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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Where Did The 739,000 Fans Go?

My first reaction upon hearing the news that Impact had scored a lowly .5 Nielsen rating this past week was, "Ugg! I wouldn't want to be at TNA's Nashville headquarters about now!" But when I learned that Raw had done the same 3.1 it did last week when Impact scored a 1.0, it made me think about the overall state of wrestling: I could somewhat understand Impact losing 739,000 viewers to Raw; Raw had a three-hour "Draft" special, while Impact was offering a taped broadcast. Just as the stars were aligned to give Impact a relatively good rating a week ago, the opposite was true this week.

If Impact had stolen viewers from Raw with a strong, live show a week ago, looking at the .5 could have lead one to believe that Raw recouped its losses this week. That wasn't the case, however. Impact lost half its viewers and Raw did not pick them up! My question is, where did these fans go?

Unless somebody started the NFL season without telling me, I can't think of a single reason why there would be a 12 percent loss in the total wrestling audience one week (6,106,000-5,267,000). Why such a major overall drop-off?

I'd like to tell you that I know the answer, but I don't. Maybe you have some suggestions you'd like to share. And while you're at it, can you tell me how, coming off such a hot show, Impact managed to lose half its audience? I know it was taped and people have easy access to the results, but that can't explain such a steep decline, can it?

One further note: TNA might have to get used to the possibility that the 739,000 fans who viewed Impact on Monday night is their viewership baseline. Before Impact was slotted on Monday nights, I believed that the 1.2 rating Impact was averaging on Thursday nights was a given, and I'm pretty sure that TNA management felt the same way. Now we can surmise that a good chunk of that Thursday audience was comprised of people who merely like to watch wrestling and were not necessarily TNA loyalists. TNA had a good thing going as the only wrestling show televised on Thursday night. Its audience was consistent in the 1.2/1.3 range and there was no discussion over which shows were taped and which were live.

I know it would be a blow to certain people in the organization with mega egos, but it might be worth TNA considering throwing in the towel on Monday nights. If they need to save face, they can always spin it that they are moving as a service to its fans with Monday Night Football quickly approaching.

Stu Saks/Publisher

Friday, April 23, 2010

Benjamin Gone From WWE

I just saw where WWE did its annual "Spring cleaning." There really weren't many surprises in my opinion, although releasing Mickie James and Shelton Benjamin was bound to generate strong reaction from wrestling fans, both positively and negatively.

After digesting this news and many of the fans' comments posted at various Internet outlets, I truly feel some fans really tend to overestimate Shelton Benjamin.

I appreciate his wrestling ability, I acknowledge his amateur background, and I'll even admit that WWE probably didn't use his talents fully. However, I can only assume that there were legitimate reasons for Shelton's lack of a push. Having no so-called insider information, I can only opine that it was Benjamin's rather bland personality and shaky mike skills that got in his way.

It has become something of a cliche to say that in today's industry, wrestlers must be more than sound technicians, they have to be entertainers as well, especially in WWE, where Vince McMahon is attempting to sell his superstars, not competitive wrestling. Clearly, Benjamin lacked charisma, despite several attempts by WWE to "get him over." Granted, the "Mama" and "Gold Standard" programs were not among WWE's strongest, but they do indicate that Creative had at least tried.

So far, I've seen fans use terms such as "big mistake" and "regret" and "screwed" when writing about Benjamin's firing. To that I respond, "Not really." Benjamin had what looked like tons of potential, but facts are facts, and the fact is that in the eight years he wrestled as part of the main WWE roster, WWE was unable to elevate him to the main-event level.

Having said all that, I still feel it is worth TNA's while to consider adding Benjamin to the roster at some point. What do you think?

Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Chief

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ROH is much more than just the "wrestling" promotion

People often say that Ring of Honor features the highest quality wrestling of any American promotion.

What an insult.

I’m being a bit feceitious when I write that, but the fact is that Ring of Honor’s long-standing reputation as “the work rate promotion” fails to acknowledge everything that the company brings to the table. Yes, you are almost always guaranteed at least a couple of matches in the four-star range when you watch a major ROH show. But ROH is about so much more than that.

After a tough few months during which ROH tried to find its footing in the wake of losing Nigel McGuinness and Bryan Danielson at the same time, the Philadelphia-based promotion is once again banging on all cylinders, and reminding mainstream wrestling fans how refreshing it can be to have an alternative to TNA and WWE.

Indeed, ROH’s athletes have put on several stellar performances in recent months. At April’s “Big Bang” Internet pay-per-view alone, two matches – The Briscoe Brothers vs. The Kings of Wrestling and the triple threat match featuring Tyler Black, Austin Aries and Roderick Strong – were both early Match of the Year candidates.

But that show also featured another one of ROH’s best traits, and one that is too often taken for granted – its ability to tell stories.

Consider this: It was nearly four months after Kevin Steen betrayed his longtime partner El Generico before the two had any kind of physical contact at all. When they finally did at the Big Bang, where Generico teamed with Colt Cabana against Steen and Steve Corino, the atompshere was intense to say the least.

