The Reality of Wrestling: TNA’s Heavyweight Division
By Phil Clark
Angle, Joe, Cage, Styles, Storm, oh my!
Since its inception, the X-Division is what people think of when they think of TNA. Despite that, TNA’s heavyweight division hasn’t ever been terrible and by the promotion’s second year it had actually gotten quite good. However, the X-Division has always been counted on to provide the show stealing matches, moves, and performers. Fast forward to the present and the times they are a changing in TNA as the new breed of X-Division stars are slow to provide the quality that we have come to expect from TNA’s version of the I-C division. On the flipside, TNA’s heavyweight division has now become the show with a mix of talented performers and great personalities. The storylines may not always be the best, but those within TNA have made the following point: the heavyweights are where it’s at.
P.C. Says: TNA’s heavyweight division has finally overtaken the X-Division
The fact that they dedicated an entire episode of iMPACT! to a heavyweight title match shows just how much Russo and Co. are putting into TNA’s heavyweight division these days. A simple triple threat match for the belt would’ve been fine to get the point across considering it went whole hour (T.V. time), but the icing on the cake came with how they stretched the match to the full hour. During the majority of the match, there was interference from just about every heavyweight within TNA (Chris Harris, James Storm, A.J., Tomko, Abyss, Joe, you name it); my theory: a way for Russo to show who the heavyweights in TNA were without the need for a group photo. The match itself was very reminiscent of the Raven/Jarrett title match back in 2003, a match that many credit as creating TNA’s main-event styleÃ¢â‚¬â€a direct rip-off of The E’s main-event style during the Attitude Era.
The splitting up of America’s Most Wanted can be credited with creating the depth that TNA’s heavyweight division currently is experiencing. Yes, they did break up last December, but their feud with each other helped establish them as singles competitors. Feuding former partners is the natural feud after a team’s breakup and it was Russo’s only long-term feud that so far hasn’t gotten stale or repetitive, plus they did shock everyone with a near **** match of the night at TNA’s Sacrifice PPV in May. They followed that up with an equally good T.V. match (possibly TNA’s T.V. match of the year thus far) to end the feud. Those last two matches entered both into the heavyweight division instead of just keeping them as two tag wrestlers feuding.
The exodus of the X-Division’s three recent biggest starsÃ¢â‚¬â€A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher DanielsÃ¢â‚¬â€to the heavyweight division would the be the reason that in-ring quality among the heavyweights is getting better and should stay that way. While Daniels’ departure from the X-Division isn’t official yet, it might as well be as a feud with Sting isn’t something that an X-Division guy would likely get. While Styles has been mainly Cage’s lackey since moving to the heavyweight division, he did have a great heavyweight style match with Joe at Sacrifice and carried Tomko to something watchable in their King of the Mountain qualifier. And Joe seriously, do I even have to explain what Joe has done for the heavyweight division. What Joe gave was a young star to feud with Angle when he came in, a notch up for the in-ring quality of the whole division, and a heavyweight star who can have good matches with X-Division wrestlers (or any wrestlers) better than anyone in the heavyweight division. These three, if booked properly or at least decently, could do for the heavyweight division now what they did for the X-Division in 2005-06.
Christian Cage and Tomko are two examples of heavyweight stars built more on charisma than talent. Taking nothing away from Cage, who has had two good title reigns match-wise, but anyone who watches TNA will note that he is easily the most interview driven and charisma laden star in the heavyweight division. His interviews are great, and he is a marketable heel as he is the archetype for a wrestling heelÃ¢â‚¬â€cocky, over self-confident, scared of anyone threatening his position, and overly selfish. Is he the best heel in wrestling? Maybe, but that isn’t definitive yet. Is he the best heel in TNA? Yes. The reason he is is because Angle is and will always be a tweener (a wrestler who acts like a heel, but gets reactions like a face, or vice versa) at this point in his career. Cage is a guy who you could put up against any face in TNA and he would be able to get heat for the match. The proof of this was the brief, but still not officially over, feud with Tomko that saw Tomko getting the biggest reactions of his brief career. Also, don’t be surprised if we see Tomko/Cage at a PPV before the year is out. And don’t be surprised if Cage makes you want to see the match through the buildup.
Why is the X-Division no longer the show? Well, there are only two big reasons for this: the new stars (Sabin, Lethal, Shelley, etc.) haven’t put on the matches that the last group of X-Division stars did and Vince Russo has always been better at booking heavyweights than light heavyweights (he’s almost admitted as such in the past). The group of X-Division stars that put that division on the map included Styles, Daniels, Joe, Kazarian, Michael Shane, Jerry Lynn, Petey Williams, Amazing Red, among others. These men put on match after match that awed the crowd and stole the show. The new breed of X-Division stars could and in the past have put on such matches. The problem today in TNA is that they are not given enough time on T.V. or on pay-per-view to excel; Sabin and Shelley as a tag-team has the potential to be fantastic, Low-Ki has been back in TNA over a year and has only been able to show flashes of his past brilliance, and Jay Lethal is too busy trying to get over as Randy Savage v.2 to be putting on the type of matches that got him over in Orlando in the first place. However, Lethal’s character issue is part of the issue that is holding the new X-Division back: storyline over match quality. Storylines are important in the world of wrestling (more so in the modern era than any other time), but what happens in the ring is the end result of it all and if that result doesn’t impress it is likely all for nothing.
So, the X-Division does have the power to rise again because there will always be more light heavyweights than heavyweights in the world of wrestling. Also, there will always be more talented light heavyweights than there will be talent heavyweights. Whether or not these light heavyweights excel at spotfests more than complete matches is only relevant in the analytical stage, and that part of the viewing process happens days after or away from the arena. At that moment and that place, it is what happens in the ring that matters most. At this time, it is the heavyweights time to excel in all departments; their angles are better, their interviews are better, they are given more to work with and more time to work with it, and they are just plain better.
The Reality is it’s not just Angle/Joe. At Victory Road, you do have the in-ring beginnings to the Harris/Cage and Storm/Rhino feuds along with Sting and Abyss teaming against Tomko & Styles. Storm and Rhino does have the potential to be a good brawl and Harris/Cage could be a sleeper candidate for match of the night. The beauty of the heavyweight tag match is that it could be a build to the Styles/Sting dream match; if that were the case, I’d save that until October and make it something big. However, amongst all the wine and roses in the heavyweight division, the specter of Jeff Jarrett with the belt can be seen. While there’s only been one rumor, all it takes with Jarrett is one rumor for me to get worried about what nobody wants to see: Jeff Jarrett with the TNA title. Jarrett has belonged in the mid-card since his 2005 title loss to Styles and in the rare instances that he has been in the mid-card, the card itself has been better and Jarrett’s segments seem to be more enjoyable or fan friendly. Jarrett “givingÃ¢â‚¬Â his spot in King of the Mountain to Harris was a big deal because it was in Nashville. It may not have been in the ring, but that was Jarrett putting Harris over, and it should be Jarrett’s exit from the main-event mix for two reasons: it will be seen years from now as a semi-historic moment (historic for TNA) and because it’s what’s right.