May 25, 2011

Vanilla midgets are people too

Lately there's been a lot of, shall we say, spirited discussion on TNAsylum on the subject of the X-division -- so much so that it's replaced 'The Knockouts draw/No they don't' as the hotly debated topic of choice. This seemed to have been brewing for a while, but what really kicked it off was the storyline on iMPACT of Eric Bischoff dismissing the X-division as a bunch of sawed-off runts.

There appear to be 2 schools of thought on the X-division in the fan community right now. The 1st is comprised of people who love it and want to see it featured on the show with more importance and have more time devoted to it. The 2nd dismisses the entire division as a bunch of "vanilla midgets" who should all be fired. Sometimes I wonder why there's virtually no in-between there, but that's not what we're here to talk about.

The company does seem to want to do something with the X-division, but the excuse that we always get from them is that when they do feature it on the TV show, the viewership drops. Essentially, it's the same basic excuse they always give us for why there isn't more wrestling on the show. "The wrestling just doesn't draw as much as the storylines, blah, blah, blah."

My counter-argument is and always has been the same for both excuses: if you present something like it doesn't mean anything, that's how the fans will percieve it. Maybe it's true that the X-division doesn't draw tons of viewership, but frankly, the creative team made this a self-fulfilling prophecy by treating it like an afterthought for the last several years.

When TNA first began, the X-division was its main attraction, it was the reason why people tuned in -- they sure as hell weren't watching for the main event scene (sorry, Jeff, but it's true). And back then the X-division really mattered because TNA treated it like it mattered. As a result, the fans believed it mattered. That's not the case anymore.

Part of that was a lot of the best talent the division had to offer either leaving the company or moving on to other things, like the world or tag team titles. Part of it was the infusion of more name talents, causing the company to rely less on exciting, action packed wrestling -- what the X-division delivers -- as its main selling point. One thing lead to another and we eventually arrived at what we have now, which is a division that means so little that the company never even bothered to announce the title match at the last PPV.

And now there's people around here that are saying that the X-division should just be eliminated and everyone in it should be fired. Maybe given its current incarnation I can understand how some people might think that, but please consider this: eliminating the X-division would mean killing the feeder system that produced AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Kazarian and the Motor City Machine Guns.

Even the most stubborn X-division haters seem to like those 6 guys (or at least some of them), but they fail to realize that without the X-division, most, if not all of those guys, probably wouldn't even be there. Every single one of them started their TNA/iMPACT Wrestling career in the X-division before becoming what they are now. But without the X-division as a jumping-off point, 6 of, who I consider this company's most promising present and future stars might not have even been created in the first place.

Who's to say that the X-division won't produce more people like that? There are tons of incredible talents out there with big star potential that would technically be classified as "X-division wrestlers". You eliminate the X-division, you eliminate their most expedient avenue to one day join the company.

I consider ROH's Kenny King one of the best all around talents not currently working for the Big 2 right now. King has everything: looks, wrestling ability, a marketable character, great mic skills and charisma coming out his ears. The sky is the limit for this guy, but if he were to sign with TNA, do you know where he'd probably start out? In the X-division. Because that's the style he wrestles, and yes, smartasses, because he's not 7 ft tall, 350 lbs.

Kenny Omega is another great example. Just like King, Omega has the total package, IMO. And guess what? More than likely, he'd start out as an X-division guy too for the same reasons.

So right there are 2 men with huge breakout star potential -- potential to be the next AJ Styles or the next Samoa Joe -- potential to be that next guy to graduate from the X-division and become a main event player. But if you take away the X-division, you take away the best chance they and people like them have of getting their foot in the door.

But putting aside any possible future additions to the roster, let's talk about the X-division in its current state.

Most X-division haters don't like Robbie E. In fact, most X-division fans don't like Robbie E. I agree. He sucks. As a character, he's an insufferably annoying douche bag, and not in a wow-he's-such-a-great-heel way either. The writers stuck him with a cartoon character gimmick and it's just unbearable. What's more, he's not even a particularly good wrestler either. Please kick this loser out the exit door and, for God's sake, send Cookie with him.

Honestly, I can take or leave Brian Kendrick. His character does nothing for me and I haven't been incredibly impressed with his in-ring work. Nevertheless, the guy does have the ability to be a great wrestler if he feels like pushing himself again and he can usually cut a good promo if you give him something good to say. Plus, the reaction he got at Lockdown proves that he does have supporters out there.

