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Spike TV pulls a page out of the Antonio Inoki playbook with King Mo

By Zach Arnold | May 11, 2012

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Yesterday, Spike TV had a joint presser with Bellator’s Bjorn Rebney and TNA’s Dixie Carter to announce that King Mo will be fighting in Bellator and also wrestling in TNA. Spike TV’s Kevin Kay is the mover-and-shaker here that was more than accommodating in making this deal happen.

I reserved comment until today so I could sit and think about the decision and make a judgment on the decision. 24 hours after the news was announced, my opinion is still the same as it was when I initially heard the news.

For TNA, building around King Mo while he’s doing MMA fights in Bellator is a high risk, low reward proposition. For Bellator, building a Light Heavyweight division around King Mo while he’s wrestling in TNA is a low risk, high reward proposition.

For Spike TV, I see the move as something that may move the needle a little bit but likely won’t mean much in the end.

Terry Funk famously once said that what happens in Japan ends up happening in the States a decade later. His words have been rather prophetic. Despite Bjorn Rebney trying to market King Mo’s crossover as similar to what Bo Jackson did in baseball & football, the more accurate comparison would be Josh Barnett or Don Frye.

What Kevin Kay is attempting to pull off here is something that Fuji TV producer Kunio Kiyohara would have done if PRIDE & New Japan had been under the Fuji TV umbrella. PRIDE and Hustle existed but Hustle was not a Fuji TV program. If it had been, Kiyohara would have pulled the trigger.

If TV Asahi had PRIDE under its umbrella while owning a piece of New Japan in the late 90s, their producers would have made the same decision. Because PRIDE was on Fuji TV & K-1 was on Fuji TV and Tokyo Broadcasting System, Asahi didn’t really benefit from the crossover between New Japan wrestlers on the kakutougi platforms on other networks.

If you’re a long-time reader of this web site, you know the history of what happened in Japan a decade ago. After the death of pseudo-shoot promotion UWF International, the main players involved in UWF-Inter formulated PRIDE. When Inoki saw the MMA boom take off, he wanted to get New Japan wrestlers involved in order to blur the lines. He saw stagnation in the business numbers of New Japan, so he played off of his old Showa Era booking tendencies and ended up sending the New Japan boys into shoot situations. Conversely, he brought MMA players into the fold on the wrestling side of the equation.

Inoki rewarded those wrestlers who won in real fights by giving them title runs in New Japan, the ‘fantasy fight’ promotion. Those wrestlers who lost in real fights ended up suffering some real damage to their careers that took years to recover from. The end result of this policy was that we got major title runs from “Hollywood” Tadao Yasuda, a former Sumo wrestler who never made a great transition to wrestling, and Kazuyuki Fujita — a man who did better in both fields but was a colorless personality and thus didn’t get over like Inoki thought he could.

The end result is that after making such a mess out of New Japan, Antonio Inoki sold New Japan to Yukes.

What Spike TV is trying to accomplish with King Mo is an interesting experiment, one that they probably decided to emulate less on what happened in Japan and more on what’s happened with Brock Lesnar & Kurt Angle’s goofy deulsions of wanting to cross-over between the two industries. Lesnar being the #1 UFC PPV attraction immediately signaled the huge cross-over between pro-wrestling fans and MMA fans. MMA attracts less ‘real sports’ fans and more wrestling/entertainment fans. So, naturally, Spike TV put two and two together to try to pull off the experiment they are about to attempt here with King Mo.

However, there are a lot of roadblocks in this upcoming experiment.

King Mo has health issues. The issue of his body holding up long-term between the punishment of MMA training and the punishment of in-ring wrestling performances is a very real challenge. This has nothing to do with desire but more to do with how much his body can hold up. Ask Don Frye about this challenge. He turned out to be one of the most successful cross-over stars ever in Japan. He grew up as a wrestling fan just like Mo did. If King Mo is 50% of what Don Frye became as a major heel in Japan, then Spike TV will have a blockbuster success on their hands.

