Hello, and welcome to weekly Impact Wrestling coverage on With Spandex. And also welcome to me, LaToya Ferguson, your recapper and friend. Who loves ya, baby? Me, the person who gets down to the especially nitty and gritty of Impact Wrestling every week — regardless of her physical and mental well-being — just for you.
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Previously: Allie got a secret admirer, oVe very publicly kidnapped Lashley, and EC3 did a good lucha thing (wink wink).
ACE: War Zone
Without question, the two best matches of this week’s show are the opening match (Sami Callihan vs. Lashley) and the main event (Eli Drake vs. Austin Aries). Given the talent level — or at least the presumed talent level — that shouldn’t be a surprise at all, but it’s also nice to see Impact Wrestling allow its talent to live up to that word (“talent”) without going classic “lol TNA” about it. For the opposite of this scenario, see: Bound For Glory 2017.
After last week’s “oVe presents: Paparazzi Productions” segments, Lashley was understandably very, very pissed. According to the Impact website — but not mentioned on commentary, which is of course a problem in this overall successful storyline — after tossing Lashley in the trunk, oVe drove him around for a few blocks before they let him out of the trunk dumped him.
I’m assuming they also left his car behind, because nothing is mentioned about grand theft auto. Also, I’m living for the fact that the Impact website focuses so much on how oVe committed numerous crimes and put them on TV, as if this is the first time anyone in the history of professional wrestling (in kayfabe) has ever committed a criminal act without legal ramifications. Braun Strowman would be Public Enemy No. 1 if we were all supposed to dwell on wrestlers’ onscreen crimes. Actually, no, that’s not quite true anymore: Braun Strowman would be considered an anti-hero vigilante and get his own Netflix series out of it.
But like I said, Lashley is upset, so when he makes his entrance, he’s not doing the “I’m a face now!” smiles and points to the crowd like in his match against KM. (Although, considering how long the American Top Team story went, he really shouldn’t have been doing that then either.) Instead, he’s ready to fight and makes a beeline right to Sami. He even pushes the Loudest Referee Alive out of the way to get to Sami, a move I’m half-blaming for one of the few EHs in this match: Loudest Referee Alive and his inability to see or do anything about, um, anything.
How else do you explain the Crist brothers’ moments of interference occurring when the referee is looking right at them, only for the guy to do absolutely nothing in response? I know a classic referee “YOU’RE OUT OF HERE” is not helpful for the story this match is telling and the finish … so the key is for the referee to NOT CLEARLY BE LOOKING RIGHT AT THE CRIST BROTHERS WHEN THEY ARE INTERFERING IN THE MATCH.
Ahem. Let me get back to the match. Lashley is ready to kill Sami. But as is Sami Callihan’s way — outside of those bizarre Solomon Crowe days — he’s able to give as well as he gets, especially when it comes to attempted murder within the confines of a wrestling ring.
This is one of those rare contemporary Impact matches that actually fits the bill of fast-paced and high octane — unlike the majority of X-Division matches — and it’s heavy-hitting in a way that typically takes a much longer story set-up to get to. Yet, despite the somewhat even playing field in terms of those aspects, Sami’s still a weasel who tries every chance he possibly can to beat Lashley via count-out (and with a little biting) and quickly move up the Impact ranks. You see, it’s harder to beat the guy when it’s closer to a fair fight, not just a jumping from behind.
Also, Sami surprisingly makes Lashley’s flippy spear look amazing twice in this match. First, when he runs around the ring and eats said spear. And then for the finish, where he gets absolutely turned inside out. And his death in this match actually means something, unlike the ring announcer’s. (It’s surprising Lashley even checks on that guy, considering commentary barely reacts to Sami knocking him down in the first place.) Both of these men are just so clearly into the idea of having someone they can really lay their shit into for this match, and it makes for an exciting start to the show.
As for the finish, the Crist brothers jump Lashley just as he’s about to beat Sami — they literally make contact just before the count of three — effectively keeping both men strong while also acknowledging that, “yeah, Lashley could beat Sami’s ass truly one-on-one.”
