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A world of difference? Rob Van Dam wins the TNA World title…but at what Sacrifice?

April 20th, 2010 No comments

Mr. Monday Night lived up to his name.

With WWE Creative desperately scrambling (more so than usual) to come up with a show, TNA delivered one hell of a TV moment April 19, with former WWE and ECW champion Rob Van Dam defeating A.J. Styles for the TNA World title in a live Monday broadcast on Spike. Of course, in typical Eric Bischoff/Vince Russo fashion, the angle was rushed and poorly promoted, so it meant little in the way of viewers, confirmed by the 1.0 rating for iMPACT reported earlier today. The show opened with Styles crowing about his PPV win over the Pope before he was interrupted by Van Dam, who desperately needed to cut the promo of his life. RVD failed in that sense, but the crowd was so hot that they rallied behind him when he questioned whether or not Styles was still the best wrestler in the company.  This barely coherent statement seemed to finally wake up Jeff Hardy, who joined the discussion. (You know a segment may be in trouble when Styles is the best promo guy in the ring.) Hardy looked more energetic (and chubbier) than I’ve seen in a while, as he finally stated his purpose for being in TNA months after signing: to complete his collection of World titles. Hulk Hogan hit the ring and he delivered a spiel about the importance of the World title and how his championship win changed his life. Hogan applauded Styles for his reign as well as RVD and Hardy for stepping up before setting up a number-one contender’s match between the two former WWE champions. Nope–not for PPV…or even next week on iMPACT…tonight. I was thinking, “Man, oh, man….they just can’t help themselves, can they?” Then came the announcement that the winner would get the shot at the title…tonight. Mike Tenay blurted out, “You gotta be kidding me!” I hear ya, Mike.

Hogan’s deal was effective, but you can’t expect one promo to make a difference in how the championship is perceived. The World title and its holder have to be built up over time, they have to be protected. Styles has been jobbed out on TV since Hogan/Bischoff took over, so the credibility of A.J.’s reign wasn’t what it should have been heading into this segment.

Yes, Hardy vs. RVD was a fantastic match to have in progress at the top of iMPACT’s second hour as RAW opened with one of those seemingly endless Triple H promos (which was actually somewhat entertaining, thanks to the angle with CM Punk and Rey Mysterio), but I hate the accelerated pace of how even TNA’s best angles unfold. If they were hell-bent on giving us such an intriguing matchup with no promotion beyond a Bischoff  teaser “tweet” earlier that afternoon, I would argue that RVD vs. Hardy should have at least ended inconclusively (e.g., double countout) forcing Hogan to schedule a “must be a winner” rematch the following week on iMPACT. Then they could have more time to promote this classic “fans’ dream matchup” and build up the heated-yet-friendly rivalry between the two former WWE champs looking for TNA gold. The winner of that bout faces Styles in a showdown for the World strap at the Sacrifice PPV, whetting the fans’ appetite to see two stars on a collision course for the belt.

Instead, two 5-star frog splashes within a span of 60 minutes later, and RVD’s “dramatic” chase of the World title is over before it begins.  A sacrifice indeed. Yes, it was an amazing scene with RVD and Hardy celebrating the title win in a sea of confetti (red and yellow, no less) with Hogan, but at what cost? Why couldn’t they have waited a few weeks before pulling the trigger? Once again, TNA starts an angle and gives you the payoff in the same show–it’s a ridiculous formula no matter how good the execution is. Ironically enough (given recent correspondence from TNA lawyers), I’ll paraphrase Jim Cornette’s explanation of Booking 101: You put two stars on trajectories by having them both win matches. Months (or in some cases, weeks) later, the bout between the two stars is  announced. The fans go crazy: They’re finally going to wrestle and settle it once and for all…”Who is the better man?” Sure, the game has changed today, and ratings do matter. But hotshotting angles without a least a week of buildup is insane and proved to be the death knell for WCW in the long run, despite some wonderful TV moments in the ’90s.

This shouldn’t be surprising–after all, Hogan and Bischoff were the creative forces who gave away what could have easily been one of the biggest PPV buy rates of the decade just to pop a Nitro rating, when Goldberg won the WCW championship from Hulk in 1998 with less than a week of promotion for the bout. Yes, the Georgia Dome–and fans watching Nitro–went crazy when Goldberg hit the jackhammer to pin Hogan clean in the middle, but that pop was drowned out by the sound of the millions of dollars WCW flushed down the toilet that night.

In his first promo with TNA, Bischoff vowed to the fans at the iMPACT ZONE that he’d learned from his mistakes running a wrestling company. Last night was further evidence that he hasn’t, despite the inspired choice of RVD as champion.

Monday Night Musings: Eric Bischoff’s vanity project

March 23rd, 2010 4 comments

Plane as day: TNA's ratings are sure to nosedive at this rate.

I was floored that last night’s live iMPACT began with an Eric Bischoff “guitar solo” as part of the continuation of his midcard-at-best program with Jeff Jarrett as WWE kicked off its go-home show for what looks to be the biggest WrestleMania card in years. As matter of fact, with Eric “playing” in the darkened arena, at first, I didn’t even know this was iMPACT; I thought the previous program was running long. WWE has its faults, no question, but, overall, they know whom to spotlight–and when. While Shawn Michaels was in the ring on RAW delivering a promo about the most anticipated match of the year with the Undertaker, Bischoff was using TNA as his own personal highlight reel instead of spotlighting say, Jeff Hardy and RVD, two guys who if used correctly, can not only make a difference in ratings but also sell PPVs.

