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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Not So Easy Solution
July 5, 2006 by Colm Kearns


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We wrestling fans share our love of wrestling but our desires and hopes for wrestling are often very different. We want to see different people being pushed, we have different views on how shows should be booked, we have hold different wrestlers in higher or lower regard than our peers. However one shared desire (at least among most fans) is the wish to see TNA evolve into serious competition for WWE. Often this doesn't emerge out of any particular dislike of WWE or liking for TNA but from a belief that both promotion's products will improve under the stress of direct competition. We all wish for a new 'wrestling war' era (even if we were not fortunate to see the last one), a time of new exciting storylines and shocking defections. So naturally a common topic of discussion between wrestling smarks is what TNA can do to compete with WWE, common suggestions include; push the X-division more, take the focus of Jeff Jarrett and bring in big name talent. It is that last which I will discuss during this article.

Bringing in big name talent is the often-suggested easy solution to helping a promotion garner more fans and TV ratings. Bring in the big names, recreate what made them successful in their old promotion and ratings will follow seems to be the common belief held by fans and some promoters but I would argue that this is sometimes (perhaps more often than not) the wrong way to do things. A case in point is WCW circa 1994. Desperate to compete with Vince McMahon's WWF Eric Bischoff used a combination of Ted Turner's money and Ric Flair's status to convince Hulk Hogan to join WCW. As is usual with big name signings ratings did improve slightly at first. WCW bookers and Hogan himself (he had creative control of his character) booked him in much the same way he had been booked in WWF; as an invincible super hero defeating heels in the same old 'Hulking up' fashion. Soon fans began to tire of this and WCW once again fell behind the WWF (who weren't exactly drawing stellar figures at this time). It also didn't help that many loyal WCW fans resented Hogan as a fake WWF poster boy and he was often booed at WCW shows. It was not until Hogan turned heel in the Summer of 1996 that WCW were back on top, indeed Hogan's heel turn helped them to almost two years of dominance over their northern rivals. WCW fans continued to boo Hogan but no longer saw his presence in the promotion as an attempt to copy their rivals. While disenchanted WWF fans were interested by this change in Hogan's gimmick.

A parallel can be drawn with Hogan's move from the AWA to WWF in the mid 80's. Hogan was one of the AWA's biggest faces but McMahon changed him slightly when he brought him to the WWF; he began wearing his now famous red n' yellow, used his 'Hulking up' and adopted an patriotic American super hero/role model type of gimmick. McMahon knew he couldn't simply rely on Hogan's AWA fame to make him a success and so made these seemingly small but very important changes to Hogan. The rest is history. However this policy isn't always a success for WWF/E. They were heavily criticized for changing the gimmicks on big name imports such as Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes and more recently Bill Goldberg. These men were made to seem less serious and never achieved the success they did in their other promotions. Though Race and Rhodes drew decent money in WWF feuding with Hogan and Randy Savage respectively it is generally accepted that McMahon would have been better to let them keep the personas and gimmicks that made them famous. Goldberg is (at least in my opinion) another case all together.

When he entered the WWE in 2003 Goldberg was synonymous with WCW as where Rhodes and Race with the NWA when they entered the WWF. Because of this there was a strong possibility that dedicated WWF fans would resent them (or the company itself would be viewed as a lame imitation of it's competition) which presumably was one of the motivations for McMahon changing their gimmicks however Rhodes had the charisma and Race had the wrestling ability to win over new fans. Goldberg had neither. So McMahon was left with a choice; present Goldberg as he was in WCW in an attempt to win over fans of the now defunct company but risk the wrath of some of his loyal fan base or present Goldberg in a different way to win over WWE fans. The result was a poor attempt to do both but achieved neither. Goldberg was portrayed as a serious monster but also spoke a lot (which he had not done in WCW) and took part in some comedy skits. This did nothing to endear him to WWE fans and also didn't win over WCW fans. An alternative solution since proposed by some smarks was to portray Goldberg seriously but differently than he had been in WCW i.e. turn him into a silent monster heel. WCW had made a poor attempt at this in 2000 that failed but many fans agree that had WWE done this correctly they could have found the perfect compromise. WCW would have been intrigued by it and WWE fans would have carte blanche to boo Goldberg as they pleased and would not resent the company for 'copying' WCW.

This is also the case with Indy promotions. Although a few brief appearances from a big name may increase attendances but this is not usually a long term solution, a gimmick change is usually required to make the big name a long term success in an Indy fed. ECW certainly knew this; Cactus Jack is best remembered in ECW for being a hardcore hating sell out as opposed to the wild man he was in WCW and Steve Austin won over the ECW fans with his lampooning of WCW as opposed to the Hollywood Blondes gimmick he had used previously. Clearly Paul Heyman knew that he simply couldn't rely on these wrestler's past fame to get real success in his promotion.

So it seems the solution is not as easy as it seems, a subtle change in the big name's gimmick is required or sometimes even a turn. There are exceptions to the rule of course, Ric Flair being a notable one. Flair had the same gimmick in both WWF/E and WCW/NWA and done well in everywhere he worked. In WWE he had a run lasting over about a year and a half (mid 1991 to early 1993) in which he was a critical and commercial success drawing fairly good houses in what was a period of decline for the WWF. He done this despite entering the company as the symbol of the NWA and with the same gimmick he had for the competition, the fact that he was already a heel helped of course but so did his immense and endearing talent. In 1995 back in WCW he garnered more commercial success in a feud with Randy Savage than paralleled their rivalry in WWF. The feud was a good one and well liked by fans when portrayed in either company. However that was Ric Flair, a special case. A man with the talent and charisma to carry an angle or feud and get himself over no matter what the circumstances. However it should be noted that upon entering the WWF Flair was almost instanly alligned with Bobby Heenan and Mr. Perfect (two of WWF's top heels) to give him a more 'WWF feel.'

What's the point of this little history lesson" Wells it's to show that big names do not mean instant success or ratings. Changes however small or seemingly insignificant must be made to make these names appear fresh, different and to help them fit in with the new promotion. Sometimes the wrestler is due a complete gimmick overhaul or perhaps a turn and sometimes little or no change needs to be made to keep the wrestler over with the fans. TNA took a step in the right direction with Sting by having him team with Samoa Joe. Not only does it give Joe the rub but it is also not a carbon copy of a Sting storyline in WCW nor is it too radically different from the Sting we knew in WCW. I hope that TNA and other promotions will know in future how much and what of to change of the next big star they sign for their sake as well as our viewing enjoyment.

by Colm Kearns ..


Jonathan Preston wrote:
Well, in order for a company like TNA to compete with WWE, they need better storylines. I like watching both products though. I like the WWE because they have really good storylines and decent wrestlers. I like TNA because they have great wrestlers but mediocre storylines. Any faction that can get a perfect blend of the 2 together is going to come out on top. TNA also needs to stop putting so much emphasis on Jeff Jarrett. I know that the fans love to hate him, but he is the World Champ way too much. TNA need to push guys like Monte Brown. He has great Mic skills and he's a great wrestler. On the flip side WWE need to push guys like Lashley. He's way too talented to be the U.S Champ. He's definitely World champ material. They also need to push guys like Orton, Shelton Benjamin, and Carlito. That's the future of the business right there. If there was a wrestling war between TNA and WWE, I would love to see WWE win. Can you imagine if wrestlers like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Sonjay Dutt, Chris Sabin, Petey Williams, Monte Brown, Abyss, AMW, and Senshi were all intermixing with the RAW, Smackdown, and ECW brands" That would make wrestling very interesting to watch!!
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