As of this writing, both the WWE World Heavyweight Title and the TNA World Heavyweight Title are held up and being contested in a tournament. In this case, the tournaments are under very different formats. It’s very rare to have both major companies holding title tournaments at the same time and they’re both being presented in remarkably different ways. Today we’re going to take a look at tournaments in general and see if they really are as great as they’re cracked up to be.
First of all we have the WWE World Title tournament which is straight and simple with sixteen men in a single elimination bracket. The tournament will be held over two weeks and ends at “Survivor Series 2015.” Before we move on to TNA, let’s take a look at the good and the bad of this style.
Above all else, this is short. It started on a Monday and it’s ending thirteen days later. They’re in, they’re out, they’re getting the goal accomplished and, barring a surprise, we’re going to have a new champion crowned. If the matches are good along the way then great, but the point of this is to find someone to replace the injured Seth Rollins in a thrown together story. It’s the best option they had in a bad situation and the goal will be reached.
However, there is a setback to this tournament which plagues so many of them in wrestling: it’s predictable. Looking at the brackets, it’s pretty easy to see that, barring a MAJOR surprise, we’re looking at Roman Reigns in the final against Dean Ambrose (with a chance of Kevin Owens instead).
Thankfully this is just a two week tournament as a long form version brings up another problem of its own: unless there’s a dream match, it’s not easy to find interesting matches that mean nothing. Take Reigns’ first round match against Big Show. With little doubt that Reigns would win, it’s rather difficult to find a reason to care about a match that doesn’t sound good on paper and is really just a formality.
Now that being said, Ambrose and Reigns meeting in the final is the best story they have right now and it would make the most sense, especially if one of them turns on the other. It’s not the worst thing in the world to watch them mow through their competition to get there and could make for some interesting TV.
What didn’t make for interesting TV was “Wrestlemania IV”, where the finals could be seen coming from a mile away as soon as Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were eliminated. There was no question that Ted DiBiase and Randy Savage would meet for the vacant WWF World Title but we had to sit through three matches (Three of the sixteen on the card that night. One night tournaments are rarely a good thing in any context.) to get there. It’s one thing if the matches are good or at least entertaining, but when you have matches where you know what’s coming and they’re boring on top of it, you’re in for some very lame action.
Now let’s go to the TNA World Title tournament, which has a different format, or at least a very different way of getting to the standard tournament. In TNA’s case, they’re running a 32 person, eight division series. The eight divisions of four entrants each will compete in a points based round robin format and the two winners advancing to a sixteen person single elimination tournament.
Let’s get the good out of the way first: this is VERY well organized. There are eight divisions and each has its own theme (X-Division, TNA Originals, Tag Team Specialists etc.), plus each has had a match taped against every other member of their group. With six matches per group, you’re looking at forty eight matches to get down to the final sixteen.
Forty eight matches at roughly six matches a week makes for eight weeks. EIGHT WEEKS. For two months, this is ALL that TNA has going on. Since the matches were all taped in advance at marathon sessions, there are no stories, there are no angles and there is no personal animosity between these people. There might be a match or two a week between people with history, but otherwise you’re left with nothing but average wrestling and a lot of discussion about how many points each entrant has every single week.
If that’s your thing, you’re going to LOVE TNA right now, but if you’re more like me and watch wrestling for the stories and the drama (plus good wrestling to advance these stories), these shows are some of the least interesting things you’ve seen in a very long time. At the end of it there will indeed be a champion (like there was at the end of “Bound For Glory 2015” so who knows how long it lasts) and they will have beaten EVERYONE else in TNA, but it wasn’t an easy road to get there, either for them or fans like me.
This is where so many tournaments lose it for me. Either A, they take WAY too long to get to the point, or B, the matches are dull because it’s all about competition, which rarely makes for entertaining TV. In this case, we have a lot of wrestling but nothing else on the show. The midcard titles are forgotten and never defended and all other stories are put aside while this one tournament is going on.
A similar situation took place at “Great American Bash 1992”, a show with a seven match card. Six matches were part of the NWA World Tag Team Title Tournament and there was a WCW World Title match before the tournament final. That was the entire pay per view so if the tournament didn’t interest you, tough luck and see you next month.
It didn’t help that the NWA had little to do with WCW at this point so the teams ranged from strangers to a lot of thrown together combinations (with a few regular teams added in), leaving WCW fans with unfamiliar wrestlers in matches for belts that didn’t seem to be part of their promotion in a story that dominated the promotion. That’s not exactly a great way to draw in new fans.
Let’s look at some of the good things tournament can provide in general.
First, they can offer a lot of fresh stories. Don’t have something for someone to do? Have them get eliminated by a new opponent. The tournament ends and you have an instant feud that can be built from there. Maybe someone cheated to advance or maybe someone cost another person their match and then explains why they did it to set up a match. There are a bunch of options that can come out of this and you can hand pick what you want to set up.
Tournament also offer a way to shake things up a bit. If you’ve run out of challengers for a title, put someone in a tournament and have them win multiple matches. They’re suddenly hot and have earned a shot by coming out as the lone survivor of a field of opponents. Put up a title shot for the winner and you have a big match ready to go.
That brings us to the bad side of tournaments: they’re so formal. Going back to the TNA World Title tournament, yeah someone will defeat a host of competition and come out as champion, but where’s the emotion? It’s nice and clean with one person proving they’re the best, but what connection do I have to them? The best reactions in wrestling come when someone has something personal happen to them.
As usual, Daniel Bryan offers a good example. Bryan’s rise to the title came at the end of a long road full of setbacks and misery that was all proven worth it when he defeated everyone that had tried to hold him down, proving once and for all that he could do it. While you can get to the same goal by putting him in front of a series off opponents in a bracketed tournament, the impact is FAR greater if he’s risen through the ranks in a natural progression that anyone could reach. It was Bryan’s story, not the story that any of a number of people could achieve. That made it special and relatable, which made it feel important.
What it boils down to for me is that wrestling isn’t meant to be structured like other sports. Wrestling is about finding an emotional connection to the wrestlers and having them come together in a story built up over time, culminating in a major match. Tournaments often come off as a cheap, easy way to get someone to that spot while giving away the ending in advance. They can be fun and often are entertaining, but they’re also limited in how far you can go with them because you can always see when the finals are taking place. They’re great in the short term, but if you want something special, look outside the brackets.
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