Max & Jeremy Buck are 2 guys that I feel could be stars if the company would just help them along. Plenty of fans were calling GenMe the new Hardy Boys long before they even signed with TNA/iMPACT Wrestling. There are tons of similarities, so I can see where that comparison comes from, but there's one key difference. Back in the day, the Hardys had the WWF's marketing department behind them and a team of people who packaged them with great ring gear, great music and paired them with one of the most popular Divas in company history so that they came off as pretty damn cool. By contrast, Max & Jeremy have generic music, generic ring gear and were on the roster for almost a year before the writers gave them anything even resembling a character or gimmick to work with. The whole presentation of them is completely bush league, and thus, they don't come off like stars. If this company got behind GenMe like the WWF did with the Hardys once upon a time, I think many of their detractors would shut their mouths. As it is, I can sort of understand the haters on this one, even if I don't agree with them.

The Suicide gimmick was based on a character from a failed video game. It's not over anymore and they clearly have no plans for it. Just ditch the gimmick and let whoever's playing the character this month be himself.

I'm just going to say it: anyone who doesn't like Amazing Red can kiss my ass. In the ring, there is no one more exciting to watch on the current X-division roster (and he's got most of the rest of the roster beat too), and yet this is the guy who seemed to spawn the "vanilla midget" moniker simply because of his size, or lack of mic skills, or whatever. More than GenMe, or really anyone else, Amazing Red is the biggest victim of this company's deficiencies when it comes to packaging talent. If presented and marketed the right way, Red could be TNA's answer to Rey Mysterio. Unfortunately, proper marketing has been one of their biggest problems for years and their presentation skills flat out suck at the best of times.

But Amazing Red could be huge if that wasn't an issue; he's always gotten over easily whenever they've pushed him in the past. And don't even bother with the "bad mic skills" argument -- Rey Mysterio can't cut a good promo to save his life and it never stopped him from becoming a big star. Do you have any idea how much money WWE has made merchandising Rey's masks? Neither do I, but I imagine it's a hell of a lot. And what about Sin Cara? If WWE could get Sin Cara over without him saying a single word, why the hell should a supposed lack of mic skills hold Amazing Red back?

That leads us to Kazarian. The man who held the X-division title until last Thursday, who claimed he was going to return the X-division to the forefront, and yet never mentions it and barely competes in it anymore. Instead, he's a part of Fortune and has been feuding with Immortal. Right now Kaz is in the same position Beer Money are in -- he's pretty much transcended his respective division and is really just a caretaker at this point until management lines up someone for him to pass the baton to (no, Abyss doesn't count). The upper midcard is calling and his days as an "X-division guy" are probably numbered.

Shannon Moore I consider a tag team wrestler, Amazing Red and Sangriento I count as the same person, and Okata has never even been added to the main roster page, so including him would be pretty generous, IMO. And that's pretty much it for the current X-division roster.

There are a couple others like Christopher Daniels and the Motor City Machine Guns, who wind up back in the X-division from time to time, but IMO they've done everything they're going to do in it and they really don't belong there anymore. Daniels has moved on the the TV title picture, and I think the last several months the Guns have spent on the shelf have really made management realize how much more valuable Sabin & Shelley are in the tag team division.

I suppose there's also Eric Young, but the less that unfunny, mugging jackass is on my television, the better off we'll all be.

So that's the current state of the X-division roster. Rather slim pickings, but it's not like there's no one there worth watching. If TNA/iMPACT Wrestling's presentation skills were up to snuff they could do plenty of interesting things with these guys.

But inevitably, the question of mic skills always comes up. Plenty of people out there think these men can't talk. Let me tell you a little story...

Back in the days of WCW, Jeremy Borash & Bob Ryder hosted an internet call in show called WCW Live. One night they had lead announcer Tony Shiavone as a guest. Something Shiavone said during this interview has stuck with me to this day. He said one of the things that held WCW back over the years was that they hadn't had very many really great talkers on their roster -- wrestlers who were great with promos.

I just shook my head at this because it was complete BS. WCW had plenty of great talkers -- aside from the examples people usually throw out there like Ric Flair and Chris Jericho, they had Mick Foley, Paul Levesque (Triple H), Steve Austin, etc. Hell, I even remember watching a pre-Edge Adam Copeland (then called Damon Stryker) work a match against Kevin Sullivan on an episode of WCW Saturday Night. WCW had lots of great talkers. The problem is they never realized it because THEY NEVER LET THESE GUYS TALK!

