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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Pay Per Views

This month’s two highly anticipated wrestling pay per views tell you all you need to know about the differences between WWE and TNA, and why TNA continues to struggle to grow its modest fan base.

In this corner you have WWE’s August 14th SummerSlam event – traditionally one of the company’s two or three biggest pay per views of the year. For the 2010 installment, WWE is delivering the pay off of one of the hottest storylines the sport has seen in years – the invasion of the WWE NXT Season 1 rookies. While it has not been without its flaws, it is still one of the most compelling and intricately booked wrestling storylines in a long time.

That feat is particularly impressive considering the fact that the whole angle – and really much of WWE’s business in recent months – has relied on the performances of seven very green and very unproven “rookies.” In fact, it would have seemed downright impossible just a few months ago that the likes of Michael Tarver and Skip Sheffield would be headlining one of the biggest wrestling pay per views of the year.

But WWE has done a tremendous job of establishing the Nexus as a group that is far more than the sum of its parts. Rather, they are a gang of bullies whose strength in numbers makes up for what each member individually lacks in experience and technique. It’s believable that every WWE superstar would be afraid of the Nexus, just as even Brock Lesnar would be afraid of taking on seven first-year mixed martial arts fighters –at the same time.

Still, WWE was presented with a particularly difficult challenge in delivering the inevitable Team WWE vs. Team Nexus match: How do you create an even playing field? Logic dictates that a team of seven of WWE all-stars, including several former world champions, should make easy work of seven “rookies.” But WWE has taken care of those details as well.

It makes sense that John Cena would put aside past differences and reach out to both friends and enemies alike to put together the very best team he could. It makes sense that he would want multiple-time world champions Edge and Chris Jericho on his team, as well as upper-mid card role-players like John Morrison and R-Truth and a powerhouse in the form of Great Khali. And because of the strength of those six members alone, it also makes sense that Cena would extend an invitation to the team’s “weak link,” Bret Hart, who would understandably want his pound of flesh for Nexus’ attack on him several months ago.

But it also makes sense that, despite Cena’s best intentions, the various personalities on his team would clash. And it’s that dissention within Team WWE that makes it vulnerable in a match against a group of wrestlers who would otherwise be no contest against seven established WWE stars.

It all combines to create a main event worthy of one of the most anticipated events of the wrestling year.

More importantly, it continues on WWE’s nearly year-long streak now of creating new top level talent. The notoriety that the Nexus members are receiving from this opportunity will undoubtedly help them in the long run – even long after Nexus one day disbands. What’s more, the popularity of the Nexus storyline could help draw attention to the NXT Season 2 rookies, and even give WWE some momentum in trying to get Season 3 picked up. Now that’s an investment in your future.

And in this corner you have TNA's Hardcore Justice.

Add mine to the list of those people who think Dixie Carter’s latest ECW reunion – a derivative of a derivative of a derivative of an old concept – is a terrible and potentially disastrous idea.

This much I cannot dispute: In the short term, the buzz – even the negative kind - behind this Sunday’s Hardcore Justice pay per view is helping TNA’s business. Last Thursday’s Impact! delivered one of show’s highest ratings of the year. And I expect TNA to sell many more pay per views than it usually does this Sunday. Heck, I’m not about to miss what could be the biggest train wreck since the notorious Heroes of Wrestling pay per view.

But even if the small number of ECW nostalgia-buffs is enough to give TNA’s a short-term bump in business - at what price is that reward coming? TNA is essentially banking that it can make more money promoting a brand it does not own than it can featuring its own talent, writers and storylines.

Having stabilized its ratings on Thursday night after its failed bid to go head to head with Monday Night Raw, it is critical for TNA to keep its momentum going in the right direction. Instead, during an important time in TNA’s growth, Dixie Carter has effectively handed over her company’s monthly pay per view showcase to help get over a WWE brand and a number of aging wrestlers who don’t work for her. Not only does she see nothing wrong with this, she is so proud of her plan that she began hyping it weeks in advance as something that would “change TNA forever.”

Far from true “change,” TNA’s Hardcore Justice experiment embodies all the same deep flaws that have plagued TNA for years. Rather than invest in creating new stars, TNA continues to stake its business on old names and old ideas.

It’s astonishing that in the same month that AJ Styles is announced as the first TNA wrestler ever to top the PWI 500, he will likely be left off one of TNA’s biggest pay per views of the year.

-Al Castle

Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did the pay-per-view tonight just make you sad? If there is one thing everyone should know, you can't turn back the clock. Time marches on. The hands on the clock move forward each second, each minute, each hour, each day. This seemed like TNA was trying to turn back time.

I was a fan of ECW back in the day, but that was then. To me, this was sad. And I was sad that Paul Heyman, Tod Gordon, Shane Douglas, and the others weren't there to say goodbye. It's time to let go ...