Deep Impact! The Downfall of Total Nonstop Action

Eric Urbanowicz
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Before All Elite Wrestling took on the challenge to try and defeat the World Wrestling Entertainment juggernaut, there was another company who thought they could throw their hat in the ring. Total Nonstop Action debuted on June 19, 2002 and were exclusive to pay-per-view until 2004, when they debuted a new weekly television show: TNA Impact!

For the next few years, they would go onto have a successful run as an alternative to the WWE. In addition to filming their weekly shows at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL, they’d start signing more high-profile wrestlers like Kevin Nash, Sting, and Kurt Angle. They were widely recognized as the second-largest promotion behind WWE and didn’t appear to be done.

However, starting in 2009 things started to take a turn for the worse. From this point, Total Nonstop Action would make bad decisions company wise and questionable booking decisions. They would hit rock bottom in 2017 and would eventually start picking up the pieces again.

While the promotion may be known as Impact Wrestling now, let’s take a look back to see how in eight years, the alternative to WWE became barely a top five promotion.

 

Hiring Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff

On paper, bringing in perhaps the greatest wrestler of all-time and the guy who helped World Championship Wrestling compete in ratings with WWE in the 1990’s looks like a full on slam dunk. The problem was that they’re also two of the most egotistical names in the business.

Hogan throughout his career has been known as a backstage politician, even to the point of having storylines changed just because he wasn’t winning. Meanwhile Bischoff always seemed to insert himself when not needed, and this was no exception.

Hogan was brought in to be a consultant as well spend some time onscreen, Bischoff was supposed to write the storylines and stay out of the picture. Instead, they became storyline authority figures and seemingly made the biggest ones about themselves.

 

Abandoning the Six-Sided Ring

“It was {expletive} stupid,” we’re the words that Eric Bischoff used on his podcast “83 weeks,” six years after his departure from the company, claiming that it was an odd idea with no rationale behind it. The problem is, that was their identity.

While it’s different from traditional wrestling rings, that’s what makes it unique. TNA doing this would be along the lines of going down to Mexico and telling members of the Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide to wrestle without masks. It may be more traditional but what good is it when you sacrifice the thing fans most associate the product with?

Nearly a year after dumping the six-sided ring, the fans took part in a poll put out by the company asking what kind of ring they should use: a four-sided ring or a six-sided ring. The six-sided ring would ultimately win out and remain a fixture in the company until 2018 when its parent company, Anthem Wrestling Exhibitions, made the decision to revert back to four sides.

However, if TNA actually stuck with the very thing that visually made them different, they may not have become as forgettable. Making this unnecessary change put them in a situation that didn’t allow them to stand-out and be different. The one thing made them more memorable than Ring of Honor was now gone, and so they had to rely on talent to hold them off.

 

Scooping Up Former WWE Talent

Wrestling companies will scoop up someone else’s talent. The same way that AEW landed a handful of WWE alumni like Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose), Pac (Neville), Chris Jericho and various others, wrestling is a business and grabbing the best talent is always going to happen.

That said, strapping a rocket to their back within the first year or two is pretty questionable.

Talent like Mr. Anderson (Mr. Kennedy), “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero (Elijah Burke), Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, Bobby Lashley and Team 3D (The Dudley Boyz) were quickly put into the main event scene, even having some TNA World Heavyweight Championship matches. While this works for relatively small companies, at this point TNA had already built a cult-like following in the wrestling world: they had their fans and they had their own talent unique to them.

Instead of building up that talent further, they would focus on one of them, the company poster boy A.J. Styles, and basically relegate the rest of the roster to build up veteran talent like Sting, Angle and the recently signed WWE alumni. It would take over two years before one of the younger talents won the TNA World Heavyweight title. In between: five former WWE employees or wrestling veterans, and a vacant slot.

When they weren’t building up the veteran talents who didn’t need it though, they were toiling in the under and mid cards for minor titles like the Television Championship and the X-Division championship. The effects of this made TNA seem more interested in WWE’s castaways and less in their own talent, which took years for them to clean off.

 

Monday Night Wars Part 2?

One of the biggest things to happen in TNA during the Bischoff/Hogan years was an attempt to reignite the Monday Night Wars. Back in the 1990’s both were involved in the original Monday Night Wars between WWE’s Monday Night RAW and WCW’s Monday Nitro. Bischoff in an interview said that it was supposed to be the big move that TNA needed to take to go from a small, niche product to a potential force.

According to the then president of Spike TV, Kevin Kay, the plans were for TNA Impact! to air on Monday nights quarterly through 2010 with the rest of the shows coming on Thursday nights. If ratings proved successful, the move would become permanent. However, this quickly became a disaster.

WWE countered by bringing back Bret Hart, a wrestler from the 1990’s who was part of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” and built a story behind his return after 13 years. This helped spur Monday Night RAW to a victory over Impact!: 3.6 to 1.5. Despite the loss, TNA opted to move fully to Monday nights on March 8, 2010.

From that point, Impact! never broke above a 1.0 rating on Monday Nights while RAW never dipped below 3.0. There was no war, only a massacre. The plug was pulled in May and TNA returned to Thursday nights.

 

Copy and Paste Storylines

During their downfall, TNA started to have storylines that were just plain awful, including the Claire Lynch storyline, Jay Lethal and Ric Flair’s rivalry, and the Kurt Angle-Karen Jarrett divorce. However, they also kind of copied some storylines.

