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Monday, 28 February 2011

Raw Number 13

We start with an odd couple of shots of first Money Inc, then the Beverley Brothers, cutting promos on a black background. Nothing wrong with the shot, per se, it just looks like the final round in the Krypton Factor (remember that?). Largely generic stuff. If you've forgotten, the Bevs had a babyface turn of sorts the year before. I had basically no recollection of anything shown in the previous week's episode, so I'm actually intrigued as to where things may lead.

Vince's piercing voice welcomes us to the show, and the screech of Razor Ramon's theme echoes around the arena. It doesn't look like the Manhattan Center this week. It's probably the same place as last week, a double taping.

Razor is out to a generally positive sounding reaction (he's still a heel at this point) and Vince says it's Ramon v Virgil. Bartlett & Savage again on comms with Vince. Decent reaction for Virgil, actually.

Some hammerlock/armbar etc action early doors, with Razor casually grabbing the ropes to break a few times. Virgil gets a marginal advantage, and the crowd start an audible "Razor" chant. It morphs a little into "Virgil", but when DiBiase's former butler misses a dropkick a short time later, the place go nuts. This is a pro-Ramon crowd.

Ramon locks in a really nice looking abdominal stretches a few minutes in, but Virgil manages a hip toss. He can't follow up however, and we settle into a pattern of Ramon methodically hitting moves, and Virgil making occasional, short, comebacks. Meanwhile, consider it obvious that Bartlett says something redundant ever thirty seconds, and Savage offers pearls of wisdom like "You know how to beat a bully? Beat him" Yeah, thanks Randy, swell advice.

Ramon locks in a modified chinlock, and eventually Virgil gets the ropes. Vince and Savage, though, talk about getting to the ropes like it is a shameful act. Vince wonders how you get out of the move, and Bartlett says "pull a knife". Maybe he was booking in WCW when Tank Abbott was around.

Virgil has a flurry of offence, but Razor avoids a springboard cross body, and levels Virgil with a Razor's Edge for the win.

Vince plugs Bevs v Money Inc as well as an appearance by Giant Gonzales. Vince says Bartlett should interview Bret later on, but Bartlett doesn't want to, because he is traumatised from the previous week, you see.

Gonzales is out next, along with Harvey Wippleman, after a break. He does a stupid run to the ring for some reason. He now has hair over his, erm, personal area. A new suit, I think. Only marginally less stupid.

The Giant's opponent is L.A. Gore, which sounds like Rhyno on the rampage in Hollywood. He looks like a seedy Magnum PA/DDP figure. Bad perm & 'stache. Gonzales chokes his victim a couple of times, hits a bad looking clothesline (though Rob Terry was quite impressed), an even worse thrust kick, more choking, and then a goozle to slam for the win. The commentators chatted a little about the match with Taker at Mania, but didn't give it a big sell, or build the feud at all. Funny how we took this as the norm at this stage in wrestling.

Off to a pre-taped promo with Luna, who screeches into the camera in that ridiculous 80s/early 90s way people did. Actually she makes Hawk from LOD sound like Alec Guinness. At one point she says that she "will haunt your very breath". Err, ok. Do you what you like, sweetheart, you terrify me.

Back to the arena, and it's Tatanka. His opponent is Art Thomas. Meanwhile, Savage says that "Native Americans all over the world" will cheer Tatanka on. If you don't see anything wrong with that last statement tweet me (@robmcnichol) and I'll tell you.

Tatanka starts in control, then misses an elbow. He has to miss a move, because one of his signature spots is the big "I can't feel anything comeback" which I like to call "Tanking up". He does this, hits the End of the Trail, or whatever it is called at this point, and it's over.

After a break, it's Money Inc. Ah, I thought the Bevs might get a main event. Vince calls the two teams "both highly undesirable" and IRS talks tax. The Bevs emerge to stunning MIDI music, and the crowd goes mild. The Beverleys look like Chris Masters with a moustache and a lad who I went to school with fifteen years ago's Dad. Not that the comparison is worth much to you. I mean, it's so long since you probably saw Chris Masters you can't remember what he looks like.

