August 15, 2011

If it's broke... fix it

Let's face it, TNA/iMPACT WRESTLING isn't perfect. Far from it. The problems are glaring and numerous. The booking, advertising, PPVs, etc. -- all incredibly flawed, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. But more frustrating than the flaws themselves is the company's inability, or often their refusal, to do anything about them.

That's not always the case, however. There are (rare) occasions when company officials recognize a key weakness in the product and do what they can to correct it. This doesn't happen as often as I'd like, but it does happen. The most recent example of this is the X-division.

About every 6 months for the last several years, the company has issued a statement that they were planning to "refocus on the X-division" or "return the X-division to the forefront" or something else to that effect. Every single time it turned out to be a pack of lies and the X-division continued to be an afterthought.

However, something seemed to change recently. With Destination-X being an X-division exclusive PPV, the company actually gave the X-division the spotlight for once, and the result was easily the best PPV they've produced since Hogan & Bischoff showed up. Granted, that isn't saying very much, but still...

Since then, we've seen an increase in the amount of time devoted to the X-division on TV. While their screen time is still comparatively small when you consider how much is devoted to other things, the X guys have had more match time and promo time lately, and that's a big step in the right direction.

Then came the announcement that the company was looking to hire several new talents in an effort to rebuild the X-division roster with fresh faces following several departures in the last few months. Said fresh faces have already debuted at the latest TV tapings, so company officials aren't dragging their feet on making good on their promise this time. I don't know why they couldn't have done this several years ago, but better late than never. Judging from the spoilers, I'm quite pleased with how things seem to be going. The company saw there was a problem and they took steps to fix it.

But that isn't the only problem they need to consider. Aside from the usual horrible booking and the Sting/Joker nonsense, IMO there are 3 key weaknesses in the television product at the moment, and unfortunately, each one has to do with something TNA/iMPACT WRESTLING is quite fond of boasting about.

1. The X-division -- this is being addressed thankfully.
2. The tag team division.
3. The Knockout division.

"TNA/iMPACT WRESTLING has the best tag team division in the world."

How often do we hear someone say this? Pretty much every week. The problem is it's not really true anymore. Let's be clear on something -- until this year, the company did have a good argument for their tag team division being the best in the business, but that was pretty much entirely because of 2 reasons: Beer Money and the Motor City Machine Guns. Those guys do tag team wrestling better than any other teams they've got and better than just about any other team in the business I could name. The problem is that none of the other current teams in the company are on their level, meaning that without Beer Money and the Guns, this tag division sucks.

Why do you think the tag division was so great last year? Because it was built around the 2 best teams they had. It was because the MCMG were awesome champions, who actually had a well-booked title reign with several great feuds. But once they lost the belts, things changed pretty quickly.

Even with Beer Money as the champs, look at how much this division has declined since the Guns were taken off the table due to injuries. That's no coincidence. Then there's the issue of Beer Money becoming less involved in the tag division as they've grown more focused on other things, and with an impending split on the horizon for Storm & Roode, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

The Guns will be back eventually when Sabin returns from his knee injury, but until then this company has a problem on its hands, because without the Guns, without Beer Money, it leaves them with very little to work with as far as tag teams are concerned. There's the British Invasion and Ink Inc (when Jesse Neal returns from his injury. Sensing a pattern here?), who are generally solid teams with a fanbase, and then there's Mexican America, who are terrible. And that's pretty much it.

All due respect to the Brits and the mohawk boys, but that's not going to carry a division, especially not if the insufferable Hernandez/Anarquia continue to get pushed. You never know when those 2 careless pricks will injure someone else in the ring.

Something needs to be done to fix this. What puzzles me is why the company hasn't realized that yet, since they seem to be so adamant that they want a strong tag division.

There's a number of ways they could remedy this issue:

-Since it doesn't look like either guy will be getting a main event push in the near future, they could reform the AJ Styles/Christopher Daniels tag team, or maybe pair one of them with Kazarian. In fact, all things considered, that would probably be the best option.

-Another possibility that seems to have a lot of support is pairing up new signees Tony Nese & Jesse Sorensen. Sure, they're new and being put in the X-division right now, but they displayed good chemistry in their Destination-X qualifier with Jack Evans last month and there's enough new X-division talent debuting soon that they could be a lot more useful as a team, at least in the short term.

-I still think they could get some legit mileage out of James Storm & Alex Shelley.

-If they felt like looking outside the company for new tag teams, they could give Los Ben Dejos a shot. Admittedly, I've never seen those 2 in the ring, so I don't know what kind of workers they are, but they've had more than one tryout, and while they haven't been signed yet, officials seem to like them enough to periodically bring them back for another look.

-Or, if you were looking for ready-made tag teams that don't need any development and are good to go right now, you could take a look at ROH. Though, with them scoring their new TV deal, they're probably locking their talent into longer term contracts now, so that might not be a viable option at this point.

So that right there gives you a number of options to keep your tag division interesting until Chris Sabin is healthy and the Machine Guns can reform.

