FanPost promoted to the front page by Bix.
Note: I actually started writing it about 3 months ago for a friend’s site, but got bogged down by coursework and said I’d go back to it once I had more time. Apologies if it comes off Mick Foley-esque.
While Vince McMahon and WWE are frequently- and justifiably- castigated on these pages for their shoddy and often callous handling of their employees, it seems like it might be time to also discuss and examine in detail the sins of their would-be competitors, TNA. A company which, in regards to their treatment of talent, have at times accomplished the seemingly impossible task of making Vince and company look like humane, classy and downright compassionate employers in comparison. What follows has been garnered primarily from blogs/interviews with current and former TNA talent as well as other notable names in the wrestling business, and of course, reports from credible news sources like The Wrestling Observer, the F4W Newsletter and the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter.
In terms of mistreated talent, the situation with the TNA Knockouts and pay appears to be the most widely known among wrestling fans and thus is an appropriate place to start. Well known as it is, some background knowledge is also helpful here: Former TNA production manager and current Full-Time TNA hater Randy Ricci was known for complaining constantly on his blog for years about the under-pay of TNA’s female performers and claiming that the overwhelming majority of the women made no money whatsoever. Initially, he was disregarded by many as merely having sour grapes about his former employer. His often disgruntled tone likely contributed largely to this view. And thus it was not until TNA Knockout Gail Kim’s contract came up for renewal that it began to slowly emerge just how under-appreciated the company’s female stars were, despite the fact that by 2008 TNA’s women’s division had become TNA: iMPACT’s highest ratings draw and the likes of Awesome Kong and Gail Kim were carrying the show, viewership- wise. Unknown, underexposed women drawing so well may have been a shock to management. Indeed, editor of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer refuted Dixie Carter’s claim to congress in late 2007 that TNA signed so many WWE stars and brought back older wrestlers because "developing new talent does not obviously sell" when he pointed out: "The highest rated segments of the shows have typically been the women, and of the key women stars that have consistently drawn, Awesome Kong, ODB and Gail Kim, two were never in WWE and the third was, but was not a star in WWE." However, Carter would later freely admit, in a 2009 interview with Mike Tenay that aired on iMPACT, that the knockouts "do our highest drawing segments."
Therefore, it is deeply perplexing why the popular and talented Kim was treated the way she was by TNA in contract negotiations. While it is known WWE made a good offer, TNA’s rather indifferent and cold attitude to re-signing her has often gone under-reported. According to the Pro Wrestling Torch, Kim, who was eager to stay in TNA having established herself as a star there after a disappointing run with WWE and made many close friends and emotional ties, had been given a low offer to re-sign, which one source claimed to Keller was not only less than what WWE was offering but "insulting" and "possibly a little sexist." Rumours have since emerged that TNA's best offer to her was between $30,000-$35,000 per year, which after road expenses, would have been hardly anything. If that’s the case, it is difficult to agree with another source in TNA management who complained that Gail was a sellout, saying to the torch "she [Gail] chose to be unhappy for more money rather than stay happy with the smaller company that made her a star" considering how utterly pathetic TNA’s final offer was. Gail herself has since confirmed in interviews that the sole reason she is no longer with TNA is money.
Additionally, in a story mentioned on these very pages, former WWE developmental star Taylor Wilde, brought in by TNA in mid- 2008 partly to fill the void left by Gail, openly admitted in an interview with Canadian music website http://juiceboxdotcom.com/ that despite being a star on one of Spike tv’s highest rated shows, she had been forced to quit her minimum wage job at Sunglass Hut after being recognized as the TNA Knockouts Champion. Recalling the deeply embarrassing incident, she said:
"I was working at Sunglass Hut at a mall in Mississauga, a job that could be maintained by a monkey, so standing around for six hours earning minimum wage wasn’t the issue. But after serving this one customer for an extended period of time he ever so politely uttered, ‘Aren’t you the TNA Woman’s Knockout Champion?’ I handed in my resignation that day."
Shortly after Awesome Kong’s exit from TNA, which was instigated partly by the fallout from the Bubba beatdown and in part by TNA’s refusal to grant her a minor pay raise, despite her still being one of the biggest tv draws in the company (Kong would later complain in various interviews, including one with http://www.diva-dirt.com/, that she felt extremely under-paid) and Tara’s scathing myspace blog about the company’s refusal to pay her anything close to what she was worth as a performer (it was claimed, like Kong, she was making around $400 per appearance; presumably she did eventually manage to get the pay-raise denied to so many others though, because she re-signed with the company after a short hiatus earlier this year) Dave Meltzer sought to explain the motives of TNA management in the May 10th 2010 issue of The Wrestling Observer:
From TNA’s standpoint, even though the women may draw, there is no great incentive to pay them because of the feeling most are interchangeable and WWE probably wouldn’t sign any of them because WWE is so specific in what it looks for and it’s purely attractiveness, and if they can wrestle, that’s just gravy.
