Hello, and welcome to weekly Impact Wrestling coverage on With Spandex. And also welcome to me, LaToya Ferguson, your recapper and friend. You guys think we’re friends, right? I’m just checking. I don’t even care. Whatever. (I do care, please be my friend. Impact Wrestling recaps are lonely, y’all.)
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Another Week, Another Disclaimer (Again): Tales From The Crypt
Hours before this episode aired, news broke that Impact Wrestling would do a pretty smart thing and provide new, Jeremy Borash-less commentary. (Though follow-up news says JB hadn’t recorded commentary for this week at all, so it wasn’t actually re-dubbing commentary.) This new commentary begins with this episode, although there isn’t any confirmation yet that this team — Josh Mathews and Sonjay Dutt — is the permanent team. (I don’t think it is. Nothing is permanent when it comes to Impact.) So, yeah. Another week, another Impact Wrestling change.
Regarding the actual result of the new commentary situation, Sonjay Dutt on commentary wasn’t anything special, but he definitely got better as he became more comfortable. He provided an insight you weren’t ever going to get from JB and definitely won’t get from Josh, and considering he’s a pretty likable guy in general, he’s certainly an upgrade to have in this position. So you get an ACE, Sonjay Dutt.
As for Josh Mathews, he appears to be more excited to do commentary now that he has someone who actually wants to — or at least bites the bullet and just does — have a conversation with him. The problem is, “excited” Josh Mathews means the return of his “big boy voice,” which is like nails on a chalkboard. Or like Josh Mathews on commentary. So you get mostly an EH, but with one sort of ACE, Josh Mathews.
ACE: Spin City
It’s often the simple things that matter when it comes to looking like a functioning wrestling show on international — since they love to remind us so much of that fact — television. The show starts off with a video package highlighting Eli Drake’s championship (*sniffle*) celebration and Austin Aries’ return and domination. It’s a mighty fine video package, so: So far, so good.
Then we get the ever-changing opening credits for Impact Wrestling, which is one of the rare cases of “ever-changing” actually working for Impact Wrestling. It also (understandably) highlights Austin Aries’ return and domination. Again: So far, so good.
And then we get (mostly) better, as we have the participants in the all-star main event — the participants in last week’s “all-star tag team match,” only in a four-way match for No. 1 Contendership this time — arrive at the Impact Zone. First up is EC3:
What a dick! But seriously, EC3 is on fire this episode, truly returning to his alt comedy roots. (Please know I mean NXT Redemption when I say “his alt comedy roots.” Speaking of, if Brandon Stroud doesn’t get on top of NXT Redemption recaps soon, I’m going to have to swoop in and do them myself. You’re welcome.) Then Moose arrives, probably looking at flat Earth tweets on his phone. Then Alberto El Patron, which I will get to. Johnny Impact arrives after, saying ‘sup to everyone he meets. What a sneaky meathead.
EH: Light of Day
Well, if they ever want to stop shooting beneath the head in order to maintain “surprise” appearances, they could just ignore lighting like they do here with Alberto El Patron.
Oh, the Impact Zone. In a lot of ways, I’ve missed you. Those ways are basically in the GWN and Pluto TV flashbacks, back when the Impact Zone either: 1) Made sounds, or 2) Was saved through the power of piped-in cheers and boos. Bring the latter back, please, because the former seems like an impossibility. But I have not missed your lack of reaction to literally anything — besides Rosemary, who is the only one who can get anyone to make a sound until the main event gets some actual reactions too — and those group of folks who always stand in the front row and think it’s a good idea to carry on with complete conversations with their backs turned toward the camera. There’s actually even a half-hearted (and “half-hearted” is putting it too nicely) “THIS IS AWESOME” chant during the first match … which the front row crew sort of joins in on, but again, their backs are to the camera.
In this first match, American Matt Sydal (I point out “American,” because this is Orlando, Florida after all) gets the closest to an actual reaction from the crowd, but you could still hear a pin drop during this match. It’s not even a matter of Impact Wrestling being bad at mic’ing the crowd, because you can literally see these people sit on their hands. No woos, no clapping, no anything you expect at a wrestling show. The most anyone does is hold up a sign that was probably made by Impact Wrestling in the first place.
