Welcome to the May edition of the Spin Cycle, TNAsylum's roundtable column discussing the main topics in TNA Wrestling. Because today is the 3-Year Anniversary of TNAsylum, this month's team consists of four writers who have been with the site from the beginning.
Talon- TNAsylum Owner
JSO- TNAsylum Editor-in-Chief
FK9- Writer of "Straight Shooting"
Chris Regal AKA Shelbin- TNAsylum Interviewer
Let's take this for a spin...
IMPACT Wrestling is scheduled to move back to 9/7c on May 30th. What are your thoughts on this move? How much impact do you think the move will have on the declining viewership/ratings?
Talon: Anybody who checks the 2012 rating section of this site can see that there was an audience dropoff when TNA went an hour earlier on May 31st. While this was a dropoff, I don't think it was really significant. I am guessing that while it hurt the audience for a short period, a good number of fans found the new timeslot.
Spike moved TNA up an hour to have TNA be the lead-in to Bellator. With Bellator now on Wednesday's and TNA taking a hit in the ratings, they assume (or TNA is selling to them) that the viewership will go back on. I am thinking there will be a small boost (of maybe 150,000 viewers) but not as significant as we want it to be.
The facts are that the current product is not catering to the audience that was lost. I don't know if they are presenting a TV show that compels fans to tune in every week. While competition and other factors can be blamed, it pretty much lies with TNA creative on fixing the issue.
JSO: Obviously it was a necessary move. No matter how much TNA tried to tout the higher availability of viewers in the 8pm time slot, the first hour always got off to a poor start and averaged ridiculously low numbers every week. And that was in conjunction with IMPACT going live (and on the road) as well as hyping the shows in advance.
Viewers were tuning in late or watching something else, along with a slew of other theories that have been well documented. TNA and Spike pretty much had no other choice but to switch back to 9pm to try to turn things around. The move should be able to boost the viewership/ratings considerably but not so much that it proves to be a difference maker.
The biggest factor for the declining numbers, in my opinion, is the slow-burn creative direction. All the technical changes to the show have been great, but the booking on each episode can oftentimes leave a lot to be desired. The hardcore viewers have mixed feelings about the current product while the casual viewers aren’t really compelled to tune in every week – that much has become evident. So I think it’s a combination of the time slot and more creative juice that will produce better results.
FK9: This needed to happen. TNA were being good partners to SpikeTV in going to 8pm to accommodate Bellator, but it just wasn't a good move for them. The lead-in helped Bellator a bit, but the hit iMPACT's viewership took pretty much canceled that out. Try as they might, they couldn't make that first hour work; people just weren't tuning in. The 9-11pm slot was and is the best timeslot for iMPACT.
That said, it would be naive to think that going back to 9pm will solve all the company's current ratings woes. The timeslot was only part of the problem -- there's also the issue of creative -- but at the very least it should help stop the bleeding and that's a start. I'm expecting a small uptick in viewership, not a huge one, but whatever gets those numbers going up again is a step in the right direction.
Shelbin: On a personal level, I hated the move to 8PM so I'm glad to see SpikeTV doing the right thing by moving Impact back to its original timeslot. From a ratings standpoint, I won't pretend, unlike others, to know what it is that causes the ratings to fluctuate from year to year so it's hard to pinpoint how much the move to 8PM affected the viewership. Here's what we do know, however - upon moving to 8PM, there was an immediate decline in viewership, particularly in the first hour. The decline was noticeable due to one simple fact - even at its worst, Impact's quarter hours in its original timeslot rarely ever drew less than a 0.9, if ever. To see the show consistently draw a rating as low as a 0.7 in the 8PM hour, I think it's fair to say that the move was, at least, partially responsible. I suppose we will soon find out how much of a factor the move was but I'd be very surprised if the viewership didn't improve after May 30, especially since viewers typically come home and settle in later in the day during the Summer months.
JSO: I'm looking forward to this year's Slammiversary. Every match announced thus far has a solid backstory, and the wrestlers involved are sure to deliver some great performances for the Boston crowd. Unlike Lockdown, the Slammiversary card has been built up much better all across the board.
