Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Look at the new Monday Night War

Was last night's RAW or Impact a homerun? Interesting how sports analogies always creep their way whenever professional wrestling is discussed. Sports analogies are used all the time-Wrestlemania is the Superbowl of wrestling, last night's show was a grand slam, or Batista scored a hole in one last night with one of the Divas. These analogies are even more interesting when you think about the intricacies of a homerun. A homerun can be the result of a powerful hit that sends the ball out of the park or it can be a gutsy run around the bases while the other team scrambles for the ball that was just hit. So, was last night's RAW or Impact a homerun?
With the first Monday Night War battle in nearly ten years come and gone, it's time to play Monday morning, er Tuesday morning quarterback and look at last night's episodes of RAW and Impact. Do we have a new Monday Night War on our hands or more evidence that professional wrestling is headed for the abyss. After watching the first hour of Impact (and the last five minutes or so) and the entire episode of RAW, I think it's safe to say that 2010 is off to a good start. Whether each show hit a home run or not is another story.
Looking at all of the comments from fellow fans, it's no stretch to say that there were some great expectations by wrestling fans for both WWE and TNA's flagship shows last night. It's no stretch to say that fans were looking for something to grab their attention and keep them riveted. Looking at all the comments from fellow fans, it's no stretch to say that more than a couple of people were a bit disappointed. I think people were really expecting to be blown away by either RAW or Impact (or both) and while they may have been entertained, they weren't jumping out of their couches or Lazy-Boys shouting "That's why I'm a wrestling fan".
Let's start with Impact. One thing is clear, TNA did not apply the adage "less is more". This show was about surprising the fans with surprise appearance after surprise appearance. This wasn't Crash TV, this was Crash TV on crystal meth. If you blinked, you ran the risk of missing the surprise appearance of various WWE Superstars ranging from Jeff Hardy to Val Venis. At first, it was a lot of fun seeing people like Hardy and Ric Flair make surprise appearances. However after a while, it seemed like there was just too much going on to take it all in. That's not a problem per se until you consider TNA can't bring in new wrestlers every week unless Panda Energy just wrote TNA a blank check (although the number of former wrestlers that showed up last night has got to be encouraging news for the guys trying to make a living on the indie scene). Still, there comes a time when overkill sets in and I think TNA reached that point last night.
Looking at last night's Impact, you really had a good idea of what TNA is all about, both good and bad. The opening cage match (the Tweety Bird Cage as I like to call it) featured some very talented wrestlers but it also showcased TNA's flaws. The camera work was spotty (when the camera was in the ring, you got a good look at the wrestlers involved, when the camera was outside the ring, you couldn't follow a thing) and the finish confused a lot of people. Homicide going nuts was easy to follow thanks to commentary from Taz and Mike Tenay but fans accustomed to cage matches (which are typically no disqualification encounters by default) were not only scratching their heads in confusion but chanting "This is bullshit" in frustration. If that wasn't bad enough, Homicide's unsuccessful attempt to climb out of the cage was embarrassingly funny as the cameras seemed locked on him for an eternity (I haven't seen something this bad since Hulk Hogan tried to start the Undertaker's motorcycle and he spent several minutes stalled on the entrance ramp). For all the good stuff that happened in the cage, there was stuff that highlighted the fact that TNA still looks minor league next to the WWE (a point many fans felt was delivered all the more by the show being taped at the Impact Center).
Still, last night's Impact showed that there's still hope for TNA. The people who criticize TNA by saying "This isn't 1998" miss the point. 1998 is fondly remembered by a lot of fans and although TNA can't take us back to 1998, using the wrestling product of 1998 as a template isn't the worst idea in the world. TNA's biggest chance of success in following the 1998 product isn't by bringing in all the wrestlers from that time period and recreating the angles, it's by utilizing their current roster in ways that evoke the spirit of 1998 i.e. fast paced angles, good wrestling, and compelling storylines. As with all things TNA has tried, the key is sticking with a game plan. TNA has yet to demonstrate any kind of success in sticking to a game plan but the 1998 game plan isn't the worst one they could run with.
Last night's show ended on an interesting note. Eric Bischoff is always good as a villain and the intrigue between Hogan, Foley, and Bischoff has enough of a lure that I'm hooked for now. I'm really hoping that TNA doesn't bring in guys like the Nasty Boys, Sean Waltman, and Scott Hall to do nothing but beat up the current roster. Still, seeing the old Wolfpack together has its merits (at least until they step into the ring) and it's sure to bring in some fans who haven't switched on wrestling since the days of Nitro.
The first Impact of 2010 showed some promise. TNA did a good job pulling off a three hour show (which the WWE has proved repeatedly is not an easy thing to accomplish). It was certainly not a smashing success nor was it an unmitigated disaster. It was a start to something which hopefully will build into something that can jumpstart the company. TNA is obviously spending some money on this venture so let's hope they get what they pay for. Last night's Impact wasn't a home run but it did feature a lot of doubles and triples. The show was definitely worth checking out and it was good enough that I'll give TNA another swing at bat.
RAW in many respects, was the antithesis of Impact. RAW anchored itself with one big guest (Bret Hart for those of you who just returned from a cave in Afghanistan) and put the rest of the show on cruise control. The result was a refreshingly balanced show which featured some excellent wrestling (including a PPV worthy DX vs. JeriShow match as well as an outstanding Kofi Kingston vs. Randy Orton bout) and stayed away from the stupid skits which have marred the show for the last few years (although the WWE did find time to throw in a stupid bit with DX and Hornswaggle, it was somewhat bearable). The WWE did a great job with the exchanges between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart (a truly emotional moment), Chris Jericho and Bret Hart, and of course, the finale between Vince McMahon and Bret Hart. Every one of them did what they were supposed to (get Michaels over as an ally for Hart, show Bret doesn't play favorites, and start the feud with Vince). While it would be wrong to label last night's RAW as a grand slam or a home run knocked out of the park, it was a home run earned through sustained effort. The WWE made a strong hit and covered all the bases throughout the night.
In the end, RAW was the better show but Impact held its own for the most part (Anyone who thought Impact was going to beat RAW probably thought Evan Bourne was going to pin Sheamus). In wrestling terms, last night wasn't a squash match. There's much to be learned from last night's battle. TNA needs to see what worked and what didn't work. They need to retune their game plan and stick with it. As for the WWE, they showed they can still put on a good show when they want to. Like TNA, they need to put on consistently good shows. Both TNA and the WWE have way too much talent to be putting on bad shows. It's time for both promotions to show the fans what they've got.

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