That three of your biggest female stars quite loudly leave due to pay, and you have a Knockouts champion that gets recognized and humiliated while she works a sales job at Sunglass Hut because you don't pay her anything still doesn’t qualify as a "great incentive" might tell you everything you need to know about the short-sightedness and shameful coldness of TNA management towards their talent. And it nearly goes without saying, that TNA taking financial advantage of young women whom they know have limited options in a business often fickle and unkind to its women wrestlers is thoroughly odious.
In another embarrassing story, Ricci caused a minor stir when he claimed TNA's women’s champion at the time Madison Rayne had missed a house show loop because she could not afford the travel expenses (despite being a major star on television and a proven ratings draw with The Beautiful People, Rayne is rumoured to be one of the lowest paid people in the company). For her part, Madison swiftly took to her myspace to deny the rumours. Acknowledging she did miss several house shows, she insisted the real reason was instead "nagging injuries" and it had "nothing to do with financial issues" However many remained unconvinced and suspected she was covering for TNA management, with one observer pertinently noting: "What’s she supposed to say? ‘I’m Knockouts Champion and still broke as hell’"?
More curiously, it seems there are women in TNA are willing to pay for, just not the talented ones: Survivor star Jenna Morasca was signed shortly after Gail left, and was reported to be getting paid an absurd amount of money. The figure she was signed for was far, far more than Gail was asking for to stay, according to reports (rumours were that her contract was for around $500,000, she may have left before getting the full amount, though) . And former WWE diva and Playboy covergirl Christy Hemme, in a move that not surprisingly was reported to have caused a great deal of anger and resentment in the women’s locker room, was rumoured to have re-signed with TNA earlier this year for $150,000- $175,000 per annum to remain an interviewer with TNA. It seems likely TNA threw money at both women thinking of the massive mainstream press they could garner. Neither did much for TNA in terms of press, ratings or contributing in any meaningful way to the product, sans stinking up the joint with terrible matches, most notably Jenna in an utterly horrendous match with Sharmell at TNA's 2009 Victory Road pay-per-view that simply has to be seen to be believed.
It’s not just the women that struggle, though. No, the men aren’t left out either. On the F4W message board Dave Meltzer, in a discussion about WWE, TNA and promoter responsibility, painted a frightening picture of TNA, a company which citing budget reasons refuses to outright pay for medical costs or surgery for injuries that occur on their watch:
TNA is worse. Guys won't get injuries checked or go to the hospital after the show because they don't want to pay the hospital bill. TNA may front you money for surgery suffered for an injury working for them, but they want you to pay it back.
Recently released TNA wrestler Homicide provides another example, from the August 2nd 2010 Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
Homicide is out of action with a groin pull and is trying to rehab it. He’s avoiding surgery because he’d have to pay for it out of his own pocket since they don’t pay for that stuff in TNA and he’s not making enough money to get health insurance, considering most insurers won’t touch wrestlers. When Hernandez had his neck operation, the company fronted him the money, but then each week take a percentage of his check out to pay them back.
While this may be a common occurrence in indie feds, TNA is not an indie group: they are a national promotion, with a well-paying television deal, big name stars and a multi-million dollar budget. A wrestler refusing to go to hospital despite desperately needing to because he cannot afford it is utterly disgraceful. Offering to loan them the money isn’t generous either, many of the undercard don’t make much money anyway, and taking money out, on top of all the other expenses would leave many of them with little or nothing. Even the frequently demonized WWE pays for this without question, and no-one is about to accuse the folks at WWE of being too nice for their own good. WCW did too. As did ECW, despite spending most of its nine year existence languishing in a financial quagmire, and never having the backing of a billion- dollar energy company. Summarily, TNA has no business calling themselves a national promotion and rival to WWE if they aren’t willing to outright pay for this stuff. Indeed, despite TNA’s claims of needing to be frugal, it seems clear that TNA do have the money- they are reported to have spent $4 million on their signing spree of big name WWE talent earlier this year- but, similar to the situation with the women and pay "have no great incentive" to pay for medical costs. Perhaps management, rather callously, may simply see nothing in it for them. TNA may very well now be broke after their ill-judged spending spree, but they were, according to Dave Meltzer, Bryan Alvarez and several others, making a decent profit in 2008 and 2009. Yet still, these things weren’t paid for.
