Welcome to part 2 of our compare/contrast exploration of the live event experience offered by WWE and TNA. If you missed part 1 where I talked about the WWE, you can read it here. To sum it up, the spectacle is impressive, but there's very little effort on their part to make it feel like you're appreciated as a fan.
So how did the TNA live event experience compare? Let's find out...
FIRST DIFFERENCE: The Fans
I can't tell you how refreshing this was. The WWE show left me with the impression that their fanbase was comprised largely of mindless metaphorical dogs that, like Pavlov, they had trained to bark on command. And don't even get me started on those damn annoying-as-hell kids.
In stark contrast, this show was filled with people I could honestly relate to. This was the show where I could actually talk to people about things. This one guy I met in line for autographs mentioned an AJ Styles/Kurt Angle match he remembered from almost 2 years ago; I knew just the one he was talking about, and we struck up a conversation about the MCMG/Beer Money best of 5 series, how TNA would handle Flair possibly showing up at the HOF ceremony this year, how we both felt that the writers should align Austin Aries with Bobby Roode because of their similar gimmicks and former backstage interview girl, Lauren, who we both missed since she was so good at selling storylines.
This is the kind of people that attend TNA events -- people who are actually invested in the product, who care about it for more than just superficial reasons. I was hard pressed to find anyone like this at the WWE show.
And yeah, there were a fair amount of kids there as well, but not nearly as many and not nearly as annoying. Thankfully, these were kids that were NOT so irritating that they filled me with homicidal urges. Maybe the absence of John Cena was what did it; I don't know, but whatever the reason, I was grateful for it. Another perk of TNA being the company that caters to a more mature audience.
At any rate, the best way I can put it is like this: the WWE show was filled with kids, casual viewers and fanboys, whereas the TNA event was filled with fans. Just fans. You might think there's no difference, but there is. And it's a big one.
SECOND DIFFERENCE: The Cost
You know what's great about every TNA event I've been to (including this one) that I can't say about the other company? FREE PARKING! Thanks to their choice of venues, the food is cheaper too. I actually didn't feel like I was burning a hole in my wallet before I even got inside.
And then there's the merchandise. The price of t-shirts and other such things was comparable to the WWE's stuff, but TNA has something that WWE doesn't: Don West. It's easy to see why TNA promoted this guy in the merchandise department because, I swear, he can sell anything. What's more, he makes it seem like you're getting huge deals on damn near everything they have in stock. The brown bag special he came up with for this event was so ridiculous, I couldn't fathom how the company was possibly going to profit on it -- a t-shirt, a $20.00 program, 4 $20.00 DVDs and 2 action figures, all for just $30.00. Holy crap. At the WWE show that would have cost over $100.00 easy.
THIRD DIFFERENCE: Fan Interaction
Before people were even allowed into the building, Don West came out to talk with everybody and explain all the insane deals on merchandise that we were getting. Once inside, he talked about which stars were on the card and explained how the meet-and-greet (another thing WWE didn't bother with) would work.
Beyond that, he also produced a brand new iMPACT WRESTLING t-shirt that was available for the first time anywhere; it hadn't even been put on the website or arrived at the main office yet. THEN he said that everyone who bought the AJ Styles/Jeff Hardy action figure pack would get to go backstage, meet Styles and Hardy, and get their autographs.
Later, as everyone hit the merchandise stand, West actually hung around just to talk to people, happily signing every program, t-shirt, DVD and ticket stub they put in front of him. I even got an update from him on Chris Sabin's injury and when he might be back, as well as whether this was Alex Shelley's first show back since they stopped using him on TV (it was). Seriously, if you ever go to a TNA event, go out of your way to meet Don West. He really is one of the nicest, friendliest guys you'll ever talk to.
The meet-and-greet was fantastic. WWE needs to take a lesson on how accessible their stars should be. Several tables were set up on one side of the arena where people could get autographs from Austin Aries, Christopher Daniels, Jesse Sorensen, Alex Shelley AND Gail Kim. That's just amazing.
And on the other side of the arena there was another table set up where you could get autographs and pictures taken with Velvet Sky -- I guess she got more of the star treatment since she was the home town girl.
