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Creative Matters
(because the wrestlers must matter!)

Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) is on the right track but its lack of creative is holding them back from being the premier wrestling promotion in the world.

Why Creative?

Some wrestling purists might suggest that a wrestling promotion can thrive on pure wrestling alone, great matches, great talent.  If wrestling was just about live shows and monthly PPVs then this could well be right, in the era of TV though, creative does matter, it cannot increase the quality of the in ring action but can increase the interest in it.  A product can be a great product but without consumers it is just another product lost in the shuffle, even though it may well be the best product on the market.

TV shows should be built on creative, their aim should be primarily to build interest/fan base for the company and upcoming PPV events.  Of course dream matches can and should be integrated in to the show but not as the expense of big events, the exception of course is a solid meaningful main event to make the shows wrestling relevant.  Dream matches should not be confused with great matches; all matches should where possible be great in some way.

Many people might say that by developing characters to make wrestlers bigger than mere wrestlers that you are betraying the principles of wrestling, it does not have to be that way.  Vince has never understood how to successfully maintain the real in wrestling while developing the entertainment type of the business, though this is more to do with the fact that Vince does not have any ‘feeling’ for the wrestling business and doesn’t really care, he is primarily a businessman, and for all his many faults you certainly cannot doubt his business acumen.  The only person to successfully integrate both character and real wrestling was Paul Hayman,  had he have had the financial resources his promotion would have continued to grow, he proved also that creative is a cheap addition to a product, for example a great gimmick can make a mid card wrestler in to a star.  The team that managed WCW, if you can call it that, believed that you could buy success, this is true but only in the short term, once the initial euphoria of a new signing has died down there must be somewhere else for them to go, otherwise you are left only with another expensive signing with no pay back.

Lessons can and should be learned from WCW, it is my belief that their demise was not due to bad luck in management, it was primarily due to no creative direction. It is hard for me to believe that their many bad decisions were down to incompetence, while I do believe their team were lacking in the basics of creative they would have had to be totally incompetent to run the show this badly, their work behind the scenes could well have been the greatest backstage angle of all time, one that ultimately destroyed the promotion.

TNA finds itself in a great position; they have established themselves as the premier ‘wrestling’ promotion, a solid base indeed for progression, and a perfect place to oppose the WWE entertainment product.  TNA has suffered from the WCW disease of inconsistency with their constant management/creative changes, thankfully they have come out of the Hogan/Bischoff ‘era’ without too much long-term damage, but you will notice that what happened to WCW was beginning to happen to TNA, indeed I actually couldn’t watch TNA for a stretch as the show was just so horrible and everything was being done contrary to every creative rule.  Ironically TNA creative was at its best just prior to Hogan and Bischoff’s arrival, coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidence.

While TNA has all the building blocks for success they are currently strewn around the ring and many are stuck under it.  While the TNA talent is solid, especially with the new smaller X Division, the gimmicks/personas are generally very sloppy indeed.  It is easier for me to highlight the wrestlers with solid gimmicks, these are on the whole wrestlers who have brought these themselves, of course there is nothing wrong with this but other wrestlers need tidying up, gimmick wise.  Mr Anderson, Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy’s gimmick’s are all solid be cannot be attributed to TNA, most Knockout’s gimmicks/persona’s are good but a good part of their personas in sexiness.  Almost every TNA home grown star needs a gimmick makeover, save for a small few (e.g. James Storm, although his gimmick is just him).

Keys to Creative

Ironically the idea of creative (creating storylines, angles, gimmicks etc) is to make things more real.  Fans need to ‘care about’ a star, not necessarily care in a good way; fans need to want to know more about a star, where they are going, what they will do going forward.  You can tell how much the fans care about a wrestler due to the heat of the crowd.  Fans like to associate with a star, this works better if the gimmick/persona means something to the star themselves, WWE creative used to understand this and that’s why a lot of their gimmicks worked. Ideally you would want to sit down with a star and see what makes them tick and find out about their history, often a gimmick would come forward, as the star can associate and live it, it makes it really real, which in turn makes it real for the fans. Often a good gimmick can just be the exaggeration of the wrestlers own persona.

