Wednesday 31 August 2011

Unamazing Crimson

I've recently discovered (via Twitter) that TNA wrestler Crimson has a surprising number of fans. Yes, Crimson, the man who has failed to have do anything memorable since debuting for TNA on the last iMPACT of 2010. He has so many supporters that I feel compelled to write a short blog detailing why he’s nothing short of absolutely ordinary.
Let's start with his tattoos. I’ve nothing against tattoos, and feel they can enhance the look of a wrestler. Undertaker, CM Punk and Randy Orton all fully tattooed arms and it doesn’t detract from their main event aura (in the case of Punk he’s actually made it an integral part of his persona). My problem isn’t with tattoos in general, it’s with Crimson’s tattoos in particular. They’re dreadful. They’re so bad that they actually draw your eye when Crimson’s on screen.

No wrestler should have tattoos so bad that you’re unable to focus on their promos, matches, entrances or whatever else. But Crimson does. It’s a bad move. Either get something that doesn’t draw they eye or don’t get anything. Or, maybe, just don’t get into the wrestling business.
As bad as the tattoos are the promos are worse. Every interview I've seen the guy do has been a typically clich├ęd, unimaginative growling mess. In fairness the content isn’t his fault: the writing team are the one's telling him what to say. But at the same time he has to shoulder some of the blame as he's the one providing the half-hearted, generic delivery and emphasising odd parts of sentences.
The most obvious reason to dislike the guy is his incredibly basic ring style. He wrestles like a WWE mid-carder. There's nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it makes it impossible to take him seriously as a future centrepiece star, which is clearly how TNA want us to view him.

Bischoff and Russo (and possibly some others, though I suspect they are the main culprits) seem to want to recreate the Goldberg push with Crimson. It’s just not going to happen. It worked with Goldberg for so many different reasons: a winning streak in wrestling (on that level at least) had never been done before; Goldberg was (and is) a charismatic performer who managed to connect with crowds very quickly; his matches were kept short and his opponents never got in any offence; and WCW had a ridiculously high number of expendable talent under contract that could be sacrificed on a weekly basis without the need of repeats.

Crimson has displayed no charisma, is routinely booked in relatively lengthy matches against people who fight back, and TNA doesn’t have anywhere near the number of heavyweight jabronis it needs to build Crimson up through impressive displays of physical dominance. I’m not saying there’s not a role for him in TNA, but it isn’t his current one.
I’ve not forgotten that he's Amazing Red's younger brother either. This is why he’s been lumbered with the awful ring name of Crimson (and Amazing Red’s been released too – so it’s rendered even more absurd than it was already. In Vince Russo’s mind having Crimson be the younger brother of someone so much smaller than him is hilarious. To everyone else it’s just a stupid name that will be laughed at by mainstream media. Not that that matters: how often does anyone hear TNA mentioned outside of wrestling websites and magazines and their own TV shows?
Crimson could have meant something in TNA had a little thought and originality been applied to his debut and long term plans laid out in advance. As things stand right now he’s not said or done anything to warrant the praise he receives and I can’t see that state of affairs changing any time soon. He may well be a future TNA world champion, but in the grand scheme of things what does that actually mean? I’ll tell you what: nothing.

Monday 29 August 2011

The Lies of a Nature Boy

I watched Ric Flair’s return to IMPACT the other night and was struck by what an embarrassment he is. Not just to himself or to TNA, but to the wrestling business in general. He’s even an embarrassment to wrestling fans. Would you show someone you know who’s not into wrestling footage of Flair in TNA as an example of how good wrestling can be? Of course you wouldn’t.

If you’ve not seen the episode in question you didn’t miss much. Throughout the course of the show Flair claimed to have wrestled Sting 1,500 times (a fallacy), told ‘The Hulkster’ in a backstage segment that they should go out and party (Hogan is 58, Flair is 62), jumbled his lines during a backstage shout-fest (“It’s Ric Flair I’m talking to right now and I wanna see him!” was the highlight), and challenged Sting to a match with retire stipulations (just a couple of years after his guaranteed last match ever against Shawn Michaels).

