This may be a shocking statement to many, but Total Nonstop Action (TNA) has been putting on a great pro wrestling show of late. Austin Aries and Bobby Roode have just finished off a fantastic feud, the group Aces & 8s has held viewers' intrigue for weeks now, and guys like Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and even Jeff Hardy have been putting on some good matches.
Gone are the days of the pay-per-view (PPV) building to the next weeks Impact Wrestling and wacky finishes leaving the fans feeling cheated. Even the Claire Lynch/A.J. Styles angle where Lynch had claimed to be pregnant with Styles' child (and would later admit she date raped him) had entered into a "so bad, it's good" territory before being brought to an early end.
This has been a new TNA, a new Impact. I would argue that it's more fun than WWE has been lately. Maybe not a better overall show from top to bottom, but there's certainly a lot to enjoy if you let yourself.
The only problem is that the numbers haven't responded accordingly.
In a world where Raw is pulling in four to five million viewers for a three hour show and Smackdown is getting two to three million, it's hard to not be disappointed with Impact's ratings. For the past month it has been hovering in the 1.2-1.5 range which means on a bad night, TNA is getting half the audience WWE's secondary show receives.
That's never a good thing.
Adding onto the problem is that Hardcore Justice is estimated to have received 8,000 PPV buys, normal for a TNA "B-Show." A WWE show of similar status would be called a complete failure if it had not broken the 100K mark. TNA has just not been measuring up, and it's no surprise why. The WWE, in many people's mind, equals pro wrestling. And TNA has burned a lot of bridges with its mismanagement of talent and horrible storylines in years past.
Things are starting to change, though. The show is getting better. While the numbers are not there yet, they will come.
Now is not the time to panic.
"Hollywood" Hulk Hogan returned to Impact this past Thursday (Aug. 23), to the joy of those in the Impact Zone and to the chagrin of viewers everywhere else. Right now I'm resigned to the fact that he will be playing a major role in Aces & 8s, although that in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. As I've stated previously, he's simply too big a name to leave off the show. There is certainly a way for this to play out and not be terrible. Hell, it can even be good.
But we cannot have another Immortal and Bound for Glory 2011.
Hogan (and to a lesser extent, Sting) cannot be allowed to upstage the young talent that is finally, finally breaking out after years of dumb politicking. Bobby Roode was an amazing heel champion. Austin Aries has been great as the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. The X-Division is finally starting to rebuild after being decimated. Homegrown guys such as A.J. Styles and James Storm are coming into their own.
Looking at the ratings and buyrates, though, and anyone can see it is not translating into new fans. Give TNA credit for not doing what they are known for and make a knee jerk decision. They've held steady for the live Impact summer run. The talent has been allowed to stand up on their own, and not live in the shadows of Hogan, Sting, and the old WCW.
My worst fear is that "Hollywood" has had enough. Hogan sees that the show has not been getting better numbers while he is not on it, so why not add a spark? He can personally undo every ounce of goodwill TNA as acquired over the past few months. He can turn away any new viewers who have recently started watching, or keep away anyone who is starting to give it a chance.
I'll say it again, folks. TNA has been good recently. Maybe even great. While Raw continues to anger its fans with numerous recaps and tired segments, Impact offers a legitimate alternative. Great wrestling, campy moments, committed storylines and intrigue in the main event. While the numbers haven't been rising, any marathon runner will tell you that you have to run your own race. You cannot burn yourself out chasing the leader. Short-term gains will only kill you in the end.
Slow and steady, TNA. You've been doing great so far. Please don't burn yourself out now.