WWE | Pro Wrestling

On Young Shoulders, TNA Wrestling’s Copycat Booking Is An Early Joy

I’ve seen better PPVs than TNA’s offering of Sacrifice on Sunday night, but I’ve also seen many worse. Other than the Russo-fied finish to Bully Ray and Bobby Roode’s table match, it was an enjoyable waste of a few hours, high praise in the TNA spectrum post-2006.

Best match of the night goes to Gunner and James Storm’s “I Quit” match, feeding all of the carnage and bloodshed that an event ironically named “Extreme Rules” won’t serve up. Not that a coordinated maiming pact between two wrestlers is required for the success of a pay-per-view, but in marginal doses, a hate-filled bloodbath can be quite enjoyable. With Gunner and Storm, fairly fresh from their brutal cage match at Lockdown, the “I Quit” match was a respectable tribute to Magnum/Blanchard and Hart/Austin of eras past. The Magnum/Blanchard parallel is quite apt, given that Gunner gouged Storm with a fork (like Magnum’s wooden chair shank) to draw the submission.

On the heels of winning both matches, Gunner’s become a breakout star in Total Nonstop Action. At one time, he was little more than a bearded goon for the Immortal stable, with little more character motivation than “I am a heel, so I will do bad things for the no-goodnicks I’m under the employ of.” In recent months, Gunner has transformed into a compelling character, almost against any sort of odds.

Long story short, with a proud soldier backstory, some courageous battles with TNA villains, and a blood feud against Storm (who betrayed him in a World Title match), Gunner’s become a well-rounded character, long after his one-dimensional act was left beaten on the side of the road, via the blunt stick of fan apathy.

I noted during the PPV just how many performers, many great ones among the fray, that TNA has squandered and rendered inconsequential during the Russo and Hogan eras, as well as the overlapping median, while getting Gunner exactly right over the course of four or five months. Out of all the characters they’ve had, nobody could have guessed that the first one to emerge from the self-made mire as a well-built winner would be Eric Bischoff’s ex-security guard.

As much as Gunner’s win was a large part of a surprisingly enjoyable event, it was the handling of new TNA World Champion Eric Young that proved much more surprising.

You know the story: WWE has a plucky, bearded champion with an amiably-subversive sense of humor, and that’s as well-received as anything WWE’s done in a decade, so TNA had to crib the formula and present it in accelerated time. Young’s bearded, plays the underdog well, and can stage just as good a comedy match as he can a serious battle.

After shedding his slide-whistle-effect marriage to ODB, his mid-match stripteases, and all other elements that made him TNA’s Santino Marella, Young entered into a serious “Frankenstein’s monster”-inspired angle with Abyss. Nobody expected Young to amount to anything more than crunch-fodder for a conflicted Abyss to step on, en route to a monster push for the big man.

Then his promos grew serious. Then he became the fourth wheel of a main event feud with sniveling champion Magnus, wronged warrior Samoa Joe, and ball of anguished-rage Abyss. Like Finlay at No Mercy 2006, or Big Show on the June 15, 2009 edition of Raw, it seemed that Young’s presence in the World Title feud was merely to be a fall guy, preserving the heat of others by taking the bullet himself.

Then it happened: right after WrestleMania, Young goes over on Magnus on Impact to capture the title. Naturally, the rightfully-jaded fans reacted mostly negatively, with even the optimists saying, “Well, he’s a hard worker, but still…..” The comparisons to Bryan began swiftly, noting the ‘poor man’s’ smack that Young’s sudden victory had. Nobody was chanting his name during matches he wasn’t in; there wasn’t a guerrilla movement to make him a main event guy, no matter how talented he was beneath his comic relief portfolio.

Many projected Magnus to get the belt back in short order, much as Bully Ray did with short-lived shock-value champion Chris Sabin last summer, and Sabin didn’t have the relegated-joke stench that Young’s worn for years. Sabin lasted a month; with Sacrifice weeks away, it looked to be a short honeymoon for “EY” as flagbearer.

A week after becoming champion, Young went over on Abyss in a violent Monster’s Ball match, complete with pinning the resident boogeyman on a sheet of plywood adorned in barbed wire. Seemed a nice gesture, giving Young a clean victory in a hellish environment, but it’d take more than that to give the champion some meaningful clout.

Turns out, Magnus’ rematch wasn’t merely a set-up for the former champion to regain the gold. In a move that reeks of pretty much every promotion but TNA, and late-90s WCW, the babyface won the World Title main event cleanly, without a convoluted stipulation, and stood tall to end the show without any form of controversy.

Take a moment and let this set in. Are we sure Russo’s a paid consultant for the company?

Sure enough, the new champion that needed a boost of credibility piledrove Magnus twice and finished him with a textbook flying elbow smash. Not exactly reinventing the wheel, but for a company that has made an artform out of ‘big surprises’ and screwjobs that would make Rube Goldberg tip his hat at the puppeteers, it’s positively shocking to see Young go over as plainly and earnestly as he did.

Quite honestly, it’s refreshing as well.

TNA backed into a mound of criticism by putting the belt on Young, but damned if they’re not seeing their way through without overthinking things. As the biggest game currently on PPV (well, wrestling-wise anyway, nothing’s topping UFC for a while), and with a chance to maybe seize some more buys than usual with WWE going the reduced-price route via the Network, a credibility makeover was certainly needed.

For them to make over Eric Young credibly, and stick by him with their chest puffed out, is bolder than any swerve they’ve cooked up in their existence.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Justin Henry

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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