The night Austin Aries won the title from Roode on PPV felt monumental. I mean no offense when I say this, but that doesn’t happen very often in TNA. They often put on decent shows with a good amount of solid wrestling, but it is rare that a moment feels “big”, the way in which a WWE moment would. Hell, to be fair, it’s rare nowadays we get a moment that feels “big” in WWE either anymore, so it’s certainly not a problem that is inherent to TNA, but probably more due to the current climate of the business. How fast things need to develop, and how many decisions are made based on ratings – usually effects a lot of angles and makes them either fall flat, feel rushed, or just plain fizzle out. The Aries/Roode thing was one of the few that actually WORKED. The crowd favorite (Aries), finally gets his shot at the big bad undefeated champion (Roode) and takes him down. It was the classic’ underdog wins the big one’ moment, and it felt organic, and not forced down our throats. This wasn’t the guy they WANTED us to root for, but the guy we were telling THEM to give the title to. It was one of those “Man, thank god they listened to the fans!” moments. But then what? The wrestling industry, historically, is pretty bad at sustaining even the most successful angles. Even legendary, ground-breaking stuff like the nWo, Goldberg, DX, Austin-McMahon – they all eventually ran their course and hit a wall, with varying degrees of speed. It’s arguable that more angles have hit that wall sooner rather than later, and most of the time due to the company not knowing what to do with what they have, once they have it. As is often the case with life, in pro-wrestling, the journey is usually way more enjoyable than the destination.
Such is the case with the Austin Aries “title reign”, if you can even call it that. I thought the way the weeks immediately following his title win, were handled pretty well. While Aries had already defeated Roode, Roode is the more solidified guy in the fans minds, so creating a story where Aries needs to PROVE that his win wasn’t a fluke was pretty original and realistic. Anyone who still wasn’t sold that Aries was the guy who could carry the company, would now get a 2-week angle playing on exactly that, and proving, at least in kayfabe, that Aries can hang with the top guys in the company, Roode included. Having Roode throw a tantrum, challenge him to a re-match, lose the rematch and then disappear from the company for a while – all REALLY good ideas. Up to that point, they had me. However, from that point until now, I can’t remember the last time I saw a title reign so weak and flimsy. Even when IMPACT is good, Aries is hardly on it, and when he is, its not that good. He has defended his title against almost nobody since winning it, and on the last major PPV, he was featured in a non-title match with a masked, unnamed member of the “Aces and 8s”. Speaking of “Aces and 8s” they tried really hard the first couple of weeks to make that storyline have ANYTHING to do with Aries, by them breaking his arm, or him saying “they must be after my World Title” (which made 0 sense). It didn’t work. They were trying their hardest to pretend that the World Champ was still the most important story on the show, but In the end, he’s not even involved in that story anymore, and has moved on to whining about being better than Jeff Hardy. As of right now, going into Bound For Glory 2012, the “Aces and 8s” match feels way bigger than the main event. Aries is slated to headline TNA’s biggest PPV of the year against one of the biggest stars of the last decade. Sure, Hardy has never reached Cena, HHH, Rock status, but he is def a well-loved guy, and has been over for years. He’s a star, love him or hate him. I have never been a huge Hardy fan myself, though I give him his due when he pulls off a great match and I think TNA is right to put him in the top slot, because he’s a recognizable face to fans of “Attitude-era” WWE, and because despite his spotty history with coming to the ring impaired, etc – when the guy is on, he is ON. He can deliver in a big match atmosphere, as he has proven that in several past “Wrestlemania”or “Bound For Glory” shows. So now they have an opportunity, to make a brand new star into a mega-star by having him feud with a legend (sort of). But the route they choose is to make Aries seem intimidated by Hardy the way a boyfriend would feel insecure or in-competition with his girlfriend’s exes. He has something to prove, he doesn’t like that he’s not as over as Hardy or hasn’t had the same legacy. It just doesn’t seem like baby face stuff to me. It seems borderline whiny heel, and honestly, even if Aries goes over at BFG now, it won’t feel AS big as it could have because since he beat Roode, he hasn’t beat anyone else, and he seems to have lost his confidence. Beating Roode, and then biding your time every week until you beat Hardy is not a very definitive reign to get a guy to mega-star status. And having him feel awkward and insecure about his status as a superstar just makes him feel like less of one.