But even in that match, the physicality between Steen and Generico was reserved for when it made the most impact. Now, heading into this weekend’s ROH event in Chicago, the “Come-As-You-Are Streetfight” between these same two teams is a legitimate main event.

Now that’s the kind of disciplined wrestling storytelling you don't see much these days. If it were TNA, we could expect Generico and Steen to split, wrestle each other, get back together again, and split again within two hours. WWE is better disciplined in its storylines, but even it tends to rush through key angles in feuds that could be spread out over several months.

The same kind of patient, intricate booking has been on display in the ongoing saga between Roderick Strong and ROH heavyweight champion Tyler Black. As a friend of Black, Strong agreed to be his hand-picked ringside judge when Black beat Aries for the title back in February. But he did so on one condition – that Black would give Strong a title shot.

Strong got that title shot at the Big Bang, but Jim Cornette threw a monkey wrench into things when he added Aries to the mix. Strong was infuriated at the decision, and further disheartened when he was the first one eliminated during that match.

ROH announced last week that Strong would finally get his one-on-one title shot against Black at an upcoming New York event in May. A match that could have conceivably been put together at any time in the last five months now feels like a uniquely big deal. And Strong, who has spent much of his seven-year ROH career in the mid-card, is now a true main-event star.

Again, wrestling storytelling at its finest.

There have been numerous other examples in recent months: the ROH TV title tournament culminating with partners Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards competing in the finals; estranged former tag team partners Chris Hero and Claudio Castignoli reuniting to challenge for and win the tag team championship; aging veteran Jerry Lynn coming out of semi-retirement to seek vengeance against the man who nearly ended his career, Kenny King.

It’s a disservice to ROH to only praise its wrestlers’ ability to put on great matches. Their ability - and those of ROH bookers – to tell great stories is every bit as important.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Rare Opportunity For TNA

Impact's rating for this past Monday night will be telling. No, I am not expecting Impact to approach Raw's rating, however, I do expect to see something more substantial than a 0.6 or 0.8. That's because much like the proverbial "deck" was stacked in WWE's favor on Monday, March 27 with Raw riding the return of "Stone-Cold" Steve Austin as well as WrestleMania 26 fallout, circumstances on April 19 were favorable to TNA Impact.

With no PPV momentum, several roster members stranded in Europe due to valcano-related travel restrictions, and a weak guest host, Impact received a very rare opportunity to grab some viewers on Monday night.

So, did TNA hit a home run? Not quite, but it may have squeezed out a double, which would be miles better than the strike-outs it's been committing on most Monday nights.

I think Impact took full advantage of its unopposed 8:00 pm hour with a hot opening segment, during which Hogan announced a can't-miss double main event: Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam in a number-one contenders match and the winner vs. AJ Styles for the TNA World title.

Airing the RVD-Hardy bout a few moments before the 9:00pm start of Raw was smart, as was beginning the title bout just before Raw's unopposed 10:00 hour. For what it's worth, I stuck around for Impact's slight overrun, and I was glad I did.

Most importantly, TNA followed through with a clean title change. Yes, taking the belt off AJ and putting it on RVD may be a bit short-sighted, but unlike WWE, TNA gave its fans what they wanted. Besides, right now, TNA must do something each week to stop the bleeding.

I'll be curious to see whether or not TNA's hot-shotting pays off in the ratings. How about you?

Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Cheif

Monday, April 12, 2010

One thing I'll never understand about wrestling fans...

...is why they go to shows and simply sit on their hands.

To wit: This past Saturday night, I went to the debut show of the Power Wrestling Federation in Bridgeport, CT. A buddy of mine, who has a usual group of 6-8 guys that watch WWE pay-per-views together and go to random local independent shows, recruited me for the trip.

Now, being the journalist that I am, shows like this rarely faze me. At the risk of sounding jaded or arrogant, I get how the business works. As opposed to “bigger” or more regional indies, shows like the one I went to are always the same: a handful of green rookies and part-time guys who love the business (and want to be a part of it) mixed in with a handful of “names” who have a symbiotic relationship with the indies—the promoter has the paycheck they want/need to keep their career alive, while they have the name the promoter wants/needs to draw in a crowd.

It’s the wrestling equivalent of, say, single-A baseball; 75% of the guys you see won't ever make it any further, but love the game too much to quit.

I, personally, go to these shows to have fun. Sure, I’m “wise” to the business, but in essence, it’s also a good reminder that just about every great in the industry started their career in a spot like this—and as guys like Matt Borne and Danny Doring show, many who never reached those heights still do these shows to hold on to the one thing they love doing.

So we went, and there were good moments, bad moments, and funny moments—the latter mostly courtesy of guys like Doring and Borne who get the psychology of wrestling—but you’d never know it.

Why? Because of the 100 or so people at the Shehan Center, about 15 of us made nay noise at anything all night…and outside of my group, the other handful that seemed to care we quickly pegged as people who know and/or are related to at least one of the guys on the show.

Sure, there wasn’t anything on the card that really classified as must see wrestling (unless you’re attracted to Daffney or particularly enjoy Abyss). And yes, because it was the first show, there were bound to be guys who nobody but their mothers had ever heard of.

