Random Thoughts from the Office: August 6, 2010

Hmmm. So my computer decides to try and commit suicide the very same week the lords of WrestleCrap induct That Fucking Match. Coincidence? I think not, but I (and some very good anti virus and spyware software) have brought it back from the depths and so I can do this week's column.

This weekend sees TNA's Hardcore Justice Pay Per View and ironically for TNA it's probably going to draw more buys than their own pay per views if the alleged numbers are to be believed. But I wonder if their numbers come at a higher cost to them than just financially.

You see, TNA to me has always had a huge problem from the moment it began, a problem that may ultimately lead to its downfall. A problem that really is so elementary it shouldn't happen. That problem is Brand Identity.

Think of the WWE; even as sad as they are now you know what they stand for, which is putting out a solid wrestling product. Even in a PG-13 environment they try to make compelling stars like John Cena or Triple H or even Kane and Ted DiBiase, guys who've gone away and made films but yet are still known as WWE Superstar,s and if you ask an average joe on the street "what is WWE?" you'd probably get the answer "That wrestling company".

The WWE makes stars, no question, but one of my favorite games is 'what if?' That's why I've always been a huge fan of the Rewriting the Book series, initially written by Jed Shaffer, now controlled well by both Simon Rawls and Neil Cathan: it makes you wonder about moments in wrestling history in a different light, it makes you think and it's very entertaining to read. It's something I aspire to be like with these Random Thoughts columns (I never said I was always SUCCESSFUL at it). But there's one 'what if' that I've never seen played out and it's the one that always plays in my mind.

What if Hulk Hogan chose to stay with the AWA? He was already massive over there, even as "Old School" as Verne Gagne was you'd have to imagine that it was only a matter of time until Hogan would have HAD to be given their World Championship, if only to not alienate the fans that were loving and supporting him in his quest to gain the belt. There's every chance had Hogan stayed with the AWA that we would be talking about Verne Gagne as the most powerful man in wrestling, not Vince McMahon.

But it's not to say Vince wouldn't have had another ace up his sleeve; Jimmy Snuka was just as over as Hogan after his feud with Roddy Piper, Roddy himself may have become the greatest heel champion the world of wrestling had ever know. Or maybe, having been spurned by Hogan, Vince puts a pile of cash in front of Ric Flair and makes him a megastar.

More than likely though wrestling would never have evolved, it was Vince's marketing foresight along with Hogan's charisma and sheer marketability that provided the launch for the WWE as we know today. Together the two created a juggernaut. Separate, it would have been as sad as a broken marriage.

That's my point: the WWE makes stars out of guys who aren't exactly the greatest wrestlers of our time. Roddy Piper could work a good match but those were few and far between, yet when the WWE gave him a microphone and allowed Roddy to get "Rowdy" they created one of the greatest heels in wrestling. they took a journeyman wrestler like Ted DiBiase Sr. and created a gimmick of the Rich Snob that made him iconic in the eyes of the wrestling world. And let's not EVER forget the case of one Jim Hellwig.

WCW had their own stars too. Goldberg, DDP, Flair, Sting. All of them were unique to their brand and the letters WCW were synonymous with great wrestling action; then Eric Bischoff came in and shook up the world with the nWo and a new juggernaut was born.

ECW? Here we are nine years after they closed and when fans see Tommy Dreamer, Raven, Stevie Richards and co in a ring they still chant the letters. ECW was the promotion that could, the one that stuck into every rebellious teenager's heart. It was a promotion that was theirs and theirs alone and they did by never talking down to the fans, never being condescending to them. ECW gave the fans what they wanted from the moment of inception till the day they died, and that spirit never left the hearts of the true believers.

But TNA? Ask the same average joe 'What is TNA?' And your answer in most cases is probably going to be "Tits and Ass". But even that can be overcome: they've lasted this long with the stupid name but the major problem is one they seemingly have no want to solve. They don't create stars. Name one guy besides AJ Styles and Samoa Joe who's even come close to being said "Oh he works for that TNA group right". Every other star has had their name made elsewhere, mostly the WWE. Kurt Angle has become a TNA star by osmosis and longevity there and he's now at the point where most casual fans realize he's a TNA star. But what about the rest of them? RVD is an ex-WWE guy. Jeff Hardy is an ex-WWE guy. Mr Anderson is an ex-WWE guy. Tommy Dreamer is an ex-ECW guy. Guys like Abyss, Desmond Wolfe, The Pope, Beer Money and the Motor City Machineguns spend so much time trading victories in the mid-card that they never get over to the point where a casual fan can say they're uniquely TNA. Even the Knockout Division, one of their strong points has been decimated to the point where it's tough to actually name anyone in it (People may know the Beautiful People as a stable for example but it's tough to name the actual members for the casual fan.)

Now they bring in ECW and try and give them more spotlight to get where they want to be. There's a line of advice that should really ring loud and true for TNA but never seems to. "Those that fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it". The WWE got two great Pay Per Views out of ECW no doubt but when they gave them their own TV time the idea ultimately failed. Granted that was primarily because the WWE didn't want to make the show even remotely seem like ECW but the point still remains. The WWE, with all their experience and all their marketing savvy could not resurrect ECW. So what chance do TNA, who can't even sell their OWN product have?

It's fast becoming time for tough love for TNA. They have to stop the madness, stop trying to be like everything for everyone, stop bringing back the old stars like a Hulk Hogan or a Tommy Dreamer and create and forge their own identity, with their own stars, their own style and their own unique slant on their wrestling business. Just like any business starting out, not just in wrestling but in any form of life.

And they have the man to begin that legacy for them, if he's willing to let his ego subside and do what he says he would do, make TNA a force: Hulk Hogan, because from the ashes of his legacy if he allows it to be destroyed, the phoenix of TNA can rise anew.

Clarence "Showstealer" Mason

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