The problem for Spike TV & King Mo is TNA. TNA is not New Japan. New Japan had minds like Riki Choshu, Masa Chono, and Antonio Inoki who had enough smarts and experience to be able to capitalize on at least some of the potential that guys like Don Frye demonstrated. TNA, however, is a promotion with absolutely no successful track record whatsoever. The brand is permanently damaged, no matter how many different names you give the operation.

Here’s the major problem with TNA — no matter how hard the talented wrestlers work, the least talented wrestlers get rewarded. With TNA, the matchmaking is consistently atrocious. Even if you do fix the matchmaking, the problems don’t end there. About every six months, I watch a TNA show just to see if the product has changed or evolved in terms of respectability. Every time I watch a TNA show, there’s always something there that reminds me why I hate TNA in the first place. If it’s not the matchmaking, it’s the small-time amusement park atmosphere that is portrayed on television. It looks like a product where someone decided to try to recreate RAW in the basement of your house. Given the expectations that all sports fans have today in terms of ambiance and crowd size, TNA’s atmosphere comes across as apathetic and Mickey Mouse in nature.

In addition to spotty matchmaking and a small-time vibe that screams out on your TV, the production values of TNA are absolutely terrible. There is constant cutting back-and-forth between backstage -> to the ring -> to the entrance way. From one minute to the next, the fps (frames per second) rate is always changing. One minute it’s normal, the next minute it’s super-slow, and another minute there’s some sort of filter applied that makes watching TNA a downright awful television experience. Anyone who doesn’t fully comprehend what I am talking about can get a better understanding if they spend a Thursday night watching TNA for 2 hours and then watch Bellator’s program on MTV2 on Friday night. The difference between the two operations in terms of production values is stunningly wide. Bellator is smooth and professional. TNA is anything but.

The biggest reason why King Mo’s run in TNA will not move the needle dramatically for TNA’s PPV business is because TNA is what I call a treadmill promotion. When you get on a treadmill, no matter how slow or how fast you run on that machine, you always end up in the same place you were to begin with. No much how little or how much energy your expend, the results are always the same. That is TNA in a nutshell. When it comes to matchmaking, ambiance, and production, TNA is the same as it’s always been. Because these constants do not dramatically change, you get the same damn results every single year. In many ways, TNA is an anomaly from what we have seen from other notable wrestling promotions throughout history. Companies like WWE, New Japan, All Japan, CMLL, and AAA have all had boom-bust cycles. The territories, including the Memphis-Nashville-Louisville circuit, had a boom-bust cycle depending on what programs were being promoted. And, yet, TNA has no such cycle. They draw the same million viewers every single TV show and the same barely-five-figures ceiling for PPV buy rates.

So, on the TNA front, King Mo will have not much of an Impact, pardon the pun. In Bellator, however, his impact will be much greater if he can win his fights. Why? Bellator needs star power. If Mo can draw some TNA fans to Bellator, that’s a win for Spike TV/Bellator. As Brock Lesnar has demonstrated, there is a clear cross-over between the two audiences even if the products are very different. The reason is because pro-wrestling fans view MMA as a substitute product when the wrestling product stinks. The minute WWE does something right again, all of a sudden the wrestling fans start speaking up very quickly when there’s any sort of ray of hope. Of course, those rays of hope quickly dash and they go back to watching MMA. Because of the failure of pro-wrestling to entertain fans, this will be to Bellator’s benefit if they can infiltrate and get even 10% of TNA’s audience to watch their product.

Eventually, Bellator’s going to go to a PPV model. It’s bound to happen. If they can suck away TNA”s audience just like PRIDE sucked away the audience from the Japanese pro-wrestling companies 10-15 years ago, then the King Mo experiment will work nicely for them. For TNA? Don’t expect much of a benefit in the end. They will be dumbfounded when the experiment benefits Bellator but not them — and, typically, they won’t get why it doesn’t help their company’s bottom line.