But did I really sit there and watch almost the entire crowd not pop for a single thing until the main event?

As confirmed by my friends, I did. So my question, then, is if that's going to be how you spend your night, why bother going?

Guys like Smith James, Mike Magnum, and “The Fabulous One” Flames (who oddly looked a lot like a grown-up version of a dude I worked with at my first job in 1996) may not be and may never be household names.

And sure, Matt Borne may be well past his prime, Danny Doring may never have had a prime and the “Monster’s Ball” Match was less hardcore than your average Black Friday line at Best Buy.

But for those first three—who fought Doring, Amazing Red and Abyss respectively—these matches may be the highlight of their career. I’m sure that at least a few of them watched Danny Doring on TV when he and Roadkill were the ECW tag team champions, or grew up hating clowns because of what Doink did to Crush at WrestleMania IX.

They obviously have passion for the business and are living their dream…but I’d imagine it’s hard to maintain that passion when your dream turns into a nightmare in front of 100 people who might as well have been at a funeral.

Those guys may never get to step foot in Madison Square Garden without a ticket, or experience even an atmosphere like the iMPACT! Zone. A quasi-high school gym in a bad neighborhood might be the best they ever do.

But at least give them that, and give them enough respect to show them your appreciation in some way.

Given what I know, I can explain away almost every psychological pitfall from that show within reason…except that one.

PWF returns to Bridgeport on June 5, with Chris Daniels as the headliner. If you’re in the area and go to that show (or go to any very small indy show in your own local area), please, I beg you, prove me wrong.

At the very least, the boys will appreciate it.

-Louie Dee
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 2, 2010

Great (Too Great?) WrestleMania Expectations and Even Greater HBK

Stick me right there in the majority of those who thought WrestleMania 26 was just a so-so overall show. One great match, some good matches, some OK matches, and, so sadly, Bret vs. Vince.

This was one of those rare—to me, anyway—WrestleManias of recent years that looked great on paper, only to turn out not so special (though I would hardly rank it as one of the worst). More typically of late, it seems, WrestleMania cards haven't look particularly spectacular on paper to me, only to turn out pretty damn entertaining (obviously, the same can be said of many PPV shows throughout the year). Not this one.

One of the people with whom I watched the show said several times that "it just doesn't feel like WrestleMania," meaning that it just didn't seem like the biggest show of the year once the action was under way. I've heard that comment in years past, too. I'm not even saying that I disagreed with the assessment this year.

But then, what exactly can we realistically expect out of a WrestleMania? Besides the requisite stadium crowd, all the bells and whistles, and so forth, WWE usually tries to give us maybe one special attraction-type match, whether it be LT-Bigelow, Floyd Mayweather-Big Show, or Mickey Rourke getting involved with Chris Jericho. This year, it was Bret vs. Vince, 13 years in the making, in what unfortunately has become the front-runner for Worst Match of the Year. (Really, now, would it have been so hard to book this as a two-minute squash, with Vince getting no offense, tapping to the sharpshooter, then getting stretchered out of the ring?)

Other than that, it really is just a bunch of wrestling matches (OK, an extra hour's worth), and we have to hope for the best as fans. Other than Bret-Vince (in theory) and Undertaker-Shawn, both of which belonged on no smaller stage than that of WM, what matches could not have easily been placed on any other PPV on the WWE calendar? In fact, I am sure rematches of many will be placed on other PPVs to come.

We all rightfully assume that the men and women competing on the show will have a little extra effort for us at WrestleMania, but again, in the end, it is just wrestling on the marquee. You either like the matches or you don't. Maybe we just expect too much. Maybe WWE screwed itself in a sense by putting together what looked like such a good card on paper and hyping it so well for the most part.

On a related topic, I agree with Stu Saks' post from earlier in the week about Shawn Michaels' streak being more impressive than Undertaker's. I, too, believe a case could and should be made for HBK as the greatest of all-time. While watching his match with 'Taker on Sunday, I found myself thinking about how Shawn clearly is the best of this generation. When I read Stu's post, I realized that maybe there was no need to qualify it with the "of this generation" part.

I think we all are a little reluctant to take a "greatest ever" tag away from a legend and put it on someone else, especially if that "greatest ever" (Ric Flair to most fans) is still (unfortunately) around. It just kind of feels sacrilegious in some way. For the longest time, most of us considered Gordon Solie the greatest wrestling broadcaster of all-time. It was just like an accepted fact. But I think it's fair to give Jim Ross (who was sorely missed on Sunday) that tag now, and I think a lot of people agree with me. The greatest doesn't have to stay the greatest forever.

Anyway, back to Michaels, it is interesting to see how we now seem to judge the greatest ever more by actual wrestling skill than accomplishment. Think about how Flair was considered the greatest for so long based quite a bit on how many world titles he had won. OK, world titles meant more 20 years ago. But Michaels hasn't sniffed a world title in nearly eight years, and it doesn't matter. Triple-H, John Cena, and Randy Orton might all finish with more world titles than Flair, and I'm not sure any one of them should be mentioned in the same sentence as him or HBK.

Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller?

--Dave Lenker, Senior Writer, PWI