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Taking Stock of TNA
October 26, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


We're about two weeks out from the TNA Victory Road pay-per-view as I write this. It's been a while since I covered TNA in this column, but I do follow TNA regularly. Let's discuss Planet Jarrett for a change. 
First off, I applaud TNA for switching their business model away from the weekly "el cheapo" PPV shows and toward the more traditional free-TV, occasional PPV model (and the decision to pursue house shows). Far be it from me to pass judgment on a promoter until I've walked in their shoes, but it seems like a smart move. Then again, it's not like 

they woke up one morning and had an epiphany about their business model. DirecTV sort of forced the issue by yanking the weekly TNA PPV from their schedule, taking a large chunk of potential TNA profit with it. The Jarretts had to do it, and I think it'll preserve the company in the long term.

So now we get the fearsome six-sided ring of majesty once per week on Fox Sports Net, sixty minutes a pop, and they call the thing "Impact." It ain't WWE, folks. But it's a pretty damn good alternative, if you can get past the overbearing presence of world-beating Jeff Jarrett with the NWA Title.

If you've never watched Impact before, let me ease your fears a bit: if you're capable of watching Raw without getting too digusted at Triple H dominating the main event picture, you'll do just fine ignoring Jarrett in TNA. See, on Raw, Triple H isn't just the champion - he's all over the show even WITHOUT defending the strap. Jarrett is on each TNA show, too, but not quite as intrusive to the contenders when they're getting their camera time.

Random guitar shots to the head notwithstanding. But hey, gimmicks were made to be DRIVEN INTO THE FRIGGIN' GROUND, weren't they?

Now, with the weekly PPV model a thing of the past, TNA brings us Victory Road on Nov. 7. They've got young talent, they've got new stars, and they've got cool concepts in the six-sided ring and the X Division gauntlet. However, they also have the omnipresent Jarrett, and plenty of old "names" on the roster to boost the recognition factor for TNA newbies. Besides Jarrett, there's the cool-as-ever Raven, there's world title contender Jeff Hardy, and there's a triple-shot of Konnan, BG "Road Dogg" James, and Ron "K-Kwik" Killings comprising the 3 Live Kru trio. Outside of the ring, old-timers Dusty Rhodes and Larry Zbyszko struggle with notorious bookerman-gone-irrelevant Vince Russo for control of various non-factors of TNA storylines, while "The Franchise" Shane Douglas interviews the active roster backstage, cackling his trademark evil laugh after each promo, even if it doesn't quite fit the mood:

Chris Harris: "Hey Shane, what's the capital of Uzbekistan?"
Shane Douglas: "I think it's Tashkent... HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAW!!!!!"

Beyond the regular cast of "hey, I remember that guy" characters, TNA has gone the extra mile to bring in Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Roddy Piper for Victory Road. Personally, I never get enough of Roddy Piper. Even when he's telling the same stories over and over again - the coconut, knocking out Mr. T, taking on the NYC cops, etc. - he's such a compelling person to watch. You never quite grasp where his stories stop and his warped sense of reality begins. He's a rare case of the person being as interesting (or more) than Roddy Piper the character.

Hall and Nash are being promoted as standing "in the corner" (translation: waiting for their turn to interfere) of each of the world title match contestants. Scott Hall is in Jarrett's corner ("Hey yo, Double J, just go in there and punk this freak out. I'll hold your keys."). Kevin Nash is in Jeff Hardy's corner ("Save your money, kid. At your size, you'll never draw a nickel.")

Whether or not Hall and Nash are worth the price of admission depends on two things: how they're booked, and whether they'll be back in the near future. If they're booked as enemies, which is what TNA is teasing, it'll probably suck. Fans want to see them as a team, and moreover, they understand that in real life, Hall and Nash are very close friends. It's hard to suspend reality when it's Hall vs. Nash, because you know there's no real feud there. And even if their appearance is a wild success, it's a meaningless one of TNA does their usual and makes it a one-shot, highlight-reel appearance. TNA doesn't need a Hall and Nash photo op. They need a Hall and Nash storyline. Otherwise, it's wasted money. It's like playing bingo as your primary source of income. You may strike it rich every now and then, but ultimately, you need something steady to keep the bill collectors away.