The ultimate goal for any wrestler should be to win a title, so titles should mean something, but too often titles are used to get stars over or as a reward – this just serves to devalue titles which devalue the promotion as a whole.  The constant changing title belts is a huge mistake, each title modification (name change etc) reduces that titles prestige, while this has been a bad situation it is not beyond resurrection.  It is time to make titles worthy, a title shot should be earned and not given, titles need longevity else their champions cannot be measured and therefore not respected.

Matches and decisions should be made with a proper management structure, remember the old days when you would get a rare announcement from a promotions President about an upcoming main event or a suspension etc, these decisions used to mean something.  Unfortunately in the current climate every man and his dog can seemingly make matches, the president of the month can change, suspend or book matches whenever they hit the ring.  Every time this happens the promotion in devalued further, while fans always like to see their star ‘get the match’ or their most hated ‘get it’, really it would mean more if it was more ‘official’, it would be more special. I have always advocated some form of rankings so fans can see their star progressing, can get excited when their star almost is at the top of the ladder.  This is part of making fans want more; generally giving everyone what they want when they want it is a short signed strategy, when you wait sometime for something is it not more special?  I would like to see the President via video link rather than hit the ring, the wrestlers and promotion must be seen to respect the President and in turn respect the promotion, I would generally like to keep the officials backstage.

TV Show

TV should primarily be used to build storylines and gimmicks, if you can hook a fan on a storyline, a new character or both then you have a customer for a PPV buy and a fan for the foreseeable.  I would not use any dream matches on TV save for a solid main event, which could be a tag team or stipulated match of some kind which would not lose a potential dream match.  The format for the show should generally be pretty structured, although if an big angle dictates then it could be a good idea to break things down, again it’s one of these things where if chaos happens every week, chaos is then not special.  I would generally not have lots of title matches and almost never have world title matches unless there was a very good storyline reason; no reason why speciality/ stipulation matches can’t be booked to further a feud.  I would have a TV title match every week, this would get the fans talking about how many times it can be defended, can my man hang on to it etc, in a strange way because of the numerous defences it could soon be viewed as a respected title. 

Talent Rich

I am not overlooking talent; TNA is in a strong position here.  There have been a few major exceptions and massive poor judgements, while I do not know the background on Jay Lethal’s exit the decision to release him is possibly the single worst decision TNA have made, and there are quite a few on the list. Talents such as Jay Lethal rarely materialise, what makes it worse was that he grew up in TNA – Jay Lethal had awesome mimic macho man gimmick, his wrestling ability was first rate, his mic skills were superb – if you have a perfect character/wrestler – it could well be Jay Lethal.  Lethal’s confrontation with Flair was the greatest moment is TNA history, seriously. It is not possible to release a talent such as this if you understand creative; interestingly this routinely happened in WCW which handed Vince the keys to the promotion.  There is a core of athletes in TNA that should not be released under any circumstances, I would call these ‘core talent’, most might be obvious but let’s run though those, a few might surprise:

Core Talent

Samoa Joe – apart from maybe AJ, Joe is the quintessential TNA talent, he is everything that TNA should be

Velvet Sky – Hogan became bigger than wrestling at his peak, Velvet can be bigger than wrestling, the ‘skies the limit’

Mr Anderson – I am actually surprised I have gone for a WWE guy but he’s got too much charisma to lose, might be the most charismatic guy in TNA

Alex Shelley – see the above comments re Jay Lethal, the last time I saw this was when Steve Austin was in WCW.  Alex Shelley is potentially Shaun Michaels+

Austin Aries – Ok so his gimmick needs tiding up, he is the man AJ should have been.  Few heels receive such admiration; Aries is a wrestling god in the making

James Storm – it is possible he could transcend TNA, ironically the more time he spends outside TNA the bigger he will be.  He’s heading for iconic status in the same vein as Sandman

Winter – TNA doesn’t know what a jewel it has. I would build an entire stable around her incredible character

Kazarian – A gimmick and attitude change could make Kaz a major player, I see his career transformed by gimmick change much like Brian Pillman

