With TNA having taken another major step this past week (the beginning of semi-regular live Impact tapings), I thought it was time to evaluate the roster and take stock of what the company has going for it. Nothing too official or even logical, just how I see things!
To begin, let's take a look at the bottom rung of the ladder, the Tag Team division (that's right, I'd even rate it below the Knockouts). What was once a staple of the weekly show has fallen into disrepair. Last year, TNA put so much emphasis on the rivalry between the Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money, that the entire division slipped through their fingers without them realising. Team 3D had a very public falling out, which worked in Bubba's favour, Devon...not so much, eliminating the cornerstone of tag team wrestling in one foul swoop. Generation Me were granted their releases (big mistake). Ink Inc have all but disappeared. Eric Young and Orlando Jordan's freak show amounted to nothing. Even the big two of MCMG and BM have gone their seperate ways through injury or circumstance, leaving the once prosperous division at the mercy of...Mexican America...*sigh*. This faction has been running in place for the past several months, leaving no lasting impression (other than being a low rent LAX) and the only reason for their renewed push being Jeff Jarrett's newfound love of racism. Should I give them a second chance to prove themselves, who do they have left to face, who are their competition? The British Invasion (another clear case of "i'm foreign, you're foreign, let's be foreign together!!!"), Devon & The Pope (who're set to implode every other minute) or potentially the two Robbies (creative clearly has nothing for you...). Basically, there's no weight or substance to this division AT ALL. It could blow away in a strong wind, it's so paper thin. Taking the Tag Team Championships off of Beer Money was a HUGE mistake. At the very least, they provided a solid foundation to build upon. I know Roode and Storm were both hoping to transition into singles stars, but this is about putting them where they're needed most. I wish Mexican America the best of luck in their title reign, but something tells me having the Mexican flag blot out the view of the audience every week isn't going to draw money. D+
Also struggling, but showing definite signs of life, is the Knockouts division. This was another area where TNA once flourished, but have recently lost their way. While I found myself enjoying Madison Rayne's domination of the division earlier in the year, the way they brought in past Knockouts and fed them to her one by one was devastating. If TNA ever wanted to rebuild the division and bring those women back in, tough luck, they've already assasinated their characters in blatant squash matches to build Madison's credibility. Now, I shouldn't really be taking about Madison, because absolutely no one else in TNA is. For all the work they put into pushing Rayne, she's become an afterthought. Mickie took her Knockouts Championship, Tara got her long deserved revenge (not in a PPV match mind you) and now she's become the very fodder she once ran through, if she appears at all. I don't want to sound critical of the Knockouts' workrate at all, as they put on a hell of a show each and every time, but I feel as though ever since Mickie James forfilled her quest to win the KO Championship, the division went into autopilot, like Angelina Love in her zombie state. There will never be a lack of contenders, but it's been all sizzle and no steak. Now the only real story of the division is ODB and Jackie attempting to worm their way back in, which is ridiculous as they'd been another pair used as cannon fodder mere months ago. How can we invest in the stories presented to us, if TNA won't even invest themselves? But like I said at the beginning, there are always signs of life gleaming through, daring us to enjoy ourselves once again. For instance, a few months back when Mickie and Tara tore the house down in a main event cage match, which could've been one of the finest moments in women's wrestling history. Another bright spot being the continual evolution of Velvet Sky. She'll never win any awards for technical wrestling, but she exudes charisma each and every week, even putting on a damn fine arena-sprawling brawl with ODB not too long ago. When the women of Impact Wrestling are given the spotlight, they don't hesitate to shine. It's just a shame the booking lacks any consistency. C+
When it comes to the Television Title and its "division", I generally try to find both positives and negatives, but this one falls squarely in the latter, with no hope of redemption. TNA fundamentally need that secondary title for midcarders to aspire to, unfortunately, its gone walkabout. Eric Young has held that Championship hostage for three months now and has done absolutely nothing with it apart from pick a fight with Scott Baio. I thought maybe, just maybe, he and Gunner would’ve continued their feud and given added depth to both their characters, but they’ve gone their separate ways and now Young seems content to make a joke of himself and his title. Not that the TV Title had much credibility to begin with, what with it’s forever changing name (yet never changing appearance!). TNA need to cut the c*** and get serious with this belt. Put it on a respected member of the locker room and watch its stock soar. That way when someone finally does win it, it means something. My personal preferences – put it on Samoa Joe and have him defend it each and every week, mowing through contenders left, right and centre. Have the mockery of Eric Young as Champion get under his skin, set him loose and you know…DO SOMETHING WITH THE TITLE! F