Both lines were huge and they didn't leave until everyone got everything signed that they wanted. Add the Styles/Hardy thing on top of all that and I was already prepared to rate this far higher than the WWE event, and the show hadn't even started yet!
The WWE didn't allow their fans to meet anyone. TNA gave their fans the opportunity to meet nearly half the wrestlers on the card, plus Don West and Jeremy Borash. Advantage: TNA.
Once the stars went backstage to get ready, West warmed up the crowd for almost an hour with brown bag specials and other stuff. And once he was out of deals, he brought out a bag full of merchandise and just started throwing it into the crowd!
He also had some fun, pointing out fans wearing WWE shirts, getting the crowd to boo them. Hilarious! And then he gave them free merchandise anyway. I mean, good lord...
FOURTH DIFFERENCE: The Show
To start things off, Jeremy Borash came out to run down the show. Talk about a loaded lineup. This could have been a PPV card! While the WWE filled a good chunk of their card by trotting out the job squad from NXT and Superstars (people no one could possibly care less about), TNA hit the fans with both barrels.
This is something every TNA event I've been to has had in common. They usually try to pack these shows with a lot of the stars who are prominent on TV at the time. Yeah, WWE is in a different position, running more shows with an enormous roster -- not all of whom are big stars, let's be honest -- but it didn't stop me from feeling like I was wasting my time when they were sending so many nobodies out to the ring. Not so this time.
The show started with the X-division match: Austin Aries defending the title against Alex Shelley and Jesse Sorensen.
The crowd loved Shelley, half loved/half hated Aries, and kind of disliked Sorensen, though probably not for anything he did. I think they booed Sorensen just because he wasn't Alex Shelley, who had the crowd completely behind him.
Immediately, I felt right at home, knowing that, unlike last month, this was a crowd I actually understood.
This one match was better than anything on the WWE show (and it wouldn't be the only match of the night to accomplish this). Remember how I said that I couldn't have expected the WWE guys to kill themselves in the ring at a house show? Well, TNA gets another point in this area.
They were doing suicide dives, planchas over the top rope, everything you'd expect from the X-division on TV or PPV; they didn't tone it down one bit. Great match. Aries won with the brainbuster on Sorensen.
Next came the Knockouts title match with Gail Kim vs Velvet Sky.
Predictably, home town girl Velvet got a huge ovation. Gail got a lot of heat too, which, unlike the reaction to Eve Torres at the WWE show, I actually agreed with.
The match was better than you might expect, considering Velvet Sky was in it. I chalked this up as further proof that Gail can carry just about anyone to a good performance. The lack of interference certainly helped.
Something that's worth mentioning here -- they have a lot of fun with Earl Hebner at these shows. He gets his own entrance, he usually gets involved in the match in some way that's good for a few laughs.
You might find it silly, but the guy gets a legit reaction. TNA has turned Earl Hebner into kind of a special attraction at these live events, and I'll be damned if that t-shirt of his doesn't sell.
Next was AJ Styles vs Christopher Daniels, which I wasn't terribly interested in since the feud has been done so many time times over the years -- plus, I'd already seen this match as a previous house show -- but it won me over in a hurry.
This was another one that beat anything the WWE show had to offer. I was actually surprised with how stiff some of the shots were. They were really wailing on each other at times, which I hadn't expected. Another great bout. AJ wins with the Styles Clash.
Post-match, Daniels jaw jacked with a fan at ringside and pretended to get into a fight with him, then told the referee to hold him back while kind of hiding behind the ref instead. This was hysterical!
After this was Bully Ray vs Rob Van Dam. Before the match, Ray cut a promo, reminding us why he's one of the best heels in the business today, insulting 5-year-old kids and a fat woman in the front row.
No one was safe from this guy, and it was awesome. He even managed to fit some jokes in there. Jokes that were actually funny (take note, R-Truth).
The match didn't blow me away, but it was entertaining. Van Dam put some effort in here, probably because he was wrestling one of his ECW buddies. He got all his crowd-pleasing spots in (Van Daminator, etc) and eventually Ray won by nailing him with a chain while the referee was down.