Sting/Bully has been brewing for a long time and with the recently added stipulations, it’s now a high-stakes main event between two guys who are so comfortable in their respective roles. Angle/Styles should be another stellar match in their storied history, except this time you have the dynamic of Styles’ darker character and a submission move to counter the Ankle Lock.
The tag title elimination match should finally settle the score between the same three teams for the past six months, plus Storm is back in the tag ranks with the returning Gunner. Park/Devon could possibly involve something with Abyss and lead to a title change that would at least feel refreshing at this point. Ultimate X should be a fun match and might be a way to write Sabin out of the X Division without getting pinned. Gail/Taryn should also be a decent Knockouts match to cap off their feud. All in all, it looks like a fantastic show.
FK9: I have mixed feelings. It's certainly not the worst card they've put together, but it's far from the best. And when you're only doing four big PPVs a year, anything less than the absolute best is just not good enough. At least they've spared us Robbie E and Rob Terry this time (so far)...
-Gail Kim vs Taryn Terrell- The two women the Knockout division has been focusing on since Lockdown instead of the Knockouts champion. If that's not an indictment of what management must think of Velvet Sky as the (now former) title holder, I don't know what is. TNA have been doing a good job of trying to get Taryn over. I do question whether, at her current skill level, she should be getting a spot like this, but she does appear to be working hard to deserve it. Plus, it's a fresh Knockout match-up that we haven't already seen 1,000 times before and that's a very rare thing these days. On that basis, I'm okay with the match, but I can't say I'm excited for it.
-Ultimate-X: Kenny King (c) vs Chris Sabin vs Suicide- Um... where did this match come from? I get the people in it (not Suicide so much), but why is it an Ultimate-X? They never bothered to set this up, there was no hype or build up for it, Todd Keneley just announced it randomly while they were running down the card like it was any other match. And if you're not going to make a big deal out of the Ultimate-X, then why even bother doing it? It really feels like they're booking this just for the sake of doing an Ultimate-X at the PPV, but without the right hype to actually get people excited for it it's not going to mean much.
Part of the problem is that these new X-division rules tend to hinder individual feuds and personal rivalries, and without that it's hard to properly justify a match like this. They're trying with King and Sabin, but as long as every match is a triple threat, there's always going to be a third wheel in the ring with them. I'd much prefer King vs Sabin in a singles match for the X title, but the rules make that impossible.
And speaking of Sabin, is it really wise to put him in this match so soon after his return? I would think they'd at least want to give him a few months to see if his knees hold up before throwing him back into a high risk situation like this. If they want to protect Sabin until they're sure he can stay healthy, then booking an Ultimate-X seems like a really bad idea. Because of that, I'm more nervous than excited for this one.
-TV title: Devon (c) vs Joseph Park- I love Joseph Park to death and they NEED to get that TV title off of Devon before it's hopelessly buried under all the dust it's accumulated since it's been around his waist, but I'm having a hard time getting on board with this one. Wins and losses don't effect the Joseph Park character the same way they do others and that applies to championships as well. As strange as this sounds, Joseph doesn't really need the TV title.
IMO, it's a big mistake to not have Magnus in this spot instead. This is a guy who's primed to break out in a big way, he's got the support of Dixie Carter, they're always talking him up on the show, everyone seems to agree that he's a huge star in the making, he's been after the TV title for the better part of a year and he's been taken out by the Aces & 8s so many times by this point that the payoff would be more worth it than if Joseph won it. And yet, the writers seem to think that Magnus is better utilized as the Aces & 8s' beat-up dummy. I just don't get it...
Having said all that, would I take Joseph Park as the TV champion in a second over Devon? You bet your ass I would. I still think Magnus should be in this spot, but if there's a title change here I certainly won't complain.
-Tag Team titles: Los Stereotypicos (c) vs Bad Influence vs Wet Dream Team vs James Storm/Gunner- My love for Bad Influence and the Wet Dream Team knows no bounds, but I am thisclose to not caring about the tag team division anymore. It has completely revolved around the same three teams since last summer, the match-ups are getting very stale and the supposed linchpin of the division, the team we're supposed to be rooting for, is the most bland, charmless, charisma-challenged duo to blight the tag scene since Mexican America. It's a bad sign when the tag team feud everybody wants to see (and the only one the writers seem to refuse to do) involves the two heel teams fighting each other.
