State of the art: The transformation of TNA

Professional wrestling is in one of its strangest periods of the last two decades. In that time wrestling promotions have come and gone, stars and icons have been made, and legends we grew to love have reached the end of their illustrious careers. However, one of the strangest things of the current time is the placement of TNA in the global wrestling picture.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t receive TNA television any more, so I will do what I can to explain just how TNA currently performs. While it’s impossible to summarise the history of TNA in anything less than a 12 set volume, I will do my best to do so in a few paragraphs to show just how far TNA has come and, more importantly, how it is on the fast track to redeeming itself after years of erroneous management decisions.

TNA began 10 years ago in the aftermath of the WWE monopolisation. WCW and ECW had both been bought out by the billion-dollar corporation and suddenly wrestlers only had one place to go if they ever wanted to achieve superstardom. Jeff and Jerry Jarrett decided that wouldn’t do, so began TNA in the ashes of what they hoped would be a glorious phoenix for independent wrestling.

Within two years, TNA Impact was being aired on Spike TV utilising a slew of new wrestlers from the independent scene as well as those left behind by WWE. TNA were willing to give chances to those who had never received them, were unique with their six sided ring and separate entrances for heels and faces, and highlighted their X-Division stars.

Sting, Kurt Angle, Christian Cage, Jeff Hardy, Booker T and many others found their way to TNA giving the brand instant standing as the new place to be. While a ratings war was not going to be in the cards any time soon, the brand was becoming more and more mainstream to the point where they were on prime time television.

Unfortunately, Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff were then brought into TNA. Hogan declared that the six sided ring was reminiscent of a “playpen” and turned one of TNA’s most unique concepts into nothing. The X-Division Championship was given to ‘The Monster’ Abyss and the entire division was left to flounder.

But most importantly, the opportunities TNA had been giving to unknown wrestlers – men and women alike – for all the years previous were suddenly going to people who were far past their prime. Seriously, at one point a then 43-year-old Mick Foley won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship from a 49-year-old Sting before losing it to a 40-year-old Kurt Angle. Add the failed concepts of Immortal and Fortune, and TNA were flushing everything they had accomplished down the drain.

Towards the end of 2013, Bischoff and Hogan both left TNA with their contracts expiring. The only piece of that puzzle left to remove was TNA president Dixie Carter. After spending years as an on-screen goody two shoes, she began to turn into quite the ‘Queen Bee’ in the middle of 2013. As a result, the fans and many wrestlers – at least in storyline – began to really hate her.

Enter MVP.

The former WWE United States Champion and Tag Team Champion had been making waves throughout Japan for a few years. The timing was serendipitous; TNA needed a new face and MVP was wanting to come home. As such, he came in as the storyline investor bringing with him a number of independent stars and Japanese connections.

Granted, not every success can be brought down to MVP’s arrival, but he is truly the face of change in TNA. As he entered, a myriad of changes have come with him: Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards also arrived making an immediate impact (excuse the pun); EC3 is really hitting his stride; Dixie Carter has been forced from her storyline management position and is no longer on TNA television; Jeff Hardy has reinvented himself so that he needs not focus take away from the focus of other stars; Magnus is becoming a World Champion who actually competes; Rockstar Spud is finally fulfilling his ‘wrestling’ portion of his contract; Wrestle-1 has signed a working agreement with TNA resulting in Sanada becoming the new X-Division Champion; Angelina Love and Brittany have both returned to the Knockouts division; and most recently, Bobby Lashley has returned into a high profile feud that will see EC3 become one of the top stars in the industry.

That is a lot of change to take in, but it can best be summarised as follows: TNA are putting a focus once again on their X-Division, utilising the Wrestle-1 stars to do so; TNA are giving opportunities to wrestlers who have not had one or who deserve a second; and most importantly, TNA are listening to their fans and creating good television once again with entertaining characters and concepts.

Change in wrestling is often exciting – such has been the last six months in TNA – but it is what follows a revolution that really determines its success. If TNA continue to entertain as this revolution turns into normality, then this will have been one of the best success stories in recent wrestling history. And hopefully, just maybe, Impact Wrestling will be back on New Zealand television screens before too long.