He clearly hasn’t wrestled Sting anywhere near 1,500 times. Even when touring schedules were at their worst Flair and Sting weren’t wrestling more than around 250 matches per year. It would have taken six years to reach the number Flair claims. Even interspersed over a longer period that number would have been impossible to reach. He also said Sting won, at most, two matches against him. That too is untrue.

The partying comment made me imagine an awful sitcom starring Hogan and Flair, in which they continually try to prove to themselves, each other, and anybody else unlucky enough to be near them, that they can “still go” by partying the night away and making themselves bleed hard way. As bad as such a sitcom would be I still think it would be an improvement on the nonsense IMPACT offers up on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean I want to see it though.

Flair jumbling his lines is nothing new. It’s a perfect example of why he shouldn’t be allowed to work without a script. Some guys (The Rock, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, and CM Punk spring immediately to mind) excel without a script while others actually harm the product. If TNA insists on using Flair in a speaking role (and I’d like to be clear that while I dislike him in a speaking role it’s preferable to using him in a wrestling role) he should be told exactly what to say beforehand. If Flair can’t even cut a promo properly then there’s nothing he can do to help TNA.

The retirement comment was his worst offence. ‘The Nature Boy’ told Sting he wanted to wrestle him and that if Sting won Flair would guarantee him the match he wants with Hogan. If Flair won, then Sting would have to retire. Flair then talked about how this wouldn’t be a “phoney retirement” and that Sting would have to “go home and wish he’d never stepped in the ring” if he lost. Yeah that was going to happen. Honest.

Flair talking about retirement stipulations is always going to destroy a storyline’s credibility, solely because of how he has ruined the perfect send-off he was given by Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, and the entire WWE locker room and backstage crew at WrestleMania XXIV and the following evening’s RAW in 2008. I appreciate he loves the business but that was the best retirement he could have hoped for and it should have remained his final match. He has financial problems, yes, (all self-inflicted) but he could have taken a non-wrestling role in TNA. At his age he should be acting as a manager or spokesperson, not an active wrestler. 

The argument form TNA fans will likely be that the promotion wanted to get an angle across, but that’s a poor excuse because the match didn’t need the retirement stipulation. It’s a gimmick for the sake of adding a gimmick. If this were an isolated incident it wouldn’t be a big deal, but as TNA does it all the time it can’t be overlooked. It’s an ongoing problem within the promotion and ought to be addressed. They could have included another storyline development here, or put a young wrestler who could use the chance to progress in Flair’s role.

Basically, Flair is a hypocrite and long past his prime. I’m not saying he has no use in the modern wrestling business but I am saying that use is not active competition. Nor is it unscripted promos. The business and the expectations of viewers have changed since Flair’s heyday. He and TNA need to come to terms with that and adapt how ‘The Nature Boy’ is used, before he completely destroys his legacy.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Tuesday Night Live

“A live episode of SmackDown on a Tuesday? What witchcraft is this?!” you may be thinking. No witchcraft involved. SmackDown is always held on a Tuesday, taped to air later in the week. You probably already knew that, it’s one of the most open secrets in the wrestling business (so open that it can barely be considered a secret, really) but there may be someone reading who didn’t know, and it was the best way I could think of to start this blog.

I think this one-off move could work well for WWE. SmackDown’s ratings have been dismal since the move to Syfy, despite the fact that it’s currently the most consistent wrestling show on TV (that may change in a few weeks when ROH’s new show kicks off). The main problem the show has is its Friday night slot: there are fewer people at home to watch the show so there are fewer potential viewers. I always felt SmackDown worked best on Thursday nights, but I think a live Tuesday show every week could work out well for WWE too.

Will SuperSmackDown warrant those five extra letters? So far two matches have been confirmed for the program: WWE champion Alberto Del Rio will wrestle Sin Cara in a non-title match and World Heavyweight champion Randy Orton will defend his title against Christian in a cage match. Those matches alone should help to make the show “Super”.

Sin Cara v Alberto Del Rio is a match that would have been impossible until a few days ago. The original Sin Cara (Luis Ignascio Urive Alvirde, a.k.a. Mistico) and ADR have heat dating back to their time together in Mexican promotion CMLL. But thanks to Mistico’s haphazard performances and Wellness Policy violation he has reportedly been released from his contract, with developmental star Jorge Arias (a.k.a. Hunico) taking over in the role full time, having filled in during Mistico’s Wellness-related suspension.

