Last month, I had a blast attending the joint Ring of Honor/New Japan “War of the Worlds” show at the Manhattan Center. While the action was tremendous, I was also reminded of why there really is nothing like a New York City crowd. One of the more memorable moments that night inside the Hammerstein Ballroom was listening to the sold out crowd of 2,500 hardcores chant, “F*** TNA!” as A.J. Styles stood in the middle of the ring with a grin on his face like the cat that ate the canary, and Doc Gallows (another talent that TNA let slip away) cupped his hand to his ear Hogan-style and soaked it all in.
I sure hope Dixie Carter knows what she’s getting herself into.
TNA will tape several weeks-worth of television over these next three days in that very same building, eight floors above Hammerstein in the Grand Ballroom. If reports are to be believed, tickets are not selling well. In fact, they have yet to sell out even one of those shows in a building set up for just 800 people in perhaps the best pro wrestling market in the country. Taping three straight nights in one place would be a challenge for any company, let alone one struggling as mightily as TNA is of late, and they’re coming back in early August for another series of tapings. It’s a challenge they have chosen to accept, perhaps because their TV deal is due to expire in the next few months with Spike and has yet to be renewed. It’s safe to say, whatever the reason, it’s do or die for Impact Wrestling.
It’s become the cool thing to do of late to pick on TNA, to point and laugh at them like the kid in high school who gets stuffed in his locker. Hell, I’ve had more than my fair share of criticisms of TNA over the last month, much of which has been well-deserved. Coming off what I would refer to as the worst collection of TV tapings in the history of wrestling in early May, the company had no momentum whatsoever. Its owner treats the company like a vanity project week after week, the lack of good wrestling that was at one time a staple of Impact has been noticeably absent, the amount of talking has been virtually intolerable for a company that calls itself Total Nonstop ACTION, and then, there’s Willow. Not much explanation needed there, just… Willow.
But then came a small light at the end of a very dark tunnel in the form of Slammiversary. Nobody expected the show to draw very many buys because TNA largely treats its pay-per-views (of which there aren’t very many these days) as an afterthought, but the fans in Dallas that night came to have a good time and they were rewarded with a very good show. The wrestlers went out and *gasp* were allowed to actually wrestle. Kevin Von Erich applied one final claw hold to the delight of everyone in attendance in one of those magical moments that make you proud to be a wrestling fan. For one night at least, they got it right. Then came the show in Bethlehem on Thursday night. Back on the road again, TNA was blessed with another enthusiastic crowd hungry for some wrestling. For the most part, they got that, though the number of talking segments centered around the Director of Wrestling Operations, MVP, was still far too excessive. Still, the show was an improvement from recent weeks with some good wrestling, storyline progression and a new champion crowned in Lashley. All due respect to Eric Young, it was a change that needed to be made. And while it would be unfair to lay all the blame on him, the fact is that when your main event segments featuring your champion are actually losing viewers, there’s a message being sent there.
Which brings us to this week’s tapings. Having taped another set of shows in Bethlehem last Friday that have yet to air, we’re not likely to see these New York City shows for another month. I myself will be in attendance for the tapings on Friday. I’ve paid my money and am anxious to see what TNA has planned for what may prove to be its toughest audience to date. It is imperative that they go all-out to make these shows special, to make them fun and unique and above all, full of more action and less talking. The good news is they seem to recognize this and have already announced a series of appearances by some familiar faces, including Tommy Dreamer, Rhino, Low Ki and Homicide, as well as Matt Hardy who will be reuniting the Hardy Boyz team with his brother Jeff (one can only hope that spells the end of that horrid Willow character). Might we see a Hardys vs. Dudleys match one of those nights? Bully Ray was certainly teasing such a thing on his fire-breathing Twittah machine last week. TNA is also bringing in The Great Muta, resurrecting its Destination X show for the Thursday taping, and bringing back the 6-sided ring that was a core part of its identity for years until Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff dubbed it a “playpen” and did away with it in 2010. I’m no fan of the six sides (and apparently, neither is Austin Aries), but the fans voted on it and so it shall be done.
Of course, TNA can bring back all the names it wants. If Hogan, Flair, Sting, Foley, and others didn’t move the needle, I doubt that Matt Hardy or Tommy Dreamer will either. It’s not important how many sides their ring has or who they bring in so much as what they do with them, and what they do with their existing talent. The wrestlers have never been the problem with TNA. You listen to homegrown guys like AJ Styles and Frankie Kazarian, who have since left the promotion, talk about what it’s like to perform in front of 200 fans at a house show and, frankly, it’s depressing. Then you listen to them talk about meeting fans who say they would have attended the show had they known they were in town and it makes you angry. In one recent interview, Kazarian claimed that TNA uses Ryder moving trucks to transport its ring from city to city – just a basic moving truck without any sort of branding on it whatsoever. He once approached TNA management about having someone create a wrap for its trucks (with the faces of some of their biggest stars on it), not unlike what WWE does with its own trucks, and even though the person he found was willing to do the job for a reasonable price, he was rejected. Why? I’ve said for the longest time that one of TNA’s biggest is they don’t know how to properly market themselves. Is it the lack of an advertising budget or simply a lack of common sense? Even something as basic as the name of the company is confusing when TNA and Impact Wrestling are still used interchangeably. Which is it?
To their credit, TNA has done a good job of getting the word out about this week’s shows in the local market as I’ve seen Bully Ray, Eric Young and others making the media rounds. That is something that needs to happen more often if TNA has any hope of growing their brand, which sounds funny given they’ve been around for 12 years, but it’s true. It’s always been one step forward, two steps back. That has to end this week. It’s time to let guys like Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode and the X Division stars go out there and do what they do best. Let them do their talking in the ring where it belongs. And while they’re at it, I can’t think of a better place for Bully and Dreamer to put Delusional Dixie through a table than New York City. It’s an easy reaction and it gives them a ready-made injury angle to take her off television indefinitely. The sooner that happens, the better, for the sake of the on-air product.
TNA can still be the alternative that people want them to be. Lord knows they’ve had plenty of chances. I don’t know that they deserve another one, but they’ve got it. Let’s hope they make the most of it because it could be their last.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
About Jason Solomon: Jason Solomon has been host of the “Solomonster Sounds Off” wrestling podcast since 2007, which can be heard weekly on TheSolomonster.com, Stitcher Radio and iTunes! Follow him on Twitter @solomonster.