Hello, and welcome to the return of weekly Impact Wrestling coverage on With Spandex. And also welcome to me, LaToya Ferguson, your new recapper and—hopefully—friend. Much like with WWE, I’ve had my ups and downs (and intense desires not to watch) with Impact, but if we’re measuring just how much love is in my love-hate relationship with this particular promotion, I’d have to say I still very much feel more love than hate. Sports entertainment is a charming, weird mistress, after all, and the company formerly known as TNA (TNA! TNA!) hooked me the second I channel-surfed onto Kevin Nash explaining to a young Alex Shelley how all he ever wanted to do is give back to the business.
So now I’m here, 11 years later, giving back to the business in my special way: Nonsense words about a nonsense performance art on what may or may not be a nonsense television network. (Just kidding. I love Pop TV. Schitt’s Creek is excellent, and Nightcap gave us the real Gwyneth Paltrow.) Hopefully you join me on this exploration of potential Impact re-greatness. As you can probably tell, I named this “The ACES & EHs of Impact Wrestling,” because … Well, do I really need a reason to do a terrible Aces & Eights pun?
Now for some good housekeeping: You can follow me on Twitter here, With Spandex here, and Uproxx here. And don’t forget to watch Impact on Pop TV at 8 p.m. on Thursdays so you can read these pieces and share them with the online world.
Previously: Impact gaveth by having “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner make his Impact Zone return just weeks before the India tour… while simultaneously taketh-ing away the enjoyment of that by having him serve as Josh “Heel Michael Cole Jr.” Mathews’ tag partner for a match that absolutely must happen at the Slammiversary pay-per-view on July 2. Also, Rosemary, last surviving (as “living” is probably the wrong word) member of Decay, shocked the world by saving #1 babyface Allie from Sienna and Laurel Van Ness. EC3 became No. 1 contender to Bobby Lashley’s one true world title, so I’m sure nothing will happen to ruin that. And Eli Drake traded Tyrus (thanks to Bruce Prichard) for Chris Adonis, because when you’re in the market for a heavy, they should just be you without a personality.
EH: Barbershop “Quartet” 2: Unnecessary Reboot-aloo
Despite the supposed attention to storytelling, continuity in mainstream wrestling programs still leaves much to be desired. Like watching an ‘80s sitcom and wondering why we never met the main character’s “best friend” who suddenly died and made everyone question their mortality. Sure, I realize that’s a very specific reference, but considering just how dire the opening segment for this week’s Impact was—and keep in mind that it was a sequel to a far superior segment back in 2015 — it should be noted that the same questioning of one’s mortality was necessary to get through it.
Really, that’s the most stressful thing about writing these recaps now: I can’t just fast forward through the parts I usually would. (Did you know that Impact Grand Championship matches are actually an entire hour long? I feel like I definitely learned that this week.) Also, in keeping with continuity, the original also had EC3 celebrating his No. 1 contendership going into Slammiversary … only to end up getting upstaged by an outsider at the last moment. That is obviously good.
What’s not good is how the reboot of such a segment is such a mess that even EC3 clearly can’t hold in his reactions to that. (Neither can Pope, who just has to let a “toot toot” out on commentary to try to save this.) The looks on his face every time these singers try to hit a note (and fail) tell you all you need to know about how off the mark this all is. EC3’s entire heel character right now is based on his intense need and desire to return to his former cold and uncaring form, but outside of destroying James Storm’s back with a belt, he’s still basically the most recent form of EC3, just without pandering to the crowd to wave their arms in the air to his catchy theme. And as it turns out, that’s not that great.
No, in the past two years, no one at Impact has learned the meaning of “quartet” yet, but the difference in quality is staggering. From the actual performers in the bit to the fact that EC3 just comes out in his t-shirt this time (despite not planning to fight). In fact, if the story here were that EC3 is merely only playing a very cheap facsimile of what he used to be (and a lonely one, at that), this segment would actually be brilliant. But that’s not it, and while it might bring back some memories of things that once made Impact great, it is not one of them. The stumbling over his words (“soon to be, EC3 World time Heavyweight Champion”) is just the icing on the “no, child” cake, and while some audience members try to start a “THIS IS BORING” chant, whatever attempt this was at getting EC3 some heel heat in this segment, it fails. Because no one cares about a bad reboot, unless it turns back around and becomes something amazing.
Then Alberto El Patron comes out for some reason, and while it’s at least good work that EC3 hides behind the singers, El Patron’s (pretty late) interruption truly makes no sense. Nor does the fact that the entire committee of Bruce Prichard (with Tyrus), Karen Jarrett, and Dutch Mantell come out just for Prichard to tell EC3 that his “repercussions” are going to be defending his No. 1 Contendership against El Patron (who will be defending his toy belt) in the main event — in a “salad [verbal sic] steel cage” aka Six Sides Of Steel.
