Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

The Monday Night War was a magnificent time to be a pro wrestling fan. Vince had Austin versus the world, Billionaire Ted had the now versus WCW, and Paul E. had everything Paul E. created. Things were cooking each and every week, and I remember reading the now defunct Wrestling Tribune Newsletter and being blown away every time. Not only was there a great deal of quality storyline activity to follow, but also lots of interesting “insider” news to take in. This was a veritable cornucopia of wrestling goodness, and was perhaps the most successful boom period in the history of our beloved, bizarre amalgam of athleticism, drama, action and entertainment.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Less is More

But after WWE won the war, things got stale. No competition meant Vince had far less motivation to produce quality television week after week. Considering the flop that was the InVasion by the WCW/ECW Alliance as a harbinger of the post-war WWE, wrestling fans had reason to be concerned. World class wrestling historian Scott Keith would adeptly describe McMahon as the embodiment of the great Roman Empire at this point, victorious but bloated, lazy, and careless. Yes, WWE was bound to give fans a rough ride until another true challenger to the throne would present itself.

WWE’s poorly executed “brand extension” did give us the SmackDown! Six, with combinations of Chris Benoit, Edge, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Kurt Angle lighting up areas around the world in memorable matches. But like all good things, the reign of the Six would not last forever. Good wrestling and comprehensible storylines were not often to be found in a WWE ring after Paul Heyman left the SmackDown! creative team. The type of wrestling fan that appreciates a focus on in-ring activity with believable characters and less “ga-ga” would need an alternative to Vince’s listless “sportz entertainment” mega company.

When Total Nonstop Action Wrestling burst onto the scene in 2002, they immediately faced the challenge of charging a pay-per-view audience for each weekly program because they lacked a television outlet. This was not even close to being a strategy that could allow them to compete with the powerhouse WWE simply because not enough fans would tune in to their product, regardless of how different or good it actually was.

When TNA’s weekly iMPACT! debuted on Fox Sports Net, the company now had a national stage upon which to showcase themselves as a true alternative to McMahon’s “new school” approach. TNA was a pro wrestling company for pro wrestling fans. They highlighted solid wrestling action, especially in their vaunted high-flying, no-limits X Division. TNA also featured a hard-hitting and fully populated tag team scene that WWE lacked, a youthful roster, and a signature six-sided ring. This entire company displayed a gusto, hunger, and will to succeed that made them an underdog favorite to some fans, including me. Even lead commentator “Professor” Mike Tenay called moves by their correct names, and concentrated on being a pro wrestling commentator as opposed to a sportz entertainment storyteller.

Even if they never became a true threat to WWE, TNA’s quality product would not only provide the fans an alternative, but might light a fire under the Roman Emperor in his Connecticut stronghold as well, and improve RAW and SmackDown! in the process.

But after only one year of Friday afternoon broadcasts, iMPACT! lost the slot and was left with streaming online video as the only available outlet for new programming. The next few months were dark indeed for TNA fans, but when Vince took his flagship RAW away from Spike TV and back to its original home on USA Network, opportunity knocked. Spike plucked iMPACT! from the clutches of obscurity and back to cable television, bigger and better than ever.

TNA was smart about using established older names like Kevin Nash, DDP, Dusty Rhodes, Jeff Jarrett, Sting, and others to attract the casual fan while hopefully keeping audience interest with their real stars like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, AMW, Team Canada, Chris Sabin, and a host of other talented young performers.

With good ratings on Saturday nights, rumors about a TNA move to Monday nights were quick to swell. Would we see another Monday Night War? I for one hoped not, because I felt iMPACT! needed its own opportunity to shine, away from the glare of McMahon’s powerhouse. The Thursday night spot where iMPACT! currently resides is perfect. Spike treats TNA programming with respect, and may soon increase the program to two hours, which would solve a lot of their time-management issues and no doubt allow for slower building story arcs and more character development, neither of which is a bad thing for fans who appreciate well-constructed feuds and angles.

iMPACT! on Spike was, at times, everything the old school fan was looking for. TNA featured more logical storylines, a strong emphasis on the wrestling aspect of the show, and empathetic characters who seemed like normal pro athletes, save for the rare Abyss or Shark Boy gimmicks who were more than just a bit odd. But for the most part, TNA’s roster was replete with men like Styles and Petey Williams, pro wrestlers who wanted to win pro wrestling matches and become pro wrestling champions. Other than Abyss, there were no deranged monsters, no psychotic B-movie creatures, no scarred freaks or mythological beasts. TNA was, more often than not, what I was looking for as a wrestling fan.

That is of course before they forgot what made them special, and brought in one of the most infamous “sportz entertainment” minds ever, Vince Russo. The very essence of what made TNA a good wrestling company, the hard-hitting, compelling, action-packed matches driven by simple yet effective storylines, was lost in translation by a writer who once claimed, “as soon as we get rid of the ring, we’ll really have some fun!”