Now, onto one of the major reasons why I keep tuning in every week – the X Division! Since it’s rebirth at Destination X and subsequent expanded roster, I’m genuinely eager to see what they’ve got in store for me every episode. True, it was somewhat ridiculous a couple of weeks ago having them all take part in a Gauntlet match in which pin falls inexplicably occurred within seconds rather than minutes, but these are some ridiculously talented men! Another recent talking point was the introduction of a weight class, making it a defacto cruiserweight division (and kind of ruining the tag line “it’s not about limits, it’s about no limits”). Personally, I’m rather happy that the larger heavyweights such as Abyss have been permanently excluded from a traditionally high flying division, as those David and Goliath matches were becoming tedious. Now at least we get two (or more) men who can match each other beat for beat and the division is all the more exciting for it! While the current X Division Champion is Brian Kendrick, I don’t think Spanky is quite cutting it, especially in the promo department. Ask him to talk and you’ll be lucky to understand anything he says. Sure, you’ll get a big laugh out of it, but surely that indicates he’s more of a novelty act than someone you’d build a division around. In my estimation, the true highlight of the division currently is none other than Double A, Austin Aries. He’s not reinventing the heel wheel, but he’s sure taking it for a spin! I absolutely love his current persona, where he’ll happily point out the failings of the face and take downright glee in masking his own. If TNA have any sense, he’ll be a cornerstone for the X Division for years to come. B
Finally, it’s time for the big boys as I tackle the Heavyweight division! This is the part of the card where I feel TNA have experimented most over the last year, particularly since Hogan and Bischoff arrived. Their choice of champions and number one contenders was them clearly trying to get a feel for the lay of the land (others might call it throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck). One month they’d be focussing on AJ Styles, the next it’d be Pope D’Angelo Dinero, the next it’d be Matt Morgan, or Mr Anderson, or Jeff Hardy, the list goes on and on. The rather sad conclusion you could draw from their recent booking would seem to indicate that none of them stuck, as the last six months has had the World Title placed squarely on the shoulders of already established talent. Hogan and Bischoff have utterly failed to build any viable contenders or champions in all their time with the company, forcing them to fall back on the likes of Sting and Kurt Angle again and again. That’s not to say the old guard’s reigns haven’t been enjoyable, as they’ve carried the company just as management knew they would, but how much longer can they keep it up? Crimson and Gunner are clearly being groomed for such a position in the future, but they’ve still got a long way to go yet. Speaking of which, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Bound for Glory series at all in regard to the heavyweights. The fundamental idea of a series building towards your biggest PPV’s main event is brilliant without a doubt. It allows for every match to matter, to play into a bigger picture. Like most things in TNA, failings start to appear in the implementation. Just like the Top 10 rankings from the previous year, as the end goal comes into sight, all reasons flies out the window! In that case it was Angle hop, skip and jumping over certain rankings, never entirely maintaining an easy to follow, workable ladder. This year the build-up has fallen prey to a number of unforeseeable events, whether it be injuries, hotshot angles or a talent just not getting over with the crowd like they were supposed to. However, as I said before, the idea itself is sound and gives TNA something unique each year for the fans to look forward to (assuming they don’t change it again!). I greatly look forward to seeing who makes it into the Bound for Glory main event against Kurt Angle. Out of the current top contenders, I’d be rather curious to see how Bobby Roode might handle such a situation, but I’m somewhat convinced it’ll be Crimson, injury or no. Only the future holds the answers! B+
In summation, a solid basis for a promotion. It has its faults, as everything does on some level, but there’s promise laced throughout the roster and if given the right push, they could topple this generation’s WWE, just as WCW gave them a run for their money in the 90s. Their main stumbling block is the overreliance on nostalgia acts inherited from other promotions blocking the way of anything truly fresh from being nurtured. With Hogan, Flair and Sting staking out the top of card on merit alone, they even curtailed the burgeoning pushes of the generation that should be headlining now (Styles, Daniels, Joe, etc.), let alone those they’re grooming in their place (Crimson, Gunner, etc.). The Heavyweight division will always the last to embrace change, I just hope the old guard let go before it’s too late and the next generation are left to prosper.