Thursday, January 22, 2015

Telling (Wrestling) Stories That Paint Outside the Lines

As someone who has been watching pro wrestling on and off for decades, back to my 1970s boyhood and 1980s teen and college years, one thing I occasionally tire of is the sameness of wrestling stories – in any promotion.

Bad guy does something to get under good guy’s skin, good guy challenges bad guy to a fight, over time good guy gets the upper hand although the bad guy wins a few battles on the way due mostly to cheating. It’s not always as bread-and-butter as that, but it often is. And you’ll find wrestling columnists who will say that almost any deviation from that basic script is a bad idea.

I don’t know – you tell me. Was Tony Soprano a good guy or a bad guy? How about Dr. Gregory House? JR Ewing? Heather Locklear’s character on Melrose Place? (I should add Bryan Cranston’s Walter White character from Breaking Bad, but, full disclosure, I’ve never seen that show.) If you’re not sure, well, that’s what the people writing those TV shows intended. You were supposed to feel torn – and if you were, the show usually was all the more compelling?

So, why must wrestling be so predictable, so by the numbers? Now, at the height of the Attitude Era, Vince McMahon liked to pretend that his promotion had moved beyond faces and heels, but it really hadn’t. The faces, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, were edgier, and people like Kurt Angle were positioned as heels instead of stepping into the seemingly ready-made hero roles they were suited to.

As Impact Wrestling gets into its Destination America era, with two episodes of Impact having aired and five having been produced, the promotion finds itself with three heel factions – the Beatdown Clan, the Revolution and, let’s not forget, the Beautiful People. All this at a time when many wrestling fans, including some TNA loyalists, have argued that factions are yesterday’s news. Despite the more or less failure of Aces and Eights, I would say factions will always have a place in wrestling.

But two of the most memorable factions of all times, while working most of the time as heel groups, were most intriguing, I would argue, because they had a significant portion of fans behind them. I refer, of course, to various incarnations of the Four Horsemen and the first incarnation of the NWO.

So, in this column, I’d like to present some storyline scenarios for two of Impact Wrestling’s factions that I think could create a little bit (or more than a little) of gray area that might make their angles a bit better and more compelling than the typical “heel stable kicks up a storm and then gets its just desserts” formula.

Revolution Is Your Evolution

I love the Revolution, not surprisingly since I’ve loved almost everything The Cowboy James Storm has done for years now. Yes, I know, some people dismiss his current character and faction as a knock-off of what’s going in on WWE with somebody called Bray Wyatt. (For the uninitiated, “The Messenger,” while he watched plenty of WWF/WWE long ago, now watches only Impact and Ring of Honor. I’ve never seen Bray Wyatt – and probably never will.)

Maybe they have a point, I can’t say. But Storm has been playing edgy characters, sometimes heels, for much of his career. Even his face characters would have fit much better in the “Attitude” era than in a PG-rated product. Anyway, when I see James Storm these days, I always want to know what he’s up to and what he’s thinking. He’s compelling. And I think he has changed Sanada and Manik for the better. Koya? We’ll see.

Here’s what I’d like to see happen with the Revolution. First, the group must ultimately drop the tag titles – to the Hardys or the Wolves – with Abyss taking the blame and getting kicked out of the group. I would have that be the very last of Abyss for some time, while Joseph Park would re-emerge in a non-wrestling role.

Meanwhile, Bobby Roode would be getting drawn into a feud with the Beatdown Clan. Eventually, MVP, Samoa Joe, Low Ki and Kenny King, along with Roode’s former friend Eric Young, would challenge Roode and his sort-of newfound ally Bobby Lashley to a match. Roode quickly would ask Austin Aries to join up with him and Lashley. Aries, although chasing Low Ki for the X division title, would decline, tired of not knowing where he and Roode stand with each other.

Roode then would pay a call on another former ally – James Storm. Remember, last year in the run-up to Roode’s face turn, the two men made peace. That situation has not been addressed since Storm turned heel. But there’s no reason why, if this were taking place in the real world, two people with philosophical differences couldn’t still be friends. Storm, not having any friends in the BDC group, would agree to help out Roode in this battle, now making the “face” team six strong with Roode, Lashley, Storm, Sanada, Manik and Koya.

