Thursday, May 21, 2015
TNA is Now More Disposable Than Ever
With the exception of maybe three or four shows, I ordered every single TNA weekly PPV from 2002 to 2004. I was a wrestling-naive pizza delivery driver fresh out of high school, and my extravagances were so minimal that forty bucks a month on a shoe-string budgeted garish-whore cousin to WCW was a worthwhile investment. There was more good than bad in TNA, I reasoned, and I don't regret my purchases.
TNA held its first Wednesday-night offering less than fifteen months after WWF purchased the meat of a once-viable WCW, now a cautionary tale for empirical excess and king-for-a-day arrogance. Those traits were apparently part of the sale, as the WWF, riding high on the fumes of Attitude in 2001, went from upscale menace at the start of the year to self-absorbed oaf by year's end. If not for the video library acquisition, you could quip that Vince McMahon purchased WCW's imperialistic delusions on March 23, 2001. Watching Raw gradually until the end of the year, you could feel McMahon's heavy foot slowly elevating from the gas pedal. The need to continue outpacing 'competition' begat the realization that the war was indeed over.
By mid-2002, TNA was a welcome change, even if it was a haphazard presentation. You had the X-Division in its undistilled infancy, and some respectable star players (Jeff Jarrett, Scott Hall, Ken Shamrock) mingling with two-bit, hardly-nuked trash, from a midget wielding a gun to wrestlers spanking each other with a stuffed horse in the quest to win a redneck trophy. Still, it was an alternative, and the absence of such an alternative on the national scale was felt in a graying WWF product that was cycling through Ric Flair and the nWo to get their edge back, long after they'd sworn off relics on the merit of their own star-making machine.
My desire to see TNA succeed was to this extent: I would notice an absolute dearth of TNA news on wrestling websites, dis-satisfactory to my young fanboy maw. Sometimes, one of the copy-and-paste-from-Meltzer rags would post an update that would be three or four minor stories in one piece. The name 'Storm' being listed in the header would catch my eye, making me think of "Cowboy" James Storm, one half of one of the best duos in the business by 2005, America's Most Wanted. If the header said "WWE Judgment Day, Benjamin, Storm, Velocity update" or something similar, I'd click the link to discover that "Storm" was merely a reference to the now-retired LANCE Storm, and there'd be a link to his latest written commentary. Such was my TNA fandom that this would actually annoy me, as much as I appreciate Lance Storm's incredible body of work. "Why don't you clarify with a fucking 'L' before Storm?" I'd grumble. Write about the awesome tag team wrestler, I'd further mutter.
Over a decade later, and I can look back as a TNA fan with plenty of fondness. TNA's spring through fall of 2003 absolutely blew away a clueless, McMahon-heavy WWE product from an enjoyment standpoint. Most of the 2005-06 product was strong, and 2007-08 could be enjoyed, even with Vince Russo's worst instincts caking mud in the spokes along the way. 2012-13 was fine if you could get past Brooke Hogan, Claire Lynch, and Aces and Eights. If TNA can't find a new TV home by the end of September and ends up crumbling after 13 years of existence, history will show that there were some undeniably enjoyable times in the company's timeline.
I just won't feel so bad now if they do perish.
When Spike pulled the plug last July, I did feel awful. I don't have Sinclair Broadcasting and am not really inclined to seek out Ring of Honor on a regular basis otherwise, so it looked like I was going to be stuck with just WWE, aside from Saturday drives to enjoyable indy cards. Though it'd been a few years since TNA was really in any position to shove WWE (2006-07 felt like the time where it had the most muscle to do so), the loss of any sort of alternative would leave a great void. With Spike withdrawing its backing, it was a worrisome rock to the chin to think that Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe (at one time), Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, Eric Young, MVP, Gail Kim, Magnus, EC3, and others would be without work on the national scale. WWE could scoop up some, and others could manage, but there's no joy in seeing the ship go down with so few lifeboats.
But now there are lifeboats. In that ten-month timeframe, Global Force Wrestling (behind a hopefully-wiser Jarrett) has set up a touring schedule, complete with TV tapings. Lucha Underground has become a force of progress and excitement on Wednesday nights, and has potential to revolutionize wrestling the way ECW did twenty years ago. Speaking of ECW, their spiritual successor, House of Hardcore, has minor TV clearance on The Fight Network, as Tommy Dreamer continues his slow burn into not only filling the niche-void left by his old home, but improving upon it by reaching out to the niches of the more modern fan.
Doubters would cackle when some setback for TNA would take place, giving them a chance to cry "TNA is dead!" There've been fans that never wanted TNA to succeed for whatever reason, and I'd feel compelled to counter their glee, almost solely out of a want to see a new alternative make it. That time has come and gone. If TNA can find new TV clearance in this four-month window and save itself, then great for them. I feel like it's going to take Billy Corgan buying the damn thing himself and using his clout to find an open door, but whatever. If they survive, good for them. If not, I take more solace knowing that the worthwhile talents will be pulled from the icy surf before long.
TNA's move back to Wednesdays mirrors their original run on said nights over a decade ago, and if they die, fewer fans will be inclined to watch the Wednesday-night funeral. They'll be too busy, either watching a Lucha replay, or catching up on the new NXT, to care.