January 4th has the potential to be one of the bigger days in modern wrestling history.
At some point in the future, near or distant, we’ll be able to assess just how important TNA’s Monday Night Experiment has been.
I think it is important for fans – and for TNA – to not expect too much. This is a one off, at an odd time of the year, with neither company coming off any particularly interesting, earthmoving angles. TNA possibly have a little more in the way of momentum, thanks to a sterling set of PPV efforts at the back end of 2009, but they were more about talented wrestlers coming to the fore for individual matches than great payoffs to amazing angles.
From a WWE perspective it is a major coup to have Bret Hart on their side. If rumours of his contract are true, then he ought to be around until Wrestlemania. I am very interested to see what plans WWE have for him, although I doubt any plans are set in stone right now.
An interesting aspect to the Hitman’s return is the little group of people WWE are setting up around him, at least for now. Obviously Vince has been heavily involved on TV when Hart’s name has come up. Then SSM (Serious Shawn Michaels – as opposed to WSM, or Wacky Shawn Michaels) had one of the most interesting talking segments in ages alongside Mr McMahon on Raw this week. Factor in the association with The Undertaker and what you have are possibly WWE’s most reliable hands surrounding the Bret hart story. Whichever way they go with it, they have options, and good ones.
(Incidentally, I personally think it’s a mistake to do Shawn v Taker II, because they will struggle to top their original effort. If they were to go at it again, I’d have them do it at a Summerslam. Also, I think it ought to be an up and comer who breaks Taker’s streak. Mr Wrestlemania does not need the rub. Finally, on this topic, I think that Cena v Taker is begging to be done, while Shawn has potential marquee, quality matches with Hunter, Rey Mysterio, John Morrison, even a returning Jeff Hardy. Neither Shawn or Taker will be around for four more years, why waste time in making these new matches by rehashing an old, albeit great match)
Back on topic, and I thought we’d take a look a few key areas we need to keep an eye on this Monday.
1 Bret Hart
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the whole January 4th scenario is that WWE felt sufficiently nervous about the face-off as to sort out Bret Hart as guest host. They would likely claim that they were planning it anyway, but I think it’s fair to assume that it’s a direct piece of opposition.
But how much of an effect will Bret have? That is a big question to be answered, and we’ll find out to an extent very soon. If I were TNA, a big worry I would have is that TNA’s is a knowledgeable wrestling audience, who will have seen Hogan come and go in WWE but haven’t seen Bret in twelve years. Hogan has no loose ends to tie up, Bret does. I can see Bret being a bigger draw to the TNA audience than Hogan would be to WWE fans.
There are very few things in wrestling that gets one excited, but I am very excited to see what happens with Bret on Raw. Admittedly I am a huge Bret fan, but I still think it’s a pretty much unmissable event. The bigger worry is that WWE will somehow miss the boat, jump the shark or any other synonym for buggering it up.
2 Hulk Hogan
It has often been said that TNA need just one big name to tip them over the edge to the big time. That may true, but it was said before they took Christian. And Kurt Angle. And Mick Foley.
The big news with Hogan, I think, is not that he will be a TV draw necessarily, or that he will have matches with anybody. It’s the fact that he is supposedly in charge. It’s like Liverpool deciding they need a new manager and hiring Pele. No-one really knows whether he’ll be a good manager, but people will be interested to find out.
There are a lot of good things about TNA, many more than most give credit, but there a lot of shoddy aspects too. There needs to be a careful straining of the dross and retention of the qualities that could make them a hot commodity.
The big problem is the writing. The Impact shows are often very hard to watch. They need to be a WWE-alternative, and to me that means doing different things to the competition. But it means I’d have a different format to the show, more focus on wrestling and things like that. Not more outlandish matches, equally daft comedy and a reliance on older stars.
Hogan has mentioned that he wants look at everything from the logo to the shape of the ring. I wholly endorse that. Something WWE has right, and wrestling has done forever, is a square ring. Have Hogan stand in a ring and say “we are going back to wrestling, and that means a wrestling ring.” Heck, they could even debut a new name, because TNA doesn’t really trip off the tongue. Total Nonstop Action certainly doesn’t.
For this Monday, will Hogan affect TNA that much? Not on his own, I don’t think so. I think it’s more the switch to Monday that will be the big thing, but it has undoubtedly got more publicity because of Hogan being on board, so I think it’s a symbiotic thing.
3 Returns and Surprises
This is more of a TNA point than a WWE one. TNA have an unopposed hour before Raw goes on air. I fully expect that to be their highest rated hour, since surely most wrestling fans that are aware of the battle would flick it on to at least what is going on.
TNA, therefore, have to load that hour and try to retain that audience. Matches, promos, returns, surprises, announcements – whatever they have to do. Don’t forget that the first ever episode of Nitro was unopposed, and they created a fresh look, marquee matches like Sting v Flair, great matches like Pillman v Liger, and the shocking defection Lex Luger.
TNA can lock in a marquee match or two thanks to their line up. They can certainly liberally sprinkle the show with quality, entertaining matches. A fresh look is possible too. They cannot have a big name defection, however, unless someone has duped WWE’s lawyers into giving them an awesome contract!
What they can do, though, is debut a big name or two.....or three. Or more. How about this for a potential first hour........
Show opens with Hogan cutting a short promo about changing the face of TNA. Interruption by Nash, who tells Hogan he was the driving force behind the nWo, and Hogan is nobody. Nash vows to not let Hogan get his way. Interruption by Foley, who tells Hogan that while Hulk and Goldberg were doing their thing, he was winning the WWE title and people cared. Foley was brought into TNA and told he would have creative input. He vows not to let Hogan’s circus come in and ruin TNA. Setting up a nice power struggle, potentially, with logical reasons for guys not liking Hogan because of past issues.
