wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Couldn’t the Hardys Save TNA?

October 12, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Hardy Boyz Impact 20917 Image Credit: Impact Wrestling

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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A reader identifying themselves as Baron Corbin (who I’m hoping is not THE Baron Corbin), wants to take us back to TNA:

The Hardy Boys seemed to have a pretty large and fiercely loyal fanbase their first time in WWE, but when they went to TNA, there was no discernible change in the ratings. Is their fanbase much smaller then I realized? Were they just not loyal enough to watch TNA to see the Hardy brothers? Or some other explanation? This is always confused me. Same with Kurt Angle. I figured all three were big enough names that they should have made a larger impact on the ratings.

I suppose that the first question to ask here is whether it’s true that the Hardy brothers and Kurt Angle didn’t make a “discernible change” in TNA’s television ratings. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

It’s hard to measure what sort of effect Jeff Hardy had on TNA’s ratings during his first run with the company, because he was actually part of the promotion already when Impact made its Spike TV debut. He did depart in June 2006 and eventually returned on January 4, 2010 for the first episode of Impact during its ill-advised head-to-head run against Monday Night Raw. In the month before Hardy debuted, the average rating of the show had been a 1.0 (if you throw out a show on New Year’s Eve, which is not fair to include), whereas in the month after his first appearance the average rating was a 1.3. That’s an increase to be sure, but given the circumstances of the move to Monday night and the fact that TNA was pulling out all of the stops to try to match Raw, it’s very difficult if not impossible to attribute any of that increase to Jeff.

The Charismatic Enigma did leave TNA television in March 2011 and made a return on the September 8, 2011 edition of the program. In the month prior to his comeback, the average rating for the show was 1.01. The episode featuring his return actually only scored an 0.99, while the month after averaged a 1.10. That’s a bit of an uptick, but hardly an earthshaking one, and it may not even be attributable to Hardy since his true return episode saw the ratings go down, not up. Though he had some smaller breaks here and there, Hardy was more or less consistently in TNA from this point until his most recent return to WWE, so this is the last data that we have to analyze in terms of whether he could cause an uptick in the promotion’s popularity.

Matt Hardy wasn’t in and out of TNA nearly as much as his brother. He made his very first appearance at a pay per view on January 9, 2011. The four shows before that averaged a 1.095, and the four shows after averaged a 1.27, so we did have a bit of an increase here (though not one that changed the company’s fortune) but it had cycled back down by the spring. After a several year hiatus, Matt did make another return on July 24, 2014 which was during the last several months of Impact’s time on SpikeTV. I was not able to find a comprehensive ratings database for this period, but needless to say the show was off of Spike by the time 2015 rolled around, so things were not great and Matt Hardy was not enough to save it.

Kurt Angle made his debut on October 19, 2006. For the month prior to that show, Impact had been averaging an 0.9 television rating. The show featuring Angle’s debut scored an 0.8, actually down three-tenths of a point from the week before, which was a 1.1. The average rating for the month after the Olympic Hero showed up in the promotion was an 0.85, so that’s technically a small increase from the month before but really close enough to the pre-Angle rating that it’s just as likely to be a coincidence as opposed to anything that Kurt inspired.

So, there you have it. These three men coming and going from the promotion did occasionally coincide with a brief upward bump in television viewership, but, even when it did, it was fairly minor and it’s hard to say that they were the cause as opposed to other factors that were at play at the same time.

This leads us to the original question – why didn’t fans jump ship in droves to watch these men, who had been considered pretty sizable stars when working for their prior employer?

The answer may just be that there just weren’t that many extra professional wrestling fans out there during TNA Impact’s run on a major cable station who were willing to watch what was clearly a b-level product. It was a b-level product on at least a couple of different grounds, first because it did not have the history or cultural cache of WWE and in part because, if you tuned into a TNA show that was taped in the Impact Zone at Universal Studios, it always looked like a show that was emanating from a less impressive facility than the ones that its competitor did, no matter how hard TNA may have tried to make their studio look like a big-time wrestling venue. As we’ve learned from the tumble that WWE ratings took when they were in an empty Performance Center earlier this year, those sorts of looks apparently matter to many people who make up the audience for national wrestling promotions.

And, if you think about it, these explanations make sense, because there are guys who jumped to TNA who were far bigger stars than the Hardys and Angle ever were – Hulk Hogan, Rick Flair, and Mick Foley all come to mind – and they ALSO never gave the promotion any significant increase in its numbers. If stars on those level aren’t going to elevate your promotion, there’s something inherently wrong with the presentation of the promotion itself.

