Matt and Jeff Hardy shocked the world this past weekend by invading Ring of Honor and winning the ROH Tag Team Championship from The Young Bucks.
It’s even more surreal because the North Carolina brothers haven’t lost their TNA Tag Team Titles yet on IMPACT. But they have left the struggling promotion after contract negotiations fell apart. Rumors circulated that the Hardys wanted creative control and some stake in the company. Meanwhile, TNA wanted a 10% cut of the team’s indy bookings.
Anthem Sports, the new majority owner of TNA, has already made a gigantic mistake with a brand notorious for corporate folly.
10. Dropping the Ball with Monty Brown
TNA had ample opportunity to turn homegrown talent into the face of the company: AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Frankie Kazarian, Abyss.
But Monty Brown was on the cusp more than any other, and nowadays, fans don’t even know who he is.
A former linebacker for the New England Patriots, the Alpha Male had the look, charisma and in-ring talent to be the focal point of TNA. Debuting on the roster as a cocky heel, Brown rapidly gained the fans’ support ala The Rock in 1998 and was ready to become the conquering hero. Unfortunately, he failed to dethrone Jeff Jarrett as NWA World Heavyweight Champion at Final Resolution 2005, and never recovered. Two months later, in one of the most mind-boggling heel turns ever, Brown screwed DDP and assisted Jarrett in retaining the title.
He went from the next champion to the mastermind’s henchman in such a short span of time that fans would never perceive the Alpha Male as a top guy again.
9. Leaving The Impact Zone
Contrary to popular belief, moving IMPACT to go head-to-head with Raw was not a great mistake. Obviously, it was a failed experiment, but at least the No. 2 wrestling promotion in the U.S. attempted to compete with McMahon Land. It’s not like Vince wasn’t nervous, by the way, as it just so happened that Bret Hart returned to WWE TV for the first time since the Montreal Screwjob on the night IMPACT moved to Mondays.
Leaving the IMPACT Zone was much more destructive for the company. Since June of 2004, TNA filmed its television shows and most of its pay-per-views from Soundstage 21 in Universal Studios. Although it was a loss of revenue because Universal prevented the company from charging admission, TNA saved money by avoiding the road and taping several months of shows within a week. When Hulk Hogan came on board (see below for more on Hulkster), one of his major initiatives was to take TNA outside of Orlando and in front of audiences across America.
A wise move in theory, but poorly executed. TNA didn’t market their shows well enough in advance to draw crowds that could fill even half the arenas. An attempt to appear major league actually exposed the product’s low amount of consumers, hindering the overall perception.
8. Dismantling the X-Division
Before WWE destroyed the cruiserweight division (again), TNA had picked up where WCW left off by building an undercard of hard-hitting, technically savvy, aerial specialists. The X-Division wasn’t about light heavyweights – it was about an action-packed style of wrestling foreign to American audiences. The X-Division style blended lucha libre with strong style with American showmanship. While the main events featured Jeff Jarrett defending the title against fellow 90s stars, the X-Division showcased the future: AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Chris Sabin, Petey Williams, among others.
The X-Division separated TNA from WWE, which is probably why it deteriorated under the Hogan-Eric Bischoff regime. As the new management attempted to compete with Vinnie Mac, they changed everything unique about TNA to copy the mainstream WWE presentation: a four-sided ring, familiar faces, national touring, and most disappointingly, no more spotlight for the young, innovative grapplers that built the foundation of Total Nonstop Action.
7. Hot Potato TV
If TNA diehards need a flowchart to figure out what channel IMPACT airs on this week, how the hell would casual viewers keep up? The company started with weekly PPVs, then jumped to Fox Sports Net (which aired at 1 a.m. in Philly), then left TV altogether and aired online, then jumped to Spike TV, then Destination America, then POP TV. IMPACT has also aired on every night of the week except for Sunday.
By not maintaining a consistent destination (pun kinda intended) for viewers, TNA forced itself into a “can miss” production.
6. Its Name
While I don’t have any grievances with the Total Nonstop Action name, I understand how difficult it must be for attracting new fans. First of all, “wrestling” isn’t mentioned. It’s a problem that Ring of Honor shares as well. People shouldn’t have to guess what the product is – they should know it immediately from the name.
Secondly, TNA sounds awfully like T & A or “tits and ass.” If the company wasn’t presenting itself as family-friendly entertainment, then by all means, bring out the strippers.
Lastly, TNA has rebranded as IMPACT Wrestling, but it’s too late. The reputation remains and diehards like myself still refer to the company as TNA.