The involvement of James Storm and Gunner provides the only genuine intrigue here for me. The match should be excellent, but all I really want to see is a title change. I honestly don't care who wins the tag belts as long as Los Stereotypicos lose them.
-AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle- Here's another one that really came out of nowhere, and with a PPV model that allows for matches to have much more build up than they used to have, that is simply unacceptable. Angle confronted AJ about which side he's going to choose and lost his temper, so now they have a match at Slammiversary; I'm sorry, but I need more than that. The 'OMG, IT'S AJ STYLES VS KURT ANGLE!!!1!!!!!!1!!' selling point mostly burned out some time during the innumerable matches they've had in the past. There's nothing new about it by now and I find myself disappointed that we're not getting AJ vs James Storm instead -- a match that both made more sense AND had more build up before the writers inexplicably switched gears a few weeks before the PPV.
It also kind of makes the babyfaces in this situation (Hogan and Angle) look like idiots for even letting the match happen. Wouldn't this just push AJ toward the Aces & 8s more than anything? And isn't that what Hogan has been wanting to prevent? It feels like they're stretching the boundaries of logic and forcing those involved into some rather awkward situations, having them behave in strange ways they otherwise wouldn't just so they can do AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle at Slammiversary. It will be an outstanding match, it always is. And AJ's attack on Kurt during his almost-but-then-not patching in to the Aces & 8s does make this more interesting. Unfortunately, I've already seen AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle at Slammiversary. And TBH, I cared about it a lot more the first time.
-World title: Bully Ray (c) vs Sting- Look, I respect Sting. I'm a big Sting fan dating back to the 1990s. But him being in a spot like this in 2013 is ludicrous, plain and simple. Luckily the implications if Sting loses the match make it compelling (albeit not for the reasons TNA are likely thinking). It probably won't be a great match, it might not even be a good one, they can have Matt Morgan cost Sting the victory, but Bully Ray needs to go over and go over decisively. Sad as it is to say, Father Time is catching up to Sting and him staying in the world title scene year after year is preventing a lot of deserving up-and-comers from reaching that pinnacle. Sting really shouldn't even be in this world title match, but as long as Bully Ray gets the pin, ensuring that Sting will never be in another one, it will be worth it.
Shelbin: Unlike the Lockdown PPV, I like the fact that the Slammiversary card isn't completely engrossed by the Aces and 8s angle. Other than Bully Ray and Devon, no member of the Aces and 8s is scheduled to wrestle on June 2, although that could change between now and then. TNA could presumably add a tag match involving Samoa Joe & Magnus and one of DOC & Knux or Wes Brisco & Garett Bischoff. Either option is fine I suppose. I'm mostly excited about AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle. I realize that it's a match we've seen many times but never has the animosity between the two been so candid. Not to mention, it's AJ Styles' first PPV match since his return in March. Overall, not a bad match on the card.
Talon: I think so far, this new PPV schedule of TNA's has been a detriment more than a positive. TNA hasn't booked their show like there are only four PPVs a year. They are booking their shows like there are 12 PPVs (with just 4 PPVs). Each PPV should feel like an epic event and major matches should take place at these PPVs.
A number of matches such as Full Metal Mayhem and D'Lo vs Kurt Angle in an I Quit Match felt like they should have been on PPV. Them taking place on TV only limited the quality of match that was possible. Commercial breaks and time limit issues really hurt both of these matches. Both of these matches would have likely taken place at the April or May PPVs if they were there.
With that said, I am looking forward to Slammiversary. Bully Ray vs Sting is the logical main event and with the No Holds Barred, Last Chance stip and build-up these two have gotten, I have been pretty excited. There are also a number of other matches that haven't received as good of buildup but will likely be great on the show.
Joseph Park vs Devon excited me due to the Abyss factor. The four-way tag title match should be a great wrestling match and has the added intrigue of James Storm's mystery partner. Ultimate X should be a great X Division contest. Gail Kim vs Taryn Terrell is also exciting due to their recent history. Add on top of that the possibility of the second TNA Hall of Famer being announced and the show looks like it could be great.
With what is happening with Zema Ion, do you feel TNA is obligated to cover their talent's medical costs or at least offer them healthcare?
