Branding Issues pt. 1: The Kurt Angle-TNA Paradox
by, 09-25-2011 at 11:23 PM (2919 Views)
For wrestling fans old enough to remember the 1990s, the wrestling wars between the WWF and WCW were a dream come true. The WWE has churned out a mediocre, over-exposed, over-hyped product for a decade now. That said, it's still the best promotion running. This is a sad truth.
There are plenty of indie promotions for wrestling fans out there, but quite frankly, I'm just 1 of many typical fans: if it's not on TV I'm not paying attention. The only interest I have in indie wrestling is what I see on Botchamania. Currently there is only one other company on national TV: TNA.
Although TNA has made a few steps forward, they still take twice as many backwards in a circuitous attempt at establishing itself as a legit competitor to the WWE.
THE KURT ANGLE-TNA PARADOX
It's not fair to compare TNA to the WWE, because it is clearly evident that this is a home for WWE rejects, retreads, or will-never-bes, outside of a handful of home-grown TNA talent. Even the signing of RVD (whom I do not consider a retread or reject) by TNA failed to generate much interest for me. Despite the signing of RVD, the fact remains that the WWE's talent roster has always been far superior to TNA's. Why wouldn't it be? They pay the best.
Therein lies the paradox. Despite the less-than-stellar talent in TNA compared to the WWE, it is TNA that boasts the single top wrestling talent in the world: Kurt Angle (Top 2 when you count RVD).
Say what you want about Angle, there is no denying his ability. I can't think of a single wrestler ever he couldn't legitimately defeat. And by defeat I'm referring to a real wrestling match. Of course pro wrestling isn't about wins and losses, but this fact shouldn't be overlooked either. He's also no less than a 9 out of 10 when it comes to athletic ability, promo cutting and exuding personality. Particularly as a heal. This is where TNA has seriously dropped the ball.
We live in an era of hot-potato title reigns. This was something that the WWE never did, but ever since the post-Kliq political posturings by management behind the scenes, everybody seems to be assured of at least one run in the sun in WWE. This has been detrimental to the overall product - particularly when you consider they have not 1 but 2 world titles!
Though branding for the WWE is not really an issue, they've always been best at doing that anyway, for TNA we have a different situation entirely. For TNA branding is everything - at least, it should have been.
When TNA acquired Angle's services from the WWE in early 07 they had a golden opportunity.
What is important to understand with Angle's signing is that there was a massive talent gap in TNA - particularly in '07. TNA started out by doing the right thing. Kurt was crowned champion soon after his arrival. Where they've gone wrong is that since Kurt had been crowned champ, there have been 16 TNA Title changes. Kurt himself winning it 4 more times since May of 07. Those 16 title changes never should have happened. Since 07, and for as long as he is in TNA, Kurt Angle should have been and should be champion. One title reign. Not 5.
Not until TNA can legitimately boast someone else truly worthy of standing opposite Angle in ring can there be a considering of a title change. Let's be honest, there were only a few guys in the WWE that could fill that bill: Michaels, Undertaker, RVD are the three that come immediately to mind as performers in the ring that have the gravitas able to counter the raw ability of what Angle brings to the table. (There is also one other in this grouping who I shall get to in part 2). This should not be perceived as a knock against all of the other talents so much as it is a recognition of what an awesome talent Angle and the above mentioned wrestlers are. And though there have been some strides, there still remains the problem of a talent gap in TNA.
Talent gaps in professional wrestling are easily overcome. Look at ECW. That was a promotion with limited resources in the crossfire of the WWE-WCW war who revolutionized the industry. How? They did it by establishing and promoting a brand. What is TNA's brand? They don't have one. Not unless being the minors is something you want to promote.
The gambit Dixie played by bringing Hogan on and his merry band of WWE rejects from his Australia tour in 09 was an easy to predict failure. Not only has it failed, but it has done more harm than good for the talents already established in TNA and it's brand cultivation.
