Which was the last great rivalry that you remember in wrestling?
I mean "great."
I don't mean the one-off programs between two rising stars that lead to a pay-per-view, only to fizzle out and die off later. I'm talking about rivalries that were larger than life, rivalries that went beyond wrestling and spoke to the deeper conflicts that have existed between men. I'm talking about Hogan vs. Piper and Hart vs. Michaels; I'm talking about Flair vs. Sting, and Stone Cold vs. Mr. McMahon.
Bobby Roode and James Storm have created such a rivalry by way of great performances—in ring and out—as well as out-the-box booking by TNA's creative team.
And it all started with Hulk Hogan, but I'll get to that later.
Last year's Bound for Glory tournament saw Bobby Roode, then a member of Beer Money along with his partner, James Storm, top the other 12 competitors to get a number one contender's shot at then-TNA World Champion Kurt Angle's belt.
The real drama began, on and off stage, following the conclusion of the Bound for Glory pay-per-view. Kurt Angle ended up getting the win via a screwy finish (using the ropes for leverage, while Roode's arm was under the ropes) and the wrestling community went ballistic.
In the beginning, fans felt that it was a foregone conclusion that the homegrown TNA talent Bobby Roode, after months of battling, would be rewarded with the championship. Kurt has never had a problem putting someone over, so fans settled in for what they expected to be a pretty predictable outcome.
It turned out to be anything but.
What made matters worse was a Busted Open satellite radio show interview Hogan did shortly before the BFG PPV. In the interview, Hogan admitted that he didn't think the then-babyface Roode could carry the company. Instead, he stated his feelings that Storm would better fit the role:
"I’d go with James Storm all day long. Mainstream brotha’! Cowboy hat, beer drinking, middle America, NASCAR, Walmart, Country Western. I mean all day long, it’s a no brainer. That’s me. That’s my opinion."
When Roode lost to Angle, the common sentiment was that Hogan had once again held back an up-and-comer. Now, I hope, we all realize that there was a greater plan at work. Not so much the initial execution, because yeah, that sucked.
No, the plan was always for Storm to be the future face of the company. He's an everyman much in the same vein as Dusty Rhodes; he may not be the most physically intimidating, or the most articulate, but he works hard and he never gives up.
That's the type of character you can build a company around. But one thing that Hogan knew, and that everyone else including Vince McMahon apparently forgot, is that for a face to really succeed, he needs an equally great villain.
Enter the "It" Factor.
Despite what WWE fanboys would have you believe, Bobby Roode, not CM Punk, is currently the best heel in the business. He slightly edges Bully Ray based on accomplishments. Roode is the type of heel that connects with what normal people, not only dislike, but despise. He's entitled. He's nasty, he's vindictive and he's manipulative toward his own personal goals. He is, and always was, diametrically opposed to Storm; just like a top heel should be.
This is something the WWE has all but forgotten when it comes to their top face, John Cena. Before CM Punk, Cena didn't have a top heel to battle. Instead, he's been handed mediocre feud after mediocre feud, as if they were coming off conveyor belts. There's no emotional investment for the fans; only microwaved drama with the immediate gratification of a quick and concise conclusion, from one pay-per-view to the next.
Roode and Storm have created something more. They've created something that harkens back to the old days of wrestling where fans could immerse themselves in the narrative and get lost. This was made evident with last Thursday's Impact! during Storm and Roode's brawl. The fans were frothing for Roode's head, screaming at him, cursing at him, and it was all caught live on television.
One female fan in particular screamed at Roode that he, "f-ckin' sucked!" Roode turned to respond, barking, "Kiss my ass!" at the top of his lungs. The woman didn't waiver, she didn't flinch; and why should she, she was loving every minute of it.
Roode and Storm will get their chance to continue their feud at Bound For Glory this October, almost a year from when their epic story started. And it will continue, long after the pay-per-view is over. The true wrestling fans will strap in for the ride because they know they are witnessing something that they haven't seen in a long time—something epic.