010, where every single match seems like a consequence of poor decision making and abysmal foresight.
Is it weird that we know more about the Impact episode three days before Bound for Glory than we do about the final card for Bound For Glory? If you go to TNA’s incredibly busy website, you’ll see equal amounts of hype for both Impact and BFG, but you’ll see actual information for Impact. Visit the BFG mini-site and you can watch a little video hyping the main event as well as Abyss’ “They” thing, but that’s it. There’s no match listing. I had to find the Wikipedia page in order to find out who was wrestling on the show.
As much as the internet wishes it were true, TNA isn’t a stupid company. There are far too many professional people working there for it to be a stupid company. And I’d like to believe that they do things on purpose, including hyping the right show. Going by what’s on the website and how their Impact episodes have been lining up this month, it’s become apparent that TNA would much rather you tune into Impact next Thursday than buy the PPV. But why? Isn’t the whole point of professional wrestling television to hype a paid show? Well, maybe. But I don’t think that’s the point of TNA.
Here’s the difference between TNA and WWE: WWE is a sports entertainment conglomerate involving live theatre, televised reproductions of these events, Pay Per View climax episodes, and merchandise. TNA is a television show that sometimes does live events and Pay Per View episodes, though these episodes might be no different from their free TV. Do you see the difference? If WWE were suddenly off the air, they would be relatively okay touring live and presenting PPV and selling merchandise. If TNA went off the air, the company wouldn’t exist. Every distinction between WWE and TNA centers around this fact: WWE is sports entertainment, whatever that means. TNA is television. That’s why Impact is more important than Bound For Glory.
So why do PPV at all? Their numbers are bad across the bad. Sure, but bad for who? TNA operates in roughly the same fashion as WCW did: cheap arenas, cheap sets. It costs TNA the exact same amount of money to operate a PPV as it does television, since they do it in generally the same locale and often in the same arena (Bound For Glory is in the same state as the television studio). That means every order above the cost of PPV licenses is pure profit. That’s why Bischoff increased the number of WCW PPVs in the early nineties. Interestingly, that’s not really why WWE increased theirs, though competition certainly carried the motivation forward.
Open Poll: What’s a more important match for you to see? Flair and Foley, or the three-way at BFG, pictured above?