And they didn't do the typical face-gets-his-heat-back-after-the-match spot that's so typical of house shows, which, considering it's RVD and how entertaining Bully Ray was, put a smile on my face.
FIFTH DIFFERENCE: Intermission
You know what the WWE did during their intermission? NOTHING! It was essentially, "We need time to set up the steel cage. Everyone take a piss break and come back in 20 minutes." But TNA didn't allow a lull in their show for one second. Don West immediately came back out with even more deals. First, he offered up a limited edition glow-in-the-dark Jeff Hardy action figure, only 3,000 of which were ever made.
Then he said that since Earl Hebner had refereed his 100,000th match just last week, that they were not only selling the Earl Hebner 'Damn right I did!' t-shirt for $15.00 off the normal price, but if you bought one right now, they had a table set up where Earl and Brian Hebner would autograph it for free. So, yeah, I bought one. I'd been debating whether or not to pick one of those up, but with a deal like that, I was sold.
While this was going on, Don West hung out with people at ringside, again signing autographs and talking football with people. He made some cracks about Tim Tebow, which were mostly lost on me since I don't follow football, but were still funny.
The show resumed with the double main event. When Jeff Hardy and Bobby Roode came out first, I had a feeling I was going to like the outcome of this one.
The match was very good, made much better by the conclusive pinfall finish. And something else I
I won't lie; it kind of depressed me to see so many people so into Jeff Hardy at this show. I tried to stir up support for Roode, but (not for the first time that night) found myself on the losing side of one of TNA's infamous dueling chants. Picture hundreds of people chanting, "Let's go, Hardy!" vs me, by myself, chanting, "Let's go, Bobby!" You can't win them all, I guess...
Finally it was time for Kurt Angle vs James Storm. Having seen this in person, I will seriously raise hell if TNA drops the ball on James Storm's push, and not just because he was giving out free backstage passes, (which they were doing all night, BTW).
The match was a little slow in the beginning, with Angle trying to avoid the superkick, until finally Storm grabbed a mic and asked Angle if he was afraid of a beer drinker after that little situation he found himself in a while back. This was pretty funny, but afterward some people in the crowd
I would probably rate this higher than some of their PPV matches, even if it was shorter than them. Something I loved about it was how they involved the fans in this match. Storm got a beer from a fan at ringside and blasted Angle in the face with it, then got a kid in the front row to put his foot up on
This was a really fun match. At one point, Angle spewed beer in Storm's face, leading to some nice nearfalls. Storm kicked out of Angle's superkick and eventually won with his own.
James Storm stuck around and they announced that for $20.00 people could get in the ring and have their picture taken with him. TNA always does this to close their live events and it's by far one of the coolest parts IMO.
So after I got my picture with Storm, I went and got an autograph from Jeremy Borash, who just came back to hang out with the fans at ringside. I have several DVDs that are running out of autograph space after this show.
And there was one final thing, that might not seem like a big deal to you, but totally made my day. As the crowd was clearing out and they were starting to take the set down, I tried to get one more picture of Storm before he left the ring. I was maybe 30 ft away. The man actually saw me and posed for the picture. Wow.
This is the biggest difference between the WWE and TNA. When you see the WWE live, they tell
you you're appreciated, but when you see TNA live, you feel appreciated.
The TNA roster and crew go out of their way to accommodate the fans, to make sure they have the time of their lives. The WWE's mindset seems to be that if you have fun, great, but if you don't, they already have your money, so it doesn't really matter that much.
And so, with the match-up of WWE vs TNA for the title of Best Live Events now at its conclusion, TNA gets the decisive pinfall victory following a top rope powerbomb through a flaming table. Seriously, this wasn't even a contest. TNA offered lower prices, better matches, a much more fun fan atmosphere, infinitely superior interaction with the stars...
You know what the WWE had that was better? A bigger crowd and a bigger set. That's it.
My advice to you if you're a wrestling fan looking at the live event schedule for both companies: go with TNA. It might not have all the glitz and glamour, but you'll pay less money for a better, more enjoyable show, and at the end of the day, you really can't beat that.