Friday, 21 December 2012

TNA in 2012: The Good, The Bad and the Downright Ugly!

Welcome along my last blog on Tie-Up before the Christmas period! Cheers to everyone who commented on my article about Jeff Hardy last week. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who isn't a fan of the Charismatic Liability! Moving on, I figured that this was the best time to do a review of TNA’s 2012 and you can guess from the title I’m gonna be talking about the good, the bad and the downright ugly. I’m not gonna spoil anything here, but TNA have had a far better year overall than WWE. In terms of match quality, storylines, flow of the show and outstanding PPV cards, TNA’s clearly had a fantastic year.

Don’t think I’ve been watching TNA through Impact-tinted lenses though. There’s been some bad and downright head-scratching moments in TNA that, even by Vince Russo standards, made you cringe. So, for your reading pleasure in the week before Christmas, I’m going to go through the things I liked, disliked and thought “what the fuck is this?” about TNA this year!

TNA – The Good in 2012

Vince Russo waves goodbye and Dave Lagana comes in as head of creative

This might be going against the majority of wrestling fans, but I don’t actually hate Vince Russo. I think he gets a bad rap from some wrestling fans. He’s done a lot of good stuff and it’s arguable that, without Vince Russo, we wouldn’t have got the WWF Attitude Era and the WWF/E wouldn’t be a thriving company today. He’s widely blamed for the downfall of WCW, but the damage was pretty much done by the time he got there. He only ended up actually writing a year of WCW TV and although it was brutal, others have to take their shame of the blame too. He’s always an easy target.

With that out of the way, Russo did write some terrible TV for TNA and it’s not a co-incidence that Russo leaving has resulted in TNA having what’s arguably been their best year ever. It’s not just down to Russo leaving though. The arrival of Dave Lagana on his white steed has transformed TNA. While the wrestlers get most of the credit, and rightly so, Lagana has brought a lot to the table. He was very under-rated when he was writing SmackDown and ECW for WWE, so it’s time he got credit for the amazing job he does! Lagana’s a wrestling fan who knows how to write good TV. That’s a combination that works and it’s shown in the vast improvement TNA’s made over the last year.

Impact Wrestling went live on Thursdays

My God, what a difference that made to TNA. I wrote about this the other week, so I’m not going to repeat all of what I said. Here’s just a snippet:

“I think that TNA taking Impact live was an excellent decision. It showed TNA what they can do in terms of a live show, and what they need to work on to make it better. They’ve got all the tools there to make a great TV show, in terms of production and on-air talent, they just need to find a way to finance it. I think that sadly, the only way they can do it is to move out of the Impact Zone and charge entry to their TV tapings.”

TNA deciding to take Impact live was an outstanding idea and everyone in the TNA office (like Dixie Carter, Dave Lagana and yes, even ERIC FUCKING BISCHOFF) deserves a fuck-load of credit for making that choice.

The show felt different. There was more excitement. The show flowed better. Whatever it takes, TNA have to find a way of financing this as a permanent move. Obviously they can’t do shows live from the UK, so a taped four-week slot in January/February is OK, but other than that, they should make every effort to make the majority of the other 48 weeks of TV live. We’ve seen over the last 6 months that it works.

Now, some people might say “yeah, but the ratings didn’t improve”. Ratings mean shit these days. People don’t watch TV live like they used to. It’s also important to remember that WWE are so far ahead of TNA that TNA trying to catch up is ridiculous. If they concentrate on having a good, live TV product every week, the ratings will grow as the mainstream audience becomes aware of TNA.  Patience is the key.

The Bound for Glory Series

If I had one word to sum up the BFG series, it’d be wow! They didn’t really have any ridiculous wrestlers in it this year. Gunner anyone? All of the competitors were legit and even though Robbie E and D’Angelo Dinero didn’t win many points, they’re credible opponents for guys like James Storm, Bully Ray and Samoa Joe.

Throughout the competition, apart from Storm and Joe, you didn’t know who’d make the top 4. It could easily have been Angle, Styles, Anderson, RVD or Daniels instead of Hardy, Bully Ray, Storm and Joe. That’s the key thing about TNA. It shows the strength in depth that they have on the roster. They’ve got almost a dozen guys who can interchange between the mid-card and main-event, which is something that WWE would kill for right now!

