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24 December 2013

The TNA Niche


Well folks, it's the holiday season so "whoop dee do and dickory dot", and here in the cage we have hung up our socks.  It's pretty hard to write this column upside down, I guess I should've taken off my socks before I hung them up, but I digress. Being a TNA fan since 2002, I have learned something when introducing new fans to the product. It seems they either love it or hate it. I rarely hear anyone say: "TNA, yeah, it's OK." The internet crowd seems to hate it, die hard WWE fans won't give it a chance because it is not WWE, and the indie marks don't like it because it is mainstream. I don't mean to generalize; I know I'll get the old "but I'm a blank type of fan and I like TNA." I'm just taking an overview. I look at things like the "Monday Night War" of 2010 and I see that TNA could not capture the WWE audience away from Raw. I saw TNA sign Hulk Hogan and the TV ratings go down. I look at TNA on the road in 2013 and see that they cannot fill big arenas. I see that despite putting on a quality show, built around young talent with great wrestling, the internet critics and "dirtsheet" writers still find something wrong with it. Of course, a million or so people who watch Impact every week seem to like TNA, or at least watch it. Plus, there are TNA fan sites, like TNAMecca, who have many readers that feel passionately about the product. I also see the success TNA has had internationally, especially in the UK. However, I must say that from 2010 until recently, I feel I was a TNA fan by habit as opposed to passion. This had to do with such changes as the loss of the six sided ring, the dropping of some gimmick matches, a slowed down product and a confusion over whether they're TNA or Impact Wrestling. I understand that Dixie and crew were trying to grow their business, but by all accounts, it didn't work. I feel TNA works better as a niche product, one that caters to a certain audience. It may mean TNA has to stay relatively small (at least in North America), but I think it suits them better to stay that way.

Recently, I have really been enjoying Impact. I think it is the most entertaining wrestling show on TV every week. I couldn't say that a few months ago. I really think that TNA has gone back to some of the things that made them a "cult" favorite among fans and since I am neurotic and need to have everything in three's, here are three ways I think TNA needs to continue to do in order to cater to that TNA niche. Now, before I get started this is not the typical "rebuild the X division" or "sign more indie guys" column I see all the time when it comes to what TNA should do. This is more of an overview of the overall product and what I want from it and really, what I have been getting lately.

1. Total Non Stop Action from top to bottom

Over the last two years, it seemed like TNA only had maybe one to two storylines happening throughout the whole show. Think back to this summer for example, it was Aces and Eights and the BFG Series. Many complained (me included) that this left us without a real undercard to keep us interested. There was a reason for this however, as I seem to remember that previous to 2011, one of the complaints from the "critics" of TNA was that there was too much going on in the shows and that in order for TNA to "draw money" they needed to focus more on main event stories and not so much on the mid card. OK, so they did that and it led to a bland product that felt like WWE because well, over the last few years, it seems like WWE has taken the same approach. My argument is that what TNA FANS wanted was more variety on the show and to be entertained from the opening segment to the end segment with a variety of different stories and characters. Over the last few Impacts we have seen just that; from Bad Influence breaking open the Joseph Park story, to EC3 and Sting's conflict, the Bully Ray-Anderson feud and more. When was the last time we had such depth of story in TNA? 2009? I really think that this was part of the appeal for fans of TNA versus other wrestling products out there, who seem to focus on one to two stories to sell the shows. That is the traditional way of doing things. TNA needs to be as non-traditional as possible.