Ah, you know I can’t stay mad at you, EC3.
EH: Can We Just Fast Forward To The Next TNA Power Struggle?
Like I said, for some reason, Bruce Prichard, Karen Jarrett, and Dutch Mantell all feel the need to come out for only one of them (the one who is even involved in this story, and that too isn’t great) to announce the main event of this week’s show. Then Prichard and Mantell—along with Scott D’Amore, who always just reminds me of simpler Team Canada times—are the “special judges” in the Impact Grand Championship match.
First of all, considering Prichard’s Impact character is definitively someone who hates when wrestlers cut corners — besides EC3, he was the one who told El Patron he’d want to win the title “the right way” — there goes the thin amount of suspension of disbelief there even was when it comes to impartial judging in these Grand Championship matches. And keep in mind, the scores from the nameless judges were still more rigged than judge voting for Gutcheck. (No, still I’m not over Lei’D Tapa getting picked over Ivelisse.)
But this is all really part of a larger problem, which is that Impact thinks we care about things like management meetings or Karen “Women Shouldn’t Be Equal To Men” Jarrett (or anyone, really) as Head of the Knockouts or who from WWE now works behind the scenes. If Prichard is going to be the face of the Impact authority, then so be it; but that’s not been stated either.
Instead, he says the inmates won’t be running the asylum, despite Impact’s managerial staff feeling more like the inmates instead of staff with clear designations. It’s been a while since a stable tried to take over Impact — unless that’s what the DCC were trying to do; it’s not exactly clear — but maybe the show should work on someone actually being in charge onscreen first. Yes, I know the first order of business for new Impact was to bash Dixie Carter and her way of doing things, but at least we knew she was the one in charge, y’all.
And the answer to all of this is not Josh Mathews. No one with a fauxhawk and overly-ripped jeans (with a blazer!) in 2017 should be in charge of anything.
EH: Ruthless Agressiveness
I say this because I genuinely care: I feel like Moose is actually regressing in the ring under this format. Or he’s at least being exposed more here. No, it’s not his fault the camera caught him counting 1-2-3 to E-LI DRAKE before he tossed him like a fake baby, but as a guy who has always had problems following up moves (as it’s very apparent he’s thinking, “Alright, what’s the next move I have to do?”) since his Ring Of Honor days, his work in these Grand Championship matches highlight that problem even more.
Because these matches are essentially wrestling sprints, and while a slower-paced match can at least explain away his pauses, a quicker match where he clearly is just pacing and waiting for the next spot is pretty obvious. Especially when he doesn’t even try to mask it with a “Moose” pump and chant.
However, even though this match follows the rather typical Grand Championship structure of the champion clearly losing but finding a way to win (Round 2 has Moose only really get anything in in the last 30 seconds, reminding us again that this format is even more worked than the rest of the show), at least we’re not back in the early days of them expecting us to believe Aron Rex was putting on a good in-ring performance. Because “aggressiveness.”
You have to wonder though: Are we really just stuck with this match format? Of all the Billy Corgan choices? It’s supposedly not a mid-card title (even though it totally is), but getting rid of it kind of officially ushers the competitors into mid-card designation. Rock, hard place, I suppose.
ACE: You’ve Got A Friend In Me
If next week’s Impact doesn’t have a video package of the two-week saga of “Bunny” Allie and “Demon Person” Rosemary set to the theme to The Odd Couple (or just a very similar rip-off), then what are we doing any of this for?
Also, bless Allie’s heart for being both grateful and terrified over this new dynamic. The way she just keeps mouthing “protect me?” to herself after the confrontation? I know I definitely said “aww” when Rosemary promised to protect her, and I once watched “Rosemary” charge at “Allie” with a bloody meat cleaver in another wrestling promotion. So I’m ready for whatever this storyline may bring.
EH? Nah, ACE: A Champagne Amber-Nova In The Ring
After the backstage BFF ritual between Rosemary and Allie, there’s really no progress on that story or Allie and Braxton Sutter’s feud with Sienna, Laurel, KM, or Kongo Kong. But we do get a nice warm-up match for Allie — who still celebrates wins by hugging the referee and her opponent — versus my new obsession, Amber Nova.
From moment one, Nova is something else. She’s billed as hailing “from the garage.” Is that some sort of slang? Am I no longer cool enough for professional wrestling? The answer to that last question is probably yes, especially since I’m choosing to assume the garage is the same one Weezer sang about. Josh Mathews even gets out a good line, by pointing out that we’re absolutely not hearing things: “Her name is Amber Nova, and she’s from the garage.” I like Nova, even though, right out the gate, she’s far more patronizing than she has any right to be (“Go back to your boyfriend!”) and she’s very, very tiny. Also, her reason for losing the match is my new favorite reason for anything: “I don’t have my man in my corner, telling me I can do stuff.” That’s a cry for help if ever there was one.