5. Hiring Vince Russo
I’m not a Russo basher or supporter, I’ve never met the man. Unless you were in the inner circle of WWE, WCW or TNA while he was part of the creative team, then you really can’t judge whether he’s a genius or a moron.
From a strictly business standpoint, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to hire Russo after WCW slid to disastrous ratings with him at the helm. Based on track record, it’s quite the gamble to bring this man back into a similar position.
Jeff Jarrett, Vince Russo, Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan…all part of WCW’s dying days.
Why bring them all to a new company?
4. Not Hiring Paul Heyman
In 2010, former TNA President Dixie Carter tried to recruit Paul Heyman.
Here’s Carter’s account from an interview with Sports Illustrated:
“I’m a big Paul Heyman fan. We met that one time, and I would have loved to have found a way to bring him in. But what Paul did for ECW could not be created for us today. In this litigious world we live in, that stuff could never be recreated. You can’t go back and recreate things. I’ve had the biggest names work for us, and it’s just shown me that there’s no magic bullet. So we’re learning from our mistakes from the past and how can we be different and move forward.”
Ok, so Heyman’s bloodthirsty, anti-authority, profane, sexually charged brand of entertainment from the rebellious 90s wouldn’t work this decade. Fair enough.
Here’s Heyman’s account from an interview with Cageside Seats:
“Ultimately, the story of this is, if I was going to do it, I wanted the Dana White deal. I wanted complete control, I wanted a piece of the company and I wanted the ability to, when the time was right, to take it public. I wanted to do the programming completely different than the way they had been doing it and Spike TV signed off on it. The concept was a very youth-oriented, youth-based, youth-marketed promotion. A complete contrast to the way WWE does things. A complete and utter alternative to WWE at the time.
While the ruling family in TNA had no problem with my salary request, my ownership demands, my concepts, etc. etc., they didn’t want to implement as much of a youth-oriented product as I was looking for and I balked at it. I have no regrets about that. At the end of the day, they were happier being a WWE-lite promotion than they were branding themselves something different as TNA.”
Totally different than Carter’s reason for not bringing Heyman on board and saving the company from creative doldrums. It also segues into the next mistake…
3. Giving Hogan Power
So Carter won’t let Heyman take over, but she lets Hulkster run wild? Hogan may be the biggest name in wrestling, but at least Heyman has experience running a company. While the Hulkster’s priority was to focus on himself, Heyman has a lengthy track record of building up stars and masking their weaknesses. Plus, WCW had given Hogan creative control, and it was clearly one of its biggest mistakes.
Hogan came into TNA in 2009, and immediately lent some credibility to the fledgling promotion. But lend is all he did, because the publicity and buzz rapidly evaporated after his influence had shook the company. With Hogan came Bischoff, who at one time, was on the cutting edge, yet now was trapped in the mid-90s mindset of NWO remakes and centering the show on the elderly Hogan.
TNA lost its alternative appeal and became, as Heyman described, WWE-lite.
2. Pushing the Past
Although Hogan gets a bum rap for flooding the company with ex-WWE talent, TNA has always been obsessed with scooping up the scraps of McMahon Land. Ken Shamrock, Christian, Kurt Angle, R-Truth, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall…these are all before Hogan marched in.
And then it was really open season: RVD, Val Venis, Rikishi, Orlando Jordan, the Nasty Boys.
It was the antithesis of what Heyman had in mind. All of TNA’s homegrown talent was sacrificed for the stars of yesteryear. The future of the company was ignored while the focus went to attracting immediate eyeballs. Although not all of the hires were a waste of money and time, the majority left the company within a year or two and the old standouts had to pick up the slack after being positioned as inferior. Most of those old standouts, those company veterans, grew so frustrated that they fled to ROH, NJPW or WWE.
1. The Hardys Leaving
Ah, here we are. The biggest mistake that TNA has ever made is letting Matt and Jeff Hardy (along with Matt’s wife Reby) leave the company after spending the past year as the only reasons to watch.
Matt’s reinvention into the “broken” character single-handedly made IMPACT relevant again. His concepts of Final Deletion, Delete or Decay and Total Nonstop Deletion increased ratings, the inaugural groundbreaking event drawing 410,000 viewers (90,000 more than the prior week). For the first time in several years, social media was abuzz about IMPACT in a positive way.
Regardless of what the Hardys wanted, Anthem Sports should have acquiesced to their demands. Matt was the hottest act in pro wrestling in 2016, and Jeff is one of the most popular stars ever. Now that they’re free agents, they’ve even more attractive.
And TNA somehow, someway, looks dumber than ever before.