How would I run TNA? That’s the question this blog is answering. In part one I talked about how I’d reorganise TNA backstage. I came up with a small list of WWE talent I’d try to hire when their contracts are up for renewal, talked about who I’d lay off from the current roster, and detailed the management positions I’d want to fill. In this part I’ll discuss the creative direction of the company and the roster I’d want to put together.
Let’s start with that roster. Over the last several months TNA has laid off several wrestlers that it really should have kept hold of, all of them from the X Division. That’s an aspect of TNA’s programming that WWE (the market leader) is unable to compete with, meaning it should be far more prominent than it currently is. In order for it to be as good as it can be the company needs to ensure that it has top talent under contract. Kendrick, Kazarian and Austin Aries are all good, but three men aren’t a division.
The Knockout’s Division is another area TNA should be heavily promoting because WWE offer little competition. The aim shouldn’t be to try and topple WWE: no rival wrestling company is ever going to accomplish that. The aim should instead be what Paul Heyman has suggested: trying to attract 10% of WWE’s fanbase. TNA needn’t even directly compete with RAW or SmackDown: IMPACT currently airs on a different night to WWE’s two main shows and there’s no reason for that to change. By pushing the X performers and Knockouts to the fore TNA is offering something that isn’t seen on WWE.
So who would I hire? I’m going to go back to the list format that I enjoy so much:
Sara Del Ray
Generation Me (Max and Jeremy Buck)
The Super Smash Brothers (Player Uno and Player Dos)
‘Skullcrusher’ Rasche Brown
Obviously I’d need to be very lucky to get everyone on this list, but it’s not impossible. They are ordered roughly in order of preference. Steen and Evans are the ones I would be most keen on signing: Steen has become incredibly popular in the last two years (he trended on Twitter during a recent episode of RAW based on his name being shown on a sign), and Evans got himself over during his recent appearances with TNA thanks to his entrance routine and sharp ring work. Low Ki won NXT 2 based on a public vote. Why WWE allowed him to leave after the public had essentially told them they wanted to see more of the guy is a mystery to me. I’d hire all three and use them in the X Division.
The rest of the list is made up of people that I think would work well in TNA. The emphasis is clearly on the X and Knockout Divisions, for the reasons I gave above: they help to distinguish TNA from the competition. For the record, the reason the Kings of Wrestling aren’t listed above is because it’s generally believed that they have agreed to terms with WWE. I would extend offers to them if they were available because I think they would make an excellent addition to the tag ranks and, later, the singles ranks too, but I don’t believe they’re available right now.
I’d also look to hire two new referees too. That TNA currently only has three officials (and that they are all related to someone else in the promotion) doesn’t feel right to me, and gives the company a small time feel. I’d also have a list of talent I’d like to sign at some point in the future, as and when vacancies arise on the roster: Jay and Mark Briscoe, Rhett Titus, Kenny King, TJ Perkins, Lance Hoyt, Jimmy Rave, Johnny Gargano, and Dave Mastiff. Obviously the talent department would be more involved in scouting fresh talent: these are a few names I feel should be born in mind for six or twelve months in the future.
Assuming I managed to sign everyone I wanted that would give TNA the following roster:
Jessie Godderz (developmental contract)
Rob Van Dam
‘Skullcrusher’ Rasche Brown
Tony Nese (developmental contract)
Sara Del Ray
Thirty-five guys. Eighteen women. What would I do with them? This may take a while...
The first thing to do is sort out who’s in the top roles. The top babyface and the top heel would be Mr Anderson and Samoa Joe respectively. Anderson’s strength is clearly his verbal ability, which has allowed him to form a bond with the TNA audience (essential for a top babyface). His ring work’s not the best but it’s good enough, and the rest of the roster’s so talented that he would look good anyway. Joe deserves one final crack at becoming the unstoppable monster heel he should always have been in TNA. His first year with the promotion was good, but as I’ve written before it all fell apart when he was booked as Angle’s debut feud. If he’s booked in short decisive matches and goes over everyone he comes up against for a lengthy period he should once again be viewed as a killer.
