The Reality of Wrestling: The Main Event Mafia Vs. TNA’s Young Lion Army

A desperate move made by a desperate booker of a desperate promotion

NOTE: My name for the TNA originals is one TNA should think about using and can if they so please. It sounds a lot better than originals—since most of the originals weren’t in the promotion at its inception—and is a lot more effective than The Alliance.

TNA has gone ahead and begun a feud that was rumored to be its attempt to become a legit number two to The E: a young versus old feud pitting the Main Event Mafia—Angle, Nash, Booker, Steiner, and Sting—against the TNA originals—Samoa Joe, A.J., Jay Lethal, Petey, Eric Young, and the Machine Guns. The feud is nearing its first full month and so far the results have been less than thrilling. However, with American-style booking, this is the setup for the supposed big payoff, which is rumored to be the WarGames-style cage match at TNA’s all cage PPV, Lockdown. However, with Russo, there is never the assurance of a good payoff or even a payoff and with the symbolic (in name) repositioning of the PPV’s coming up, it’s almost anyone’s guess as to how this one will turn out and how TNA will turnout when it’s all over.

P.C. Says: This feud needs a big turnaround to be considered a success

Had this feud been Vince Russo’s secret plan when he came back to TNA as their head writer in late 2006, this promotion would likely be number two right now. The fact that he’s had to resort to it after failure after failure makes it a desperation move. Russo officially took over the writing reigns after Bound for Glory 2006, had this feud been implemented then (probably the best time for it), you would have much for stacked lineups on each side; you still would have had the current MEM (minus Booker of course), but you could add Team 3-D, a shocking Sting heel turn, and Angle becoming the top heel in the promotion right out of the gate. Plus, you would’ve gotten a group of red hot young guys that would include Joe, A.J., Daniels, Lethal, Eric, Petey, Low-Ki, and a much better introduction for the Machine Guns than simply appearing together one week feuding with Bob Backlund. All involved would be red hot going into the feud and it would have been ten times greater than anything we are likely going to get out of the feud as it is right now.

But since it didn’t happen, we are left with what we’re getting and if there are people out there who think that this feud should be booked the same way that the NWO feud was booked, you are DEAD FUCKING WRONG.

First off, the main difference between the New World Order angle and this one is that the NWO was against the Horseman—a group of established WCW stars at first—meaning that getting win after win after win would not take away the credibility of these guys as much as it does from the young guys because they were established as being the top of the heap making the big comeback more believable than if it’s a bunch of youngins getting beaten around week in and week out. Had WCW ran the NWO against a younger group of guys initially and booked it the same way, it would’ve ran its course within six months, but because they did against the big names and had the big matchups to go with the compelling nature of this new way of doing an angle, they were able to run it for around a year before it started to wear and get stale. Another thing to remember is that the NWO has been done to death and anything even resembling it is going to be identified as such and that will turn people off to it because its cliché and overdone and has no meaning anymore because of that. Third—and most important—is that the formula behind the NWO feud and most feuds in American wrestling is that the heel side will win and win and win (whether clean or not) and the face will eventually get the big blowoff win; the problem here is that people who watch TNA have been conditioned since Russo’s arrival not to expect the big blowoff win to happen for that guy (see Samoa Joe since Russo’s arrival) if that blowoff happens at all as Russo still is the champion of not finishing storylines or feuds that he started.

So that brings us to Turning Point where the MEM gained a clean sweep over the younger guys, two of them in title matches if we’re even considering Booker’s belt a legit title. I didn’t have a problem with A.J. losing to Sting, but did with Joe losing to Nash. I do believe that Sting should’ve won since this was the direction Russo wanted to start this angle with then the main focus should be a younger guy (or guys) chasing Sting and the belt. My problem with how it all turned out is that the Sting/Styles, Joe/Nash matches were booked in reverse with Nash resorting to every bit of cheating possible to eventually beat Joe while Sting got as clean a win as a TNA heel is going to get; Sting and the MEM should’ve put over A.J. big by resorting to all these methods of cheating to get the win while Joe simply should’ve won. How is Joe losing at Bound For Glory, losing in a high profile T.V. match and then losing again on PPV a good thing? How? You’ll have to tell me because I don’t know, and losing to Nash nonetheless. The whole “getting screwed and overcoming it” angle really doesn’t work for me, and doesn’t help the guy involved, when it’s used on someone whose first seventeen months with the company went without him having a single loss. Onto Booker/Cage, as that was booked exactly how I would’ve done with—Cage’s impending exit for an E return considered—except for having to join if he lost. Having the belt on the line was just fine, is that going to be a constant stipulation, if you lose challenging for that belt you have to join MEM? If so, than it’s going to get staler quicker than NWO did because at least in the case of that group, people joined of their own free will. And if things weren’t bad enough for the younger group, the Guns losing made the show a compete sweep of TNA’s younger generation without titles, without wins, and without direction. This angle has started so WCW it’s beyond creepy.

