The SmarK Rant – “The Trouble With TNA”

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The Trouble With TNA

(This is an expanded version of a posting I made on my personal blog, at

Watching ROH lately has really made me realize how totally apathetic I am towards much of the “major” promotions in the US. The WWE we know the reasons for ad nauseum by now, but watching a couple of episodes of TNA really hammers home why they’re never going to be anything other than a distant #2, if you can even call them that. They seem to lack really basic tenets of booking and running a promotion, and it makes it hard to get behind them. Examples:

1) Sting was brought in for a one-year deal, presumably to draw money and put over the next generation of stars. What has he done since day one? Feuded with Jeff Jarrett off and on, just like he did in WCW six years ago and in TNA three years ago. He barely even interacts with anyone “beneath” his perceived star power, even though ratings suggest that even that is faded and long gone, and he’s obviously no longer able to hang with the current crop of wrestlers in the ring. Even someone as tunnel-visioned as Jarrett has to see by now that it’s not working and never will, and they aren’t going to get their investment back out of him.

2) Christian gets over as a heel in the WWE, but when he debuts in TNA he gets a big superstar reaction, so they book him as a babyface and try to make him into the next big star in that mold, even though he’s clearly wrong for it. There’s a fine line between listening to your fanbase and letting them book the shows, and TNA crosses way over it just about every show now. Even worse is when they let the fans dictate things and then deliberately go against their wishes to draw heat for Jeff Jarrett. The problem is of course compounded by the fickle and, I should point out, non-paying Orlando fans, who have become such a stale fanbase that they make the ECW arena regulars look like newbies by contrast.

3) They pay lip service to an undefeated Samoa Joe, but then have no idea what to do with him once he’s at a higher level, and as a hint, having him facing Jeff Jarrett in a non-title match to warm up Jarrett for Sting is not what to do. Joe and Styles should have been elevated to the main event against each other LONG ago, but that’s beating a dead horse and is unlikely to ever occur as long as Jarrett owns the promotion. Which is why I gave up on them long ago. Just look at Joe’s ascension up the ladder — he breaks out of the X Division, gets into a big feud with Scott Steiner which he wins, is seemingly poised to take the next step and claim the NWA World title, and what do they do with him? Stick him in a midcard feud with the likes of Abyss and Rhino. In WCW, you could argue that Bill Goldberg’s chase of the World title was wasted, because he was a huge ratings draw and could have brought in good money on a PPV match for the title. You could argue that TNA is trying to avoid the same mistake with Joe, but there’s been no evidence that Joe or anyone else is a significant ratings draw, and neither has anyone been lighting the PPV numbers on fire. There comes a point where you have to pull the trigger or risk having fan backlash cool off the push, and if you stretch out his title win much longer, that’s what’s going to happen.

4) The X division is meaningless, killed off in the name of amusing Kevin Nash and getting Alex Shelley over. Do they PUSH Shelley now? Of course not. Does anyone care about yet another Petey Williams Ultimate X match? Do I really need to answer? The X Division was pretty clearly hurt by spending so much time on the AJ Styles / Christopher Daniels / Samoa Joe triumvirate over the course of 2005 that no one else in the division was able to make a name for themselves and be established as capable of beating any of them. Elevating all three out of the division at the same time compounded the problem, leaving Senshi to carry the X title without having beaten the previous champion, Samoa Joe. That is very much the definition of booking yourself into a corner, and it’s the kind of thing they do all the time, setting up storylines without a clearly defined finish to them or logical conclusion. Jackie Gayda and her blackmail storyline? Disappeared. Christian Cage turns on Sting and then suddenly the focus is on Sting v. Jeff Jarrett. One thing needs to lead to the next.

5) Breaking up AMW while leaving the James Gang and the Dudley Boyz intact for their millionth match is not constructive. In fact, they waited FAR too long to pull the trigger on the James Gang, and then wasted them in meaningless feuds instead of doing the AMW match and getting money out of them while they were still relatively hot. AMW is bigger than the promotion and could be carrying things on top in big arena style tag matches, one of the few teams left who would have a hope of reviving that style successfuly. Instead, they toady for JJ and fight with each other over nothing, leading to nothing.

6) Pacing of the shows is a major problem, which would likely only get worse with a two-hour slot on Spike. Whereas it’s understandable for the WWE to take commercial breaks in the middle of 10 minute matches on a live show, because that’s the way they got accustomed to doing it during the Monday Night Wars, it’s less acceptable for a shorter show like TNA to do it. Even worse, they seemingly do it without rhyme or reason, on a taped show! The show could easily be edited around a fast-paced, exciting match going over 8 minutes long, but instead we get 2 minutes of entrances, 2 minutes of action, a 4 minute commercial break, and then the 2 minute finish. It’s very disruptive to the flow of the show and makes me, as a viewer, feel like I’m not to be able to get emotionally invested in a match when I know it’ll get cut off just as it’s warming up. Now, I know what the theory behind it is — you hook the viewer and then make them wait for the payoff — but it’s hard enough for guys like Jay Lethal and Sonjay Dutt to get over with 5 minutes of TV time as it is without giving the viewer a chance to change the channel. You will note that the WWE doesn’t take commercial breaks in the middle of stuff like Charlie Haas v. Viscera, because they know that given a chance to find something else to watch, people will. A match like Edge v. John Cena is shown to retain viewers, so you can give them a couple of minutes to get a drink or something without killing the ratings. The other thing that is really hurting TNA is the growing dependence on the WWE-standard 20 Minute Interview to build up interest in PPV. The WWE can afford to do those because they have hours and hours of TV time to work with each week, whereas a company like TNA needs to be a little more frugal with their broadcasts. Someone like Monty Brown rarely has anything to say, for instance, and is given lots of time to say it. Sting has become really bad for rambling on about Jeff Jarrett with no immediate payoff. Less talk, more rock, should be the order of the day. Just look at a promotion like ROH, which is able to get over fairly complex storylines by incorporating plot developments into the matches themselves, or in promos cut after the matches, without bringing the show to a halt to talk about future shows.

The main problem with the promotion, when it all boils down, is that Jeff Jarrett is obsessed with keeping himself on top, and unless his wrestling career suddenly ends all of the smaller problems are likely not to matter. It seems reasonably certain, for instance, that if Joe’s undefeated streak ever ends, Jarrett will be the guy to end it, probably while regaining the NWA World title from him. As much as people are desperate for TNA to be good and challenge the WWE’s dominance, it seems more likely that TNA will continue treading water until their parent company pulls the plug on them.

I would, of course, be happy to be proved wrong.