Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

On the July 20th edition of Total Nonstop Wrestling’s iMPACT!, Jay Lethal cashed in a shot at any TNA champ which he’d earned the previous week. Surprisingly, he challenged reigning world champ Jeff Jarrett, when many assumed he would go after Senshi’s X Division strap.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Jay Lethal versus NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jeff Jarrett

Thankfully, the babyface made a smart decision and went after the biggest prize TNA has to offer. We all know the faces aren’t often allowed to make intelligent decisions. Lethal seemed determined to take full advantage of his once-in-a-lifetime championship match. He got rolling early, and truly seemed to have Jarrett’s number. Lethal took Jarrett to the limit, and the champ seemed to be in serious trouble.

Of course, any wrestling fan of more than a couple weeks realized immediately that no matter what Lethal did or how good he looked against the ill-prepared champ, there was no way he’d leave Orlando as NWA Champion. And THAT is the problem.

Why has pro wrestling booking become so transparent that only the greenest of marks could be glued to the screen during this main event match between Lethal and Jarrett? Why have promotions become so mired in formulaic writing that there was no reason to cheer for Lethal at all last Thursday night? They’ve taken a basic element of the show away from us fans. I’d have been so surprised if Lethal actually won the belt, I’d have had a conniption. And that’s unfortunate. I’d rather be a step behind the creative department instead of thinking to myself, “Yeah, like Lethal has ANY chance in Hell of beating Jarrett for the gold tonight.”

The last character I expected to see at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was Captain Barbossa, and I’ll tell you, I liked being surprised. I want professional writers to come up with something interesting, not to simply rehash every concept we’ve all seen done to death for years.

On February 10th, 1990, journeyman pro boxer James “Buster” Douglas challenged the undefeated, undisputed world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in Tokyo. Nobody gave Douglas a chance in the bout, which figured to be another in a long string of easy victories for the so-called “Baddest Man on the Planet”.

Douglas, a 42-1 underdog, showed he was not only unafraid of the Rottweiler-like champ, but able to dominate Tyson round after round. He survived an eigth round knockdown to pull off one of the most schocking upsets in sports history. Douglas knocked Tyson down (for the very first time in his career) and out, proving that anything can happen when athletes compete. Douglas’ improbable victory justifyied the belief that while one competitor or team might appear to have an advantage on paper, it’s not settled until the two face-off on the field, the court, or in the ring. “On any given night…” as they say.

Why has professional wrestling forgotten this attractive concept? The Douglas/Tyson match was a great story, seemingly leaping right out of a Hollywood script. A mediocre battler faces the dominant champion shortly after the passing of his mother who happens to also be his best friend. For one shining moment in his life, the contender focuses all his efforts on a single task and defies the odds to emerge victorious in convincing fashion, cementing his place in boxing history. Damn, I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Pro wrestling bookers should have been inspired by Buster’s amazing tale, but there have been very few instances of unlikely heroes stepping up to the challenge and pulling off the big victory. How many times has the phrase “foregone conculsion” come to your mind when thinking about title matches in WWE and TNA lately? I admit Rey Mysterio’s reign as world champion lasted longer than most would have thought, but that was only due to Batista’s injury, not the creativity of WWE.

TNA has fallen into a rut of offering short title reigns to WWE outcasts upon arrival (see Reso, Jay and Gerin, Terry), but the “10 pounds of gold” always finds it’s way back over the shoulder of Double J. Too predictable.

On July 1st, 2002, WWE Undisputed Champion the Undertaker faced Jeff Hardy in a title match that seemed tailor-made for Hardy, and totally against the striker-brawler champion: a ladder match. While Vince allowed Hardy to shine in his familiar environment and earn Undertaker’s respect, (‘Taker returned to the ring post-match to raise Hardy’s arm as a show of respect) WWE didn’t pull the trigger on the huge upset. ‘Taker barely escaped with his title, and wasn’t known for respecting anyone at that time, so Hardy obviously made an impact on the champ. But why couldn’t WWE have written the true Cinderella story? What would have been the difference if Hardy snuck out with the title around his waist? You know Undertaker would have regained it within a few weeks anyway, so why not do the “Oh My God!” ending to the match, and give us fans something to talk about? I’m sure Calloway could have lived with it if he got to smear Hardy on the canvas in a more conventional match at the next ppv. His interviews following the loss could have focused on the fact that he only lost the title because the smaller and quicker Hardy scurried up a ladder but never pinned Undertaker’s shoulders to the mat. What would have been the harm?

I realize TNA’s long-term booking plans don’t include Lethal as NWA Champion, but so what? He could have enjoyed a very limited feel-good title reign before Planet Jarrett screwed him out of the belt. Think about what this entire angle could do for the talented young man from Elizabeth, NJ. Shunted back to the mid-card after being cheated out of the world title would make him a man with purpose and vision, and give him valuable “street cred” that he can’t earn by hanging around with Sonjay Dutt and company month after month.

It’s too bad bookers have forgotten that to tell a really engaging story, you sometimes have to allow for an unexpected twist or two. Booking-by-numbers has become far too predictable, and like death and taxes, thouroughly unenjoyable.

For more on TNA, check out Douglas Smith’s TNA: In The Zone, Jeremy Lambert’s TNA At Ringside, Ken Anderson’s The Anderson Breakdown: TNA Victory Road, and Eric Szulczewski’s The Triple Threat Short Form.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what exactly is baby oil made from?