The Anti-Antagonist: The Hunger Games

Adam Gorzelsky

WWE RawProfessional wrestling in the mid-nineties provided a sterling example of the principle that competition breeds a better overall product. Any fan who experienced those years can’t help but long for the days of the Monday Night Wars…In fact, despite the stress induced by the financial woes of the pre-Attitude era, I would venture a guess that Vince McMahon has a soft spot in his heart for that chaotic period of time when professional wrestling seemed to be at the center of the universe.

While it took some time for WCW to develop into a juggernaut that legitimately came close to toppling the McMahon Empire, the seeds of success were planted and cultivated by a hunger to reach that level. The WWF had a legacy of 80’s “Rock n Wrestling” success that allowed it to rest upon its laurels and wring a cash cow dry. Despite a deep history in association with the NWA, WCW could not hang its hat on similar mainstream success.

If WCW truly wanted to compete, it had to be different…it had to push the envelope…It had to take wrestling into an unknown territory. Survival ultimately required the WWF to do the same.

There may never be another angle at the same magnitude of the NWO and it certainly remains to be seen whether or not professional wrestling as a whole ever can match the level of mainstream popularity that it enjoyed during the Monday Night Wars…Nevertheless, the current directions of both WWE and TNA makes it reasonable to question whether the ingredients of legitimate competitive balance slowly have trickled into place.

On one hand, you have a WWE product that is becoming increasingly stagnant by the minute. Past the WWE Title picture, it is difficult to pinpoint a single aspect of the programming that has provided consistent entertainment value both inside and out of the ring. At a fundamental level, one needs to look no further than the recent and upcoming major events to spot a disturbing trend.

Two out of the three Main Events at Wrestlemania 28 featured blast from the past part-time wrestlers…Storylines have seemed to be on hold for the nostalgic 1000th Raw…A large chunk of Summerslam is soon to feature a vigilante with little-to-no respect for the business…And, oh yeah, The Rock wants the WWE Championship back.

There is no denying that each of these aspects packs a considerable degree of excitement…More importantly, from the WWE’s perspective, there is no question that a pot of gold is waiting to be stuffed into the coffers at the end of each rainbow….Lesnar/HHH will draw money…The Rock winning the Title is sure to make the opening segment of Entertainment Tonight…But will either of these scenarios advance the current product?

Wrestling is a business and detractors of the current product often are met with legitimate money-driven explanations as to why certain directions are followed…It’s why John Cena can’t turn heel despite the shockwaves that would be sent through the wrestling world…It’s safe and it allows WWE to continue wringing the cash cow dry (See above).

On the other hand, you have TNA. Despite Slammiversary’s fond look-back at 10 years of action, intrigue, and most importantly, survival, this is a company that doesn’t have the luxury of living off of nostalgia…Rather than being dredged up from the past, new memories have to be created in order for the company to make money…The hunger is there…It’s always been there…But hunger itself doesn’t guarantee a meal.

Many scoffed at the idea of TNA going live. It was viewed as a distant second news-wise on a day when 3-hour Raws were announced…A lack of production quality was expected as I personally saw the “you can’t polish shit” line thrown around quite a bit. However, with the dust slowly settling from the first live episodes of Impact and with 3-hour Raws soon to become a permanent reality, one has to wonder whether both sets of announcements may be viewed as the catalysts for a leveled playing field in the not too distant future.

This past week saw Destination X draw more buzz and intrigue that any facet of WWE programming. The live episodes of Impact continue to deliver wall-to-wall entertainment, while this past Raw consisted of enough abject failures at attempted comedy to make Adam Sandler cringe…In short, TNA continues to progress, while WWE continues to legitimize the fear that three hours of Raw can’t result in anything less than disaster.

Does this alone mean that TNA is ready to challenge WWE in the ratings department? Absolutely not….However, as was the case with pre-NWO WCW, the mere perception that TNA provides a practical alternative for established stars will go a long way toward achieving this ultimate goal…Lex Luger wouldn’t have dropped the first bombshell without this faith…No matter the level of creativity inherent in the NWO angle itself, it would have been meaningless without an adequate supporting roster.

Has TNA positioned itself for a similar talent grab? Let’s see what it does with its own stars first…Based upon reports from around the web, including those broken here on Wrestlezone, a guy like Matt Morgan appears to provide a perfect litmus test for the current position of TNA. Given the reported golden opportunity to return to WWE at a crucial period of his career, a potential return to TNA would speak volumes about his faith in the company’s direction…It would be the type of statement that tells disgruntled WWE employees that a legacy once again can be forged outside the shadow of Titan Towers.

If the content of this past Raw is stretched to three hours on a consistent basis, the cache of justifiably disgruntled WWE employees may become well stocked.

In the end, are we on the cusp of yet another version of the Monday Night Wars? Not now…Not yet…Fortunately though for wrestling fans, even the staunchest of WWE marks would be hard pressed to ignore the plain reality that TNA has taken tremendous steps toward closing the gap on a weekly basis.

In the meantime, it’s hard to ignore the glaring parallels between the early nineties and the present. Complacency and hunger…two ingredients that compose any underdog story…As long as the cash cow needs milking, it’s hard to see the complacency ending. Let’s all hope that TNA has the appropriate appetite to capitalize.

Don’t forget to check out all of the new shows and content that are a part of the Voice of Wrestling Network. While you’re at it, give myself and Martyn Nolan a listen in our latest edition of Virtually Reality. Check back at every Sunday for each new episode!

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