Shelbin: I am a strong proponent of universal healthcare because I believe that every single person who lives in the U.S. should have the right to affordable healthcare. With that said, I think it's irresponsible to expect small businesses to provide health insurance to their employees, particularly those who work so few hours per month, as many TNA wrestlers do. In Zema Ion's case, I suspect his medical coverage (not including dental or vision) would cost TNA more than they're most likely paying him, so from a business standpoint, it's simply not smart. It's also quite possible that Ion would have declined coverage if TNA offered it to him due to the high costs. Simply put, TNA are in no way obligated to pay for Zema Ion's medical costs.
Talon: You can't compare TNA to WWE as a company. The quality of product's is subjective but the resources, experience, history and infrastructure of WWE surpasses TNA in every way.
When wrestlers sign a contract, they are well aware of what they are signing. Whether this contract undervalues them or doesn't offer them benefits or is unfair, it is up to them. TNA is going to try and save money anyway they can. If you don't like what they are offering, don't sign the contract.
Now Zema hasn't said anything negative about TNA in this whole ordeal. We don't know if TNA offered Zema any help and we don't know what the state of Zema's finances are. To say TNA is underpaying the dude or is ripping him off is ridiculous.
TNA is obligated to help their talent with medical bills if the talent is hurt while wrestling. Zema's case has nothing to do with TNA. It would be nice if they helped him but they are in no way obligated to as a company.
JSO: No, I don’t feel TNA is obligated to pay for Zema’s medical bills. That’s the key word: obligated. Zema’s health scare is a very unfortunate situation and I wish him the best in his recovery, but this is really a personal matter that has nothing to do with TNA. Furthermore, we’re not talking about some big corporate giant like WWE that can easily throw huge sums of money for stuff like this whenever they want.
I can understand where certain fans are coming from when they say that TNA should cover the expenses but then again, they’re not directly involved in the inner workings of the company, are they? We often hear stories of how TNA is a family environment, so it’s safe to say that Dixie called Zema to check up on him at least. But from a business standpoint, I just don’t think it’s our place to get so deep into this issue and hurl demeaning insults at TNA.
FK9: Let's be frank. TNA are in a business based on people beating the crap out of each other for money. If the company isn't willing to cover at least most of the medical costs to ensure the health and well being of the wrestlers that are making them all this money when they get injured on the job, then there's something wrong with the situation. Granted, Zema Ion's recent health problems have nothing to do with wrestling as I understand it, so there is a bit of a grey area here, but the fact that a fundraiser has been required to help him pay for potentially life-saving surgery is just baffling to me.
So TNA have the financial resources to pay Hulk Hogan and Sting and arm a leg to appear on the screen for five minutes, they can afford to pay ring announcer Christy Hemme six figures a year, but they can't cough up $30,000 so their former X-division champion can get a tumor removed from his colon? That just makes me sad.
Should TNA offer their talents healthcare? I think they should just because it's the decent thing to do. Admittedly, they're under no real obligation to do so in this particular case, but them leaving Zema Ion to deal with this problem himself puts a bad taste in my mouth.
The BFG Series is returning this year! Creatively speaking, who would you have in the finals and who would you have win the tournament to go on to Bound For Glory?
FK9: The great thing about the BFG Series is that it's a terrific platform (which sadly has gone underutilized) to elevate people without them even winning the tournament. You can put a wrestler on the map just by having them do well in it, and that's what I'd like to see more of this year.
The men I'd put in the finals are AJ Styles, Austin Aries, James Storm and Magnus, with an honorable mention to Jay Bradley who, if he's not in the final four, should ideally come very close. TNA could easily establish Bradley as a force in the upper-midcard through this tournament, giving themselves a solid new bigman heel to pick up the slack when they realize how little mileage there is in the far more generic and less talented Doc and Knux.
As for who should win... it certainly looks like AJ Styles is being set up to be that guy, but that storyline could potentially go several different ways between now and October. But provided it goes the way it looks like it will, I'd have AJ Styles win it and capture the world title at BFG, completing his "road to redemption."
Talon: We know that the BFG Series is returning and we know one of the possible participants already from the Gutcheck tournament. The BFG Series is one of my favorite annual traditions as a star could be made because of it.