Anyway, I guess I won’t give them crap for not reacting to Rohit Raju. Because who the hell is Rohit Raju?
EH: The Hard Way
Ah, you never fail to make things confusing, Impact Wrestling.
Alright, so we know that Impact can make great video packages to sell and explain things. But they don’t do that when it comes to Hakim Zane and how he is now “Rohit Raju.” He’s also a part of the Desi Hit Squad, which is a thing I vaguely saw on Impact social media for a couple of days back at the end of January — as well as something that is mentioned on commentary — but has nothing to do with this match at all. Especially since Raju “makes a statement” by being the one to take the pin. After — as is usual whenever he has an X-Division match — revealing himself to be below the in-ring talent level of everyone else in the match.
Why isn’t Raju’s tag team partner another member of the Desi Hit Squad? Again, why isn’t there a video package to explain the faction and Zane’s transformation into Raju? Commentary — especially “Impact’s resident Indian” Sonjay Dutt — does its best to explain both, but it ultimately means nothing and it means even less when it comes to Raju taking the pin. Come on, Impact. Sonjay Dutt rattling off a bunch of Indian names without either showing any of them in a video package or a backstage segment (or anything substantial!) isn’t storytelling. It isn’t even bad storytelling; it’s just another, “What was Britney TNA Impact thinking?” moment.
EH: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Wrestling for wrestling’s sake, and it’s not even spectacular wrestling. That’s this opening tag team match. Regarding Matt Sydal’s current story, that’s not addressed until post-match. Taiji Ishimori’s entire character is just that he’s from Japan (meaning, he’s “global”) and he wins.
El Hijo Del Fantasma is a great wrestler and one who has proven he can be a great character (on Lucha Underground), but the latter never gets highlighted on Impact Wrestling. His character here is “not show up for weeks, then show up in a match for some reason because it turns out he has a championship match the following week.” He’s here because he has an X-Division Championship match against Ishimori next week. So there, that’s your story in this match. (And Sydal has yet to actually change anything about his in-ring behavior or style as a result of this spiritual advisor thing, so good job in telling and not showing, y’all.)
I’ve already gone on about Rohit Raju. The team you expect to win the match does and the person you expect to take the pin does.
Also, saying “we truly are global” all the time — and using that as a selling point for a match with nothing else behind it — means nothing if your matches and wrestlers don’t exist beyond that. (They’re just using it like obnoxious people use “diverse,” and since that should already be the norm for a professional wrestling show, it’s not special at all.) The same with barely calling the match — an Impact Special, not just a JB thing — as they spend more time talking about the main event or Austin Aries’ press scrum or being global. You get the point. There’s already no reason to care about this match, but Impact commentary always knows how to really make a person not care about a match.
By the way, remember when X-Division matches were different and innovative? This is fine for what most of these men can do, but “fine” shouldn’t set the tone and shouldn’t be their default setting. Again, pacing makes all the difference in Impact — the X-Division is so slow these days.
ACE: Family Ties
- Sydal and Ishimori actually make a very good tag team. ACH must hate this.
- Ishimori vs. Fantasma at the beginning of the match is good while it lasts.
- Sonjay Dutt’s a mark for Ishimori taking off his shirt, and finally I have something in common with a member of the Impact Wrestling commentary team.
EH: Bright Lights, Big City
I’ve only been part of a handful of press scrums, but if all of the questions begin with “How does it feel?” that’s a bad press scrum.
In all of these questions about Aries’ feelings, he is able to answer that he’s not officially signed with Impact Wrestling and is all about being a belt collector, as a free agent. And apparently Aries really isn’t signed, so let’s see if Impact fulfills its “lol TNA” destiny of Aries leaving without dropping the title.
ACE: The Secret Of My Succe$s
Outside of the whole “same old song and dance” that is Impact Wrestling, the idea of free agent, belt collector Austin Aries is a good one. It’s actually — if he does collect belts, and SPOILER ALERT, he’s collecting belts — even a pretty good way to sell the “global feel” as legit. Plus, you have Aries’ ego as a major driving force for all of it, as he gets so offended by the very idea that he would lose the Impact World Championship outside of the company.
