July 17, 2013
'No one' cares?
It wasn't that long ago that you couldn't find a bigger supporter of the current AJ Styles angle than me. I had gone on record saying that it was the most interesting I had found Styles' character in years, if not ever. What a difference a few months make...
One of my pet peeves as a wrestling fan is static characters, wrestlers that just do the same thing over and over, year after year, and never try to freshen up their act at all (I'm looking at you, Kofi Kingston!). For me, this gets boring quickly. I'm not suggesting they fix what ain't broke, but if they're never going to bother doing anything different to keep themselves relevant, then I have a hard time staying interested.
I'm all for character evolution, seeing wrestlers grow and change over time, adding new dimensions to their gimmicks. If this is done organically it can be fascinating to watch and lead to the creation of some truly memorable characters (ex. Daniel Bryan). This is why I found the recent developments of AJ Styles so enticing, because his downward spiral happened very naturally over a long period of time and it made complete sense, after everything he'd been through, that he would have had some kind of personal meltdown causing the Phenomenal One to become No One. And with this being so new and so different from anything AJ had ever done before, I was having a blast watching it unfold.
Then something happened. I'm not sure what or when or even how -- it's really hard to pin down the specifics TBH -- but I came to the realization that I wasn't on board with it anymore.
It's difficult to put into words because TNA really covered all the bases on this one. The character development was well executed and made perfect sense. AJ changed everything about himself: his look, his wrestling style, his music. Everything was done the right way in order to ensure that the next evolution of the AJ Styles character was a smash hit. Except it really hasn't been.
Sometimes you can do everything right and still miss the mark. If I had to guess why this thing seems to be flatlining, I'd say that creative tried to push the character too far in a certain direction and the audience just stopped buying into it. They're not reacting to it the way they should and it really can't be ignored.
Wrestling fans aren't stupid. We're willing to suspend our disbelief to a certain extent, but there's only so far most people can go. Generally, I think most fans can tell when a performer isn't being real with them. They can see through a facade and tell when a wrestler is being themselves and when they're putting on an act. Some of the most successful gimmicks in history have been just logical extensions of the wrestler's own personality, but when you try to force a round peg into a square hole, more often than not, fans are going to see through it.
Granted, there is something to be said for casting against type. In certain situations seeing performers in the unlikeliest of roles and somehow succeeding despite (or perhaps because of) that awkward fit can create magic. For example, Mary Lynn Rajskub, a comedic actress, was cast against type when she won the supporting role of Chloe O'Brian on the FOX drama 24, and over time that character became so popular that she essentially became the female lead of the show, practically sharing top billing with Kiefer Sutherland. There are times when casting against type can lead to great things, but when it doesn't work, it really doesn't work.
Unfortunately I think that's what's going on here. Fans see AJ Styles being all dark and brooding and emo, and they just don't believe in it. Hell, I don't believe in it anymore. You can just tell that despite his best efforts to make it work, this type of gimmick is not something that comes naturally to AJ and, frankly, seems much more tailored to the strengths of a performer like Raven or the Undertaker. You watch him now and it's clear this is not AJ being AJ, this is AJ playing a character. The authenticity to sell is simply absent. When he first returned to TV and was just disgruntled and pissed off, they had something really fascinating, but the writers took it too far and it crossed into the realm of unbelievability.
I hate to say it, but I think TNA management need to seriously consider pulling the plug on this gimmick and returning AJ to his roots before no one cares about the Phenomenal One anymore.
Another one bites the dust
On the heels of the releases of Madison Rayne and Taeler Hendrix, Tara has now been axed as well. Rayne I expected, Hendrix was a bit of a shock, but this one definitely caught me off guard. It does makes sense in retrospect; her most recent title reign and angle with Jessie Godderz had flopped, and she'd been doing basically nothing since then. With TNA in cost-cutting mode this would seem like a logical cut to make, but the company had always seemed so high on Tara (and her status as a former WWE talent) that I figured they'd make an effort to keep her as they had in the past. Apparently this time her number was up.
Frankly, this release doesn't bother me. Tara has always been a solid performer and a fine worker, but she's not getting any younger, she had held the Knockouts title more times than any of the current women and feuded with almost everyone, in some cases several times. Realistically, TNA had gotten all the mileage out of Tara that they could and more than I ever thought they would, but at 42-years-old, I think it was just time for her to leave.
