TNA filmed an angle tonight at the Impact Wrestling taping in Little Rock, Arkansas that could conceivably have been Hulk Hogan's exit from the company.
With Hogan's contract expiring next month, the two sides are in negotiations for a new deal, but nothing has been signed, much less agreed upon. Tonight's taping was the last scheduled appearance for him under the old contract, so TNA opted to script a potential exit for him that will close the 10/3 episode.
As PWInsider.com has noted in recent months, TNA is in the process of re-evaluating every talent contract and employee after taking Impact Wrestling on the road did not lead to the originally projected live revenue. The company has been reorganizing and streamlining all aspects of their operations for months.
With Hogan as the most expensive talent contract for the company, it's turned into a situation similar to that of AJ Styles, Ken Anderson and Mickie James where the two sides were apart on what each side wants. Styles signed an extension through December while the other two were finished up and won't return unless they come to terms for new TNA deals.
Hogan announced in late 2009 that he was coming to TNA, portraying it as if he was legitimately running the promotion in media appearances and before the public. The reality is that he and long-time partner Eric Bischoff had heavy say in the creative and in how the product was rolled out, but they didn't have complete control over every aspect of the promotion.
Hogan debuted in January 2010 to a lot of fanfare, bringing a number of new talents with him, including Rob Van Dam, Bischoff, Ric Flair, Val Venis, The Nasty Boys and Bubba the Love Sponge. Kevin Nash, Jeff Hardy, Shannon Moore, Scott Hall and Sean Waltman also returned at the same time while Ken Anderson soon followed. Of that crew, only Hardy and Bischoff remain and none of the other names, despite excellent track records elsewhere, helped TNA achieve any great gains in drawing TV ratings or live crowds.
With Hogan and Bischoff taking over creative aspects of the company at the onset of 2010, TNA attempted a number of changes to their core product and how they were presented over the last three years. They attempted a poorly received Monday Night move against WWE Raw before returning to Thursdays. They took Impact Wrestling live weekly and dropped their schedule of 12 live PPVs a year down to several "major" shows with the remainder pre-taped. Most recently, they took the Impact tapings on the road. These were all concepts that the Hogan/Bischoff regime pushed for - some of which Hogan claimed in media interviews needed to be done to get the company going. In the end, they were chasing another, more expensive carrot and none of the changes, to date, were successful. If anything, TNA was now spending more money to get the same results they had prior to the Hogan era - something that's not going to put Hogan in the driver's seat during negotiations.
Bringing in Hogan and pushing for another Monday Night War made a lot of sense on paper, but unfortunately for TNA, the influx of Hogan, Flair, etc. never led to a jump in ratings despite their past TV drawing power. Hogan's health issues also hurt his run with the company as his back was in terrible shape and he was mostly delegated to a speaking role where he couldn't take bumps and while he did make the occasional wrestling appearance, he wasn't the Hulk Hogan that he used to be. It was impossible for him physically to be the Hulk Hogan the public expected and TNA needed. That's not his fault, but the reality is that the investment was made for Hogan and Bischoff to finally jumpstart TNA and get the company to the oft mentioned "next level." The reality, however, was that the biggest name of the 1980s wasn't able to make it happen in the 2010s - and he was being paid a premium salary for it not to happen.
There has been talk for several months that Hogan was unhappy with TNA, especially after his daughter Brooke was let go by the promotion. The word that made the rounds is that Hogan was upset he was not informed ahead of time and felt that he should have been the one to inform his daughter. There was also talk that Hogan wasn't happy his daughter relocated from Florida to Nashville with the idea that Dixie Carter would use her contacts to help her break into the country music scene, which never happened.
Shortly after Brooke was released, Hogan knocked the promotion in a roundabout way during a Fan Q&A at the 2013 Toronto Fan Expo, stating that what they needed was "real leadership" (meaning Eric Bischoff) and an "unlimited checkbook" in order to accomplish everything the company needed.
TNA sources noted at the time that the comments had to been seen as a "slap in the face" to Dixie Carter, even if Hogan hadn't meant them to be. Sources in Nashville were also quick to point out that Bischoff had pretty much "been given the keys to the kingdom" but that the company had shown no growth - and that some revenue streams for the company were doing far worse in comparison.
If Hogan is gone, obviously the big question is what happens with Eric Bischoff, who will obviously remain committed to Hogan in a major way. Surely, he could remain, but he has a lot of other projects going, some of which could be (or already are) far more lucrative for him. If Bischoff does depart, the question is who would replace him in his duties. Bischoff's current deal is believed to expire before the end of 2013.
One clue may be that Jeff Jarrett was working backstage at the St. Louis taping and was again at Impact last night in Little Rock. Jarrett has taken a more active role in TNA business in recent weeks, which could be a sign that he's preparing for a much larger role.
Meanwhile, as to what Hogan's future could be if he does depart TNA? Well, the biggest wrestling event of the next year is set for April 2014 and the idea of Hulk Hogan, the original Wrestlemania main eventer, working Wrestlemania 30 in some capacity sounds like a great attraction - and holds the possibility of that one last great payday for Hogan.
It's going to be VERY interesting to see how all this shakes out.