I'll give you a perfect example of what I mean. When Russo & Ferarra were brought in to write for WCW, one of the guys they started pushing was Hugh Morris (Bill Demott). Morris had been a career midcarder until then that the company had never really done anything with. He showed up on Nitro or Thunder now and again, but never really got storylines, feuds, or even mic time, and his only real claim to fame was being the guy Goldberg obliterated in his debut match.

Russo & Ferarra gave Morris an opportunity. Guess what happened? It turned out Morris was great on the mic! I remember watching Nitro one night and saying to myself, "If someone had told me 6 months ago that Hugh freaking Morris was one of the best interviews in this company, I would have called them a liar." Morris never got a chance to cut real promos until Russo & Ferarra put a microphone in his hand. The second he got it, WCW gained one more great talker.

And sure, not everyone is going to be a natural on the mic. Some people need to work at it. But wrestling history is filled with people who weren't great with promos at first, but got better with practice -- hell, Kazarian was pretty shaky on the mic for a long time, but he eventually improved. So the haters can talk all they want about how the X-division guys aren't great talkers, and maybe that's true. But you know what? That's never going to change unless you give them a chance to talk.

Maybe if they actually got an opportunity to practice, they'd improve like Kaz did. Maybe if they got an opportunity period they'd turn out to be able to talk just fine like Hugh Morris did. I constantly hear people saying that Amazing Red sucks at promos; how do you know? How many times in the last few years has this guy even opened his mouth?! You can't accuse someone of having no personality without ever giving them an opportunity to develop one!

Yes, some people are just no damn good at promos and probably never will be (ex. Matt Hardy), but to dismiss the X-division guys as bad talkers without giving them a chance to prove otherwise is just dumb.

Then there's the ratings issue. Company officials say that when they put an X-division match in the ring, it doesn't draw well. Gee, I wonder why... maybe because it's one guy who you've booked like he doesn't matter for years vs. another guy who you've booked like he doesn't matter for years. Who the hell expects anyone to be a ratings draw after that?! If a man wakes up from a 10 year coma, is he going to jump out of bed and start walking immediately? Of course not! His muscles have atrophied; he needs physical therapy and lots of it. The same thing applies to the X-division. These guys have been treated like they don't mean anything for so long that a lot of the audience now believes that and need to be reeducated.

You can't just put the X-division in the ring and gain people's interest. We're passed that point. You need to take all these men and rebuild them in the eyes of the fans.

Here's what I suggest: instead of just playing them off each other, try pairing each of them with a more established name they can get a rub from.

One idea I had a while back was having Matt Hardy recruit GenMe to be his disciples. Instead of denying the Hardy Boys comparison, why not use it? Sure, Matt's not great with promos by any means, but he is an established name with a loyal fanbase that could be converted into a GenMe fanbase without too much hassle. Plus, this is a pairing that makes perfect sense.

The last thing I want to do is derail Crimson's singles push, but at some point in the future, if management feels like beefing up the tag team division (not that farfetched, given the current state of it), why not pair up Amazing Red with his "little brother"? I'm actually kind of surprised this hasn't happened already. I bet those guys would make an awesome tag team, and I don't know anyone who wouldn't rather watch Red & Crimson than Hernandez & Anarquia.

Here's one that's a little out there, but it might just work: Brian Kendrick and Mick Foley. Many people have theorized that if Destination-X is an all X-division PPV like the rumors suggest, that this will be a move made by the network representative to stick it to Bischoff since he seems to hate the X-division now. If that's the case, it only makes sense for Foley to work closely with an X guy. Kendrick seems to be the leader of that group that wants to oppose Bischoff, plus, it was Foley who convinced EV2 to let Kendrick on the team during the Fortune feud last year, so there is a pre-existing connection there.

And then the most perfect match of all... pairing up Robbie E with the guy behind the counter at the unemployment office. It's a match made in heaven!

Instead of playing the X guys off each other, play them off some of the bigger stars so that when you see an X guy, an established star comes with him. Use people that are more prominent on the show to give them a rub, showing the audience that they're not worthless jobbers, that they actually mean something. And after you've reeducated the audience, THEN you can play the X guys off each other, and maybe then people will be interested enough to watch them. It's worth a shot.

Or you could just keep doing the same thing with the X-division that you've been doing for years now and keep giving us the same tired, old excuse when it doesn't work.

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