Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Newest chapter for TNA Impact Wrestling begins tonight on Destination America

On January 4, 2010, TNA moved their flagship show Impact Wrestling from Thursday nights to Monday night for the first time ever. Fueled by the arrivals of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, TNA and SpikeTV miscalculated big name talent for big number viewership and assumed that the company was ready to take up the mantle of World Championship Wrestling and re-ignite the Monday Night War. After the one show attempt they went full time to Monday nights on March 8 of the same year. It was all about being bigger, and bigger was better.

The attempt was a critical failure on every front. Impact moved back to Thursday by that May. The damage was done. The move did nothing to help increase viewership or ratings and instead allowed WWE viewers to flip once to Impact, realize they weren’t missing much and flip back to USA Network. It was proof that the Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan era of TNA was not going to be successful and was eventually going to end poorly. Let it be said that even without the failed move to Monday, the product was by no means better, even if it was bigger.

While Hogan has been gone since October 3, 2013, the effects of the decisions by TNA have slowly bled the promotion dry. What was one of the biggest spending projects in pro wrestling history had cut talent, gone from live to taped, moved away from the Impact Zone only to come back periodically because they couldn’t get their lease back, gone from six sides to four sides and back to six and eventually settle on taping their episodes multiple weeks in advance and cutting back on the number of Pay Per Views advertised. The TNA of today is a shell of its former self, a former self that wasn’t ready to be the number two promotion in the world. Today, New Japan Pro Wrestling fills that role as it slowly gains North American viewership.

That might sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. TNA Wrestling never needed to be the number two promotion in the world to survive. All it needed to be was an alternative to the WWE. Those who watch TNA enjoy it for that reason. They enjoy the wrestlers who have thrived in the company, the X Division, the Knockouts who don’t need receive a patronizing “it was good for a Diva” compliment after every showing. The crowds support the product instead of trying to prove with chants how smark they are. The best days for TNA was back in 2005, where every division was strong and thriving and the company didn’t feel like a cheap imitation of the WWE. It was TNA Wrestling and it was happy to be just that. Since then, the throngs of former WWE world champions, Vince Russo, Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan have come in to turn TNA into their familiar playground. After Hogan made his departure, the company cut back and tried to stick to a core roster. In doing so, it’s finally finding itself again.

On November 19, TNA announced they were moving to Destination America. The move was panned by some for going to a lesser known network (TNA still hasn’t announced how Canadians will watch Impact Wrestling) but Destination America has already promised two more TNA centric shows on the network. It’s good to feel wanted, unlike SpikeTV. As Shawn Wilken stated in the 2014 Year in Review, hiding Vince Russo from SpikeTV when they clearly did not want him strained the relationship to the point of no return. Not that it matters anymore. What matters is that Destination America is a long term home for a company that needs a fresh start.

Unfortunately, it’s finding itself without much momentum. What could have been a great PPV, Bound For Glory felt more like an after-thought, with the two TV tapings coming after feeling more like what should have been the Bound For Glory card. TNA has recently announced signings, but they have been all former talents being re-signed. Kurt Angle, The Wolves, Robbie E, Madison Rayne, EC3, Abyss, Jessie Godderz, Ken Anderson and Eric Young round out a bunch of names strong and not so strong (how does Ken Anderson stay employed?) to return to the company. So far the only new name looks to be Josh Matthews, who has settled in as the new play by play commentator while Mike Tenay moves to one of the new Destination America shows covering the history of TNA. Matthews will be very welcome to the booth as he was always better than Michael Cole in the broadcast booth but never got his shot to be the voice of Monday Night Raw. He now gets that shot as voice of Thursday Night Impact.

From what little detail has trickled out is that the set is going to change a bit, six sides will return, the logo will be new and the company might emphasize a “reality TV” feel to the backstage segments. This was actually one of the few good things Eric Bischoff added to the broadcast when he came in, to make backstage segments feel like accidental revelations and less like planned skits. I suggested in my piece from November that TNA should look into making a big splash, and there are rumours of Alberto “El Patron” coming out for the show.  An added bonus could be a return to the ring from Kurt Angle, though I’ve quite enjoyed his run as the commissioner. It’ll be interesting to see how far TNA goes to emphasize reality, and hopefully it isn’t to the point of worked shoots.

For those who have been wishing for the death of TNA for over a decade, either for good reason or not, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. TNA has tightened the purse strings and decided to run with a smaller network, but the smaller network looks quite committed to them. Running on a smaller network also allows TNA to be a bit less grandiose in vision and just focus on creating a solid wrestling product each week. If TNA can continue to run tapings in hot crowd areas like New York City, they can keep the fans happy and provide a show people really want to tune into. There’s a lot of great talent in TNA, from the home grown veterans (Bobby Roode, Eric Young) to the house hold names (Kurt Angle, Hardy Boyz), the WWE releases that re-invented themselves (EC3, Taryn Terrell) to the new discoveries that might grab your attention (Havok, Chris Melendez), it won’t be hard for TNA to provide a great show in the ring. It’s just about providing a great show overall.

Tonight is a new chapter for TNA and Impact Wrestling. Sometimes it’s not about being bigger. It’s about being better. TNA Impact Wrestling begins tonight on Destination America at 9PM EST, with a best of TNA marathon running all day on the same station.

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