It’s a good move by the company. Hunico is better suited to the role having spent time in FCW learning the WWE style, while Mistico was sloppy and couldn’t fit in with the rest of the locker room due to the language barrier created by his inability to speak English. If Hunico is given time to settle into the gimmick and work his way up the card naturally I think he can be successful.

This is a first time match between two men (well, one man and a character) WWE has spent a lot of time making stars of. Had the promotion held the match off until Sin Cara (whoever’s under the mask) is considered a bigger star they could have made some money from the match on pay-per-view, but it’s not a disastrous move and should help SuperSmackDown feel like something special.

This should be an enjoyable match and I personally think it would work well as an opener to get the crowd excited and lively early on. Just don’t expect Sin Cara to win: in the last two weeks ADR has beaten CM Punk, Rey Mysterio and Bryan Danielson. WWE are clearly putting him over their best workers to make him look as dominant as possible. It’s worked so far and I expect it to continue until Night of Champions at least.

The cage match is almost guaranteed to be the main event (WWE has been known to open with huge matches in the past and I wouldn’t put it past them here, hence the use of the word “almost”). I’ve wanted to see Christian and Orton’s feud take in a proper gimmick match for a while now and I think a cage match is the perfect fit for what is probably going to be a feud-ending battle. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in there and expect it to be another solid entry into their feud.

That said I’m glad it’s over. They’ve been battling one another since the beginning of May and I don’t think WWE could have stretched things out past Night of Champions. It’s better for them to end it now than for fans to lose interest completely.

‘The Viper’ is heading into a feud with ‘The World’s Strongest Shark’ – sorry, I mean ‘Man’ – Mark Henry so don’t be surprised to see him lumber out to ringside during or after the bout. I’m hoping he comes out afterwards: this has been WWE’s best feud of the year and to see the final match marred by outside interference would be disappointing. But then it could be argued that that’s exactly why Henry should interfere: it makes him a bigger heel as he spoils the fans’ enjoyment.

‘Captain Charisma’s’ next feud is less clear right now, but I suspect it will be Sheamus. I think they’d have good matches and their characters would work well together during promos. Christian’s also very good at helping to establish newly turned babyfaces. Sheamus is working well as a face anyway, but Christian is the perfect man to cement him in the role.

The obvious thing to do would be to have Henry come out and rip off the cage door (establishing how big, strong, manly and shark-like he is) then attack Orton with Christian’s help, prompting Sheamus out for the save (establishing that he, like Finlay, loves to fight and is a stand-up dude too). That would gently move Christian into his new feud and get some heat on Henry for his upcoming battle with ‘WWE’s Apex Predator’ (which establishes that WWE is running out of meaningful monikers).

There’s also a rumour that John Cena and CM Punk are going to face one another on the show. If that’s a televised match then great, that will help SuperSmackDown’s ratings significantly (providing it’s announced on RAW the night before). I have a feeling it’s a dark match main event though (which basically means it’s an untelevised match, in case you don’t know). If you see that match “confirmed” anywhere but WWE’s official website then remain sceptical.

This is WWE’s chance to get itself some new viewers, start new feuds and finish an old one. Considering the general strength of SmackDown I don’t think they’ll disappoint. It does leave me with nothing to watch next Friday though.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Fantasy Booker: TNA part two

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:

Kevin Steen
Jack Evans
Amazing Red
Low Ki
Colt Cabana
Gail Kim
Sara Del Ray
Serena Deeb
Kenny Omega
Generation Me (Max and Jeremy Buck)
The Super Smash Brothers (Player Uno and Player Dos)
Jessie McKay
Mercedes Martinez
‘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:

Male singles:
AJ Styles
Alex Shelley
Amazing Red
Austin Aries
Bobby Roode
Brian Kendrick
Brutus Magnus
Chris Sabin
Christopher Daniels
Colt Cabana
Douglas Williams
Eric Young
Frankie Kazarian
Jack Evans
James Storm
Jeremy Buck
Jesse Neal
Jessie Godderz (developmental contract)
Kenny Omega
Kevin Steen
Kurt Angle
Low Ki
Matt Morgan
Max Buck
Mr Anderson
Player Uno
Player Dos
Robbie E
Rob Van Dam
Samoa Joe
Shannon Moore
‘Skullcrusher’ Rasche Brown
Tony Nese (developmental contract)
Zema Ion

