More a Moped than a full-blown Harley...
The stable is one of the mainstays of professional wrestling today. When done well, not only can it unite a few workers under a strong banner or gimmick, but can provide them the launch pad from which the individual workers can go on to bigger and better things.
Such as these guys:
However, not all stables can be as successful as the Hounds of Justice. Some, such as the Wyatt Family, start like a house on fire, and then get abruptly shoved in the bin due to the idiotic machinations of one man and his Fruity Pebbled Obsessions (I have still not forgotten, Vince). Others, such as the Nation of Domination, kinda start well, but increasingly sort of sacrifice all of their members for the sake of one true stand-out.
Fact is, stables often are easy to put together, but also easy to screw up, and incredibly difficult to break up in a way that benefits all within them. Here's another cautionary tale from the halls of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
TNA in the middle of 2012 was in an interesting juncture. Spanked royally when it made the boneheaded decision to switch to Monday Nights, it switched nights once again and found itself needing to find an angle to make people tune in once again.
This came on June 14 when Sting was attacked by three masked men in biker clothing to end Impact. A couple of weeks later this new group would send a message to Hogan with a 'Dead Man's Hand' enclosed inside (for those playing the home game, a Dead Man's Hand is very big in Western and Biker motifs). And so the group was christened Aces and Eights- to reflect the cards needed for a Dead Man's Hand.
The group targeted all the top workers in the company- including AJ Styles, Austin Aries, Bully Ray, Sting, Kurt Angle, Hogan, Bobby Roode and eventually James Storm (who for a while was seen to be behind it all). After a lot of back and forth between the TNA workers and the Aces and Eights workers, Hogan, sick and tired of the interference- including a severe arm injury to World Champion Aries- banned Aces and Eights from the Impact arena.
Now, all of this was fine for the most part (admittedly you had one segment where the face Hogan tried to beat the shit out of an Aces and Eights guy for information which was...um...not good?) but there were a couple of little issues that began to be seen that would become big problems as the story went on.
Firstly the gimmick itself, while intriguing at first, did start to get tiresome with all of the heavy handed use of biker motifs. I admit, I know next to nothing about biker gangs and I have never seen Sons of Anarchy (on which the faction seems to be heavily based) but the faction suffered from everyone's voice being muffled to the point of sounding like Bane with a cold. This meant that although their promos in their hideout looked good, it essentially sounded faintly ridiculous.
Secondly, the stable had at least five members. And while that is not a bad thing in of itself, it is getting towards the top end of the size you want a stable to be before it becomes cumbersome (See Order, New World). And the thing is that there is always a temptation to make stables bigger as a way to get a cheap pop from some sort of revelation as the crowd go "Oh my God! He's part of them!" The fact that they were already 5-6 strong therefore was possibly something to be a little mindful of.
In any case, after being locked out of the Impact Zone, Aces and Eights kidnapped and tortured Joseph Park (the alter-ego of Abyss) and subsequently kidnapped Hogan and Sting in order to propose a match- again which would have been a whole lot more impactful if they did it in front of a LIVE CROWD rather than in a darkened room somewhere with quite bad acting (whoever wrote the script for the mysterious leader seems to have mixed up the idea of a biker gang with Blofeld from James Bond).
And thus at Bound for Glory Sting and Bully Ray took on two members of the Aces and Eights faction. If the TNA guys won, Aces and Eights would be permanently banned. If Aces and Eights won, they would have permanent access. So naturally what does our Hulkster GM do when facing a group that has been known to interfere in matches?
Make it No DQ of course.
There is nothing 'tough' about making a No DQ match if the opposite side has a record of cheating. A more appropriate term for it would be 'fucking stupid'. It is lazy writing and makes the faces here look like a bunch of chumps. And so it came to pass at Bound for Glory that another Aces and Eights member interfered, costing the TNA group the match. However, after the match, Hogan came out and managed to grab one of the interfering bastards, unmasking him as...Devon Dudley.
