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WRESTLING COLUMNS

TNA Is Headed For Big Things
July 7, 2005 by Langdon Beck


Why" Firstly because of the new booking committee, and secondly because of two little words - 'character' and 'development'.

I will admit that I did not watch WCW or ECW when they were around. I knew of them; but I did not have the channel that carried ECW, and after watching one episode of WCW...well, for some reason I never had the urge to watch it again. The point is, without any extensive knowledge of the "competition", when wrestlers came over to WWE, all I knew was what I saw there.

When watching Dean Malenko, I didn't know about scientific classics with the likes of Eddie Guerrero, or excellent technical matches in Japan; all I knew was Double Ho Seven, and all I saw was a guy who lost to Lita and whose longest match was a ten-minute long WWF: Metal main event against Joe E. Legend. When watching Jerry Lynn, I had no idea of the amazing series of matches with Rob Van Dam in ECW, or the Justin Credible matches, or the New F'N Show; all I saw was a guy who appeared on SmackDown about once a month, and whose matches, again, never seemed to last long.

Of course, I have since caught up. After seeing Malenko in NJPW, and Lynn in ECW, MLW, FWA, ROH and TNA, I know that both are far better wrestlers than anyone could have guessed from what they saw in WWE.

The exact same thing can be seen in the vast majority of WWE fans today, and mainly in the cruiserweight division. It's why guys like Paul London, Akio or Nunzio barely get a crowd reaction; the fans simply don't know about London's classic matches in ROH - not that they would have heard of ROH at all, or Nunzio's three way dances in ECW. They don't even know about the more high-risk moves the cruiserweights can pull off, like London's shooting star press off the apron. All they know is what they see on SmackDown (or rather Velocity). There's no attachment to the wrestlers because no character has been developed. There is not even an attachment to in-ring work due to the limitations put on high-fliers in WWE.

Without any character development, guys like Paul London will never - I do mean never - flourish in WWE. However, things could be changing with the apparent bolstering of the cruiserweight division we saw in the past few weeks. The Mexicools, already hated on the internet, have been reported as getting loud reactions from audiences. Why" It's not because the fans remember Juventud's matches with Rey Misterio, Jr. in 1996. It's not because they saw Super Crazy's matches with Tajiri in 1999. It's not because they remember Psicosis from WCW. It's because the Mexicools have characters, therefore the fans can attach themselves emotionally. If they'd come in separately, as Just More Cruiserweights, it would have been the Ultimo Dragon debacle all over again. Remember that" No" That's because Ultimo, one of the finest cruiserweights of the last decade, was treated as Just Another Cruiserweight. There was no development of the Dragon character after his debut. Nothing. So he received no crowd reaction, and was gone within a year. The Mexicools, with characters, stand to be more long-term. Hey, you may not like the gimmick, but how often do you get WWE shows with 8,000 internet fans in attendance"

The number of cruisers in WWE pre-Mexicool who regularly get loud crowd reactions can be counted on one hand; Rey Mysterio. Chavo Gue...Kerwin White. The Hurricane. Scotty 2 Hotty. Funaki. Each one of these guys has something the fans can relate to or get attached to. If Scotty 2 Hotty lost the W-O-R-M and became Scott Taylor again, his matches would be met with silence. Rey's reaction is not just due to his wrestling ability but to a consistent push and character development. Ditto Cha...Kerwin, although it won't do the cruiserweight division much good now he's on RAW. As for the Hurricane, you may remember his debut WWE match. SmackDown, June 2001, Billy Kidman vs. Gregory Helms. He received little to no reaction. This continued in the following weeks, until Stone Cold noticed the Green Lantern tattoo on his arm. Gregory became Hurricane Helms and suddenly crowd reaction towards him increased. On August 27 when he donned the cape, paint and European Title and became The Hurricane, he was one of the more popular guys on the roster, and remains so to this day. It's not down to his repertoire of moves, or even his clear skill on the mic (which we're finally beginning to see again). It's down to his character.

Mick Foley put it very well in 'Have A Nice Day'. Foley said, "Nobody cares about wild moves these days - they care about the guys that do them...Undertaker gets more reaction from going over the top rope twice a year than TAKA Michinoku gets by doing a twisting sukahara every night." And he's right.

You may say, what about ROH and ECW" They get huge pops for spots, not workers. Or something to that effect. It'd be something with a lot of "insider" terms, at any rate.

There's a point there with ROH, which prides itself on not being about flashy characters. But they're still there. Christopher Daniels, probably one of the top five wrestlers in the world right now, has been an independent superstar for years now, and that's largely due to the Fallen Angel character. CM Punk wouldn't be so big in ROH were it not for the Straight Edge character. Guys like Homicide and Low Ki, talented as they were, were kind of languishing until turning heel with the Rottweilers, bolstering their characters significantly. Last year ROH began developing clear faces and heels...it seems you can't rely on good wrestling alone indefinitely.

