The NWA TNA week 29 Preview, January 28, 2003
The NWA TNA week 29 Preview, January 28, 2003
Feb 8 2003, 01:38 PM
I have become convinced of one thing. One day in the (probably) not so distant future we will take a look back at NWA TNA, when the experiment reaches its inevitable conclusion, and we will think to ourselves “my, what a fun experiment that was.”
It’s no secret that TNA panders to the Internet audience like no other company that I know of. In doing so they stand in stark contrast to the only major wrestling company left in the country, the WWE. I’m pretty new to the smark leagues; having only taken an interest in the behind the curtain discussions of professional wrestling a while after WCW and ECW were dead and buried. It seems to me, anyway, that the former “big three” always had a different “philosophy” about what constitutes a wrestling program. I speak of this now from the anti-smark perspective of someone who knew that wrestling was “fake” but without the bitter jadedness of how it was all HHH’s fault.
ECW was probably about as successful as a company like TNA can hope to be for the time being. ECW had a cult following of loyal fans that served as ultimate sounding board for ideas. When a gimmick or angle didn’t work…they let you know. All fans are like that though; the difference is how the company chooses to handle this information. Dealing with the wall between the viewer and the product is the biggest decision that a company can make. ECW’s “philosophy” was to give the fans what they wanted, sometimes to the detriment of the product. I know some people can’t understand why there are so many “ECW mutants” running about, but it really isn’t that hard a concept to grasp. An “ECW mutant” is someone who loved ECW’s product because it not only appealed to them, but also because it continued to adapt and change at their request. This doesn’t completely sum up the company, of course. I always felt they pushed Tommy Dreamer too hard as something special when all I saw was a regular guy. On the flip side though, the fans wanted RVD to be a star, and ECW complied. In theory this works, but in practice you run into all kinds of problems. The first problem is always money. Heyman didn’t have any…at least not by the time he was through. The other major problem you encounter is an inability to grow your audience. Yes they landed a TV deal and yes they ran on pay per view…but expansion is not the same as growing. You lock onto your audience and do what you can to make them happy all the time, and in the end you will still only have that audience. Those two factors are the reasons that I believe ECW never made it big.
WCW was a nightmare. What’s worse is that if Ted Turner hadn’t lost control of the networks they would probably still be around right now. Here is a company that was handed the ability to not have to worry about a lack of money. And yet, money is still what bit them in the ass. WWE likes to mull over this topic on their Confidential show…so here is the final answer: What killed WCW? Two words. Guaranteed Contracts. There can be no greater mistake in this business that we all love so much than to pay someone enough money that they no longer feel the need to earn it. Professional wrestling is based on athletic competition and showmanship. Those two things become awfully hard to achieve when your highest paid talent won’t even show up to the arena, or maybe worse…will show up but either won’t cooperate with storylines (IE: won’t job) or can’t be bothered to entertain the audience. This leads me to what I consider to be the dirtiest word in wrestling: Goldberg. Kurt Angle has the three I’s and Goldberg has the three Un’s: Untalented, Unmotivated and Unwilling to even try to improve. WCW had so many top talents working against them near the end (Goldberg, Hogan, Nash, Nash, Nash, Nash and Nash) that they lost any kind of “philosophy”. What does the audience want? Doesn’t matter I have 60 guys in the locker room that I’m paying to put on a show…where’s my booking napkin? I’m torn as to whether WCW didn’t care what the fans wanted or if they had just put themselves into a position where they couldn’t do anything about it anyway. The top talent sure didn’t care, I know that much. Much has been made of Vince Russo’s 9-month run as head writer of WCW (you know the one with the most repulsive and ridiculous booking decisions in the history of the business). Shock value aside, I’ve always wondered what, if anything, Russo could have hoped to accomplish in WCW. He walked into a mess of a situation where the top guys wouldn’t create any new stars, but they also wouldn’t show up for long enough to book them as the top guys. I’ve said this before: Russo tried to build a main event scene around Jeff Jarrett and Booker T, and yet neither of them could ever really be put over anyone but each other. So in the end Russo’s WCW run was left with a bigger mess…but with more dick and fart jokes. This is the blueprint for how not to run a company…wrestling or otherwise.
