The average pro wrestling fan today has a default setting that imagines all future endeavored WWE employees embarking upon a 90-day journey that will eventually land them in Orlando, Florida.
After their arrival in Orlando, these mistreated employees will surely end up in TNA’s offices where the individuals in charge will award them contracts with the company and allow them to properly showcase the talents and skills they possess that were suppressed in the WWE.
These thoughts and speculations are troublesome for a number of reasons, most of which rely on faulty assumptions supported by foundations of shoddy workmanship.
When a WWE superstar is fired or released from their contract, we assume they want to go and will go to TNA. We assume that TNA has interest in them. We assume that TNA will “use them better than the WWE did.”
In some cases, we even go as far as to assume that the superstar in question will be something more in TNA than what they were in the WWE.
In other instances, these assumptions are not too far from reality. However, there have been occasional occurrences that left many fans’ foreheads sore from face palms after repeatedly asking the question, “Why the hell did they hire so-and-so?”
Is there a risk associated with hiring anyone and everyone that leaves the dark, gloomy, suppressive and financially lucrative offices of Stamford, CT for the friendly, open-minded, cheerful and creatively frustrating shores of Orlando, FL?
This honest question prompts us to have a very valid discussion on our expectations of the stars that seemingly view TNA as a heavenly paradise opposite the raging fires of the hellish WWE machine.
This piece was inspired by a report I read the other day which speculated that WWE superstar Montel Vontavius Porter (MVP) is currently unhappy with his creative direction in the company.
Because of this, it is believed that MVP will not renew his WWE contract once it expires next year.
What stood out in this report were the comments left by a handful of visitors to the site. Immediately, individuals began stating that MVP would naturally appear in TNA once his 90-day no compete clause expires.
Mind you, the man still works for the WWE, and people are already speculating on what he’s going to do when he no longer works for the company.
Regardless of the validity of these claims, it’s very interesting that fans were eager about placing yet another WWE superstar in TNA simply because it was speculated that he would not be resigning with the WWE once his contract was up.
This reaction probably stems from an emotional response to MVP’s plight as a WWE superstar. Most fans will readily agree that he’s extremely talented, charismatic, and entertaining. Fans will also agree that at the current moment he seems to be floundering around the WWE without the creative direction most feel he deserves.
Since then, MVP has debunked the rumors and stated via Twitter that he currently has no reservations about his career and current direction in the WWE.
When rumors such as this surface, we immediately place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the WWE and begin to speculate on where the superstar will go and what they’ll do once released. Most fans assume, justifiably so, that the superstar will show up in TNA.
That natural inclination has become TNA simply because at this point in time the company is the second most well-known pro wrestling company in the United States.
Fans’ inclinations are further supported by the presence of other “mistreated” ex-WWE stars currently in TNA that have made major strides in their careers after joining the roster.
Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle, Matt Morgan, and Tara are just a few of the superstars who’ve made the jump from the WWE to TNA and have found great success in their roles within the company.
Mickie James and Katie Lea Birchill are recent additions to the roster that have fans salivating over the promise of exciting and unparalleled action.
These superstars left the WWE for various reasons, and whether it was the relaxed taping and touring schedule, non-existent drug testing policies, or creative flexibility offered by the company, a lot of men and women have found their future endeavors brighter and more fulfilling in TNA than anywhere else.
But what effect does this have on the product that TNA offers? More importantly, what effect does it have on their fans specifically and pro wrestling fans in general?
The Objective Truth
Eric Bischoff was and is notorious for many things, one of which being his preference to hire well known stars and veterans solely for their drawing (i.e. star) power. He reasons that this is a major factor in attracting pro wrestling fans to a company’s product.
He utilized this same tactic in WCW, where the company was literally inundated with a deluge of ex-WWE stars at one point.
This ingenious tactic turned out to be a double-edged sword that hacked away at the company and its competition at the same time.
On one hand, the WWE was forced to create new superstars and enticing story lines to counteract the loss of viewers due to their well-known superstars jumping over to the competition.
On the other hand, WCW began to grow in popularity not because of their product but because of the shock value that accompanied a WWE star jumping ship.
Sooner or later, the company utilized the tactic so much that it became the main thing that attracted viewers, thus not necessitating any real critiquing of the product they presented and how they presented it.
Simply put, fans would tune in to WCW to see Barry Horowitz face Lance Storm in a Pole Match for the Saskatchewan Hardcore International Title.
That match didn’t actually take place (or did it?), but hopefully you get the point I’m making here.
TNA is now placed in a very similar situation. Sooner or later, if it hasn’t already occurred, the product will take a back seat to the shock and awe tactic of placing a well-known WWE face on a big stinking box of nothing.
Realistically speaking, would you need a major story line to get a well-known star over with a crowd?
When you think about it, it would not really be all that necessary.