You know what the best thing is about the Bound for Glory series? It gives the midcard something to strive for other than meaningless mid-card titles. It gives the mid-card a meaning, which is fantastic.

Gutcheck/Open Fight Night

I was kind of undecided where to put these two initiatives, but in the end, I decided to put them in with the good. It’s a tremendous idea to have a “Gutcheck” segment with an unknown wrestler fighting for a TNA contract against an established star. It lets the audience see wrestlers that they might not know and it gives them an opportunity to invest in them, which is a great thing.

However, the reason why I was swithering about whether to put Gutcheck in the good is because I don’t know if having “Gutcheck” every month is worth it. I think it’s too much to introduce a new character to TV every four weeks. If it was every 2-3 months, they could build the story more so that when they actually have their defining match, the fans would give a shit about it.

On a side note, Jeremy Borash needs to calm the fuck down when he says “Gutcheeeeeeccccckkk”. Sometimes, it takes him longer to say Gutcheck than the match that the guy/girl is wrestling in!

The other thing I’d tweak is that once they’ve earned their contract, keep them on TV so fans don’t forget about him. I’d bet that the only Gutcheck contestant people really remember is Joey Ryan, and he fucking lost his match! Why do they remember him? Because he had a TV presence. Simple.

On to Open Fight Night, which is another great idea. I love the fact that any superstar can call out anyone from the back and have a match. It makes it unpredictable. Storylines can just go out of the window and we can see a match that we might not normally see! The best example was on a recent episode of Impact. Christian York, coincidentally a Gutcheck winner, challenged Jeff Hardy and we got a fucking awesome match. Would we have seen that without OFN? I doubt it. Similar to the Gutcheck segment, if we had maybe one OFN every couple of months, it’d come off better, but that might just be me nit-picking!

Quality of TNA PPV’s in 2012

There’s absolutely no question in my mind that TNA have had more complete, top-class PPV’s this year than WWE. Put that in perspective. TNA has been a wrestling company for 10 years. WWE have been going for decades and have almost unlimited resources, but they just haven’t been able to compete with the quality of TNA’s PPV’s. I’m not talking about buyrates because, for the reasons I’ve just explained, you can’t compare a 10 year old company with less resources (TNA) to mainstream media juggernaut (WWE).

I’m talking about a complete card from top-to-bottom, where nothing feels like filler. On almost every TNA PPV since March/April, there hasn’t been an unadvertised match just thrown on there, like there has been in WWE. For the most part, there’s a reason for the matches happening. They’re given time to develop rivalries before having the blow-off match on a PPV. That’s the difference and that’s why I enjoy watching TNA more than WWE, because I’m given a reason to care about the matches.

Austin Aries wins the World Heavyweight Championship

For me, this is the biggest reason why TNA have had a fan-fucking-tastic 2012, and it’s not just specifically because A-Double won the World Heavyweight Championship. It’s about a bigger issue than that. It’s about TNA listening to their fans. It’s about TNA respecting their fans. Most of all, it’s about TNA not patronising their fans.

When the BFG Series started, Aries wasn’t involved because he was X-Division champ. Every other conceivable opponent for TNA World Champion Bobby Roode was. Aries stood alone, like a lone wolf. At that time, there was a groundswell of support for Aries, probably helped by the fact that Impact was live. His matches had been getting progressively better (they were already great) and the fans started getting behind him. As the weeks wore on, TNA listened to the fans and decided to thrust Aries into the main-event.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: even though I wanted Aries to win the title, I never thought it would happen. I marked out like a kid when Aries beat Roode. I watched it live and at near enough 4am in the morning, I was busting some severe moves and screaming my fucking head off! If TNA hadn’t listened to their fans, then thousands of people, including me, wouldn’t have had that feeling. It was amazing!

Like I said, it wasn’t just because Aries won the title. It was because it felt like the opinions of the fans were respected. Again, that’s another reason why TNA had a great 2012!

Now that the good stuff is out of the way, and there was a lot of it, let’s get to the stuff that wasn’t so good.