That brings us to the top dog, the WWE. We seem to learn more and more about their “philosophy” every day. Sometimes people on the message board start threads like “When did everything turn wrong for the WWE?” Common answers include things like turning Steve Austin heel at WrestleMania 17 or the botched Invasion angle. Most picks seem to come from somewhere in early-mid 2001. And why not? 1998 and 1999 were such huge years financially for the WWE, and 2000 was arguably their best product in ring wise. I’ve come to believe, more and more each day, that the moment that things turned wrong for the WWE was on June 23, 1996. The night that Steve Austin transitioned from underused talent into biggest star in the history of North American wrestling with one simple sentence. That very night Vince McMahon lost control of his company forever. Until that night the WWF “philosophy” towards it’s fans was simple and precise. We sell it until you buy it. It was exact and it never changed. WWF wanted us to like Hulk Hogan…and we did. They wanted us to like the Ultimate Warrior…and we did. Fans didn’t change the course of anything. Vince McMahon had the entire product and its audience in the palm of his hand. During the Kliq years, business went into the shitter because, among other reasons, Vince let the inmates run the asylum. Kevin Nash and Shawn Michaels tanked that product. Even then we were supposed to like them…and we did. The “philosophy” of the company force-feeding the fans hit a snag that night in Wisconsin. The first non-WWF created superstar was born. The Austin era made wrestling so popular that you couldn’t leave your house without seeing multiple Austin 3:16 t-shirts. But guess what? Going into that King of the Ring pay per view…you weren’t supposed to like Steve Austin. For as much money as Steve Austin’s rise made Vince, and even though he put the WWF back on top for good…his reign may ultimately be the undoing of that company. Why? Because of a new rule of wrestling that I’m just now starting to understand: You can NEVER go back.
During the Austin era WWF was blessed with a curse, so to speak. Everything worked. Even the stuff that didn’t work, worked. Austin was such a powerhouse that the WWF could do no wrong for years. When Austin says that he “made” the Rock…he’s right. He may have never really put him over…but the Rock was the product of an era where he couldn’t fail. Remember…we were supposed to like Rocky Maivia. But we did not. So the “philosophy” changed. No longer could the WWF tell us that the third generation superstar was their hand picked face, and the evil acts of Steve Austin made him a heel. All they could do was react to what the fans were dictating and reinvent in the mold of what they wanted. Austin changed that. His importance to the history of North American pro wrestling is only now beginning to be understood. The problem facing Vince and company? You can NEVER go back.
That brings us to today. The WWE is trying to do everything in its power to go back. They are severing ties to the fans and rebuilding a newer better stronger wall to shut them out. RVD is over…and yet not pushed. People don’t like hosses…and they are not only hiring more, but also pushing them (sometimes, as is the case with Albert, they are even pushed ahead of what the fans react too). Brock Lesnar received a huge push that was certainly not warranted based on fan reaction. Wait…Brock eventually did get over didn’t he? As a face…not the heel they were pushing him as. People have come to resent the Rock for being pushed upon arrival from various movie sets only to vanish soon after (the wrestler with the most mainstream acceptance in history will soon be forced into being a heel again by what viewers remain). HHH has to be the most hated man in the business (and not in the…he’s such a good heel way) and yet he dominates RAW. Chris Benoit gets a standing ovation at the Royal Rumble, while Scott Steiner gets booed in his first match that very same night. The next night on RAW, Steiner’s program with HHH continues, while Benoit has been lumped into a group main event that only serve to tow the line until Lesnar takes the belt at WrestleMania. And my personal favorite, which surely had to be an April fools joke…Hulk Hogan regained the WWE title. Austin’s era changed everything and to give the title to the one person who, more than anyone, symbolizes what things were BEFORE that night is the biggest slap in the face to the fans that the company could make. Sure the live crowds love him…but ratings and buyrates took a dive that night. The price you pay for going back. Even the slightest channels of contact between fan and product are being erased. The Ross Report? Gone. Tough Enough? Exposes the business. I’ve got news for Vince McMahon. The business has already been exposed. And you can NEVER go back.
You’ve probably asked yourself a dozen times already what in the world this has to do with TNA. Simply put: Everything.
