If I really wanted to get cute, I could simply go down a list that reads: "# 1 Hulk Hogan; # 2 Sting; #3 Eric Bischoff; # 4...." et cetera. But that's the type of lazy list-writing that one could expect from, oh, I don't know... let's just say... Aaron Wood.
Instead, I plan on walking you through five similiarities between World Championship Wrestling (1988 - 2001) and Total Nonstop Action wrestling (2002 - probably 2011) that will make you gasp in horror and utter "Wow! TNA really is the new WCW!"
Who's The Boss?
Ayy - oh, oh - ayy.... BROTHER!
Throughout WCW's 23 year-history, there were a series of bookers, writers, vice-presidents, executive vice-presidents, senior executive vice-presidents and super duper ultra fancy senior executive vice-presidents.
Not a huge deal in itself. Every company goes through a bit of turnover, especially when you had the longevity of a WCW. The problem was, who had the final say in the organization?
If a WCW employee had an issue to sort out, did they go through Eric Bischoff or Vince Russo? JJ Dillon or Hollywood Hogan? Dusty Rhodes or Ric Flair? Jim Herd or Jim Cornette? Bill Watts or Bill Busch? Kevin Nash or Kevin Sullivan? Ole Anderson or Zan Panzer? Sure, some of those people weren't in the company at the same time as each other (also, it's doubtful Zan Panzer had too much backstage influence), but you smell what the 'Dog is cooking, no?
The most common complaint among WCW employees was that they never know who the ultimate decision maker was. Flair, for example, discusses in his book To Be The Manhow Bischoff would write an episode of Nitro, only to have it vetoed at the last minute by Hogan and Randy Savage. And in Chris Jericho's book Around The World In Spandex, he recalls how he couldn't do an angle on television with Bill Goldberg unless Hogan approved it first. What the hell?
TNA is quickly becoming the same way. Sure, Dixie Carter is President, but most of the day-to-day decisions are being made by Hogan, Bischoff, Russo, Jeff Jarrett and others. That's not to mention to unprecedented amount of influence Spike TV has over the product. And just like in WCW, there are stories where various authority figures have told the talent to do something contradictory to what another authority figure has asked for.
But Bulldog, you might say -- that type of bureacracy is commonplace in any large organization! Oh yeah? Explain WWE, then.
Check out any interview, past or present featuring a former WWE employee. Peruse through the hundreds of interviews available on ClubWWI.com (cheap plug), and everyone will tell you that in WWE, the buck stops at Vince McMahon. And while I've heard he may not be the easiest of people to negotiate with, at least wrestlers there don't ever have to guess as to who the company's Supreme Court judge is.
And WWE isn't actually an anamoly here. Everyone knew who had the final say in ECW ("Whom do I sue over this bounced check? Oh, right - Paul Heyman!") and even in the AWA ("Whom do I bitch to about the product being stuck in the 1950's even though it's clearly 1989 right now? Oh, right - Verne Gagne!").
WCW and TNA just apparently loved creating red tape for themselves.
The Name Game
I remember back in the day, how the Apter wrestling magazines often criticized the World Wrestling Federation for not acknowledging a wrestler's past whenever they signed with the company.
Why won't they just admit that Jimmy Jack Funk is just Jesse Barr under a Lone Ranger mask?? Those jerks stuck Harley Race with a cape and crown and won't acknowledge his matches in Missouri against Jack Brisco! Razor Ramon is SO obviously The Diamond Studd!! Canadian Bulldog's real name is... well, you get my point.
It took me a few years to realize it, but perhaps WWE was actually smart to do this. It gave them a chance to breathe new life into an established character instead of just recycling what brought them to the dance in another territory.
WCW took the opposite approach. Not only would they openly acknolwedge the WWE past of a performer, but they found ways to only slightly re-create the name.
For example... The Big Bossman's arrival in WCW had him wearing his exact same WWF outfit and changing his name to The Boss (Check out Tony Schiavone at 4:34: "The Boss is here in World Championship Wrestling... and Man is he Big.")
And let's not forget the WCW debacles known as Brutus The Barber Beefcake/The Butcher; Earthquake/Avalanche; Virgil/Vincent, etc.
Shockingly, TNA has one-upped WCW in this department, renaming many of the WWE retreads and dancing around their legally-trademarked names while not even attempting a smidgen of originality.
