TNA will be in a type of holding-pattern in terms of their booking in the run-up to the Hardcore Justice: One Last Stand PPV on August 8, which will be an ECW reunion show.
Vince Russo and Tommy Dreamer were in Nashville last week to write the two final episodes of Impact that will air in the build towards the PPV. These will be taped on July 26 and 27. Various ideas were being banded about, including the notion that they could use the regular TNA talent and keep their angles going on TV without building any of them for this PPV. They do not want to show too much of the ex-ECW guys on Impact as they believe it would dilute the lure of the PPV. They have also considered not advertising any specific matches for the show, only the concept of an ECW reunion, although most PPVs that have been run without announced line-ups have failed. They do want to run a Rob Van Dam vs Jerry Lynn match, which was one of the better in-ring feuds in the original ECW. Bill Alfonso, former manager of RVD in that era, was backstage at the last set of Impact tapings and is thought to be managing RVD again at the PPV. Lynn has been approached by TNA and was thought to be open to the idea, although nothing had been confirmed as of yet. Sabu and Sandman are also thought to be involved with the PPV. Steve Corino, who turned down all invitations to the ECW reunion in 2005 because he thought people should move forwards and not backwards, said he has not been contacted by TNA. Joey Styles remains under WWE contract. Pretty much everybody who was a significant star in the original ECW has been contacted about the PPV. They have been asked to keep their invitations quiet so as to make their appearances a surprise. One person said the offer was for a four-show deal, which includes the PPV and up to three TV tapings.
Paul Heyman did meet with Dixie Carter on July 8 at her home in Nashville. He told Carter that he was against the ECW reunion angle. Although Carter and Jeff Jarrett were well aware after that meeting that Heyman was not coming in, they did continue to give hints about their secret meeting and about a surprise at the last PPV. Many of the TNA wrestlers, even on the day of the last PPV, expected Heyman to be there and thought he was hiding out in Orlando before showing up at the end of the show. Some even contacted him to find out where he was, yet Heyman informed them that he was in New York and would not be there. The Impact tapings the next day were said to have had an awkward mood, since the talent realised Heyman was not joining TNA and any hopes of him sparking a revitalisation of the product were futile. At that point Carter put Dreamer in the role that had been earmarked for Heyman, as the architect of the ECW reunion. Dreamer had a little creative input into the ECW faction’s first TV appearance, wrote his own promo for their second appearance, is working with Russo on the two upcoming Impacts and will be in charge of the Hardcore Justice show itself. He may well wind up with a permanent job in the company should the next few weeks go well.
The Heyman deal is said to be cold but not dead. TNA has few alternative options but they believe Heyman’s demands are negotiating tactics and not something that he will remain adamant about. If a deal is made, however, it will not be anytime soon. Carter is not going to give anybody else the power to hire and/or fire TNA employees. Russo wanted to get rid of certain people in the past and she refused. Heyman would most likely want to get rid of Russo, yet Carter made it clear to Heyman that Russo had to stay. When TNA spoke with Jim Ross a few months ago about coming in, he was not going to be given that power either.
Despite their problems, TNA remains in a unique position. Bob Carter is not going to be in any rush to close down his daughter’s company. Impact continues to deliver regular and acceptable ratings for Spike TV. Unless it goes head-to-head with WWE, the show remains stable even going against things like the LeBron James decision and the NBA championship game. TNA does expect Impact ratings to increase for a few weeks because of this angle, as well as a higher than average buyrate for the August PPV. It remains to be seen what will happen in September.
Heyman emphasised in his meeting with Carter that he did not believe in drastic changes or in hitting the reset button. He felt the only way to make things work was to push new talent as the main stars, with a few veterans kept around to give them some credibility (as with Terry Funk in the original ECW). He also advocated recruiting rookie talent and running a developmental program for them. He stressed that this would be a multi-year plan that would not yield any big results right away, yet that these were necessary steps to take in order to secure a foundation for the future. Heyman also told Carter that they would keep one older legend but would have to get rid of most, if not all, of the others. Carter did not seem to understand why this was so, since her, Russo, Jarrett and Eric Bischoff still believe that the stars from the ’90s are bigger than the stars of today.
Hardcore Justice is not expected to include the likes of A.J. Styles or Samoa Joe or the final of the Beer Money and Motor City Machine Guns series. It is intended to be an all-ECW based show but that may well change. Kurt Angle, who was in the WWE-produced ECW and who did make one appearance at the old ECW Arena in the ’90s, may well be involved in some way. There may also be legal issues over the promotion of the show. Vince McMahon owns the ECW name and intellectual property. TNA cannot promote this as an ECW event without winding up in a court battle that they cannot afford. The DVDs of the Hardcore Homecoming events that Shane Douglas promoted a few years ago had to edit out their crowd chants of ‘ECW’ due to pressure from the WWE legal team.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what happens with the current management team. Eric Bischoff claimed he missed the last two Impact tapings and PPV because of family business. Hulk Hogan claimed he missed them due to back surgery. Both are expected to be back at the next set of tapings. Some view their absence as a failed power play, since the last two Impacts had Hogan in tiny cameo appearances but did the best ratings in over four months. Many wrestlers like Hogan as a positive backstage influence but many are down on Bischoff, who is perceived as not having contributed anything useful in six months. The new style of backstage interviews was his idea but has been rather meaningless. He did change the format of the show to do longer segments and longer commercial breaks, which means longer matches that are not interrupted by advertising.
Tags: dixie carter, ECW, Eric Bischoff, hardcore justice, Hulk Hogan, impact, Paul Heyman, TNA, tommy dreamer, WWE