June 19, 2002, TNA Wrestling held their first-ever show. In celebration of their upcoming 13th birthday, we’ll have a number of TNA-centric articlescelebrating the good, the bad and the ugly of TNA/Impact Wrestling over the last 13 years.
This is a guest post by Joe “beakerjob” O’Doherty. Follow him on Twitter @awesomeojoe and view the rest of his work at http://beakerjoesblog.wordpress.com.
TNA is turning 13, my how the years have past. With the former child of Jeff Jarrett turning the big 1-3, I’ve decided to recant my thoughts on the night TNA went live to finally compete with WWE Raw for the first time.
Ah January 4th 2010, what times to be a TNA fan? Actually, what a time to be a wrestling fan, right? The Immortal Hulk Hogan had signed for TNA brothers!
To coincide with his first appearance, TNA impact was going live on a Monday to go head-to-head against WWE Raw for the first time. What was Hulk gonna do, brothers, and more importantly what was TNA going to do with this opportunity to strike a blow against the mighty WWE?
It was heralded as a new dawn, a genesis if you will (pun intended). Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff were signed on as Dixie Carters business partners and they were gonna reignite the Monday Night Wars once again by going live for the first time against WWE Raw. It was a once off show to test the waters by Spike TV. They were going to do to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling what they did to World Championship Wrestling in the mid-nineties. They were taking over!
I remember the entire buzz around it as if it was yesterday, everyone was wondering just what was going to actually happen. No one really knew how involved Hogan was but the feeling was that he was more or less given a lot of creative stroke within the company with Eric as his right-hand man. Hogan had promised big, if not vague things, in the months leading up to this “history changing” night. TNA had never competed directly against WWE.
I had lost a bit of interest in watching TNA up until the news of Hogan’s signing and to say I was very skeptical was an understatement, but promises of big things and with it being live, I felt it was must see in one way or another and it had certainly got my attention. Whether it was the start of TNA showing a better live show than WWE or if it was going to be an abortion of a wrestling program, it had certainly perked my interest. I’ve always had a soft spot for Eric Bischoff and he’s a man who at least knows how to get eyes on him and stir up controversy. In this case controversy wasn’t creating cash, like his WWE biography claimed; instead it was curiosity which was created by the unknown of what would go down on Hogan’s first Impact.
Being from Ireland, TNA Impact isn’t broadcast live so I had no means of watching it live. Instead I had Raw, which gave me Bret Hart returning. The next day though, Impact was online and I was dying to see what happened and avoid any spoilers out there in internet land. I wasn’t sure about getting a great show; to be honest I feared the worst with Hogan’s track record of going into business for himself and his buddies. However, I did feel Impact going live would mean their roster would be giving it there all. I had hoped the likes of Samoa Joe, Desmond Wolfe and AJ Styles would get the elevation they deserved and that TNAs home-grown talent would get a chance to show case their skills to a wider audience. As a result, I also had hoped that the increased competition would light a fire under Vince and WWE creative and that at the very least WWE would step up their game. Most of all I really believed that overall, the fans would be the true winners.
The show we got that faithful night on January 4th was built up so much but ultimately didn’t deliver the rebirth of the Monday night wars like it promised. After watching the show I had to ask myself what was I really expecting with Hogan behind the wheel of the TNA ship?
It was a show that had the bad side of Hulk Hogan written all over it. The show went from being TNA Impact to Hulk Hogan presents “Hogan’s Impact”. It did nothing to promote Impact as a product to rival WWE or it did nothing to make you think TNA was at least an alternative. What we say that night was TNA becoming a watered down version of WCW Nitro in 1997 with less star power and even less direction. If you were a WWE fan who had never watched TNA Impact before, I’d be surprised if you saw anything that would make you change the channel permanently, regardless of what you thought of WWE’s product at the time.