In the “resident veteran” role I would have RVD. The guy’s in his forties now, he cannot be presented as a youngster any more. No matter how innovative and different his style may be he’s been around the business a long time and fans know that. The veteran role doesn’t rule him out of title reigns, it just means he’ll be expected to help make stars more often than wrestle in the main event.
Five years ago I’d have put Kurt Angle in the company veteran role, but in 2011 I don’t think he should be wrestling more than half a dozen times per year: due to the hard hitting style he has worked over the last decade his muscles are atrophied, leaving him looking scrawny and ill. It’s in both his and the company’s best interest to decrease his in-ring presence. The reason I wouldn’t release him is that he can still make a valid contribution. Those half a dozen matches a year would translate into highly rated episodes of IMPACT and increased pay-per-view purchases if built up and presented correctly. Not all of them would need to be twenty minute classics, IMPACT matches in particular could easily be ten minute tag team affairs which allow Angle to take it easy and come in at the finish.
Instead of being a permanent member of the roster I’d have him as the promotion’s on-air authority figure. With Hogan and Bischoff released and Dixie Carter not suited for the role Angle is the only talent with the required verbal skills and aura to work in the position.
Those are the key on-screen roles. On the first week of television Angle would be required to cut a fairly information-heavy promo explaining that Hogan, Bischoff and the rest of Immortal are gone; he’s in charge; the Global and Television titles are officially retired (they’re worthless; more on this below); and that the Bound For Glory points system has been cancelled. That points system is boring to follow and, more importantly, is difficult to care about. If fans were genuinely excited by a list of men appearing on their screens after every other match I’d keep it going, no matter my personal feelings on it. But that’s not the case. The idea behind it seems to be that it gives matches a meaning to happen. Matches already have a meaning to happen: winners are viewed as being better than losers. Winners are rewarded for multiple wins with title shots. Not everything needs to be etched in stone.
I’d essentially be booking a reboot episode of IMPACT, only I’d be breaking form TNA’s established policy of announcing weeks in advance that “everything will change”. I’d kick off my first show in charge with an X Division match and have Angle cut the above promo later in the show. That way the show starts in a lively manner and showcases the sort of product I want people to associate with TNA. I’d be establishing a new status quo and kicking off some fresh feuds to run with. TNA currently makes far too big a deal out of who’s in charge and it’s tedious. I’d focus more on presenting athletic, competitive matches. If people want storylines about who’s in charge they can get them from WWE.
At the start of my first IMPACT (assuming I were to take over tomorrow) Angle would still be recognised as the (heel) champion. I would book him to successfully defend the title in a match against Mr Anderson at the September pay-per-view before dropping it to RVD in October. He could then begin his part time ring schedule for the company and concentrate more on establishing himself as the authority figure (let’s settle on a title for him: commissioner) and gradually becoming a babyface.
Van Dam’s reign would last until the January or February pay-per-view to allow the title to stabilise and regain some of the credibility it’s lost through switching hands so many times this year (six at time of writing).The intention would be to have RVD make pay-per-view defences against the likes of AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Matt Morgan before losing the championship to a babyface Mr Anderson. The plan would then be to have Anderson hold the title until next year’s Bound For Glory and lose it to Joe, who would have spent a year going over everyone and establishing himself as the most unstoppable force in TNA. At that point Jow could gradually segue into the lead babyface role and enjoy a very lengthy title run.
The heavyweight division (for want of a better term) will feature a reduced cast in order to free up time for the X and Knockout divisions. Mr Anderson, RVD, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Colt Cabana, Matt Morgan, and Rasche Brown,] would be the guys in the singles ranks. This gives us a nice core of guys to focus on with the option of moving guys like Steen, Roode and Magnus into singles roles later on.
Anderson, as previously stated, would be the top babyface. The decision to keep the title off him at first not only allows Van Dam to help restore a bit of credibility during his reign, it also makes fans hungry for another Anderson victory and allows a title chase storyline to be written. That would be a rarity in TNA as their current approach to title switches is so frantic that you never feel a babyface has accomplished anything when winning the world title.
