TNA Wrestling: Chasing the Casual

I love TNA. By that of course, I mean Total Nonstop Action, but the need for a clarification captures why I love it so much. What a puzzling promotion, perhaps the most divisive ever in terms of legacy. Some will tell you that at its best, TNA was the world’s finest pro wrestling, an exciting alternative that with a better play-call or two, could’ve been a contender. Opposite them, you’ll find cynics like myself, convinced that it was always disappointing and in fact, an often impressive waste of its immense resources.

TNA walked a strange line in which they wasn’t the underdog but yet, never looked or felt like they truly belonged. The presentation never quite held up, the product’s quality struggling to make up the difference. No doubt, TNA gave exposure to world class talent and offered them consistent pay too but for me at least, their memory is drenched in what could’ve been. Now, that conclusion isn’t uncommon, far from it. I sense that for most onlookers though, their timeline is different to mine.

For many, it’s a cut and dry issue, all centred around January 2010. In this version of history, all was well and the sky was bright, but then Hulk Hogan. The product was red hot and their momentum unparalleled, but then Eric Bischoff. That may just be your memory of things, perhaps it’s even your more objective view of them, and that’s fine. For me though, it feels awful generous to the promotion that had consistently mishandled the ascension of their most staggering talent.

This is the promotion that burned through the Kurt Angle – Samoa Joe trilogy in just three months. The promotion that delayed Joe’s coronation eighteen months only to produce an uninteresting reign that ended with a Kevin Nash betrayal. This is the promotion that in the name of range and versatility, positioned AJ Styles as a bumbling fool while Monday Night Warriors of yesteryear dominated the title scene. More than those individual errors though, it’s the promotion that plain and simple, people never trusted with their money.

Was it exciting? Absolutely. Hectic? Definitely. Fun? In its own weird way, sure. It was also infuriating though, managing to make an all-star roster about as effective as the original core that followed them to Spike TV. After all, they still didn’t move tickets, they still didn’t sell PPVs. I think it’s worth revisiting the general conversations back then, as trust me, they weren’t particularly positive. TNA wasn’t WWE and at times, that’s a win in itself but it seldom came even close to its potential, before or after Hogan.

In fact, the acquisition of Hogan was fairly framed as a final roll of the dice for Dixie Carter and co. They needed a gamechanger, a needle-mover and history led them in Hogan’s direction, for better or worse. All my criticisms aside, I’d definitely lead towards the latter, with 2010 being TNA’s tamer but tragically comparable take on WCW’s 2000. Personally, I think that one of TNA’s most complete ‘eras’ came after that initial embarrassment, as they steadied the ship and produced a genuinely encouraging 2012.

That product was consistent in a way that TNA rarely was, multiple pieces clicking at once. I often wonder what changes if that Aces & Eights angle just includes a different finale but in my heart, I know the truth. A more satisfying, blockbuster reveal certainly could’ve had the wrestling world talking but by then, the book had already been written on TNA. People had made their minds up and slowly but surely, the promotion was fighting a losing battle.

Though it was lost within the car-crash TV rooted in the triumphs of a decade ago, TNA had steadily lost its soul. They were so desperate to compete, so desperate to grow that they’d lost the audience that cared most. Perhaps they were still watching, they were probably still following but it didn’t matter, their trust had been lost along the way. Once it’s gone, that’s not easily recovered and it certainly wasn’t present in the fleeting television viewer attracted by a familiar face or two.

It’s ironic really, as the industry now trends further and further in that direction. Television really is almost everything these days, so perhaps timing was TNA’s biggest rival after all. I’ve previously said that to me, TNA was WCW’s disappointing little brother. It had the same story really, many of the same strengths and weaknesses but yet, it never had the highs to make it worthwhile. WCW is an epic, dramatic tale, a wrestling rollercoaster of the highest order whereas TNA is just one bad runner’s never-ending race.

I’m probably being unfair if we’re being honest, and I understand that many will disagree. TNA was my first experience of an alternative too, so I very much appreciate what those three letters symbolise to so many. Again, in the wrestling context, of course. To me though, TNA is a cautionary tale and a pretty tragic one at that. Even still, it keeps kicking out and with that trend, it’s latest legacy has emerged. TNA, or now IMPACT Wrestling, is ‘hard to kill’ and in fairness, its most recent era could be its strongest creatively.

The roster isn’t there and nor is the relevance but since rebuilding in 2018, the promotion has maximized its assets in a way that TNA’s peak never did. There’s certainly something to be said for that, as IMPACT’s mere existence remains an opportunity of value. It’s still a promotion for people to produce visible work in, still a route for reinvention and most of all, still a place to get paid. More than anything, that’s what TNA has been for almost two decades now and no doubt, the industry is better for it.

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