The Common Denominator – Nothing Wrong with Number Two (TNA, WWE, Austin Aries, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Hulk Hogan, Bobby Roode, Bob Backlund, Zema Ion)

Okay, I didn’t watch Destination X. In fact, I have never watched a TNA pay-per-view, and I doubt I ever will. However, despite the fact that I have probably written less than 100 words about TNA since I started doing this column, I wish them nothing but success. My son watches the show, and I have followed it sporadically over the years, either by watching it with him or keeping up with major angles via Inside Pulse recappers (God bless them).

Now by all indications, Destination was at least a critical success. I have no idea if that translated into an increased number of buys, but at least those who did watch the show came away from it with positive things to say. So good for them. And congrats to Austin Aries for winning the TNA World Title. I always root for the underdog in those situations, and I know he’s toiled away in the Indies and on TNA for years, and he’s a solid worker, so there’s not much to not like.
Looking over the results, I noticed a lot of new names. Well, what I actually noticed was a lack of old names. It seems that in the spirit of the ppv’s name, most of the card was comprised of X Division-type guys. In fact, with the exception of Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle, most of the talent was on the smallish side (and Joe and Kurt are not exactly giants). If TNA wants to build on these guys, I say go for it. The past few shows I’ve seen look promising. I can even buy Hulk Hogan as the authority figure (as long as he doesn’t try to wrestle any more). Then only downside is that he’s bigger than 90 percent of the roster and that could make the smaller guys look even smaller and therefore less impressive to fans.

Now, having said all that, and like I said, I wish them nothing but success, I think it’s quite apparent that there is no way TNA will ever (cue Jericho) eeeeeeeeeeeeever!! be anything more than a blip on WWE’s radar. Yes, the days of having a “Big Two” are over. I don’t think you could take TNA, ROH, the NWA, and all of the major Indy feds combined and put anything together that can match the WWE juggernaut in terms of business, brand recognition, casual fan following, TV ratings, merchandising, or any other category. In fact, with the exception of a 2-year or so period when the NWO was the hottest angle in wrestling history and Goldberg was the hottest guy in the business, and WCW had its head out of its collective ass long enough to capitalize on it and then self-destruct, the WWF/E has pretty much been THE image that popped into people’s heads when professional wrestling was mentioned. At least since 1985 or so, which for all intents and purposes is all that really matters these days.
Seriously, when Bob Backlund came out Monday night on Raw, what percentage of those in attendance or watching on TV ever (cue Jericho) eeeeeeeeeeeeever!! saw Bob wrestle? 15 percent? 20, at the most, right? And if you take out his reemergence as “Mr. Backlund,” and just ask how many folks still following wrestling today saw him wrestle before Hulk Hogan came along, I’d say that drops down to less than 5 percent.

So, yeah, TNA is either going to have to be content with being a very distant number two, or…well, or nothing, I guess. There’s just no getting around it. TNA has carved out a niche for itself, comprised mostly of diehard wrestling fans who will watch any kind or wreslting, diehard anti-WWE fans who still want to see wrestling, old-school fans (probably mostly in the South) who don’t like the WWE’s current product, and what seems to be a fairly solid overseas market. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’d bet that in its heyday, Paul Heyman’s ECW would have killed for numbers that TNA is doing (and if they had, in that day and age, we might still be watching RVD and Sabu killing each other with trash cans and barbed wire).

There’s no shame in being the second-most popular brand in a genre of programming. You’re talking about competing with a program that is closing in on 1,000 episodes. And no matter what ridiculous hyperbolic crap they try to attach to it, that’s pretty impressive. Ask anyone if they’d be okay with having the second highest rated sitcom or news show or whatever. David Letterman has pretty much been number two in the late night talk show game for decades and he seems to be doing okay.

It’s worth checking out. I mean, you’re a wrestling fan. So, you’re probably going to watch Raw. Smackdown, too. That’s a lot of wrestling to watch in a week. But if you want more, there’s TNA, so why not watch it? In the age of the DVR, there’s really no reason not to record it and just watch it while you’re sitting around being lazy on a Sunday afternoon or whatever. You can skip past the commercials or even the wrestlers you don’t like.

TNA has been around for 10 years now, and they are probably better off now than they have ever been before. They’ve had a longer shelf-life than ECW (1994-2001) and are closing in on WCW (you can argue all you want, but officially WCW ran from 1990-2001), so there seems to be a pretty good chance they’re not just going to close the doors or anything. For all the criticism that has come their way, TNA has evolved over time to try and engage fans and build its share of the market. The X Division was a great idea that gave workrate and spotfest fans something after it became clear that WWE had no intention of doing anything with a cruiserweight division. They’ve thrown a lot – a LOT – of crap at the wall and only some of it has stuck, but they really seem to cater to “wrestling” fans. Hell, I’m just glad to see they still let their guys bleed. I would put the Knockouts up against the Divas any time, their tag-division has been better than the WWE’s for most of TNA’s existence, and they always seem to at least be trying.

They survived the first couple of years as a pay-per-view only promotion, went through a couple of shaky TV deals and even went internet-only for a while, but here they are, cranking out a weekly show, monthly pay-per-view, and working the international syndication scene. Their show over in London was very well attended and they have the potential to grow in a number of markets.

It’s not a talent issue. In fact, with the WWE roster as thin as it currently is, there’s not a lot of difference. When you look at the talent pool both companies are drawing from right now, you could put together a pretty even TNA vs. WWE card. Actually, let’s do that…

I’m going to base this off of the Destination X results and the most recent “Pro Wrestling Illustrated” rankings (and forgive me for not being completely up to snuff on some of these guys)…

TNA World Champion Austin Aries vs. WWE Champion CM Punk.

Yes, this happened already.

And as you can see, it was quite epic.

Now, granted that was several years ago, but I just love the idea that these guys battled it out in high school gyms, bingo halls, VFW banquet rooms and wherever else and now each holds the most prestigious title in their company.

Sheamus vs. Bobby Roode (Okay, not the most epic match-up, but the WHC vs. the longest reigning TNA champ? Looks okay on paper, right?)

James Storm vs. Big Show (Who wouldn’t want to see that? Two big burly tough guys wailing on each other? Not a technical masterpiece, sure.)

Daniel Bryan vs. Kurt Angle (Yes! Yes! It’s true!)

Samoa Joe vs. John Cena (Look, if you wouldn’t want to see that match, you are not a wrestling fan)

Christian vs. Zema Ion (Sure, why not? There’s not really a lot to complain about there. Give them a ladder with the X Division belt and I-C belt at the top and turn them loose)

AJ Styles vs. Dolph Ziggler (Seriously, this is a pretty stacked card)

Bully Ray vs. Brodus Clay (And hilarity ensues)

Mr. Anderson vs. Alberto Del Rio (you know, this might actually be pretty good. It might not. You’d have to do something with Ken and Ricardo and dueling microphones, but there’s nothing wrong with that)

Abyss vs. Kane (Okay, Abyss isn’t currently in the TNA rankings, but this is a match we’ve all thought about at least once)

So look, TNA is going to be just fine. They’re just never going to beat the WWE. And if they, and fans, and the Internet Wrestling Community can move away from that being the yardstick by which they measure their success or failure, everything should be just fine.

At least until we get Sting vs. Hogan again…

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