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Friday, March 18, 2011

TNA At A Crossroads

In the interest of full disclosure, I should start with the following disclaimer: I am a loyal TNA fan. To me, today’s TNA is reminiscent of the Memphis and ICW promotions that first attracted me to wrestling back in the early-1980s. In many respects, TNA is still trying to find its way as the world’s number-two promotion—and the industry standard set by WWE is a tough act to follow, for sure.

Still, with a roster packed full of talent as well as the freedom to produce a product that is truly unique, TNA is in a fortunate position to potentially capture and maintain a respectable share of the business.

But success isn’t measured in potential. It’s not measured in what “could be” or what “should happen.” Success is measured in results. It comes from forward progress and growth. Further, success often comes about when folks actually learn from their mistakes and adjust their strategies and future plans accordingly. And let’s face it: The outcome of last weekend’s Victory Road pay-per-view was a nearly unforgivable mistake.

By most accounts, Victory Road, despite having some decent moments, wasn't exactly a historical event. Most of the feuds weren’t resolved and there were some head-scratching results in the mix. Then there was the non-finish to the number-one contenders’ match between Mr. Anderson and Rob Van Dam. Having two potential number-one contenders battle to a double-disqualification makes no sense, but given the energy and talent of both men, I can almost see how TNA would want the Anderson-RVD feud to burn just a little longer.

There is, however, no excuse for what happened in the main event between Sting and Jeff Hardy. On paper, it should have been an epic: the returning veteran Sting, holding the “Immortal” championship belt forged in the very likeness of challenger Jeff Hardy, defending his title against the self-proclaimed "Antichrist of Professional Wrestling."

But after an ominous delay at the beginning of the pre-match fanfare, Hardy emerged from backstage appearing dazed and sluggish as he made a slow, low-octane trudge to the ring. The tension was clear on the faces of everyone else who entered from that point forward. From Jeremy Borash to referee Brian Hebner to "The Icon" himself, the tension was palpable. Even the usually unflappable Eric Bischoff looked to be on edge as he took to the mike to add a nonsensical and ultimately unnecessary no-DQ stipulation.

Things quickly deteriorated from there. Once the bell rang, fans were treated to nearly one full minute of Hardy teasing that he would throw his shirt into the crowd as he staggered from one side of the ring to the other. A few half-hearted maneuvers later, Sting landed the pin and it was all over. Hardy looked genuinely shocked. Sting looked genuinely pissed, and he demonstratively agreed with some very irate and vocal fans that they had been screwed, though not nearly as badly as those who had paid 30 bucks to watch the pay-per-view.

By now, most everyone in the wrestling world knows the most crucial statistic of the match: 88 seconds. That’s how long it took for Sting to pin Jeff Hardy. And, by golly, it was a real pin, as Sting laid every bit of his 258 pounds across Hardy’s torso to force an end to the debacle.

The evening promptly went down as the latest black mark on the public image of TNA Wrestling. But what matters most at this point is how TNA reacts to this embarrassment. Many sources and signs point to Jeff Hardy as the sole reason Victory Road's main event fell apart, as the quick finish came about because Hardy arrived at the event "in no condition to wrestle." Indeed, his appearance and demeanor lend credence to this explanation. Moreover, Hardy’s history of personal demons, professional missteps, and legal woes provide a strong backdrop of circumstantial evidence indicating that Hardy is in real trouble, both inside and outside of the ring. This is not the first time Hardy arrived at a major TNA event in questionable condition. At Final Resolution 2010, he reportedly showed up in bad shape. Eventually, his condition that night was attributed to exhaustion due to travel, not substance abuse of any kind.

Regardless, the bottom line is that Hardy has shown an inability to handle a spot at the top of TNA's roster. Even if he were scheduled to wrestle in six-man dark matches at Victory Road and Turning Point, he owes it to his employers and co-workers to show up ready to put his best foot forward, especially if he entertains any serious aspirations of helping TNA gain traction as a viable alternative to WWE. The stakes are that much higher when TNA is counting on him to headline a World title match.

Hardy is solely responsible for the choices he makes, but TNA should not wait until he buries the promotion and/or himself with his lack of professionalism. The fact is that no matter how his drug trafficking trial turns out, it’s time for TNA management to make a decision on Hardy's future with the company. It is simply not fair for all those, from talent to ownership, that want so desperately for TNA to succeed to be subjected to the fallout of Hardy's exploits.

Yes, Hardy made TNA look amateurish at Victory Road, but TNA has an opportunity to look professional again by handling Hardy in the proper manner, even if moving forward means leaving him behind.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer


Pro Wrestling Illustrated said...

Well said, Mike. As a self-professed TNA fan, I think yours is a valuable opinion. Unfortunately, Dixie Carter and other TNA decision makers too frequently write off valid criticisms of their product to coming from "TNA haters." On the contrary, us critics wouldn't be so critical if we didn't sincerely want to see TNA succeed. And the single most important thing TNA needs to do is better look out for the health and safety of its employees. What we saw Sunday was a black stain on the entire sport, and TNA needs to act swiftly and decisively to address it--for the good of the company, its fans, Hardy and his daughter.

-Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer

Anonymous said...

Well said Mike.

Jacob said...

Well put. Though I still sometimes think that part of this is an angle based off of how Hogan and Bischoff reacted on impact the week after turning their backs on him in the manner that they did, TNA need to keep themselves out of situations like the one they were put into. I understand the draw of Jeff Hardy, I wasn't a fan of him coming in, but his promos (the taped ones) as a heel were tremendous. TNA have to be able to trust those that they put in the main spotlight, and it doesn't seem like anyone can do that with Jeff right now.

TNA can fix this issue, but it starts with handling business properly. If it means cutting Jeff Hardy for a few months to get his legal mess out of the way, and trying to work out some kind of deal with WWE to get him some help if they aren't willing to go all-in for it themselves then that's what they need to do. A move like that would be unprecedented in today's business, but it would be for the betterment of both companies. It would help shed the perception that a lot of internet wrestling fans have that WWE is some kind of 'evil empire,' and working alongside WWE could help them actually prove that they're serious about taking care of talent.