Styles would remain with Fourtune and Daniels would split from the group, providing a mid-card feud that’s going to deliver in the ring and engage long-time fans. Yeah, it’s been seen before but not for a while. It would also have the added plus of getting Daniels set up as a main event heel, ready to challenge Van Dam and Anderson once the Styles feud has concluded. AJ is over enough that he can go months without being in the main event, so long as his matches are long enough to let him show what he can do.
Rasche Brown is a big, intimidating force and a very good worker for a big man. I’d spend three or four months building him up and allowing him to beat everyone he faces. Similar to Joe, yes? That’s intentional. After three or four months I’d move him into a feud with Joe and have him beaten decisively in under five minutes. The goal would be to make Joe look strong. Brown could then take a few weeks off and return in a new role, forming a tag team or acting as an enforcer for a heel.
Joe, as lead heel, would be unstoppable. He’d be instructed to sell very little and would be pushed as the most dominant force in wrestling. I’d start the push by having him beat a “local performer” (that seems to be what jobbers are referred to as these days) in a quick, brutal match, followed by a promo in which he would blame the fans for turning him soft and making him care too much about pleasing them. He’d say he’s done worrying about fan approval and state that he’s out for himself, finishing by saying his goal is the TNA world title, and he’ll decide when he takes it back.
Each of TNA’s divisions (X, Knockout, “heavyweights”, tag team) would work well getting an average of two in-ring segments a week. This would mean that not everyone would be appearing in the ring to cut promos or wrestle on a weekly basis, but that’s okay as those not appearing before the crowd could be featured in brief backstage segments, keeping their faces on TV and ensuring they’re not overlooked by fans.
With the releases I’d be making the once enjoyable TNA tag scene would end up a little depleted. The promotion would be left with Beer Money, the British Invasion, the Motor City Machine Guns (when Sabin’s back at least), and Ink Inc. I’d be bringing back Generation Me and introducing The Super Smash Brothers, and I imagine I’d end up debuting Tony Nese and Jessie Godderz as a team. I think this would make for a decent basis for a tag division.
I would not be emphasising the tag team ranks too strongly because Ring of Honor has built itself a reputation for tag wrestling and it looks as though WWE wants to begin pushing doubles acts again too. There’s too much competition for it to be worthwhile competing.
I would attempt to take the Knockouts Division back to the heights it was at a few years ago, and would leave that task in the hands of Scott D’Amore. He is often cited as the creative force behind that original success and it would be foolish not to try and involve him again. The new women signed to contracts would allow the roster to be deep enough to keep the Knockout Tag Team belts around (TNA does not currently have enough women to justify tag titles and a singles title for its women’s division).
I would offer broad guidelines but otherwise leave it up to D’Amore. Those guidelines would be to put the title back on Mickie James as soon as possible, build ODB and Jackie as a heel tag team, reunite the Beautiful People, move Winter to a valet role with the British Invasion, and (should she agree to return) gradually build Gail Kim up for a meaningful heel turn and program with Mickie James for the Knockouts’ championship. Sarita and Rosita, Del Ray and Deeb, Tara and Tessmacher, the Beautiful People, and Jessie McKay and Mercedes Martinez would make a good Knockouts tag scene with everyone else focusing more on the singles gold.
Then there’s the X Division. I would want this to be the attraction of my TNA. IMPACT should routinely feature the X Division stars in prominent spots (the opening match is a good position for X Division matches as it allows the show to start with a bang and gets the crowd excited and lively early on) and treat them like stars. The X Division title’s prestige needs to be regained through meaningful title matches amongst men who compete in a meaningful division. That can happen by increasing the amount of time X Division matches get and by focusing on establishing a deeper roster. The recent feud between Brian Kendrick and Austin Aries has been rushed into a little quickly (I’d have built up to it more gradually) but now that it’s started I’d stick with it and put the X Division title onto Aries in the next couple of weeks. I would perhaps have Kendrick win it back and then drop it to Aries again to keep the feud alive, but I’d want ‘A Double’ coming out of that feud with the gold, the plan being to build the X Division around him during the rest of 2011 and early 2012.