TNA – The Bad in 2012

The Hogans Know Best… Brrrrrrotherrrrrrr!!

(sigh) Where do I start? I might not be a Hulk Hogan fan, but I respect everything he’s done in this business. I’ve got respect for him, but why doesn’t he have respect for himself? There’s absolutely no need for Hogan to be on TV every week, if at all. It takes him about a week and a half to walk to the ring and when he gets there, he just rambles incoherently. His promo’s are a fucking disgrace. It’s as if when he’s talking, he’s saying stuff to remind himself of what’s happening. He’s supposed to convince us (fans) about what’s going on, but it comes across like us (fans) know more than Hogan does. He’s trying to convince himself more than us, that’s how it comes across to me anyway.

I’ll go in to this a little more in a bit, but a couple of things about Hulk that have annoyed me in the last few months, mainly surrounding Aces & 8’s. I’ll be talking about Aces & 8’s more later, but on an episode of Impact before Bound for Glory, Hogan basically showed that “he knows best brrrotherrr”. Until that point, TNA had done a fantastic job of building up Aces & 8’s as this bad-ass biker group that takes no shit, kicks ass and take names. Then Hogan steps in and makes an arse of the entire situation! First of all, he attempts to wipe out 3 of Aces & 8’s with a baseball bat, but when he swings at them, he misses every single one of them by about 3 feet. I know that he’s not really “supposed” to hit them, but Jesus Christ. Make it look better than that!

Then, at the BFG PPV, it got even worse! After the Aces & 8’s vs Bully Ray & Sting match had finished and the winners had been determined, Hogan’s music hits. It takes about a year and a half for him to walk down the aisle to the ring, but he wipes out 4/5 members of the gang on the way to the ring. Way to make a “tough gang” look like bitches!

I’m not saying Hogan doesn’t have something to offer TNA. Hogan is a huge name and, sex tape aside; he can get some mainstream media attention for the company. I just think his time as a full-time TV performer is over. The sad thing is, I think the only way Hogan will step aside is when he’s dead, and I’m not joking.

Sticking with the Hogans, we get to the ridiculous decision to give Brooke Hogan a job with TNA. Whether her “Executive in Charge of the TNA Knockouts” role is just for TV or an actual backstage job is irrelevant. What in the name of fuck is that about? What does she actually offer? She looks like a drag queen and I’m pretty sure that it was her in the Hogan sex-tape, not her dad! Jesus Christ, she’s got a deeper voice than me and I smoke 20 cigarettes a day! The most unintentionally funny thing I’ve ever seen was her falling over on the stage on Impact a couple of months ago. I genuinely roared with laughter. What does this bint actually bring to the programme? The same as her dad: fuck all. Get her off my TV. Sadly, given recent events, it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen. Poor Bully Ray. What’s he done to deserve this? I feel sorry for him.

Surely I’ve given enough examples, and they’re just from the last 12 months, to prove that the Hogans don't know best and TNA should get them off-screen!

Aces & 8’s goes on… and on… and on… and on… and on…

On one of the first live Impacts after Sting had been announced as TNA’s first Hall-of-Famer, he got wiped out from these three random guys. We’d later find out that they were part of a gang called Aces & 8’s. At the beginning, TNA did a brilliant job of booking this and, so far, they’ve done a great job of stopping us from finding out who’s actually behind it. The problem with it is that because it got such a good initial reaction, TNA have dragged it out beyond belief and it’s starting to have a bad effect on the storyline.

To make it worthwhile, TNA have to get two things right. They have to do the “big” reveal on PPV and they HAVE to make sure that the pay-off is worth it. I don’t mean by fucking exposing Devon or Festus as the brains behind it. I’ll also be majorly pissed if that fucking waste of space Garett Bischoff is involved. Honestly, shit on the pavement (that’s sidewalk for our non-UK readers!) would be more useful than him. The sad thing is that other than Jeff Jarrett, Eric Bischoff or Abyss, who else would be a big enough, realistic pay-off? I wouldn’t have minded if Jarrett, Bischoff or Abyss had been behind it if we’d have had some decent progression over the last few months, but we’ve not. Other than Devon and Festus, we’ve had nothing of note.