Scott Steiner – He’s hardly going to be a long term star but he’s still one of the most charismatic stars in TNA, a ‘legend’ gimmick could make him an icon

Hernandez – has the strength/agility combination that few possess, the biggest prospect ever to come out of South America could hand that area of the world to TNA


Some of the best horses might have bolted but where are the stables?
The lack of believable stables in TNA is difficult to fathom, on the plus side the confused Immortal stable seems to be taking a step backwards.  You ideally need a couple of strong established stables, remember what the Horsemen did for NWA/WCW, they alone sold many events.  TNA has its own Horsemen, albeit currently in suspended animation, Fourtune – will detail them later. Another stable that has died is the Beautiful People; the decision to disband them defies logic if you’re really committed to moving forward TNA, you need the most marketable stable/team possibly ever, certainly ever in TNA.  The final long standing stable should be a hardcore stable, will outline that shortly.

Fourtune (need a name change from Fortune and drop the ‘fortune four’ tag)
So much potential but such an awful gimmick.  Would need to redesign the logo, it’s like a great present but the wrapping is ugly.  I don’t like AJ as the figurehead at all, mainly due to his poor mic skills, a stable of this kind needs a good spokesman to work, remember the Horsemen had Flair.  Alex Shelley could fit in here perfectly with a more classic look.  The stable should be based on scientific wrestling, Kaz would fit albeit with a heel gimmick, Aries would be a good choice but he’s arguably too big for a stable.  Gunner could come in for a bit as a hitman, the ‘Soldier of Fourtune’. Either way you only really need a couple of mainstays and the others can interchange.

Beautiful People
Reform the beautiful stable.  Velvet Sky would be the jewel in the beautiful crown, I would bring back Lacey Von Erich, not only did she have the funniest gimmick but she has a wrestling heritage so every fan wins.  I would not use Angelina Love, she does not fit in to the stable, instead you could bring back Madison Rayne or Miss Tessmacher, alternately a new young babe could be brought in, the important thing is that Velvet and Lacey are mainstays.

‘The Darkness’ – Winter’s heel stable
‘Medieval’ Madison Reign – the Princess of Pain
‘The Dark Angel’ Christopher Daniels
Any  new hardcode stars could be brought in to TNA by Winter who could bring them on slowly and build their characters.

Behind the mic.

While mic skills are not the be all and end all, it’s an important part of the creative puzzle.  Not being competent behind the mic certainly doesn’t take you out of the creative picture but by the same token you wouldn’t want to waste mic time on a wrestler who isn’t comfortable, as rather than getting him over it might put him down.  Even on a two hour TV show mic time is at a premium and should be used to develop a character, get them more over or to develop/push a storyline, as with everything creative there needs to be a ‘reason’, nothing should be random.  Being a good mic performer can compensate for a lack of talent, not every wrestler is going to be an amazing talent, everyone has their niche, improved mic skills can allow a wrestler to connect more with the fans and make them care more about you.  TNA seems to give mic time to their biggest stars, irrespective of whether they are comfortable or not, I would say don’t give somebody mic time unless there is a reason for it, every athlete doesn’t need a free fight interview.  This is a quite easy way to push new talent. Ideally a spokesperson for a team should be the best mic operator.  The people I would prefer not to push on the mic are stars such as AJ Styles, Devon, Hogan etc, while stars such as Pope, the Guns and Steiner should be given extensive time.  It’s very simple; you don’t give somebody the ball if they can’t run with it.

New Gimmicks, the first batch

Bobby Roode
Rename: “Talent Rich” Roode or possibly “Talent Rich” Bobby Roode, the first is much better from a merchandising standpoint.  Beginning to call himself Rich (short for Richard)
Gimmick: Drop the Bobby, doesn’t send out the right message – it says young and doesn’t set him out as special.

