Wednesday 12 March 2014

The TNA New Talent Initiative

Last summer saw TNA start cutting back on the number they employed. British vet Doug Williams was amongst the first to go, followed by the likes Christian York, Crimson, Joey Ryan, Matt Morgan, Tara, and Jesse Sorensen, as well as backstage personnel D’Lo Brown and Bruce Prichard. On November 2 it was announced that the working agreement between TNA and Ohio Valley Wrestling, which saw the latter act as a developmental league, had been dissolved.

The biggest blow came when AJ Styles left in December after a new deal couldn’t be worked out. While I don’t believe he had the star power to turn TNA around he was incredibly popular with the promotion’s existing fans and a talented in-ring performer. He would have been, and still would be, capable of offering TNA a lot.

The roster hasn’t just seen wrestlers departing though. New names have been brought in, replacing those who have left. The newcomers are working under newly structured deals which are more financially advantageous to TNA. That’s obviously good for TNA because they’re saving money. And while the newbies aren’t going to be raking in megabucks they do at least have steady work and jobs that grant them international exposure. Those who have left have the freedom to get work elsewhere, which some already have.

For the most part I think it’s a good thing for viewers too. Changes to the roster had been needed for a while. TNA had a great selection of wrestlers but they’d all been around for so long that it was tough for the company to present anything fresh. By getting rid of some of their established names and bringing in new ones TNA have given themselves the chance to put on fresh matches. That’s one of the things that can encourage people to watch Impact. TNA had different motivations but the result’s the same.

So far the new talent have been a mixed bag. Lei’D Tapa was reintroduced and put into a partnership with lead Knockouts heel Gail Kim. She’s been fine in the bodyguard role so far, but then it’s not particularly challenging. It’s almost certainly only happening in the first place because TNA want to emulate the similar pairing of AJ Lee and Tamina Snuka that WWE already had in place. The real test will come when Lei’d Tapa gets broken off on her own.

The other Knockout TNA have brought in is Alpha Female. She’s a fresh face and has an interesting look but hasn’t really done much beyond exhibit generally heelish behaviour. It’s encouraging to see TNA signing performers for their once mighty Knockout division. With work it could be restored to glory. Were that to happen TNA would be offering something WWE don’t: a genuinely competitive and compelling female division. Alpha and Tapa are a good start but aren’t enough to make this happen by themselves.

Does he look like a Rockstar to you?
Like Tapa Rockstar Spud survived the dissolution of the TNA-OVW relationship and got a spot on TV. In his case he became Dixie Carter’s Chief of Staff. So far he’s done little but talk. He’s done okay with what he’s been given, but that hasn’t been much. He’s a good wrestler, so it’s a promising sign that he’s still knocking about, but it can’t really be taken as a positive until he’s having matches. Because wrestling, not talking, is Spud’s strength.

The man brought in as Dixie Carter’s privileged faux nephew EC3 is former NXT regular Michael ‘Derrick Bateman’ Hutter. He’s never going to be voted anybody’s wrestler of the year but he does at least look and sound the part, something that can’t be said for many people in TNA. In his current supporting role he’s fine. His sparring rivalry with Magnus could lead to something inoffensive if handled right. But going on TNA’s track record that won’t happen.

Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards, collectively known as The Wolves, were a pretty big get for TNA. They’d had much talked about tryouts for WWE at the Performance Centre and an NXT taping and since 2010 had been amongst the top stars in Ring of Honor, a promotion that doesn’t share many supporters with TNA. That means there’s a chance ROH watchers could be enticed into watching Impact to see how their former faves are doing.

Unfortunately they could be doing better. They debuted wearing ill-fitting suits and captured the tag team titles within a month of their first appearance. That ensured there was no sense of specialness or something significant having been achieved. It was just business as usual. Perhaps worse is that they dropped the belts after only having them for a week. So anyone tuning in to catch up with them is likely going to be put off pretty quickly. Still, they’re a good team capable of having good matches with anyone TNA fancies pitting them against. They can be assets.
Someone at TNA (or Spike) likes this guy
The return of Bobby Lashley at Lockdown is hard to take as anything but a step backwards. The man has never been over and never produced what the majority would consider to be a exciting match. The best that can be said for him is that he has a slender chance of attracting an MMA audience. Although in truth he doesn't really have much of that.

Of course the biggest name so far has been MVP (who has curiously not been referred to by his full title of Montel Vontavious Porter yet, which makes me suspect that TNA can’t use the full thing for some reason). There are two ways of looking at this. The first is to see MVP as a former WWE star who talks well and has the capability to produce above average matches. The second is to see MVP as a forty-year-old several years removed from his most prominent work as a pro wrestler who was only ever average in the ring.

Both views are understandable but depend entirely on your established views on MVP as a performer. Going on his time in WWE it’s certainly possible that he’ll do good work but it’s not a guarantee. Something in TNA’s favour is that he’ll be working alongside creative team member Dave Lagana, who previously worked with him during his peak period in WWE.

Also in TNA’s favour is the fact that ‘Mr 305’ got a loud, sustained ovation when he made his debut for the company in Glasgow on January 30. That crowd was not representative of the average TNA audience but it did indicate that using him is a popular decision. He’s not someone that a wrestling company can build its future around, due to his age and fairly generic ring style, but he at least has the charisma and presence to be accepted by existing fans, not put off newcomers, and do well with the material he’s given.

It’s disheartening that I’ve not mentioned anyone that I think can make the difference that TNA needs, but it’s not surprising. Part of the problem is there just aren’t any names available that can help TNA improve in the areas and at the speed they need. Another part of the problem is that TNA has been so mismanaged for so long that the people who are available are going to have second thoughts about signing contracts. From the outside TNA does not look like a promotion with good long-term prospects.

On the plus side they have a working agreement in place with Keiji Mutoh’s Wrestle-1 which will allow them to send limited performers away to improve and provide them with a source of exciting talent that could bolster the crumbled X Division. And good work has been done with Rockstar Spud, Alpha Female and EC3 and, to a lesser extent, The Wolves and MVP. If TNA can keep going on their current path, getting basic things right and avoiding major missteps, it’s possible that they may be able to attract names that people want to see. Personally I think TNA should be trying to sign The Young Bucks, Kevin Steen and Chris Hero. All four have very passionate followers and can wrestle very good matches. Time will tell if they’re wanted, and if they’re interested in TNA if they are.

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