WWE has released Bull Dempsey, one of the more underrated and underused talents on NXT who’s sure to at least make a minor splash on the top indy circuit. If there’s one group that is clearly out there looking for some new blood to help push their show up higher, it’s TNA Impact Wrestling. No question, Impact has been taking a lot of hits recently and they’ve been digging deep to keep major players on board. The exposure that they have to offer is much declined from earlier years. Still, Impact built up a name through the big stars they’ve had and there is a place for them in American wrestling. Finding exactly what that is has been tough. There is a large school of thought that says Impact Wrestling is always gonna be a graveyard of talent, a weird cul-de-sac in wrestling. I’ll include myself in that camp. But for the moment, let’s take Impact at face value. They want to be bigger and badder so we’ll run with that.
TNA is almost certainly reaching feelers out to Bull Dempsey if they haven’t been already. With Ethan Carter III they already have something of a template, a guy that WWE didn’t seem to see much in yet was developed into a top star on Impact. Certainly possible for them to do it. In my mind the issue for Impact is that this doesn’t necessarily turn into a bigger audience. Take a look at WWE bringing in AJ Styles, or really, anybody that they’ve brought in: who’s been able to move the ratings? No one, not really. TNA has drafted a lot of star recruits in its past, but let’s think back to how Hulk Hogan’s parade turned out for them. Not so well, right?
It’s clear that just having guys, no matter how talented, no matter how big a name, is not going to sustain you. Impact needs some new blood, I think that’s true. At least for me, their product has such a bad stink all over it that cycling out some old flavor for new could prove really helpful for generating interest. If TNA really wants to maximize the gains on these new talents they’ve got to put their minds into the idea that ratings and money are attracted through competition and making big matches.
Competition Over Drama
This is a huge lesson that Impact Wrestling has never really mastered, probably because it grew up in the shadow of Russo-dom and the Attitude Era. Everything then was about drama, double-crosses, romantic relationships, mysticism, and all of that. Which is totally fine, or at least, those elements are on their own. I’ve got a lot of time for mystic characters personally. You have to understand, though, that these things really only work when we already care about the people involved. Having Mike Bennett attack Drew Galloway really only matters if I understand the entire issue and I’m into these guys and the whole thing. Presumably Impact Wrestling is trying to attract new viewers, either those who don’t really watch Impact or those who don’t watch wrestling at all. If this is how they’re going about it they’re doomed to failure.
One thing that’s easy for anybody to understand is competition. Clearly marked out sides, a well-understood goal, a single contest at a time. Any contest can be reduced to the people involved and who is closest to reaching that goal. It’s almost primal. If you want to catch somebody’s attention, somebody who isn’t familiar with your product, that’s where you want to put your focus. Make sure that the audience knows what’s on the line and make sure that your competitors have that first and foremost in their minds. Competitive sports work so well as entertainment because people pick sides for their own reasons and then tend to feel an attachment. Even if you root for the Miami Dolphins just cause you like dolphins, seeing the team you ‘chose’ actually do well is thrilling. That’s what gets people to pay attention.
Yeah, people do care when an athlete acts out, but how often does that really change who you root for? Impact Wrestling’s constantly shifting situations, these little micro-interactions, matches with a seemingly endless parade of interferers, all of this muddies the contests and that clear separation of sides. That drama can get people more interested in something that they were already paying some attention to. But if you don’t know who is involved drama won’t make you care. Competition will make you care because it gives you clear images to root for, it highlights those sides’ qualities, and tells an easily-communicated story: who won, who lost, and how each is moving forward.
Big League Competition
Ethan Carter III had a long, long ‘undefeated’ streak that was just recently ended by underhanded tactics from Matt Hardy. Hardy on top in 2016 is a big problem as far as competition goes but that’s really not Impact’s issue in this regard. EC3, like I said, went on this streak and thus became a pretty big deal in Impact. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’s currently one of their top stars. I do think it’s a stretch to say that he’s significantly better than anybody else they’ve got on their roster or that his success has to do with his own greatness. It’s all about presentation and EC3, for whatever reason, is the one person that they were invested in from the beginning. He was consistently touted as a star-in-the-making and the fact that he never lost only bolstered that. He carried himself like a big deal, they treated him like a big deal, he was a big deal. As far as I saw he only ever concerned himself with the world title. All of that has paid off for them in that now Kurt Angle vs EC3, Jeff Hardy vs EC3, and so on don’t sound like out-there matches.
If Impact Wrestling could pull off what they did with EC3 they would have what they really need: a good set of top-level stars without significant blemishes that can be shown as really elite competition. Thing is that you can’t really do the EC3 thing all the time. He was ‘undefeated’ for over two years. That’s not a gimmick you can really run all the time; you’re gonna run out of opponents and, besides, it gets ludicrous after a while. Surely two people can’t have that incredible luck. The way that Impact got EC3 over was honestly very hamfisted, which isn’t to say it wasn’t effective. It’s just that they clearly decided ‘this guy is getting over’ and protected him openly until he was. They created a simple rule — EC3 doesn’t lose — in order to make sure that no matter what happened they weren’t going to kill his heat.