And speaking of ego, Eli Drake crashes the scrum towards the end, screaming about how Aries is the challenger, because he’s still the champion. Oh, Eli. Poor, poor Eli. The rematch is next week, so all hope that he’ll win the title back is lost, but at least he’ll go down swinging. (Bonus ACE for Chris Adonis not being part of this moment. All it needs to be is Eli Drake and Austin Aries. And security. And faceless “members of the press.”)
Oh, and: Day bow bow.
EH: Back To The Future
This is a great moment that makes a lot of sense, given the entire context of Austin Aries’ return and title win. Josh Mathews even sets up the clip, which they’ve just completely given up on doing the past few weeks. But there is no good reason for these flashbacks to be as long as they are. No reason at all. They need to learn to fill for time with substantial pieces of footage, preferably benefiting the current product. Especially when they choose to do flashforwards in “global” matches (typically title matches) but not these flashbacks.
Also, listen to the commentary in this match. It’s great. (We might have been spoiled with Mike Tenay back in the day. Allow me to say, on behalf of Danielle Matheson: We miss you, ol’ Lizard Face.) But it’s also 99% Mike Tenay, with JB only chiming in for that 1% with nothing of importance or interest to contribute. This was in 2012, and the only thing that changed in 2017/2018 was that JB had to speak for the majority of the time in addition to having nothing of importance or interest to contribute. The actual worst thing about these flashbacks are the combination of when the Impact Zone cared and when the commentary team cared. Sure, maybe the latter actually does still care — but no iteration of the commentary team in recent memory (other than at Slammiversary, with substitutes) knows how to make it sound like they do.
ACE: Teen Wolf
Like I said before, Sonjay is decent once he gets comfortable. However, it does take him awhile to do so, as his idea of color commentary for TECH (the jobber tag team that faces the Cult of Lee) is: “I don’t know much.” Neither does the audience, so you could have at least made something up.
This still remains an ACE as an overall segment, as you have Trevor Lee and Caleb Konley coming out with their stolen LAX bandannas and doing LAX “gang signs.” It’s so embarrassingly white, and it’s great. The match also lasts longer than it should, because both Lee and Konley spend the whole time play-acting like they’re LAX. Perhaps they think they have to pretend they’re in a gang, since LAX’s previous feud was against the only other gang in Impact Wrestling? Of course, they’re absolutely “shook” (Sonjay keeps saying it, so I had to get that in there) when LAX threatens them post-match, which isn’t very gang-like.
However, failed men’s fashion expert Josh Mathews still gets an EH for insulting Trevor Lee and Caleb Konley … for having body hair?
EH: Casualties of War
Post-match, LAX shows up via the tron, which no one ever does on this show. Like, ever. Nothing ever happens on the Impact Zone tron, unfortunately. So this is actually pretty cool.
The problem is, despite how anticipated LAX vs. Cult of Lee is, it’s already reached its limit of “Cult of Lee are gay men but also they are women, the weakest things a person can be” barbs from Konnan.
ACE: Don’t Ask Me, Ask God
Guess what? Allie has a secret admirer! Who could it be? Is it Jerk Boyfriend Braxton Sutter the B.S. Man? Is it Garza Jr.? Is it Big E?!? Wait a minute … Big card. Big. IT IS BIG E! Nailed it.
Alright, maybe I haven’t nailed it. But you know who has? Reluctant sidekick Kiera Hogan! Her “Well, good luck with that!” after Allie reads the whole deal (an Impact Zone meeting the day after Valentine’s Day) is a perfect send-off. Kiera is clearly friendly with Allie, but she’s not her friend. (Please don’t tell Allie this.)
EH: The Good Wife
Sonjay: “What ever happened to that Braxton guy?”
Josh: “That’s a great question.”
He does not answer this great question.
ACE: Shelley Duvall’s Bedtime Stories
This is easily Moose’s best (and least doofy) promo ever, as he talks about how he never gets a chance to win the big one, despite being at the top level required to do so. It’s kind of a shame Impact Wrestling makes him continue to be a failure after it, but I’ll cover that when we get to the main event.
