Friday, July 17, 2009

T-N-MMA

If you haven't checked out this week's episode of Kick-Out!! Radio yet, there's a segment on the show about WWE rubbing off on UFC, much to the dismay of MMA purists around the world. But what about the other way around, MMA influencing professional wrestling? Last week, I got into a debate on the one wrestling message board I frequent about TNA and what they need to make it to that next plateau and become legitimate competition to WWE. This conversation stemmed out of remarks made by Hulk Hogan, some people took it as Hogan dropping hints that he wanted to go to TNA, and that brought on the discussion of whether or not Hogan could do for TNA what he did for WCW. Short answer: no, he couldn't. Hogan's knees are shot, he hasn't wrestled a match on television in three years and while I'm sure he'd be a valuable asset to TNA, he's nothing more than a special attraction at this point, you couldn't build a promotion around him.

But as message board topics usually go, the conversation broadened and the question was, "well if not Hogan, who?" Who's the one guy who could put TNA on equal ground with WWE? Someone mentioned The Rock, but the chances of Dwayne Johnson ever stepping foot in a wrestling ring again are slim to none and even if he did, there's no way he'd be going anywhere but WWE... he owes them his entire career. I'm not one to buy into the idea of one man alone making a difference for a wrestling promotion, you certainly need a top star, but you also need to really define your promotion; a branding effort. Hogan was definitely the centerpiece of the WWF in the 1980s, but he was part of a larger vision for the company - Rock 'n' Wrestling. Same idea applied to Stone Cold in the 90s and the Attitude Era. If TNA really wants to compete with WWE, they need to get in that kind of mindset. What we need is something to really change the industry and put it back in the mainstream, and I think the only man to use as the centerpiece for that is Brock Lesnar.

A little over a year ago, TNA had what I'm pretty sure was the most successful PPV in their history, Lockdown 2008. That show was headlined by Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe in a MMA-inspired cage match and I think that's the direction TNA needs to move in if they ever want to compete with WWE, and that's where Lesnar comes in. TNA needs to further explore the idea of presenting their product as more of a legit MMA-esque sport, it nearly doubled the buyrate of every other PPV last year when they did it with Lockdown, so obviously there's an audience for it. Over the next few years, they could transition the product from WWE-lite to UFC with storylines, fights with predetermined outcomes, etc. Hell, Brock Lesnar's promo after his win last Saturday night practically laid the groundwork for them! As the product slowly changes, that pesky no-compete clause that Lesnar signed when he quit WWE will be expiring and then that's when TNA could pull the trigger and put the exclamation point on this new business model and bring in the one guy to bridge the gap between MMA and pro-wrestling.

The idea of a wrestling/MMA hybrid may sound crazy at first, but I just see this as the natural evolution of the wrestling business. Today's wrestling is certainly a far cry from what the sport was before the advent of television. Vince McMahon took wrestling from territories to worldwide global phenomenon, it's those who dare to challenge the structure of the business who go down in history.
TNA's never going to be able to compete when they're playing by Vince McMahon's rules; you can't out-WWE the WWE, it only worked one time and that was during the Monday Night War. I always hear rumblings that TNA should try going head-to-head with Raw in the future to recreate that era... really? Ask WCW how that worked out in the end. Too many people in the wrestling industry are stuck in the past and they keep looking backwards, we don't need another Monday Night War, we already had one. But we've never seen someone take the idea of UFC and blend it with the character-driven nature of modern sports entertainment. MMA is the fastest growing sport on the planet for a reason, it could revolutionize the professional wrestling industry, spark the next boom period, and put TNA on the map. They're always talking about "crossing the line" and being an alternative to WWE, here's their chance... as long as they're willing to take the risk.


8 comments:

  1. A pro wrestling/MMA hybrid...I think you might be onto something there.

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  2. Very interesting column/post. I like the idea of a pro wrestling/MMA hybrid, I do. BUT I can't see TNA ever doing that. And even if they did..why would any UFC fans bother to watch regularly when well..there's the UFC? Like I said, I like the concept, but I think its a 'sink or swim' risk if TNA went that route.

    Ratings have been decent-pretty good for Impact as of late, TNA has a lot of the right pieces already in place in terms of the future of the business (Samoa Joe, James Storm, Matt Morgan, etc) as well as the founding blocks such as Styles, Jarrett, Daniels, etc. It's just a matter of booking (which has always been an issue with TNA). Where am I getting with this? TNA has the capabilities to narrow the gap between them and WWE with what they already have.

    If they were to switch to a pro wrestling/hybrid organization..they could also narrow the gap, but I just can't see that happening. It's TOO risky of a move at this stage in TNA's development.

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  3. TNA has been doing fairly well with what they have. My suggestion wouldn't have to necessarily be as drastic as I made it sound though, it wouldn't have to be simply a worked version of MMA.

    Perhaps the best example I can give would be something like a Japanese Puro style? Still pro wrestling, character-driven, but presented more as a legitimate sport. American audiences might have a hard time buying it, but I think with the right face on the product (Lesnar), it could work.