This week will be the 29th week of new content broadcast by NWA TNA. Over that time they have been developing their own “philosophy”. Last week the final nail went into the coffin as to what road they will take. As I mentioned before, TNA panders to the internet audience more than any other company I have seen. They take their viewers (most of which do come from the internet wrestling community) opinions very seriously. Haven’t seen the Dupps around lately have you? Daniels, Skipper and Low Ki aren’t only back…but they’re thriving. Styles and Lynn are moving on up to the heavyweight division, while guys like Red and Kid Kash are being groomed to take their place in the X division. They seem to, on one hand, be very wary of going to far in one direction all at once. Thus, we see Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff involved in a feud meant to capture the old school feel that represents the letters NWA. For the most part their ideas come from what the fans ask for. Truth got the title and Raven got a contract. We did that. Don’t ever think otherwise. Don’t think for one second that the plan was for Ken Shamrock to drop the title after two months to K-Kwik. Or that Raven was a part of TNA’s master plan while he was toiling on Heat. TNA knew that the fans weren’t drawn to Shamrock, but were taking to Ron Killings. TNA also knows that there is a large cult like following of people on the internet (again…their fan base) that wanted to see Raven do something for a change. Of course the best proof of this is that they actually push the cruisers too. They seem to be trying to run their company the way we all wish the WWE would run theirs. With Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle and Eddy Guerrero as the top guys…and popular wrestlers like RVD and Edge getting serious pushes that lead somewhere. As I discussed last week, the TNA problem is talent. They don’t have Angle, Benoit and Guerrero. They have Lynn, Styles and Triple X…so they push them instead.
Now that the “philosophy” of listening to their fans has taken hold…I feel comfortable in addressing some problems in the way TNA runs things.
1. Sonny Siaki. This isn’t a knock on Siaki’s talent. Jerry Lynn proved that he was carriable, which is better than a lot of people that take up my TV screen. The problem is with his push. It has to end. Siaki’s push stands in direct opposition to the TNA “philosophy”. He’s the one guy they won’t stop trying to force-feed us, while everyone else is pushed on merit. Even B.G. James and the Harris brothers have been knocked down to second fiddle…but Siaki remains. His holding of the X title makes it that much worse, since the X division was the first thing that started to shape TNA’s identity. Yes, as Russo would say it is just a “prop”, but that specific “prop” holds a great deal more meaning to the viewer (thanks to the efforts of Lynn, Styles and Low Ki) than most.
2. David Flair. I could almost understand what they were going for here. The name “Flair” joined up against the side of tradition makes me wonder what the story is. However, they never actually made any mention of what he is even doing in TNA, or even with S.E.X. Instead of a storyline where Flair (and I’m not going to pretend he has any discernable talent) explains his motives…we get “what’s in that sack he keeps hitting people with?”
3. S.E.X. I actually like the S.E.X. storyline for the most part. It has given almost everyone in the company a storyline that streamlined the faces and heels for easy recognition, and furthermore has given most people individualized feuds or stories that they are currently involved in. However, if they are not the N.W.O. and they are there to “save wrestling” (as Russo often says)…how exactly are they going to be doing this? I never understood the concept of a group of wrestlers taking over something by winning wrestling matches. On one hand the idea of S.E.X. is better defined than that of the N.W.O. (mainly because of the stigmas carried by Russo) but that makes winning “rasslin” matches seem even more futile when you are representing “Sports Entertainment”. Where does this storyline end? What are the motives attached to the group? It’s not that I’m not into it…I just need some development in these areas. The only outcome I can see making sense at this point would be for Russo’s group to somehow take control of the show and have classic “Russo booking” reign while the TNA stars try to battle back. I am not against that role reversal storyline…I just want to know if that is what S.E.X. is aiming for.
4. Konnan. It’s only been two weeks since Konnan started running in after X matches and taking out the competitors. I want to know where this storyline is going, and I want to know sooner than later. Normally I could wait to see how it plays out…but this is KONNAN and while it may have my attention now, it won’t be long before my subconscious turns it off because it’s Konnan. We have been discussing this on the message board and I think there are a lot of people that are curious where this is going. Is Konnan targeting David Young for a feud for some reason? He’s been in both matches Konnan ran down after. My favorite idea came from syxx2001 and BoboBrazil, who brought up the concept of having Konnan lead a group of of luchadors into TNA claiming that the X division’s highspot style is killing luche libre wrestling. How sweet would that be?