It was a clever swerve by TNA who had got Devon to vacate their Television title and 'leave' the company on Twitter. Devon then justified his behaviour to Bully Ray the next time they met on Impact 2 weeks later by saying how Hulk and Bischoff never respected him after the Dudleys broke up when Bully turned on Devon 2 years previous.
Aaaannd this is where it gets confusing.
Bully essentially refutes this by saying that it is of course about them, because Devon during that last match as a tag team allowed Chris Sabin to kick out of the 3D and told Bully in the locker room that the fans didn't matter- they were rich anyway.
Which would be fine, except a) This feud was TWO YEARS AGO and hasn't really been drawn on since and b) you are essentially retrospectively turning Devon heel and Bully face- even though Bully didn't thought it proper to tell anyone about why he was so pissed- just thought it easier to bash the crap out of him and get booed by the fans he apparently loved so much?
And then we get to the fact that Devon is apparently the 'Sergeant at Arms' of the Aces and Eights stable, allowing the audience to see that TNA by this stage were really ripping off Sons of Anarchy. What was worse though was the fact a real biker club would have a purpose for the Sergeant at Arms and all the other bloody positions we'd get to. A wrestling stable on the other hand? Not so much.
In any case, the next week Sting, Hogan, Angle and Joseph Park all determined that another of Aces and Eights would be unmasked, leading to some weird backstage segments with a lot of shaky cameras and far too many wrestlers (honestly, there's like 10 there with the camera man frantically trying to get them all in shot). Further in the show Devon and Bully Ray clash in a match where Devon naturally calls out his buddies...which have somehow grown to eight other members (not including Devon) before the TNA roster comes out as support. In the ensuing brawl Joseph Park and a Aces and Eights member are in the ring, and in the chaos of Park's...flailing, manages to unmask the latter as...
Festus Doc Gallows or as the TNA commentator put it "an enforcer for some of the biggest names in the business" before putting Park through a table with a chokeslam.
We learned later that the newly christened D.O.C (which stood for Director of Chaos) was a 'prospect' for the stable and still needed to prove his worth to the group. Over the next few weeks he and Devon tagged in numerous matches against the likes of Sting, Magnus, Angle and Garrett Bischoff. He also interfered in Devon's television match to help him win the Television Title from Samoa Joe. The faction also managed to actually put Sting on the shelf for a while, putting him through a table and bashing him with a hammer.
During the cusp of 2013, Aces and Eights made it's first real successful acquisition from the TNA side, recruiting Mr Anderson over from the TNA ranks to join their stable. However the next week TNA would get their revenge when Sting returned and rescued Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe from a beating before unmasking the former Mike Knox (known as Knux for TNA).
During this time Bully Ray was having a secret romance with Brooke Hogan. When Hogan found out, he was naturally dismayed- and even more so when Brooke accepted Bully's proposal of marriage, with the ceremony happening the next week on the 17th of January on Impact, Cause Aces and Eights would respect the sanctity of marriage right?
Ok, before I go on I just need to get this out of my system. If anyone can tell me of a kayfabe wedding actually being pulled off well by a wrestling promotion, I'd like to see it. Wrestling promos are by their nature, almost always best when they focus on punchy lines delivered by convincing workers. A wedding is grandiose and possibly beautiful, sure, but not punchy. It's very nature is to be sweeping and drawn-out. You are essentially making the crowd sit on its hands for something that they know is not real in order to get to the interesting bit. That's not good writing, that's filling air. You are seeing the minister drone on (and this one does drone on) and then the vows, before after EIGHT MINUTES of just...saccharine nothingness, Best Man Taz finally grabs the mic and reveals that he is part of Aces and Eights, allowing them to come in finally and deliver the beat down to Bully, Hogan and others.
For all those keeping track at home, you will notice I am still in January. Soon Garrett Bischoff and Wes Brisco also revealed themselves as part of the stable, pushing the unmasked amount of Aces and Eights members up to SEVEN. As said above, this is where stables get into dangerous territory as soon it becomes more about the reveal than the follow-up. The nWo added members left, right and centre but as soon as they joined...who cared about most of them?
