This week’s Spinning Lariat, Trent Zuberi’s look at the latest in TNA Impact Wrestling, is up in a special Tuesday edition.
Masked wrestlers have always been intriguing. From the rich history of Lucha Libre in Mexico to the enchanting competitors of the Japanese wrestling scene, masked characters in wrestling have always been a main attraction. Upon first glance, there is an immediate aura and mystery formed around these characters. Who are they? Where did they come from? Most importantly, what do they look like? In the aforementioned cultures, masked wrestlers do not break character, not even in public. It is a badge of honor to be known by your mask and to maintain your mystery. There is usually a family lineage tied to said mask that gives the masks and characters that much more emphasis when it comes to the craft they portray. Those cultures still maintain a protection of the business, unlike in the American scene where the curtain has already been pulled back and the secrets of the game have been exposed.
There aren’t too many masked wrestlers in the United States today, but TNA Impact Wrestling does feature one of the more interesting ones, currently known as Manik. If he doesn’t sound familiar, you may remember him as Suicide. An intense name, but at the same time edgy to the point where viewers are interested to see what he can do. Combine that with the cool looking mask and we have a hit. The character’s origin is interesting. He was created to be the lead (player 1) character in the TNA Impact video game that came out in 2008, complete with a dark backstory that explains the name. From the video game a real-life Suicide was born on TV. To viewers this was definitely a different concept, but one worth watching. The character was instantly over with the crowd, so now it was only a matter of proper booking to keep the momentum.
Here is where we went a bit off the rails. The character was initially being played by Frankie Kazarian which, had it been able to play out, made perfect sense to go along with the storyline he was running with at the time. Unfortunately, Kaz was injured in an early appearance of the character, so he was replaced by Christopher Daniels under the mask (the two are now a tag team known as Bad Influence) to continue the character’s progression. Daniels even won the X-Division title as Suicide, but was later phased out so he could put more time into his primary role on TV as himself. The character was then given to Japanese wrestler Kiyoshi. Now keep in mind that to those not following the inner workings of the business, as far as anyone knew it was the same guy the entire time. To their credit, the three men that represented the character worked very hard to keep the move set and mannerisms of Suicide consistent. After some starts and stops, the character was slowly phased out and not seen on TV again.
Fast forward to spring 2013, where an online poll directed at fans to vote for who they wanted in a particular X-Division match noted Suicide as one of the choices. Old fans probably voted out of intrigue and new fans out of curiosity, because Suicide won the vote and came back to TV. The character seemed a bit out of place, but the athleticism was so good that no one thought twice about it. After some buildup, Suicide found himself in a three-way match for the X-Division title alongside Kenny King and then-champion Chris Sabin. Suicide won the match after some questionable actions, but immediately Hulk Hogan walked out to the stage along with a virtually unknown wrestler he introduced as TJ Perkins, the man that “is and has always been Suicide,” implying an imposter under the hood. We came to find that it was Austin Aries.
Now there is another instance where things go a bit sideways. Suicide returns after this, under a mask like nothing ever happened. We now know his real name and we know what he looks like. Everything is out in the open, so where are we even going from here? TNA also changed his name to Manik with no explanation at all. A few weeks later they showed TJ Perkins backstage with the Manik/Suicide costume on (sans mask), talking to the camera and giving a little backstory on himself and what the character means to him. Why is logic now totally out the window? I understand that if you are a new viewer to TNA you don’t know any of the backstory, and Manik is how you know him. From this point of view it gives TNA the chance to finally handle this character properly and consistently. I also understand injecting some realism into the sport because hey, the reality is that there is a real guy under that mask that goes backstage and socializes like the rest of the roster does. I get it, and TNA is known for pushing the reality envelope, but I would have preferred a better buildup to re-masking him.
If Manik is his alter-ego, then there has to be a trigger for this alter ego to expose itself. You don’t just get exposed to the world and come back the next week remasked with a different name, insulting the audience’s intelligence and memory. I would have preferred he stayed TJ Perkins for a few months, but every week something happened to him to push him closer to adopting his more intense alter-ego. Little by little he would trigger and then when Manik comes\ out, it’s game on.
Nevertheless, they are off to a decent start with the Manik character. They have kept the character strong since the name change and he has even won the X-Division Championship. I like TJ Perkins, too. He is a gifted athlete and really does this character justice. I feel that with him they can finally tell a proper story like they have always wanted to. If they keep the course and continue to add levels to the character, I feel it can definitely be successful.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Connect with me on Twitter @Vanillajoke.