EH: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
On the streets — you know, the deep Impact Wrestling fan circles — the match was a mess all on Laurel Van Ness’ end. It wasn’t that Kiera Hogan took the Unprettier poorly, Laurel did it wrong. Because if you’re done with Impact Wrestling — especially if you’re WWE bound — you are the problem. (Some folks on the streets also consider Mathews and Dutt to be the best commentary team in wrestling right now, which shows you just how far the streets are away for … everything and everyone? The more rational folks are saying that Mathews is great now that JB isn’t gumming up the works; that is also untrue.)
This match works in that Laurel learned from her mistakes from last week’s match, so she doesn’t do anything illegal until after the match. She even yells “NOT THIS TIME” at the referee, to prove she’s lucid enough to keep this game plan intact. Laurel and Kiera are still mostly on the same page this week, but there’s unfortunately a lack of focus in this match that gets in the way of the actual underdog story you have with Kiera. Part of that is because the previous week’s match benefited from Allie technically helping Kiera win; so all they had to do was build to that. However, Kiera was very much in get her shit in mode here — as a way to make it look like she had a chance — and that isn’t exactly a story for a match. Move, move, another move. You get it?
ACE: The Frighteners
As you probably already know from the latest McMahonsplaining podcast, any time someone rips off Alex Shelley (even if they do a good job), I’m going to call it out. That’s exactly what oVe are doing here with “oVe cam,” although they of course end up getting more physically involved than Alex Shelley ever did in early Paparazzi Productions videos. My notes for previous oVe/”oVe cam” segments had me calling them “The Shield cam,” so at least now they’re cribbing from their own promotion. Seriously, if you’re going to steal, at least steal from the best; I support this 100%.
So, oVe’s “bigger fishes to fry” that they mentioned last week was apparently Lashley. You know what? In a bizarre way, I kind of want this to mean the ATT storyline isn’t done, and Dan Lambert (or KM, who actually works here) hired oVe as Shield/Paparazzi Production guns to go after Lashley and make him pay for what he did. After all, of the two gangs in Impact Wrestling, oVe are certainly more willing to be hired guns (especially for annoying white guys) than LAX.
Otherwise, I’m guessing Sami Callihan is challenging Lashley in a singles-ish feud? Sami’s role has basically been to actively make oVe work. (It’s as though Dave and Jake Crist don’t understand character work or storytelling without him present?) I don’t think I actually expected him to get a singles role at all within the group, because he’s very much felt like someone who is just there for the group. But since I doubt they’ll be Freebird-ing the tag titles with Sami if they ever win them again, I suppose it makes sense (I know, I know — “sense” and “Impact Wrestling”) for him to go for singles glory. We shall see.
I actually prefer this week’s vignette to last week’s, as it’s a lot less abstract and to the point. He’s a machine, you see.
Seriously, I’ll write more about Brian Cage once he actually debuts. I’m a fan of the guy; he was actually the first wrestler I wasn’t too stressed out and nervous to talk to when I attended my first PWG show. Yes, I know, I chose the most intimidating wrestler to not be intimidated by.
ACE: Back To The Future Part III
I’m so upset they didn’t put this on YouTube. They didn’t put a lot of this week’s show on YouTube, actually. Or maybe a lot didn’t really happen this week, despite all that I’ve written … Nah, it’s the former.
We already knew EC3 is a heel of the highest order, but this week’s promo is on a whole other level. No, it’s not just doing Home Alone face — it’s EC3 deciding to be a time traveler? Deciding to be magic? He talks about “speculation and controversy,” which is automatically something to “hmm” at, since that has nothing to do with his current nonexistent story, right? Then he says, “Is he here? Is he there?” and that’s when it becomes clear this troll just decided to spend his last days on Impact Wrestling playing around because he knew he’d appear at NXT TakeOver by the time they aired. He then says he won’t ride off into the sunset without completing his “destiny” of finally becoming an EC3-time champion. I mean, we know that one’s not happening though. Unless he uses his muscular brand of witchcraft to still be on episodes of Impact when he’s finally an active member of weekly NXT television, until he finally accomplishes said destiny.