I should point out that Vince and Savage are ripping Bartlett on commentary. They appear to know he is worthless. It's very odd. It's actually a little reminiscent of when Cole made fun of the Hart Dynasty. The Bevs work Ted's arm, and Vince says "this is what tag teams are all about" - so he does know what a tag team is. Mind you this is eighteen years ago. He has forgotten a lot since then.

Oddly, Money Inc do the "tag that the ref can't see spot", and the Bevs double team. Are Money Inc going to work face? They seem to be putting the heat that way so far. IRS then tags in but has his foot on the ropes. Savage calls this, and the ref disallows it. The Beverleys do a switch without tagging in the background. Two classic heel spots. This is getting odder.

IRS eventually tags in, but the Beverleys immediate get the better of him, too. It's all armwork. They choke IRS with the tag rope while the ref isn't looking too.

After a break, we return with IRS in control, and Money Inc then also do the switch technique. It's odd to see two heel teams in one match. Tag matches tend to build to the hot tag spot. How will they do that with the heat evenly dispersed?

The answer is that they do it with the Beverleys getting a hot (lukewarm) tag, and Vince sells it exciting......a bit. The comeback mainly consists of back body drops, until one Beverley misses a clothesline on DiBiase and clocks his partner. One schoolboy later, and Money Inc have won. The commentators don't dwell on the match for a single second, or it's consequences, they simply got to commercial and say Bret is up next.

We're about two thirds of the way through the show at this point. Vince interviews Bret (he calls him the people's champion in the intro, which Savage echoes) who is in his full ring gear. Bret does a reasonable interview, and one that I'd like to see more of these days. It touches on his history and is reasonably low key. Mainly, he focuses on wanting the title belt.

He does say that he has a 'hit list' and that the first name on it is 'The Narcissist' Lex Luger. The reason, as is shown in a clip which I don't think I've ever seen before, is that Luger took him out at the Wrestlemania Brunch. I remember them talking about that at Mania 9, I just don't recall seeing the footage before. That's logical, but I don't recall the two ever wrestling in WWF, apart from in the Rumble.

Vince says there is an investigation into Luger's forearm. Bret sells that it is lethal very well. He says to Luger that "this isn't bodybuilding, it's wrestling" and says he'll go after Yokozuna and even Hogan too.

After another break, it's Bam Bam Bigelow, or the walking photofit of what Wayne Rooney will look like two months after finishing football. He wrestlers jobber Phil Apollo - I say 'wrestles''s mainly shoulderblocks, at least early on.

Savage says that the competition keep getting better and better, and cites none other than Friar Ferguson as his example. He's on the ball, that Savage, isn't he? Bammer continues to dominate, and Vince says Doink is in the crowd. Seconds later he arrives in the aisle with an umbrella.

Doink disappears, and Bigelow continues to have control. He hits a brutal looking senton, then lands his diving headbutt for the W. Just for the hell of it, Bigelow does it again after the match. Oh, now here's the Friar. Maybe that was why Savage mentioned him. Fergie seems to be protecting the jobber, to Bam Bam's annoyance. Friar hits an odd looking drop kick to send Bigelow through the ropes. Is that a set up for a match next week?

Ah, well here comes some hype for the next show. Crush v Luger is announced. Oh, and that's it. Quite abrupt. No Rock twenty minute overrun here.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Raw Number Twelve

This week's (well, when I say 'this week' I mean April 12 1993) Raw starts with Money Inc handing over some cash to the Beverly Brothers. One of the Bevs says the Steiner Brothers think they are unbeatable, but they are not. Well, they beat you mate. IRS asks about the double arm suplex, and the other Bev says their suplexes are devastating, so you have to take their legs out. Ted asks if they are fast as they look, and gets the answer that Scotty is as quick as a cat. (The cat in question being Ernest Miller) They say to make sure the Frankesteiner doesn't happen, and the Raw intro plays.