Something I’d be aiming to accomplish with TNA is to have everyone on the roster doing something. Obviously not everyone would be in the main event. Not everyone would be winning. But I would try to ensure that every member of the roster has a gimmick or storyline going on to help set them apart from everyone else and give them the opportunity to connect with the fans.
I would encourage wrestlers to pitch their own ideas and storylines. That would not only make less work for the booking team but it would also mean that people would be doing something they believe in, making for a more passionate performance. There would be several key performers that I would be building the company around in both the short term and the long term, not necessarily the same guys across each time frame.
By this time next year the intention would be for the X Division to be the most talked about aspect of TNA programming and the in-ring highlight of every wrestling fan’s week. Is there a danger it would overshadow the TNA World title division? Yes, but that just makes the heavyweight guys work harder! The X Division wrestlers would be tasked with providing the quality wrestling matches of IMPACT, with those involved in the “world title division”(I still don’t like that term) being more involved with storylines. That’s not to say the world title performers wouldn’t need to provide great matches, more that they would be there to concentrate a little more on the soap opera aspect of the business.
I like the idea of guys being introduced to the company via the X Division, making a name for themselves there and then moving on to the World title scene. Obviously this wouldn’t work for everyone (Matt Morgan couldn’t have started out in the X Division for example) but it works as a template. Men like Kevin Steen, Kenny Omega and Low Ki could all follow this path. I’d also introduce an unwritten rule that once you’ve held the world title you don’t go back to holding the X Division title. As good as I want the X Division to be it’s the mid-card, and former world champions should constantly want to get back to the top, they shouldn’t be content to sink back to the middle of the roster and pick up a lesser championship.
Short term I would build the division around Austin Aries. He’s witty and intelligent enough to represent the X Division, and TNA in general, very well in mainstream media appearances, and his gimmick and wrestling ability are strong enough for him to be credible as a heavily featured performer. ‘A Double’ would be the X Division performer to watch until March or April next year at which point he’d drop the title (if he had it) to one of the men I see carrying the X Division in the long term. This would free Aries up to work feuds with slightly bigger men, testing him out as a main event performer and potential TNA World champion.
In the long term I’d be building the X Division around Amazing Red, Brian Kendrick and Jack Evans, with revamped gimmicks. I’ll start with Red. I believe TNA had the right idea when they had him wrestling under a mask as Sangriento, they just went about it in the wrong way (as they always do). Instead of wrestling as both characters he should have wrestled as one with attributes of both: have him wrestle as Amazing Red whilst wearing a mask. Getting him to work in Mysterio-style ring-trousers and a black and red mask would give TNA its own original masked wrestler to market without the hassle of trying to promote one man as two characters. With a suitably flashy entrance (lots of fireworks, red lighting and an entrance video filled with high-flying moves, perhaps some sort of trap door for him to enter the stage through) I think Red would stand out nicely.
Brian Kendrick works best as a heel, so he would become the division’s top antagonist once Aries received his promotion. I would perhaps add some flashy ring jackets and more trunks to his collection (I only ever see him wearing white) but other than that I would leave him mostly unchanged.
Jack Evans would become the central babyface of the X Division. His performances on TNA programming at the time of Destination X show that fans are willing to get behind the guy. I don’t understand why TNA haven’t exploited this by signing him and pushing him as a big star. I’d build on the dancing he already does during his entrances by giving him suitably hip hop entrance music and a female dance troupe. His immediate future would see a feud with a heel Low Ki, and I’d aim to have him work at least one pay-per-view with Aries too.
The rest of the X Division would consist of Low Ki, Kenny Omega, Alex Shelley (until he can reform the Motor City Machine Guns), Robbie E, Okada, Frankie Kazarian (yeah, I’d reintroduce his first name), Zema Ion, the Super Smash Brothers, Generation Me, and Kevin Steen. That’s a strong roster with several guys who would be promoted to the heavyweight division long term (Steen, Omega, and Low Ki) or used simultaneously in the tag ranks (the SSB and Gen Me). The key to the X Division’s success would be to keep adding fresh talent to the division every four to six months. That would avoid it becoming stale as it has in recent years.