“The point of Nova-turn” is just “from the garage” nonsense though. However, it does fit my theory that Amber Nova is a character transported from the ‘90s who decided to be a wrestler. She looks like if Mädchen Amick played a Bad Girlfriend for Bailey on Party Of Five, and that is the highest compliment I can pay anyone.
EH: Extreme Rules Comes Early
So the finals of the GFW Tag Team Championship match are a No DQ match between LAX and V.O.W. That makes absolute sense, and commentary even puts over how that benefits LAX. Everything checks out on that part. However, despite the No DQ distinction, you’d think referee Brian Hebner didn’t get the memo (he even tries to stop Wilcox from running into the ring at one point), and LAX planned accordingly, as they do well to make sure all their “cheating” is done behind his back for some reason.
A lot of it is behind-the-back stuff he could easily see from his peripheral vision, but the point remains that this match is booked for it too look like shady cheating from LAX, even though it’s a No Disqualification match. That even goes for the final championship attack from Konnan, which wins the team the titles, the only real weapon shot in the match. Really, the only No DQ aspect they play straight up is the lack of tags on the LAX’s side of things. Despite the fact that Ortiz and Santana are quite clearly a talented team (and deserved the win with their obvious momentum), it’s somewhat overshadowed by how strangely this match is set up. Especially since, because this is No DQ, it’s not as if the crowd reacts to them like they’re cheating — it’s all legal, even though they’re playing it like it’s not.
EH: Now Can We Make Impact Tag Teams Great Again?
I don’t know exactly what it is, but some time having some of the best tag teams in the world under its banner, Impact simply decided to just give up on doing anything real to give its tag teams any type of differentiation and originality. For V.O.W., I still know them as Crimson and “the one they tell me is called Jax Dane in other places,” which are honestly better than “Wilcox and Mayweather,” as there’s no reason we should know who Wilcox and Mayweather are yet. Those are their real last names?
Okay, but does that tell me or anyone who they actually are? Yes, I know the artist formerly known as Crimson wears ammunition around his torso, but that doesn’t tell me anything other than V.O.W. should go full A-Team with their characters. Because I’m still trying to figure out which one was Basille Baraca and which one was Baron Dax, and unlike Blake and Murphy back in NXT, “one has a doofy face” wasn’t enough of a way to remember anything.
And by the way, this doesn’t mean LAX is immune, because while Ortiz and Santana obviously have plenty to offer in the ring, Impact has yet to offer up any reason to know which one is which until well into their matches. And even then, they offer up that Ortiz is the “big man” of the two, when there are clearly no big men of the two. LAX is a known property, but Ortiz and Santana are not. Something needs to be done to change that.
ACE: Scott Steiner Is Still Very Much A Freak
So much is wrong with the Josh Mathews/Jeremy Borash feud, especially since heel Josh is still 30% almost entertaining, 70% actively forcing people to turn off the product. That means people don’t watch to see him eventually get his comeuppance: They just don’t watch.
But something good definitely comes out of the storyline this week, as Real Person Jeremy Borash reacts like, well, a real person. Of course he does not want to face Scott Steiner. A lot of people who are actually wrestlers shouldn’t want to face Scott Steiner? Have you seen him? Besides the peaks, he’s a crazy person. So when Joseph Park tries to give JB a pep talk about confidence (based on a story about his jerk of a great aunt), it’s a nice motivational moment… but of course JB still says nope to all of that. It’s not time to “buck up,” it’s time to peace out.
ACE: Always A Bridesmaid, Never A Warrior
In case you missed it, this week’s episode goes all-in on showing us how cocky veteran Low-Ki as the X-Division Champion just works. Whether it’s him basically say, “alright, I’m done playing,” as he stops the feeling out process with Andrew Everett and just goes full Low-Ki on him early on or him stepping up to guest commentator Sonjay Dutt to ask him why he hasn’t earned his lesson yet, it’s nice to see Impact improve on things, even if it’s still trying to recreate the past in some ways. You see, Low-Ki may be an Impact original, but if you actually remember that far back, you’d also remember he had absolutely no personality outside of “warrior” back then. In fact, none of the X-Division guys really did, outside of the Holy Trinity (Joe, Daniels, Styles), Sharkboy (because he was a shark), and Alex Shelley… and in the case of Alex Shelley, that led to him and Kevin Nash working with the other X-Division guys to bring out their personalities. Of course, Low-Ki’s “warrior” personality then just became him only knowing how to say “warrior,” but look how far we’ve come now. Low-Ki’s basically the Bobby Lashley of the X-Division at the moment, and given how things change, you can rest assured that that is a good thing.
