TNA Impact! and Its Reinvention of Kayfabe
There was a time, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when professional wrestling was actually a legitimate sport.
Slowly, however, promoters came to the realization that predetermined matches were both more financially viable and safe. Taking from the practices of their carnival backgrounds, these promoters wove a web of false reality that they called kayfabe, where wrestlers and their careers were decided behind the scenes and the backs of casual fans.
No one knows when kayfabe officially began, but it's pretty much an accepted fact that Vince K. McMahon and the WWE's colorful characters of the '80s destroyed all doubt that wrestling was "fake."
Kayfabe has been a bit of a joke since then. Wrestling promotions like the WWE have all but abandoned the time-honored tradition of maintaining storylines outside of the ring. Well, maybe not all of them.
The crazy bastards at TNA Impact! Wrestling have once again tried to do something, how shall I say, not so smart. But this time, it kind of worked (I know, right?).
2012 was the year TNA continued to write the blueprint for reinventing kayfabe. Now you may not have believed all of these "false reality" storylines, but I guarantee that you believed at least one. With a mix of media manipulation and avid use of Twitter and new media, TNA proved that you can still pull the wool over the mark's eyes.
Matt Morgan Leaves TNA for WWE
In June 2012, Matt Morgan's contract expired with TNA, and the man known as The Blueprint looked to be heading north to greener pastures.
Using Twitter, Morgan kept fans up to date on the progress of his contract negotiations and, when those failed, began hinting at a return to the WWE. This seemed to make sense to many fans, as Morgan's career never seemed to hit its potential in TNA. Never mind that he had little to no support during his tenure in WWE—many fans saw him leaving as a good thing.
Unbeknownst to these same fans, Morgan's contract negotiations were still ongoing. They were going so well, in fact, that Morgan began showing up at TNA house shows and interfering with matches. I can only imagine the faces of fans when Morgan first showed up to give Carbon Footprints to TNA officials.
It probably went something like, "Wait...that's Matt Morgan! Isn't he supposed to be....oh....oh, damn...they got me."
Yes, it was a work from the beginning. How do I know? Because Morgan mentioned a return to WWE, and based on legal situations between TNA and its larger counterpart, that was never going to happen.
Currently, the two companies are involved in a court dispute over this very topic. The idea that Morgan would think of the WWE as a viable option, or that he could use the threat as some sort of leverage, is laughable. At this point, if Morgan had been released from his contract, he was not going to the WWE. He may have gone to Ring of Honor, but he sure as hell wasn't going to the WWE.
Another red flag was that Matt Morgan is TNA's spokesperson for its Direct Auto Insurance marketing partnership. Even when his contract was supposedly dropped, he was still acting as the company's pitchman. I don't think TNA ever planned on letting Morgan go.
What we did get, however, was 10 times better in my eyes: a reinvention of the Matt Morgan character.
Bitter over his release—and especially at Hulk Hogan, who promised to make him a star—Morgan has set about destroying TNA one wrestler at a time. With the state of mind that "anything Hogan can do, I can do better," he's even taken to wearing the robe Hulk Hogan wore during match with Andre the Giant at Shea Stadium.
Morgan is finally becoming the monster we all knew he was supposed to be.
Joey Ryan Shoots on Taz and TNA
The reason this went over so well was because Joey Ryan's reaction to being turned down by TNA didn't seem like he was acting as much as he was desperately trying to sell his character. If it were a work, fans reasoned that Ryan would have played up the heel persona instead of seeming so genuinely nervous.
Nothing about the promo made sense based on contemporary wrestling rules: the way Taz stepped up to Ryan so indignantly, the way Ryan tried to yell over top of Taz to the point where they were both basically screaming at each other on the same mic. This didn't seem so much scripted as it did sloppy and genuinely angry. This seemed real.
In fact, there is still some confusion on whether Gut Check is a shoot or work. Christian York, in a radio interview with Chad Dukes Wrestling Show on 106.7 The Fan, said it was all a shoot.
A lot of people agree with him, and in today's wrestling climate, hiding a work that well is amazing.
Following the Ryan incident, the Internet Wrestling Community screamed bloody murder. TNA decided to capitalize on this outrage and began the worked-shoot angle of the "87 percent" of TNA's audience who supported Ryan.
It was this buzz that kept audiences tuning in to Gut Checks. Everyone wanted to see what other absurd or ridiculous decisions TNA would make. And that was just as they wanted it.
Because everyone stayed glued to their sets until the day Ryan ultimately returned, in the crowd, antagonizing Al Snow. Proving that if the angle hadn't initially been a work, it was very much one now.
A mark of a good kayfabe storyline is that no one ever really knows if it's real or not. To this day, the validity of this first segment of Gut Check is still argued among TNA fans.
Devon's Contract Expires
When Devon's contract was allowed to expire while Bully Ray's was extended, it made sense in a sad way.
Devon was never the star of the duo and in recent months, his Television title seemed more of an afterthought to TNA. Meanwhile, Bully was fast becoming the star heel a lot of people always knew he could be.
So when the news hit the media over the summer of 2012 that Devon's contract wasn't going to get renewed, there was a reluctant acceptance and even a bit of anger. Some people felt, "Oh, here we go again! TNA's letting their talent slip through their fingers."
And that's what made the angle so great; TNA played off the expectations people have for their company and turned it against them.
First off, there's no way Bully was going to get re-signed without Devon. They're damn near a package deal. For me at least, this was the first red flag that this may be a work. But for the most part, people bought into the story, hook, line and sinker.
Possibly, this was mostly due to Matt Morgan's unceremonious release. Whatever the case, the story left the TNA wrestling fans primed for what would be one of the biggest shocks of Bound for Glory 2012: Devon being the "inside man" for the Aces and Eights all along. And based on the Kayfabe storyline created around his contract negotiations, it all made sense.
Devon felt slighted by the company and abandoned when they chose Bully over him. Feeling dejected, he made a deal with the devil and this gave Aces and Eights all the background and motivation it would need.
Kurt Angle Makes Olympic Return
Admit it—he got you with this one.
If anyone actually thought Kurt was going to really try out for the 2012 Summer Olympics, then congratulations—you've been marked.
And yes, I was one of them.
It seemed so realistic at the time. Why couldn't he make a run again? At the time he was one of the best professional wrestlers in the industry, so he was in some sort of shape. His amateur credentials spoke for themselves. And it didn't hurt that every major media outlet was covering the story.
At some point, the cynic in you just bends to the possibility.
It was when Kurt pulled out due to a hamstring injury that I was finally certain it had all been a work. Angle is famous for winning the 1996 Olympic gold in freestyle wrestling with a legit broken neck. He is infamous for working tirelessly in professional wrestling with injuries only slightly less horrible than that.
There is no way that someone with the type of drive that borders on insanity would pull out of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like the Olympics. This is especially true when you consider he'd been "training" for the events for close to a year.
No, ladies and gentlemen, this was just a beautiful marketing ploy to get people talking about TNA. It's true. It's damn true.