Let me start off this post by making it clear what this feature is and is not going to be. This is a feature about the dreaded subject of fantasy booking. This is NOT going to happen all the time, because there simply aren’t enough storylines worth this level of attention to detail going on at any given time, and because I am absolutely terrible at predicting the future, (as we all know very well.) What this is, instead, is an occasional feature that will give me a chance to plot out the possibilities behind interesting storylines that many of our readers may not be following or even be aware of. And it will give me carte blanche to assume the controls myself for a moment, so that I can try to concoct a storyline that holds up to the kind of scrutiny that I would level against the company if I were reviewing it. This is not an easy task, because I’m kind of an asshole.
The storyline that I’m going to be taking charge of is the booking of AJ Styles in TNA, from this very day today, all the way to the Bound For Glory PPV in October. For those of you who don’t watch TNA, (which, statistically, is most of you,) the story currently is that AJ Styles, furious with being overlooked and unappreciated by the company that he dragged into the spotlight, left TNA for a number of months. Commissioner Hulk Hogan and Owner Dixie Carter begged him for months to come back until Hogan finally demanded that AJ do so, only to find that AJ had adopted a much darker persona. Meanwhile Bully Ray is the TNA Champion and rides at the head of the Aces and Eights, a biker stable of his own design that rules TNA at present. I have 6 months to connect the two in a meaningful way, and I’ve broken the story into 3 parts (April/May, June/July/August, September/October) for easy digestion.
Start the clock.
Cewsh: Before we begin, it’s important to figure out exactly what needs to be accomplished in the build to this match in order for it to be successful. Let’s start with broad strokes first.
1. AJ Styles must be a credible threat to the Aces and Eights.
2. The Aces and Eights must be seen as a dominant force.
3. Bully Ray must be the focus of the heel heat on Aces and Eights.
4. The storyline must be paced so that Styles and Ray are kept apart until it is time for them to meet.
5. The fans must be given a reason to care about the outcome.
All 5 of those things must be accomplished by this storyline in order for it to be successful. You may have noticed that many of those things will require careful booking of people other than just AJ Styles and Bully Ray.
Now obviously, these things are easier said than done. And in attempt to make this as realistic as possible, I will not be involving anyone who doesn’t currently work for TNA, and I will be dealing with the booking of people on the show besides the core two guys, in order to illustrate how the booking of one feud spiderwebs its way across the entire promotion. I may succeed in this and I may not. Only one way to find out.
Okay, so here’s how the landscape looks from where I’m picking up. Bully Ray is the champion and he is heavily antagonizing Hulk Hogan, our commissioner, and things have come to a head with Sting returning. Sting and Hogan are at odds but both hate Bully. Meanwhile, Aces and Eights are beating everyone the fuck up.
Elsewhere, AJ Styles had a match with James Storm where he beat him with a new nasty submission move called The Calf Killer. Christopher Daniels and Kazarian are trying to recruit him to remake Fortune in order to fight against Aces and Eights, but AJ won’t talk to anyone or take any side. As April comes to a close, Aces rules over all, and AJ Styles is TNA’s biggest wildcard.
There are a few ways to tackle this angle from here. If I know TNA, and sadly I do, they will escalate the Bully Ray/Hulk Hogan situation until it results in a title match at Slammiversary in June. That would suck, but the infrastructure is laid, so let’s just go for it. On the first Impact of my esteemed reign as booker, Bully Ray Ray and Aces and Eights make a point of only trying to attack Hogan, while pointedly leaving Sting alone. Hogan’s character at this point is built heavily on the distrust and paranoia instilled in him by Bully Ray turning heel, and he’s already lashed out at Sting. So a way to bring intrigue to this feud is simply to stir distrust between Sting and Hogan, while Aces wait in the background to pounce whenever Hogan is alone. Since Hulk Hogan is an old man, we’re not going to worry about making him look weak with these beatdowns, because that’s frankly how the audience should see him at this point. I want to lean this in the direction of Raven vs. Terry Funk from the first ECW PPV, where the younger guy is just far too much for the old timer to handle, but the old timer won’t quit.