As I discussed earlier, the tag team scene would not be a heavily promoted area of the show because other companies are capable of providing something similar. The tag scene I’d be offering would be built around Beer Money and the British Invasion. Beer Money work fine as they currently are: they’ve gotten themselves over with TNA fans and their verbal skills are good enough to allow them to stay at the top of the division and carry feuds with less experienced teams.
The British Invasion would get a little more attention. Within eighteen months I’d want to split the team and move both men into the singles ranks. In order to do that I’d need to start presenting both men as stars now. I’d replace their tights with trunks, give them a far more serious attitude, and book them to win a lot more. As I stated above I’d add Winter to their act as a valet, possibly with a new name. For a year I would make them the top heel team in the company and then gradually move them into their respective singles roles over the following six months.
The tag team undercard would consist of the Super Smash Brothers (yes, them again), Generation Me (and them), Ink Inc., and the Motor City Machine Guns. That’s a decent six team division, with the option of pairing guys making up the numbers in the X and heavyweight divisions for brief runs together. If it seems that there’s not much going on in the tag team division: good, that’s the intention. Remember, it’s not supposed to be the liveliest part of the show. It’s a good way of utilising guys you’ve got no other plans for and for introducing inexperienced men to the roster.
The Knockouts division would, on the other hand, be something I’d want people to tune in for. For the next year the top spots would go to the Beautiful People, Mickie James, Sarita, Rosita and ODB. A central storyline across the first month or so would be the reformation of the Beautiful People (easily the most over act the Knockouts division has ever produced, and it’s produced a lot of successful acts), which would be a nice “feel good” story for fans to follow. The reunion of the two would be held off and built up until fans are desperate to see it, and then be interrupted by Sarita and Rosita (who would have the Knockout tag titles by this point), setting up a Sarita and Rosita v the Beautiful People feud for the rest of the year.
The singles title would be put back on Mickie James for the foreseeable future. A James v ODB and Jackie feud would be started immediately, which would involve Tara and Brooke Tessmacher in supporting roles. By the time that feud ends Gail Kim would hopefully be back in the company and would make a natural choice for the next challenger to James’ title.
While those women are taking the lead roles I would introduce the audience to the new batch of women I’d have signed: Sara Del Rey, Serena Deeb, Jessie McKay, and Mercedes Martinez, supported by the rest of the division to form a solid undercard. Long term I’d expect to have Serena and Del Ray established as two of the top Knockouts in the division, alongside the current mainstays. As with the X Division a new wrestler would need to be introduced every six months or so to stop things getting stale.
An immediate goal would be to make the Knockout tag team titles mean something again. The belts were first introduced at a time when the division had considerably more talent depth than it does now and they have failed to mean anything for pretty much their entire history. By building the Knockouts tag scene around Love and Sky (as noted above, the division’s most over act) along with talented workers like Sarita and Rosita, Tara and Tessmacher and McKay and Martinez (who’d debut in matching outfits as a team) the belts should mean something again fairly soon.
The Knockouts championship needs to retain its position as the premier women’s title in wrestling. The short term plan of pitting Mickie James against ODB, Gail Kim, and then either Deeb or Del Ray (or perhaps both in a three way feud) should ensure that the title is taken seriously. Longer term I would like to have the belt on a heel Sara Del Ray and run a storyline in which she issues challenges to the top workers from all over the world, allowing women to be brought in from Japan, Britain, Mexico and various areas of the United States to work matches with her. This would not only be a simple storyline to follow, it would be a natural way to introduce a new woman to the ranks by having them shockingly beat Del Ray for the title.
Finally we come to the TNA world championship division a.k.a. the heavyweight division (a term I dislike but can’t seem to stop using). The world title itself would need to be presented as the most meaningful in wrestling, which would be achieved with longer title reigns and a direction to all champions that they carry the title with pride and celebrate when winning it as if it’s a true achievement: when was the last time that happened in TNA?
I spoke above about my plans for the title, the idea being to have Samoa Joe leave Bound For Glory 2012 with the gold. A feud with AJ Styles over who’s ‘The Man’ would follow Styles’ feud with Daniels, and could last a fair amount time with various singles and tag matches between Joe and AJ’s Fourtune pals. I would then move him on to a feud with Rob Van Dam, after ‘The Whole F’n Show’ has lost the world title to Anderson.