5. Athena. I’ll admit I thought it was hilarious when Russo brought her out a few weeks back to “Give the fans what they want”. I’m over it now. I understand that the live crowd pops for her…but the audience at home does not. Bring her out after the dark matches and before the camera goes live to pump up the crowd…but keep her out of the ring and off my screen. Thank you.
6. New X division talent. Every week seems to herald some surprise appearance. Whether it is Piper, Rhodes, Koloff, Raven, Flair, Sanders… You know what would surprise me most now? New X division talent. I read that Xavier had a great dark match with Kid Kash last week, so put him on my TV already. Bring back the Briscoes too. They can bolster the tag team division as well as the X division.
7. Dead Weight. Every company has them. Be the first to do something about yours. Trim the fat…they’re only costing you money anyway. I’m a pretty lenient guy. David Flair and B.G. James can stay. The Harris boys and Jorge Estrada have to go. There…wasn’t that easy. It’s like give and take.
8. Redefine “The Truth”. Last weeks little angle where Mike Sanders told Truth that he couldn’t be in S.E.X. may herald the beginning of what I’d like to see the Truth do next. The Truth is a dynamic character. He should be allowed to do what he does best…and he can’t do that teaming with Jerry Lynn to fight the evil sports entertainment. Slowly break him away from the TNA faction. I don’t want him joining Russo either. Truth is his own man. In some ways, Styles almost has his storyline already. Why would Truth fight alongside JJ when JJ holds his title? Why would Truth join Russo when Russo is the one who cost Truth that title? The answer is that he wouldn’t. And that’s why The Truth should forsake this whole S.E.X. vs. TNA storyline to go after the title. The angle should be that the title is SO important to him that he is willing to stand alone to get it back. It only makes the title seem that much more important as well as puts The Truth back where he belongs…in the spotlight.
9. Pull the trigger on AJ Styles. I don’t know when his quest to win the title will end…but I do know that he should win it on his first shot. Otherwise the whole quest was meaningless. AJ is now an important figure in trying to break down the cruiserweight bias that the WWE seems hell bent on continuing to make the people buy into.
10. Slowly move towards taking the show on the road. I’m not a math major…and I don’t know what the costs would be. However, I do know that there are several areas that TNA could take their show too that are STARVED for live wrestling of any kind. I’ll use my current situation as an example. I live in Buffalo, NY. We get WWE here maybe once a year. Now, when ECW was around Paul Heyman found that there was money to be made by bringing his outfit through town as often as possible. Buffalo, not surprisingly, loves an underdog. Go to a WWE event today in Buffalo and you’ll see that RVD is still the most popular person in the business to us. TNA should start that relationship with this and many other towns. Not only will people turn out to see the show, but there is no better way to advertise the product than to bring it to the viewers front door. That’s why musicians go on tour.
Finally, and this is so important that I’ll give it its very own paragraph, make sure you know where you’re going next. The S.E.X. storyline won’t last forever. It will last for a while…but not forever. That’s when the real test will come. Make sure you know exactly what follows this saga, why it follows, how it follows…etc. The product has been and must continue to move forward. The worst thing possible would be for this storyline to end and then try to go back to doing what you were doing before. Because you can never go back.
Whew…That was the longest rant I have ever written to lead off one of these columns. So…for the handful of you that haven’t closed your browser yet…and for the dozens more who just skipped past the opening to look for the bold, it’s time for:
The NWA TNA Week 29 Preview
Last week’s TNA turned out to be pretty eventful. You can read all about it by reading Dames’ Diatribe on the show here
The big news, of course, was the appearance of Raven in NWA TNA. Last week’s show was, IMO, maybe the best-written show that Russo has done in TNA. The whole night seemed to build towards the moment where JJ would overcome the odds and retain the NWA title. We saw Low Ki and Elix Skipper defeat America’s Most Wanted for the NWA Tag Team titles, Sonny Siaki retain his X division title against a woman and a member of the security team (I understand what they were doing. On an absurd level I appreciated the parallel to the way Russo ruined the cruiser division in WCW. However…as I mentioned earlier…this is the X title. It meant something once, and can again.) and Jerry Lynn and The Truth fall to S.E.X. as well. So the payoff would be JJ’s win, when the tradition finally beat the sports entertainment. They highlighted the moment by having the other TNA stars in the ring to celebrate the win. Then, like any good TV cliffhanger, something unexpected ruined the festivities. Raven ran into the ring, hit JJ with a DDT and stole the NWA title away, leaving with Russo. In the end…JJ’s win was in vein and his troubles only deepened. I really enjoyed last week’s program and I thought the pacing of it was excellent. Match of the Night went to Low Ki and Skipper vs. America’s Most Wanted. At times that match looked brutal on the competitors. Special honors go to Jerry Lynn who makes everything watchable (he’ll have a hell of a test this week though) and the booking of the main event, which I felt was laid out wonderfully.