Adrian from Ireland drew #27:

There is one thing that always seems to happen in Royal Rumble matches and it really grinds my gears. Someone gets eliminated an then they decide they will grab someone still in the ring and pull them out! Such bad sportsmanship. Now I know the refs may not see these interactions, all they see is a guy/girl on the floor and call it an elimination . . . but come on . . . it’s just so annoying. Why do they do this so often?

They do it for a couple of different reasons. First, it allows the individual who is eliminated to save face, which is helpful when you’re trying to build or maintain a big star who you don’t want fans to see as having being “beaten” under any circumstances. Second, even if you’re not that interested in protecting the person who has been eliminated, it’s something that can add heat to a feud between the two competitors who are involved in the moment.

I would personally favor a change to the rules of battles royale so that eliminations by individuals who are not official competitors don’t count, as it’s something that’s now been exploited so many times that any real sport would consider a rule change. It’s reached the point where it’s become a bit of a logic hole, just like the claim that all triple threat matches have to be no disqualification. (You can just disqualify the guy who cheated and remove him from the match, making it one-on-one.)

Bret is kickin’ it old school:

Why do you think title reigns don’t me much anymore? Back in the old days you saw people like Hogan, Flair, and Bruno hold the titles for years. Now they seem they are just props.

Being a champion used to mean something more because, decades ago, not everybody could become a champion. It used to be that, with limited exceptions, runs with major championships were reserved for those who were the biggest of the big stars in the world of wrestling or at the very least those who were believed to have the potential to reach that level. (Notwithstanding a few runs by true “transitional” champions meant to get the bel from one place to another.) Then, in the 1990s, when wrestling had to produce more and more weekly television content, stories had to move more quickly in order to keep viewers’ interest, and one of the means that bookers felt they had in order to quickly move through those storylines was to change titles more frequently than they had ever been in the past.

Nowadays, the problem is compounded by the fact that, for reasons I don’t fully understand, the brand-split WWE feels that each of their brands needs an identical lineup of championships except for the women’s tag titles, which are allowed to travel between shows for who knows what reason. The much better setup would be cutting the number of titles in half and allowing all of the titleholders to travel between shows so that wrestling championships don’t feel like the participation trophies that baby boomers like to complain are constantly handed out to everybody under the age of forty.

Jon is headed into the Bermuda triangle:

If you recall a few years ago, Chris Jericho asked WWE if he could use NXT on his first cruise and they turned him down.

How different would the pro wrestling landscape be today if they’d said yes?

I honestly don’t know that it would look too different.

Obviously, when Jericho was turned down by WWE, he partnered with Ring of Honor for his first cruise, at a time when the Elite were partnered with ROH. That, combined with Jericho’s New Japan WrestleKingdom match against Kenny Omega, no doubt helped lay the groundwork that resulted in the Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rollah signing with All Elite Wrestling.

So, if the cruise played out differently, Jericho may not be in AEW right now, and I don’t want to sit here and pretend that Jericho’s presence hasn’t given AEW some air of legitimacy early in the game, but I do think that with the backing of the Khan family and star power of others on the roster, they likely could have wound up in a very similar position even without the magic touch of the Demo God.

Yes, it is technically possible that a butterfly being crushed in the past can have a drastic impact on events in the future, but it’s even more likely that the butterfly meant nothing in the greater scheme of the world.

APinOZ is going the distance:

What is the longest one-on-one, non-gimmick, straight-up match ever televised in its entirety, either on a weekly TV show or PPV?

If you say “non-gimmick” match, I’m assuming that takes iron man matches out of contention. Doing so really limits the pool of contenders, because that stipulation has generated some of the longest one-on-one matches of the modern era.

If that’s the case, the answer isn’t really all that exciting: It’s Shawn Michaels versus John Cena on the April 23, 2007 episode of Monday Night Raw from Earl’s Court in London, England. That one ran for 55 minutes and 49 seconds. I say the answer isn’t that exciting not because the match wasn’t great but rather because that’s probably the bout many people reading this would have guessed that would take the top honors.

