In April, 2010, I wrote the following in a blog post here in the Steel Cage:
“For my money Total Nonstop Action is, indeed, totaled – as in broken beyond repair.”
I went on to write that, no matter how much TNA worked to reverse its course, it was simply too late. After years of offering up one of the worst nationally televised wrestling products fans had ever seen, the damage had been done. There was no going back.
More than two years later, I can say, with confidence, that I have been proven right.
Yesterday, TNA announced the signing of talented mixed martial arts fighter “King” Mo Lawal in unprecedented deal that will also see the former Strike Force champion simultaneously compete in Bellator Fighting Championship. Although it remains to be seen how well King Mo will pick up on pro wrestling, most seem to agree that this was a good signing for TNA, which gets some mainstream publicity out of the signing, a bright prospect, and a star without the taint of “WWE reject.”
It was just the latest of several smart moves made by TNA in recent months. More than ever, TNA has moved away from aging former WWE and WCW stars of a decade ago in favor of young, homegrown talent, including reigning world champ Bobby Roode and top contender “Cowboy” James Storm. The company has launched compelling and original new initiatives, including the Open Fight Night challenge, in which an unknown competes for a TNA contract, its Gut Check tryout camp, and weekly televised defenses on its TV title. Eric Bischoff has been, at least for now, fazed out of television, and Hulk Hogan is playing the logical role of the wise authority figure. Last year, TNA entered into a deal with Ohio Valley Wrestling, which produced several top WWE stars, for OVW to become its official developmental territory. It also successfully launched sister promotion Ring Ka King in India to tap into the wrestling market there. The polarizing Vince Russo was replaced as head of creative by the well-respected wrestling mind Dave Lagana. And TNA recently made the decision to move Impact Wrestling up to the 8 p.m. time slot on Thursday nights with hopes of broadening its audience.
To be sure, some big mistakes continue to be made, including the shameless over-pushing of Garrett Bischoff, one of the greenest rookies the sport has seen in years, even as far as wrestling promoters’ sons go. But there’s no question that TNA has been doing a lot right as of late. I’d go as far as to say that, right now, TNA is putting out its best wrestling product in at least five years.
And yet, week in and week out, the television ratings and overall buzz over the TNA product remain as flat as ever. On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense. For years, wrestling fans clamored for TNA to improve its product. Now they finally get their wish, and still they are not watching.
The answer goes back to my blog post two years ago: Total Nonstop Action is, indeed, totaled.
Consider this comparison: If every few weeks, your neighbor knocked on your door asking to borrow money, and then went out and blew that money at the track, pretty soon you’d stop lending him money. And even if that neighbor legitimately worked hard to turn over a new leaf, there’s still a good chance you wouldn’t open the door.
From offensive characters, to mind-numbing lapses in logic, to needlessly rushing through storylines, to inefficiently relying on blood and dangerous stunts, to over-pushing has-beens and under-pushing could-be’s, TNA just did too much wrong for too many years to ever be given the benefit of the doubt by a sizable portion of wrestling fans.
Time and time again, TNA squandered the good will of fans through its bad decisions, and now, it’s paying the price. In that 2010 blog post, I opined that TNA “could literally bring in John Cena, Steve Austin and the Rock” and it wouldn’t make a difference to TV ratings. While I may never be able to prove that, this much is true today: TNA regularly features such proven stars as Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Kurt Angle, and Impact’s ratings are still in the same range as they were six years ago.
Observers will continue to offer ideas for TNA to turn its fortunes around, and Dixie Carter and company will—and should—continue to try out new ideas to captivate wrestling fans. But, as TNA heads towards its tenth anniversary next month, I’m sorry to say that all too little, too late.
I’m not saying TNA is going out of business any time soon. Its viewership remains stronger than most anything on Spike, and Carter’s rich parents will likely continue to subsidize their daughter’s fantasy of being a big time wrestling promoter.
But anyone watching Impact Wrestling with the hopes of it growing and giving the WWE a run for its money is just dreaming. TNA made its bed, and it will continue to lie in it.
No matter how much TNA changes for the better, it's reputation won't