In late 2009 the wrestling world was abuzz with the news that the legendary Hulk Hogan and his long time partner in crime Eric Bischoff were joining the US’s number two wrestling company TNA. Fans and critics alike either fell on the skeptical side of the fence, with the view that Hogan and Bischoff were a cancer to any company they entered, or they fell on the more positive side, seeing the addition of two globally known names to a company that struggled to get mainstream exposure as only a good thing.
In the months leading up to the official debut of Hogan/Bischoff in January 2010, TNA seemed to put less focus on storylines and instead decided to give fans what they wanted in terms of exceptional in-ring action, including a repeat of the match many said was TNA’s best ever, with AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe squaring off in a three way bout at Turning Point. The IWC in particular seemed to be in Heaven with the way TNA was booked during this period, with head writer Russo seemingly being told to go home and wait for the new regime to start.
However, when January 4th finally arrived the landscape of TNA seemed to alter significantly with a maelstrom of old/new faces turning up on the special edition of Impact. Some of these names were welcome such as Jeff Hardy, who had been WWE champion only six months prior, whilst others were just plain ridiculous like the fat, out of shape Nasty Boys or the booze addled Scott Hall. Sure the fans were left shocked but not in a good way as Impact began to resemble a reunion show for defunct WCW Nitro.
Key players in TNA’s growth like Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and Beer Money were ignored for months in favour of putting the focus on “Superstar” veterans like Ric Flair and the reformed Wolfpac (which went under the stupid moniker “The Band”). These veterans may have had marquee value to a degree but they just produced embarrassingly lethargic action in the ring, especially the hideous Brian Knobbs during his team’s short lived feud with Team 3D.
TNA didn’t seem to care about longevity but desired instant “pops” in ratings and exposure, even making the quite disastrous decision to move Impact to a Monday night to go head-to-head with the juggernaut that is WWE RAW. This ill thought out move saw ratings plummet to a 0.5 at one stage and almost became the death knell for TNA. Thankfully though TNA moved their flagship show back to Thursday and slowly regained their fan base, returning to the familiar 1.1-1.3 range.
After recovering from the Monday Night massacre, TNA began to improve in the respect that younger guys like Beer Money, AJ Styles and Matt Morgan were given meaningful storylines that saw their standing boosted rather than negated by the presence of the older veterans like Hogan, Flair and Jarrett. The team of Fortune (Beer Money, Styles, Kazarian) were a particularly noteworthy success during the summer of 2010 with fans perceiving the stable as a group of bonafide stars. Russo’s writing also began to take a more patient approach with storyline payoffs taking weeks or even months to reach fruition. The most prominent of them being the “They” angle which finally came to an end at Bound For Glory when “Immortal” was born.
Fast forward to now however and TNA seems to be losing traction once again. The company has rebranded itself as Impact Wrestling with the slogan “Wrestling Matters” yet has so far failed to push in-ring action any more than was witnessed last year. Sure the X Division has re-emerged but it needs someone like Scott D’Amore to take hold of the reigns and guide the high flying stars, whilst pushing logical and engaging storylines. Russo seems to be struggling in particular to find enough space in his writing to keep Hogan and Bischoff relevant, especially when they’re surrounded by a depleted stable that doesn’t really warrant the name “Immortal” any longer. The embarrassing way in which Jeff Hardy left the group and shamed the whole of TNA seemed to deal a hammer blow to the stable’s standing and it’s a blow “Immortal” hasn’t ever recovered from despite adding a surprisingly good head heel in Bully Ray.
When Bound for Glory rolls around in October this year it will mark a year of the Hogan/Bischoff/Immortal storyline and I can’t think of a better time to end the Hogan/Bischoff era. With Sting finding a second wind with his Joker-esque character and with the emergence of young talent like Crimson, I don’t perceive any problem with Hogan bowing out after taking the pin from Sting at October’s supershow and Bischoff handing back control to Dixie Carter on the post Bound for Glory episode of Impact Wrestling , as he will no longer have the back up he once did.
TNA needs to really push on with their “Wrestling Matters” campaign and I feel that without Hogan/Bischoff it will be a lot easier for Russo and the other writers to find time to exploit the younger stars and push them down the throats of a wrestling audience keen for an alternative from WWE.