Once when he happened in some connexion to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’. This was an idea that had literally never occurred to him. —1984, Chapter 5
The only thing that wrestling fans agree on about TNA Wrestling is that no other wrestling company works this way. They don’t agree on much else, but this one is solid. No wrestling company treats its talent like TNA does. No wrestling company produces its programming like they do. No wrestling company writes and promotes stories and wrestlers quite this way. Whether you’re on the side that thinks this is bad or good, you agree with it. They’re an island unto themselves.
Wrestling companies have long had invasion angles, so much so that ‘invasion angle’ itself has become a trope. When TNA began the Aces and 8’s story last summer, fans largely rolled their eyes and said “Here we go again.” They said this because TNA has executed an invasion or insurrection story roughly every 18 months of its existence.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever. —Chapter 3
The writers of TNA Wrestling have a belief, one that holds steady with scrutiny: it’s better to be at war than at peace. Wrestling is—by design—art about conflict, and how one solves the presented problems at hand. TNA’s direction is that the most interesting conflicts are those of war. The company is constantly in danger of outside groups looking to tear it apart, or inside groups who have banded together to usurp the establishment.
George Orwell’s 1984 explains a motivation for presenting a product like this: by keeping an audience constantly on edge, the theory goes that they’ll stay glued and become invested in the saving of the world.
This paragraph from 1984 describes the universe TNA has created better than anything I’ve read about the company:
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. —Chapter 3
Other wrestling companies convey a sense of justice. There is struggle; there is strife, but if your heart is true and your will strong, you will win. Bad guys lose, good guys smile, and everyone goes home happy. TNA does not operate like this. When a hero wins, it is often for only a moment: a new villain (or perhaps the hero himself, corrupted by power) comes to pass, and the long, hard world gets smaller and less wondrous.
TNA’s first group was “Sports Entertainment Xtreme” (this is a company in love with pun acronyms). The less said about this group the better, as it was the least enjoyable part of TNA’s first year. I only bring them up to illustrate that an invading and disruptive force existed in TNA from nearly the beginning, and that invasion stories are more or less an essential part of TNA DNA.
Raven’s “Gathering” group was the next group to try to tear TNA apart. Overlapping with S.E.X., the group were a band of villains for several years before Raven himself became a hero and took care of them. Jeff Jarrett’s “Planet Jarrett” group took over TNA in 2005, which TNA felt was such a “cancer” that they brought in Sting, a man famous for decimating invading stables. Sting’s character in TNA to this day is that of a sentinel; a great knight defending the homeland. But even he wasn’t immune to occasional bouts of power and corruption.
In 2007, Kurt Angle created a small stable, flanked by AJ Styles and Tomko. That held his power in the company for a while, but as the group slipped, so did his spot. So in the summer of 2008 he put together a larger, more formidable group: the Main Event Mafia. The group was comprised of Angle, Nash, Booker T, Scott Steiner, and Sting, who held the World Championship until losing to Mick Foley in spring 2009. The Mafia was already falling apart by that time (wars are generally short), but it was pretty well done by the summer. Foley, who was in charge of the company at the time, immediately turned into a bad guy and threatened to hold the entire operation hostage, as you do.
Perhaps it is the constant war that makes the TNA Heavyweight Championship so cursed. Unlike other titles in the wrestling world, TNA’s big prize is a beacon of evil, corrupting literally every single person who’s ever held it longer than a week. It promises power, but doesn’t actually contain anything.
That curse was no clearer than in 2010. Hulk Hogan’s arrival to the company signaled a new narrative, a subtle boil that fermented at Bound for Glory of that year, when Jeff Hardy became a villain, taking possession of the World Title as the leader of a new group: Immortal. Created by Bischoff and Hogan, Immortal was a grand takeover, meant to change the entire course of the company. It was largely successful; the TNA of today is nothing like it was before Hogan showed up. Of course, the war was internal, fake, and an illusion. Sting, ever the valiant sentinel, put Hogan back in power only a few months after he took him out.
What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy? —Chapter 3
The latest war is between an invading group of mostly outsiders: The Aces and 8’s, who’s visual appeal is ripped directly from Sons of Anarchy. The Aces and 8’s has suffered from comparisons to the nWo, but that group never took this long to get around to things. It was three months before the group had a single identifiable member, and nearly a year before their leader was revealed. This slowing of the narrative suggests that TNA is hoping the group will remain at war with the company for quite some time. The Aces and 8’s share a little bit of every invading stable in TNA: a quest to destroy the status quo, a band of guys large and small in wrestling success, a clear and identifiable cause, and an equally clear road to implosion.
WWE offers stories for as many kinds of fans as it can fit, often stepping on the toes of certain groups to appease others. Ring of Honor, Chikara, ACW, and other large indies offer more focused approaches, entirely ignoring certain segments to appease one or two. TNA offers exactly one thing: wars. If you like your wrestling to feel like it’s constantly on the brink of collapse, constantly under siege and subterfuge, then this is your show.