A good example is Jack Evans. He got some reaction when he first appeared for ROH (and later TNA) because he could hit Flippy McGillicutty moves like the standing Infrared and the Corkscrew 630. But to some, these moves became less impressive the more they were used. Then Evans became part of Generation Next, an arrogant heel group. He had a character, and is now one of the most "over" guys in ROH. That is still due to his amazing acrobatic skills, but the aforementioned character definitely helps.

Another example is Matt Sydal. Sydal is an excellent high-flier and praise for him has come from everywhere, including AJ Styles, who cites Sydal as the next big thing on the independent scene. But another thing people have agreed on is that while the potential is there, Sydal needs a character, something for fans to get attached to, before he can truly excel.

As for ECW, it was just about the moves and the wrestling...to an extent. But every wrestler still had a character thanks to the Mad Scientist of Wrestling, Paul Heyman. Rob Van Dam, Taz, Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, Raven, Sabu, New Jack, the Dudleys, Nova, they all had characters. Some were more obvious than others but there was always something for the fans to connect to other than "wow, that was a good move" or "ouch, that had to hurt." To further remove any scepticism that no, ECW didn't have characters, it was all about the extreme, compare several wrestlers' time in ECW with their subsequent careers in WWE. Justin Credible failed in WWE. Mike Awesome failed in WWE. Even the Innovator of Violence himself, Tommy Dreamer, failed in WWE. This can, as if you didn't already know, be traced back to lack of character development from the company.

But what the hell does this have to do with TNA's new bookers"

It all goes back to that quote from Mick Foley. In the long run, fans don't cheer for the moves, they cheer for the guy that's doing them.

During the time Dusty Rhodes was in charge of booking TNA, things were going pretty well. He gave us some great shows, like Turning Point and Lockdown, and some excellent matches, like America's Most Wanted vs. XXX and AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels. On the other hand, he tended to rely on things that apparently he has relied on throughout his career as a booker; random "turns" for wrestlers, and plenty of "gimmick" matches. This sort of thing was good short-term, but probably wouldn't have worked out well in the long run.

Perhaps Dusty's downfall was...the lack of character development. See, there's my link. Granted, there's only so much you can do when you only have an hour a week to build up a PPV, but for guys such as Monty Brown, turning heel was the ONLY growth his character got. There were exceptions - the ongoing BG James will-he-won't-he heel turn is a prime example, Raven is another - but for the most part, there wasn't a whole lot of advancement in characters. This is most evident, perhaps, in the X-Division.

No less than FIVE X-Division wrestlers left TNA during Rhodes' time at the helm. For those interested, they were Amazing Red, Alex Shelley, Sonjay Dutt, Kazarian and Kid Kash. The first three have since returned to TNA...two returned after the new bookers came into power. While Rhodes was booking TNA, many X Division matches were there to fill time, or X wrestlers were used simply as enhancement for the likes of Kevin Nash and the Outlaw. What was once TNA's focal point and the thing they did better than WWE had been reduced to a shadow of its former self. It was also during Rhodes' six months in charge that we saw over-reliance on the Ultimate X Match.

That may have all changed. After the Hard Justice Pay Per View when the new booking committee took charge, wrestlers that were previously without a character gained one, or regained one, and those whose characters were in need of enhancing had their characters enhanced. The episode of Impact following Hard Justice has been regarded by long-time fans as the best episode in the show's history. This was not just because of matches like America's Most Wanted vs. Team Canada, or Abyss vs. Chris Sabin, but because of...yep, character development. And boy, was it evident.

No longer was it just the same people you heard promos and interviews from. For the first time in a year, we didn't have to rely on Tenay and West to tell us Michael Shane was an arrogant son of a gun. We saw it for ourselves. We didn't need to assume AJ Styles would be a fighting champion. We heard it from the mouth of the Phenomenal One. AMW weren't just the best darned tag team in the world who aren't MNM; they became a pair of guys who were frustrated because they couldn't seem to catch a break. Even those guys who had clear characters already, like Raven and Christopher Daniels, got to show it in a way they hadn't for a long time. This kind of booking has continued, and people can now relate and grow attached to those wrestlers they hadn't previously heard of in a way they couldn't before. Those previously voiceless have been given a voice i.e. the return of Father James Mitchell as manager of Abyss. As we have seen, it's no good using wild moves if the fans don't care about the guy doing them. TNA is well on its way to solving that problem and helping fans see past the flips. And that can only be good for the wrestlers, the promotion, and the entire wrestling business.

by Langdon Beck --- [View Langdon Beck's Column Index]..


Langdon Beck added:
Please note that this article was written before the recent WWE roster cuts.
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