Angelina Love
Brooke Tessmacher
Gail Kim
Jessie McKay
Madison Rayne
Mercedes Martinez
Mickie James
Sara Del Ray
Serena Deeb
Traci Brooks
Velvet Sky

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.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

The Greatest Gimmick You'll Never See

We've all seen Mark Henry pushed as a world title contender before. It always ends the same way: after months of short squash matches over expendable mid-carders Henry will be carried to a bearable match by a capable headliner. The former 'Sexual Chocolate' is never a threat to win the title because he doesn't have all the skills necessary to work at the top of WWE for a sustained period. 
So why does WWE bother? They’ve
spent the last several months preparing Henry for his upcoming feud with Randy Orton. The title won't change hands and the spot could have gone to a younger talent with brighter prospects, such as Wade Barrett, Titus O’Neil, or Mason Ryan (remember him?). They wouldn't have needed to topple 'The Viper', it would have been enough to have them in the ring with someone of Orton’s status. Building stars for the future, that’s what pushes like Henry’s should be about
Henry would be better as a mid-card heel, and I've got the perfect new gimmick
to give him. Dress him in a grey shark outfit, his face poking out through the mouth, and have him declare war on "landlubbers" in a series of gritty, realistic promos filmed at an abandoned dock. Top things off with the new ring name of Shark Henry and you've got one of the most enjoyable wrestling gimmicks in years. Play it straight and Henry could become a bigger star than at any other point in his fifteen years with the company.

The catchphrases Shark's come up with during his latest push have laid the groundwork for this change in persona. Emitting animalistic grunting noises when performing power moves is perfect for someone referring to himself as a shark! And "better is better" is
great no matter who’s saying it! The marketing team are missing a trick by not plastering it on a T-shirt. Slap a picture of a shark on the other side and it could become a huge seller.
If you think WWE should scale down Mark Henry's role and make him Shark Henry then show your support by tweeting with the hashtag #SharkHenry whenever you watch one of his segments on WWE programming. If people ask you why you're doing it give them a link to this blog.
Together we can make Shark Henry happen!

Sunday 21 August 2011

Fantasy Booker: TNA part one

I’m sure most of you remember when TNA made a half-hearted attempt at a relaunch a couple of months ago. Yes, the one that was so bungled that I’m still not sure if we’re expected to refer to them as IMPACT Wrestling or not. You probably remember their relaunch on October 10th last year too (which was based almost completely around the fact that the date was 10.10.10 – creative geniuses in TNA). You’ll likely remember the January 4th 2010 relaunch too. That one was based around the first appearance of both Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan in a TNA ring. It also boasted surprise appearances by both Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam. There was no thought given to spanning these big names out to maximise their effect on ratings: that wouldn’t be the TNA way.

This latest rebranding has basically amounted to a new blue set, different lighting effects, a failed attempt to reinvigorate the once lively X Division and Sting impersonating Heath Ledger’s Joker. It cannot be considered a success by any reasonable criteria.

My aim is to discuss across two blogs what I would do were I put in charge of TNA working on the presumption that Panda Energy would be fairly lenient with my funding (their attitude towards funding for the last several years has been so relaxed it could be considered comatose, so I don’t think this is too unrealistic). In the second part I’ll discuss how I’d book the on-screen product. In this first part I’ll concentrate on the backstage changes I’d make. An unfocused direction and poor management structure are what’s currently holding TNA back: nobody in the organisation seems to know who’s responsible for what or how to build a wrestling star from scratch. If the company is to succeed the backstage problems need to be sorted out and the company needs to expand into running regular shows across North America.

First things first: I would fire Vince Russo, Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan. At one point I believe Russo probably contributed a few worthwhile ideas to the promotion. But those times are long gone. His eagerness to promote shock TV over quality matches has failed to help TNA improve its viewing figures and tends to be seen in a negative light by most existing fans. He is detrimental to the company’s present and future.