To wit: Bubba Ray Dudley/Brother Ray; Devon Dudley/Brother Devon; Mr. Kennedy/Mr. Anderson; Victoria/Tara; Christian/Christian Cage; Balls Mahoney/Cojones... need I provide you with more examples?
Okay, fine. Taking note of this trend, I started a "What's Your TNA Name?" game over on the World Wrestling Insanity Message Boards last year. Here were some of the better contributions from the WWI Universe:
The Chosen 1
"Gutsy" Jason Mann
The Great Khali
The Tremendous Indian
Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP)
Vern Ichabod Patterson (VIP)
Alex Rizzo (aka The Riz)
The Grean Teabagger
Abdullah The Butcher
Muhammad The Baker
Ben Shelton (The Bronze Standard)
The Big Rybowski (Jerk)
Aaron Wood (Jerk)
There's No Such Thing As Bad Publicity, Unless You, You Know, Don't Publicize It
Bobby Heenan pointed out in his book Bobby The Brain: Wrestling's Bad Boy Tells All (look at me with all the cheap Bulldog's Bookshelf plugs over here!) that WCW never had any interest in promoting any outside projects by its performers on television.
Heenan mentioned a segment where he and other WCW personalities showed up the talk show Politically Incorrect, but the appearance was never mentioned on Nitro. While I couldn't find Heenan's segment, I did dig up Bill Goldberg's appearance. Close enough?
Heenan also mentioned how Goldberg (OMG SEGUE~!) was once photographed with baseball's Mark McGwire, while both of them were on massive streaks -- Big Mac on a hitting streak which would later be quashed by steroids, and Da Man on a winning streak which would later by quashed by politics. Yet WCW did dick-all with this massive coincidence.
If this were in WWE, Heenan rightly points out, they would have filmed the entire meeting, shown it on all of their weekly programs and even had Goldberg rub McGwire's bat for good luck.
TNA is kinda sorta guilty of this, too. Remember, um, this?
Sure, Hogan could have snuck in a quick plug for the next TNA pay-per-view (or had Ryan Seacrest announce what company he worked for before punching out the douchebag), but we all know, Hulk being Hulk, he wasn't going to do that. But TNA should have shown this on television the next week, mentioned it on commentary, played it up on the website, signed James Durbin to go over Samoa Joe.... something to tie themselves to the event!
Instead, WWE (which, we should mention, wasn't even part of this) received mainstream publicity by presenting Durbin with a replica WWE Championship.
Think about this for a minute: TNA had the opportunity to tie themselves to one of the biggest, highest-rated programs on national television. And they said 'meh'.
That may have been the dumbest thing this promotion has done so far this year... and this is the same company that gave us in March a 90 second pay-per-view main event between Sting and Completely Baked Jeff Hardy.
That's not to say the folks at WCW and TNA have never flirted with mainstream celebrities....
WCW used tons of celebrities in its heyday. So has TNA. And of course, WWE has been the leader in this field.
The difference here being that, at least 75 to 80 percent of the time, WWE uses celebrities properly and in a memorable way. Not always, mind you, but more often that not, it works and gives a little mainstream 'pop' to the program.
My theory is: if you're going to spend money to have someone famous appear on your programming, then (a) feature them prominently, with tons of pre-event hype and (b) put them in a role they can excel in. For example, Mike Tyson made a great rogue referee at WrestleMania XIV, but he probably wouldn't have fared as well singing the national anthem.
Let's do some comparisons (come on, it'll be fun!) to see how the three promotions have used... let's say.... football players:
William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Jimbo Covert, Russ Francis, Bill Fralic, Ernie Holmes, Harvey Martin
Participated in 'wrestler vs football player' battle royal (WrestleMania II)
Fought The Giant in a singles match (Bast At The Beach).
Teamed with Jerry Lynn to defeat James Storm and Ron Killings (Slammiversary)
Eliminated Jeff Jarrett from Gauntlet For The Gold (Wednesday Night PPV)
Created iconic theme song(s) for Triple H, appeared at several WrestleManias.
Engaged in 'rap vs country' feud with Curt Hennig; never actually wrestled.
Using TNA to further her country music career (hey, wait.... I've heard that one before....)
Writing For YOU
Now available in Small, Medium, Large and Matt Hardy sizes.