The Knockout division is a bit different. At least with the tag and X-divisions there are fresh feuds you can create. With the Knockouts that's going to be harder because the main problem with the women's division is that it's become stale due to the fact that it's essentially been the same women in the same spots, feuding with the same people for a long damn time now.

Mickie James is currently feuding with Winter, who she already had a lackluster feud with in the last company they worked for. Velvet Sky is feuding with ODB, as if we haven't seen that about 10,000 times already. And I swear, this thing with Madison Rayne and Tara feels like it's been going on since time began.

Much like with the X-division, the only real way to fix this is to make roster changes. In this case, both cuts and additions need to be made.

A few months ago, company officials finally seemed to realize how spare the Knockout roster had become in the last year and decided to remedy the problem, not by signing some of the numerous independent talents they had given tryouts to, but by bringing back ODB and Jackie Moore. This has only made the problem worse.

There were good reasons why TNA stopped using these women in the first place. With Jackie it was because her time in the company had simply run its course. The fact that she's pushing 50 probably had something to do with it too. With ODB, it seemed the writers had simply run out of ideas for her, which is not hard to imagine since her character is painfully one-note. As a face, she's a foul-mouthed funny drunk, as a heel, she's a foul-mouthed angry drunk; that's pretty much all she's got. There really isn't a huge variety of things you can do with a character like that. Eventually they just stopped using her and she asked for her release, citing unhappiness with the direction the division had taken. Though, to be fair, I can hardly blame her for that; the lockbox challenge angle easily ranks among the stupidest things this company has ever done.

Let me spell this out for you, if the creative team had exhausted all good story possibilities for these characters the last time they were on the payroll, bringing them back was probably not going to solve anything. And it hasn't.

What happened when they came back? They were put in a feud with Velvet Sky. Good grief, how many freaking times have we seen ODB feud with Velvet Sky?! I don't care if the face/heel roles are reversed this time -- that doesn't make this interesting and it doesn't mean they're suddenly going to start producing good matches together either. Couldn't they just feud with Sarita & Rosita instead? At least that would be something we haven't seen before.

But the roster of women is only part of the problem. The more obvious problem is, unsurprisingly, the creative end. Simply put, the storylines suck, the feuds are repetitive and go on far longer than they should, and they've got too many of the wrong people in the wrong spots.

Madison Rayne, the second worst female worker on the roster, was at the top of the division for an entire year despite the fact that she never delivered a single match worth talking about and never got over AT ALL. Her feud with Mickie James was dragged out for so long that the finish ended up feeling very anticlimactic because there wasn't a worthy payoff after months and months of build up. Don't get me wrong, it was incredibly satisfying to see Madison get beat in humiliating fashion at Lockdown, but they never had any good matches prior to that and the title change was met with dead silence from the live audience due to the fact that Madison had been the most ineffective heel champion in any company in recent memory and had never gotten over despite getting pushed to the moon for a year straight.

And what did the creative team do now that they had Mickie James, the most popular female performer in the industry as the Knockouts champion? They put her in the back seat so she could play second fiddle to Velvet Sky, the only female worker they have that is actually worse than Madison Rayne.

Yeah... I don't get it either.

While that was going on, Madison continued to feud with Tara, and in fact, is STILL feuding with Tara, as if that program hadn't gotten stale ages ago. And as for Mickie's current program with Winter, while it may be a fresh feud in TNA, the problem is that we already saw them feud in WWE, in a rivalry that I don't think made very many people anxious for a repeat performance.

And let us not forget the worst offense in all this. Perhaps the biggest potential angle that could have possibly been done in the Knockout division was the breakup of the Beautiful People. Velvet & Angelina had been partners for years. They'd been together in a very prominent stable for so long that a breakup could have been, and for all intents and purposes should have been huge, if done right.

This breakup practically wrote itself. It could have been because Velvet was tired of always being in Angelina's shadow, or because Angelina was tired of Velvet holding her back. You know, real reasons, tangible reasons that had some weight to them and would actually resonate with the audience. It was so incredibly simple.

Instead, they broke up when Winter turned Angelina into a drugged-out zombie because she believed her and Angelina were lovers in a past life.

That's right... the Beautiful People broke up because of a time traveling lesbians angle.


So, yeah, the Knockout division isn't exactly the best it's ever been at the moment.

I could go on. I could talk about the ridiculous notion of pushing Velvet Sky as a top babyface and why it's completely ludicrous, but I've already covered that ad nauseam in the weekly iMPACT reviews. Instead, I'm going to propose a hypothetical storyline that I think could solve just about all the problems with this division right now -- the lack of fresh talent, the stale feuds, the boring storylines -- all in one angle.

We'll give them some time to wrap up all the current storylines and begin this on the first show after Bound For Glory. All the Knockouts are told to gather in the ring, but they aren't told why. This includes, Jackie, ODB and Traci, as I'm assuming they're going to be back on the roster officially by this time. Once all of them are assembled in the ring, some unfamiliar music hits the loudspeaker, the house lights go out and 5 women appear on the stage under a spotlight. It doesn't really matter who these new arrivals are, but since it's my blog, I'll say they're independent wrestlers, Jennifer Blake, Serena Deeb, Athena, Portia Perez and Nicole Matthews.