Critics of this approach suggest that constant war is draining, not only to the performers, but also the fans. Two recent periods offered brief respite. AJ Styles’ several-month run as champion in late 2009 was utterly refreshing, as was Bobby Roode’s historic reign in 2011-2012. Both periods offered significant wrestling feuds, but no large groups or conspiracies. Both ended because a war was about to begin. In watching the shows from these periods, you can almost feel the anxiety from the commentators and performers that this is all a bit dull, a little rote, and wouldn’t it be nice to have wolves at the gates again.
In the six years I’ve been writing about pro wrestling, TNA Wrestling continues to be the most interesting subject. So few writers try to wrap their heads around its unique eccentricities, and simply paint everything they do as a failure. But the company continues to grow, to shift, to evolve. Can you say that TNA hasn’t changed significantly more in the last five years than WWE? How about ten years? It’s astounding how lithe the company can seem at times. And yet, through all their production shifts and talent comings-and-goings, there is always a new war.
The object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war. —Chapter 9
TNA’s video thanking its Orlando fans for years of loyalty is oddly filled with footage from PPVs abroad and the Asylum, which was in Nashville. Still, plenty of great stuff from the now-abandoned Impact Zone, a place TNA called home for roughly seven years.
Wrestling companies have always had a home. WWE’s home is New York. WCW’s was Atlanta. ROH and a lot of indies call Philly home. But TNA really was an Orlando show, since over 90% of its shows occurred there. As much as we think of TNA as staid and a little worn out, it’s important to recognize that this is the first time in their 11(!) year history that they’re willing to actually leave home for a while.
This will surely change TNA in ways they should be prepared. One of the big draws TNA offered wrestlers was a relative lack of travel. Sure, they had live gigs elsewhere, but road wear is famously less stressful there. At the same time, they’re wagering that live gates will produce more profit for the company, so there may be more money for talent. These are the kinds of shifts that bring about new faces and different attitudes.
For better or worse, TNA has essentially been on a steady course since Hogan arrived. You may hate how that course is, but you can’t deny that they’ve delivered a certain vision. 2010-2013 has produced more long-term narratives than any other point in their history, and it seems like they’re still writing year-to-year rather than week-to-week like they used to. People who aren’t a fan of this process may find something to look forward to in a few months, when road-weariness hits those who might not be able to handle it.
I’m going to give TNA Wrestling a little bit of credit here.1 If you’ve been paying attention to the show, even a little bit over the last two years, then you know that Sting and Hogan have been on opposite sides the whole time. When Hogan showed up and Sting eventually returned, he warned Dixie Carter against him. Dixie didn’t believe him, and that’s when Sting began to get just a little bit crazy.2 Sting found a friend in Kevin Nash, at least for a while.3 Along the way, Sting’s character became increasingly erratic as Hogan’s control over the company tightened. His makeup changed, switching up his homage of one dead actor to another.4 Throughout nearly two years of convoluted twists and turns, Sting’s message has remained constant: Hogan is bad news. It didn’t always make sense, and at times got pretty insane.5
You can absolutely criticize the way TNA has decided to portray this story, but you can’t say they didn’t put both feet in. TNA has always been a place with pretty great beginnings, somewhat lousy middles, and stubbornly absent endings. But with Sting and Hogan, that pattern simply doesn’t fit. You can pretty easily trace this plot arc, in hindsight. At Bound for Glory this year, this story comes to an end. I hope it’ll be satisfying. I’m giving TNA credit for simply finishing something they started 18 months ago.6 But after Bound for Glory, I’m going to stop grading on a curve.
Jarrett also cleared up some confusion about whether the company is called TNA Wrestling or Impact Wrestling, saying they are “in a transition period” and for now it’s “a little bit of both.”
I think I said this on the Fair to Flair Podcast a few months ago. Because we’re wrestling fans, we use WWE as a yardstick and expect every company to be as insane as they are. One day they’re WWF, and then the next day they’re WWE. Not only that, WWF never existed and every utterance will be bleeped out. Most companies in the world don’t work like this. They have to change the name on all their accounts, change their stationary, tax information, etc etc etc., Anyone who has ever dealt with branding on any professional level will tell you that a transition is difficult and takes time.
I’m not too sure whether or not this was created for a specific Impact Wrestling angle or if Jeff Hardy is just living out his teenage fantasies of having your own custom wrestling title. Regardless, here’s the description from the Top Rope Belt website:
"This belt represents a first in the belt making world. It is designed so that when Jeff comes onto a darkened stage and his music hits, the eyes and mouth will light up and flash to the music. We played upon his moniker as the “anti-christ of wrestling” and created an new logo for him. We put his silhouette of the swanton bomb into a pentagram. We also designed a face mask complete with horns. The mulit-layer belt is made on white leather and features a few Swaroski crystals."
The PPV will feature the return of the Six-Sided Ring and the Ultimate X Match.
Last year, ECW got a tribute show. This year, it’s the late, great X-Division. I doubt we’ll see a TNA Heavyweight title match (Angle and Anderson are hardly X-Division calibur), but this might be the most fun PPV TNA will produce this year.
The only problem, of course, is that very few of the guys on the roster are young and stupid enough to do the kind of things that made the X Division worth watching.
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.
