Beginning tonight, the eight-year-old company will begin airing "TNA Impact" live on Monday nights in direct competition with WWE's flagship show, "Monday Night RAW." Is this a calculated business move designed to take some of the luster off of WWE's biggest event, or is it simply corporate suicide?
Here's why two giant wrestling geeks -- Mike R. Meyer and Benjamin Leatherman -- think TNA will or won't succeed...
Mike R. Meyer's 5 Reasons Why TNA Will Succeed on Monday Nights
I suppose I should preface this list by saying that, in reality, I find it highly unlikely that "TNA Impact" will actually overtake "Monday Night RAW" as the top-rated pro wrestling show on Monday night. However, I think they can still be successful if they pull enough viewers away from WWE to turn a profit and remain a viable alternative to the status quo. Here are the reasons, in no particular order, why TNA should be successful at doing so:
1. They're committed to developing young talent.
Not all of TNA's stars are WWE rejects. Many of the company's brightest young stars, such as TNA Heavyweight Champion A.J. Styles, Jesse Neal and Desmond Wolfe, honed their craft on the independent circuit before joining TNA. If TNA is to survive, they will need more than WWE has-beens. While the company is currently relying on established names to gain a foothold against WWE, it will be the young stars who will ultimately carry the brand to the next level. They have the talent, they just need to be patient. And they will.
2. They manage to get more out of WWE's cast-offs.
TNA has turned several former WWE mid-carders and cast-offs into stars. TNA resurrected the career of the Dudley Boyz (now known as Team 3-D) and turned Christian from a perpetual mid-carder living in the shadow of his former tag team partner Edge into a TNA Heavyweight Champion. Christian has since returned to WWE, but perhaps the most impressive transformation is that of Ken Anderson. As "Mr. Kennedy" in the WWE, Anderson's gimmicks never seemed to catch on with WWE fans despite the company's best attempts at pushing him as both a heel and a good guy. Since his recent arrival in TNA as "Mr. Anderson," Anderson has quickly become one of TNA's most impressive new stars. What's strange is that his character is nearly identical to the one he portrayed in WWE, but in TNA, it just seems to work, for whatever reason. Expect more such luck.
3. "The Pope" D'Angelo Dinero.
Ever since Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson quit pro wrestling to pursue a movie career, the WWE has desperately been looking for someone to fill his shoes. As it turns out, they might have let that someone slip away before they realized what they had. During his run in WWE, Elijah Burke was relegated to the company's third-tier ECW brand and was never given much of a chance to shine, but since joining TNA and developing his D'Angelo Dinero character, Burke has become one of TNA's fastest rising stars. As "The Pope," Burke portrays a former Harlem street preacher turned grappler. While his in-ring skills have never been in question, the Dinero character gives Burke the chance to show off his natural charisma on the mic. TNA has clearly taken notice, giving Burke a huge push by putting him in a feud with Styles, the TNA Champ. If anyone can fill the void left by The Rock (and take TNA to the next level), it just might be Burke.
4. They're catering to disgruntled WWE fans who miss the "Attitude" era.
Ever since WWE bought out WCW in 2001, the storylines have become tamer and tamer, much to the dismay of longtime fans weaned on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's double-bird salute. In the absence of any real competition, it makes financial sense for WWE to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Unfortunately, that means a PG-rated, kid-friendly product. By appealing to the 18-49 demographic with edgier plotlines and more adult-oriented content, TNA can tap into a market that WWE has largely abandoned. Many wrestling fans have grown tired of the overly sanitized atmosphere in WWE. So far, TNA is providing an alternative. If they're smart they'll keep it up.
5. They have the two biggest stars in the history of professional wrestling.
Okay, so Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair are both about 25 years past their prime. They're still household names, which is more than you can say for Batista. Flair has always worked best as a heel and TNA seems to recognize that. As a mentor to Styles, he gives Styles (a great technical wrestler with limited mic skills) instant heel cred. I wish I could say the same for the Hogan/Abyss pairing, but Abyss is just flat-out annoying. Still, Hogan remains one of the top draws in pro wrestling despite his advanced age, and the renewal of his longstanding rivalry with Flair should draw viewers.
Benjamin Leatherman's 5 Reasons Why TNA Will Fail on Monday Nights
1. TNA pushes old has-beens more than their young stars: Although TNA and its defenders crow about how they're developing burgeoning stars, by and large their TV shows are crowded with unitard-donning dinosaurs. Case in Point: The Main Event Mafia. Yes, I'm aware that said stable/angle is a thing of the past, but it was the perfect example of the booking mentality of the organization. Grayhairs like Kevin Nash, Booker T, and Scott Steiner are broken down and their shtick on the stick is old and tiresome. (I've heard enough dick jokes from Nash to last me a lifetime).
2. Former WWE talent doesn't draw as well outside of Titanland.
What do Mick Foley, Christian, Kurt Angle, and the aforementioned Booker T all have in common? Their arrivals in Dixie Carter's six-sided circus were all over-hyped by TNA. And not a single superstar made much of an signifigant impact (pun very much intended) on either ratings or buyrates.
3. "The Pope" D'Angelo Dinero will eventually be lured away by WWE.
I'll conceed the fact that Mr. Dinero is red hot on the mic and possesses charisma up the ying-yang, much like the erstwhile Rocky Maivia. But even if TNA pushes "The Pope" to the moon -- annointing him with its title belt and headlining spots on pay-per-view -- Vince McMahon could turn him into a legitimate celebrity. As much as Dwayne Johnson cut killer promos and sang songs with the crowd, he probably wouldn't have done as well as he did without the sports entertainment machine that is World Wrestling Entertainment.
4. TNA can't seem to establish its own identity.
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Every time I watch "Impact," I have to double check to make sure my television or PC hasn't become a Wayback Machine set to the late 1990s. Total Nonstop Action seems to fluctuate between becoming World Championship Wrestling 2.0 or WWE circa 1999 (or even ECW for that matter) when it should be carve its own path. I remember ordering some of the first TNA weekly pay-per-views and being blown away by the acrobatics of the early X-Division. Carter and company need to not concentrate on mimicking what WWE used or trying to revive the corpse of WCW, but rather create a buzz with something completely different.
5. Hulk Hogan only generates short-term heat.
After Vince McMahon brought Terry Bolea back into the WWE fold in 2002, he figured out how to use the cat with the 24-inch pythons most effectively: in small doses. Fans will pop for the yellow and red outfits, the "brothers," and whatever knockoff of "Real American" TNA's in-house musicians have come up with. But after a few weeks, the magic will be gone.
Believe it, brother!