This brings me nicely to Mr Anderson. He would be the face of TNA for a year: no more, no less. Bound For Glory 2012 would be designed as Joe’s night and would see him gradually turning babyface afterwards. Joe would very much be the centrepiece of TNA following that show. Anderson is good enough to keep things ticking over for the next year, but he’s not a long term figurehead. Part of the problem is that he will always be associated with WWE. He’s been accepted by the fans which makes him a good choice as a placeholder while another act is built (or rebuilt in this case) for the fans to connect with. He cannot be in the role for longer than that without the promotion losing credibility.
Looking further into the future than Bound For Glory 2012 there are numerous people who could be prepared for world title runs: Brutus Magnus, Colt Cabana, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode and Kevin Steen all have the skills to rise to the top, whilst RVD and AJ Styles would always be considered for brief, transitional reigns.
So how would all of that be fitted into one TV show? Quite simply, it wouldn’t be. Not on a weekly basis anyway. But that’s okay, because not everyone needs to be on TV every week. I think as long as the central performers of each division (as specified above) has a presence on each episode of IMPACT, either in an in-ring promo, a match, or a prominent backstage segment, they’re getting enough exposure.
IMPACT would feature a big main event each week. This could either be a match for one of the company’s championships or a match that advances one of the hottest feuds. Where possible I would announce these bouts in advance in an attempt to increase ratings (though it’s important to note that I would discontinue the current practice of debuting people against big name opponents – such matches should be saved for pay-per-views). The rest of the show would feature a minimum of three other bouts and at least one in-ring promo segment to advance a storyline or showcase a pushed act. Those on the undercard would be featured every other week, or every third week. That would allow them enough TV time to be seen as regulars whilst ensuring those getting heavily pushed retain their top spots.
Xplosion is a different story. I recently watched an episode that consisted entirely of backstage promos, recaps, and video packages. I don’t know if this is normal but it wouldn’t happen on my watch. Those individuals who aren’t in the top spots (Robbie E, Madison Rayne, and Ink Inc. for example) would wrestle on Xplosion. That should be the point of the show: to showcase the undercard talent whilst briefly recapping the events of the more important IMPACT. I’d much rather watch three matches than a lengthy video package showing Chris Daniels talking to a woman at Comic Con (that actually aired on the Xplosion episode I saw). Yes it shows TNA had a presence at Comic Con, and that’s great, but it should have been a minute long at most.
This brings me to someone I should have discussed much earlier: Eric Young. I am not a big fan of his, but I so appreciate that he’s over and capable of creating a very successful comedy segment with no apparent rehearsal time. He is currently being used in video packages highlighting his attempt to become an actor/reality TV star. That’s a good use of him. Each week I’d send him out somewhere with a camera crew to record enough material to be edited down to two one and a half minute video packages. Why two at one and a half minutes? Because that keeps his fans watching to find out how his latest shenanigans end. He’d wrestle rountinely on house shows and make an in-ring appearance once or twice a month on Xplosion. I can’t imagine him getting a match on IMPACT, but backstage appearances would definitely happen for him.
At the same time as taking this new creative direction I would be increasing TNA’s media presence. The standard approach of TV, radio and newspaper interviews would be a must and would be left in the hands of the media director I mentioned in part one. The WWE approach of having stars bombard towns with media appearances before a big TV taping or pay-per-view seems very successful and would be something I’d be keen on emulating. In order to grow TNA has to start turning its performers into household names and getting them into the public consciousness. Paying them properly would be good too: that’s something I’d entrust to the talent relations department.
That, I think, is everything covered. Short of writing scripts for every episode of IMPACT from now until forever I don’t feel I can go much more in depth on the subject, but hopefully I’ve provided you with enough information to clearly demonstrate the direction I’d take the company in. Feedback is more than welcome (preferably to my Twitter account, @ThatDaveGuy) and I’m interested in what anyone has to say. Please don’t tell me I’d be worse than the current product though. Because that’s clearly untrue.