And while Dutt has never been a mastermind on the mic, he deserves from praise for singlehandedly pushing the feud between himself and Low-Ki on commentary, since Pope apparently ignores what Dutt says and waits until he can speak, and Josh uses that as an opportunity to reiterate what Dutt was saying, since Pope clearly wasn’t listening. Because Dutt pushes the narrative that Low-Ki intentionally injured his eye, even though it was obviously a shoot accident, and it’s a small story that works in concert with Low-Ki’s behavior the entire match and since returning to Impact. Plus, Dutt does need an excuse for why he’s still never won the X-Division Championship, though things might change when they get to India.
If there’s really any “Eh” in this match itself, it’s the moment where Andrew Everett slips on the top rope and basically turns the match completely in Low-Ki’s favor. It’s frustrating that neither the commentary nor crowd react to such a big mistake—especially since it’s not the result of Low-Ki working extensively on Everett’s leg—but after learning that Everett had apparently been performing on a torn meniscus for seven months, I think I’ll accept one awkward trip up.
What a beautiful piece of work, as the “REVENGE” sign comes into frame. It definitely made up for an episode of Josh constantly asking why Swoggle is there, watching the show with other folks who are there, watching the show. Though that 30% of almost entertaining Josh is here when he says Spud returned “Straight from H&M.” Because seriously: The bad boy look was carefully crafted.
EH: “WHY?! WHY?! WHY?!”
Spud is not quite Nancy Kerrigan in this instance, but how exactly does he end up being the heel in this scenario? Especially after those weeks of (entertaining, by the way) promo videos hyping his return and vengeance. I understand the concept of a swerve, but I don’t exactly understand the idea that Swoggle is likable at all. And this goes back to his time in WWE, as I am perhaps the only person in recorded history who is not a fan of WeeLC. As ridiculous as the Spud/Swoggle rivalry is in general, his initial attack on Spud worked because it portrayed Swoggle in a different light and as a dangerous little creature. The Spud turn just brings us back to square one, which tends to end with Spud getting embarrassed.
Mostly ACE: EC3 Versus Si! Si! Si!
If we’re just going from crowd reactions, the right man obviously won at the end of this match. Sorry, EC3. But in terms of the match itself, the same can be said with regards to the right man. However, both EC3 and Alberto El Patron put in all the work for this main event, which is honestly unexpected given the lazy way in which the match was made.
It takes a bit for the match to really get going story-wise. Commentary points out that EC3 has only ever tapped out once, and it was to Alberto El Patron’s cross-armbreaker … yet El Patron also spends much of his time early in the match trying to escape instead of trying to submit EC3. It makes sense in a way that he realizes just how tough EC3 is, so he wants to go with the easier solution; but the easier solution is EC3’s job (and he does try his best to escape), not El Patron’s. Still, El Patron’s need to escape leads to the genuinely scary moment of EC3 trying to German suplex him off the cage, then death valley driver’ing him off, so… No, that still says El Patron should’ve just tried to win by pinfall or submission the whole time. Then again, cage matches so rarely make the most sense of any gimmick match.
It’s been a great few weeks for contention matches in Impact though, and the best thing I can say is that a match like this shows me that these men want to be the best and want to win the prize at the end of the match. That’s key, because we all know what it looks like when wrestlers are going through the motions, here and other places, and it doesn’t sell the stories at all. For El Patron, it’s the difference between his corner double stomp in WWE and his corner double stomp from the top of a cage here.
And it’s a good thing that EC3 and Alberto El Patron sell this story and their desires for the number one contendership and GFW title, because boy does the actual concept (and commentary) fail to do that. The entire “golden ticket” aspect of the GFW Totally Real Championship doesn’t mean anything when it… literally doesn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean anything for Magnus, as he couldn’t cash it in, and then he lost it to El Patron. And it clearly doesn’t mean anything for El Patron, because if it did, instead of putting us his championship in a match where he could lose everything, he should have just insert himself into the Slammiversary main event for a Triple Threat. No, it wouldn’t be the obvious one-on-one rematch they’ve been planning since El Patron first showed up and “won” the Impact World Championship, but it would make the very concept of bringing up the “golden ticket” thing make sense. Especially, without that Money In The Bank status, it really is just an ugly championship that has no legacy. And that’s why El Patron and EC3 are trying to kill each other over? The easy solution is for commentary to just never mention the “golden ticket” thing at all, but that would mean actually doing something about the Josh problem, wouldn’t it?
ACE: “Nicole 4 Eva”
During this Impact, Josh does a Pop plug for ER, and even though it fits in the context of a wrestling show better than most other plugs, he sounds so dead behind the eyes when he plugs it (and when he says Julianna Margulies, which I take to mean he’s Team Archie). But you know what plug he lights up for? “One of the best movies of all time”—his words, which are probably not direct copy— the Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon flick Fear. Which I assume is also one Amber Nova’s favorite movies, along with Reality Bites.