TNA Wrestling set for new beginning with Destination America
Kurt Angle has had plenty of time to shine his Olympic gold medal or re-watch his greatest matches in TNA Wrestling. On the shelf for most of 2014 with injuries, Angle's future was as uncertain as the wrestling promotion he's led for most of the last decade.
Angle and TNA are set to reintroduce themselves to the pro wrestling world on a national stage.
TNA Wrestling has long reigned as the distant No. 2 promotion in the United States, yet had never positioned itself as a true threat to topple WWE and its sizable grip on the sports-entertainment industry.
TNA - short for, Total Nonstop Action - had been in limbo as it searched for a cable network for most of last year and lost franchise stars Sting and A.J. Styles to other promotions. Like a wrestling champ in a main event, TNA has kicked out on the two count to make it into 2015, ready for a fresh start on the Destination America network.
Bobby Roode defends the TNA Championship against Bobby Lashley on the debut edition of ''Impact Wrestling'' live Wednesday night from the Manhattan Center. ''Impact Wrestling'' will move to its regular Friday timeslot next week on Destination America.
Out of action since April, Angle promised a major announcement on Wednesday's debut.
''It looks like I'll be wrestling here sooner rather than later, if that gives you a hint,'' Angle said, chuckling.
The entire roster has been on hiatus since October after TNA wrapped up its old TV deal with Spike with a series of taped shows. TNA president Dixie Carter said TNA's No. 1 focus is on the TV-14 rated ''Impact.'' It has put domestic touring on hold and will slice pay-per-view events down to ''a couple when they make sense from a storyline standpoint,'' she said.
Carter said TNA wants to scale back on the crash-TV elements of a bygone era (like when a wrestler was kidnapped by ninjas) and return to quality matches and more sensible angles.
Carter, who will miss Wednesday's taping to represent the network at the Television Critics Association conference, said ''Impact'' will include more input from social media and incorporate elements of reality TV.
''We're going to pull the curtain back and have cameras where they've not been before,'' Carter said. ''You're going to see some changes that will help the viewer feel a stronger connection to the show and the characters. It will be a new way of watching it compared to what we've had in the past.''
TNA Wrestling aired on Spike for nine years but failed to gain anywhere close to WWE's 3 million to 4 million viewers on Monday nights. It shuffled times, aired live and promised big surprises; nothing worked. The biggest failure was TNA's ability to capitalize on what little drawing power former WWE stars like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Kevin Nash had left in the tank during their ill-fated runs with the company.
''Carter bid against herself and paid a fortune for veteran names rather than position the younger or homegrown talent as the stars,'' Prowrestling.net editor Jason Powell said. ''Creatively, they failed to position the veteran names in a way where they were passing the torch to the younger wrestlers.''
Angle was one of the few former WWE stars to deliver four-star matches and boast the name recognition needed to promote TNA to a global audience. The 1996 220-pound freestyle wrestling gold medal winner in the Atlanta Games has scaled back his professional commitments for TNA and will wrestle only occasionally this year. Angle was granted his release from his WWE contract in 2006 and signed later that year with TNA.
''I had an incredible career at WWE,'' Angle said, ''but my career has actually been better in TNA.''
Roode, Lashley, Jeff Hardy, James Storm and Samoa Joe are all positioned as TNA main eventers for 2015 and an alliance with United Talent Agency has the company owned by Panda Energy International hopeful of expanding its talent beyond its unique six-sided ring.
Unlike Spike's wide reach on most cable providers, Destination America is available in just under 60 million homes since launching in 2012 and airs shows such as ''Hillbilly Blood'' and ''Ghost Asylum.''
''Of course, it's a small concern,'' Carter said. ''But the most important thing is, how important are we going to be to them and what are they going to do to build our brand using the muscle of Discovery.''
For starters, TNA is expanding beyond the flagship ''Impact'' show and will have programming on Saturday mornings.
While WWE found success with ''Smackdown'' on Friday for years, the night is typically a graveyard for viewership and the 800,000 or so viewers TNA had dipped toward on Spike would be considered a booming success on Destination America.
''We felt there was an audience coming to Friday already looking for wrestling and we expect them to find `Impact,''' said Marc Etkind, general manager of Destination America. ''What we like about the wrestling audience is, it's an all-American audience.''