For the last eighteen months TNA’s decision makers have shown no interest at all in the X Division and yet this evening, in a move that is typical of the company, they will present a pay-per-view in which it is the focal point. What’s so frustrating about this situation isn’t that the company are trying to sell a show based around something they’ve been misusing for a year and a half (this sort of baffling stupidity has become the norm in TNA) but that the X Division used to be a genuine highlight of the promotion and still could have been had it been cared for correctly.
For the first several years of TNA’s existence the X performers frequently had the best wrestling matches on the show. Their division wasn’t about whacky storylines or oddball gimmicks, it was about giving the fans fast-paced, energetic wrestling of the kind they were unlikely to see anywhere else. It was akin to WCW’s cruiserweight division during the mid- to late-90s. That’s the same cruiserweight division Eric Bischoff likes to take credit for. And yes, that’s the same Eric Bischoff who has been instrumental in the downplaying of the X Division since late 2009.
The X Division has, at one time or another, featured AJ Styles, Chris Daniels, Samoa Joe, Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Austin Aries, Brian Kendrick, Paul London, Petey Williams, Doug Williams, Jerry Lynn, Elix Skipper, Kid Kash, Homicide, Low Ki, Jay Lethal, and Kurt Angle as performers. This is by no means a complete list but it should give you an idea of the sort of work rate the X Division has had in the past. Joe, Styles and Daniels in particular were all at their best when used in the X Division.
What made the X Division so useful to TNA was that it was different to what their competitors were doing. Various independent promotions were able to promote a similar style but they were unable to bring so many talented performers together on to one roster. The X Division also allowed TNA to showcase exactly the sort of matches WWE, their main rival (for want of a better term), was and is notorious for never promoting. Wrestling fans who wanted to see fast-paced high-flying action on their TV screens knew to watch iMPACT to get what they wanted.
Sadly the reputation for excellence that the X Division performers had built up over the years has now been frittered away. By failing to give the X Division a proper amount of air time and keeping it stocked with young, athletic performers TNA has thrown away the biggest asset it had. Their new direction and the “wrestling matters” videos are the promotion’s way of saying that they’re going to rebuild the X Division, but it’s too little too late. Listless sit-down promos, a sudden influx of so many new talents that it’s impossible to keep track of who’s who, and Abyss as the X Division champion are emphatically not the way to go about restoring the shattered division.
What would have worked far better would have been for TNA to simply sign some new X Division performers and introduce them gradually over two months. Some could have been introduced in “showcase” matches competing against one another, with the commentators explaining that they’ve been signed to inject some fresh blood into the X Division. Another could have been introduced through backstage or in-ring promos, hyping their impending debut in a heelish fashion (this would have been the perfect way to re-introduce Austin Aries (or indeed Austin Starr) to TNA). Yet another could have been introduced through weekly hype videos which show the newcomer performing their impressive array of manoeuvres, whetting the appetites of those watching for the wrestler’s debut proper.
Zema Ion is a step in the right direction: he’s young and appears capable of contributing to the X Division in a meaningful way. Had TNA brought him in alongside Aries and Low Ki, as well as men they’ve shown no interest in such as Kenny Omega and Kevin Steen, they could have created a natural resurgence of the X Division by nw without resorting to telling us they were doing so (or attempting to at any rate). It makes you wonder why they released Jay Lethal just a few weeks ago.
Hiring guys and sticking them on a pay-per-view with the X Division label attached will achieve nothing. The audience didn’t just care about the in-ring action during the X Division’s peak, they cared about the wrestlers too: they had formed an emotional attachment over weeks, months and years of watching those men compete, that was why they were willing to buy PPVs and tune into iMPACT. It wasn’t because a bunch of matches were simply billed as being part of the X Division.
