Pruett’s Blog: Redefining the X Division – Why TNA fails at this every time
By Will Pruett
Thursday, July 7 – 3:32 P.M. (CT)
What is the X Division? We hear all the time the stock definition that “it’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits” but how does that define it? Well, the simple answer is that it doesn’t. If that is all we know about the X Division, why should we care about it? Especially when it seems that the only wrestlers in that division are less than six feet tall and less than two hundred pounds, why not define it as just that?
Maybe TNA is afraid of a certain stigma that is attached to light-heavyweight wrestling. WCW’s Cruiserweight Division produced some classic matches, but did not exactly rise to the main event level on any shows. WWE never presented light-heavyweights or cruiserweights as anything more than a filler match that might be exciting, but won’t matter in the end. I understand the fear that the X Division could become just that.
With the understanding of that fear, I urge TNA to look at UFC’s light-heavyweight division. These guys are legitimate draws and they sell out arenas and produce huge pay-per-view numbers. This division is easily one of the most competitive in UFC. Where is the disconnect between watching these guys legitimately fight and watching simulated fights between the same type of guys?
It’s because in UFC this division is presented as on par with the heavyweights. Think about what it would be like if wrestling did that. What if the divisional difference did not mean a difference in stature of the titles? What if the X Division Championship was the World Championship of the under two hundred pound club in TNA?
Presenting these wrestlers that way will take some work. TNA will need to work some seriousness into the division and not spend time promoting “Deep Thoughts” Brian Kendrick. Don’t make the wrestlers that are fighting for a legitimate title a joke. No more impersonators (Black Machismo and Stone Cold Shark Boy, I’m looking at you), no more silly guru gimmicks (Sonjay Dutt and Brain Kendrick) and please, no more making Abyss the X Division Champion and allowing him to bury the rest of the division.
Perhaps TNA should say that this division is about the competition that every other wrestling organization has abandoned. They can play up the fact that no one else has given these guys a chance and they came to TNA to prove why X Division wrestling can be the best wrestling on earth.
Interestingly enough, TNA also will need to tell compelling stories with these talents, and that is where they have constantly failed in the past. We do not need to hear a bunch of promos about “rebuilding the X Division to its former glory” and about who “revolutionized the X Division” because these promo are empty lip-service.
Instead, replace these feeble efforts to make the division matter with a real one that does just that. Find a feud, and it only has to be one feud at first. Pick two wrestlers who are diametrically opposed to each other (one that the fans can support and one that they can despise). Give those wrestlers time in the ring and on the microphone to develop their rivalry. Build to a big showdown match between them on pay-per-view. Allow that match time to breath and wow the fans with the action they can present in the context of their story. Book a logical conclusion to the match and allow the feud to continue.
I know I just described logical pro wrestling booking, but TNA seems to miss the ball on that front every week. If it has drawn money for the last fifty years, why stop using that formula now? If TNA is looking for whom they should build this division around, there are a few suggestions on that front as well.
First, they need a lead villain for fans to rally against. An enemy will keep the fans interested and allow them to get behind one or more babyfaces that oppose this enemy. The perfect enemy for the X Division is Douglas Williams. I’m not saying that Williams should oppose the entire division (because the division itself is not a faction, despite what TNA believes). He should be the villain in the division. He played this role perfectly last year as champion and with a solid push could be a huge force in the division’s future. Another great option for the lead antagonist of this division is Austin Aries. These very different guys could produce similar effects in terms of long term growth of the X Division.
Next, pick a lead babyface to oppose him. Someone the fans can get behind and who easily would not get along with the heel. Perhaps A.J. Styles returning as the godfather of the X Division, or possibly Alex Shelly or Amazing Red. The who is not as important and what this wrestler stands for and that they are honorable and can get the crowd emotionally invested in a match. All it takes is a strong story with strong characters and suddenly fans will actually care about this division.
Look at what has worked in the past in the X Division. Christopher Daniels as a heel and A.J. Styles as a babyface worked a fantastic rivalry that produced classic matches we still look back on today (In fact, their reliving their feud in a nostalgia match at this Sunday’s pay-per-view). Were they talking about how “great of a match” they would have? No. They were talking about wins, losses and the X Division Championship.
In the end, it is not about promos doing lip-service to the X Division. It is not about X Division wrestlers discussing how great their matches will be and how amazing the division was. It is about building up a legitimate division with a legitimate title. This Sunday could have triggered a start of a new era in the X Division, and I’m sure TNA will say that it has. However, until they realize why the X Division has largely failed since 2006, they are doomed to repeat their mistakes. TNA may like saying that it’s not about weight limits, but until it is, than this division cannot experience long term success.
I'd love to take the time and discuss and/or debate the points in this blog with you. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow me on twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
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