I’ve written so many words about how no one at Impact actually watches the show (at least, that’s my theory!) and therefore they assume the audience also doesn’t pay attention. Eddie Edwards saving Lashley (setting up next week’s tag team match) is full circle for their characters and their relationship, especially with Lashley on his way out. That’s not the problem.
The problem is, as always, commentary. Josh Mathews says Eddie and Lashley have a “mutual respect for each other,” and that’s our “FOOTAGE NOT FOUND” moment of the week. Then Sonjay Dutt adds, “We saw Eddie and Bobby with mutual respect a couple of weeks ago, after Bobby beat KM.” That’s absolutely untrue. The moment they’re talking about here? It’s this, where Lashley proclaims he’s doing both pro wrestling and MMA and “whatever the hell I want.”
Eddie shows up at the end of that segment, looking as Masshole as ever and bro-ing in Lashley’s face like he doesn’t think Lashley can do whatever the hell he wants. He’s definitely not showing respect toward Lashley, and Lashley walks away, very clearly disrespecting Eddie. Sonjay supposedly has worked in Impact’s creative department since he returned, yet he doesn’t know this. (Later, he also doesn’t know another storyline-related thing, with the Mumbai Cats … despite being a major part of said thing.)
While the Impact Zone is surprisingly better this week than they were last week — remember, they were abysmal last week — this episode also shows that Impact has finally learned how to pipe-in cheers and boos without making it all a constant, unbelievable stream of sound. For an example of said stream, please watch almost any Impact episode from 2012. You still have members of the audience sitting on their hands — though it’s not the entire show this time — but the sound mix isn’t so egregious. Baby steps, y’all.
“What a start! What a night this promises to be!”
Josh Mathews: He’s not a man. He’s a machine. Not a good machine, but he is a machine.
ACE: Time Bomb
Last time we had an Impact free-per-view — Victory Road — we didn’t learn that show was even happening until during the actual go-home show. That was not a great idea. This time around, not only does Impact plug the upcoming free-per-view Crossroads (on March 8), its social media even mentions that there will be a new pay-per-view called Redemption (which apparently will be on April 22). See? It’s good to be aware of things.
However, I accidentally spoiled myself on some of the Redemption card in the process of addressing it, so I guess I can’t say it’s always good to be aware of things.
ACE: Why We Fight
“I am still the recognized world champion.”
Sorry. That’s rude. But there is a sense of déjà vu when Eli Drake says that. The rest of the promo he cuts during his interview with McKenzie Mitchell is a solid, never-say-die promo. Especially when it gets to the “I can’t stop.” part to finish it off. “And I can’t stop being the champ, which means you’re not.”
Spoilers or not, I’m pretty sure everyone knew going into this that Austin Aries wasn’t going to lose the title … but that doesn’t make Eli’s work in this promo any less effective. And thankfully, the main event follows up and builds on the quality of this promo, as Eli puts on the performance of his life — and a deeply desperate one at that, athletically-speaking, not just heel-wise — to confirm that he wasn’t just talking to hear himself.
EH: That Old Gang of Mine
This week, Impact doubles down on LAX’s (well, Konnan’s) homophobia when it comes to the Cult of Lee … while also making the Cult of Lee look like the faces in this situation? Look, it’s arguable that Trevor Lee and Caleb Konley aren’t actually making a real effort to find LAX this week’s show. After all, they’re looking in places like the locker room and assuming, for some reason, that LAX would hide in Mumbai Cats costumes … instead of just heading straight for wherever the makeshift clubhouse is or would be. No other talent has had trouble finding said clubhouse, you know? But the show doesn’t really lean into them being fake brave, as it simply has them deciding to bring the fight they started in the first place to LAX, wherever they may be.
Meanwhile, Konnan’s calling Konley a “fruit roll-up” when he’s not calling the team itself “these little toss the salad boys.” Even Pepsi Blue is ashamed. (I am curious about LAX’s plans to “expand operations” though.)
ACE: Guise Will Be Guise
Even if Lee and Konley are later revealed to be talking out of their asses with regards to searching for LAX, at least we’ll always have this particular segment. Also, it’s absolutely driving me crazy Impact is now putting less stuff on their YouTube page, especially when they put up the aforementioned LAX segment and things like The Beautiful People’s entrance theme (why???) instead of this.