One could make the argument that over the past ten years, the casual fans responsible for wrestling's mid-90's surge have left, tuning instead into Game of Thrones or The Voice or Cake Boss or whatever the hell it is mainstream America is watching these days.
In theory this would mean that the remaining fans are the die-hards; the people that have been following the business since Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage first did their Megapowers Megahandshake; the type of stupid mark that lives in their parents' basement and scours the Internet 24/7 for wrestling news; the type of person that.... well, reads sites like this one (JG's note: For the last time, stop alienating the audience!!!).
There's only one problem with that theory: accepting and embracing it means that you can't ever (EVER!!!) grow your fanbase.
Take WCW, for example. When Vince Russo took over the book in late-1999, he was convinced that the primary audience for their shows was the Internet fan. He wasn't wrong -- they were the only folks still tuning in on a regular basis by then.
Unfortunately, they weren't enough of a group to affect higher ratings, even if Russo did push Billy Kidman, Shane Douglas and other net darlings. WCW also loved to pepper its programming with insider references like "mid-carders", veiled references to VinceMcMahon's right-hand men Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, and of course, a Jim Ross impersonator. To wit:
But even worse than that (yes, worse) was a ridiculous phase WCW went through in which they ADMITTED ON THE AIR that the product was fake! Scripts, writer, doing jobs, the whole enchilada.
Let's put this in perspective: You're watching The Office one night. In the midst of another vicious diatribe against Jim Halpert, Dwight Schrute begins talking in his regular voice, addresses Jim and "John" (Krasinski, his real name) and complains about the crappy script that Greg Daniels came up with this week.
Now... you already knew The Office wasn't a legitimate documentary about a mid-sized paper company in Scranton, PA. But you don't want the characters telling you that! It ruins any semblance of escapism.
Instead.... WCW kind of said, eff that.
So wait.... the first match was scripted, but the one next week won't be? Try and understand the logic there!
Now, while TNA never out-and-out called its product "scripted", they certainly didn't hide the fact that they employed a "Wrestling TV scriptwriter". Hell, they even profiled it!
Russo can talk all he wants about getting as many "eyeballs as possible", but there aren't a lot of them watching when all you're doing is discussing insider crap like the David Arquette title reign and who killed WCW.
I should also point out that, from a professional standpoint, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to openly compare your upstart company to WCW, the company that failed (in part) because it was no longer giving casual fans what they wanted to see.
There are many other examples through the years of TNA catering to a tiny portion of the audience, ranging from the good (bringing in well-respected talents ROH-level talents such as Austin Aries and Nigel McGuinness), to the bad (exploiting the real-life love triangle between Kurt Angle, Jeff Jarrett and Karen Angle-Jarrett-Bischoff on television) to the ugly (BG and Kip James criticizing WWE's D-Generation X for being over the hill).
But none was as obviously written for Internet fans as Cookiegate.
Surely you remember this! It was a hot topic in wrestling.... among maybe 30 fans who gave a crap about it.
For the uninitiated, WWE was filming its Royal Rumble commercial (the one where they spoofed West Side Story) on a soundstage adjacent to where TNA tapes its show in Orlando. TNA sent Traci Brooks and Abyss, along with a camera crew, to the soundstage to say "hello". WWE threatened to sue them if they used any of the footage.
Not a huge deal, right? Except TNA played up the non-event on its television shows and focused an entire PPV around recreating the "incident", complete with a fake Vince McMahon and Triple H. Hell, they even included in on a home video, as if it was akin to DX ambushing WCW at The Norfolk Scope back in the day.
It may have been fun for R-Truth, Shane Douglas and company to have a bit of fun at McMahon's expense. But what's the message they're trying to convey here? "WWE is afraid of TNA"?
Unfortunately, no Internet fan would ever believe that (especially now) and the message ended up reading more like "WWE doesn't want to associate TNA? No shit."
Let's contrast this one last time to how WWE views hardcore wrestling fans. They're acknolwedged as a growing part of the audience, but they rarely make changes to the on-air product. You can count on one hand the number of times they've changed programming because of the whining from Matt Hardy or Daniel Bryan fans.
But WWE never changed course, or re-set the company's storylines, simply to placate a few thousand fans that would ultimately end up crapping all over any deviation from the norm in the first place.