Once upon a time, in a reality that seems far removed from this, there was one wrestling program that was head and shoulders the best wrestling program on TV – Impact Wrestling.
(Note from George – part of this article contains a spoiler from an episode of Impact that doesn’t air in the UK til later tonight, 6th January, at 9pm on Challenge TV. The episode has already aired in the US/Canada. Consider this a partial SPOILER ALERT!)
In the spring of 2012, TNA Impact was an enjoyable show that combined great in-ring work and logical storylines to produce a 2 hour show that was, by and large, fairly enjoyable. Over the next few months, it appeared as though things were on the up and up. Ex-WWE talent had seemingly been put to the side. Guys like RVD & Jeff Hardy weren’t really being utilised, while guys like Bobby Roode, Austin Aries and even the artist formally known as Bubba Ray Dudley were really picking up speed and gathering momentum to become the focus of the promotion. Eric Bischoff was taken off TV to concentrate on working behind the scenes and his son, the one and only Garett Bischoff, vanished from TV for a while after the feud with his father had ended. Sting was the “Authority Figure” and fitted the role really well, acting as a brilliant supplement to what was going on.
It’s almost a year later and you’d have thought that they (TNA) would have used that as a base to really push on. Expanding their audience and pushing their home grown stars. Think again. I’ve got a lot of frustrations and things I want to talk about, and quite frankly I’m far too irritated and completely fucked off with TNA to write well. This is going to be pretty much from the heart, as I struggle to fathom exactly how TNA have strayed so far from the fantastic start they made to 2012, when they had all the pieces at their disposal to really push on.
There are 3 main categories that we’re going to be looking at. The first is the burial of talent – guys who TNA have completely dropped the ball with over the past year. The second is guys who TNA have pushed into positions they shouldn’t be in. The last will be the angles they’ve used, but we’ll talk about them as we go.
This seems like a good place to start. Over the past few months, TNA babyfaces have been made to look like absolute idiots. Both Jeff Hardy and James Storm have put up their number 1 contender’s status for absolutely no reason. Storm agreed to put his up because Bobby Roode threatened to date his daughter in several years’ time and lost it in a match with his nemesis. Jeff Hardy put his up at stake, despite beating Bully Ray (who is now also apparently a face (eh??) ) clean after being annihilated by Aces & 8s at No Surrender. Hardy retained his position and went on to capitalise by winning the TNA World Title at Bound for Glory. More on that later.
Another guy who’s seen his stock well and truly plummet over the past few months in my eyes is Sting. I love Sting. I think the guy can still go in the ring (as long as he’s in there with someone half decent) and isn’t selfish in what he does. The guy is extremely entertaining on the mic and was a great supplement on the show as the “Authority Figure”. His struggles with Bobby Roode and the heels at the start of the year were really entertaining, at least to me anyway. While he didn’t lose clean to Roode, the fact that he seemed intimidated by Roode and Roode’s actions (which eventually drove him to deal with Roode physically) showed Roode to be a genuine thorn in the side of one of the biggest names in the business. He put other guys, and their situations, over while being entertaining (as well as adding to the show). That’s EXACTLY what an “Authority Figure” is supposed to do. Skip forward a few months and he’s been portrayed as just a normal wrestler. Why would you have a guy who is supposed to be a genuine icon come out wearing a merchandise t-shirt?
The best example I can give you is from his latest return. After hyping his return for weeks, he returned at the end of the show (1/3/13) and sauntered down to the ring wearing his own merch. What on earth? If you want to play off the Crow character (which was what the promo’s seemed to suggest), then have him dropping from the rafters. If they (TNA) can’t do that in the Impact Zone, then at the very, very least, give him his trenchcoat back, dim the lights and let him walk to the ring. It’s not complicated stuff. A little theatre people!
By having him walk to the ring in normal lights, and without any entrance music, wearing his own t-shirt, he was presented like an ordinary wrestler. In that segment, TNA pissed money and ratings down the drain. It might sound like just a small issue, but it could’ve been a GREAT moment that built towards Sting hunting down Aces & 8s (more on that later…) and gave the angle some momentum.