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  4. Dan McG/Ultimo Drag-DanJuly 17, 2009 at 3:53 AM

    The idea of a MMA/Wrestling hybrid is fascinating although there would be a few problems, I mean, surely you would alienate some 'WWE' style wrestling fans, and you wouldn't really gain any MMA ones, because they know its 'fake'. I use the term as that would be how MMA purists see it, 'fake' not 'scripted'.

    As the Lockdown figures go, couldn't some of the buyrate be attributed to a combination of the gimmick that is an all-steel cage pay-per-view, as well as the MMA-style main event. Sure, it would have had an impact, but the whole concept was so far removed from what you get with WWE that borderline fans would tune in just to see what its like.

    Now, I was going to write something about the business evolving, but I really can't be bothered now. I hope everything else I wrote was semi-grammatically correct and made sense. If it isn't, I can't say I'm surprised.

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  5. You make total sense Dan, all with completely valid points.

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  6. Interesting thoughts, although I have to disagree to a certain point. I think that another Monday Night War would work, under the right circumstances...circumstances that, granted, won't ever be duplicated.

    If TNA was producing a product that people wanted to watch, and was doing numbers anywhere near those of the WWE, a head-to-head ratings battle would certainly be fantastic. The issue is, of course, TNA's product. TNA can't seem to produce a card that anyone cares about, I've watched CHIKARA events that look better from an aesthetics point of view, and the crash booking that worked in the 90s isn't going over today.

    I guess, in principle, I agree with your sentiment that right now we don't need another 'war', but never say never. Case in point - who ever thought Don West would be a half-way listenable colour guy?

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  7. Dan McG/Ultimo Drag-DanJuly 17, 2009 at 10:55 PM

    Sorry Razor, but I now have an urge to finish off my rant...

    The wrestling business has evolved over the years, from Lou Thez and Frank Gotch-era catch-as-catch-can bouts through to the 1980's Golden Era 'entertain everybody' stage, then evolving to mix in wrestling with popular culture (sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll) in the Attitude Era, targeting teenagers and a younger audience with more risque angles and characters, to get ahead of WCW in the ratings. As we all know, it worked and smarks everywhere look back at it as the best couple of years ever.

    Then, at the end of the Monday Night Wars, WWE held onto the parts that they found useful (using music and mainstream culture to boost ratings) and went back to a more wholesome wrestling based promotion with less sexuality.

    With TNA on the rise, and the possibility of, eventually, another war, the logical next step is to combine your product with what is popular at the moment, and MMA fits that description perfectly. As you pointed out, it is the fastest growing sport in the US. Combining the two would, hopefully, draw in a bigger audience and give TNA a boot so that they could take on the WWE. And we all know that competition makes for a better product.

    I watch TNA almost every week, and some of the stuff they produce is absolute crap. They have a 2 hour show, and have something like 20 minutes of wrestling on it. Looking at this week's results, in the first hour there was a 4 minute X-Division match, a 17 second Samoa Joe win and a 26 second match between Homicide and Suicide. When this is coming from the promotion that prides itself on its wrestling, it makes me wonder what a promotion that is actually angle-based would look like. Then I watch Smackdown and remember how much better WWE is.

    If you infuse MMA with the curent product, and use that as a base for storylines, therefore not needing thousands of 10 second interviews, ratings would improve, people would think of TNA as a good company, rather than just 2 hours of crap, and reviewing it wouldn't be, in your words, "like beating up an amputee". All in all, it would be a positive step for the evolution of the business.

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  8. Catching up with the site. Good article!

    I think the wrestling industry needs to realise as a whole that it is NOT an innovator. As Vince Russo (yeah, yeah, I know) once said - the business must always reflect what's currently popular in the mainstream media. Rock 'N Wrestling worked because MTV was hot back in the 80's. The Attitude Era worked because Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and lots of other no holds barred trash was hot in the 90's.

    The reason why the WWE never gained back viewers after alienating them with the Invasion angle was because it wasn't reflecting anything. Why the hell it didn't hop on board the reality TV fad is beyond me. I don't like reality TV, but it would've worked so well as the events of reality TV are so real yet so fake, it fits the construct of sports entertainment perfectly. WCW tried to do a bit of reality TV with hidden cameras and video diaries before it died. It actually worked perfectly, which is why I'll always believe WCW would've overtaken the WWF within two years if it had stayed alive.

    The popular thing right now is MMA, with UFC 100 anchoring that point. Now I'm not familiar with the UFC, but what I've got out of it, it would help the wrestling business by regressing the idea of having the big name wrestlers facing each other every week - rather only once every month or two. Then there's the new approach to storylines, where having brawls before a big match and such become such a rarity that they're shocking again, and characters would be real and either sympathetic or hated. Basically, if TNA or the WWE successfully replicated this model, it would fix the mess created by the Attitude Era and the on-going attitude (pun) where the casual fan demands pay per view style matches on free TV every week, killing off both models through overexposure.

    Or something like that anyway.

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