Breaking the Pattern
Stop me if you've heard this one...
The top heel and/or faction has defeated every young babyface on the iMPACT WRESTLING roster who has dared to challenge them, their reign of tyranny continues unabated, all hope seems lost when all of a sudden the lights go out. The lights come back on and it's THE ICON STING returning from his self-imposed exile, riding back on his white horse with his big black bat to save TNA from the clutches of its evil oppressors! He descends upon every heel in sight, effortlessly disposing of them in a matter of seconds, doing what every other babyface in the company couldn't, and promises that brighter days are right around the corner because he's the hero TNA deserves AND the hero it needs, damn it!
You've heard it before, haven't you? Yeah. Now ask yourself how many times you've heard it...
Hint: Don't try counting with your fingers. You don't have enough.
This is something I alluded to recently, but it bears repeating. How many times since Sting first came to TNA years ago have we seen this exact same scenario play out? There have been variations, sure. Often times it involves Hulk Hogan, either with Sting or against him, but at the end of the day it's basically like watching the same old angle we originally experienced in WCW in the late 1990s play on an endless loop. It was exciting back then. These days it seems... counterproductive.
I'm not going to go into all the reasons why TNA continuing to tap the Sting/Hogan well until long after it's bone dry is an unwise decision. We've been over that before countless times already. Suffice it to say, there comes a point where TNA keeping them in this spot, having them be forever untouchable, protecting them to such a degree that they can't properly or effectively put over any young stars and no one else is ever perceived as being on their level stops fostering your company's growth and starts hindering it.
Case in point: Bully Ray. Our top heel and world champion, but maybe I should put an asterix next to that title now because it's hard to say it without sniggering just a little after the closing segment of the 4/25/13 edition of iMPACT. Really, what would have been so horrible about Bully Ray and Hulk Hogan coming to blows only for Bully to easily cut down the half-crippled 60-year-old general manager?
Would it have been a crime for the heels to overpower the two old-timers simply because they outnumber them a whopping 4-to-1? Does Hogan really lose anything in that situation? Of course not! He's Hulk Hogan, people will cheer for him no matter what and that's never going to change. But you already established that he's walking into the lion's den by confronting Bully Ray, so what's wrong with actually letting that play out realistically?
Bully destroying Hogan would've garnered him mega heel heat which, as the world champion and supposed linchpin of this storyline, he kind of needs. But when a couple of slow, feeble-looking punches are all it takes to make Bully run for cover and call in the troops, you're basically forcing him to flush his badass cred down the toilet and admit that the man who just defeated Jeff Hardy and all his Creatures in a Full Metal Mayhem match is nothing before the might of Hulkamania, brother! Hell, the only thing missing at that point was John Willams' Superman theme.
Here, allow me...
Then the Aces & 8s approach en masse only for Sting to reappear and easily dispose of this faction (who, for the last several weeks had destroyed every top babyface that was thrown at them) that we're supposed to buy into as one of the biggest threats TNA has ever faced, rendering all the work TNA had put into building the group up and getting them over since Lockdown utterly meaningless.
Forgive my bluntness, but how on earth does this help anyone or anything not named Sting or Hogan? It doesn't. You neutered your world champion and top heel faction, and by extension every babyface they previously disposed of, in several cases multiple times. Apparently the Aces & 8s were pretty darn easy to take out, and yet guys like James Storm, Samoa Joe, Magnus, Eric Young, Joseph Park, Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy couldn't come close to doing it themselves. And why? Because they're not Sting or Hogan.
Lather, rinse, repeat...
Getting off topic for a second here, but do you remember years ago when WWE was trying to get over and elevate a hot young rookie named Brock Lesnar? They had this crazy idea to give him a rub by putting him in the ring with Hulk Hogan. And did they have Hogan prevail against the man they'd anointed as the Next Big Thing simply because he's Hulk Hogan, brother? No. Brock Lesnar kicked Hulk Hogan's ass. And guess what? IT WORKED!
Back on topic now...
I have nothing against Steve Borden personally. Back in the 1990s I thought Sting was the coolest man alive. But the 1990s were a long time ago. In 2013 he and Hogan have become a crutch that TNA seems legitimately terrified to walk without. Do they still draw? Sure, they do. But the fact that Sting and Hogan are still getting the biggest pops on your show at this stage of the game only proves that the company hasn't effectively pushed and created new stars that can stand toe-to-toe with them. By protecting them to such an extreme degree you've prevented everyone else on your roster from reaching their full potential.
What is TNA going to do when Sting and Hogan leave the company someday and they're suddenly left with a bunch of up-and-comers who aren't the draws they should be because they were never pushed to the level they should have reached a long time ago out of fear of sullying the legacies of the Immortal One and the Icon? Then you've got no big draws, no one to get the massive pops, and you've pretty much well and truly screwed yourself.
And even if this leads to Sting putting over Bully Ray at Slammiversary on June 2 it won't really matter. The damage has already been done. Besides, I'd expect any Bully victory on that show to come with another asterix next to it similar to the one next to Bobby Roode's victory at Slammiversary last year -- the one that stands for 'Yeah, technically he defeated Sting and retained the world title, buuuuuuuuut...'
And in the event that Bully Ray does defeat Sting, even if he goes on to ultimately lose the world title to AJ Styles at Bound For Glory like many are predicting, does anyone really think that's going to change anything? Sting passing the torch (cough) to AJ at BFG 2009 didn't exactly signify the beginning of a new era in the company with Sting stepping down from his perch to let the young guys spread their wings like a lot of fans thought it would. Not long after that he was right back at the top of the mountain. Why should we expect anything different this time? Because of the stipulation that Sting can never again challenge for the world title if he loses? Phhhhhhh. Do you honestly think they wouldn't find a way out of that if they wanted to? Come on now...
The closing moments of iMPACT 4/25/13 should tell you everything you need to know. With all the top heels completely embarrassed and retreating like little girls, TNA shows us what we're really meant to be paying attention to: Sting and Hogan. More specifically, Sting pointing his bat at Hogan. Because the tease of a possible reigniting of a rivalry so old that it's about to overtake Wyle E. Coyote and the Roadrunner is more important than the heel faction the company just invested almost a year of TV time into, certainly more important than the world heavyweight championship...... oh, and the TV title. Remember when the TV title was a thing?
The recent return of Abyss and how well he was put over gave me a tiny glimmer of hope that change could be on the horizon. But still, that was one segment on one show, and it doesn't stack up very well when compared to TNA's long history of taking the other (re. safe) approach, and relying mainly on the established stars and veterans to save the day when all the young talent wasn't up to the task.
Simply put, TNA placing Sting and Hogan on a pedestal above everyone else and refusing to unseat them for any reason has locked this company in a pattern that they need to break out of for their own good. Personally, I think this is doable, but it has to be done the right way. If TNA management don't want to knock them off the pedestal, then perhaps they could take a step to the side so they could share it with someone.
The idea is quite basic really. Instead of the tired old 'pass the torch and step down' trope that by now is pretty obviously not in the cards unless they either leave the company of their own accord or simply drop dead, you have them assume a different type of role. Change them from the biggest stars and heroes of TNA into martyr figures, something more symbolic through which new heroes and stars can be created. But it would have to be done very shrewdly and subtly, taking care not to damage the egos of those involved and not be completely screwed up to the point where management hits the panic button and resets the status quo.
To be continued...