How sad is it that the only young guy being booked effectively in TNA is Eric Young? Nothing against Eric, but he has been the only young guy associated with this feud so far to be booked in any type of way that gives the impression that he’s worth watching within the feud. His promo at the pay-per-view was good and needed for that side of the “war” and the fact that he got the X-title was great as that drops the dumb guy gimmick for good, albeit about two years after it should’ve been. But so far, he seems to be the motivational leader of this young guy group and is one of the few younger guys, along with Lethal, that the crowd is actually behind. With guys like Petey and Lethal and Young I have the most hope mainly because they’re on the lower card and thus are likelier to escape Russo’s backwards booking because if they’re lower on the card they don’t matter as much right? That is one of Russo’s backward assumptions I hope he keeps if it means these guys can be and remain effective instead of being slowly buried.

Christian Cage is an interesting story right now and another example of Russo being almost 100% wrong on how to react to something. Cage is likely to be leaving for The E when his contract ends. Ok, so the smart thing to do would be to keep him on T.V. because he’s still a name in TNA, but don’t get him to close to the big angle because he’s not going to be around long enough for anything effective. That would be one way, but not Vinnie Roo’s. Instead he puts Cage in a match where if he loses he would have to join MEM thus giving away the finish and when the predictable finish predictably happens and Cage has to “join” he gets beaten down and that’s likely going to be it for him if does decide to go back to The E. Now I understand the everlasting policy of promotions in the U.S. to try and bury someone as best as they can before they leave for another promotion, but wouldn’t it have been easier to bury someone by giving the impression that they’re not important enough to be on T.V.? Couldn’t you have just had Cage in a few nothing matches on T.V. for his last couple of weeks and then just have him disappear without explanation (or as Russo would call it “procedure”)? But now by doing this, you just became cannon fodder for a bitter shoot on TNA should Cage return to The E and don’t underestimate The E on this one as they had just begun to give Cage more time on the mic and a bigger push before he left; now that he’s become a bigger star and a much, much better promo, you’re going to hear some shoot comments if Cage does go back and TNA has nobody to blame but TNA for that should it happen. Just a word of friendly warning so I can say, “I told you so.”

Now as a word on how Cage should’ve been booked if he had to get involved with the feud (if that was unavoidable): keep him neutral. That’s how Cage was at the beginning of the feud when he wasn’t picking sides, but had a beef with someone within the MEM; he wasn’t on the young guys side and wasn’t particularly against MEM. Plus, if he’s kept neutral and if he does decided to stay, there would be a lot more options for Cage such as a legitimately shocking heel turn joining MEM, becoming the biggest face in the company by joining the young guys, or just staying neutral as a lone wolf kind of character. But now that he’s in MEM, even if he does stay, what does that mean? That he’s going to be against the group that he’s forced to be in? That may be compelling in an interview capacity, but when match time comes around and the group is rigging is matches and he’s cheating for the young guys, it’ll seem like a waste of time after the first PPV and will have accomplished nothing.

I wrote about it last month, I’m writing about it now, and will continue to reference it because it is to this day the template on how to do a young v. old feud: Mitsuharu Misawa (the young ace) and his army against Jumbo Tsuruta (the old ace) and his army. A lot of people have not heard of this feud (sad thing that is) Misawa/Jumbo I Misawa/Jumbo II) and may be wondering why they should care about a feud from Japan from almost twenty years ago since this is America and is a totally different kind of wrestling. The reason they should care is that in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, Japan has given the best examples on how to run a promotion effectively, how to build stars when they’re needed and get the most out of their current stars, and how to do certain angles the right way. And if you think I’m full of bull about that last one, here’s one to think on: the NWO angle that so many believe was a triumph of American-style booking was taken from Japan, that’s right. Eric Bischoff probably won’t admit it while any cameras are rolling, but he derived the NWO angle from the New Japan/UWFi inter-promotional feud in 1995-96 and was actually sitting ringside for the final match of the feud—Hashimoto/Takada for the IWGP title—at the Tokyo Dome. One month after that match, the NWO angle began. Coincidence? No chance in hell.

So now that that’s cleared up, I’m going to show how Misawa/Jumbo set the template for how a young v. old feud should be done (and resulted in 200 straight Tokyo sellouts including a five year stretch of sell-outs at Budokan Hall).