As an aside, while doing research to answer this question, I happened to run across the numbers on the longest match in WWWF/WWF/WWE history, though it’s not the answer to the question because it wasn’t on regular television. That bout was Bruno Sammartino versus Waldo Von Erich for Bruno’s WWWF Championship on August 22, 1964 in Madison Square Garden, where the two men wrestled for eighty-one minutes before there was a time limit draw due to the venue’s curfew. I don’t know how many Sammartino or Von Erich matches you have seen, dear readers, but I’ve seen my share and this sounds like the last match I would ever want to see.

Ask 411 Wrestling is trading IMissMarkingOut to Dick Ford’s AJPW Thoughts for Kento Miyahara and a player to be named later:

With an apparent Fall draft coming up to set permanent rosters with Smackdown on Fox and Raw on USA, what are the odds of real legit trade negotiations behind the scenes between both networks the same way two professional teams would do business over players?

I think that there is some limited possibility, but the probability is low. In the time that Raw and Smackdown have been on separate networks owned by separate media conglomerates, we have seen some backstage reporting on how network executives felt about WWE personnel changes on the respective shows, but it has been more on the writing end. For example, we’ve read about USA executives who were Paul Heyman fans being disappointed by the fact that he was terminated from his creative position. If network execs are tracking the product to the extent that they’ve got opinions on the creative team, chances are good that they also have opinions regarding on-camera talent, though we have no indication at this juncture that they are actively lobbying to put specific wrestlers on to their shows.

Peter wants me to get out my crystal ball:

What 5 male wrestlers currently in NXT or WWE do you think most likely to win a WWE or Universal title?

Though the question doesn’t explicitly state this, I get the impression that Peter is asking about new first-time champions, i.e. people who have not held a world title before. If those are the criteria, my predictions are:

1. Big E. Langston – He’s going to be a singles star for a while and has all the tools to be a world champ, plus making two-thirds of the New Day into bona fide main eventers has some interesting storyline possibilities.

2. Baron Corbin – Corbin has consistently been in the main event mix for a little while now, albeit without winning a major championship. Given the way wrestling booking works these days, if he continues to sniff around that scene for long enough, he’ll get a world title.

3. Bobby Lashley – The Hurt Business is turning into about as hot of an act as you can in this time where wrestling’s popularity is down hard across the board, and Lashley’s current run with the U.S. Title seems geared to elevate him to take on Drew McIntyre.

4. Karrion Kross – Though he’s been sidelined by an injury, this guy strikes me as somebody who WWE was fast-tracking before that occurred. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the main roster after next year’s Wrestlemania at the latest and immediately in the main event mix.

5. John Morrison – From what little I’ve seen, this guy seems so much more polished than he was during his initial run with the company, and it’s not like he was terrible then. He could easily break out of his current tag team mold and be a player in the tag team scene.

What’s in a name? Jimmy thinks there’s something to it:

I’ve read Steve Austin was prevented from using his legal name of Steve Williams in the ring because it was already in use by another wrestler. Has that ever happened to anyone else?

Austin wasn’t necessarily “prevented” from using his legal name because it is already in use, as much as he was told that using it wouldn’t be a good idea. He then took that advance. (For what it’s worth, the “other wrestler” in question was none other than Dr. Death Steve Williams of Varsity Club and AJPW fame.) Due to Dr. Death’s existence, Steven Austin was born.

I am not aware of this exact scenario playing out elsewhere, but the closest thing that I do know of involves Japanese pro wrestling. In the year 2000, a young wrestler named Kenta Kobayashi – his real name – debuted for All Japan Pro Wrestling. This name was uncomfortably close to that of Kenta Kobashi, who by this point was already a living legend in AJPW. Kobayashi and Kobashi coexisted on the roster for a period of time, eventually both jumping from All Japan to the newly-formed Pro Wrestling NOAH when Mitsuharu Misawa formed that company.

In 2001, when plans were made for Kobayashi to start moving up the cards, in order to avoid further confusion his ring name was changed from Kenta Kobayashi to just plain KENTA. Though his new mononym was still the same was Kobashi’s first name, it stood out more in Japan because Kobashi’s name would continue to be written in Japanese script, whereas KENTA appeared in writing in the Latin alphabet. (This is usually the case when you see a Japanese wrestler’s name written in ALL CAPS.)

For those who do not know, KENTA eventually left Japan to become Hideo Itami in WWE/NXT and is currently back in Japan after that run came to an end, now working for New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Now somebody needs to go convince Kiera Hogan that using her real name isn’t the greatest idea.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].