But stocking up a pay-per-view with numerous non-regulars is what TNA has decided to do. All those not under permanent contracts are very talented, but without weekly exposure why should viewers care if they win or lose? The fans in the IMPACT Zone may make a lot of noise but as I’ve written before they are not reflective of TNA’s television audience as a whole. Someone sitting at home who’s only seen several of this evening’s stars wrestle only once will not be emotionally invested and therefore is less likely to buy the show.
So what can we expect from the announced card? Well, a highlight is likely to be AJ Styles v Chris Daniels. They’ve faced each other numerous times in TNA and always produce compelling bouts. I’m surprised that this match isn’t actually a three-way also featuring Samoa Joe: that exact match has happened several times before and has been match of the night every single time. It would have fit perfectly on a show that’s supposed to look back to the history of the division whilst also showcasing its future. Instead Joe is facing Kazarian in what will probably be a good but not great affair.
The show will also give us two four-way matches (there already being two multi-person matches could possibly be the reason TNA haven’t gone with the Styles v Daniels v Joe three-way, but it’s unlike them to care so much about overloading a card). One will be a regular match with a TNA contract supposedly up for grabs while the other will be an Ultimate X match for a future shot at the X Division championship. The contract match (Austin Aries v Jack Evans v Zema Ion v Low Ki) should be very enjoyable: I rate Aries incredibly highly, enjoy the styles of Evans and Ki, and think Ion (from what little I’ve seen of him) is someone who should have been brought into the company a long time ago.
I’m less enthused about the Ultimate X match (Amazing Red v Shannon Moore v Robbie E v Alex Shelley). I’ve never really been a fan of Ultimate X as it‘s far too gimmicky, like most of the concepts TNA have come up with themselves (King of the Mountain match anyone?). Shelley being involved should help to ensure this match goes well: he’s one of the most underrated wrestlers TNA has when it comes to ring psychology and that’s what this match will need with bump-happy Red and Moore involved.
The Doug Williams open challenge? It’s disappointing but not surprising that TNA couldn’t come up with something more original for such a skilled wrestler. I’ve no idea who the opponent will be, but I’d enjoy seeing Petey Williams or Paul London making a return.
The Rob Van Dam v Jerry Lynn has clearly been added to the show as a way of acknowledging that RVD v Lynn was “X Division before the X Division” (I’ve quotation marked that because I’m expecting Tenay or Borash to say it, word for word, at some point during the pay-per-view). RVD v Lynn matches are some of the best in wrestling. In fact their match from ECW Living Dangerously is still my favourite wrestling match ever. But that match took place over twelve years ago. It hasn’t aged, but the wrestlers have. Van Dam turned 40 last December whilst Lynn is now 48. They are both still great in the ring, but should TNA really be giving up a slot on one of its pay-per-views to try and replicate the success of a match that two men had over a decade ago? I would say no (and also that RVD v Lynn in 2011 will not be a patch on RVD v Lynn from 1999).
Then there’s what I’m assuming will be the main event: Brian Kendrick v Abyss for the latter’s X Division championship. This looks like it will be the worst match of the show, which is appropriate considering TNA’s backwards logic with regards to booking. Abyss’s strength is hardcore matches. He should not be anywhere near the X Division, let alone be its champion. Even if, as I suspect, he’s been given the belt so that Kendrick can beat him in a David versus Goliath style match to give a manufactured feel good moment I’d still rather see Kendrick facing Styles or Joe for the belt. Such a match could have been presented with a subtle (not that TNA understands the concept of subtle) future versus past twist to it. As things are I predict this match will be absolutely rotten.
On the whole I think this card has the potential to be quite an enjoyable one. The downside is that it’s coming at the expense of men and women who are regulars with TNA. Next Thursday when IMPACT comes on they won’t be relying on the contract match wrestlers and Jerry Lynn to pull in ratings, they’ll be relying on Beer Money, the Knockouts, Sting, Kurt Angle and the TNA world champion Mr Anderson. By leaving them off of this show TNA is once again failing to prepare for its future. But then, we should expect nothing else from them by now.