Passing the Torch

April 25, 2009

I wrote the following for my “Storm Front” article for “Fighting Spirit” Magazine, back in January, and it is being reproduced with permission from Uncooked Media Ltd.

With a new year out in front of us, I find myself looking toward the future. It’s a time of year when people are thinking, “Out with the Old and In with the New”. This is a great concept and one that applies greatly to pro-wrestling, or at least should apply to pro-wrestling.

Everyone always talks about how this business is cyclical. There is a constant ebb and flow to the business of pro-wrestling with times of great highs and inevitably times of great lows. There are a lot of theories for this constant fluctuation in the appeal of pro-wrestling, and while I don’t think any one theory is the total and complete answer the one I put the most stock into is one I heard from Dave Meltzer.

This is far from a direct quote but Dave’s basic theory for the hot and cold nature of our business is the reluctance of top Stars (or the promoters pushing them) to pass the torch to the next generation. When a Star catches fire and gets hot, promoters are all for throwing gas on the fire and reeking the benefits of having this super hot Star. To keep this Star hot they sacrifice others on the roaster to keep them over and they ride the wave into a business boom period. When a Star becomes the main draw of a boom period he gains considerable back stage leverage and becomes able to protect his position. All the eggs get thrown in one basket and he becomes the be all and end all of company business. We’ve seen it with Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and the NWO.

Unfortunately even the brightest Star has a shelf life, so the problem becomes, “When do you start taking eggs out of the Golden Goose’s basket, and build towards your next top Star?” More often than not promoters want to get every last drop of blood out of a stone and will ride a hot act as long as humanly possible. Couple this with a Star’s reluctance to hop off the gravy train and pass the torch, and their ability to use their current drawing power and leverage to avoid doing so, and the next generation is almost never established by the time the top goose stops laying golden eggs. This is what leads to the cyclical down turns in our business; the bloom comes off the rose before anything else is planted in the garden.

You have to establish and get over the next top Star (or Stars) while the golden goose is still hot enough to have people watching the show and caring about the product. You also have to book the new guy to over take the old guard and in essence knock them off their pedestal and take over as the company’s new top draw.

There is of course a perfect angle to achieve this passing of the torch and TNA is currently in the process of running it, unfortunately they are screwing it up horribly. The angle is the feud between The Main Event Mafia and the young TNA faction of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal, Eric Young, Pete Williams, and Consequences Creed. It’s the feud between the older more established Stars and the Younger less established ones. It is the exact same angle WCW used when they pitted the older “Millionaires Club” against the younger “New Blood” in 2000.

WCW of course screwed this up, and the angle much like WCW died a miserable death. With this angle failing so completely in WCW and currently floundering in TNA many people think it’s the angle that is flawed but I strongly disagree, it’s the execution of the angle that is the problem.

In WCW they did the angle completely backwards. They portrayed the older established Stars as the baby faces that deserved the top spot and the younger next generation Stars as the heels that wanted the top spot but didn’t really deserve it. Instead of fans wanting to see the new generation finally overcoming the oppression of the old guard, fans were left thinking the new generation were lesser Stars who had to cheat their way to the top. The torch was not passed it was stolen, and when the torch is stolen it burns out in the process and the new torchbearer never catches fire in the eyes of fans.

In TNA they have at least cast the heels and the faces appropriately; the older more established Stars are the Heels, and the younger less established Stars are the Faces or at least are supposed to be. The problem is that TNA has absolutely no clue how to books Heels and Baby Faces, so the younger Stars this angle is supposed to get over are coming off like complete losers. For this angle to work the heel group needs to look less cool than the baby face faction. Fans have to believe that the faces deserve to be the top stars in TNA and the Main Event Mafia (MEM) are riding past glory to hang on to a spot they no longer deserve.

Now I don’t know whether this is due to just a complete lack of understanding of the business, on the part of the TNA creative team, or simply underhanded sabotage of the angle by the MEM, to hang on to their own spots, but so far this program is an epic failure with very little time left to salvage it.

So far the Heel faction has the cooler name, dresses and looks way cooler, and have completely outclassed and buried the young guys on promos. The Heels are booked way stronger, win more matches and are coming across, as the true deserving Stars, not Stars on the verge of being over thrown buy the new guys.

The Face side is a complete disaster; Joe and AJ were the right choice but Young, Lethal, Williams, and Creed were all coming of losing undercard programs when they joined AJ and Joe, and are in no way ready for the main event spot light. AJ Style should be an RVD level star by now but isn’t, and when was the last time you heard a, “Joe is Gonna Kill You” chant?

There is so much elevation that needs to be done to get these guys ready to lead the charge for TNA yet TNA continues to book the heels stronger, which is why this angle is failing. Lets be honest the Bloom is almost completely off the rose for everyone in the Main Event Mafia. Sting and Kevin Nash are 50 and are working on short-term contracts. Scott Steiner is 47 and is likely one injury away from being done. Kurt Angle’s contract is up this year and could leave for WWE, provided his body holds together that long, which could leave Booker T, who is 44, as the only guy in the group to still be with TNA and healthy come 2010.

If TNA doesn’t get some serious momentum behind the new generation and get the torch passed to them soon, it’s not going to happen and TNA is going to be in a lot of trouble.

Lance Storm