I won't lie to you - the acting standards in this were in negative star range. But it's a great little 30 second piece to put over challengers to a title as being really, really good. That's basics, and it is done very nicely here. A creative little thing really, showing you don't have to work too hard sometimes - just have people talk about how great someone else is.

The shows starts, and sadly Bartlett is back. Savage, back in his gay rodeo style of outfit, says IRS v Rick Steiner tonight. Didn't the graphic say Money Inc v Bushwhackers last time? Anyway, Vince says we have Tatanka, Papa Shango and a newcomer. Savage waffles on about being blessed then gets to the point......Friar Ferguson. Oh wow, what a treat. More on that later.

IRS is out first, through a different entrance. Hang on, is this a different arena. It certainly looks like it is shot differently. It might even be MSG. Actually, it's not MSG, but the camera angles certainly look different to the usual Raw set. It's much bigger. IRS is actually wrestling Scott Steiner here. Vince then tells us we are in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Cagey start which comes to laugh when IRS tries a sneaky kick at a clean break, but Scott catches the boot. Irwin, though, lands a cracking inzugiri. Steiner soon hits a big powerslam, before IRS powders.

Back in, and this is starting to take shape as a really nice little wrestling matches. IRS lands a beautiful drop toe hold which Scott transitions into a hammerlock. Nice. It's pretty much hold for hold for a bit, until IRS hits a thumb to the eye and throws Scott to the outside. A waiting DiBiase clotheslines Scott, and Rick arrives to even the score. DiBiase sheds clothes to get down to wrestling trunks as Vince screams "The tag match continues" and throws to a break. Uh, you reckon they'll make this a tag, then, after that piece of foreshadowing?

Back after the break, and it does still appear to be one on one, with IRS on top. IRS hits a piledriver. I thought last week when we saw Lawler hit it that it's a move that is pretty much banned across the board these days, but you largely don't even realise. I also like that you could see that they didn't quite land the move right, or at least Mike Rotunda was overly cautious, but Vince actually called that he 'didn't quite get all of it'. I like that kind of honesty in an announcer.

While IRS has a chinlock on, Vince talks about Bartlett interviewing Luna later on. IRS heads to the top, which can't end well. Indeed - Scott gets a foot up, and takes control. It's a full on babyface comeback, and to be fair the crowd are hot for it. Scott hits the aforementioned double underhook, and they only narrowly avoid injury. It looked dicey for a second there.

DiBiase breaks up a count, Rick soon matches him, and the ref throws the match out. The Steiners set up DiBiase for what looks to be a top rope bulldog, but the Beverlys run out for the save. Scott, though, avoids a double clothesline and the Bevs nail DiBiase instead. Scott is declared winner by DQ, and the good guys leave. DiBiase sells annoyance at the Bevs for messing up, and the two teams end up squaring up. IRS says 'forget it', but the Bevs knock him to the outside from behind. That was odd. They corner Ted, who seems to be offering them money. IRS shapes to go for the briefcase, perhaps to smack them with it, but instead Money Inc just slink away.

Vince trails WM9 again, and says watch the encore (it's the same ad as last week). Tatanka comes steaming out of after this for his match, and is opponent is........hey, it's Vito! Not cross-dressing Italian Vito though. Instead, he is announced as "Von Krus" and hails from Germany. Presumably this is quite near the time he was Skull von Crush in ECW.

Tatanka starts with a sloppy looking combo of springboard, hip toss, arm drag, but before we get very into the match, Doink the Clown. Doink has a umbrella that squirts water (can't see that catching on in Dragon's Den) but just squirts it a little and leaves. Tatanka gets raked in the eyes, and Vito/Von Krus hits a couple of the worst chops you'll ever see. Tatanka regains control, and hits some signature moves. After a 'slugfest' as Vince calls it, Tatanka gets Tanked up, and soon ends the match.