EH: A Hole in the World
In the aftermath of this particular segment, Sonjay notes that he knows the Mumbai Cats, and the white guys the Cult of Lee jumped backstage are not the Mumbai Cats. Mmhmm. Sure. Josh Mathews then mentions that time when the Cult of Lee pretended to be the Mumbai Cats, to which Sonjay tells him he has a “good memory.”
Except, that didn’t happen…? While I believe Trevor Lee and Caleb Konley were both the men actually under the Mumbai Cats costumes for a time, what happened was Trevor Lee (back when he proved stealing a championship makes you the champion) faced an easy competitor in one of the Mumbai Cats … and then Sonjay Dutt (as a Mumbai Cat himself) did some Twin Magic to beat Lee. I don’t believe there was a Caleb Konley Mumbai Cat reveal in that. So not only was Sonjay a part of the writing team for this moment, he was literally a part of it. Yet he can’t even remember what the actual nonsense in the story was.
Why is this such a difficult concept for this show — and Josh Mathews, since he’s the common denominator whose most prominent job is to coherently tell the story of the show — to grasp?
ACE: The Girl In Question
Damn, I love this whole thing.
It begins with the best use of the GWN Flashback Moment of the Week yet, which naturally isn’t on their YouTube either. But it’s the wedding of Braxton Sutter and Laurel Van Ness. While that’s a great segment from start to almost finish — who else completely forgot Brooke and Robbie E were, for some reason, part of it — the biggest surprise here is that they don’t just show the whole clip. In fact, they shorten it and fast-forward the way they should have been doing in the first place (and the way they still shouldn’t be doing with those indy matches, especially supposedly important ones). The only truly EH-adjacent moments in the whole thing are Josh Mathews’ Big Boy Voice and the reminder of Aron Rex’s even worse gimmick than “my true self, only in TNA … money, please.”
Then we cut back to the main show, with part one of Allie’s — making the GWN moment relevant — secret admirer story. She arrives at the venue, only to be stopped by the ominous appearance of a note from said admirer. I say “ominous” from even this point, because these segments specifically play a mood-setting score to clue you in, and the mood is certainly not “romantic.” So, sorry to those of you who got on board with my theory that Big E was the secret admirer. Foiled again.
So Allie follows the note’s instruction and heads to a secluded soundstage, where she receives another mysterious card along with a box of chocolates. Again with the ominous music as she reads the card out loud: “Love is hard, never lame. Very crazy, very insane. Never think you can tame.” (It also looks like the actual card message says “I’M CRAZY [ABOUT/FOR] YOU,” which is such an important little detail.) Then we see Laurel Van Ness peek her head out from inside of a box right behind Allie, before the camera shows us the “love note.” Not only are the “L,” “V,” and “N” underlined at the beginning of each sentence, there’s a big ol’ messy lipstick kiss reveal. And it’s all so perfect. In fact, I’ll be honest: When Laurel slowly popped her head out of the box, I legitimately jumped. For whatever reason, I just didn’t expect it.
But what makes it really perfect is how things go down once Laurel makes her presence known to Allie. After seeing this moment, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Allie pitched this entire concept herself, since she is 100% Buffy here — even subverting initial “defenseless blonde girl in a precarious position” expectations to completely kick a monster’s ass. Seriously, it’s just an unexpected barrage of offense from Allie, with absolutely nothing from Laurel. Allie’s initial reaction is to hit Laurel with the box of chocolates, and in one of the best production choices from Impact in awhile — the opposite of refusing to show a “surprise” guest’s head — there’s a double take to go along with that:
She went full Meme Mode and then some here. “Get back in the box!” is a classic, as is her Allie-walking (she has a very distinct walk) away, coming back real quick to kick the box, and then Allie-walking away again. I’ve mentioned before just how great I think it is to see both Allie and Rosemary thrive in Impact because of their past together in SMASH Wrestling, but it’s moments like this which reaffirm just how great it truly is.