While there’s so many storylines that can be done, a lot of them seemed to be done either previously in other companies or just came off that way.

From turning Abyss from a monster into a lovable guy (Kane AND Mankind) to Aces and Eights (the New World Order) to Eric Young winning the TNA World Championship (Daniel Bryan) to Samuel Shaw (Diamond Dallas Page in WWE) to Fortune (The Four Horsemen) to A.J. Styles leaving the company with the TNA World Championship (C.M. Punk’s Summer of Punk), it seems like they were grasping at straws.

It would be forgivable if these stories were lower on the card but they weren’t. Most of these were the main stories and main events. These were the stories they were pushing as their top prizes. Instead, they came off as duds.

The most egregious was the Eric Young storyline where he overcame all odds to win the TNA World Championship. Young had the same story as Daniel Bryan: was held back in the card by bad partnerships and gimmicks, never given a fair shot, even had a similar look with long facial hair. On April 16, 2014, Bryan would win the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 30. Four days later, Young won the championship on Impact!. Coincidence?

 

Aces and Eights

Probably TNA’s most ambitious storyline, Aces and Eights was what happened when the New World Order met Sons of Anarchy. What was arguably their biggest storyline revolving around major players like Hogan, Bully Ray (formerly Bubba Ray Dudley), and nearly everyone in the main event picture, it was the ultimate build up power story.

Based around a mysterious biker gang who would try to take over the company, each member wore masks and remained anonymous for months. After three months, Devon, Bully Ray’s former partner in Team 3D, was unmasked as the first member of Aces and Eights. Over the next year, Aces and Eights members would unmask, leading to the leader being revealed as Bully Ray, despite him leading the resistance against them. The story had enough twists and surprises that had it stopped shortly after the reveal, it would have been great.

Instead, they decided to keep the angle going for seven months following Bully Ray’s reveal. While it was good to build him up like that, the group essentially were nothing but his backing in that time and saw no real developments. After his reveal, everything kind of just soured and went stagnant until their break up in November 2013.

 

Losing Their Best

WWE has kept their biggest stars like John Cena, Randy Orton and Triple H on seemingly lifetime deals by keeping them happy. TNA tried to do that for the most part but ultimately saw it come crashing down on them.

From 2014-2016, several major players in the company departed. As mentioned before, it’s normal for wrestlers to leave one company for another but when they’ve been there for decades, becoming legacy acts and then leave, there’s a problem.

Former world champions like Samoa Joe, Sting, Bobby Roode, Bully Ray and Kurt Angle had enough and left. However, the biggest hit was when A.J. Styles, the man seen as the face of the company, departed. While they made new stars, the damage left a gaping wound, made even worse when they all eventually wound up in WWE.

 

Dixie Carter On Screen

From 2003-2016, Dixie Carter was the President of TNA. While she made appearances on television, she wasn’t a focal point on television. She was different from Vince McMahon in nearly every way…until 2013.

“Dixieland,” a storyline that saw the end of Hulk Hogan’s time with the company, gave way to its most damning moment. After trying to convince Hogan to stay, he made the decision to leave. The final shots of him there were Carter clinging to Hogan’s leg as he left for the final time, begging him to stay. It’s come out since that Hogan had enough creativity control in his contract to make that the only way he’d leave the company, but the aesthetic damage done was only the start.

From there, Carter tried to play the evil authority figure McMahon helped popularize in the 90’s. However, she lacked the charisma and personality and the angle flopped. It lead to its climax of Bully Ray power bombing her through a table, as the locker room looked on in support. Simply put, while the climax was worth it, the journey to it was not.

 

Dixie Carter Off Screen

While floundering on screen, Carter was making worse decisions off screen. These weren’t decisions that just made the on screen product bad, but ones that put the nail in coffin. It all started with the loss of their TV deal.

Spike TV, now Paramount Network, “wanted to purchase a percentage of TNA Impact Wrestling and move forward as share owners of the business. Dixie Carter would not agree to this deal and it caused the news of the potential end of their working relationship,” according to Justin LaBar of Wrestlezone.Com. It’s also speculated that the secret employment of controversial writer Vince Russo may have played a role.

After losing Spike, TNA went to the Destination America channel, a smaller channel owned by Discovery Inc.. They would change channels again later that year, signing with Pop. However, the constant channel changing did have an effect, and it lead to more wrestlers leaving.

 

 Owing Billy Corgan

Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist and singer Billy Corgan was hired by TNA to be the new Senior Producer of Creative and Talent Development in 2015, before assuming the role of President from Dixie Carter. Carter had taken a step back to become chairwoman and Chief Strategy Officer. This change up would help bring eyes to the product but money started to become an issue.

Years prior to 2016, there were always rumors and claims from wrestlers about not being paid on time, if at all. Then, Corgan left TNA that year after missed payments. Corgan would sue TNA for an unpaid debt, which resulted in the state of Tennessee outing a lien on the company for unpaid taxes.

It would force TNA to eventually file for bankruptcy, and lead to the sale of Anthem. Anthem would pay off what Corgan was owed, and make the changes it needed.

 

After a rocky start with rebrands, they would eventually find their footing and see a return to some level of success. While it will never be a true challenger to WWE or even AEW now, Impact Wrestling has maintained a following to compete with Ring of Honor as a number three promotion.

Eric Urbanowicz

Connecticut

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