On Commentary during that match, I should note, Vince said the Beverlys have asked for a match with Money Inc. Fink announces Tatanka as still unbeaten. Sean Mooney then hosts a Wrestlemania report, presumably because it was so shit even Gene Mean would have nothing to do with it. Mooney says that it was the greatest Wrestlemania of all time (it wasn't) and says it will go down "in the annals" of history. (One 'n' too many, there)

Bartlett is here after the break with a staggeringly bad shirt and waistcoat combo, and then here comes Luna. She warbles about being the woman of the nineties, a balance of beauty and beast. At least I think she did. I don't doubt Luna was a good wrestler, and she is sadly missed, but I couldn't bear her voice. She does call Bartlett a punk at one point, which is a bonus. Luna basically slagged off Sherri, which draws the Sensational one out from the back.

Sherri doesn't attack Luna though - instead she has a go at Bartlett. This is great. can we all join in? I think every promo from now on should just be anti Bartlett. Luna grabs the mic and says she is "A bandit from the wild untamed future. A voice that was before and will be again." Erm, what? Sherri retorts that she has stood up against "bigger men than you will ever be woman". They are basically just saying words and hoping they vaguely come out in order now. Sherri attacks, and it looks like two women halfway through changing for Halloween started on the wine (or Sherry!) a little early that night. Sherri knocks Luna flying, then rips Bartlett's shirt off for the hell of it.

Sherri actually then hits a nice suplex on the floor, then Luna attacks with a belt. Bartlett tries (fails) to break it up, and Sherri attacks Luna with a cord. (I have to note that at this point Sherri is basically overflowing. Her cups runneth over, if you get what I'm saying.) Luna reverses and Vince reacts with horror at Luna pulling Sherri's clothes off. Sherri reacts in kind, but I have to say it isn't really a pretty sight on either side. They fight out into the audience, and Vince says "oh no" at seven second intervals. Sarge wonders in for a little grope (Trying to "break things up" says Vince. Yeah right!) and scoops Luna out of there. I wonder why Pat Patterson didn't come help, I mean.

Back from a break and it's the odd sight of Randy Savage interviewing Sherri. If you don't know their past, I suggest you google it, but I'll quickly say that she basically dumped him after he lost to Warrior at Mania7, in favour of Ted DiBiase. At this point Sherri has Macho Man's hat covering her chest, since she is now down to a bra on the the top half. Savage starts to praise Sherri, but Luna re-emerges to attack. Meanwhile, there is a jobber and a referee in the ring.

Sherri fights back and at one point has hold of Luna's bra strap. Are we going to see (let's channel King, shall we....) PUPPIES? Wait, no, here comes Pat. We wouldn't want to see breasts now, would we Patricia? No, not at all. Patterson and Sarge remove Luna (again). Sherri shouts something incomprehensible, and then does Savage's catchphrase. The talking (shouting) parts of that were brutal, but the brawl was a lot of fun. It looked pretty realistic at times, and you bought the antagonism between the two. I have no memory of them having a match, so I'm genuinely intrigued as to where this goes.

You know what is needed to follow this up? Voodoo. Here comes Papa Shango, before Sherri has even left, that Ashley Massaro? Oh wait, no, it's a skull. Shangos opponent is..........Scotty Too Hotty - more early 2000s Smackdown talent on this show. Actually he is just Scott Taylor here. And I think Fink called him Skip Taylor.

Vince says that we are getting closer to the tag match between the Beverlys and Money Inc for next week, and that they are negotiating as we speak. Wow, you mean an evil GM isn't forcing them into matches. Whatever next?

Savage says we could have twenty two main events next week, which makes no sense, while Shango is totally dominant in the ring. Bartlett has disappeared, by the way. Wait, no he hasn't, here he comes, with clothes bedraggled and a dopey look on his face. Wait, he has that look all the time, doesn't he? Bartlett collapses, Vince guffaws and Shango wins. The big guy grabs all his props and heads towards Taylor, looking like he might do some of his voodoo gimmick, but instead we see Bartlett looking dazed again, and Vince says Friar Ferguson is up next.

And indeed he is. Gregorian chanting fills the arena, and a rotund figure (The late Mike Shaw) waddles out in full monk get-up, complete with a notepad round his neck. He lifts a page and it has a smiley face with the word "Monk" written underneath. I'm assuming that is for a vow of silence. He also carries a brown piece of wood for some reason. His opponent is Chris Duffy, who appears not to be an early incarnate of Kenzo Suzuki, but instead just an ugly jobber.