Let me stop for a sec, before I get too far ahead, and take a look at what is going on in WWE, by comparison. Punk and Aries, for all intents and purposes, started off on the same level. They both wrestled in ROH for a long time, and even wrestled each other on more than one occassion. They are both “indie guys” who traveled the world, wrestled in gyms and parking lots, paid their dues, honed their craft, and busted their ass to get to where they are – the big stage. Many fans considered what TNA did by putting the belt on Aries, very in-tune with the current climate in the wrestling business, and some saw Punk and Aries leading the two separate companies as a sign of awesome change. When Aries captured the title, Punk himself, even tweeted about it (which almost NEVER happens with anyone under WWE’s employ). The tweet was something like “Heard Zema Ion and Aries both had a big night tonight. Didn’t see it, but glad somebody over there GETS it.” So now, you have not only the fans looking at Aries’ title-win as a big moment, but even Punk who went through a similar trajectory in WWE, is putting him over on Twitter (which, as silly as that may sound, actually counts for a lot today, I think). So Austin Aries winning the title after TNA decides to listen to months of the fans pleas and chants, was a mini version of Punk capturing the title at the infamous MITB PPV. It was that feel-good moment we all asked for, and they gave it to us. In both instances, I could almost HEAR people backstage saying “This one’s for the marks”.
So, why then has TNA been using Aries so much LESS than WWE is using Punk? Why did one company follow through, and the other one sort of pull its punch? Let’s look at some possible reasons. First and foremost, Aries is nowhere near as good a talker as Punk. For the first few weeks leading up to his title reign, and then after he had captured the title, they gave him the mic quite a bit, and the result was quite different than when Punk drops a pipebomb. In fact, in some cases, it left me wondering if maybe Aries is better off not talking at all. But then, we all know, guys who don’t/can’t talk almost NEVER get over as huge. This is a business AS based around in-ring ability as it is on natural charisma, strong character, etc. So maybe without being as good a talker as Punk, Aries was already doomed to a sub-par push, but on the flip side of that, how can TNA expect him to become better on the mic, when he isn’t given the opportunity? I didn’t think his promos were great, but the crowd popped when appropriate, and seemed to be into it enough, so why not keep it going, maybe help the guy out, get him a coach, get someone to help him write his promos, do something to make it stronger until he gets comfortable and it comes naturally to him. Secondly, Aries is as good an in-ring performer as Punk, dare I say, maybe even a better one, but great performers only go so far without someone strong to perform AGAINST. Against Roode, Aries looked phenomenal. We all know Roode can go, and he’s been having classic matches on TNA TV for years, both with Beer Money and in his singles career. He’s also polished on the mic, so he kept their feud interesting despite Aries not being the best talker. But did they follow up a feud with Roode with someone equally strong? No, they left Aries to float out there with no real story, battling nobody but masked bikers, and not having an opportunity to put on classic matches. Punk had classic matches with Daniel Bryan, a pretty decent feud with Chris Jericho, and of course – he has his ultimate foil… Cena. Aries has no Cena. Will Hardy be that for Aries? Will they bring out the best in each other, and tear the house down? Maybe, but rumors say Hardy is looking for a reduced schedule, and looking to take some time off, so even if this match kills at Bound for Glory, it is not a long-standing thing for Aries to be involved in. Punk has had classic in-ring or backstage moments with AJ, Stephanie, Foley, Bret Hart, The Rock….and even a Twitter war with Austin. Aries isn’t even involved with most of what’s going on in TNA television, let alone sharing the ring with legends for classic promos.
If this whole thing is designed to put Aries over as a star, and pass the torch, then they should have kept the momentum going after Destination X and kept that feeling amongst the fans, that a huge star was on the rise. I feel they have lost that a bit, and now it may be too late to get it back. But who knows, maybe Aries vs Hardywill be so good, it will re-ignite things for both the fans and the bookers, and make them want to do more with Aries. Use him to his full potential, let him take the reigns and carry the show a little bit more. Put him in bigger feuds going forward, maybe one with Bully, or Angle, or AJ. Guys who are already known names, and will take a guy who’s already over and elevate him to the next level. Without that, you might as well just take the title off him and give it to someone else, because right now your champ feels like one of the least important parts of the show. Fingers crossed that Bound for Glory is a turning point, and that 2013 is a good year for Aries. He’s worked hard for it.