Look at the names Hogan brought to TNA to try persuade me to change the dial: a badly aged Scott Hall, a formerly retired Ric Flair and a useless Sean Waltman. All these used to be big names that could draw but it was 2010. These stars, if used carefully and correctly in less prominent roles could have been successful, sure. But not in Hogan’s hands. These guys, along with other stars of yesterday year already employed with TNA (Mick Foley, Kevin Nash to name a few) gave the show a look of a bizarre parallel world where WCW Nitro never went off the air. I’d go as far as to say it was like Nitro continued in a dreaded groundhog day loop in which the show just got progressively worse as the stars aged.
If things already looked like a badly-produced show from the late 90’s, then the arrival of other “stars” made things worse. Hogan or someone must have thought it be a great idea to channel the essence of the attitude era and bring in Sean Morley. The former Val Venis appeared playing his Val Venis character minus the name, in segments having a game of strip poker with some of TNAs knockouts. These segments were a desperate attempt to say “we are edgy” and “we can give you attitude era type angles.”
I’m a firm believer that it’s not the PG product making WWE weak in this day and age but the lack of decent booking and storytelling on the lower/mid card. “Racy” segments like the one above wasn’t great TV in the first place and trying to emulate that kind of angles with characters of yesterday year wasn’t going to make me tune in every week. If anything, it made TNA look dated and out of touch.
But things got worse; Hogan brought in his buddies the Nasty Boys, who appeared in segments throughout the night. There should be no place for Brian Knobbs or Jerry Sags in 21st century wrestling and seeing these two losers on live TV in 2010 was not must-see television.
If Hogan or anyone thought it was a good decision to bring these guys in he was more delusional than I thought. Giving The Nasty’s any TV time on the live broadcast took TV time away from better more deserving talents, such as The Pope and Desmond Wolfe who got to show case the talent the had in all of a three minute match. Imagine being James Storm or Bobby Roode, two very talented guys who should be on TV, sitting backstage on a big occasion for the company while these two out of shape morons eat up television time. You’d be questioning you’re reasons for being there.
Some older stars if used correctly can enhance your show. Someone like Ric Flair can do this and Rhyno’s current stint in NXT is another example. Hell, even Kevin Nash did an OK job when he came back to stick his ore in to the HHH/CM Punk feud a couple of years ago, but not the Nasty Boys. They have no business being near wrestling at the start of the century let alone 10 years into it. Their presence on screen was a big finger to TNAs loyal fans and gave me no reason to think TNA impact was the place to view live Monday night wrestling.
After one three-hour show, it was clear that Hogan was not the right man for the job to march TNA into a battle with WWE. Sure there were positives: Jeff Hardy re-debuted (he initially “debuted” in 2004), though not memorable, was a huge coup at the time. Jeff was a bigger star than when he first arrived in TNA and it was shown as a statement of intent. I can’t easily say I had no idea that would happen and going by how hard WWE promoted Jeff’s DVD around the same time, I’m sure they didn’t have a breeze about it either. Jeff defiantly had a huge fan base at this time and it was a huge coup for Hogan and TNA.
However, I felt Jeff was used pretty lackluster and it was just a case of “Oh, there’s Jeff Hardy”. He didn’t make a surprise save, or he wasn’t a mystery opponent, he was instead there just to attack Homicide for no real reason. Bit of a waste of Jeff’s debut with the company and it screamed of “we don’t know what direction we are going in yet.” Still the arrival of Hardy was a big name to bring to the TNA roster.
We also got A.J. Styles taking on Kurt Angle on free TV (it was supposed to be a match on the up coming PPV). It was a tremendous match and it’s the kind of match that would make you change the channel from RAW. But no matter how great it was, it didn’t save the show. The negatives far out weighed the few positives. Short matches, nonsensical booking, Hogan putting himself and his buddies over and re hashes of old storylines and gimmicks, made TNAs live Impact a failure.
It could have been so much more. If Hogan put over the younger, home grown talent more things could have went much differently. Showing off guys like Daniels, Roode, Samoa Joe and others rather than bringing devoting time to over the hill stars and his buddies was easily the better choice. TNA’s live Impact was a huge missed opportunity to put it up to WWE, instead it was wasted by Hogan to put over himself and indulge his out of touch creative direction.