Clothes don’t always make the man
While I’m pleased to see Ric Flair give A.J. Styles the superstar rub, the Nature Boy gimmick is not exactly tailor-made for the TNA World champion. Although, much like Flair in the ’80s, Styles is certainly one of the top in-ring performers of his era, A.J.’s innate personality doesn’t exactly exude that of a kiss-stealing, wheeling-dealing, limousine-riding, jet-flying son of a gun. (Painful to watch the new Little Naitch recite that line last night on Impact.) The Nature Boy gimmick clicked with Ric because it fit him as well one of those tailor-made suits from Michael’s in Kansas City that the NWA World champ used to crow about it in the old WTBS Studio.
If the angle had been slowly played out with a subtle, serious transformation of Styles into the gimmick, A.J. might have had a shot at pulling it off. But the whole angle with Flair/Styles feels rushed and forced, but that’s to be expected with guys like Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff, who have very little understanding of effective storytelling and psychology. Worse…with A.J.’s Southern accent and over-the-top delivery, the new Nature Boy gimmick came off like comedy, much like referee Charles Robinson’s transformation into Little Naitch in WCW years back. The Robinson stuff was hilarious because he was a small guy and legit Flair fan living out his fantasy–great TV. But this is your TNA World titlist, the wrestler whom many fans identify as the face of the promotion…the champion you’re trying to help get to the next level as bonafide superstar. I understand the problem: as a babyface, A.J.’s a little vanilla; as a heel, he comes off as a goofy redneck. The pairing with Flair is an inspired idea but the hokey execution was way off the mark. When it’s played for laughs, there’s no way Styles can fill Flair’s alligator shoes, so he loses whatever benefit he might receive by associating with the 16- (18-?, 20-?) time World heavyweight champion. Here’s hoping Styles is a little more subtle and in control in his next promo as “the Champ.” (Having Flair rip off A.J.’s wedding ring from around his neck would be a nice touch: “You won’t be needing this anymore. Wooo!”) I would have built Flair’s influence over A.J. like a slow-simmering fire that gradually reached its boiling point after about two months. Instead, TNA tries to instantly repackage Styles into something he’s not.
Speaking of instant-gratification booking, even I was surprised they’d have yet another Styles/Angle title bout on free TV last night. Never mind the stip at Genesis that stated Angle could not wrestle for the championship again in 2010 if he lost–Hogan “changed his mind.” Geez. There went months of a possible slow, compelling buildup with Angle trying to goad Styles into another title match on PPV–all sacrificed to pop a rating for one night. (That’s the kind of short-sighted booking that buried WCW.) Even worse: another rehash of the Montreal Screwjob (the Orlando Screwjob?). My God, what a shit finish that was. Even more incredulous: Tenay and Tazz don’t even bother to show a replay of whether or not Angle submitted–instead a bloody Bisch comes out to no reaction to close the show. This does not bode well for TNA. As Santayana said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”