I would stack up the talent in this year's BFG Series. Have top names like Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy, Magnus, Matt Morgan etc. in it with all of them vying for a shot at Bully Ray. The one person I would have win it is the logical one at this point...AJ Styles.
TNA has been building up the AJ character this past year with his lone wolf gimmick. It makes sense for AJ to go it alone, win the BFG Series and become TNA's "last hope" of winning the World Title from Bully Ray. It is a predictable answer but a logical one.
JSO: I’m excited for the BFG Series; I really dig this concept every summer. Last year’s edition, in particular, was quite interesting in terms of its setup and unpredictability. This year’s edition promises to be another awesome tournament with possibly some additional tweaks and a couple of new entrants.
I would like to see the finals come down to AJ Styles vs. Austin Aries on IMPACT. That would be a hell of a conclusion to this year’s BFG Series, which is really all the hype it needs for that match on TV instead of PPV. Like others have stated, I also believe that AJ Styles will win and go on to challenge Bully Ray for the World Title.
All the pieces are in place for a Styles victory. He was banned from the title picture until Bound For Glory 2013, he’s been built up as a more dangerous competitor in the ring, and he’s been one of the focal points in the TNA vs. Aces & Eights war. Plans could always change in the next couple of months, but that is definitely the logical endgame.
Shelbin: Taking into account all that's transpired this year, my final four would consist of AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe, and Magnus. From a storyline standpoint, each and every one makes sense, particularly if Bully Ray is still the world champion. In the end, AJ Styles should prevail, earning the opportunity to challenge Bully Ray for the world heavyweight championship at Bound for Glory. I've recently let it be known how much I feel the Aces and 8s angle has negatively affected the television product but if there's one area that's benefited from the heel group, it's the Bound for Glory Series and the plenitude of wrestlers who'd make a suitable opponent for Bully Ray, such as Kurt Angle, Abyss, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, James Storm, Christopher Daniels, Kazarian, Eric Young, and Matt Morgan, all of whom have been attacked by the Aces and 8s or have been involved in their story at some point. But again, I suspect that Bully Ray and AJ Styles will come face to face at Bound for Glory to battle over the company's top prize, as well as, its soul.
Dixie Carter recently stated that she would be interested in a WWE/TNA Crossover event. Even though the chances of such an event happening are slim to none, what kind of matches would you book at a show such as this?
JSO: Honestly, I have not watched the WWE product in years. I might check out something once in a while if someone strongly recommends it to me, but overall I’m just not too familiar with a good chunk of the WWE roster or their recent body of work. I guess if we’re talking about fantasy dream matches or something like that, the main ones that stick out in my mind would be:
Sting vs. Undertaker
AJ Styles vs. John Cena
Kurt Angle vs. CM Punk
Bobby Roode vs. Triple H
Austin Aries vs. Randy Orton
I would also book two specialty matches featuring a mix of TNA and WWE talent in Ultimate X and either the Elimination Chamber or Hell in a Cell. Finally, round out the card with a “Best of the Tag Teams” Match and a Divas/Knockouts Battle Royal – and that would be a full mega PPV right there. But of course, the chances of a crossover event happening is slim to none. It’s still kind of fun to imagine, though.
Shelbin: I can't say that I'm in favor of a WWE vs TNA event simply because I don't find the WWE product interesting. I suppose such an event would benefit TNA in many ways but from an entertainment standpoint, it wouldn't do much for me. I'm not nearly as enamored with a potential Sting vs Undertaker match as others are. With that said, if I were booking the event, the following would be my line-up - Samoa Joe vs CM Punk, Austin Aries vs Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles vs Seth Rollins, Bobby Roode vs Dolph Ziggler, Chris Sabin vs Daniel Bryan, Kurt Angle vs Antonio Cesaro, Christopher Daniels & Kazarian vs Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow, and Magnus vs Wade Barrett.
Talon: I don't know if one show would do such a scenario the justice it deserves. The best way to do that is have a 5-Show Summer Series or something like that. Four two-hour TV specials building to one 3-hour PPV finale. I will call it "WWE vs IMPACT Wrestling: Collision Course."