The problem is that TNA have gone back to taping Impact, so even if the reveal is done on PPV, we wouldn’t have to watch to find out the reasoning behind it. We’d be able to read the spoilers and be done with it. That’s why I had to put Aces & 8’s in with the bad. Because it’s dragged on too long.

James Storm gets screwed AGAIN… REPEATEDLY

I genuinely feel sorry for James Storm. I fucking love his theme song. I’ve said before that I catch myself singing it out loud in public sometimes. Let me tell ya that I get some strange looks when I’m outside the pub having a smoke and just come out with “Longnecks and Rednecks are my friends…”

Anyway, the reason I feel sorry for the Cowboy is because every time it looks as if he’s finally going to achieve something, it gets snatched away from him. It happened before his match with Roode at Lockdown, it happened after he won the Bound for Glory series and it happened after he won the triple-threat at No Surrender. Whose handbag has James Storm shat in to have as much bad luck as that? Seriously. (And for those of you who got that reference, give yourselves a pat on the back!)

One of the bad things about the internet is that you can read rumours all over the place and you never know what to believe. I’ve read from more than one credible source (a website where you need to pay for membership that includes access to premium information) that the reason why Storm lost at Lockdown is because Hogan felt Storm would get a better reaction if he failed to win the World Title. What fucking planet is that rabid Walrus on? We’d already seen Storm fail to beat Roode countless times before. If Storm had beaten Roode, in Storm’s home state, inside a steel cage for the World Heavyweight Championship, what better pay-off would there have been than that? There would’ve been none. There’s no possible way that TNA can capitalise on James Storm now, because they’ve already given us Storm beating Roode. It happened at Bound for Glory.

Storm and Roode have amazing chemistry together and I’ve gone on record as saying that I thought their match/storyline that culminated at Bound for Glory was the best wrestling storyline, match, emotional battle, whatever you want to call it, was the best thing I’d seen in any wrestling company in the last 10 years.

It’s getting beyond the joke with Storm now, especially with the fact that he lost his #1 contender’s spot to Roode a few weeks ago. The way Storm gets booked in TNA reminds me of the way that The Rock was often booked as a babyface early in his main-event run with WWF/E. Every time that Rock got close to achieving something, it was snatched away from him, but it meant SO much more when he won. TNA are running out of time to do that with Storm, because the only way they can get that pay-off is to have him beat Roode for the title. But guess what? Roode doesn’t have the title, and he won’t have it for a long time yet (dependant on the Hardy situation). The longer it goes on, the longer TNA have missed the boat with James Storm, which is a shame because the guy is a great character and he deserves more than being screwed at every opportunity.

Jeff Hardy wins the TNA World Heavyweight Title

Urgh… Where do I start with this? I should preface this by saying I was a huge Jeff Hardy fan. I marked out when he won his first WWE Championship because I never saw it coming. But I’ve got several issues with Jeff winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship as a result of winning the Bound for Glory series.

First off, the fact that Hardy shouldn’t have a job with TNA, never mind being their fucking World Heavyweight Champion. TNA Victory Road is the most unprofessional and embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen. Hardy disgraced the company, its workers, the fans and his fellow wrestlers that day by turning up for work clearly off his tits on drink or drugs. Granted, he shouldn’t take all the blame for that, because TNA officials allowed him to go out there in that condition, but nobody poured that drink or put those drugs in his body. Hardy did.

Second off, the fact that Hardy only has the title to stop him from leaving. That’s a joke. That’s not a reason to give him the title. I understand that Hardy is TNA’s biggest star, but realistically, how much does having Hardy benefit TNA? They don’t draw huge live crowds (except for one-off PPV’s and international tours) and their PPV buys don’t reflect how good the shows are, so does it really make a difference if Hardy is champion? I don’t think so… The only thing I can compare it to is a guy cheating on his wife/girlfriend, only for the wife/girlfriend to beg him not to leave. It’s ridiculous. At the end of the day, Jeff Hardy will do what every wrestler does: he’ll do what’s best for him. Whether he leaves, or stays, it’ll be because that’s what Jeff wants, not because TNA have effectively begged him to say.