2. The Gimmick Matches

Some people hate the gimmick matches that TNA has put on, they say that they are "too gimmicky" and "too complicated." I know most don't criticize Ultimate X or Lethal Lockdown (really the only two TNA matches that didn't get cut post-2010) but many turn their noses up at King of the Mountain and Feast or Fired as being "stupid" concepts. However, when it was announced that Feast or Fired was returning, most TNA fans seemed genuinely excited for its return. Many asked when KOTM would return, as well as Steel Asylum; which got canned because of one badly booked finish. I think in the attempt to make TNA appeal to "everybody" or the WWE fans, the concept matches that TNA had were canned and more traditional matches were booked. However, I feel like these matches were what TNA became known for. Innovative, high risk matches that took old concepts to a new level. We are seeing this return. Not only has Feast or Fired returned (which I officially like better as a concept than Money in the Bank, let the hate begin) but we also entered Dixieland. This match was bashed by the critics but I loved it, it was a new, high risk concept that stood out from the pack, plus, when was the last time we saw a new gimmick match in TNA? It's been a while. These new match types are TNA's attempt to present pro wrestling in new, innovative ways. I get tired of hearing people say they want TNA to be "old school" and go back to "traditional wrestling". Imagine if ECW did that in the 90s? I seem to remember critics saying the same things about them. 

3. FUN FUN FUN

I thought it was interesting that when the food fight broke out during the Thanksgiving edition of Impact that fans began to chant "TNA! TNA! TNA!" We hadn't heard that chant in while, at least not overwhelmingly. Wrestling these days is trying to be so serious all the time. WWE is bland for the most part and when they try to do comedy it feels very forced and mostly falls flat to me. ROH has always been serious, save for a few characters, but that's their thing. TNA was going the same root, I felt. Gone were Shark Boy, Curry Man, Cody Deaner and other comedic relief. Eric Young was the last man standing, but even he seemed to be wearing handcuffs. While Joey Park added some comedy, his story always related back to Abyss, a serious character. Since the change in regime we have seen a return of the comedy. Norv Fernum and Dewey Barnes have the potential to become cult favorites like Shark Boy and Curry Man. Bad Influence have done some of the best comedic stuff we have seen in years from any company and I can't say enough about Rockstar Spud, he's just awesome. While the critics panned TNA's comedic moments, it seems fans really enjoyed it and seemed to miss it. Hence the TNA chants during the food fight. This is part of the niche that TNA caters to, fans that want to have fun watching a show even if sometimes "it makes no sense."

Maybe I'm wrong. I have been in the past; just look at my standings in the TNAMecca Pick 'Em League; but I don't want TNA to have to "appeal to everybody" again. I would rather see TNA stay smaller and be the product I want it to be, than get really big and have to change everything. Selfish I know and being the holiday season I really shouldn't be, but it seems to me that TNA works better as a niche product. Of course, if changing the product meant it became more successful, I would just have to grin and bear it, or just move on. However, in today's market where WWE controls 90% of the wrestling business (I'm just guessing on that), perhaps it is better to find a niche and stick to it. In order to survive, I think TNA would have a better chance to just give the audience that already loves them what they want. If the die hard TNA fans are raving about the product, more will follow. "If you build it, they will come."

And now it's time for....

A CAGGED IDEA:

I want to add a new feature here to Mann in the Cage. A sidebar if you will, sometimes I have these crazy ideas and I am not sure how to express them. So, every month I think I'll just take the time here to say what I think. Here's an idea from an armchair booker:

IDEA: Samuel Shaw vs. Austin Aries
Here's how the story goes: Shaw is "dating" Christy Hemme right now, anyone remember the incident where Aries put his crotch in Hemme's face in the corner? It caused some controversy backstage and Hemme was legit upset (rightfully so). I say, why not turn this into a storyline. Of course, all involved would have to be comfortable with this, otherwise can it. I picture Shaw getting an X division title shot, then in the weeks leading up to the match between him and Aries, he watches the footage of what Aries did to Hemme over and over again. Christy tries to convince Samuel that this has all blown over and he needs to focus on beating Aries in the ring. However, as the match progresses, Aries frustrates Shaw, perhaps blowing a kiss at Hemme. Shaw snaps, bloodies Aries up causing a DQ. Beat down follows with Hemme trying to play peacemaker. Build to a cage match at Lockdown, layer the story with an exploration of Hemme and Shaw's relationship. Does she actually kind of like that Shaw is psycho for her? Or will she get scared off by his actions? Lots of potential for many different directions.

Let me know what you think of the new feature. I also want to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday, no matter what you celebrate or don't celebrate, just be safe and have fun! Now, I'm going to get myself right side up and let the blood rush back to my head, sit back and enjoy some holiday cheer. 'Till next time.

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