ACE/EH: I Fall to Pieces
This week in, “Everything’s fine with Alberto El Patron, we promise,” he shows up to jump Moose with like three of his buttons on his dress shirt unbuttoned. And it’s not even from the top button down: The tops button’s completely buttoned while the three underneath it are not, for some reason. Still, it’s enough of a mess that it gets an ACE. Let’s get physical, indeed.
The EH is that this also isn’t on Impact’s YouTube, so if you’re hoping to get progress on the Moose/AEP feud (or just either man at all) that way, you can’t.
EH: Dead End
Hania sells like she’s taken some ZzzQuil (and it’s the really good stuff that Katherine Heigl has access to) and needs to crash right now … but whoops, wrestling is also happening. So, that’s this match.
Shoutout to Rosemary’s adorable moment during her entrance with her hivelings and Sonjay Dutt’s Bollywood romance movie tangent though. Those can count as mini ACEs. Shoutdown (???) to Josh Mathews acting like he’s cool for announcing his ignorance of said Bollywood romance movies (I too am unaware, but considering my mother’s fandom, it’s not like you have to be Indian to appreciate them) and Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” (Even Michael Cole would pretend he’s heard “Bodak Yellow.” You know, as something that’s actually “trended worldwide.”) Sonjay should do the same thing — loudly announce his lack of knowledge and then essentially call Josh a loser for not being as ignorant — whenever Josh makes one of his crappy football references. I’m sorry, one of his crappy National Football League references.
While Impact does a good job including these little segments of preparation and “UP NEXT” or “STILL TO COME,” sadly, they don’t do a good job of putting them online. Which especially sucks when you consider this week’s show gives us a segment confirming what we all basically knew deep down in our hearts: Matt Sydal is Johnny Impact’s son. His son who looked at his dad’s parkour obsession and essentially thought, “I can be more obnoxious than that.”
Matt: “If you wanna open up that third eye, man … If you wanna get connected. We are all one. If you follow me, man, we can do this together.”
Johnny: “Alright. I’m down with some togetherness.”
Johnny was one second away from inviting Matt over to the Palace of Wisdom for some “quantity time.”
EH to trying to make us believe Johnny Impact isn’t that flexible though. He’s clearly under Daddy designation, not DadBod.
When Tyrus enters the ring with EC3 as his mystery tag team partner, the crowd chants “WELCOME BACK.” Never mind the fact that there was never any evidence that anyone in the Impact Zone cared about Tyrus, especially not outside of EC3 (though he had his moments with Matt Hardy and Eli Drake).
Hopefully he’s only back for EC3’s farewell tour and not for good. Well, at least as “for good” as anyone can truly be in this company, since even Mahabali Shera got signed by WWE. Because if you don’t remember, Tyrus’ in-ring work in Impact has always been slow. So upsettingly slow. There’s a reason they always found a way not to give him a real singles push every time it looked like he’d get a real singles push. In this tag team match, we have Johnny Impact flipping over Tyrus as though he’s actually afraid he can catch up to him and the crowd quickly remembering they had no reason to chant “WELCOME BACK.”
The crap icing on this garbage cake (other than Josh hyping FOX News) is when Sonjay says Tyrus missed “that big Leon White.” He’s talking about a Vader Bomb. It’s not clever.
In “exciting” news, Teddy Hart will be making his Impact debut (but not his TNA debut, mind you) at the promotion’s WrestleCon event (which still hasn’t sold out front and second row seating, by the way). At least now Alberto El Patron won’t be the most unreliable person in the company.
I don’t know what’s better, that Joseph Park’s office has a camera — just in case — or that a purple tint seems to follow Jimmy Jacobs around. Just kidding! It’s the second thing. Also, kudos to Jimmy Jacobs ordering Kongo Kong to do things the way his Age of the Fall/Doin’ It For Her little brother would do them: “BURN IT DOWN.” He even gently pushes things around in the office the way a Seth Rollins suicide dive would.
ACE: First Impressions
When’s the last time Impact had a squash match that was actually a squash match? They definitely didn’t do that for oVe, which was a terrible idea. (Remember how much better their opponents kept looking than them?) Instead, Brian Cage does what he does best: He gets his shit in. He just wrecks his opponent, and that’s exactly what should happen, especially after those vignettes of destruction. Good machine.