Enough about the old timers. I said early in the column that TNA is doing well in the young, exciting talent department, and they are. Three guys exemplify that: AJ Styles, Petey Williams, and Alpha Male Monty Brown.

Victory Road has "The Phenomenal" Styles going one-on-one with Team Canada's Williams, with the X Title at stake. The story of Styles is well-known: he started in TNA as a young star on the rise and absolutely hit his stride there, becoming the hottest young commodity the WWE hadn't signed yet. He remains such today: Styles is a great worker that can easily pull off the heavyweight style of match (a skill he greatly improved while in TNA) or the light heavyweight style, which we're seeing more of in his X division return. If there was one thing he didn't have in 2002 when TNA started, it was star presence. And now, he's got that, too.

Williams is quite a bit smaller than Styles, and pretty green. I tend to think TNA is the perfect home for Petey, who'd be wasted in a heartbeat if he joined the WWE roster. For one, he'd be buried in the cruiserweight division because of his size. Also, if the Hurricane taught us anything, WWE would probably outlaw the move that gained him lots of attention, the Canadian Destroyer (flip piledriver). When done flawlessly, the Canadian Destroyer is an amazing sight to behold. But it's also a move that would be very difficult to pull off on a true heavyweight because it requires a lot of agility on the opponent's part. Without that, the chance for serious injury is very high, and WWE doesn't like that sort of risk.

The good thing about Petey Williams being perfect for the X Division? It makes him an obvious choice for a breakout, homegrown TNA superstar, which the company desperately needs more of. Before this year, they could legitimately claim to have made stars out of three wrestlers that weren't previously well known outside of the indies: AJ Styles and America's Most Wanted (Chris Harris and James Storm). You could make a case for guys like Chris Sabin, Frankie Kazarian, or Abyss, too... but really, the first three are the only three to get any sustained time at the top of the card. And you know what the salesmen say... if you're not excited about your product, your customer won't be, either. If TNA doesn't push Kazarian, they're giving fans permission to dismiss him, too.

When 2004 rolled around, TNA gave themselves a fourth homegrown star in "Alpha Male" Monty Brown. Brown is in great shape, and he wrestles in a way that mirrors his gimmick - like a savage. No technical wrestling, no psychology, just beat the living hell out of your opponent. Monty Brown doesn't wrestle his opponents to defeat. He smashes them into the mat. Look at his finisher, the pounce. How does one perform the move? Simple:

1) Whip opponent into the ropes.
2) Bounce off an adjacent set of ropes.
3) Leap into your opponent with maximum force until he is knocked to the ground.
Point of contact is totally random, as long as the contact is ferocious and makes the fans scream "pooooouuuunnnnncccceeee!"

Only a guy like Monty Brown could take a move MORE basic than a clothesline and turn it into one of the most popular finishers in the company. What it all breaks down to is charisma. Monty Brown has the charisma and the dedication to sell the hell out of his character and his moves. He moves the fans to respond to his matches. He entertains the fans, but he also interacts with them. I believe that's known as the "x factor" in wrestling recruiting circles. The Alpha Male is very green in contrast to AJ Styles, and may never be half as versatile as Styles is. But he's got charisma, and a little charisma goes a long way toward pleasing the fans... unless that whole Hulk Hogan fad was a fluke.

Am I buying Victory Road on Nov. 7? We'll see. With Survivor Series the same month and my first child on the way soon, I've certainly got other things to spend money on. TNA can help the decision along with a few subtle changes, one of them being the TOTAL elevation of one of the stars they've created.

Jeff Hardy doesn't count.

Jarrett sure as HELL doesn't count. Step aside, SlapAss, and let the new guys shine for once.


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