The big thing is that the sides or teams in this feud were made clear from the get go as Jumbo had Taue, Fuchi, and Mighty Inoue while Misawa had Kawada, Kobashi, and Kikuchi. See that: simple, not too many on each side and plenty of variation since Japan loves doing tags and six mans during tours to build to singles matches at the big shows (like America and the T.V.-PPV relationship if there were less singles matches on T.V.). With TNA, the sides aren’t clear as we know who’s supposed to be on the young guys’ side, but The Guns being tweeners—people won’t boo Mick Foley unless he does something really, really heel like Flair in his last E run when he was in Evolution—and the fact that MEM is being booked like heels while Sting still talks like a babyface the majority of the time and is treated as such when he’s not in a suit and tie. For The Guns, a heel turn would be a lot more effective after this feud if the younger side did come out on top because the whole “ungrateful” angle that they’re running with them & Foley would be played out better here and would be more to help The Guns than a mini-feud with Foley would as that could potentially bury them depending on how it goes.

One thing that Giant Baba—the man booking All Japan and architect behind the Misawa/Jumbo feud—understood that first impressions are vitally important, Vince Russo hasn’t. Proof of this with Vinnie Roo is having Joe job in his first meeting with Angle and having Styles winning his first meeting with Angle in less than effective fashion. Misawa had just unmasked—he wrestled as Tiger Mask II until a month before the first Jumbo match—and had already been groomed as the future of All Japan. With a mass defection of talent, the younger generation had to be moved up to the top quickly, but not too quickly. Baba understood this delicate balance having the first Misawa/Jumbo match main-event a Budokan Hall show, but not be for All Japan’s top title, the Triple Crown, as Jumbo lost that prior to the show. With it being just about the two of them, 1-on-1, Jumbo did the mega job putting over Misawa in a match of the year and match of the decade candidate; Jumbo would win in an even better rematch three months later to even things up and still keep the notion that Misawa had arrived alive by the fact that it was 1-1 in their head-to-head singles battles and both were fucking awesome. Sadly, all we’ve gotten as a first impression of this feud is that it’s the same old shit with the same old people being pushed at the top getting undeserved wins over guys who really could benefit from getting those wins.

But since you can’t get first impressions back, the final thing Misawa/Jumbo did perfectly that any (but specifically this feud) has to do is have a give and take attitude when it comes to who gets the W’s. This is the main reason that an NWO angle rehash was and is the wrong way to go here is because this angle has to be more about the competition element of pro wrestling than the storyline element; the storyline usually writes itself when stables feuding is concerned. Plus, since the point (I’m guessing) is to elevate the younger guys to main-event status, it would seem more reasonable and smart to have such an attitude because of the first impression reason I gave above and because having a give and take attitude—in other words having the wins almost be split down the middle—would keep both sides looking strong as the older guys may be old, but they’re still getting the wins, and the younger guys would look strong because their wins don’t look like flukes since their wins aren’t one out of a million. Just remember this is a promotion that has no credibility in the fans’ eyes when it comes to elevation as my theory for why the MEM is getting so many cheers is because the fans don’t expect the younger guys to be elevated through this feud and see this almost as a farewell tour for many of the older guys and thus are getting their nostalgia fix by pretending it’s WCW in ’98 with Angle inserted and are cheering for the guys they used to cheer for (or have heard of through tape trading and word of mouth about that time as a lot of TNA’s fans weren’t watching way back then)

A lot of people may be thinking that taking notes from a Japanese angle would make this angle seem too much out of the world of Japanese wrestling and I say GOOD! Is there anything that TNA could use than something that would make their promotion seem different from The E? And to be truthful they are different from The E, but not in a good way as both promotions have done a total 180 from where they were two years ago with The E putting a lot, lot, lot more wrestling on their T.V. shows and pay-per-views than they used to and TNA going the complete opposite direction in hopes of attracting that former audience with a product that looks familiar to The E’s, but with newer guys; it hasn’t worked. I actually got a funny e-mail when I did an article on the first iMPACT! on primetime with the main point being that TNA had to create a product more like Nitro had and more wrestling oriented than storyline oriented. This person basically said that TNA had to do what was good for TNA, which evidently in this person’s opinion was create a product that catered to the average fan—like The E has been able to do with their soap opera angles and sports entertainment with wrestling thrown in there. What this person, and a lot of others, don’t get is that if you make a clone of something, but don’t have a brand name (The E is a brand name) people will go to the brand name even if that means paying a little more. Why? Because they know the brand name, they recognize it, and it doesn’t involve any risk compared to taking a risk on something new even if it’s the same thing. Now if you create a big noise with something new—as TNA did to get on Spike and was doing until Russo’s arrival—people will take notice simply because it’s different. While TNA’s ratings before Russo were the same as when he took over the book, I would wager a bet that they had a much better shot of going to that next level had Russo never came.