EH: The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco*
* Technically, Ishimori is “Numero Seis,” but that doesn’t quite work for what I’m doing here.
Congratulations, Impact: Your X-Division Champion’s only defining characteristics are his entrance theme and his t-shirt. At least, those are the only things Josh Mathews and Sonjay Dutt can think to talk about on commentary. And it’s not like there are video packages to do the trick and help. I’ve seen the defense that there’s only so much you can do with the language barrier when it comes to Ishimori, but you can at least have a damn video package with subtitles. You can at least do something other than have him stand around as Sydal namastes all around him.
Brian Cage had more characterization in his “COMING SOON” vignettes than Taiji Ishimori and El Hijo del Fantasma do, and Fantasma had a long, Bound For Glory-built feud in this company. The build for this match? Commentary tries to say this is the result of a tag team match from a couple of weeks ago, in order to create the idea that there even was some actual build in the first place. There wasn’t. That tag team match was last week, Ishimori’s team won, and somehow Fantasma was immediately announced as having a title match for the following week (aka this week).
“These guys know each other well,” we hear on commentary. How? When? Where? That’s not even the case for the audience and these wrestlers. There’s no answer to how they know each other well, because all that really matters is this one hypothetical question from Josh Mathews: “How global is Impact Wrestling?”
Maybe not too global, because I’d truly like to see this match in literally any other promotion, preferably one that won’t allow Impact to air an abridged version of said match. At least then we probably wouldn’t hear about how this is “fast-paced X-Division match!” when Fantasma literally spends the entire match trying to ground and slow Ishimori down. Seriously, Sonjay calls this “lucha libre, high-flying, fast-paced action” at the exact moment Fantasma is working the damn leg. Or maybe it actually would be a fast-paced match, because it wouldn’t suffer from Impact’s prevalent pacing issues during matches. The match would also probably do more than barely rise to a climax and then just end. Jeez, this match should have been a slam dunk. This division should be a slam dunk.
And just one more thing about Josh Mathews and his obsession with Ishimori’s (fire, but there should be more to him than this) entrance theme:
ACE: Double or Nothing
The main event is a great match, even though it’s the official end to the story of Eli Drake, Impact World Champion. Actually, he didn’t even get to be Impact World Champion; he had to be Global Champion. What. A. Shame.
But like I said, the main event is great, which is to be expected with Austin Aries as champion… and if we’re being honest, it’s also to be expected with Eli Drake having a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Early on in the match, Aries has really good transition moves to use every time Eli thinks he’s getting away from or getting out of a move. And of course, he also has good counters to being put in moves by Eli. (To this day, whenever someone is stupid enough to put Austin Aries in a headscissors, Dave Prazak’s voice always rings in my mind, telling them how stupid they are.) As is often Eli Drake’s way and downfall, whenever he gets a stretch of dominance, he’s his own worst enemy as he does a taunt or mocks a chant.
It’s surprising — but overall refreshing — that they don’t start the match with a fake-out of Aries winning in 60 seconds again, but I’d argue it’s not so surprising Eli is able to keep up with Aries the way he does here. Now, I saw some people be surprised by that, but I’ve been saying for quite awhile that Eli’s entire championship reign was defined (in-ring-wise) by his constant evolution of his in-ring style, adapting as he found himself against more and more athletic opponents.
As it would often come up, he was never going to out-athleticism someone like a Johnny Impact or a Matt Sydal, but he could at least out-think them by showing them something they’d never expect from him. That’s how you get things like his beautiful top rope springboard moonsault — even though he tends to miss it — and his step-up superplex. All unexpected but expected if you know how Eli Drake comes to play in these “big fight feel” matches. This match gets a “THIS IS AWESOME” chant — and a legit one, for the second week in a row in the main event — and it’s a well-deserved one. On both men’s parts.
Meanwhile, commentary thinks every other Eli Drake move is a Gravy Train and can’t wait to talk about who Aries’ next challenger will be. You win some, lose even more: the Impact Wrestling way.
And now, it is your turn. Please don’t forget to share this recap and also comment, because I actually love reading comments. (Crazy, right?) When it comes to these recaps and Impact Wrestling, I just need you to tell me I’m okay, Patrick … er… commenters.