Here's part 4 of my 5-part installment looking at the top mistakes in the 10-year history of TNA Wrestling. As I mentioned in the last post, most of the commenting takes place over on Facebook, where I post the links to these blogs, so you're more than welcome to join in the discussion over there.
Here's a look back posts 1-3:
Frankie Kazarian becomes Suicide
AJ Styles teams up with Ric Flair
Samoa Joe and his Nation of Violence
Part 4 is going to look at the downfall of "The Pope," D'Angelo Dinero.
In 2006, WWE re-launched the ECW promotion as their company’s third brand. Some WWE stars were moved to ECW, namely Kurt Angle and The Big Show. Some ECW names were brought back to prominence, such as Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, Balls Mahoney, and Stevie Richards. They also brought in some new stars. One of them is current WWE Champion CM Punk. Some didn’t fare as well, such as Kevin Thorn, Marcus Cor Von, and Matt Striker (who is now a WWE announcer).
There was one guy who Vince McMahon himself appeared in the ring with and pegged as a future champion. His name was Elijiah Burke. He started with a lot of momentum in WWE before it eventually went away. Like WWE does with a lot of talent they don’t know what to do with, they released him.
Probably the most notable thing to happen during Burke’s WWE run - for all the wrong reasons - was that he wrestled Chris Benoit in his last television match before he murdered his family and killed himself. Their match aired live on Tuesday night. All of that other stuff happened that weekend.
Burke stayed out of the spotlight for a while before he appeared in TNA in late 2009. He had a new character and a new name - “The Pope,” D’Angelo Dinero. Admittedly, he floundered for a little while. But, then sometimes things just click. Sometimes a wrestler breaks out and something magical happens. In the Spring of 2010, The Pope became the top face of the promotion and seemed poised to become World Champion.
The only way to really describe is that The Pope became TNA’s version of The Rock. He bought into his character and was having a lot of fun with it and the fans did the same. He was a weekly highlight of the program, leading up to his match with AJ Styles for the TNA Championship.
The match occurred at Lockdown, in which all of the matches are inside a steel cage. AJ won the match and Pope injured his shoulder. He wound up being gone for most of the summer. His momentum was halted. When he came back, he was trying to catch up and regain that momentum.
He was entered into a tournament to earn a shot for the vacant championship at Bound For Glory. It was Pope versus Ken Anderson and Jeff Hardy versus Kurt Angle. Anderson beat Pope. Hardy and Angle went to a no-contest, so it became a triple threat for the title. Pope was left out.
Around this time, two veterans were complaining about Hulk Hogan and the problems he was going to cause for TNA. Sting and Kevin Nash were two of the top heels in TNA at this point. They were embroiled in a feud with Jeff Jarrett and Samoa Joe. In a shocking heel turn, Pope joined Nash and Sting. While the heel turn wasn’t what the charismatic Pope needed, it was good to see him being treated as an equal by two legends.
Hulk Hogan got involved in the feud and a 6-man tag was made for Bound For Glory. A back injury and subsequent surgery pulled Hogan from the match, so it became a handicap match - Joe and Jarrett versus Pope, Sting, and Nash. In the match, Jarrett turns on Joe and he gets beaten down by the three heels.
Later that night, Hogan turns heel and creates the heel faction Immortal. On the next episode of Impact, it is revealed that Sting and Nash were right all along and leave the company, as nobody believed them. In reality, both of their contracts had expired and that was used to write them out. Sting eventually returned. Nash signed with WWE.
So, it turns out Sting and Nash were actually the good guys all along. So, that should mean that The Pope was also a good guy, right? Nope. Here’s where TNA went wrong. Instead of continuing the momentum of this newest revelation and returning The Pope back to the top, they kept him a heel and gave him a meaningless multi-month feud with Samoa Joe. After that was over, they gave him a meaningless multi-month feud with D-Von. After that, he took several months off and filmed a role in The Dark Knight Rises.
From October 2010 until maybe two months ago, The Pope has done nothing of interest in TNA. If he had been released at any point in 2011, I honestly would not have been surprised. That’s how badly they had ruined his character. He was no longer important. His character did not work as a heel. He no longer cut promos, which was what made him so popular in the first place. Basically, for lack of a better term, he was a jobber. He did nothing and was presented as nothing.
He made his return recently and it looks like he is a good guy again. He has been entered into the Bound For Glory tournament, where wrestlers fight matches over the summer and earn points, with the winner getting a title shot at Bound For Glory. He hasn’t gotten the opportunity to cut any promos yet, but he is being presented as a legitimate contender at this point. So, there’s some hope for him now.
But, they shouldn’t have to be rebuilding The Pope. He was the top guy and they should have stuck with him. Yes, his shoulder injury halted his momentum, but it made sense to make him the top man again after Bound For Glory 2010. Even more so when you consider that Anderson, pegged to be the initial top face to feud with Immortal, went down with a concussion. They needed a new top guy. Instead of sliding Pope back into that spot, they turned Matt Morgan - a guy who had never been a title contender - and put him into the position.
It was a blown opportunity by TNA to create a new face for the promotion. Hopefully Pope can recapture some of his momentum that was squandered by the promotion.