Finally, Jeff Hardy doesn’t deserve to be TNA World Heavyweight Champion. I’ve already explained why I don’t think he deserves it. No doubt some of you are saying “but George, doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?” Yes, but this isn’t Jeff’s second chance. It’s his third or fourth, and going by his previous form, he’ll probably need another couple of “second chances” before he retires. For a professional athlete, that’s not good enough. People might shit all over RVD, but how many times has he been suspended? Once, and everyone’s well aware of how much Rob likes a crafty “herbal cigarette” every now and again.

To top it all off, if we can believe what we believe on ye olde interweb, TNA’s plans heading into the Bound for Glory series were for James Storm to win the tournament and face Bobby Roooooooode (wee Jeremy Borash ref for ya there!) for the TNA Heavyweight Championship of the World. However, Hulk Hogan (fresh off another sex-tape scandal) decided to stick his 24-inch pythons and 94-foot head into the situation and decided to put TNA’s weight behind one Jeff Hardy. That decision resulted in at least one good thing, A-Double winning the World Championship, but the ultimate goal was to put one of wrestling’s biggest liabilities (that’s just my opinion) on top of the mountain again.

The punters in the TNA crowd at Bound for Glory didn’t sound too happy when Jeff “earned his redemption”. Listen to their reaction when Hardy beat Aries. I’d say just over half of the crowd, maybe more, are pissed beyond belief that Hardy won. Whether that’s got to do with how good Aries is, or how much the crowd are fed up of Hardy, is open to conjecture. I know what my opinion is.

James Storm deserves to be TNA World Heavyweight Champion more than Jeff Hardy and the fact he was pushed aside for a ridiculous face-painted, insidey-voice-listening man who wears a TNA World Heavyweight Championship that looks like a Divas championship and a reject Batman belt had a bastard love-child is just mind-blowing to me.

With the bad stuff out of the way, that means it’s time for the final part of this trinity, the downright ugly.

TNA in 2012: The Downright Ugly

The clusterfuck that was the AJ Styles & Crack Whore Claire storyline

Yup. It was bad enough for me to call it a clusterfuck. What in the name of hell possessed TNA creative to sign off on that? It was a complete joke from start to finish and it was uncomfortable to watch. The girl who played the “Claire Lynch” role was an awful actress. I swear that my cousin, who’s only 7 years old, could’ve done a better job. She looked uncomfortable; AJ Styles looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights and it was so bad, even by wrestling storyline standards, that it wasn’t even funny. It was just awful!

Even the start with the AJ/Dixie thing. As soon as that happened, I had an uneasy feeling that something shitty was going to come of it, but I was prepared to wait. I waited and got hit with something worse. Jesus! Is it the worst wrestling storyline ever? That’s a tough one. It’s not at Katie Vick levels, but it’s definitely the worst storyline in TNA history in my opinion.

The only positives from this whole storyline were the fact that we got some close to 5-star tag-team matches between Kaz & Daniels and AJ & Kurt Angle. Talking of the former WTTCOTW, Kaz and Daniels were the saving grace of this storyline. They were entertaining. They were the ones who kept me from self-harming during the storyline. If it hadn’t have been for them, I’d hate to think what depths this storyline would have plunged into.

Despite the fact that some stuff in TNA was horrific at times this year, the positives by far and away outweigh the negatives. TNA have provided a consistently good TV product over the past 12 months. The key thing for them now is to make sure that they don’t get ideas above their station. Slow and steady progression is what they should aim for. Don’t book stadiums for PPV’s, don’t go chasing the holy grail of ratings. Make sure that your TV shows and storylines make sense, continue to make the shows flow together and make sense, and the audience will grow. At this point, TNA is a far better overall wrestling product to watch than the WWE and if they keep improving, there’s a fair chance that more people will feel the same.

What are your thoughts on TNA’s 2012? As always feel free to follow me on Twitter @george_sltd. I’m normally on there every day, so feel free to send me a tweet! That’ll wrap things up for this week. If I don’t speak to you guys before then, have a merry Christmas and a great New Year! Thanks for all your comments and support. It’s appreciated!

Peace out,