Financially, it remains to be seen what some talent get out of being in TNA. The majority of the women, and a few of the male mid-carders (including Generation Me who are rumoured to be the lowest paid people on the roster at around $200 a match) are, after road expenses, essentially paying to be there, and it is highly questionable how worth it it all is. Notably, ROH wrestler Delirious recenty turned down a low money offer from them, figuring he could make more on his own, and not wanting to put someone else in charge of his indy bookings. The much vaunted "television exposure" that being on a show which garners on average 1.4 million viewers a week brings doesn’t seem to guarantee anything either; or justify the low pay of much of the mid-card. While it stands to reason TNA talent should be able to make more on the indie scene, Bryan Alvarez, in the August 24th F4W Newsletter, noted the difficulty promoters faced when dealing with the largely incompetent and money hungry TNA front office. "As most are aware" Alvarez wrote, "if you want to book a TNA talent you have to do so through the TNA office, and good luck dealing with the TNA office. They also charge what most would consider outlandish fees, even for guys that are almost never used, which is why you don’t see TNA stars doing many indy dates." Alvarez also noted that a lot of guys were "struggling to make a living" because of this. Shimmer Co-Founder Allison Danger, when asked about TNA’s low pay towards women and Shimmer’s dealings with TNA management during her May 15th 2010 interview with http://www.diva-dirt.com/, also complained about the overcharging, insisting: "There’s no way TNA pay for their women what they expect us to pay for their women." Unsurprisingly, TNA Knockouts are thus used sporadically on Shimmer shows. This overcharging seems to stem from the fact that TNA take a significant portion of earnings from talent’s outside bookings, and thus, may be seeking to profit from their wrestlers, even when it simply does not benefit the talent to be so overcharged.
However, despite all this, it is entirely possible that the Rob Terry chair shot (delivered by Homicide on the April 5th iMPACT) will, in years to come, be regarded as the most infamous example of TNA’s shocking lack of concern about talent. Bischoff, proving once again that his autobiographical book’s title "Controversy Creates Cash" is far more than just a nifty slogan and is undoubtedly his ethos, disregarded the extensive studies by Christopher Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute and gave the go-ahead for a rather sickening angle in which Homicide would clobber Terry over the head with a steel chair, only for the goliath Terry to shake off the shot, seemingly unaffected. Unsurprisingly, the chair shot was met universally with outrage from the wrestling press: Bryan Alvarez, Dave Meltzer, Wade Keller and Fin Martin were just some of the scribes infuriated. Alvarez angrily claimed on his radio show it was concrete proof that "this company deserves to die" and later labelled the company’s actions as "bordering on criminal." Powerslam editor Fin Martin was equally scathing, stating bluntly in that month’s edition of the magazine: "TNA proved in that one moment they don’t care about talent." Irate former wrestlers Mickey Whipwreck and Lance Storm also vowed to boycott the show following this. Even former ECW boss Paul Heyman, while not specifically mentioning TNA, categorized anyone doing unprotected steel chair shots to the head in light of all the studies as "unconscionable" in a recent interview.
For the record, while the segment seemed to have been designed specifically to help get Rob Terry over as a monster, and was likely how management justified their abhorrent behaviour to themselves, his major push evaporated shortly afterwards and, according to a recent report from the Pro Wrestling Torch, the Welshman now has huge heat with management for some unknown reason, to the extent they’re now actively burying him. Glad to see it turned out to be worth it, huh? Terry may be a terrible wrestler and a bland personality- someone who should have arguably never been pushed in the first place-but to see him so callously tossed onto the scrap heap after doing everything that was asked of him by management is upsetting.