For example: imagine if Randy Orton defected to TNA at this stage in his career.
This defection would be the only thing necessary for TNA to garner instant attention. He could actually feud with a pile of tacks for the Knockouts Tag Team Championship, and people would swear by everything holy that it would be a match of the year candidate.
His star power alone would be more than enough to guarantee huge ratings. Any story after that would only go to support the idea that his jump to TNA was a big effing deal.
Rob Van Dam has publicly stated the same thing about his and Jeff Hardy’s presence in the company. Their “rock star appeal” is what puts butts in the seats, not the fact that TNA’s product is action packed and visually stunning.
Going back to our Barry Horowitz metaphor, we also see that we expect TNA to hire anyone that the WWE releases, which they have done to some extent.
Fans are quick to site the success of ex-WWE stars Elijah Burke and Matt Morgan, but they rarely speak of the glaringly obvious mediocrity of Shannon Moore and the blatantly disrespectful treatment of Brian Kendrick.
What we don’t immediately recognize or readily acknowledge as fans is that there is a method to the WWE’s madness when it comes to promoting and developing superstars. TNA’s madness seemingly relies on staking out WWE employees leaving Titan Towers through the back door with a box of their belongings in their arms.
If the WWE has a particular type of image in mind when promoting a superstar, then they’re going to need someone else in the ring with that particular superstar in order to bring those developing qualities to the surface.
Simply put, some superstars are needed to make other superstars look good.
A good number of future endeavored stars that find preferential attention in TNA are a little more than “enhancement talents,” and are probably best utilized as such.
Think about a few of the men that have been placed in the ring in singles competition with WWE superstar Sheamus: Goldust, Shelton Benjamin, Jamie Noble, Evan Bourne, Finlay, Triple H, John Cena and Randy Orton.
Now imagine how you would feel if Sheamus was instantly placed in a feud with David Otunga, Vladamir Kozlov or The Miz. Whatever you’re thinking now was my intended point exactly.
Take Shannon Moore as well. After a brief feud with Douglas Williams over the TNA X-Division Championship, Moore was placed in a tag team with Jesse Neal based off of their tattoos and freaky Mohawk hairstyles.
Other than that, what has Moore or TNA done with his character that is any different from what he was doing or what was being done to him in the WWE? Jack sh*t, that’s what.
Moore has the athletic ability and skill to make other performers look like gold in the ring, but is that enough to place him as the “star” of your division or at the top of your company?
Let’s give Moore the benefit of doubt. For a moment, let’s say he has what it takes to be the face of a division or the company. How has TNA groomed him and prepared him for that spotlight?
Go back to the initial question: what has TNA done with his character that is different from what the WWE was doing with him? He put over Douglas Williams, but keep in mind that Moore is a superstar that some felt should be put over by others.
Instead of starting him off with in a tag team, they immediately thrust him to the top of the X-Division where he received a sound thrashing for his troubles.
He was then placed in a random tag team paring that only worked for superficial reasons, and essentially jobbed out to two other ad hoc tag teams (London Brawling and Jordan/Young).
So far, how has that helped Moore’s career? Or, how has he been received any differently than he was in the WWE?
Another aspect we rarely mention in our debates is the pushing of certain stars to the moon at the expense of suppressing other talent.
Purchasing talent as opposed to developing your own stars not only presents a potentially devastating strain on a company financially, but it also creates a subtle caste system of superiority based on what one is and not necessarily what one has done or can do for the company.
Established stars such as Jeff Hardy, Tara, Kurt Angle, Mr. Anderson, Rob Van Dam, Sting, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff come with hefty price tags that are well deserved for what they are to the pro wrestling world. They also offer invaluable experience and wisdom with their in-ring abilities and talents.
But is that really the sole reason why TNA picked them up? Nope; all of the aforementioned people have strong and supportive followers, as well as a particular legacy that fans cannot be separated from easily.
Roderick Strong and Austin Aries have a history with TNA and also bring invaluable experiences and wisdom with their in-ring abilities and talents to the table. As far as we know, TNA wasn’t in a rush to woo them away from ROH.
TNA passed on these individuals in favor for the likes of Angle and Hardy because they’re far more popular and have a broader appeal to fans. Again, the issue with awarding these stars contracts is that at this stage in their careers, they’re more likely to not work for what amounts to chump change.
For example: Pretend you spent 10 years working for a huge corporation we’ll call Company A. In those 10 years, you were promoted twice and received raises each time. For whatever reason, you now no longer work for Company A.
Company B is a much smaller company, but is also extremely interested in hiring you to work for their company. Would you, under any circumstance, work for Company B for less than what you were making at Company A, knowing that Company B is the much smaller company?
Would you do so, especially if in 10 years you’ve grown use to a certain lifestyle that you could afford while working at Company A?