Topics: Media, MMA, Pro-Wrestling, TNA, Zach Arnold | 27 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

27 Responses to “Spike TV pulls a page out of the Antonio Inoki playbook with King Mo”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    Great Article…

    1) Hogan, Foley, & ECW Guys could not move the needle for TNA. King Mo certainly will not.

    2) There is the risk that Bellator will be labeled as “fake” for this sharing of King Mo with a Pro Wrestling company.

    Helwani & Meltzer talked about King Mo….

    I was suprised at how Meltzer talked about this. I was expecting him to think this was a great thing. He had a lot of reserve as to how this would work. He pointed out two important things….

    First, it took Angle 12 months to be ready. Took Lesnar 18 months. And both were training full time and considered prodigies.

    Secondy, he talked about a conversation with Sakuraba in the late 1990’s. And how he said it took him a good 6 months to mentally transition from Pro Wrestling to MMA. Basically, you have to mentally think about throwing fake punches versus throwing real ones. All of the body movements are different.

    I think this has a 10% chance of being a real success. Most likely it will end up not doing much. And then there is the chance that King Mo loses in Bellator…. And then this whole deal looks bad real quick.

    • Chuck says:

      Yeah, damn good article Zach.

      There are only TWO guys who moved the needle for TNA in any way when they debuted. They are Sting and Kurt Angle.

      When Sting debuted for TNA at Final Resolution 2006 (January ppv, but it was really a comeback because Sting was in TNA briefly in 2003) it was the highest ppv buyrate for TNA at the time, being about 50,000 buys. It was about 20k more than their biggest at the time I believe.

      Then Kurt Angle’s ppv match against Samoa Joe at Genesis 2006 (November) which drew I think 65,000, their biggest to this day. After that show, they consistently drew in the 25k range for a long time (a few times even at 15k) until Lockdown 2008 (April), a year and a half later, and that show only got about 45,000 buys. Main event? You guessed it; Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle. That was the match where Angle wore the MMA/surfer shorts and small gloves.

      So the proven “draws” for TNA? Sting (kind of), Kurt Angle, and Samoa Joe. Joe and Angle if they are together. Then again, for a long time a few years ago the women’s matches were drawing higher ratings on the TV shows than the male matches when Awesome Kong was there. So on that front, the biggest draws were Awesome Kong, Gail Kim, and ODB.

      But as Zach touched on, TNA has a SCARILY loyal audience. No big highs, no low lows, just everything in the middle.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Good article…and no, I don’t think it will do much.

  3. Stel says:

    Your reservations due to Mo’s health were what initially came to my mind, but once you made the comparison to frye who also had health problems such as a broken neck, I realized that Mo is younger than frye when he went to pro wrestling, and is a better athlete overall.
    So, with Mo as the king of 205 in Bellator, who’s going to challenge him?
    Also Bellator title holders don’t fight that often once or twice a year it seems, its rather unlikely he will suffer any damage in mma.
    I’d have to say its a win win for both companies. Hopefully Mo will add some flash and dazzle that Bellator lacks, and give tna some grit and “reality”.

  4. Steve4192 says:

    I disagree with the notion of MMA being a substitute product for pro wrestling fans. It’s a complementary product. Pro wrestling fans don’t stop watching pro wrestling in favor of MMA. They watch both.

    I doubt that Bellator will siphon off TNA PPV customers. It probably won’t help them any, but it won’t hurt them either.

  5. King Famous says:

    Sign Rampage next and you can start making some things happen.

  6. frankp316 says:

    Nah, nothing will help TNA because Dixie Carter is a moron and the only thing she is good at is throwing her dad’s money down a black hole. There have been many occasions that she has promised big announcements that will revolutionize the wrestling business and make TNA the greatest thing since sliced bread. Inevitably, each one fell flat. And even after ten years in business, the company has no clue how to sell a PPV. They do have loyal fans but most of them are as dopey as Dixie Carter.

    • Steve4192 says:

      Hard to argue with that.

      If I had to come up with a one-word description of TNA, it would be ‘rudderless’. They just keep throwing shit up against the wall and hoping it sticks.