Meanwhile, let’s have a look at AJ Styles. AJ is a true TNA original who has worked with the company since its inception in 2002. He was the 1st ever X Division champion, TNA’s 1st Triple Crown Winner and their very 1st Grand Slam champion. Well, logic would dictate that AJ would’ve been given a major role to play during the company’s 10th birthday year; maybe even be in the World Title hunt at Slammiversary or Bound for Glory (TNA’s 2 biggest shows of the year). That wouldn’ve been logical, but it didn’t happen. Instead, he was stuck with the now infamous “Claire Lynch” angle, which is one of the worst angles that an audience has ever had the misfortune to see play out on a national TV program. I’d rather not discuss it in depth because I quite like my laptop in one piece and it was bad enough the first time round.
After that, the never-ending feud that was actually quoted in the bible alongside Jesus’ resurrection between AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels rumbled on, even after an apparent “blow-off” match between them at Destination X, in what was an awesome Last Man Standing match. AJ has been blacklisted from competing for the World Heavyweight Title till Bound for Glory next year, because he was pinned in a triple-threat number 1 contender’s match that included him, Bobby Roode and James Storm, where the stipulation was that the loser couldn’t compete for the title until BFG next year.
The never-ending feud with Christopher Daniels was eventually concluded at Final Resolution, when Daniels pinned AJ with a Styles Clash in the centre of the ring 1…2…3. It has to be mentioned that the end of the Styles and Daniels feud was the only “resolution” on the entire fucking show! AJ effectively turned heel a couple of weeks later, saying that he was done being TNA’s “Corporate Janitor”.
Yes – TNA turned one of the only undisputed babyfaces in North America heel. Genius. At Slammiversary, AJ teamed with Kurt Angle to go after the Tag-Team Titles instead of competing for the TNA World Title, which is where AJ should’ve been over the past year. Enough said.
Another guy that’s been horribly misused over the past year is Kurt Angle. Even with nagging injuries and the fact that’s entering what must surely be the twilight of his career, Kurt Angle is still one of the best wrestlers on the planet. His mic work is top notch and he’s been with the company for quite a while now. He wasn’t the typical case of TNA taking a random WWE midcarder and popping him at the top of the card for no discernible reason. You’re talking about a guy who had main-evented WrestleMania and had countless 5-star matches with a variety of different opponents.
So what has Kurt Angle spent his year doing? Well, he was in a thrown together tag-team with AJ Styles, but he managed to avoid being sucked into the all-consuming vacuum known simply as Claire Lynch. Then, to top things off, for some inexplicable reason, he’s been paired with Garett Bischoff and Wes Briscoe. To put it mildly, Briscoe has a modest amount of talent, while the only talent that Garett Bischoff has is the ability to make me want to switch channels when he appears on screen.
That’s without even mentioning the fact that Angle has wrestled in so many meaningless matches on TV. How many times has he taken on random Aces & 8s members on Impact? It’s not doing Angle or TNA any good long-term. Angle’s body can’t keep going forever and surely it would make sense to make the matches he does have at this point in his career really mean something? The same can be said about Sting, although for slightly different reasons. Sting is getting on in age as well and he can’t have much longer to go. His body isn’t as beat up as Angle’s because he’s had a few sabbaticals and hasn’t spent as much time on the road, but keep Sting’s matches for PPV. It makes them feel more special and portrays him (and his matches) as a big deal, instead of feeling like “Oh… Sting’s wrestling on PPV in a rematch from Impact”. The exact same principle applies to Angle.
Let the guy rest and heal up for God’s sake TNA. He’s great on the mic. There are a crapload of ways to keep him on TV if they feel that they can’t have him missing from Impact. The best way would be for him to be the “Authority Figure” of Impact. He’s had a similar role as the GM of Smackdown and he pulled that off when he was injured before, so it’s not as if they’d be putting him in a position that he’s totally uncomfortable with or that he’s not done before. That’s not going to happen for one very obvious reason, but we’ll get there later on.
