TCWNN#11: Ohhhhh brother…

Well there’s only one real thing to talk about this week, isn’t there.

Hulk Hogan has officially signed with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.  This is kind of a big deal, and a major coup for TNA. I mean, I know for me personally, when I hear the words “Total Nonstop Action”, I think of a 56 year old near cripple, most recently best known for being the dad on a reality show, vying for the World title (and he WILL get a World title match at some point, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind).  I mean, that’s what everyone thinks of, isn’t it?

Look, I respect Hulk Hogan’s accomplishments as much as the next guy.  Backstage politics and in ring capacity aside, he really is a living legend. And there will always be a place for him in professional wrestling. This can not be denied. But he’s a living legendwho is not only far past his prime, but has gotten nothing but negative press for the last few years. He put his entire family  on display courtesy of a channel known for taking C-list celebrities and putting them on television to be laughed at in the disguise of “celeb-reality”.  Pimped himself out to help get his daughter’s D-grade music career off the ground.  Made embarrassingly misguided statement after embarrassingly misguided statement while trying to stand by his imprisoned son and while dealing with the messy break up of his marriage. His parenting skills have been put on public trial. Pictures of him rubbing tanning oil on his daughters fanny have inspired hundreds upon hundreds of ribald message board comments.  His last two forays into television (American Gladiators and Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling) were hardly successful (Gladiators didn’t make it past two seasons, and  HHCCW was barely seen at all, probably due to being aired on Country Music Television).  He may be the first name the average Joe thinks of when they think of pro-wrestling, but these days when they think of him, it’s as a pitiable figure at best.

I know I’m being harsh (and for the record, I highly doubt that Hulk Hogan is a bad guy in real life, or that he deserves the bad publicity he‘s been getting the last few years), but the C-list celebrity described above is what TNA is getting.  They aren’t getting the driving force behind Hulkamania. They aren’t getting Hollywood Hulk Hogan. They aren’t even getting Mr. America. They are getting a reality show dad turned reality show host. A washed up 80s star along the lines of Mr. T; good only for nostalgia. I know that, as wrestling fans, we don’t want to believe that. And those of us who desperately want there to be a company that can compete with the Monday night McMahon monopoly probably don’t want to believe it even more. But I think it’s more than likely true. The Hulk Hogan brand name has been effectively tarnished. One has to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the only reason Hogan is even signing with TNA is because of how much damage that tarnish has done to the Hulk Hogan brand name. It’s something we’ve seen from wrestlers time and again, after all: their business ventures outside of wrestling fall through, they start losing money, and so they return to the ring.

If Hogan is going to do any good for TNA, he needs to bring in an audience beyond the die hard fans. If this was yet another WWE return, you could get that via what would arguably be a so called “dream match” in Hogan vs. Cena (Hogan vs. Austin… never gonna happen). But with Hogan in TNA, I can’t think of a single solitary match up of that caliber to bring in even WWE fans, let alone a mainstream audience. Why? Because TNA hasn’t made any stars that are even close to being at the level of Hulk Hogan, even in his current state. AJ Styles? Samoa Joe? I’m a fan of both, and would like to see them get whatever rub they can out of a match with Hogan, but I can’t see those matches drawing interest the way a Hogan vs. Cena match would. Not because the WWE machine wouldn’t be behind them, but because “dream match ups” are the only matches that the Hulk Hogan of 2009 is any good for. His presence alone just isn’t going to cut it.

And yet, this is still a major coup for TNA. There’s a real chance that this signing could reinvigorate the company, and start them down a path toward actual competition with the WWE. Because Hogan didn’t sign with TNA all by himself. As per usual, he brought a friend. But at least this time, that friend knows how to take Vince McMahon down a peg or two.

No, the real coup in this signing isn’t Hulk Hogan at all. It’s the signing of Eric Bischoff.

Despite the fact that he was played like a fiddle by many of his employees in WCW, the fact remains: Eric Bischoff knew how to take it to Vince McMahon. Were some of his tactics underhanded?  Absolutely. Was a large part of his success related to Ted Turner’s checkbook? Most definitely.  But Bischoff was aggressive. Bischoff wanted to fight, and Bischoff wanted to win. He was the one who decided to market to the older demographic the then WWF was ignoring at the time (and is once again ignoring now). He was the one responsible for the cruiserweight division and the luchadores, which perhaps more than anything else set WCW apart from the WWE. TNA has that same potential with both the X division and the Knockouts, yet they’ve never succeeded in marketing them as an alternative product, focusing instead on ex-WWE signings and nonsensical storylines. Perhaps with Bischoff’s involvement (and this is entirely speculative, as we don‘t currently know what exactly his involvement is), we can get a more nuanced product that brings the X division and the Knockouts into a more prominent role, while jettisoning some of the more outlandish storyline aspects of the current product.

The Eric Bischoff who is going into TNA is not the same Eric Bischoff who ran WCW. This is an older, hopefully wiser, Eric Bischoff who has now been backstage in the WWE. He may not have had a hand in the creative aspect of the programming, but he has certainly now seen the inside of the enemy sanctum. Combine that with his experience dominating the WWE in the late 90s, who better than Bischoff to help mold TNA into an actual competitor?

Certainly not Hulk Hogan.

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