  7. 45 Huddle says:

    I was just reading various stuff on Wikipedia…. And the announcement of King Mo fell on the 10th Anniversary of the creation of TNA.

    It is crazy to think that TNA has now been around for a DECADE, and they have basically done nothing.

    • Chuck says:

      Yeah, TNA, Ring Of Honor, and Chikara Pro all turn ten this year. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla turns ten next year. Hard to believe.

      Wanna know something even more mind-blowing? TNA Impact (not TNA itself, but their Impact program) has been on the air longer than WCW Nitro was. Nitro ran from 9-4-1995 to 3-26-2001. That is just shy of six years. TNA Impact started on 6-4-2004 and has been on the air since (they were off tv for a few months after getting shit-canned from Fox Sports before they debuted on Spike TV. But they were airing on their website in that duration of the summer of 2005. They were probably the best batch of episodes and ppvs in their entire history).

    • Columbo says:

      Well, at least there still on the air bringing in about 1.5 million viewers each week to Spike. Of course, the 18-49 demo is pathetic.

  8. Weezy says:

    Anyone know what TNA’s television deal is worth?

    • Chuck says:

      I doubt anyone would know that. TNA is privately owned. I don’t think TNA gets a huge amount of money from Spike, but Spike does foot part of the bill for Kurt Angle’s salary, and Hulk Hogan’s too I think. Think they did that for Mick Foley when he was there. Fairly mutual relationship.

      When TNA was on Fox Sports, they paid I think 13k per week to be on that network.

  9. Darkmader says:

    I’m sure tomorrow it will be huge news, but Nick Diaz was going to do the the BJJ show, which costs $10 to view it on the net. It was flawless and better than ROH online but the main event got cancelled as Nick Diaz didn’t show up. At one point one dude stepped up and said that he would take his spot but it didn’t happen, and then the crowd took pics with the guys who actually showed up.

    Here is the kicker, Nick was going to take all the $$$$$ for charity, so bloodyelbow was all about promoting this along with other sites as it’s for a good cause then boom, he no showed.

    Weed is one thing, which isn’t a big deal, but this was way worse. I like his fighting style and he has a good personality for MMA to sell fights but at this point he needs to be cut and let his little bro take over as this is worse than just getting hit for pot.

  10. frankp316 says:

    Despite Kevin Kay’s insistence that Spike is not paying for King Mo’s TNA deal, you can be sure that they are paying for it as they have paid TNA wrestler salaries before. TNA is cheaper than WWE and Spike has creative input that WWE would never allow. And there have been reports that TNA is having money problems and Dixie’s mom is on her case to cut costs.

  11. Steve4192 says:

    On an unrelated note …. Nick Diaz no-showed his BJJ superfight with Braulio Estima (the proceeds of which were going to charity). So I guess we can add to BJJ matches and charities the list of things Diaz can’t be bothered with (along with press conferences, drug tests, and preliminary hearings).

    Diaz gonna Diaz.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      It is darn obvious that he has some serious problems right.

      Here is a brief list of things he has skipped out on:

      1) Strikeforce Press Conference.
      2) Drug Test before Strikeforce fight.
      3) 2 UFC Press Conference
      4) At least 2 seminars at schools.
      5) BJJ Super Fight.
      6) Refused to give Medical Weed Card to NSAC.

      And he has also failed 2 drug tests in his career.

      If I was Zuffa…. I would not fire him. But I would certainly make him work his way back up the ladder slowly. I’m talking about at least 3 wins before he is considered for a title shot.

      There is no longer a reason to give him the benefit of the doubt in any possible way. He is a screw up of epic proportions.

      • The Gaijin says:

        Yup – the guy has just proven to be completely and totally unreliable. There’s no way in hell I put a big push and ppv card at risk with this dude until he shows me he can be trusted to, ya know, actually show up for his job.

        He’s burned any and all sympathy I had left for him…and I look forward to whatever excuse(s) come out for this.