We’ll move on to talent being pushed that really shouldn’t be. There’s one obvious answer for the name that’s top of this list and I’m guessing that the same name will be the one that springs to everyone’s mind: Jeff Hardy. At the middle of the year, I thought Hardy was done. He was being phased out and he wasn’t doing a lot, except having the odd match on TV here and there. It made sense using him at the start of the year, given that there was a lot of interest into his comeback and it really helped to build Bobby Roode.
Alas, I was totally wrong. Hardy ended up winning the BFG series from out of nowhere. At first, I was like: OK… This could work if they give Aries a massive clean win over a babyface, have Hardy shake his hand and let him quietly disappear from the promotion. But oh no! TNA actually put the belt on him and gave him his own “unique” belt, as well as his now infamous “inner monologues”.
Hardy can put on good matches, but the guys promos reek of blandness. Combined with his previous misdemeanours (see his arrests for possession of drugs and the best match of all time against Sting at Victory Road 2011) and his complete lack of charisma and ability on the microphone, I cannot understand why TNA are so desperate to keep him that they’ve put the belt on him. He’s proven time and time again that he’s an accident waiting to happen.
One of the other major problems with Jeff Hardy being TNA Champion is that it threw a spanner in the works on a few things. The most obvious being the feud between Bobby Roode and James Storm. That match felt as though it was a shoo-in to be the main-event at Bound for Glory, where Storm’s journey for revenge and his quest to regain the TNA World Heavyweight Title (after being totally screwed out it) would end. I don’t know when or why plans changed. I know that a few people felt like it was a very obvious way to go, but sometimes things are obvious for a reason.
The nWo angle from wCw is a perfect example of that. It was obvious for months and months and months that Hogan and Sting were going to collide for the World Title. The fact is that by the time it came along, people had anticipated it for so long that they were almost rabid to see the Hogan and the New World Order finally get their long-awaited comeuppance. The Roode and Storm feud was borrowed from the same concept. That match was a show-stealer and the perfect way to end a feud that was as personal as theirs had been. If you put that in the main event for the World Title, how special a night and how special a finale to the biggest show of the year would that have been?
Obviously that wasn’t to be and instead, Hardy went on to take the World Title from Austin Aries (who would’ve been included on the list guys who’ve been buried, but at least he’s graduated to the main-event after acting as a transitional champion from Roode to Hardy). Hardy was pretty much booed out of the building. The fact that he beat Aries left a bad taste in a hell of a lot of TNA fans’ mouths. Roode/Storm was a year-long feud between home grown stars that should’ve culminated on the biggest stage. Not to mention that it would’ve made a massive statement for them to figuratively say “We’ve got our own stars. We don’t need ex-WWE talent to main-event our biggest shows anymore”. Instead, TNA put the conclusion to the blood feud 3rd on the card instead of for the title. Brilliant.
Hardy winning the belt also enforced Aries to turn heel. Aries had been extremely popular as a tweener and turned face to feud with Bobby Roode. Aries had so much momentum as a fan favourite and was producing some great work, both on the microphone and in the ring. However, as soon as Hardy was brought into feud with him, it almost forced Aries to turn heel to accommodate Hardy into the story. I could’ve bought his “redemption” story if it had actually been brought up more than 3 weeks before Bound for Glory. It was a desperate attempt to add to Hardy’s motivation and his desperation to prove himself at Bound for Glory.
Moving on from Jeff Hardy, remember when I said earlier that Sting was what a GM/authority figure was supposed to be? That he was great in being a supplement to the show and added to situations as opposed to taking them over? Well, the man that’s about to come up in the discussion is the antithesis to that.
Enter Hulk Hogan.