Having Angle as a perpetual reigning champ would have lent legitimacy and prestige to TNA while laying the foundation for a long term successful brand to emerge. While the WWE continues to play hot potato with their titles, TNA could have been gaining outside interest as being the company that has an unbeatable wrestling machine as their top dog. This would also take off some of the pressure on the younger guys trying to etch a name for themselves in the business. They'll know their jobs are to compete for the second tier titles (This is also why it is imperative to have a healthy tag team division in any promotion as it can help mask any perceived monotony of having one reigning champion).
There is an air of entitlement in the industry now. Even Mark Henry now becomes champion. I think here are more former world champions now than up and comers. This is not a good thing. It's dull. World title belts are not meant to be counted like world series of poker bracelets.
TNA had the chance to show everyone they have the best there is. The mid-carders would also have to understand, their talents are appreciated and needed - but this isn't about awards for time served anymore. This is the jungle, and when you're in the same promotion of Angle 99 times out of 100, you're going to be beneath him in the food chain.
Remember back to the early days of the renegade WWWF. Bruno Sammartino was crowned champion and held that title for the better part of a decade. In the meantime the WWWF laid the foundation as the world class top tier wrestling promotion in a sea of territorial promotions all aligned with the dark lords of the old NWA.
Bruno Sammartino was a bad mother f'er in his day, and his being the WWWF champion over the years as the NWA title flipped every year or so helped create a healthy wrestling environment, where everyone knew that they had the role and could all compete to be the next contender. I'll repeat: contender. Not champion (Ken Kennedy? really?).
I understand that Angle has had some run ins with the law as well. These are irrelevant. Nobody claims that he is a boy scout. With TNA being less a puppet of corporate interests as the WWE has aborted itself into, these legal issues shouldn't be as big a deal. Being promoted as a heal, this would only lend more credibility and mystique to his persona. The WWE saved itself from the abyss simulating countless arrests of Steve Austin after all.
I also understand that Kurt is very respectful of other talents he shares a locker room with. He himself is a product of the post-Kliq ways of handling the spotlight in the WWE. So Kurt is the last person who'd want to hog the spotlight and roll over other talents. But it shouldn't take a genius to know that for TNA to establish itself as a success Kurt would have to be that person and do just that. Again, more paradoxes and riddles wrapped in enigmas, or however that goes.
It wouldn't make any difference that Kurt had already made his name in the WWE beforehand either. His one epic reign in TNA would have overshadowed anything he ever did in the WWE (Think of Reggie Jackson going from the A's to the Yankees. He won 3 rings on the A's, but everyone remembers him as a Yankee. So yes, a 10 year reign would be the equivalent of 3 home runs in a World Series. I said it.).
The indisputable fact remains that Angle should have been TNA's Sammartino - planting a seed for a rival promotion to the WWE to truly develop at a grass roots level. Bringing in past greats like Hogan and Flair - which I am never opposed to doing. Showcasing old-timers in regular segments can work - only then to let them run the show making it all about them hurts the product, hurts the legacies of the wrestlers and talents involved - including RVD and Angle - and has been a major de-evolutionary step for TNA.
This error and opt for a quick solution, rather than building a legit brand to rival the monolithic WWE should come as no surprise. Being a company founded, and partially run by, Jeff Jarrett of the Jarrett promoting family, this should have been expected. Jeff has always been an underachiever inside of the ring, and any Jarrett promotion always seem destined to fail. Still, the Hogan failure lands in the lap of Dixie.
As a fan of pro wrestling desperately hoping to see a rival promotion take off and do battle with the WWE, I am put off.
The WWE has been so watered down and uninteresting for so long, meaning there isn't even any kind of simultaneous mass exodus (like Hall and Nash jumped to WCW or Benoit, Guerrero and company jumped to the WWF) over to TNA that would really matter. If Cena and Orton announced they were headed to TNA tomorrow I'd only yawn. They'd just have their promos interrupted so Hogan can bask in the rub their arrival would bring. Even if Hogan did depart - which I believe he will do sooner rather than later - there is still no direction left for TNA to go in of any substance.
TNA remains the equivalent of a pro wrestling pit stop.
Despite all this, there is still one slim hope left. As I write this entry on 9/25/11 Angle is currently the champion. There should be no changes in this current state of affairs - unless TNA can bring in the one talent out there who would be of immense interest to the entire pro wrestling world.
Due to character limits, you'll have to see who that is in part 2.