Similarly Hogan and Bischoff have nothing to offer. Hogan, easily the most recognisable wrestler on the planet even with his prime twenty years in the past, could have helped teach the roster how to connect with an audience, how to cut a promo and how to remain over. That Hogan has not helped anyone on the roster get over any more than they were when he joined the company makes it clear he’s not interested in helping the promotion grow. Or that he simply he doesn’t understand how he’s managed to do these things himself. All he wants is a paycheque.

Bischoff was lauded as a television production guru when he joined TNA, yet the company still regularly promotes shows from the same location they were using years before Bischoff’s signing and with only mildly improved production values. They’ve certainly not changed enough in the near two years Easy E’s been there to justify the six figure salary he collects.

In their place I would bring in my own team. The first position I would advertise would be that of a media relations expert (I’d dream up a suitably flashy job title before advertising the role). The job would involve working with the wrestlers of the TNA roster on their public image, covering everything from how they conduct themselves in mainstream media interviews to how and what they tweet on Twitter.

The reason I think this is necessary is linked to a tweet from Jesse Neal some months ago. Neal stated that he and his girlfriend had just qualified for food stamps, which basically meant they were so poor they weren’t able to feed themselves with the money they were making from their jobs. He quickly deleted the tweet and claimed it had been a joke. Now, it either was a joke and it was in incredibly poor taste or he really had qualified for food stamps. Either way it made TNA, his employer, look bad. A media relations expert would be tasked with making talent understand why such updates are counterproductive and educating the roster on how to make Twitter work for them and the promotion.

This expert would also be tasked with finding a speech coach to work with those members of the roster who struggle to cut a promo. Young talent would benefit immensely from having someone around who can teach them how to engage an audience and build a character with limited TV time. It’s an important part of the business and one TNA really needs to crack if it’s going to expand.

Two closing points on the production side of things: I would revert to simply calling the show IMPACT rather than IMPACT Wrestling (because the name change was fairly pointless and the show is still routinely referred to as just IMPACT) and reintroduce the six-sided ring. The ring separates TNA from its immediate competition of ROH and WWE at a glance and allows performers (particularly those in the X Division) to work matches that they couldn’t in a regular four-sided ring.

My second big hire would be a television producer with live event experience. What TNA really needs is someone who can turn out polished TV shows and pay-per-views on a very tight budget and knows the dos and don’ts of producing a weekly live show from different locations (more on this below). This person would need to get the lighting and sound spot-on, oversee the production of entrance videos and music (discussed below) and know how best to cover a wrestling match (currently big spots and match finishes are routinely missed because of random shots of the crowd, the announcers, or something nonsensical happening backstage).

This person would need to put together a team capable of improving the quality of IMPACT of a show. They would also need to hire a new play-by-play announcer for Xplosion. My aim would be to have a secondary announcer establishing themselves on the secondary show for twelve to eighteen months before introducing them to IMPACT to work alongside ‘Iron’ Mike Tenay. Tazz would be moved to Xplosion with immediate effect to be replaced by Don West on IMPACT. That West currently works in a marketing role for the company is ludicrous when he is clearly a superior colour commentator to Tazz. Within two years I would want to have Tenay and Tazz calling Xplosion and the new guy working alongside Don West on IMPACT. The pay-per-view announce team at that point would be West, the new guy and Tenay.

A replacement for Christy Hemme would also be needed. She’s acceptable as a backstage interviewer, but as a ring announcer she doesn’t cut it. She emphasises peculiar parts of wrestler’s names and doesn’t seem to understand that a bright, perky attitude doesn’t work well for a ring announcer. Somebody new is needed in the role and she should be used exclusively backstage. Jeremy Borash would find his role decreasing too: he’s become far too much of a character. He’s fine as a backstage interviewer but shouldn’t be anything more than that.

The producer and their team would also need to be skilled at putting together video packages.A long term initiative would be to introduce new video packages for every member of the roster. I dislike TNA’s current approach of assorted emblems flashing up on the screen as wrestlers walk to the ring. I much prefer the traditional approach of showing in-ring highlights of the wrestler interspersed with specially shot footage. Within nine months I’d expect everyone on the roster to have an entrance video and (where needed) new entrance music that fits their character.