Furthermore, if you weren’t having fun during the entirety of Steiner being in the ring, then I don’t know what you want out of wrestling. If you can’t enjoy confused Steiner ramblings and all of his in ring inadequacies, then you are taking wrestling too seriously.
This might be difficult in a business where the main action is threatening beat people up and then doing so, but I’m happy to see they’re at least going to try.
What’s interesting about this new push to end bullying in the mass media is how quickly they’ve eliminated the original cause of the movement. The only mention of sexuality is in the quote here:
“Everyone at TNA stands firmly behind this new anti-bullying campaign. The bullying must stop, and we want to take a stand,” said TNA Chief Marketing Officer, Al Ovadia, himself a father of two. “There’s no place in our schools for bullying, be it based on a student’s looks, race, sexual orientation or anything else.”
The founder of the Sports Legacy Institute is another guy who believes this story is important:
I was extremely pleased to see the concussion storyline as it was executed on TNA. I think it was a positive portrayal of the issue, and it was great to see Matt Morgan treated as the babyface for his concern about the consequences of returning to the ring so soon after a concussion. Matt Morgan has been an energetic support of the Sports Legacy Institute and this issue, and I was proud to see him able to reach millions with this message.
However, I must note that I’m not happy the storyline was generated by a chair shot to the back the head of Ken Anderson, another SLI supporter, but I was told it was not scripted that way.
I’m also glad to hear that the chair shot wasn’t actually scripted, and was just another example that Jeff Hardy is a terrible wrestler.
The next chapter of any TNA faction story is the reveal of the one guy who all of a sudden doesn’t want to be in the faction anymore. This time, it actually made amazing real-life sense.
So last week, Jeff Hardy nailed Ken Anderson with the kind of chair shot you probably wouldn’t have even found in 1999 WWE. It split open Anderson’s head, and it looked incredibly grisly. This is a case where they weren’t actually going for an injury, but one’s happened and they have the footage, and everything around it gleams from the authenticity, even though it was an accident. You absolutely have to feel for Anderson after viewing the footage of his head being stitched up.
This week, Immortal’s enforcer/bully/jackass Jeff Jarrett comes out to challenge Anderson for a match to “finish him off.” Instead of Anderson, Matt Morgan appears and tries to calm Jarrett down (I’m summarizing because it’s a great story, but also because I know nobody saw it). What’s important here is the logic Morgan uses, and why this story just became a thousand times more interesting.
The Sports Legacy Institute that Morgan proudly belongs to is a real thing, and their cause is intelligent and a long-time coming. They want to make sure that athletes don’t take unnecessary risks and destroy their brains.
Morgan wants Jarrett to stop hurting people, because there’s a bigger fight. Because this is wrestling, Jarrett attacks Morgan, pins him, then hangs him with the help of his bloodthirsty enemies. Jarrett, a veteran with multiple concussions, tosses Morgan’s logic and science out the window and leaves them bloody. What a great scene.
I’ve criticized TNA for being a company largely based on doing things WWE doesn’t do anymore. But I will give kudos when they tackle a story that WWE simply won’t do. You will never see an angle in WWE about steroids, brain trauma or suicide, but these things are now bubbling at the surface of Morgan’s plight.
This story isn’t going to play out on Impact, at least not to any real extent. It clashes with the in-ring action, there. That’s why they put it on Reaction, where there is no wrestling. For this reason, Reaction just became the most important wrestling show on the air right now. This story isn’t just bold, it’s important. They had better not screw it up.
In the last couple of weeks, WWE’s ratings have been down. Critics point to the ramp-up of Football season and prime-time TV season premieres, and I think those arguments are fair. But last week’s TNA Impact rating is up—way up. Impact usually hits 1.0 or 1.2, but last Thursday’s Impact hit 1.5 in the first hour, which means almost two million people tuned in. That’s half of WWE’s audience, and I dare say Thursday is a busier night on television for non-wrestling/sports fans, as almost every sitcom worth watching are on Thursday.
So what do you credit for the bump? The Hogan/Hardy/Jarrett/Abyss/Bischoff reveal? The no. 1 contender’s match between RVD and Mr Anderson? The cat fight between wannabe Jersey Shore characters and a legitimate (and conservatively dressed) Jersey Shore character?
During a really long post last week, I mentioned two things I still find interesting about TNA. First, they have a habit of creating a season premiere out of the first Impact following BFG, and that can generate interest. The second is probably bigger:
Give us some interesting moments, some creative matches, and a continued sense of immediacy and spontaneity, and we’ll continue to stay interested. It’s not hard. It’s not rocket science. Bischoff said so in his book. I’m glad to see him finally taking his own advice.
Few RAW and Smackdown episodes come around anymore I can’t telegraph within ten minutes. Their formula is their greatest strength and weakness. TNA’s greatest strength is unpredictability. Though I’m often disappointed, I never have a damn clue what’s going on before the show airs (I generally don’t read spoilers, as these people almost universally miss the points of the show I actually dig anyway. I don’t care about match results, and neither does TNA).
I’m happy to see TNA get rewarded on what’s possibly its best episode this year. Now, let’s see if the company can turn this into something bankable.