Sunday, 11 January 2015

TNA Impact Wrestling 07.01.15 review

The live debut of Impact Wrestling on Destination America brought one of the company’s hottest ever storylines to a close: whether or not it could continue to exist without long-time partner Spike TV being involved. It’s a shame that this was the biggest talking point about TNA for the latter half of 2014. Despite its well-documented financial struggles the promotion has retained a good core roster and arguably puts more effort into creating varied characters than WWE does. Where the company has failed for years is in its writing.

The move to Destination America may have overshadowed anything good TNA tried or accomplished in 2014 but it also presented them with a second chance. A live launch episode was not the simplest or smoothest way for them to debut on the network but it did ensure they didn’t have to worry about spoilers and also encouraged people to tune in live.

The show opened with cinematic shots of the roster getting ready for matches. Some shots were more dramatic than others. Aries putting on some sunglasses and The Wolves getting into a lift were not exactly thrilling, for example. Nor was Jeff Hardy wandering around a hotel in full face paint, although that did at least provide a laugh. Lashley doing his ring pose at a hotel window was odd but probably more the sort of thing any new viewers were expecting to see. The speeches from Bobby Roode, MVP and Storm to their factions (or in Roode’s case, the general locker room) were good and the faces versus heels fight outside the Manhattan Centre, while like something from a 90s X-Men cartoon, did at least create a nice visual and get the show started with a bang.

So in other words the opening moments were a mixed bag. Classic TNA, really.

The brawl that started on the street spilled into the arena as the show began. Taz and new commentator Josh Mathews talked it up as mayhem, and they had plenty of time to do so as it went on for an age. Eventually Kurt Angle came out (in jeans and a shirt, a move designed to hide his more slender than ever frame) and reminded everyone they were in New York watching Impact. Getting into the ring he announced that all champions would defend their titles. He opted not to reveal who they’d face. That struck me as a poor move. Announcing Aries and The Wolves for matches on the show might have provided reasons for people to stick with the programme instead of turning over.

Angle said he had one more announcement but before he could make it he was interrupted by MVP. After reminding everyone Angle had hit him over on Spike he tried to goad him into doing it again. Angle took some abuse then revealed that he'd stepped down from his job as gimmick matchmaker to become an active wrestler again, his last act being to structure the opening Destination America card. Which, let's not forget, he'd done a poor job of as wrestlers were finding out they were had matches to prepare for live on air.

The final match he booked was himself and MVP in a street fight. He threw a punch and then clotheslined MVP out of the ring to get that going. In typical Impact fashion they cut to a break seconds into the first match of the night.

It's depressing to see Kurt looking like this.
Mike Victor Papa controlled most of the match, which featured surprisingly little brawling. They went outside of the ring a few times but didn't really do much else with the street fight stip. MVP reversed out of the ankle lock twice then went for a Drive-By kick in the corner. ‘The Cyborg’ scooted out of the way and got the Angle slam to win.

The company's champions were shown backstage getting ready for their matches. Then MVP was shown screaming at Kenny King for not helping him win his match with Angle. Kenny’s excuse was that he’d been with “an incredible” girl. MVP left to remind Lashley that it was him who’d got Lashley the world championship in the first place.

Josh and Taz introduced themselves again. Taz was referred to as a three time world champ. Two of those reigns were with the ECW world championship. He never won a world title anywhere else, so the third reign is presumably a reference to the FTW championship he had in ECW. I suspect Taz may have produced this link. Camera shots of the locker room and the Gorilla position were shown. Cameras being in invasive places backstage is TNA's latest revolutionary idea that will get them nowhere. It’s like GTV but without the humour.

Crazzy Steve was shown backstage for no reason then Ethan Carter III and his bodyguard Tyrus (formerly big, bad Brodus Clay) rocked up to interrupt. And by interrupt I do of course mean feature in a segment they were always going to get over someone like Crazzy Steve (who can’t even spell “crazy”).  EC£ reminded us of his fifteen month undefeated streak, which includes two months where TNA was inactive, then sent Tyrus off to find Rockstar Spud, whom he’d been feuding with on Spike TV.

Mike Tenay plugged Impact Wrestling: Unlocked, his new Destination America show, then introduced a pre-recorded interview he'd conducted with James Storm. Storm felt he'd been held down by management for years, so he’d formed The Revolution to take what he was entitled to. Sanada, Manik and Abyss had apparently come to him because they’re aware of how much truth Storm speaks. He ended by saying that he and his gang aren't interested in titles, they want blood. He then implied he's the Devil and walked off.