Madison Rayne
Would rename her Madison Reign or ‘Medieval’ Madison Reign, could also use the ‘Evil Medieval’ when she becomes a heel, Other names ‘The Princess of Pain’
Gimmick: Ancient (Medieval) Princess gimmick. Current chainmail attire works well.  Winter puts her in to a trance and takes her to a past incarnation – medieval times.
Storylines: Is recruited by Winter for her ‘Darkness’ stable, flies the flag in the knockout Division.
Merchandise: Chainmail style cropped tops

Austin Aries
Rename: ‘Wrestling God of War’ Austin Aries
Attire: Roman soldier (Gladiator) attire, not dissimilar to Magnus’ initial ring attire.
Merchandise: Aries ‘god’ miniature statue figure

Rename: ‘The Gunner’, makes him more special. As a heel could use the ‘Soldier of Fortune’ gimmick, hired out to the highest bidder (a member of Fortune).  Needs to be repacked as a soldier, cropped hair, combat fatigues and a beret.  Explosions as he comes to the ring, when he hears explosions etc he becomes even more intense (almost as if he’s traumatised by them!)
Storyline: Has been traumatised as a soldier, that’s why he’s so intense and crazy.  A wrestler disrespecting the US and Gunner then transforms in to the new Gunner to defend the US. 
Merchandise: Gunner beret, army style t-shirt

Rob Terry
Rename: ‘British Beef’ Rob Terry
Gimmick: Strongman gimmick, attired in small muscle top, vignettes of him executing massive feats of strength
Storylines: Headlines new TNA Special attraction “TNA’s Strongest Man”, leads to feud with Hernandez
Merchandise: Weighlifting tops, belts, gloves etc

Beer Money £2k
The Beer Money gimmick is too good to lose; we need to bring it back, or at least the 2nd generation.
While Roode is now a huge singles star we could still use James Storm to reform, but alternately we could have a totally new team.  The main thing is that the gimmick in intact and the team is still talented - a new team would automatically have recognition, respect and fan base!
I like Kid Kash as the ‘money’ part of the team, rebranded as ‘Hard Ka$h’. Kash is just the right man for the team, he’s real, he can wrestle, and he’s called K(c)ash!
Storyline: Team comes together by accident, possibly a wildcard team; they slowly begin to morph in to Beer Money eventually doing the Beer Money sign at the end of a big match.  They are given Beer Money t-shirts by James Storm effectively endorsing them as the team.

Rename: Kazanova
Gimmick: Womaniser.  Attired in designer gear. Always has a valet accompanying him to the ring –possibly a TNA knockout.  Has an ability to influence the ladies.  A Rick Rude type gimmick.
Storyline: Dates a couple of TNA knockouts at the same time, after falling one with one of his knockouts he begins a feud with her and a wrestler who comes to her aid.  Eventually Kaz’s former knockout turns on his opponent and goes back to Kaz giving Kaz the feud win. 

Rename: Magnus the Magnificent, then possibly to just ‘The Magnificent’
Gimmick: Arrogant Adonis, obsessed with his body and looks. 

Storyline, here’s an example
Shark Boy, the ‘Children’s Champion’
Rename: keep it, it’s perfect
Gimmick: One of the greatest gimmicks ever devised in TNA
Storyline/angle: TNA management accept that Shark Boy has amazing merchandising potential so they bring him back for that reason, but due to the fact that they think he’s talentless don’t want to push him therefore treat him as a jobber, even called him ‘Jobber’ Boy behind the scenes.  Ranges of merchandise are built around SB including something that is handed out at ringside (to children).

He jobs to various wresters but each time gains more of a following, especially from young children, who congregate at ringside, looking excited and giddy when he competes.  After a number of frankly embarrassing bouts, where SB gets beaten badly the children/fans begin to look sad, after a few fights he is put against a TNA monster heel to get them over, he not only gets destroyed but gets badly beaten, the child in the front row of the crowd begins to cry.  Following the bout, SB goes backstage and is seen arguing with management saying “I’m not doing this anymore” only to be told to “Do your job... jobber!” 

