Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Suitable WWE Alternative: The McMahon Plan to Put TNA Out of Business

CM Punk is a World Heavyweight Champion. Regardless of what brand he is a champion of or the circumstances surrounding his win, at the end of the day CM Punk has a World Heavyweight Title around his waist.

Is that enough to satiate the ever-critical Internet Wrestling Community? Likely not.

Is it enough to get more fans watching the ECW brand? Probably still likely not.

Much like Samoa Joe, CM Punk lost the payoff match that would have made his title reign significant. Due to a wellness policy suspension, he is afforded the luxury of keeping the belt warm for the impending return of John Morrison. This makes him a glorified Ronnie Garvin in the annals of wrestling history.

Punk's title win came at a TV taping, and was spoiled on WWE.com before it aired on the poorly rated ECW on Sci-Fi.

The WWECW experiment has been an interesting one to say the least. Beginning with Rob Van Dam's title run, the brand has experienced nothing but issues. It's hard to determine what WWE's actual plans were for the brand, as additions of RVD, Kurt Angle, and the Big Show imply that they expected the brand to draw on it's own.

All three of those aforementioned wrestlers are gone. Bobby Lashley took the ball, but when he ran with it, he often ended up on the Raw brand. Lashley was removed from ECW and stripped of the World title, but fans kept hope with the announcement that Chris Benoit would be putting on fantastic matches with young athletic workers. We obviously all know how that turned out.

Outside of Morrison and Punk, the supporting cast of ECW wrestlers is a veritable who's who of wrestling jobbers as ECW originals Balls Mahoney, Nunzio, and Tommy Dreamer haven't won a match in recent memory. Wrestlers receiving half-pushes like Stevie Richards, Kevin Thorn, The Miz, and Big Daddy V are hardly anything to get excited about.

This leads to the ECW World Heavyweight title having a feeling of being more on par with Raw's Intercontinental title or Smackdown's United States title.

TNA on the other hand has somehow been able to keep the big belt feel around their World Heavyweight Title. Kurt Angle, Sting, Christian Cage, Samoa Joe and others have all been built to be legit title contenders.

Despite the fact that the logic of having Kurt Angle lose clean to Jay Lethal to return and defeat Abyss is seriously flawed, the belt itself only moderately suffers. The main argument of most wrestling fans would be that Lethal should now be considered the number one contender. I agree, but would rather personally not see Angle squash Black Machismo to get his heat back.

Still, TNA has it's own fatal flaw. TNA's purpose in the wrestling game is to provide an alternative to the WWE. When I started watching wrestling in 1989, the NWA/WCW provided a suitable alternative with a different and often superior in-ring product.

Years later, when WCW acquired Hulk Hogan and other former WWE stars and looked, sounded, and felt more like their competitor, Extreme Championship Wrestling stepped up and truly did something unique in the world of wrestling, blending world class grapplers, unique high flyers, and hardcore wrestling.

Since the original ECW folded, many have come and tried to rekindle the magic. XPW and CZW have appealed to a specific type of fan, but they have been unable to capture the imaginations of America the way ECW did. One might suggest that they're overboard tactics and sort of lower class, if not dirty, feel has a lot to do with their lack of mainstream marketability. If ECW was comparable to edgy magazine Playboy, XPW and CZW are BSDM specialty mags.

Undoubtedly, pro wrestling fans have been looking for something new and different. For some fans, this is found in Ring of Honor. To make another analogy, if WWE were beer, ECW is WWE Lite, and TNA is WWE Ultra Lite. Ring of Honor is Natty Light. Cheaper, but at least it tastes a bit different. Fans are looking for a Miller to compete with their Bud, and have been since the dissolution of WCW and the original ECW years ago.

With TNA shoving VKM, Black Reign, Rhino, Team 3D, and various other WWE rejects down the collective throats of their fans, it has appeared at times that they might get rid of the X Division entirely. Obviously the TNA brass doesn't understand what brought them to the dance.

So why doesn't a millionaire-wrestling mogul like Vince McMahon understand that there is a demographic he is not reaching? After all, there is a great deal more money to be made.