There was a lot to dislike with this. It was poor material delivered poorly. Storm also continues to be a very clear rip off of the more successful and far more interesting Bray Wyatt character. He’s not been poorly cast as a cult leader, and the Revolution have been built up well, but it will always be a group hampered by comparisons to a better gimmick in a better company. I wasn’t a fan of Storm contradicting himself either: he’s formed the group to take what he’s entitled to but all he wants is blood? That only makes sense if you deliberately misinterpret what he said and take a fundamentally wrong approach to grammar.

The episode’s second match saw Storm and Abyss team to defend the TNA tag team titles against The Wolves. Richards and Edwards have apparently gotten themselves matching tattoos, which look awful. For their sake I hope they’re transfers or body paint or something. Matt and Jeff Hardy watched the match from ringside, but they need to be on the show somewhere, right? On a side note I’d like to point out that Matt was wearing his own gimmick shirt and Jeff was in a vest.

The Wolves were on proverbial fire to start, hitting four sets of double dives on the champs and setting up for a double team move. Abyss pulled Davey out of the ring before they could connect with it and choke slammed him on the apron, with Storm throwing Eddie out of the ring. The Wolves quickly regained the advantage, getting two counts off a double stomp on ‘The Cowboy’ and some kicks (there are always kicks) on ‘The Monster’. The champs got a two count of their own from a slingshot and DDT combo.

Eventually Manik and Sanada slid into the ring. That prompted the Hardys to do the same. Because they're stand-up, fightin' babyfaces. Jeff accidentally elbowed Eddie in the head as he tried to grab a noose from abyss (yeah, a noose with a cowbell tied to it is a signature object). Storm immediately super kicked Eddie and covered him for the win. It wasn’t the greatest tag match ever but it was nice to see one that didn’t feature a babyface being worked over endlessly.

After some clips reminding us of the first Roode v Lashley match (Lashley won), EC3 telling us to “come hither" as he wandered aimlessly through generic corridors, and a recap of the opening of the show, MVP was shown getting his shout on with Lashley. He reminded the former champ it was him who’d brought into TNA and it was also him that had orchestrated his initial title victory. Lashley pushed him against a wall and said he was getting his title back, the implication being that he was tired of MVP’s boisterous shoutiness. MVP and King huffed off.

Back in the ring Jeremy Borash had appeared. He hyped up bringing someone out for an interview. Instead EC3 appeared to say he'd win the TNA title in 2015 and mock JB a bit. After initially receiving heavy boos the audience split on him, alternating between chants of “You can't wrestle!” and “Yes he can!”

This makes JB a face in my book.
‘Wrestling’ Greatest Hero’ called out Spud. Spud did not appear. Carter chatted a bit more and then revealed that Tyrus had found and attacked Spud and had Spud carried to the ring. EC3 then announced his plans to scalp Spud. Which is pretty full on for a wrestling show, assuming they understand what scalping actually is. Borash told Carter he'd done enough and slapped him. Then he was jobbed out by Tyrus and had his head shaved (which is not scalping) by EC3. Spud recovered from his beating and cried. Because he and JB and good mates backstage.

We were treated to another shot of MVP and King backstage. King was outraged that Lashley had touched ‘Mr 305’. MVP made some placatory noises that I couldn't understand because of poor audio quality. Presumably he was saying he had a plan. Whatever he said it seemed to get King to simmer down. The pair then walked off down one of the Manhattan Centres many generic corridors.

After a recap of Roode v Lashley II (Roode won) and a highlight video designed to introduce the concept of the X Division (it did a decent job but reminded me how badly the X Division’s been handled over the last five-plus years) Low Ki hit the ring to defend the X strap against Austin Aries. They had a good match but it wasn't as memorable as might have been expected considering the abilities of both men. They included their signature moves and spots but refrained from anything more inventive. 'A Double' won the match and the gold with a brainbuster.

Before Taryn Terrell defended her Knockouts title in a battle royal DJ Z welcomed Robbie E back to TNA. He blamed his loss on The Amazing Race (a reality show that aired in the US) on his ex-girlfriend Brooke Tessmacher. Then Taryn came out and he had to stop talking. I wish he'd had longer because what followed was not good. The crowd weren't interested, there were too many people involved for any psychology to be used, and nothing interesting happened. Taryn retained by last eliminating Havok, just as Havok eliminated Gail Kim.