The following week SB is back again, against a top contender who needs to win to justify his upcoming PPV match, pre match SB again gives a young boy a shark gift at ringside, the young boy gives him a hug and the crowd of children cheer like crazy.  The match goes as expected, SB being beaten badly almost pinned when the young boy looking distraught tries to climb over the railing to help his favourite wrestler, SB notices the child but he’s too beat down to do anything, his opponent looks at the child and says something like “kids shouldn’t be at ringside anyway, what do they know”, the heel then gets screamed at by the crowd of children and the heel makes some form of derogatory gesture towards them which SB sees.  SB sees this and goes ballistic, rises from his watery grave and begins to pummel the top star, as SB gets on top more so the children scream and shout more chanting “shark, shark!”.  SB finally hits his stunner and pins the top star.  What follows is possibly the most emotional moment in wrestling (you’d think that SB had won the world title) where children and parent alike in the crowd are screaming, the chants of Shark By are louder than ever, SB falls to his knees as if he’s won the biggest title in the world, in reality he has won the title – that of the ‘Children’s Champion’. 

Post match, still euphoric, SB goes backstage and is greeted by TNA management, SB expecting to receive kudos for his huge pop and fan support, he instead gets a huge slap and told “you’ve ruined everything, you’ve ruined our main event, you’re lost us lots of money!”, management storms away muttering something unintelligible.  Later he’s told by TNA management to “make it right or else!”.

The following week a rematch is booked between SB and the same top talent, again SB is reminded backstage to “Do the right thing or else!”, a similar scenario but this time the top talent goes even wilder, but it constantly distracted by the crowd of children at ringside, the children begin the chat “The Shark has eaten you...”, the top talent is well in control but cannot help himself to jaw with the crowd, initially ignoring the small group of children but finally snapping and telling them to “Go home as it’s past their bed time!”.  The same thing happens again, the crowd go crazy and the energy fuels SB, SB once again wins following the top talents distraction from the crowd and SB amazing desire.  SB enters the crowd and standing with the children as the ‘Children’s Champion’.

Post match (shown on video screen), SB is met once more by management who show him a contract, SB is excited thinking he’s gained a new contract, management ripping up the (his) contract, he is then escorted from the arena as the commentators speculate that he’s been fired.  The crowd and especially the children have long faces and their parent try to console them.

The next week at the PPV, the top talent challenges a champion and Shark Boy appears at ringside surrounded by lots of children, at several point in the match SB chants become so loud that they again distract the top talent who loses his title bid.

The following weeks show large groups of children protesting outside the arena, children’s hand painted signs saying, ‘We want Shark’ and ‘Bring back the Children’s Champion’ and painted picture signs of Shark Boy etc. Week after week and pressure mounts.  A couple of high profile wrestler’s children get involved with the children’s campaign but TNA management continues to hold firm. Every week there is a report on the campaign, talking about how SB’s popularity is soaring, shows his Facebook and Twitter page with thousands of supporters.

There is an altercation backstage, a prominent wrestler, maybe AJ or Angle argues (because their child supports the campaign!) with TNA management saying they need to sort this (SB protest) out as it’s getting out of hand, TNA management stand firm and affirm that “They are in charge and it will die down... the kids will get bored soon”.

During SB’s sabbatical, show clips of him on children’s shows, children’s event etc, you could even do this for real, book him on real shows/events which would build his name/persona and begin to make him bigger than wrestler – a feat few wrestler ever achieve.

Finally TNA management is seen speaking to Dixie Carter who tells management she’s not happy and is pointing out to management “Do you know how popular he is?”, management answers with “If I rehire him, I’m going to look weak... I will not let him embarrass me anymore than he has already  done!”, Dixie tells him “it’s not negotiable, make it happen, by next week I want this resolved”.

The following week, Shark Boy is invited to iMPACT!, he meets TNA management rep in ring who tells Shark that “I HAVE DECIDED to offer you a contract, frankly I don’t think you’re good enough but what the hell”, huge crowd pop, “Oh and to show you there’s no hard feelings I’ve booked you on to next week’s PPV!”, Another huge pop, “You’ll be facing (top TNA talent, the guy he beat) in a special attraction match... a anything goes Cage Match, oh and one other small stipulation... all children banned from ringside!”.  The TNA management rep laugh maniacally and goes backstage shaking hands with the top TNA talent telling him “It’s down to you now, don’t let me down!”.
To be continued...

Jason Smith
Trance-Form Creative
Tel: 0775 882 4649