Leading up to Monday, I was asked by several people how I felt about the new and supposed Monday Night War, which was about to begin between the WWE and TNA. For the most part I kept my answer brief and vague because I didn’t really have an opinion. When in doubt, say nothing until you’re sure of where you stand. Admittedly, I don’t always play by that rule, but having nothing to go on but hype and anticipation, I wanted to see what happened first. Also, I was pretty new to wrestling when the original Monday Night Wars were drawing to a close. I didn’t fully appreciate what was happening until much later.
Raw was guest hosted by Bret Hart this week and it was a huge deal. After twelve years of hurt feelings, bruised egos and ever-increasing dollar bills hanging like a carrot from a stick, Bret Hart finally returned to the WWE and it worked. It was exciting. The fact that I was as excited as I was took me by surprise. I wasn’t just worked up about Bret’s return, I was actually looking forward to Raw as a whole. That hasn’t happened too often lately. I’ve mentioned before that Bret Hart is one of the very few wrestlers I remember as a kid. I have no overt affection for him but, to a point, he is my oldest wrestling crush.
His moment of recompense with Shawn Michaels over the Montreal Screwjob at the top of the show was fascinating. It was like that family member you fell out with at so-and-so’s wedding coming up to you at some other family function and offering to make peace. When I first started watching wrestling, one of the things I loved about it was that you were never truly sure what was real and what was being played out for a storyline. It was neorealism before neorealism was cool. Often the lines were blurry, mixing genuine personal events with fictitious storylines. That still goes on but with the arrival of social media, secrets are harder to keep under wraps. One slip of the fingers on someone’s iPhone and a whole month of feuds could be blown. But it was different when I started watching. Ahhh life before the internet. Remember? Yeah, I’m struggling too.
The opening gambit where Shawn and Bret agreed to bury the hatchet without bringing it down on each other’s heads felt real. It fed off real emotions, yet you knew a story had been penned and agreed in advance. The whole show had a flow it’s been sorely lacking in recent months. Even down to the way The Miz entered the ring while Maryse was leaving. And that’s something that can continue regardless of whether Bret Hart is there or not. It wasn’t all wonderful. They could have done a lot more. But if Bret Hart’s got a floating contract to run until after WM26, the potential for interaction with young talent, specifically The Hart Dynasty, might still exist.
Moving on to less congenial television, TNA iMPACT was painful. I’ve made no effort in the past to hide the fact that I always find it painful to watch TNA. It sets my teeth on edge more than once every single week. It’s not that their wrestlers are bad. In most cases they’re pretty talented. Their Women’s Division alone is stacked with excellent workers and strong characters. But the lack of effort that goes into the production makes me want to yank my hair out from the follicles. Even little things drive me to distraction; the incessant crowd noise and awful acoustics, just for a start.
I explained how I felt about Hogan’s signing to TNA when it first blew up. I haven’t changed that view in the past couple of days. No, I don’t like him. I think he’s an awful figurehead for any company and he signifies everything I don’t want new fans of wrestling to buy in to. There’s no doubt his name is still a draw, but unless TNA make plans to progress the young talent begging for structured storylines with equally worthy wrestlers soon, they’ll do nothing but re-hash old feuds between wrestlers who can’t make the matches believable any more. The older statesmen should be used to put the younger talent over. If they refuse to do that, the whole company will become famous for being nothing more than the free night-bus for those with nowhere else to go.
TNA bookers are like magpies, picking up every mildly sparkling free agent available but with no plans for how they might polish them to a brilliant shine. It was anticipated that Hulk Hogan’s debut on iMPACT would force the show to be largely about him. But the fact that he’s making the entire company about him and his grotesque friends is appalling, and I still believe Dixie Carter will regret having him on board. At the very least I think she’ll regret giving him so much power. Eric Bischoff less so. He understands business. But Hogan’s there for a retirement party and a pay-cheque. I’m all for ‘jobs for the boys’. We all like to look after our friends, but this level of nepotism is pathetic, both creatively and in a business sense. If I never see Brian Knobbs’ hideous face again, it’ll be too soon.
I have my own views on Jeff Hardy and Ric Flair’s bookings on Monday night and they revolve around loyalty. I’ll keep them to myself unless anyone actually wants to know what I think. Otherwise, hey, they’re both free to work for who they please. Who am I to be their moral compass? If Ric Flair needs to pay his electricity bill, it’s not for me to say he can’t keep his heating on at night. But purely on a booking level, they make no sense. Jeff’s in court for drug offences soon and Flair can’t possibly have anything to offer in-ring. Use what you’ve got. Seek out your best assets and plug them to the hills. It’s not rocket science. Don’t grab at everything left on shell because it’s a brand everyone recognises. Have the self-confidence to turn people down from time-to-time. If the good stuff gets sidelined because the ‘names’ want an undeserved slice of the airtime pie, you should be outraged.
TNA are akin to teenagers having sex. All the mechanics are there and they’re sure they know how to do it, but they’re nervous, over-enthusiastic and they rush their way through the parts they should linger on. There was something very mature and confident about Raw this week. And I recognise the irony in calling any show with a Hornswoggle segment ‘mature’, but it managed to deliver a well balanced show in a methodical and experienced manner. It was easy. It had rhythm and a gripping ending. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve shouted at the screen watching Raw too. But Raw’s problems are largely creative. They can easily be fixed. Also, WWE has other brands and business off-shootsto fall back on if one element of its product isn’t working.
There’s no doubt that TNA put their stamp on the industry on Monday night. In many ways, I admire their pluck, the fact that they had the courage to stand up to Vince McMahon and demand his attention. It certainly worked. But to sustain the momentum they kickstarted this week, TNA are going to have to try harder. The novelty factor will wear off very quickly; not just for the viewers but I suspect for several of the newly signed roster too. Hulk Hogan in particular.
(I will recap Raw in the usual way before the end of the week. I promise I haven’t lost my sense of humour. Honest, guvna!)