No, TNA isn’t lost yet, but they’re certainly showing the signs of Russofixion that already run rampant in WWE, making them a copy of Vince’s brainchild, albeit a smaller, less profitable, lower-rated copy with a lesser known roster, poor production values, no traveling house show circuit, no champions who are also movie stars, and one hour of weekly television compared to McMahon’s five hours. Why on Earth TNA would want to compete against Vince’s juggernaut head-to-head is completely beyond me, when being an alternative to WWE was such a better choice for the smaller company. Maybe Russo will be de-emphasized in the coming months, and the iMPACT! ship will right itself once again, but it’s well known that Dixie Carter loves his stuff. Only time will tell.

So where does that leave the pro wrestling fan looking for less sportz entertainment and more high-quality in-ring action with simpler, more logical storylines? I know several folks who would answer that question by letting me know they have just three words for me: Ring of Honor.

As solid as I understand their action is between the ropes, RoH will never be a true alternative to WWE or TNA for two simple reasons: they’re regional, and are strongly against TV (for whatever reason) so therefore RoH can’t reach the average fan. We’re not all gonna scour the internet for clips, spend every last dime on DVDs, or travel across over the country to see them, nor should we have to. Hell, even if I did buy some RoH DVDs or download a torrent for free, I can’t imagine when I’d have the time to watch more than one match before being forced to turn my attention back to real life and away from my favorite hobby.

The next time I visit the east coast I most certainly plan to attend an RoH show or two, and I’ll be sure to consult with the IWC’s resident RoH expert Pulse Glazer before I do. But with six hours of major league North American pro wrestling content on television each week, my exposure to RoH is likely to be fairly limited. If they did get a television slot, even on a small network (like Fox Sports Net, where I dilligently tuned each Friday afternoon for a year to see TNA), I’d watch, study, enjoy, read and write about RoH as an equal to RAW, SmackDown!, ECW and iMPACT!, but I can’t afford the time it would take to hunt for more pro wrestling than I’m already exposed to. I wish I had a dollar for every hour of wrestling I currently have in my library that I haven’t gotten around to watching yet.

And then there was Wrestling Society X. Right off the bat, WSX had at least one advantage that RoH doesn’t enjoy, namely a dedicated slot on a major television network (MTV). WSX also possessed a roster featuring a few good young prospects, and a couple of semi-name guys like Syxx-X-123-Lightning-Pac, Vampiro, Justin Credible, and New Jack

But WSX tried so hard to be the next renegade, extreme alternative to the current big league product that they simply came off as bush league. Just look at the ring with no apron, the tore up canvas with tape all over it, and the cheesy “hardcore” devices around the ring. Are we to believe that some Viacom suit assigned a television executive to be the producer of a new wrestling program, and he never thought of making the show high class, professional, or even acceptable for television? Oh that’s right, MTV is so cutting edge that they buck convention and scoff at societal norms. Right. Whatever they once were, today MTV is no more television’s loose cannon than Rosie O’Donnell is. WSX shows reek of the lonely outsider trying to look hard and aloof, when he’s really crying inside for attention from all the cool kids.

Although they were in the perfect position to make an impact in the North American big league wrestling scene, the proverbial plug has been pulled on the WSX experiment for the time being, and I for one say, good. That’s not what we wrestling fans need now, anyway. In fact, the only thing I’ll give credit to WSX for is jarring McMahon into a small amount of concern for his then-floundering ECW show on Tuesday nights, which competed with WSX for a half hour each week. If WSX was really what got McMahon’s attention on ECW and brought about the Originals versus New Breed angle, then I say thank you to WSX. This new storyline is a step in the right direction for ECW.

Conversely, the debut of WSX was a step in the wrong direction for the business. Rather than litter the landscape with too many poorly conceived upstart wrestling companies with slim rosters, limited creative ability and unoriginal approaches, the current established promotions simply need to produce better shows. All the quality guys from WSX need to be snapped up by TNA and WWE, where they can hone their skills and develop as wrestlers, not just spot monkeys.

Considering the deep rosters TNA and WWE already employ, the amount of television time at their disposal (especially WWE), and the plethora of talented RoH and WSX guys who’d no doubt sign with one of the big boys if given the opportunity, the two current promotions have all the tools they need to produce the best pro wrestling television ever seen, if only they’d concentrate on their core strengths instead of trying to be something they’re not. Instead of making TNA into a viable alternative with a different take on modern pro wrestling, Vince Russo just wants to become Vince McMahon. But McMahon doesn’t even want to be McMahon. Vince hasn’t fancied himself a rasslin’ promoter for years, and he’d rather be a Hollywood producer, movie tycoon, or Trump-like business giant, when what he could and should be is the biggest professional wrestling promoter in the history of the business.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.” – Rita Rudner

Before you go, check out our Rasslin Roundtable for TNA’s Destination X. Roundtable results are listed below.

IP Staff Roundtable Results for Destination X
NOTE: Due to his early input, Mr. Pulse Glazer didn’t make predictions for four of the nine matches on the card advertised in advance.

Vinny Truncellito