Fact is, while it makes sense for Jarrett to be involved in an angle with the company’s new management, it won’t sell one PPV. Not one. There’s a place for this angle, but not at the show’s opening going head to head with RAW, especially coming off the heels of a PPV. Speaking of which, if you tuned in at the beginning, you wouldn’t know the company even had a PPV the night before, with a controversial (and that’s being kind) finish to the World title match between A.J. Sytles and Abyss. Yes, the crowd at the iMPACT Zone popped when Jarrett smashed the guitar over Eric’s head, but the timing of the segment couldn’t have been any worse from a logical business standpoint.

Again, this isn’t bad booking–this is anti-booking. This is a classic example of the booker involving himself in all the key angles and programs and commanding the spotlight when it goes against good business sense. RVD and Jeff Hardy vs. Beer Money won’t mean anything if the thousands of fans who flip over to RAW during a Bischoff-heavy opening segment like this never come back to learn that about what had the potential to be a hell of a main event…which, in typical WCW fashion, was booked after the midway point of the show. TNA has some players, but they’ve got to them involved and positioned correctly if they are to compete. And their strongest asset–a quality in-ring wrestling product–was again pushed to the background in the show’s first hour with only the Knockouts tag bout (5 minutes) and the Rob Terry squash of Tomko (1 minute) featured before Mick Foley and Jarrett were “forced” to wrestle (about 15 minutes) in the second hour in one of those worthless stipulation matches where the loser is fired…which means Foley will be off TV two, maybe three weeks, tops. I hate to say it, because I still enjoy his matches, but Jarrett’s backstage segments always die…to the point that even Foley can’t save them.

We also got another bloated angle where Hogan cuts a promo saying “it’s no longer personal–just business” with Styles and Ric Flair…and then proceeds to book a steel-cage match with Team Hogan vs. Team Flair. Huh? Then Sting magically appears to handcuff Hogan to the corner. But instead of Styles and Flair getting their heat back on Abyss and the Hulkster, the Pope makes the save, and the World champion (who has been pinned clean in the middle of the ring three times on iMPACT since Jan. 4) was left laying once again. And, of course, Abyss then clotheslines the legendary Nature Boy out of his wheelchair and Dinero shoves a dollar bill down his throat. Oh, I can’t wait for Abyss and Hogan to finally get their revenge within the confines of an impersonal cage match at Lockdown. Oh, wait.

Dinero has the title shot at Lockdown, so his involvement makes sense, but his non-title win is looking a lot less impressive after Abyss and Hardy pinned the champion on consecutive weeks.

And what’s the storyline connection with Hogan and Bischoff? One’s a heel (well, most of the time) and the other is the top babyface. It’s not compelling–only confusing.

Again, it’s simply mind-boggling that RVD and Hardy weren’t involved in the opening segment to promote an intriguing main event matchup featuring two former WWE champions against TNA’s most dominant tag team in recent memory. If you’re not going to build up that matchup for a PPV, then at least give the announcers the entire show to plug it. Even worse: the main event they plugged for next week’s taped show is far less compelling, with Hardy, RVD and Eric Young vs. the Band (Nash, Hall, Waltman), who reunited at the PPV (in a finish more predictable than perhaps any swerve in TNA’s and WCW’s histories combined) and “saved” their jobs. (Yeah, like that’ll put asses in the seats.). Plus, I may have missed it, but have Hardy and RVD cut promos stating the purpose behind their TNA signings–other than wanting “to have fun” and a lighter schedule than WWE’s? Maybe it was no coincidence that Hardy had this deer-in-the-headlights look on his face as the show closed.

Monday Night Musings: TNA Impact

March 9th, 2010 1 comment

The ratings are in, and it doesn’t bode well for TNA: Raw: 3.4; TNA: 1.0

Ouch.

Chris Jericho tweeted this review of the RVD segment: “The beat down of RVD 20 seconds into his debut in TNA was mind boggling. I dont understand how so many talented people can be so clueless.” He’s got a strong point. Really, they should have had RVD scoot after the quickie win. The only logical explanation would be if RVD is somehow unable to wrestle for a few weeks because of a legit injury or scheduling conflict, so they booked the Sting attack to explain his absence. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense beyond their intense effort to get Sting over as a ruthless heel. Personally, I think Sting should have left the building after shoving Dixie aside–why would he stick around following the Hogan/Abyss attack?

 

Noticeably absent last night: Samoa Joe. Not a good sign.

If TNA shoots an angle nearly every segment, they collectively lose their effectiveness: That’s Booking 101 stuff. More wrestling–I still say that’s the key to gaining ground on WWE.

Nice to see the X Division title emphasized again–but where were the World tag-team champions? Give us something WWE doesn’t–a competitive tag scene like the ’80s and ’90s, when lots of today’s now 30-something men were teenage fans.

One bright spot from TNA last night: No segments filmed in Eric Bischoff’s “office.”

I can’t help but think Nick and Brooke Hogan will become “family characters” a la Shane and Stephanie at some point. God help us.

Actually, the segment with Brooke and Hulk last night was a lot better than it reads. OK, well, it was better than, say, this emotional backstage scene with Hogan and Miss Elizabeth from 1989 (in which the Hulkster sounds like he’s about to have an orgasm).