Bartlett does a 'frequent friar' joke (well, I say joke.......) in an even more annoying way than usual. He must (MUST) leave soon, mustn't he........? Duffy pushes Ferguson (Fergie?) a couple of times, and gets put on his arse for his troubles. I can't really work out if Fergie is meant to be babyface or heel at this point. He is wrestling barefoot - he doesn't look Samoan.

Fergie slingshots Duffy to the outside as Money Inc v Bevs is announced as a non-title match for the next week. Fergie pulls up his.......what do call that? A smock? A robe? Anyway, he pulls up what he is wearing and waggles his knees. Thanks for that. He is actually starting to look a bit SuBo at this point.

Fergie hits a splash, and it's look like match over, but there is some (unacknowledged) confusion between wrestler and ref, and we carry on. Fergie hits an avalanche, and then weirdly rubs the jobber's face with the underside of his robe. Eugh. This match plods on, Vince tells us Money Inc will have a chat after this match, and the fans start to chant (I think) "We want Bret".

Oh crap, it's a nerve hold by Friar now. Just end it, please. Fergie chokes Duffy on the ropes, so I'll assume at this point he is a heel. An evil monk, perhaps. Duffy, as the crowd start a boring chant, floats over for a sunset flip, but the Monk, erm............sits on the poor guys face. Shall I do a Catholic joke about...........nah, best leave it. That was just weird, by the way.

Another "Please watch our shitty encore" ad, before Money Inc are with us. We have about a minute of the show left. Vince says Bret will be interviewed next week, and it's Virgil v Razor Ramon. Thirty seconds.........

Money Inc start to say that accept a challenge and they've beaten everybody, when they get jumped by the Bevs. This is probably the biggest push of their lives, isn't it? Cheeky brawl for seven seconds, and it's over.

Friar Ferguson debuts and the Beverlys in a main event position. You lucky people.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Fire Up the Brand

Brands are important in wrestling. I'm not talking about the Hardy's and their pals putting the word at the end of their Twitter name. I'm not talking about John Cena wearing Nike sneakers, either.

Many wrestling fans are amazingly loyal to the wrestling organisation they prefer. ECW is a classic example of this. ECW had it's own style, it's own ethos. You can say what you want about your preferences and whether you liked ECW or not, but the fact is there was an aura which surrounded it. And continues to.

Four years after the company closed it doors and promoted it's last official card, a DVD of it's Rise and Fall broke merchandise records. It was successful to the extent that a Pay Per View event was commissioned, which was a critical success. The ECW brand was revived to a lesser degree, and fairly obviously was not such a success.  Just last year, TNA produced a PPV, Hardcore Justice, dedicated to the memory of ECW.

Although not all of the above was financial, critically or morally successful, the fact that almost a decade removed  from the death of ECW it's ghost still haunts wrestling is a remarkable example of brand loyalty and awareness.

You can see a similar thing with many small wrestling organisations. From ROH to Dragon Gate to CZW, small wrestling companies have core, loyal audiences that have a devotion to one organisation as opposed to the wrestling business or an individual wrestler.

And then there is TNA.

I would liken TNA's brand identity to that of the opposition party in politics, or a local rival team in football. If I was being particularly brave I might even compare to people from Scotland or Wales. Let me explain why.

I am an Englishman, and a proud one. I have many, many Scottish relatives, and I have friends who are from Wales. There is, though, an undeniable dislike, or perhaps disdain, for the English from these nations. Whatever those reasons are, I think getting caught up in how much they dislike us stops people appreciating their beauty and positives traits. Both Wales and Scotland are fine countries, which great traditions and values, but too often their national characteristic is hating the English. I can't make them like us, but I wish they'd promote themselves rather than bash us.