  12. Columbo says:

    King Mo doesn\’t have the vocal chops to hang in pro-wrestling to move the needle. The dude would probably stutter his way through an incoherent promo.

    But hell, I guess it\’s worth a shot.

    Spike has said that they want TNA to average 2 million viewers every week…

    Well, do the program live and take the show out on the road.

    The Orlando Impact zone is crap. Plus, aren\’t all the tickets given away for free?

    • Chuck says:

      Yeah, admission to any TNA show at Sound Stage 21 (Impact tapings and ppvs) is free. That is the rules of Universal Studios, not TNA’s. TNA has no say in that matter. Since being there for just shy of eight years, that is a LOT of lost revenue. But again, not TNA’s doing. What their doing is that they decide to stay there and not make money on the road. But they would go to towns with small crowds and lose money that way. They lost money by taking lesser ppvs on the road. Anymore only their bigger ppvs (Lockdown, Slammiversary, and Bound For Glory) are on the road.

      I agree about King Mo. The man will suck on the mic. Can he take bumps?

      • Dave says:

        He doesn’t have any training yet that I know of.

        The shame is, if he wanted to take it seriously, he’d probably take the WWE deal and do developmental for a bit. As much as it sucks, you have to learn how to wrestle to, you know, wrestle.

        • Vadim says:

          The only approach I can really see them taking is by doing UWF style match’s with Mo, which considering how Frank Triggs match with AJ Styles went in TNA is dubious at best.

          The other approach is to book him like Goldberg or Lesnar, lots of squash matches designed to buy him time while he learns the ropes.

          Alternatively, they could use him as a mouthpiece or member of a stable perhaps but that seems like a waste, that’s if he can even cut a decent promo.

          All this while he trains and fights in Bellator. My expectations are not high for either of these pairings.

      • Mr. Snrub says:

        “Over the last seven years, the ratings for TNA’s “IMPACT Wrestling” have grown from an average of 700,000 viewers at launch to nearly two million today.”

        They pull better ratings then the UFC on a weekly basis.

        • theYiffer says:

          It’s been a little further from 2 million. TNA has touched 1.5 million on good weeks. Comparing TNA’s rating to Ultimate Fighter’s isn’t very relevant.

          The goal of Ultimate Fighter or any of UFC’s free shows is to convert viewers into PPV buyers. They consistantly do, and the UFC turns a profit every month. TNA has had an average of million viewers watching Impact every week. But TNA has been incapable of converting a large enough portion of those viewers into PPV buyers. Thus the reason Dixie Carter has to keep shoveling her parent’s money just to keep TNA afloat. Their booking focuses more on what happens on Impact than what’s going to happen on the next PPV, where they’re supposed to be cashing out.

    • Black Dog says:

      Idea: put Ric Flair at Mo’s side as his manager. Flair is gonna drop dead in the ring one day, which is probably what TNA wants because it will pull ratings. Flair can do the talking for him; Mo will just have to make some basic statements, more or less. Then if need be, Flair can come out of “retirement” to do a special tag with him against whomever. Get two things done that way.

  13. Jonathan says:

    I don’t think that Diaz gives a f*ck. He beats to his own drum, and stuff that would be relative to us, is not relative to him.

  14. Black Dog says:

    King Who?

    I have a feeling that’s gonna be the big question for TNA fans right off the bat. TNA is a joke, WCW-lite, basically. Same old guys, fighting the same old fights, with the same old backstage politicking (whining) on who gets the push, and who gets the belt.

    It could work, if Mo is healthy and TNA gives him the right build-up and push. I do not see most of the old guys in TNA giving him any respect, and not helping sell the product, even though it could mean the end of TNA entirely.

    Can Mo transition? No idea. My guess is, if the wrong guy gives him any lip, Mo will tear them up for real and then Dixie, the Jarretts and those other retreads will have an even bigger problem.

    I think this is TNA’s last gasp. If Mo does not create enough buzz, esp. on the PPV’s, expect them to go belly up, get bought out again my you know who, and there’ll be another 20 or 30 old farts on the indie circuit.


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