IMHO, it's also high time TNA started focusing on the future of their women's division, and to do that they have to let go of the past. The Knockouts still need a revamp, and for that to happen some people will simply have to go. And FTR, I don't think this is over yet -- I expect ODB will be gone as well before these cuts are finished.
The Knockout division is down to practically no one. They only have four women left on the active roster, six if we're counting those who are off TV or in non-wrestling roles, and with the exception of Taryn Terrell, they've all been there for a long time now. That's pathetic. Even under the current creative regime where the women's screentime is limited, the time has really come to make a hire or two. And don't tell me that it's not in the budget, okay? They've released three Knockouts (along with a slew of male wrestlers), they can afford to hire one new girl.
With TNA recently signing a new TV deal in Portugal, bringing in Shanna, who could help them draw in that market, would seem like a no-brainer. Or, failing that, there are at least three women from the independents who appeared on the Knockouts One Night Only PPV that would be excellent hires (Alissa Flash, Ivelisse, Mia Yim), and as far as I can tell, the only thing that could be preventing the Blossom Twins' call up from developmental is the fact that Rockstar Spud won British Bootcamp and he needs to debut first.
I don't doubt that the release of Tara was mostly money-related, but I sincerely hope that TNA management will also view it as a clearing the deck exorcize and use this to make way for someone new. Quite honestly, more than ever, the Knockout division really needs someone new.
The cuts just keep on coming
It was at this point that I was all set to write about the surprising release of Doc. Then the D'Lo Brown news hit. Then the Bruce Prichard news hit. And since I now have no idea what to expect next, I'm just going to roll with it.
First of all, I hope we can dispense with all the doom and gloom predictions. We have no reason to suspect that TNA is in danger of going out of business yet. Yes, there have been a number of releases and backstage shake-ups, but there are explanations for most if not all of them. With the exceptions of Doc and Todd Keneley, all the recent talent cuts were people who had not been featured prominently on TV recently and thus the loss of whom won't effect the current product. In Doc's case, they simply couldn't come to terms on a new deal with him, which happens in this business all the time.
The fact of the matter is this. When TNA were filming in the iMPACT Zone they were able to keep costs to a minimum, so they could afford to keep more people on the roster than they strictly needed. Now that they're on the road that isn't an option anymore, so some belt-tightening was inevitable. And haven't many of us been saying for years that TNA had a bloated roster and needed to cut the dead weight? And now that they're finally doing this, everyone is freaking out? Sheesh...
Let's get some perspective here, guys. If TNA starts releasing people like Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, James Storm, Magnus -- you know, actual important members of their roster -- in the name of cutting costs, then you can hit the panic button. As long as they're only cutting talents that don't matter much, if at all, to the current product, then pour yourself a cup of herbal tea and chillax already. But if you seriously think that the loss of Christian York and Alex Silva is a sign that TNA's days are numbered, then I recommend a much stronger drink and maybe some counseling.
WWE trims the fat out of their roster every year after Wrestlemania, guys (unless Linda is running for political office on a platform of creating jobs). It doesn't mean the world is coming to an end.
Personally, other than the releases of Crimson, Todd Keneley and to a lesser extent, Taeler Hendrix, I've been quite at ease with all the cuts that have been made. To be honest, I can't say that I'll really miss any of them (those three excluded). They all seemed like very logical cuts to make, cuts I would probably have made if I had been in TNA's shoes.
In fact, playing Devil's advocate for a second here, I wonder if this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise -- something that finally forces TNA to get serious, to take a long hard look at their roster and finally be brutally honest with themselves about which talents are going to make them money and which ones aren't. If this is what it takes for TNA to sever ties with people like Rob Terry, Knux and others who are most likely never going to draw a dime, how is that a bad thing?
Now the backstage releases are a different story. It seems TNA are restructuring many contracts to save money (again, not unexpected) and some people were bound to fall through the cracks. I know nothing about the D'Lo Brown situation, so I can't comment on that. With Prichard however, it seems this new deal wasn't to his liking. I was willing to roll with Prichard a while longer, but if this leads to a new creative direction, I'm fine with that. Prichard's slow motion approach to story-telling had grown tiresome and it clearly hadn't payed off in the ratings. I think a new voice in the creative department with fresh ideas is definitely in order.