Bound for “Who Cares?”: The AJ Styles Story

TNA has the X Division Title, the Tag Team Titles, and until recently, they even had a TV Title. All of those titles are opportunities to get wrestlers over and gradually move them up the ladder rung-by-rung toward the ultimate goal: The World Heavyweight Title. In the case of every single belt, however, TNA has failed to brand, promote, and book in a way that supported their titles.

Which is why, after watching the September 5th edition of Impact Wrestling live, try as I might, I could not bring myself to write a plus/minus review of it. It was such an exposition of everything wrong with TNA that I felt like it would be overly-charitable to accentuate the positives.

The character development of recent (read: last week) World’s Champion Chris Sabin in this episode of Impact was perhaps the worst treatment of a recent champion I’ve ever seen. TNA has done this boneheaded stuff before (like never mentioning Jeff Hardy the night after he lost the title to Bully Ray), but this crossed the line (hey, remember that? No..?) from boneheaded to actively destructive. In last week’s +/- rating, I joked:

Velvet Sky and Chris Sabin are together? What? If a guy had a popular, good-looking girlfriend and was champion, wouldn’t you accentuate that when he was champion and not after his dreams had been crushed?

This week’s Impact made me wish I’d bitten my tongue, as TNA called my bluff and made things even worse. Suddenly, Chris Sabin (who, also suddenly, has a girlfriend that many of TNA’s fans find attractive) has snapped and is going to reinvent himself, go out on his own, and do what it takes to get to the top. The only problem? He just fell from the top. Any World Heavyweight Title is designed to be the ultimate culmination of a wrestler’s journey. The title is the top of the mountain. It’s not base camp. It’s not a message that you’re a serious contender. If you’re champion, you’re on the top, and it should take the fight of the next guy’s life to knock you off.

Sharing whatever is the opposite of the limelight with Sabin is A.J. Styles: both have numerous title reigns holding various TNA belts and are still amongst the most damaged characters in the promotion. How does TNA try to prop them up and reestablish them? By putting them in title contention. The TNA World Heavyweight Championship is supposed to be the torch, TNA treats it more like the microwave: a device that heats something up quickly and gives it a slimy, unpalatable texture.

The braintrust at TNA only has to look one direction to see why is a terrible idea: up! The WWE has spent the last year and a half repairing damage done to their top titles and the whole concept of main event status due to a decade of using belts as a way to get young talent over in lieu of actual character development . The idea that TNA does not learn from the very recent mistakes of the hegemon of the business it allegedly wants to succeed at is gut-shot, take-your-breath-away horrifying.

Of course, TNA still claims to present higher-quality wrestling than the WWE. To prove it, they put nearly every wrestler of any consequence in their promotion into a single match for twenty shiny points. In a vacuum where the nebulous concept of “points” seems appealing, this match sounds like an alright idea. However, the result of trying to book around at least four angles (Main Events Mafia vs. Aces & Eights, EGO vs. The BFG Series, Bradley trying to play “spoiler” and the return of A.J. Styles) was a match that could only be classified as a cluster mess (™ Jeff Jarrett).

The pain of it all is that A.J. Styles winning the BFG Series is actually a very intriguing option, as A.J. is someone longtime TNA fans would embrace as a long-term champion. Even in doing the right thing and putting the right person in position to knock off the man who has been the company’s top heel for the last year, TNA has done the sloppiest possible job of telling the tidiest, most archetypical story in existence. Because A.J.’s character has been handled so hamfistedly since the appearance of Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, and their assorted cronies, TNA has done the unthinkable: they’ve made it laborious to root for their all-time top babyface. There was a time when the quality of wrestling in TNA made it easier to ignore their terrible booking, but that time has clearly passed.

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