Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dead Man's Hand - Aces and 8s Appreciation Club[house]

When people look back over the last few years of TNA, a few names are thrown into the ring – namely Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and last but no means, least, Aces and 8s. Most of the regular listeners to the v2 wrestling podcast will know that I am always positive about TNA's product as a whole. I always see the good in all but the very worst of angles. However, the one piece of evidence that keeps being used in my trial of wrestling respectability is my love of Aces and 8s.

Now the problem that I have with this being leveled at me is not about how good or bad the storyline was, but how people look back at it with complete disdain. I am proclaiming now that the Aces and 8s was the best heel faction storyline in the last five years of any of the major promotions (and that includes the Bullet Club, Shield and whoever else you want to throw in there).

A pretty bold statement?

Let me explain why it was so good and I will start off by saying that as a collective, the Aces and 8s were as menacing on paper as the Bromans and the 3 Man Band combined.

To recap the roster for those with short memories, the Impact Zone was terrorised by an anonymous biker gang, simply known as the Aces and 8s. Masked henchmen would beat down various face wrestlers and cause general mayhem around the arena. Mass brawls were the norm. The dirtsheets were running wild with who they thought was behind the Aces and 8s and for once, no one knew. How long has it been since a proper secret like the cast was kept secret like that? Names that were bandied about were John Morrison (in the Brisco role), Hogan, Austin Aries….the list went on.

But then something went wrong with the buzz. The real cast was revealed….

Bah Gawd, it's Devon! It's Devon!

The first of the names to be revealed was Devon Dudley. And it was in the weeks leading up to the biggest PPV of the year (in TNA terms). I doubt they could have come up with a less inspiring reveal. That is until they revealed Wes Brisco, Garett Bischoff, D’Lo Brown and Taz in quick succession. At least Knux and DOC were physically big, menacing guys. The roster of A&8 was fully cast and it was lacking in every single way. This story had hit rock bottom. But then something amazing happened. TNA management tried everything in their power to make this even worse than it already was and suddenly it developed into the very faction that I feel is the greatest comeback since Lazarus picked up his bed and went for a stroll.

The Resurrection of the A&8s

Before I move on to the saviour of this storyline, I should point out that the reveal of Bully Ray was also underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong – he carried this story on his shoulders for a long time and was absolutely superb in the role as the president of the club. However, after each subsequent reveal, the leader needed to be a huge name. Bully Ray was a good heel/ babyface over the years, but the role of president needed to have a bigger name. Ironically, Hogan would have fitted the role perfectly. Even Dixie Carter would have been a good reveal. Anyway, back to the saviour of A&8s.

Creative has nothing for you

In this case, the bank manager has nothing for you and creative is the white knight on the horse. Thanks to an incredible change in personnel, creative had to pull late shifts to try and make sense of all of the members leaving TNA as the story played out. Firstly (and most criminally) DOC left. The Director of Chaos (how do you direct chaos exactly?) left due to contract demands. He left. The week before he was due to turn babyface and be the breakout star! So creative wrote him out and this led to Mr. Anderson assuming the role of babyface to lead the fight. The same Mr. Anderson who had done precisely nothing for the last two years of his career. Suddenly, he was relevant again and actually pretty goddamn entertaining.

But TNA hadn’t stopped aiming that gun at its feet because thanks to Brooke Hogan, once again they shot themselves in the foot. A Hogan broke the first rule of pro wrestling – stay in character. To be fair, she did stay in character. Namely the blonde air head she portrayed in Sand Sharks. On Twitter, despite being married to Bully Ray, she announced her real life engagement. So, another one had to be shown the door.

Once again, creative stepped up to the mark and managed to somehow rewrite it so that Brooke Tessmacher was Bully Ray's squeeze despite never having previously been mentioned. And you know what? It worked! Brooke [T] played the role perfectly and was a more natural fit in the first place. Once again, the angle was somehow resurrected into something much more than its sum parts.

And somehow, the storyline carried on for a few more months, even when it eventually only consisted of Garett Bischoff and Knux! And this is why I loved the angle [and faction by default] so much. Despite all the setbacks. Despite the terrible casting of the stable. Despite the last minute rewrites to save the story in light of poor talent management, every one of those people involved made it work and put their all into it.

I cannot remember a time when a creative team put together such a long story that made sense. An example of how good and well written it was can be seen in the episode where Bully Ray explains the previous 12 months. Can you think of any other current storyline that can do that without having to omit plot holes?

From the entrance music and camera work of the entrance (still one of my favourites), to the performances by the members, this is one storyline that worked despite everything working against it. It will never be eulogised as great after that first reveal but for me, the miracle from creative to actually get it to a finish is something that deserves a lot more credit than it will ever get.

Jerry's Final Thought

For those of you who have disagreed with my praise for this angle, let me pose this one question to you. Would you really be so negative over the story had the cast been different? What if the president had been the Undertaker (American Badass)? What if the henchmen would have been John Morrison, Batista, the Pope and whoever else you like?

The truth is that it's not the actual faction that gets criticism, but the people in it. And when you reconsider how each member in the A&8s has never performed better before or since, then surely you must see that, as a whole, it really is a great piece of storytelling.

If you want to get in touch, please email wrestling@v2journal.com and you can follow us on Twitter @v2Journal and @v2wrestlingshow