Politics is the same.You seldom hear a Labour politician talk at length about how great his or her party is, extolling the virtues of their manifesto and explaining why their collective outlook is best. Instead, their rhetoric is far more likely to be comprised of cheap shots and attacks on their Conservative counterparts and where they believe their faults to be. And before anyone brings it up, the opposite is true. The Liberal Democrats haven't typically been embroiled in this to the same extent, but they are exempt from blame either. In short, it isn't "look at us, we are awesome", it's "don't look at them, they're awful".

And it goes on with football. Pick your team and listen to the fans songs during one game. There will probably be just as many "We hate Arsenal" songs at White Hart Lane as there are pro-Tottenham songs, and the pattern is repeated whether the teams are Wolves and West Brom, Southampton and Portsmouth, Burnley and Blackburn or any combination of heated rivals.

I don't think it is necessarily TNA as a company that provoke the reaction, but I see a lot of TNA fans as not particular pro-TNA but anti-WWE. They dislike Vince McMahon's juggernaut of a corporation and see something they hate, whether it's the cheesy comedy, PG tone or flat out bad wrestling. They might not have the access or the inclination to seek out more niche products like ROH or similar, and TNA have international reach, so it's a bandwagon to hop on.

If you are a major WWE cynic then it's not the worst bandwagon in the world, I guess. TNA have things WWE don't have.. Individuals like Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy, who fans are familiar with and respect, wrestle in TNA. There are big-name stars like Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan, WWE midcarders that didn't get a run like Elijah Burke/D'Angelo Dinero and Matt Morgan. There is blood and bad language and raunchier girls. In short, it's everything WWE was eight years ago.

It's one of the reasons I worry about TNA. If they had any identity, ever, it was with the X-Division and the Knockouts. I'm not saying the way to overtake WWE is with that, but the niche they used to at least try to occupy still exists.

I went to all three of their UK tour shows last week. They were great fun. I had loads of people say to me that they had been to WWE house shows, and the TNA ones were way better. And I endorse the view. However, there was nothing on these shows that had me thinking "TNA are different". Back in the day, if you'd seen an ECW live event, you'd have left knowing it was different. I am absolutely not endorsing gratuitous violence and danger, but it was different. If you get to an ROH show, you'll leave thinking you've seen some of the best wrestlers in North America, or the world. Similar could be said of a Dragon Gate style organisation, with the inclusion of Japan in the unique selling point.

Taking out any frustrations we (mostly) all have about TNA's booking, what are the differences between them and WWE? Take an episode of Impact and an episode of Raw. Are they really that different? They share lots of the same conventions. The shape of the ring; a pair of announcers; hype videos for matches; backstage segments; music to greet a wrestler; a pose on the ramp; numerous belts; match length; monthly PPVs; a ring announcer; similar rules of matches and outcomes of matches; in-ring promo confrontations; and more. Now I am not saying that they should scrap all of those things. Quite the opposite - wrestling has survived for decades on many of these staples - but they need, I think, to differentiate themselves in some many other ways, to make them feel special.

They have tried with the use of more violent matches and stronger language. I don't so much have a problem with them doing this, but to me the execution of them is so poor it makes them look second rate. Washed up has-beens like Ric flair or never-beens like Tommy Dreamer bleeding everywhere all the time cheapens the moment when ten minutes before the end of a crucial title match on a major PPV RVD bleeds to sell jeopardy.

As for the language and edgier content, I think they may have a slightly better job than with the blood, but it feels like it is there for the sake of it. Steve Austin, if you talk to him in real-life, drinks beer and cusses when he talk to you. That's the way he was built. He's a brash Texan who likes a good time and says what he feels. Stone Cold worked because of it. It felt organic and it felt natural when Austin told you he "couldn't give  damn about the some bitch. I'll kick his ass, the rat bastard.

But Eric Bischoff is an executive. He's a smooth talker and a clever businessman. He may be a foul-mouthed guy in real-life - I haven't met him - but his on air character has been a smarmy heel for his whole career, virtually. I don't feel it when he swears. It just seems like it is being forced.

