#HWETW: TNA, Bully Ray, and What the Thunder Said

“Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sitT.S. Eliot Loves Impact Wrestling

There is not even silence in the mountains

But dry sterile thunder without rain

There is not even solitude in the mountains

But red sullen faces sneer and snarl

From doors of mud-cracked houses”

— T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland 

Anyone who’s watched at least sixty minutes of TNA television in the last eleven years knows that the rules don’t mean a thing at all. While TNA claims to pride itself on presenting wrestling, their ceaseless march of over-dramatic storylines, mediocre vaudeville acting, and dropped threads has finally resulted in utter Da Da. Nothing means anything. 

TNA leaned heavily on Attitude Era grabbag favorites such as the ref bump, the weapon shots, and the run-ins for years after it was chic. Jeff Jarrett held onto the NWA World Heavyweight Title for the better part of three years by bashing people over the head with (occasionally baby powder-filled) guitars and employing his patented Triple Lindy screwjob finishes.

Now, the Bound For Glory Series — essentially TNA’s prolonged Royal Rumble — allows wrestlers to win supposedly prestigious points through blatant interference and cheating. TNA spent two years investing in the Bound For Glory series as somewhat sacred, but this year they’ve absolutely blown it to pieces with intentional disqualifications, outside interference, and blatant collusion between the competitors. Imagine the NBA having a night in which three-quarters of the games were decided by blown calls, or if a football referee couldn’t effectively enforce the “too many men on the field” rule, and the winning side eked out a victory when a twelfth man jumped onto the field and kicked the other team’s best player between the legs. Unimaginable anywhere else, par for the course in TNA. 

The impotence of justice that has become the company’s trademark puts their World Heavyweight Championship in a perpetual stage of unmitigated jackassery. The title has been defended since March through use of no fewer than five lackeys and a ball peen hammer. Bully Ray’s run as champion began on an encouraging note for TNA, as he was a fresh character, but the monotony of his lawless title defenses has put TNA in reverse and floored the accelerator. Even when he was (metaphorically) slain, it was only through his own signature act of cheating. Having lost the title through chicanery, the dishonest champion almost immediately regained it through outside interference and, of course, his signature act of cheating. Trying to explain that sequence of events even to an audience familiar with it is enough to drive you mad.

Bully Ray and Tito Ortiz

The upshot of this whole convoluted title picture is this: the World Heavyweight Title doesn’t mean anything. The World Heavyweight Champion should be the coolest, nicest guy or the meanest, most hateable guy or the most impressive, talented guy — It can’t just be a shouting lowlife who cheats or a supposedly nice guy who also cheats. Sure, there have been long-reigning, cheating heel champions throughout history, but all of them from Bockwinkel to Flair to Del Rio had credible, clean wins regularly and took pride in defending the title.

How often did the Four Horsemen interfere to help Flair retain the title? The answer is almost never, because as much as he was a cheating heel, Flair (and those who booked him) understood that the champion needs to stand on his own two feet and defend the title for the whole structure of wrestling to mean anything. By that standard, the only title in TNA worth anything is the Knockouts Title. The X Division Championship is defended by largely interchangeable parts in multi-man matches where victories are almost always stolen or of otherwise dubious honor. The Tag Team Titles are currently a useless tool as TNA haven’t featured them on TV in what feels like a strip-worthy length of time.

If the rules don’t mean anything and the titles don’t mean anything, TNA is completely incapable of presenting wrestling in an effective way because the fundamental pillars of wrestling (the integrity of the matches and the prestige of the title) have been burned down, stamped out, and urinated upon. As a direct result of these — let’s call a spade a spade — incompetencies, TNA has itself become meaningless. It’s a wrestling show that’s not a wrestling show. It’s a fake reality show about Hulk Hogan. It’s a fake sports league whose points having nothing to do with merit. It’s a fake fighting lead-in for a (mostly) real fighting show. Da Da Da.

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