Jerry Lynn vs. David Flair
Jerry Lynn makes everyone look good. David Flair never looks good. With these two facts firmly in place…I can only imagine that their one on one encounter this week will produce rain when they meet. I’ll say this for Flair, he seems really into his character and he tries real hard. In fact…during last weeks tag team match with Mike Sanders against Lynn and the Truth he entertained me a great deal by tagging in Sanders and then yelling out to the crowd “That’s teamwork people!” This week we’ll see if Lynn is the God of TNA or not. Jeff Jarrett still holds the record for best carry in my book when he carried Apolo to a pretty good match (the same Apolo who blew a superkick that was meant to be the finish of the Truth’s monumental title win). If Lynn can do the same with Flair, we’ll have a new Lord of the…um…Ring. Flair hit Lynn in the head with his sack full of foreign object last week to secure the win for his team. This is a return from that encounter. I’d assume Lynn gets the win back here.
Sonny Siaki and Desire vs. Kid Kash and Trinity
I have to give kudos to the TNA creative department on this one. Kid Kash was missing something that was preventing him from being recognized as a top guy in the X division. I think they may have nailed it by giving him Trinity as a manager. She has yet to blow one of those highspots that she does. In fact…on occasion they are pretty beautiful to watch. She started accompanying Kash two weeks ago when he faced Siaki for the X title. Last week both Trinity and Kash ran in to make saves after Siaki’s farce of an X title defense. We all know what I think about Siaki…but he and Kash really seemed to work very well together. Trinity is fun to watch and Desire is hot. So that’s that. I would bet Kash gets some kind of win to set up another singles match…but I don’t know.
Ron “The Truth” Killings vs. Mike Sanders
HEY! WWE was right to release Sanders. His ability to get the crowd into a match and get himself over in two weeks would have no place on RAW. Last week Sanders indicated that Truth was looking to join S.E.X. but that all the slots were currently full (finally). The announcers pointed to Sanders trying to create dissention in the TNA ranks. That makes me unsure of how they will go, to be honest. Last week’s match also saw Lynn take almost the entire match while Truth stood on the sidelines…it was pretty subtle but it does add another level to the storyline. This match should be OK. Truth has a lot of flash and both of them can work a crowd. Entertaining, but certainly not mind-blowing in any way. I have no way of knowing whom they’ll put over because I don’t know where this new storyline is heading.
One of the problems that arises when TNA does something “buzzworthy” is that they go into hiding when it comes to announcing matches. So much talent is left on the table that the show should turn out to be good.
Let’s see who’s left to be seen:
Low Ki and Elix Skipper: The NWA Tag Team Champions.
America’s Most Wanted: The former NWA Tag Team Champions.
Jeff Jarrett: The NWA Champion
And Raven: The man who stole that title.
I’m pretty sure a monkey could book the rest of the card with this talent and produce a quality program. But can Russo?
They say that Jeff Jarrett will be searching for Raven and his NWA title…which probably means that they want to drag the match out for a week so they can get the people who order because Raven showed up to order this week…and then announce that he has a title match next week to get them to order again. Either that or they are seriously considering putting the strap on Raven and moving the S.E.X. storyline to the next level. Probably the former.
There is also the Konnan role to be played (which likely means we’ll see some kind of X division match…probably with David Young in it) and the Rhodes/Koloff storyline.
One of the things TNA is doing very well right now is building feuds…and they’ve shown with Styles/Lynn and AMW/New Church that feuds are something they can do pretty darn well.
I still wish they’d give us a full line-up…but last week they didn’t give me much either…and that turned out to be pretty good.
Until next week…reach me at [email protected] and be sure to look for Dames’ Diatribe sometime on Thursday.
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