October 27th 2009 was a day that I imagine very few people saw coming. This was the day that TNA Wrestling, a company that has long been a very distant number two wrestling promotion who are very much in the background compared to the monolith that is WWE – announced they had signed THE biggest professional wrestler in the business, Hulk Hogan.
Now of course Hogan was way beyond actually wrestling anything aside from maybe a very rare match with very few bumps taken, but his presence clearly would attract a whole new audience to the TNA product wouldn’t it? See TNA had been trying to raise awareness for their product for many years. Usually they seemed to try and accomplish this by trying to attract former WWE wrestlers and hoping they would help them get over the 1.0 ratings hump that they’d been stuck with seemingly forever. They tried with Christian, they tried with Kurt Angle and also various other names had passed through or joined the company on a long-term basis, usually to minimal or no real ratings increase on the whole.
But Hogan, well Hogan was arguably the biggest name in the business you could get, and personally I was both surprised and a little excited to see where this could potentially take TNA in the future. Would this finally push them up towards the big time?
TNA have had a great roster of talented athletes for many years and also had certain things that separated them from the WWE product, namely the X-Division where wrestlers would compete in fantastic fast paced cruiserweight style matches and original battles such as the Ultimate X match where four wrestlers usually compete trying to grab an X (or at times the X-Division title belt itself) hanging fifteen foot above the ring from two cables attached to a structure around it. Also the Knockouts Division thrived for TNA, where the women competing seemed much better booked and taken a lot more seriously than WWE’s Divas ever have. TNA just seemed to need more promotion to help them gain more of the viewers wrestling lost when WCW closed its doors in the 90′s and to attempt to hook in more of the casual viewer that is only aware of the WWE when anyone mentions wrestling.
Hogan had to be that guy who would create a whole new interest in the product. But would TNA get what they wanted and needed from Hogan, or was he simply here for another huge payday with little to nothing changing? Now with close to four years gone by and Hogan’s contract nearing expiration any day now, I look at what’s happened and where all parties have ended up.
January 4th 2010 was the day Hogan actually debuted on television and the episode of Impact was literally full of suprises. As many had predicted, Hogan brought in many of his own personal friends with him such as Eric Bischoff, The Nasty Boys, Sean Waltman, Scott Hall, even the terrible Bubba The Love Sponge along with more. In better news, TNA fans were also treated to Ric Flair and Jeff Hardy appearing in the Impact Zone that evening at least. Things didn’t exactly start too well since the commentary team had been hyping up Hogan’s imminent arrival for most of the episode along with several video shots of a limo on the way to the arena, only for Hogan in his first promo to tell everyone he’d been in the back all day.
Unfortunately this wouldn’t be a rare occasion of stumbling on the microphone for Hogan in his TNA career either. Nevertheless many changes were planned and undertaken once Hogan and Bischoff got their feet under the table. For one, come the next Pay-Per-View show Genesis, TNA ditched the six sided ring that was pretty original for a wrestling company in the United States and went with the regular four sides. The fans didn’t seem to approve of the change. Typically those mentioned such as The Nasty Boys and Bubba The Love Sponge also went down about as well as a fart in church and it didn’t take too long for both to be ditched by the company.
Other experiments that were meant to take TNA to new levels according to Hogan were to go live on Monday nights up against WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw. This began in February 2010 and failed so miserably that by May Impact was back to being taped for Thursday nights. More names came into the company such as Brian Kendrick, who looked completely uninspired for the majority of his TNA run and only half the wrestler he’d displayed himself to be in WWE and on the independent scene, Mr. Anderson who had been on the verge of a big push in WWE until one too many botches, injuries and complaints led to his release and Rob Van Dam, who despite being awarded the TNA Heavyweight Championship in an admittedly very good TV match with TNA original and probably the biggest face the company has had in AJ Styles, went on to seem more and more disinterested and sloppy as time went by. Not only this but many of the TNA originals who had shined in the past and were actually on a bit of a good run just before Hogan and friends arrived, either got pushed into the background or left altogether.
Was Hogan really the golden goose that TNA expected him to be?
In truth the people that had worked hard for TNA got a pretty raw deal once Hogan turned up. AJ Styles for example, despite holding the TNA Heavyweight Championship at the time and primarily suited to being a face character was aligned with Ric Flair and saddled with a terrible Nature Boy 2.0 gimmick that didn’t gel with him at all. Desmond Wolfe who had been on a huge roll with the company just before Hogan arrived and having several fantastic matches with Kurt Angle, was suddenly reduced to nothing much more than a jobber.