Enough has been written about how Hogan operates backstage, so I’ll try to avoid that. However, how this guy is still on TV is staggering to me. His first act after being begged to take on the job as the Authority Figure was to resolve everything that had been going on in 1 segment. He literally waltzed back in and sorted absolutely everything that had been wrong on Impact in 10 minutes. Way to make Sting look like an incompetent buffoon there Hulk. I mean seriously, Sting had been the storyline GM for months and was struggling with things, but Hogan sorts it out in ONE FREAKING SEGMENT. I would’ve been on board with Hogan sorting things out eventually because that was the whole reason that Sting passed over power to him in the first place, but it was like the parting of the Red Sea! Everyone just seemed to obey Hogan without any dissent or struggle. It made Hogan look far superior to everyone else, which basically follows the theme of his entire career.
More notable highlights include Hogan forcing wrestlers to tell him why they should get title shots. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t authority figures meant to know who should get title shots? It just looks like Hogan has no idea who anyone is or what the hell is going on on the show he’s meant to be running! It just comes across as Hogan lobbying to get himself more TV time. One of the other brilliant moments was when Hogan somehow referenced himself taking on Andre the Giant while he was talking to Kid Kash about who was going to take on RVD that night.
In recent months, Hogan as GM has been integral to pretty much every feud and situation on Impact. He’s been feuding with Matt Morgan, Bully Ray, Bobby Roode and Austin Aries for starters in addition to what feels like every heel in the company today. And some faces. It’s absolute bullshit that a 59 year old man has positioned himself as being the star that Impact Wrestling revolves around. That’s the only reason Hogan is GM of Impact: to keep himself as the focus of the show and to convince himself that he is still relevant in an asinine attempt to maintain his fragile ego. There are far more deserving candidates in TNA who could do that role. As we’ve already discussed, the 2 names at the top of that list are Sting and Kurt Angle.
Speaking of Hogan… let’s shift our attention to Ms Brooke Hogan. The individual in charge of the Knockout division in TNA, who’s only qualification for the position is that she’s Hulk Hogan’s daughter. She’s got no discernible talent and doesn’t even add much “eye candy”, which is pretty much the only saving grace for a lot of females that have appeared on wrestling programs in the past (for the record, I’d rather see someone who has talent – whether it be in the ring or on the mic – on TV as opposed to the likes of Sable for instance). They could’ve got pretty much any female who has been involved in wrestling and they would’ve been more qualified to fill that role on TNA TV than Miss Hogan.
Another person who deserves a bit of discussion is Rob van Dam. He was in the same boat as Jeff Hardy. I have no issue whatsoever with Rob’s lifestyle choices. It’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. However, just like Jeff Hardy, it looked as though RVD was being phased out in the summer. He was having matches on TV every now and again, but not really doing much at all. Then TNA made him X Division champion.
RVD at the top of his game was brilliant. However, the last time RVD was at the top of his game was literally about 7 years ago. He’s slowed down considerably in the ring and isn’t really anywhere near being the Rob van Dam of old. Making a guy who should be winding down his career the champion of a division that has generally been used to feature young, hungry talent is a mindboggling decision. If they had put the belt on him to put over younger talent later down the line, then great. However, TNA have booked him like the John Cena of the X-Division who beats everyone clean. Why are TNA burying their young talent to push Rob van Dam? That belt should be held by either Zema Ion (purely because I like Jesse Sorensen and I think that’s a ready-made feud for his return – if he returns) or Kenny King. Or Alex Shelley (before he left because he wasn’t happy at TNA and he wasn’t being used).
One more name needs to be added to this list: Garett Bischoff. The fact he’s on any TV show anywhere is a travesty. I don’t need to elaborate so I’m not going to.
Anyway, I think I’m about done with what I wanted to say. You can probably tell that this has been building for quite a while. I was going to bring up Aces & 8s in more detail, but to be quite honest, I’m depressed enough about the state of TNA at the moment. I hope you’ve enjoyed (or at least sympathised with) the opinions of a disgruntled viewer of Impact Wrestling who has tried to come to terms with how the show has done a complete 180 from where it was this time last year. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @MichaelBrown_91.
Regards, and thanks for reading!
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