Moving on to more recently, the physical and emotional meltdown of one Matthew Moore Hardy, who was sent home by WWE from an overseas tour after being in "no condition to perform", has become big news in the IWC, due in large part to Matt’s attitude regarding his own privacy (he has none) and his constant attention-seeking and willingness to place himself on camera as often as possible, even when he’s in no state to be. Scarily, his drug problems were heavily rumoured to be the main reason WWE banned somas from their wellness policy, the most significant change to the policy in years. In regards to Matt's mental state, the pathetic and rather sad youtube videos make difficult viewing and achingly lay bare his problems for all to see: The slurred speech, the dilated pupils, and the constant ramblings and insecurities about his (minor) weight problem…make no doubt about it: Matt is a train wreck. And there’s no way Dixie Carter and TNA cannot be aware of it. There’s an endless barrage of youtube footage and tweets attesting to his emotionally fractured and drugged state. Nobody with a conscience could turn a blind eye to it and pretend there’s not a problem. But despite his litany of personal issues, going by their past behaviour, it is not a question of "if" Dixie Carter and TNA will overlook his personal problems and sign him when he inevitably parts with WWE but simply "when". We could accuse Matt of being arrogant and presumptuous when he films himself talking about being the next TNA World Champion, but examining TNA’s history, most notably signing Kurt Angle without hesitation, despite the general knowledge in the industry about Angle’s rampant drug use and snapping up the chance to acquire Matt’s reckless brother Jeff even though "The Charismatic Enigma" is currently facing up to 7 years in prison for drug trafficking, it seems almost certain Matt will end up there. Indeed, Matt is fully justified in thinking that, as a former WWE star, he can strut into The Impact Zone and be given a huge push. Is this the best thing for Matt? Of course not. Matt needs time away from the business to seek help and sort himself out. Indeed, it's the stress and politics of the business that appears to have caused many of his problems. But "the TNA family" (as Dixie likes to call it) have shown time and time again they will use anyone, regardless of their problems, if they think it will pop a rating or glean them some scrap of mainstream publicity.
Ridiculously, Dixie Carter is also in talks to bring back another train wreck: Scott Hall. Yes, once he gets done with his 59th stint in rehab, Dixie is seriously considering giving him another run in the company and yet another chance to screw the company over. Comically, WWE are paying for Hall’s rehab. So, while those in TNA may like to portray themselves as the plucky underdog battling against a nefarious, all-powerful billion-dollar giant , it is big, bad WWE that is paying for the help one of Dixie’s employees so desperately needs.
Summarily, Carter’s public image is that of a good-hearted, gracious woman who is simply too nice and genteel for such a scummy business. ("We aren’t run by an egotistical millionaire businessman," crooned Jeremy Borash prior to Dixie’s first on-screen appearance in 2009, "we’re run by a nice mother-of-two from Texas.") And, in fairness to Carter, no-one who has ever worked with her has suggested she has anything resembling Vince McMahon’s control freak nature or alleged rudeness and dreadful social skills. By all accounts, she is a very warm and affable woman to her employees, and fans who have met her during various meet-and-greet events will often rave about her friendliness and generosity . But this image of her simply doesn’t gel with the facts, either: if she were truly "too nice" for wrestling, people would be paid a decent wage and the basic health care needs of those in her company would be met. Nor would she snap up drug addicts at a moment’s notice. While she may not be a shrewd wrestling mind, Dixie simply must know about the poor pay of women when so many knockouts have openly said that’s why they’re leaving TNA. Nor can she be completely in the dark about her wrestlers getting burdened with huge medical bills should they get hurt on her watch. The Konnan lawsuit, which TNA settled out of court, was rooted partly in this. Considering all this, it is unfathomable that Dixie, a college-educated woman with a legitimate business background, has no inkling about what goes on in her own company.Indeed, as time goes on and the stories emerge, Dixie becomes increasingly difficult to sympathise with. By all accounts, she has been told, and quite bluntly in the cases of J.R and Paul Heyman, who had meetings with her earlier this year, what the problems in her company are and how to fix them. But time and time again, she protects her incompetent buddies and makes no changes whatsoever. Despite the fact that many of her employees are struggling to make a living working for such an unsuccessful company.
Her motives are difficult to ascertain: she mentioned budget issues a few times in a recent interview with Jeremy Borash for TNAWrestling.com, so maybe she truly believes that these things can be justified because sacrifices have to made in TNA until business is rolling (although with Russo still booking, this remains highly unlikely). Or perhaps she really is that clueless and people in her inner circle have lied to her (probably not the first time) and led her to believe TNA wrestlers are significantly better off than they actually are. Who knows? But, regardless, clearly some things have to change. When you make Vince McMahon look like a progressive and all-around nice guy employer in comparison, you know you’ve got problems that go way beyond Vince Russo’s bad booking and filling up your show with relics.
Edit: To clear up some thoughts and accusations out there... I am not an angry TNA ex-employee or anything of the sort. I've never worked for TNA. And thank God for that. I am merely a fan who heard one dreadful story after another, decided it would be a good idea to write it all down, mixed in with some of my own research. That's all.