These 5 women enter the ring and the production is giving them the superstar treatment. They've got custom-made ring gear, kick-ass music, a great entrance with lights, lasers, everything.

The Knockouts what to know what this is all about. Athena tells them that the Network was pleased with the company's efforts to rebuild the X-division and now it's turning its attention to the next item on the agenda, and that's the Knockout division. She says they all like to boast about how TNA/iMPACT WRESTLING has the best women's division in the business, but the Network doesn't see it that way anymore. In fact, the Network thinks that the Knockouts have become kind of boring. The Network has gotten tired of seeing the same women having the same matches every single week, and they're sick of waiting for company officials to get off their butts and do something about this, and that's where the 5 of them come in. They're here to figure out which members of the current Knockout roster aren't pulling their weight, to cut the cord on them and take their place.

Velvet Sky says this is a load of crap. The Knockouts may not all get along, in fact, a lot of them flat out hate each other, but they've all earned the right to be there and they're not going to just stand aside while 5 poseurs waltz in off the street and try to take their jobs.

Cutting her off, Jennifer says that, unfortunately for all of them, that's exactly what's going to happen.

Madison Rayne then speaks up, saying that for the first time in her life, she actually agrees with Velvet. She says these new girls are talking pretty tough considering there's only 5 of them and a whole lot more on the home team. She asks what's to stop the Knockouts from taking them apart right now and sending them home in pieces.

Serena asks Madison if she's been listening to a single word they said. They're here because the Network wants them here. The Network doesn't feel the same way about the current Knockouts anymore. If they think they all deserve to be there, they're going to have to prove it.

This would kick off a storyline which would involve all the Knockouts having to put aside their past differences and rivalries, and band together against a common enemy. A series of matches would follow where the Knockouts would be pitted against these 5 newcomers, with their performances determining which of them would get to keep their jobs and which of them would be replaced.

So the Knockouts would all have to become a team to drive these women back. They think that by doing this, none of them will be fired. But these new women prove to be formidable opponents and can't be beaten easily. The more talented Knockouts or those who have more to offer are deemed safe, so their spots on the roster are not in danger and some of the new women are out of luck. Eventually, though, not all of them make the cut, and the field is narrowed down until the Network decides that ODB, Jackie and Madison Rayne are on the bubble. They are given one final chance to prove themselves, and this leads to a 6-person tag match on PPV where they are ultimately defeated.

ODB, Jackie and Madison Rayne are then cut from the roster. They are replaced by 3 of the new arrivals -- which 3 doesn't really matter here as any of them would be fine additions IMO. Let's just say it's the 3 that have gotten over the most.

I've made no secret of the fact that I thought bringing back ODB and Jackie Moore was pointless. Like many veterans who are getting on in years, Jackie would be better served in a backstage role at this point, and the novelty of ODB's character had worn off long before her last run in this company came to an end.

And don't even get me started on Madison Rayne again. I've been over this and over this so many times, and there is nothing anyone can say that's going to convince me this woman is worth keeping around. After the interminable, mammoth push she received, she has virtually nothing to show for it. She doesn't deliver good matches, every single promo she cuts sounds like she's doing a cheap Vickie Guerrero impression and (I know I sound like a broken record by now, but...) she still has not managed to get over in the slightest. The Madison Rayne experiment has failed. The @#$%ing end.

So 3 of the current Knockouts are now gone, replaced by 3 women from the indies who have much more to offer. The Network decides that it's satisfied with the changes and steps back, leaving a radically different Knockout landscape where, as a result of them all teaming up against the newcomers, the face/heel roles have now been rebooted. Essentially, they were all faces against the women the Network brought in -- now that the ordeal is finished, some of them can remain faces when they weren't before, others can turn heel when they weren't before, new alliances, partnerships and character dynamics that didn't exist previously now factor into storylines, etc.

And that's just with the existing roster. Once you add in the 3 new talents, you have a very different talent pool that offers many new story possibilities and match ups that you didn't have before, giving you a division that IMO would be FAR more interesting.

When you think about it, this is really not that much different than what just happened with the X-division. A bunch of people left and they were replaced with new talent. The only difference is this way you make a story out of it.

Would these suggestions solve all the problems with the product right now? Of course not. Problems will continue to arise as long as the current creative regime is still writing the show. But this would at least make the product more interesting than what we currently have as far as I'm concerned.

1 comment:

Albrittonprimus2k4 said...

I agree with everything stated in your blog, and I've also added some tweaks to your Knockout storyline: have the 5 new Knockouts face the 5 stale ones on PPV in a 10-woman elimination match in which the losing team loses their standing within the company. The new girls win with only one sole survivor after the stale Knockouts give one "last gasp" in order to save their jobs. Also, I suggest that Velvet Sky, Madison Rayne and Traci could have a new lease on life--as valets, of course.