There are so many potential matches that would be fun to see but there are very few "dream matches." I would use the TV Specials to build to the 3-hour PPV and its dream matches. Some of these matches I would consider include AJ Styles vs Rey Mysterio, Austin Aries vs CM Punk, Jeff Hardy vs John Cena, Kurt Angle vs CM Punk and more. There are so many possible combinations that one show wouldn't do it justice.
The only real "dream match" that I would book would be the main event of the PPV: Sting vs The Undertaker. This match could have been at Wrestlemania and there is a good chance it wouldn't happen. With their similar characters and the legendary status of both, this match would be fun to watch. They would need weeks to build this match up as Sting and Taker could both deliver exciting promos.
The actual match could also be fun. I would have Undertaker win the thing after going back and forth with Sting with many nearfalls. After the match have the Undertaker and Sting shake hands and hug to solidify the moment. It would also be a great conclusion to the series.
FK9: I've never concerned myself much with questions like this because you're talking about a situation that will never happen unless WWE buys TNA, which none of us want. If that were to occur I would have absolutely zero confidence in WWE to book it correctly and I don't see why anyone would after how they dropped the ball so epically with the invasion angle years ago. I'll just say Austin Aries vs CM Punk and leave it at that.
Going into TNA's 11th year anniversary, what is one change you would make to either the product or the company that you believe would make the show better?
JSO: Well, if you think about it, TNA has addressed practically every change that fans have clamored for years such as firing Russo, taking the show on the road, garnering more media exposure, acquiring or pushing new talent, etc. Probably the only change that hasn’t been done yet is leaving Spike for another network, but who knows if that will truly guarantee any huge success for TNA.
Aside from angles/storylines flowing a bit faster, I think it’s simply a matter of staying original. Granted TNA has been guilty of recycling various ideas from the past, but they’re also responsible for a number of unique concepts. BFG Series, Gut Check, X Division Evolution and even the nifty production techniques and video packages – these are all innovative features on TNA programming, and they’re likely to experiment with more as times goes on.
Whether fans want to argue if something actually makes the show “better” is entirely up to them. I just think the principle of executing different ideas/concepts periodically along with great storytelling makes for interesting television.
Shelbin:I think it's imperative that the writers begin the drawdown of the Aces and 8s angle. Ideally, I'd like to see TNA limit the Aces and 8s' involvement to one or two segments per episode, particularly when the Bound for Glory series begins. I fear that the heel faction will attempt to disrupt the series matches, ultimately sabotaging what has quickly become the best tournament in pro wrestling. I can't say it enough - the writers need to keep any interference by the Aces and 8s to a minimum, otherwise TNA risks rendering the Bound for Glory series irrelevant.
FK9: Besides ending the Aces & 8s angle that's been dragging the product down with it? Besides getting Doc, Knux, Wes Brisco, Garett Bischoff and D'Lo Brown off the show? A big change I'd make is progressing storylines at a faster pace. I hate to say it, but cutting down to four PPVs a year seems to have done more harm than good. They needed to get rid of some of them, but eight always seemed like overkill to me. Rather than allowing for more buildup to big matches that will climax at a huge event, it's felt more like an excuse for the writers to waste time and procrastinate, dragging storylines and feuds out far longer than they should with not nearly enough happening between the start and the finish.
Things just happen too slowly now, taking ages to get to the point. When they eliminated most of the PPVs they removed the sense of urgency. Without something to build up to constantly on the horizon the writers seem content to just spin their wheels and repeat themselves a lot of the time to the point where you can skip entire episodes without really missing anything (ex. the multiple ultimatums issued to AJ Styles with nothing ever resulting from them). If you're only doing four PPVs you have to burn through story material faster to keep the fans invested during the much longer build up to the eventual payoff and that just hasn't been happening.
Talon: The one creative change I would make is to give the product more of a drama-style presentation. Focus more on storylines, characters and moments. Move them along alot quicker. Things don't only have to be about wrestling. TNA is an over-the-top climate where larger than life characters meet every week; it doesn't necessarily have to be realistic.
IMPACT Wrestling is a good wrestling product but isn't always a good TV show. If you want fans to stick with the show the entire two hours, you have to make them feel like the show or the product is constantly evolving. While (IMO) the product has dramatically seen an improvement in booking, I don't feel the show moves fast enough at times.