Every week in The Spinning Lariat, Trent Zuberi brings you his observations on TNA Impact Wrestling, and occasionally on American independent wrestling as a whole.
Finally. Finally we have a WORLD Heavyweight Champion that actually defends his title around the world! Crazy concept, huh? A WORLD champion actually defending his belt around the world. Why such excitement for this? Why such a shock? Because this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in professional wrestling any more, and to see it actually happening is refreshing. The last time a champion actively defended a world title properly was when Ring of Honor would send their champions overseas and also import international talent to receive title shots. It was such a legitimizing idea at the time and made things feel big-time. It’s the same situation now. It gives a sport that is constantly fighting for legitimacy some real credibility on a worldwide scale.
It’s always such a joke when “big money sports” such as basketball, baseball, hockey, etc. claim their titles as “World Championships” when there is absolutely zero involvement from the rest of the world in any of it. It comes off as self-absorbed, with an attitude of “we don’t recognize the rest of the actual world outside of our country,” which is a complete joke. The wrestling equivalent of this is WWE. Sure, they travel around the world, but when they do they only fight each other. Yet, they claim a world title. What gives them the right to do so? “World” implies competition on a global scale, not in-fighting with the same people you would in Moline, IL. ROH scaled back a lot of their world competition since the Sinclair buyout, but still does it from time to time. And now with TNA doing it, the business is getting a much-needed jolt.
The current AJ Styles “walkout” storyline, where he has essentially gone rogue and is defending an unsanctioned version of the world title, has been off to a great start. Stateside he has been “stripped” of the title, and a tournament is being run to crown a new champion while he is off in Mexico and Japan (and other international countries to be booked soon) as the TNA World Heavyweight Champion defending against top stars. The press conference and media coverage of his arrival in Japan alone set the tone for how important this kind of story is on a global scale. He has been received as a major star and an important figure to come to their country to give their stars a shot at his title. There have been such levels of respect shown by the fans and media in Japan that it gives TNA instant global credibility.
AJ Styles is the only actual WORLD Champion in wrestling today. From the standpoint of a real wrestling fan, that makes him the greatest wrestler in the business right now. Combine that with the fact that he is one of the most gifted performers to step into the ring in the last 10 years, and he sets the tone of what the business needs and how it should be represented in today’s world. It’s an exposed business; the world unfortunately knows it, but any means they can find to close that gap between reality and fiction at a time when all the secrets are exposed will be appreciated by the fans that care. This current story is one of the best ideas to try, and to see it succeed will be great for the business as a whole. The next stages will be very exciting, and depending on how long it runs, fans are in for some of the most compelling storytelling a world title has seen in years.
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