Jim Ross has recently stated in his Barbeque Blog that "ECW is still a work in progress and the final form it eventually takes could be termed as ‘still to be determined.' I am not a major fan of a weekly hardcore or extreme rules match because they cease being special if one sees them every week and these matches increase the odds of a wrestlers getting injured. With the overall lack of quality depth available, injuries should be avoided when they can."

While many fans cannot accept this, I am perfectly fine with it. I grew tired of WWE style hardcore matches, and I detested watching bums attempt to recreate and outdo them on the Indy circuit. I don't want anyone to get seriously injured for my dollar. That is not why I am a wrestling fan.

So what can the WWE do to reinvigorate the ECW brand and provide the alternative that TNA is failing to be, essentially shutting them out of the market entirely?

Well, the first step is to get a deal for ECW to move to a different network. ECW is handcuffed by their Sci-Fi affiliation, as characters like The Boogeyman and Kevin Thorn must be there to grab any type of crossover audience from the network itself.

If ECW could score a deal with FSN, FX, or another network with a more general theme and a larger audience, it would benefit them greatly. I personally am unable to watch ECW on the television in my room, because we only get digital cable on one TV in the household.

The second move would be straight to Thursday nights to compete directly with Total Nonstop Action Impact! What is a bigger slap in the face than to send your third and lesser brand into direct competition with your rival? Writers and wrestlers would both be expected to step up their performance.

The next step is to introduce a Women's Championship to Smackdown. This will undoubtedly be the most controversial point. However, Victoria is on the brand, and she is undoubtedly the most talented wrestling diva in the company. She would like to see a belt there, and I would like to be her unconditional love slave. Therefore, what Victoria wants, Victoria gets.

Plus, this opens up the option of taking the Cruiserweight title off of Smackdown and moving it to ECW. Along with the title, any wrestler from any brand who is considered a cruiserweight should be moved as well. This would place Daivari, Santino Marella, Super Crazy, Funaki, Chavo Guerrero, Shannon Moore, and Jamie Noble all on the ECW brand.

Cruiserweight title matches would be contested under a highflying, hard-hitting cruiserweight style. One huge difference between WWE and TNA is TNA lets their X Division separate itself from the rest of the program, while WWE essentially has smaller guys working a heavyweight style for a cruiserweight title.

Other wrestlers who might be considered for movement to the ECW brand depending on their storyline involvement on their respective brands would be the Hardyz, Rey Mysterio, and Kenny Dykstra. These men would be ECW World Title contenders.

The ECW World Heavyweight title would only be contested under extreme rules, which can mean as much or as little as the performers involved want it to mean. There was a great difference between Jerry Lynn/RVD matches and Tommy Dreamer/Raven matches in the old ECW. Still, it gives wrestlers the option of pushing the envelope in matches where it would be worthwhile to do so, i.e. World Heavyweight title matches.

Now that pay-per-views are tri-branded again, the ECW brand would actually be set apart and provide one or two unique and exciting matches for each.

All members of the ECW roster should wrestle with a hardcore mentality. This does not necessarily mean Extreme Rules. Kurt Angle's intensity upon joining the ECW brand, and Big Show's attempt to work a different style and use a new move set while in ECW were fantastic examples of what I mean. Hardcore doesn't necessarily mean going through a table. It's about wrestlers pushing themselves to the limit.

It's likely that a reworked ECW could destroy TNA's market share, as WWE would provide a suitable alternative themselves. If done correctly and given a more legit feel, it may also attract some of the ever-growing MMA audience.

Without a doubt, it would increase ratings, increase merchandise sales, and give fans a reason to once again chant ECW, ECW, ECW!

1 comment:

Jedd Johnson, CSCS said...

Great post.

I am growing tired of the monotony of the ECW brand, and hope they decide to shake things up soon.

I hope they bag the old sacks of potatoes like Tommy Dreamer and Balls Mahoney, and invest some time in their young, truly athletic talent, like Elijah Burke.