And enough already with Velvet Sky saying "bittch". That's not a typo, she stresses two 't's in the word. "Where's Winter? I'm going to make that 'bittch' pay". And then there is a Abyss who is such a cartoon you can't take him seriously anyway, so his use of 'bitch' (one T for him) also feels like it is being placed in the show to attract people who like swearing. The stress on the words is so ultra deliberately it makes the show feel low rent.

Anderson I can deal with. Ken has developed a way of talking in and out of the ring that means I can live with him calling his fans 'assholes'. I think it's kind of funny. It works for him. And I know it is his idea because he used the "nice guys finish last, thank God I'm an asshole" line on Wrestlecast in about 2006. But because needless cursing all over the show simply waters down what he says.

Perhaps TNA finding a brand identity might have to do with what their ambitions are. I can't speak for anyone at ECW or Ring of Honor, but I imagine that, certainly to begin with, their intentions were not to attempt to be the number one wrestling organisation in the world. They had different visions. Ring of Honor was to be a product which catered to "wrestling" fans. They brought in the 'pure' title and showcased technical wrestling that wasn't on show anywhere else. Not on national television in the US, anyway. ECW wasn't just about hardcore wrestling. Their underground success was just as much about the featuring of great wrestling, such as that demonstrated by Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, and the import of wrestlers from Japan and Mexico.

Even somewhere like Shimmer was founded on the basis of giving female workers somewhere to ply their trade, since they were not being appreciated on the biggest stage. The founders of Shimmer were, I'm sure, not doing it to become millionaires or to take over the wrestling world. I'm sure if they make a few bucks from it they'll be happy. But the point was to offer something new. Something different. A brand that has it's place in the world.

It wouldn't hurt TNA to take a look at a bunch of the smaller, niche, but interesting indy promotions that exist. Study how they draw fans in a different way, what makes the viewer tick and the ticket-buyer view. Don't copy one, but use some of those methods to help your own product.

An example? Look at how ROH makes wrestling matter. ROH is not an major international wrestling company for many reasons, including but not limited to lack of funding, substandard (compared to the big guns) production facilities and an in built lack of appreciation in the general populous for the art of pro wrestling. They are not big enough to re-educate, but they can provide a service to those and want it. And what a service.

ROH take care to make their guys look as though they care about what they do, that they have a reason for being in the ring. TNA have Shannon Moore spreading the word of DILLIGAF and Robbie E pretending to be Jersey Shore. That's fine in their own world, but tell us WHY they are in a wrestling company and not on a reality show. Shouldn't they want to be the best, to win titles, or at the very least earn money? ROH is somewhere that tries desperately hard to make it's matches count, and often delivers. If TNA took a quarter of the energy ROH does and put it into making wrestling matches count, they'd start getting something back from their audience. It would take time, but they can do it.

This doesn't mean having way more wrestling matches on the show. The opposite, in fact. Rather than having 5 x four minute matches and one ten-minute main event to total half an hour of wrestling, have just three matches and have two go eight minutes and one of them go twelve. Twenty-minutes of action, but so much more meaningful. Talk about the importance of those matches the week before and talk about the consequences of those matches the week after. It wouldn't be hard. It fact it would cause them less stress because there would be less to book.

And make the matches simple. No need to for throwaway gimmicks to pop 0.02 of an extra rating point. Using a ladder match stipulation randomly on Impact without hyping and with no real need, storyline-wise, for it to occur, means that people will simply not pay for this down the line. Why should they? You've told them it doesn't matter. You're always telling them it doesn't matter.

(TNA aren't the only ones guilty of this, by the way, as WWE can fall foul occasionally, but WWE are not the ones kicking unbelievably hard just to stay afloat. They are still making millions of dollars each month, just not as many millions as they were a few years ago.)

They could put more emphasis on X-Division action by occasionally theming a show to feature more X-Division wrestlers, including matches and profiles. Maybe even flashbacks to classic matches. They could do the same another week with the Knockouts. They could sign X-Div style wrestlers and female indy workers to one week contracts and simply bring them in to work a match here and there. It would indicate that it was the most prestigious belt of it's nature that people flocked to try and win. It would be different, it would make TNA stand out.