Rolling into week two, Brooke and Sting both try to talk him out of it backstage but Hogan accepts Bully Ray’s challenge for a match at Slammiversary. Bully Ray gets big ol’ phony smile on his face and then Aces and Eights brutally beats Hogan down. I don’t want anyone running in to help him. No support, no Sting save, no Brooke crying. This needs to be focused on the personal conflict between Bully and Hogan, because Bully badly needs heat on himself to make all of this work. Have Bully throw a playing card down on Hogan and mark him for death, and then Hogan can be stretchered out. And for fuck’s sake, the announcers damn well better be talking about this for the rest of the show. None of this “we fear for his life” stuff. Just a somber, sobering reflection on the carnage that Bully Ray directed on the most powerful man in TNA.
As week three comes along, I would not have Hogan appear a single time. On the show, I want people doing interviews about how heinous the beatdown was, and about how terrifying Aces and Eights are. Heels, faces, women, backstage personnel. I want a good mix of the roster, focusing especially on people who can actually talk and/or would interest the audience. I’m thinking that at the very least I want pre taped interviews from Jeff Hardy, Velvet Sky, Bobby Roode and Al Snow. And then I want them to try to interview AJ Styles about it, but for him to walk away without saying a word. I’d also like to get a pretape of Brooke Hogan standing outside of a hospital saying that her father is beaten up pretty bad, but that he damn sure intends to go through with the challenge, just to make it clear that that match is still on before we move forward. Then Bully Ray gets a big promo towards the end of the show, talking about how he holds all of the cards in TNA. Then BOOM, lights out. Sting comes out again. He says that he couldn’t be there in time for Hogan last week, but that now he’ll get Bully Ray, and challenges him to a match next week. Bully Ray agrees with another big smile on his face.
Then we come to week four, the last show before Slammiversary, which is on June 2nd. Sting gets a live interview where he says that no matter what tension has been going on between Hogan and himself, Bully Ray is a menace which must be confronted. Before he can leave, Daniels and Kazarian arrive and ask him to join them in Fortune. Sting says he would never trust rats like them and storms off. Bully Ray also gets an interview, where he over confidently explains that there’s no way that anyone can beat him while he has Aces and Eights behind him. Then comes the match, but before it can even start, Aces surrounds the ring ominously like a larger version of the Nexus. They start pouring into the ring and overwhelm Sting, until Hogan’s music hits, and Aces scatters. I don’t want Hogan beating up members of Aces and Eights, because I need those people to look credible later, and being beaten up by an old man doesn’t help them, so they just keep their distance from the irate Hogan. Hogan shakes Sting’s hand, points Sting’s bat at Bully and says that at Slammiversary, Bully Ray is going down, and Aces will fold once and for all.
As I mentioned before, the most important thing with AJ is to keep him away from Aces and Eights until the time is right. Since Aces is pretty much the entire heel locker room, that isn’t going to be easy, but it is possible. The other important, aspect of this push is that AJ Styles is not going to lose a match between May and October. AJ has a lot of trouble being seen as a real threat because he’s been beaten SO much, and never actually gets the big wins, that this is absolutely vital to building him as someone that fans can believe in.
So AJ’s May is going to be very simple. In the four Impact shows he is going to face, and defeat, Robbie E, (in a squash via submission,) Zema Ion, (4 minutes via submission,) Eric Young, (4 minutes via submission,) and Kazarian, (8 minutes via submission.) AJ will be made to look dominant in all four of those matches, and all the while, Daniels and Kazarian will attempt to recruit AJ into Fortune, with no success. After the final match, I want a backstage promo with Kazarian holding a bag of ice to his leg and telling Christopher Daniels that “the AJ we knew isn’t there anymore” or something along those lines. Somewhere in here, I want AJ to have new music that is darker, but isn’t generic rock, (I will send you back into the studio Dale Oliver, see if I don’t.) He will not speak a word, and he will win every match with his new submission finisher, while doing as few big bumps and flips as possible.
I want him to come back to those when the angle really picks up, but right now we’re driving home that this is not the same guy who fans have seen lose again and again over the years.
Rolling into Slammiversary, AJ will have a match booked against Samoa Joe, because that is a match that requires no real build up in order to bring interest, and it will allow AJ to get the most out of a victory without beating someone higher on the hierarchy that is being used for something else. Joe will cut an in ring promo on AJ after his match with Kazarian, reminding the audience of their history, and asking AJ why he would turn his back on the company that he created. Again, AJ will not respond, and will simply knock out Joe, (his Enziguri is good for this.)
This obviously pisses Joe off, and sets the stage for a match people actually want to see with a bare minimum of effort.