The 'Paul Heyman Decision' Will Forever Haunt TNA
Once upon a time, TNA had the option of giving Paul Heyman complete control over their roster, programming, and booking. In addition to complete control, Heyman apparently also wanted a piece of the ownership. Dixie Carter & Co. balked at such requests. It may now prove to be the very worst decision TNA has ever made during their relatively short time as a company. Since essentially choosing Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff over Paul Heyman, TNA has been an uneven, sometimes brilliant, but far too often, just okay form of programming. The roster is loaded, and I feel like the Creative Team is strong as well, but with the three-headed gnashing Cerberus that is Bischoff, Hogan and Carter, things don’t always seem to move in the direction they need to be moving. Past success does not guarantee future performance. The previous sentence has never been more applicable in Professional Wrestling than it is with Hogan and Bischoff.
Eric Bischoff is the only man in the history of Pro Wrestling capable of saying he beat Vince McMahon. What he did with WCW and the NWO was fantastically entertaining programming...for about a year. People like to revise history and talk about how dominant WCW was, but their run lasted a little over a year. Sure, the ratings carried over a bit longer, but by the one year mark, the quality of television being delivered by WCW each week was nowhere near what the WWF/WWE was producing. Eric Bischoff deserves a ton of credit for WCW’s successes, but he also deserves plenty of criticism for many of its failures. Plenty have accused Bischoff’s run at WCW as being disorganized and loaded with uneven, last second booking. While part of this could have been Hogan’s fault, Bischoff’s the one that gave him creative control in the first place. If Hogan’s invoking of creative control forced many last minute changes to programming, which threw off the continuity of storylines, that’s as much on Bischoff as is was the Hulkster.
Hulk Hogan may very well be the most famous Professional Wrestler in the history of the industry. He is an iconic figure, a big draw during his prime years, and one of the main reasons Vince McMahon was able to build the empire he’s created. but what wearing a World Title and dropping a leg have to do with being a creative thinker and quality booker is beyond me. I understand TNA has to deal with things like expiring contracts and injuries, but doesn’t WWE deal with many of the same issues? I mean, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Hulk Hogan during his return to WWE, they all had caps on the number of days they’d work. Isn’t it the job of the powers that be to know what can be accomplished during what frame of time, so as to maximize the talent’s ability to draw money and create compelling, interesting angles? Hogan is a legend, one deserving of all manner of respect for what he’s accomplished, but what he did in the ring and in pop culture has absolutely nothing to do with his ability to see big picture.
I’d equate booking a successful wrestling promotion to trying to put together a 1000 piece puzzle of a cloudless sky. I have no doubt it’s an extremely difficult, taxing job. It’s made all the more difficult when you paint yourself into corners creatively and thumb your nose at continuity. Take a look at how much TNA has screwed around with Ken Anderson’s character, Devon’s run as Television Champion, and the Knockouts Tag Team Titles for proof of uneven booking and zero continuity. Far too often, everything just seems so rushed and unorganized. I understand you only have roughly an hour and 20 minutes of programming each week, but stop trying to cram a month of programming into one episode of Impact. Pick an angle, much like they did with the highly successful Roode/Storm feud, and let the thing build. There’s no need to rush anything, the ratings can’t get much worse at this point. This is where I believe Paul Heyman would have been invaluable. Say what you will about his abilities to handle the financial aspect of running a wrestling company, but Paul can flat out book a show. He remains one of the single most creative forces in Professional Wrestling and has been an absolute genius on the mic, at ringside, and undoubtedly behind the scenes since his return to WWE. What might have he been able to pull off with Dixie’s father’s deep pockets? Money spent on overrated performers might have been allocated towards developmental (or, perhaps spent on a disgruntled CM Punk), more attention might have been paid to social media and TNA’s web presence (ECW was way ahead of the game where the internet is concerned), more attention to youth and continuity might have resulted in a much bigger long term picture. Would Brock Lesnar be in the WWE without Paul Heyman? Had Paul been running TNA for the last 4 years, isn’t there at least a pretty good chance that the roster might not include at least one, if not both of WWE’s two top draws? Take Heyman, Punk and Lesnar away from WWE programming over the last few years...how is that show looking to you now? Still loaded with talented, sure, but not anywhere near as loaded. With Punk and Heyman alone WWE would have been without the two best mic men in the business today, and don’t fool yourself, Punk and Heyman sell PPV’s with their mouths, something Hulk Hogan will never do.
Hogan and Bischoff have plenty of skins on the wall, but everyone has a shelf life and I think theirs is long past due. Unfortunately, TNA is stuck with them. Maybe they’ll prove all the naysayers wrong. Certainly, the roster talent is there, although I don’t see how allowing people like Elijah Burke, Joey Ryan and Matt Morgan to walk makes your roster stronger. I look at all three of those men and think Paul Heyman would have had a field day booking them. Instead, we’ll just have to hold out hope that the Hogan/Bischoff combo have something up their sleeve, because what we’ve seen over the last 6 months, though loaded with great moments, hardly constitutes consistent programming.