Now, with the faces having a one-man advantage, Aries, always a tweener more than a face or a heel, would strike a devil’s bargain. He would join Eric Young in temporarily helping the BDC – provided he get a fair one-on-one match with Low Ki for the X division title after the feud ended.

This storyline would head into the mid-year pay-per-view (presumably Slammiversary), where it would be decided in a six-on-six elimination match. But in the run-up to that event, various members of these six-man alliances would break off for matches, including Low Ki, against Aries’ objection, defending the X title against Sanada or Manik.

A tag team would emerge from each group (Sanada and Koya? King and EY?) during this time to enter the tag titles mix with the Hardys and the Wolves. And of course, Lashley would be defending the world title occasionally, with defenses against MVP and Samoa Joe (but never Roode).

Does that put enough moving pieces and storyline possibilities into play for you? Some of them: Why is Roode not getting a title shot from Lashley and can he and Lashley trust each other? Can Roode trust Storm or is Storm playing a long game of revenge based on past issues? How will Aries, a face for much of the past year, be received by his colleagues for putting his own aspirations first and aligning with the BDC?

Ultimately, the blowoff, 12-man match at the PPV would include a stipulation that if anyone other than Lashley (still the champ) is the last man standing, he will become the number-one contender to the title, which could mean multiple opportunities to win the title away from Lashley. This would increase the tension between Roode and Lashley, and make a match ostensibly between two teams of six also very much an “every man for himself” situation.

In the match, we’d see a double-turn, as Lashley would turn his back on Roode and co., while Aries would return to the face side. And James Storm, after pulling a beer bottle from under the ring and using it on Roode, would pin, in succession, Roode and Lashley, becoming the number-one contender, and, once again, Roode’s mortal enemy.

I realize that would leave us with heel vs. heel for the title, but after one Storm vs. Lashley match, that could be amended so that Roode was added, making it a three-way battle for the title, with each man having a major issue with the other.

Velvet's Departure Does Not Mean The End Of The Beautiful People

Meanwhile, on the Knockouts side of the ledger, many fans are expecting Velvet Sky’s eventual departure from TNA, noting that she is involved with Bully Ray in real life and is not participating in the upcoming U.K. tour. Meanwhile, in the final Impacts on Spike, Madison Rayne, a former member of TBP, turned heel.

Hypothetically, let's say Velvet Sky grabs one of the “Feast or Fired” briefcases on behalf of Robbie E and ends up with the pink slip. On the episode in which Velvet opens her briefcase to find a pink slip, she is headed out the door with her gear, expecting a teary reception from Angelina Love. Instead, Angelina and Madison Rayne laugh her out of the building in a “see you, wouldn’t want to be you” manner. The following week, Angelina would introduce her and Madison as the new-and-improved Beautiful People. (And if possible, they would use Marilyn Manson’s song or a cover version as their new entrance theme.)

Angelina and Madison would become a harder-edged, more vicious version of the TBP, as illustrated by their new entrance theme. They also would approach Taryn Terrell, the Knockouts champ, asking her to join them. During this time, Terrell would have some tense title defenses against former foe, now friend, Gail Kim, but continue holding the title. Awesome Kong would battle Havok in the meantime, with both making their intentions to seek the title known.

Ultimately turned down by Taryn Terrell, Love and Rayne would confront her in the ring, only to have Rebel sneak up on Terrell from behind. Revealing herself to be the newest member of TBP, Rebel would join Love and Rayne in a savage beatdown of Terrell, until Kim and Kong run out to make the save. Havok also would appear near the entrance, but would not come down to the ring.

A tag match would be signed for Impact before a PPV, pitting the new Beautiful People against Terrell, Kim and Kong. During the match, Havok would come out and, well, wreak havoc on the faces, aligning herself with TBP as an enforcer, but not full-fledged member of the group.

For the PPV, Terrell, Kim and Kong would challenge TBP and Havok to an elimination match (similar to the one going on between the BDC and Roode’s group), but, of course, the faces would need a fourth member, who could be Brooke Adams, or a returning Mickie James, or an added Beth Phoenix or Mschief or Veda Scott.

I’ll stop there, but my point is that good storytellers tell stories that keep adding permutations, so there’s always another chapter to be written.

“Heed the Messenger”