Video packages would also play a large part in how I’d introduce new members of the roster. Kenny Omega or the Super Smash Brothers would benefit from a month or so of video packages showing what they can do in the ring. It helps fans accept a new wrestler and builds anticipation of their first appearance. A guy like Kevin Steen would benefit more from a video shot with a shaky-cam and consisting of quick cuts while he talks about what sort of a man he is (assuming he’d be using a gimmick similar to his current one, of course). The production team would need to be able to put these videos together quickly and ensure they have an individual feel to them to help distinguish the wrestler from anyone else who has debuted this way. Only one person would be introduced using this method at a time though. More would be overkill.

At this point I’ll mention the booking team. I would not be capable of running every aspect of the company and booking it too, so I would offer jobs to Dutch Mantel, Dave Lagana and Scott D’Amore (more on his role in part two) to form a booking committee. I would likely advertise one or two roles for fans to get into the business too: there are dozens of knowledgeable fans out there who could improve TNA’s product by working as part of such a team. This squad’s role would be to work out the specifics of the broad storyline ideas I’d provide and format them for a wrestling show. Naturally I would be reserving the right to veto any decisions they made and make any alterations to the final script that I felt necesarry.
The next big thing I’d want to do is expand TNA across North America. This would cost a lot of money, but it would also create more income in the long run. Doing tapings in front of the same audience (who don’t pay) every two weeks, interspersed by sporadic two or three date “tours”, is harmful to the company. The regular fans that flock to Universal Studios will react to things in whatever way they want, regardless of how someone is booked. That means if someone is turned heel but the regular fans don’t want to boo them the character will be switched back to being a face. That would be fine if there were no television audience to consider, but that’s not the case. Those of us watching at home may have a different opinion to the couple of hundred IMPACT Zone faithful, but we have no way of letting TNA know this because the regular fans are seen as the most important. The company needs to be catering to the larger television market.

Taking IMPACT on the road takes the control of characters away from those few hundred fans and puts it in the hands of management and the larger viewing market. If someone is getting booed everywhere but Universal Studios then they need to be a heel. By holding tapings in other locations that can happen with no backlash.

With regards to tapings at Universal, I would honour whatever dates have already been agreed upon and set up dates elsewhere for as soon as possible. I would pick eight markets and rotate through them on a fortnightly (that’s bi-weekly for you non-British readers) basis. Each market would consist of two big towns or cities within driving distance of one another, with enough small towns nearby being used for house shows (non-televised events).

The four date run would begin on a Thursday with a live IMPACT, followed by a TV taping the next evening either in the same building or the other big town in the market. The Saturday and Sunday would be house shows, or a pay-per-view. The following Thursday would see the taped event air and then the week after that the process would begin again. This would allow for a light schedule for talent but incorporate live episodes of IMPACT and regular exposure outside of Orlando, both of which need to be top priorities. In time a house show could be added on the Wednesday before the live IMPACT or the Monday at the end of the run. Even if both extra days were added it would still be a six day run with over a week off before the next.

What eight markets would I choose? Despite my negative feelings towards shows at Universal Studios I wouldn’t stop running events there. If those fans only get to see the shows every three or four months they’re not going to be as detrimental to business as they are now. The goal isn’t to cut them off from the product completely, just to limit their influence on it. I’d use New Orleans as the other end of this touring route as that’s a passionate wrestling city within driving distance of Florida with enough towns in between to use as house show and second day TV taping locations.

That’s seven markets left. New York City and Philadelphia are ideal cities for TNA, running shows in the Hammerstein Ballroom and The Asylum Arena (formerly the ECW Arena) respectively. New York events would likely be followed by runs into New England (Boston would be a good opposite end to this touring route), while Philadelphia runs could take in New Jersey and Pittsburgh. As these are profitable wrestling markets already they would be used slightly more often than the other cities I’ll list, and major angles would ideally be saved for shows from these towns.

The remaining five markets I’d use would be as follows:

Austin, TX to Oklahoma City, OK
Raleigh, NC to Columbia, SC
Chicago, IL to Minneapolis, MN
Detroit, MI to Toronto, Canada
Atlanta, GA to Nashville, TN

I think this gives TNA a good presence in cities that have enough wrestling fans to sustain regular shows. Some touring areas are near each other but that’s a deliberate choice: my hope is that some fans in, say, New York, would like the product enough to catch a show in Toronto, or fans in Detroit would catch a show in Chicago.