Soon Angle revealed that D'Lo Brown was Aces and Eights' Vice President, putting another layer of bland sauce onto this increasingly dull pudding without getting to the million dollar question.
Just who was running this whole bowl of fruits and nuts?
Well at Lockdown we got our answer. Y'see, after the wedding debacle back in January, Hogan anointed Bully Ray his #1 Contender to Jeff Hardy's TNA World Championship, basically bypassing the system that Hogan himself had set up by saving (with Sting) Hogan from yet another attack from Aces and Eights. However, after a pretty good cage match, Devon handed Bully a pin hammer, with which Bully proceeded to waffle Jeff with to capture the TNA title, declaring himself the President of Aces and Eights.
It's a pretty cool moment, though let down slightly by Hulk saying "no" several times in a very wooden voice. The crowd buy into it too, throwing trash in the ring a la nWo 1996. Unfortunately, these parallels with the New World Order continued as the group began to spiral.
Remember above how I said that a good stable shouldn't have too many members because it can make them all seem generic? Well, another reason for not bloating your stable too much is that it makes the whole thing incredibly difficult to break up and less impactful when you do. While Aces and Eights were flying high with Bully Ray as World Champion and Devon as TV Champion, D'Lo Brown was ousted from the faction for submitting in an I Quit Match- despite *shudder* swearing on his colours he would do otherwise.
So there needed to be a new Vice President of Aces and Eights! On the face of it one could see how this could be a interesting angle for some intrigue within the group...until you realise that the coveted Vice Presidency of Aces and Eights...didn't really mean much.
And that was the other issue with this latter period of the Aces and Eights storyline. By adopting so closely with the whole Sons of Anarchy vibe, the whole thing began to disappear up its own orifice at times. Bully Ray was important because he ran the thing and had the TNA Championship. What exactly did it mean to be VP? Not even the nWo during its most overblown period had an angle where they tried to ascertain who would be Deputy Chairman.
The whole 'authenticity' thing caused problems in other ways too. Often during the program, there were segments where the faction would be sitting around in a kinda 'motorcycle club' vibe...in the backstage area, drinking beers on production boxes, while spouting their "you don't walk alone" and "brotherhood" spiel waaaay too much.
I'm not saying it's a bad thing to have a biker gang as inspiration for a stable, but you don't have to remind your viewer every two minutes. It just comes off as...insecure.
Like the nWo too, Aces and Eights began to look beyond the boundaries of TNA wrestling for members. When Bully Ray lost the TNA World Heavyweight Championship briefly to Chris Sabin, he gained it back a week later with the help of Bellator MMA fighter Tito Ortiz. There is a feeling that this was to parallel the DX induction of Mike Tyson, however Tito Ortiz was never the draw that Tyson was and it just made the whole stable seem...cheap. Mr Anderson, questioning the wisdom of Ortiz's inclusion, soon left the group and attempted to take the title of Bully Ray, only to come up short. It was only the intervention of AJ Styles doing his best CM Punk impression that saw Bully Ray lose the championship and the stable disintegrate.
The Aces and Eights faction is not the worst ever to be part of a wrestling stable, but it is instructive for what it left behind. Sure, it got some good television (though the idea that it was once the best thing in mainstream wrestling is a gross overstatement), but at the end of the day did it elevate anyone to a main event star that we didn't know about before hand? All of its main players were not rising stars, like the Shield or (to an extent) Evolution, they were people like Devon, Bully and Taz- while most of the rest simply blended into the furniture like most big stables. In this way, the stable have an impactful ending like the two above examples, but rather died a slow tedious death.
And that's article 83! I realise some may find it a little harsh, so please tell me your views in the comments. Next time we embark on another multi-parter outlining the rise and fall of a promising modern tag team. See you then!
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action
Article Four: "WHY AUSTIN DAMMIT?! WHY?