After the match Havok smacked Taryn about because she's a monster heel and that's what monster heels do. The lights cut out for a few moments and when they came back on Awesome Kong was in the ring. She got a better reaction than anyone else involved in the Knockouts segment. Kong and Havok squared off before Havok left without actually doing anything. Then a referee got in Kong's face for literally no other reason than to give Kong an excuse to choke slam him.

After that it was main event time, Bobby Roode defending the TNA world heavyweight championship against former champion Lashley. It was an adequate match, competent enough to avoid being bad but wholly unspectacular. After a fiery start they broke into some ringside stalling then some light brawling. The highlight of the first five minutes was probably Roode attempting the Crippler Crossface numerous times.

Backstage MVP and king were shown trying to enter the arena with two lads in clown masks, giving me flashbacks to Homicide and Eddie Kingston as Outlaw Inc. Security told them they were not allowed into the arena during the title match. The masked lads beat security up and then they all walked off, King and MVP having a good laugh. Because there’s nothing funnier than beating up security guards, am I right?

Back in the ring Lashley and Roode picked up the pace with flapjacks, clotheslines, a Lashley running power slam, and a Roode spinebuster. Roode got a power bomb out of the corner but Lashers kicked out and gave Roode a Roode bomb. Roode sidestepped a spear from the challenger and then hit one of his own. Because nothing says big match like using your foe's moves.

As MVP and his lads appeared at ringside Roode applied a crossface again. Lashley stood up in the hold, confirming that he’s willing to be TNA’s answer to John Cena if TNA are up for it, but Roode quickly released the hold and hit him with a Roode bomb. When Lashley kicked out the champ applied the hold again. Kenny King pulled the referee out of the ring and punched him to the ground. Angle came out to make the save but he got taken out by all four of the heels. They then surrounded the ring preparing to attack Roode, who was alone as Lashley lay unconscious in a corner. The masks were taken off to reveal Low Ki and Samoa Joe.

The new champ is confused. Guess you'll want to tune in next week, eh?
The swerves kept coming after that as Eric Young dashed to the ring clutching a chair, chasing MVP, King, Joe and Ki off before hitting Roode, his storyline bestie, with the chair. Lashley then speared Roode for the win and the championship. MVP and his lads celebrated. The new champ looked miffed. And that was how the inaugural Destination America Impact Wrestling episode closed.

It was a show obviously designed to hook us and ensure a return visit for the following episode. In that regard it did a good job. In addition to the announced Wolves v Hardys match, which has the potential to be very good, there’s the reveal of Eric Young, Samoa Joe’s and Low Ki’s motives for joining up with MVP and discovering whether Lashley agreed to their involvement in his title match. Discounting the ease with which spoilers can be found I think that’s a pretty good attempt by TNA to start things off on the right foot.

I’m concerned for the group in the long term though. Over the last few years TNA has proven fairly adept at being able to come up with decent (no not great, decent) angles that could improve the quality of their programming and encourage increases in viewership. Their trouble has always been following up on these angles. They tend to cut things short if they don’t immediately get people excited or simply mishandle them from the start. What they produced on January 7 has potential but the track record of the company indicates that they’ll fritter it away within weeks.

It was also disheartening to see the same approach to production was taken. There were few concessions made for new viewers. Very little information was provided about the stars we were seeing. Their motivations and pasts in the company could have been covered by Taz and Mathews on commentary or in specially produced videos in between matches. They had the time, as evidenced by the numerous backstage scenes featuring guys who also got time to talk in the ring. Perhaps such videos will appear in the coming weeks, but the debut episode was the logical place to put them.

Overall it wasn’t a bad show. But it was nothing incredible either. As a long-time wrestling fan familiar with TNA’s struggles and product it did nothing to encourage me to actually watch future shows as opposed to reading spoilers and searching out bits I find interesting. I wouldn’t call the show a failure, but I wouldn’t call it a success either. In other words business as usual for TNA.


Results summary:
Kurt Angle def MVP
James Storm and Abyss def The Wolves
Austin Aries def Low Ki to win the X Division championship
Taryn Terrell retained the Knockouts championship in a battle royal
Lashley def Bobby Roode to win the TNA world championship

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