The aim would be to establish firm fan support in these markets before expanding TNA further across the continent. Occasional forays to the west coast and Mexico could be made, but the company would need to concentrate on making the markets listed above work before further expansion could be considered srriously. TNA needs to have a loyal following outside of Orlando, and that can only come with time and by touring the promotion regularly.

I’m also of the opinion that TNA misses a trick by not doing anything to tie in to WrestleMania. Ring of Honor has been promoting shows from the WrestleMania host city on the weekend of the event for several years now. It’s been a big success for them. If TNA were to promote a TV special the Saturday before WrestleMania they would not only attract the fans in town to see the WWE supershow, they’d also open themselves up to a TV audience that’s getting ready for the biggest show of the year the next day. Heavily advertising a free wrestling TV show the day before WrestleMania should attract a large viewing figure, some of whom would like what TNA has to offer and continue tuning in. It’s a great chance to reach new fans and it amazes me TNA hasn’t done anything like this before.

In addition to this I would keep up tours of Britain and Ireland. For some reason TNA performs incredibly well on these tours, to the extent that the company makes more money running house shows here than they do in the States. I wouldn’t go as far as doing pay-per-views from Britain (because taped pay-per-views simply wouldn’t draw enough money in this day and age) but I would tape an episode of IMPACT on each tour. January and August seem like the prime times for such trips.

With all of the above in place I would turn my attention to the talent relations department. For anyone reading who is unaware, the talent relations department is responsible for overseeing contractual negotiations and hiring and firing talent. It’s an important part of any major wrestling promotion and should be of particular importance to TNA because their roster is in drastic need of an overhaul. The division is currently overseen by Bruce Prichard and Dean Broadhead, who seem to be doing a decent job and so would remain in their roles working to a new directive. Essentially I’d want them concentrating more on signing talented but relatively unknown people for the X and Knockout Divisions. As you’ll see in part two those will be the areas I concentrate on most and so they will require deeper rosters than they currently have. Signing men to compete in the heavyweight division (is that how you’d describe guys who challenge for TNA’s world title?) would still need to happen, but would be less of a priority.

I’d introduce the Talent Care Program: a system modelled on WWE’s Wellness Program and designed to eliminate steroids and other harmful substances from the promotion’s locker room. I’m not familiar enough with the subject to provide a detailed list of everything that would be banned and would hire experts to put the thing together. As with the WWE system the first infringement would result in a thirty day unpaid the suspension, the second with a sixty day unpaid suspension, and the third with a firing. In the result of a firing the talent would need to complete a rehabilitation course before being brought back (if we wanted to bring them back). Considering the attitudes of certain members of the current TNA roster on this subject I could be opening myself up to losing multiple wrestlers, but I’d work around it somehow. I believe drug testing systems such as this are necessary in the modern wrestling business.

The practice of signing practically every former WWE performer would cease. A small list of WWE performers would be compiled and TNA would set aside cash to make them significant offers when their McMahonland contracts come up for renewal. The names on the list are all people who are either in a position to immediately have an impact (no pun intended) on TNA’s ratings or people who could rise to that level within a few months if introduced and used in the right way. They’re all people who could sell a lot of merchandise too. Who’s on the list? Take a look:

John Cena
Rey Mysterio
CM Punk
Randy Orton
Bryan Danielson
Tyler Black (currently in FCW as Seth Rollins)

As I said, these are the only current WWE names I’d be interested in signing at any point in the foreseeable future. The aim would be to use them to improve IMPACT’s ratings and to increase merchandise revenue. Cena may not be the best worker, but he would raise ratings significantly and bring in a lot of money in T-shirt, wrist band and hat sales (people will buy anything, you know). You don’t think he’d increase ratings? If you went a wrestling news website now and saw that Cena had left WWE to sign with TNA wouldn’t you be watching the next episode of IMPACT? I know I would.