Next, we have an X-Division number one contender’s match between four guys who go nuts for ten minutes. Maybe Shelley, Lethal, Creed and Suicide. Suicide wins.
Backstage to JB with Hogan who announces Samoa Joe v Desmond Wolfe and Kurt Angle v Daniels for later in the show.
Knockouts match with Tara defending and winning against Sarita. Let them have a cool match and shake hands afterwards. Perhaps ODB appears and threatens Tara.
Go then to an Amazing Red v Chris Cabin X Division title match. Let them pull out everything they can before lights go out. People assume a Suicide run-in, the lights come back on RVD is in the ring. He lays out both Sabin and Red with a chair and says that’s how you make an extreme Impact. Hogan emerges and says “you want to make an Impact? Styles v RVD, tonight.” Make Hogan the guest referee and we’re in business.
I don’t know about you, but Bret Hart or no Bret Hart, I wouldn’t switch that off.
Keep the other couple of hours flowing, put some decent focus on some names you want to push – Morgan, Beer Money – and let Joe/Wolfe/Angle/Daniels express themselves.
Then close the show with Hogan screwing AJ and aligning himself with Van Dam. Might as switch the title too. I’d then roll Dixie out for a live Impact zone appearance and declare that Hogan doesn’t have it all his own way. She books RVD v Styles for the next PPV, and she’ll pick the ref. End show.
Of course, that’s fantasy booking, and I’m assuming that RVD has signed, which is guesswork. It strikes me he would sooner or later, but I really don’t know that. I don’t think it’s a stretch, though, that Van Dam, Flair and Kennedy/Anderson would be likely to be seen in TNA sooner or later. I also know that TNA are very good at keeping big signings under their hat (See Angle, McGuiness) so may well have something up their sleeve.
I would implore them, though, to produce those things in the first hour. Don’t hold things back and say “Coming up, a big announcement.” Wrestling fans are programmed to not believe that anymore, because it’s usually a bogus bait-and-switch which lets us down.
Making a three-hour show captivating is now easy, but TNA have done it with their last few PPVs. Make this into a PPV, basically, and load it with moments to make the fans – even those familiar with the product – go “wow”.
My proposed first hour has star power; exposition about Hogan’s position; the promise of great matches to come; innovative X-Div action; the showing off of two of their USPs - the girls and the X-ers; and a shocking comeback which also offers promise of a massive main event. Then the rest of the show delivers big time.
Of course it would be a gamble to throw away a lot of stuff for free like that, but the agenda has to be show that Raw is stale and TNA is fresh. Or at least the new TNA is fresh.
4 Ongoing Storylines
An area WWE perhaps have a small advantage on, because it looks like the culmination of JeriShow v DX as well as the Bret Hart return, and I really wouldn’t be surprised to see a cross over there. TNA only really have the Hogan buzz without any massive set of storylines to surround. However, it’s a good time to start building stuff, and again they ought to load that first hour with a couple of blinding opening chapters.
5 John Cena
I think it’s a big thing that WWE don’t have their main guy on the show this week. I know he isn’t loved by all, but he deserves his spot and if some know he is not involved, it might be more cause to flip over the channel. Perhaps not the major reason, but many minors make a major.
6 TNA’s size and reputation
I keep trying to ask myself whether TNA now is as big a name in wrestling as WCW was when it moved to Mondays. There are a lot of similarities, but surely the ultimate answer is “No.” WCW had true NWA heritage, unlike TNA’s which is barely concocted. Yes TNA probably have bigger name wrestlers, but WCW circa 1995/6 was on a bigger network and doing vastly better PPV numbers. Hogan v Flair on their first PPV in 1994 did a massive PPV rating, and this was way before Nitro. WCW had a core audience, and it was bigger than TNA’s.
Look at Bound for Glory. It is billed as the biggest show in their calendar, but even papering barely filled a small arena in California. I know you can say this is not one of their bigger markets, but on Monday night they go on TV coast-to-coast. Market or no market in the south west of the US, this show is on all over the country. TNA might have a big following here in the UK, but we don’t get the show live.
I fear that people may be aware of Hogan, but not enough of TNA that it will get them to watch the show. And when I say people, I don’t mean current wrestling fans, I mean former fans that might be attracted back. After all, those are the people that made the initial difference in the first Monday night War.
7 The Future
As much hype as this is getting, it is only one day. One show. Whatever both companies produce after this is the real key. Not just the next month, but beyond.
WWE have no real pressure. Raw has been largely awful for six months but ratings don’t drop below 3.0. I know that is small fry considering what they drew ten years ago, but it’s still out of the realms of anything TNA has come close to by a million miles. TNA have to be consistently good for many months, to the extent where people reading spoilers think “I should start watching this show” and their buddies who do tell them “watch TNA, it is great”. That is how they are going to grow, not thanks to a show this Monday, whatever rating it does.
A small rating for TNA on Monday is not a failure, in the same way that a huge one is not necessarily a success. Change will take time, as will increase in viewership, should it ever happen. A large rating will show interest is there, but if in a months, two months, six months time it is 1.0 again, then it was worthless.
Good luck to all parties Monday night. If you are a wrestling fan in the US, I implore you to watch TNA’s first hour, then vote with your remote. If you liked it, give them a chance and record Raw. If not, then they had a shot, blew it, and you can see what Bret is up to.
Either way, have fun. After all, that is what wrestling ought to be about.