Perhaps you could got the same route with Tag Teams? You could even diversify into different weight classes (Though that's a blog for another day.) The point is to develop a television product which people put on their TV and say "I've never seen that before." It's what happened when Scott Hall walked into Nitro for the first time. No-one had seen a wrestler from a rival stroll in and take over. It was compelling. It happened when Austin starting flipping off Vince McMahon and raising hell. Wrestling had been homogenised for decades, and when this uncouth redneck told his boss where he could stick and did what he wanted to do it struck a chord.

TNA can't switch to a new style and double ratings overnight. Hell, they may even lose a few viewers to begin with, and this is I think is they main reason they wouldn't do it, because Spike would freak out if they experimented and dropped to below 1.0 again, like they did by going to Mondays. But that is the entire point in a nutshell. TNA went to Mondays and failed to offer anything different. The novelty of seeing Ric Flair and Ken Anderson and Jeff Hardy and Hulk Hogan in a different environment soon wears off, and while some will stick around for some blood and cursing, many more will flip back to WWE and watching something that is often very ordinary but occasionally displays class and logic, something TNA almost always misses the boat on.

I find myself getting into blogs like this with such passion because I actually care about TNA. I spent loads of time with them last week. They are nice people almost to a man and woman. They make you feel so welcome, and make you want to see them succeed. Which I do. And which is why I find myself making pleas to them to change because Impact simply doesn't work. Not as a viable, long-term alternative to WWE which is what they claim to want to be.

The audience for them is there. They have seen spikes in ratings on January 4th, the night after Bound for Glory and other times when they have announced a surprise or booked something intriguing. But they always lose that audience, because that audience wants to see something remarkable. Either the same as WWE but better or something different and equally as interesting. They won't still about for something which can't touch WWE in some ways, and is infuriatingly illogical in others.

TNA's brand identity could be so much. You could go two ways with it. It could be that TNA is the place to go to find the most diversity in wrestling. We got high-fliers, we got technical wrestling, we got funnymen, we got legends, we got girls, we got it all. In some ways they probably think they already have it. But they don't they. They have watery versions of each of them, which collectively add up to very little. If you don't think you can have X-Division style action and more, then ditch it. Forget it. Consign it to history. I think it would be a mistake but you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Don't go half-heartedly, give it your all. If you don't think it draws, bin it.

But I don't think they need to. As long they treat something - anything - with respect, they can get it over. Don't pretend the other brand doesn't exist, then in the same breath say it sucks. Do the opposite. Acknowledge WWE's existence. Even go so far as to publicly say the WWE is great. But then make you can say "WWE is great, but in our opinion we something a little different, and a little better" and then PROVE it. Because at the moment it is all words.

I wonder if TNA have a mission statement, or a constitution which defines who they are and why they are in the wrestling business. And I wonder how accurate it is. Because right now there is no way in the world a loyal TNA viewer could explain to you why they watch the show without referring to WWE. "I watch TNA because it is better/different than WWE" as an opinion statement is fine, but when you try to put meat on the sandwich there is nowhere to go. I'll be willing to bet that the follow would include either "I'm a huge AJ Styles/Jeff Hardy/Samoa Joe fan" or "I hate the fact that WWE is PG". Neither would be able, I'm sure, to say what they like about TNA. Both statements suggest that if something minor changed they'd be off like a shot. If WWE signed AJ or scrapped the PG thing, those fans would have their head turned.

But if you create an environment where the whole show has an exciting, fresh, different feel, and use this to create some top individual stars which can draw money (real money, not Impact Zone pops) then people might start saying "I love TNA because you know you'll get a great match every week" or "TNA is the best because they never phone it in" or "I never miss Impact because there are so many guys I care about" or "My whole family watches Impact because there is something for everyone".

As it is, TNA might as well be called NWWE, as in Not World Wrestling Entertainment. And the sad thing is that with a Brand vision there is unlimited potential for a company that makes fans care again, and has the finances, exposure and production set up to capitalise.

There is only one wrestling organisation that can do this.

We're still waiting.