There are two names I’ll address separately: Batista and Chris Jericho. It’s assumed both men will return to WWE at some point in the future. I would try to convince them to do otherwise. Offering them big money contracts with light schedules would be my approach. Signing them would help TNA’s ratings and pay-per-view buys, as well as deprive Vince McMahon of two of the biggest free agents in the wrestling business. I would offer them positions immediately but wouldn’t expect them to be accepted due to the promotion’s current image. I would make a second offer six months later (providing they hadn’t returned to WWE) in the hope that six months of my television product would be enough to persuade them to change their minds.

In addition to the long term, big money plan the talent department would be given three immediate goals: concentrate on finding new talent (as mentioned above), establish a working relationship with one or two independent leagues (to function as feeder promotions and training areas, as well as somewhere for established stars to go to work off ring rust before returning from injuries/general time off), and make some firings.

Yes, I’d be makings a lot of cuts from the current roster. There are really two reasons for cutting people from TNA’s roster. The first is financial. Paying Sting half a million dollars a year to only appear on TV and PPV is not cost effective. He’s not the ratings draw Spike TV and TNA management seem to want us to believe he is and the fact that he barely ever appears on house shows means TNA can’t capitalise on what little popularity he does have. For the money he’s paid TNA could sign five or six talented individuals to stock the tag team, Knockout, and X Division ranks. I know which I’d rather see each week. How about you?

The second reason is a creative one. There are various people on the roster that I simply wouldn’t have any interest in using because they don’t fit into my vision of the TNA product. If I don’t see them as a star I won’t book them as a star, and that will come across on TV and make the company look bad.

Here’s the list of releases:

Anarquia and Hernandez – Clumsy, generic workers with a racist gimmick. There’s no need for such cheap heat merchants in 2011.
Crimson – I’ve not seen him do anything that sticks in my mind or makes him look like a potential headliner.
Devon and Bully Ray – They have nothing to offer as a tag team and no promotion (even TNA) should be trying to get them over as singles stars.
Jerry Lynn – A very talented worker but TNA needs to emphasise youth and Lynn doesn’t help with that. I’d offer him an agent role though, because I imagine he’d be a good influence on younger talent.
Kid Kash – As above, but without the offer of agent work (his attitude is appalling).
Gunner – Useless.
Murphy – Awful.
Rob Terry – Useless and awful.
Jeff Jarrett – Yeah, I’d fire “the founder”. He’s done everything he can to elevate the company, doesn’t have the aura of a main event star, and is too old to be worth keeping around. His work in Mexico proves he doesn’t need TNA to make a living so he’d be fine. Don’t worry about him, he’ll do okay.
D’Angelo Dinero – He doesn’t fit into my vision for either the heavyweight division of the X Division , plus everything that the character can do has been done.
Scott Steiner – I like Steiner as a character but his ring work is not consistent and, as with Jarrett and Lynn, his age doesn’t allow the company to present itself as the promotion of the young guys.
Abyss – An overrated worker with a gimmick that’s ripped off from two WWE characters (shame on you if you need to be told I’m talking about Kane and Mankind), he’s accomplished everything he can in TNA and there’s no need to keep him around.
Ric Flair – A 62-year-old man who punches himself in the face until he bleeds and cuts promos so nonsensical even he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about? I think I’ll pass.
Matt Hardy – It’s recently been announced that Matt really has been released from his TNA contract. I’m including him on this list for clarity. I wouldn’t rehire him at any point: he’s a bland worker with no main event prospects who will forever be in his brother’s shadow.
Jeff Hardy – If Jeff agreed to enter rehab and clean up his act, and rediscovered his passion for the wrestling business, I’d be more than happy to use him. I don’t think either’s going to happen though. TNA cannot justify paying someone to sit at home so I would with him the best in his future endeavours.
Sting – As I said above, Sting earns half a million dollars for working five or six days a month. That isn’t fair on the talent who are on per appearance deals (which usually earn them around $500). His firing would be a mixture of budget redistribution and “creative having nothing for him” (I have become John Laurinaitis).

The money saved on these cuts would be spent on re-signing wrestlers TNA has recently let go that should have stayed on the roster and bringing in completely new talent to beef up the roster. Names will be revealed in part two, along with the talent I’d be placing in key positions on the card and the storylines I’d be running.

Stay tuned!