For Impact to deliver the kind of big league competition that they need to really succeed and capitalize on these new hires, they can’t use EC3 as a model. The major thing that needs to happen for them is to decide that they need to get a set of really special-seeming big-time matches, build up to those matches and make sure that everybody involved, at least for the moment, is bulletproof. There need to be clear stakes and competitors who are obviously the best suited for the match.
To be clear, this isn’t an issue of talent. This is really why the EC3 thing is important. TNA can get talent that’s good enough. They still have Bobby Roode, Eric Young, James Storm on their roster. They’ve brought in The Wolves. They just brought in Drew Galloway who, though he isn’t my favorite, is surely seen by TNA as a guy they can put around the top level. They just grabbed Mike Bennett and are pushing him hard. Yet all of these guys really dirtied their hands a lot. They got involved in bullshit. They started dumb shouty stables. They’re running around with lower-card guys and getting mugged by them, and really, that makes all these guys look not big league.
It’s not that they’re taking on these lower card wrestlers that’s the problem, it’s that they get so messed up by these guys who then don’t go on to do anything of importance. It’s difficult to take somebody seriously in a big time match when you know at any point some virtual nobody can turn the whole proceeding into crap. What brings people into buildings and makes them switch to your TV show are meaningful matches, and that’s what develops into big league competition. Stop making these top stars seem small time by having them get involved in every sort of nonsense.
Take the Title Off Matt Hardy
Do it and do it now. I’ve said it before but Matt Hardy is not a top-level talent. It’s not just that I don’t think he’s on that scale as a worker, he’s also not on that scale as a name. When Kurt Angle says that Hardy is tarnishing the TNA title he’s right, but not in the way that the storyline is written. Hardy makes TNA seem small-time because there’s so much more relevant talent out there, even on their roster, that the question becomes ‘how did Hardy get to that point’? If we can see a path that he took through being a big league competitor, winning top matches, we can say okay that makes sense. Even more so if Hardy has turned in fantastic performances that get the whole wrestling world talking. None of those happened. I’m sure Hardy’s beaten all the necessary people but not in those crucial everything-on-the-line matches, not in big matches against other stars with momentum where a win and a loss can tangibly matter. He’s beaten them in scuffles on Impact or in little tag matches. Fine, that counts, but they’re not situations that convince fans ‘yes this guy definitely should be in the world title situation’.
You have younger talent that have a long time to make themselves relevant who could do wonders by proving themselves as champion. If the ‘idea’ is to use Matt Hardy to ‘get these guys over’ then it’s a foolish one. To the wrestling public that’s paying attention Matt’s not more over than anybody else you could name on the TNA roster, and to those who aren’t, ‘Matt Hardy, TNA champion’ is only going to make them think that ‘oh that also-ran brother was given a title’? Look, like I said, it’s not a question of talent. I like Matt Hardy even though I very strongly believe that he should be nowhere near a major title. The issue is, as always, presentation. Matt Hardy never really earned his keep in TNA. Yeah he’s been around but he never tested himself in, like I said, that really ‘big money’ situation. He won the title first in a triple threat where I think he’d just got the shot like a week or two before. How could we be amped up to care about that as a big time match? Since then, he hasn’t been climbing up the ladder in any discernable way, he just stepped in and revolved around the title. The only thing we could have associated Hardy with was his previous accomplishments and, let’s face it, they weren’t the makings of a world title-level career.
Could you make Matt Hardy into a credible, dangerous seeming champion? Sure, you could. But why? Why bring him back into this mix? Why put the title on Kurt Angle or Jeff Hardy? Take the title off him. There was a period when Matt Hardy as the top guy in a promotion would have made sense but that time is not 2016. If the intent in Impact hiring all these new faces, possibly trying to bring Bull Dempsey in with a push (again, pure speculation, not even any rumors to this effect yet), is to really freshen up their product I don’t see how they feel they’re served in this by having Matt Hardy come in and occupy their most prestigious position.
End Feast or Fired
I don’t understand how you came up with a concept worse than Money in the Bank but TNA has done it a few times. Feast or Fired sticks out cause it’s the one that they keep running. I don’t know why. Stop it. This last one that you ran you just gave everybody the most expected thing possible. Except for giving Grado the pink slip which, I don’t even know what that’s about. Is that an angle? Are you just letting him go? I don’t care. It’s dumb. The match is dumb. Stop it.
Bull Fit For TNA?
So can Bull Dempsey succeed in TNA? Sure, if they let him. Particularly if they really want him to and are willing to protect him completely. Being real, he’d probably need to have a look like EC3 if he wanted to get that kind of deal. But wherever Bull goes I’m sure he’ll be fine. The bigger question from where I sit is can/could TNA succeed with Bull Dempsey? That one’s open. You get some tiny flashes of brilliance out of Impact but then you get ‘oh so Matt Hardy as TNA champion wasn’t just a pity move this is actually gonna be a thing now?’. If they want to make the most of this fresh start with Pop they’re gonna need to turn stuff around. Just grabbing talent like Galloway and Bennett and Dempsey isn’t enough. You gotta present them like they matter.