Infact when TNA ran a poll to determine who would be the number one contender for the Heavyweight Championship and Wolfe won by a landslide, TNA showed us how much they were behind him when they had him lose his match in quick fashion. Not long later Wolfe was taken off TV for an extended period of time due to health issues only to eventually be released altogether. Likewise other TNA names such as Christopher Daniels, Jay Lethal, Homicide and Low-Ki were either let go or requested their release and had it granted. Daniels would eventually come back and become hotter than ever but was this a realisation backstage of a mistake letting him go in the first place?
On the whole for a long period of time it seemed as if TNA really had no clue which way to go, constantly applying changes then backtracking, changing again or simply dropping ideas and hoping nobody noticed. One name who seemed to fare much better was Abyss, who Hogan referred to in interviews as someone who could be TNA’s John Cena. Despite this the fans never really saw Abyss as that type of guy and no matter how much they tried to force him into being the main event guy that Hogan constantly gave the rub to, nobody bought it. Throughout 2010 and 2011 TNA seemed to be stuck in a constant cycle of throwing stuff at the wall and desperately hoping some of it stuck. Vince Russo, who was head booker at the time and someone whose reputation in the industry is pretty shaky thanks to his WCW days, didn’t last long once the new regime arrived. Although in fairness despite how poor relations were meant to be with Hogan and Bischoff, he did last longer than people probably expected. I wasn’t at all unhappy to see Russo go as for every good idea the guy has he seems to have at least ten terrible ones. TNA itself was much better before Russo returned late 2006 and I originally thought Bischoff taking more power and Russo being gone would be a good thing. Unfortunately that wasn’t really the case.
As much as Bischoff did certain things well, he’s also seemingly trapped in time when the NWO was the biggest thing going in professional wrestling. See it was Bischoff and his supergroup that put WCW through the roof all those years ago but unfortunately someone needs to tell him that keep re-hashing it isn’t going to have the same effect today. Bound For Glory 2010 was meant to be the shocking moment that someone who has never really been a heel turns suddenly, just like Hogan did back in the day. And so in the main event we got the shock turn of Jeff Hardy, claiming the Heavyweight Title after attacking both Kurt Angle and Mr. Anderson with a crutch and immediately aligning himself with Bischoff’s new creation, Immortal. Immortal was yet another NWO rip-off which never really took off like anyone had hoped. Hardy himself would become derailed by the Victory Road 2011 Pay-Per-View where for some completely unknown reason, TNA allowed him to come out to the ring and wrestle Sting in the main event despite being in no condition to perform. At this time Hardy had fallen off the wagon once again and was clearly under the influence of something and after an incredibly short ‘match’ where Sting visibly pinned Hardy despite the latter being totally unaware and trying to kick out, Hardy would be gone for an extended period of time. Who in the world thought that rather than reschedule the match they should send Hardy out in that state where he could possibly injure himself or Sting? Keeping the card intact was one thing but fans didn’t exactly benefit from having the advertised match as the Pay-Per-View closed with them loudly chanting Bulls**t amongst other things, Sting himself even agreeing audibly on his way up the ramp.
It’s safe to say that 2010 and 2011 were not good years for TNA on the whole, but not all was lost. Come the end of 2011 there was a pretty good Destination X Pay-Per-View which focused everything back on those X-Division guys I mentioned and a lot of new and past names were around for the show. One bright spot especially was Austin Aries who for years has been a huge part of independent wrestling and a talent that I’m surprised has never been picked up by a major company before. Aries would win a contract with TNA at Destination X and go on to surpass what anyone expected of him in the company, now being one of the most entertaining guys to watch both on the microphone and in the ring.
Also 2011 began one of the better TNA creative ideas, the Bound For Glory Series, where a group of selected wrestlers would face off against each other on Impact shows, house shows and Pay-Per-Views accruing points for wins by pin or submission etc. The winner of the overall series would get a Heavyweight Title shot at Bound For Glory in the main event which was a perfect way to elevate someone into the main event picture on a permanent basis. This was achieved well in the first year of the series with Bobby Roode coming out on top, only for him to go on and lose his title match at the big show with an already injured Kurt Angle. At the time this was a debatable move again as Hogan had come out in the media as saying that Roode was not ‘THE’ guy which came off pretty badly considering how they’d built him up.
TNA would then go on to have Angle drop the belt on Impact the week after to Roode’s tag team partner James Storm instead. Now despite the bizarre circumstances it was nice to see Storm get the shock win and when the storyline eventually turned to Roode going back heel on his tag partner and cheating him out of the title it seemed that the long term booking was better all along. In truth at the time both Roode and Storm were elevated to the top and Roode went on to have a great title run that lasted well into 2012….which just so happened to be one of the better years in TNA’s history.
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This article was first posted on October 4, 2013