Fans of professional wrestling are buzzing today about the crowning of Austin Aries as the new TNA World Champion, after the former star of the X Division ended Bobby Roode's record-long reign at the Destination X pay-per-view last night. And I can't help but think of the startling similarities of Aires rise to the top to those of CM Punk in WWE roughly one year ago.
First, a couple quick things. Regular readers of the blog know I don't usually watch or follow TNA. The truth is that the few times I watched a few years back, I wasn't all that impressed and I've struggled to find the time or money to work another 2-hour weekly episode and monthly pay-per-view of professional wrestling into my life. But I do tend to skim results of TNA happenings -- at least around the main event -- so I know what's going on.
So I didn't watch the pay-per-view last night. I did find a very short clip of the end of the match, and the crowd reaction to Aries' win. It's very clear that TNA has a potential star on its hands, and it will be interesting to see what direction they go now.
Aries, to me, seems very much like a CM Punk type. After reading about his monumental victory, I decided to go back and watch what led to Aries' elevation to the world championship. While Aries didn't drop a "pipe bomb" on the microphone like Punk did a year ago, his declaration that no matter where he was on the card, he was the main event -- and his ability to back it up with excellent matches every time -- were similar to Punk's body of work and his claim that he was the best wrestler in the world. (It's also worth noting that both won their respective company's top title at B-level pay-per-views designed around a gimmick, but that just seems like more coincidence than anything else.)
It helped that Aries got the support of TNA Impact GM Hulk Hogan -- who's word still carries quite a bit of weight with wrestling fans -- something CM Punk didn't get (instead drawing the ire of his bosses). It does seem a bit more clear to me that TNA recognized what they had in Aries, whereas WWE didn't quite realize what they had in CM Punk until the night of the pipe bomb promo. And even then, I'm not sure they knew for certain, as the booking of Punk after he won the WWE Championship seemed haphazard.
And that's where TNA needs to learn from WWE's mistakes. Last year, WWE (ie: Vince McMahon) was hell-bent of pushing Alberto Del Rio as the WWE Champion in the fall months, specifically because of an upcoming Mexico tour. So rather than riding the wave of momentum created by CM Punk as WWE Champion, WWE hurriedly extended the Punk-Cena program, and put Punk in a no-win situation with Kevin Nash, which turned into Punk vs. Triple H, and the Straight-Edge Superstar's momentum was stalled.
Aries could be the victim of similiar booking. Logical convention seemed to dictate that the now former champion, Bobby Roode, was headed toward a year-long reign only to finally drop the title back to the man he defeated for it, his former tag team partner James Storm, at Bound for Glory in October. That means Roode will likely regain the title before then.
But if Aries' reign as champion provides a significant boost to ratings and PPV buys, TNA should see if through and leave their options open. Unlike WWE a year ago, which wanted SummerSlam -- it's second biggest show of the year -- as the launching point for Del Rio, TNA doesn't have one of its major pay-per-view until Bound for Glory in October. If Aries is successful as the company's champion, he should head into that show with the title and a lot of momentum against an opponent with an equal amount of momentum (I do love the BFG Series concept), while Storm and Roode finally settle their differences in a non-title grudge match at TNA's biggest show of the year.
Two main events, after all, are better than one.