Finally, I think a little simplicity in this angle would’ve and still could go a long way. That’s the main point with using the Misawa/Jumbo analogy: they didn’t make things too complicated and basically played it straight as the old guys wanted to protect their spot and the young guys wanted to move up in the world. Do we need this bullshit about “respect” or angry refs or two old guys in powerful positions helping (and hurting at the same time) the young guys or gimmick after gimmick after gimmick? Couldn’t we just have two warring factions going at it in matches of different sorts every week without all the gimmicks and hullabaloo? You’ve got plenty of fresh matchups (something that TNA is starting to realize with these groups) and if you can give them the time (something they still are far behind The E with on T.V.) this can be a feud that can overcome all of the booking shortcomings that have gone with it and—considering the booking source—will follow it until the bitter end to become something special, something un-TNA if you will.

Then again, TNA probably would’ve saved themselves all of the stress and heartache if they had gone after Jericho instead of Sting late in 2005.

The Reality is…when I said last month that TNA was like WCW in 1994, I meant that TNA is really like WCW was in 1994. The part I mentioned with this theory last month was the young guys giving great effort and providing great matches and some of the older guys giving the effort and putting on good matches too. What I didn’t mention was the one thing that came to WCW in ’94 that would nearly kill and then actually kill WCW: Hogan. In TNA’s case, Sting is to them what Hogan was to WCW. Not only was it an overpaid older guy who couldn’t go anymore, but it was someone who represented the white flag that this company was not going to try to be different and new and fresh anymore, they were just another promotion looking for the quick path to number two. After Sting we got Steiner and Nash and Angle and Booker and all of these E rejects who were brought in to try and boost ratings and buys and did none of that, but were still given pushes as if they were. With Hogan, he brought all of his friends in right away to take the pushes away from guys like Austin and Foley who had to leave and find their first big break elsewhere; something that could be prophetic despite all of Jarrett’s claims that that is what TNA is supposed to be; if it is, they lost track of that a long time ago. Now Sting didn’t bring these guys in, but his failure to draw what he was brought in to draw is exactly why these guys were brought in and the same failure was repeated over and over with no clear sign that anything was learned from it. Plus, all of these guys who spoke of wanting to help the young guys and all of that have barely done any significant jobs since coming to TNA as Steiner and Angle are the only ones who have done so and with Angle that was only because of either having every title in the company or needing to give his opponent a retirement stipulation, otherwise who knows. But I can’t be mad at Angle because he can still put on great matches, is a great heel, and never made any indication that he was in TNA for any reason other than Kurt Angle. He never made the same promises that these other guys did and thus it wasn’t too much of a surprise when he morphed into a HHH-Jeff Jarrett hybrid almost attempting a coup to take over TNA in ’07. Whereas guys like Sting and Nash all came in talking about how they both wanted to put over young guys, both mentioning A.J. specifically. But in the years they’ve been in TNA they’ve done none of that including barely ever even being in the ring with A.J. let alone putting him over. And I do understand that these older guys have been helping the younger guys out with advice on matches and promos and whatnot, but that is not enough in this case as this is a company that doesn’t have the stability The E does where they can dick around with making new stars for however long they please, TNA is a company that needs to do it now. And Jarrett is to blame just as much as any of these old guys, teary and emotional return promos aside. Jarrett almost made a mini-career of not putting over younger guys in TNA and when he did the job was reduced to nothing when the guy he jobbed to would lose the title a month later or a week later, and of course don’t forget how he missed a big opportunity in making Monty Brown a star. And he did put over Joe, but I don’t consider a match where fans are lumberjacks and only whip the heel with belts to be a legit job, so no dice there. Plus, at day’s end, Jarrett was the man who hired Russo in the first place. Why did he hire him back? Well there friends and he needed a job and he was booking WCW near the end, when Jarrett got his first real big push in the big leagues, so may be he felt grateful and wanted to give him a job in his promotion for the second time. Why he hasn’t fired him is also beyond me as the number of things he has done detrimental to this promotion’s growth has been astronomical and in almost record time as 2007 in TNA was the year that all the work and all that was accomplished up until that point was lost. House shows—where the older guys are rarely if ever participating—have gone done from a once potential fruitful venture to an exercise in futility, the three top attendances and the top two buy numbers in TNA’s history have all had Samoa Joe in the main-event, but that fact is lost on many. The fact that these older guys don’t do house shows, rarely put over younger guys, and seem to be in an angle that has already run its course as far as making people remember these guys are great, all point to a conspiracy theory that Russo is using TNA as a final big push for these older guys with Kurt Angle included because he’s Kurt Fucking Angle. True or not, whether the young guys even win out in this feud, a major and effective comeback from the young guys is needed to make this thing work. And since Russo is no good at booking people who don’t have an in stone legacy past a certain point, I’m thinking The E or Japan might have to be a thought for a lot of those younger guys in the locker room because as much as I want to see a miracle make this thing work, I’m not feeling it considering the source.

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