While your initial answer may be “yes,” I want you to realize that “smaller” and “less money” are not synonymous in this sense. While Company B may not have as much revenue (profits) as Company A, they may very well be in a position to offer certain stars competitive contracts based on their appeal to fans.
Gail Kim left TNA not because they couldn’t pay her for the work she did in the company, but rather she left because TNA wouldn’t pay her for the work she did in the company. Perhaps it was because they were too busy courting high priced stars.
This is what occurs when any company hires established stars in the business. No matter what the situation, we all pay for what we want. If a company wants Hogan to sign autographs at a car show, then they’ll pay him what he asks to guarantee he’ll make that appearance.
The bottom line on the situation is that the “business” is a business even though we may not recognize it as such. Behind each story line and plot twist is a political move that has great implications for or against the televised product.
It would be foolish for us to believe for one second that Rob Van Dam, Hulk Hogan, Sting or Kurt Angle would be willing to work for TNA for $300 per appearance given their history in the business.
It would be ridiculous if the same company that gave JWoww $15,000 for one appearance can only give Hulk Hogan $300 for his? There’s so much wrong with that thinking, no matter which side you approach it.
Finally, it could be misconstrued by the fans that a particular star is “worth more” than another.
In a conversation with a fellow B/R member, I discussed the marketability of certain TNA wrestlers or the lack thereof.
In the conversation, we volleyed back and forth over the notion of whether an AJ Styles or Samoa Joe was as marketable a star as a Jeff Hardy or Rob Van Dam. His belief was that neither Styles nor Joe could be marketed as “superstars,” because they didn’t have the look of a superstar.
I argued for the exact opposite, stating that there was no real money or time spent on developing or grooming either wrestler as “superstars,” which is why they don’t appear as such.
The fact that a fan can say comfortably that two of TNA’s original wrestlers—who have remained relatively unblemished by the stain of the WWE—are not recognizable to the public is a clarion call for a major change to take place in the way the company approaches expanding its product and appeal to the casual viewer.
From what our friend implied, it is even more alarming for TNA to hear or know that AJ is still unrecognizable by most fans after being in the company since its very first televised show.
Every check that is written by a company is an investment for the company for some given reason. Every single penny that goes into Jeff Hardy’s bank account from TNA carries with it the possibility of a the success of a main event level push for another superstar.
It can also be said that every cent spent on Styles or Joe could also be used to acquire a well known superstar that will also bring fans with him/her.
Based off of what we’ve seen and heard from TNA’s product thus far, where do you think the money has gone?
While TNA becomes well known for Hulk Hogan, recognized for a heel Jeff Hardy, and famous for landing Rob Van Dam, Hernandez, AJ Styles, Matt Morgan, and others still remain in the shadows of iniquity.
After heavily scrutinizing how we view the product, what more can be done to remedy the situation presented here?
Ideally, TNA would spend some time concentrating on grooming their stars and making them marketable to the greatest common fan. It only takes one superstar to be the bread winner of the company, and who better than any of the wrestlers that really represent what TNA stands for?
In a perfect world, TNA would put a temporary hiring freeze on anyone from the WWE seeking employment with the company. This would solve multiple problems at once:
Slowly alter the fans' notions that every WWE superstar released from the company can and should find guaranteed money in a TNA contract.
Subtly force ex-WWE stars to invest their time, talent, and skills in other wrestling promotions or independent organizations (i.e. Haas and Benjamin in ROH), hone their skills overseas, or invest in projects or interests outside of pro wrestling.
Cause TNA to focus their attention on (a) creating unique characters and gimmicks, and (b) crafting consistent, clear, and simple story lines and feuds that pull fans into the product and lead to inevitable battles in the ring, which will also cause some level of character development and maturity along the way.
Save the company from spending more money unnecessarily on contracts (Homicide was released while Orlando Jordan kept his job???).
Create a TNA identity that is clearly different from what their competition is doing and from what has already been done before.
Force TNA to comb the independents for new talent that can be groomed to be "TNA Originals" (Robbie E. is such a case despite having a crap gimmick at the moment.
THIS is the way TNA could begin to dominate the WWE in the ratings and also change our assumption that a future endeavored star will automatically end up working for the competition.
From our view, we could stand to do a couple of things to help TNA out as well:
Quit placing every future endeavored WWE star in TNA prematurely, which will help wean us from such expectations.
Spend more time lobbying for TNA Originals and fan favorites (Styles, Joe, Roode, etc.) to get screen time and attention from the bookers through our chants, crowd reaction, etc.
Talk up the need for TNA to end their check signing for ex-WWE stars via online wrestling communities, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Rally behind stars through merchandise sales (in other words, GenMe just might get some attention if sales in their t-shirts increase suddenly and consistently).
So those are just my thoughts. What are yours?