You know what this promo also means? His Home Alone face from last week? While it was still arguably done out of IDGAF attitude, it was also done as an “I can’t believe he’s on Impact, isn’t he in NXT?” shock face. COME ON!
But this isn’t all the trolling he does in this promo. It’s … Again, it’s on a whole other level:
“Moose: I’m gonna hunt you. Patron: I am going to drink your shot. And Johnny: Your name is in Impact only.”
Alright, so the last part is a mistake on EC3’s part. He means to say, “Your Impact is in name only.” It sucks he messed up such a good promo, right? WRONG, because he uses that “mistake” to lead to a Kalisto “good lucha things” moment. Guys, he ends the promo with a “GODDAMN!” as he runs out.
ACE: Mars Attacks!
This is still all leading to an Abyss (and Kongo Kong) match. That’s the only EH.
ACE: Doc Hollywood
“Man, if there’s one thing my spiritual advisor has helped me with, it’s how to harness the energy of another champion — to absorb what they put out and put it right into your heart and soul. … I can feel it. I can drink it in. I can absorb every ounce of what goes on here. Peace, love, and pro wrestling. Namaste.”
I mean, sure. Whatever you say, Matt.
EH: Rescue Me
This is time that could have been devoted to a Desi Hit Squad video package. Sorry, it’ll take a lot more than a squash match — sorry, Amber Nova — to actually care about Hania’s insanely short tenure in Impact Wrestling. I already mentioned the post-match thing, with Rosemary appearing and getting the only major pop of the night. (Only on Pop.)
ACE: Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
As this is a four-way main event and a lot of things go down, let me just hit y’all with the highlights:
- Poor Moose wanting to be “Mr. Impact Wrestling!” He should have changed his name to “Impact,” apparently.
- Josh (re: Alberto El Patron): “Sonjay, how does that sit with the competitor when the title is taken away from you?” He asks that with zero sense of irony, despite the fact that Trevor Lee LITERALLY stole Sonjay’s title. Sonjay does not answer the question with that in mind though.
- Sonjay pointing out the “rollercoaster of emotions” both Alberto El Patron and Johnny Impact must feel, as they were just having to come to terms with fact that they couldn’t challenge for Eli Drake’s title … and then that ban lifted the moment Austin Aries won it. That’s actually why I’m bummed Johnny won the match: He could stand to have a little more adversity and struggle before getting another shot. As it stands, both men only having to go a week before being viable for contention again is kind of a lame choice.
- EC3’s expression after Alberto El Patron playfully slaps him in the face.
- Of course, there’s also the disintegration of EC3 and Alberto’s “team” after they worked together so well last week.
- Johnny Impact using a person’s crutches! This match is basically a variation of what that BCW triple threat (with the very iffy ropes) should have and could have been.
- Alberto putting Johnny into a trash can! And then Johnny chucking a can from the trash at Alberto! And then Johnny throwing the trash can (not the can from the trash) at both Alberto and EC3! A legit “THIS IS AWESOME” chant comes out of this, and it’s deserved.
- Injured babyface Moose fighting through the pain and coming back (though he has to hobble over … thanks to the power of “MOOSE” chants!) to wreck shit!
- Johnny powerbombing Alberto as Moose powerbombs EC3. Actually, the highlight is Johnny Impact powerbombing anyone at all, especially someone who isn’t a small X-Divisioner.
- Nooooo, Moose’s failed baseball slide.
- Johnny checking on Moose post-match, because he’s still a good guy, even if it sucks he won. (Speaking of, EC3’s face after losing to the flash pin is also a highlight, which is why it’s the photo associated with this recap.)
The main event is solid from top-to-bottom — though maybe not an early “match of the year” candidate like Josh Mathews wants to sell — and I have no doubt in my mind that Johnny Impact vs. Austin Aries will be a good title match, all things considered. It will probably even be great. No, I’m not going to entertain the idea (until they possibly do, next week) that Eli Drake will win the title and try to get Johnny’s #1 Contendership revoked. We’re getting Johnny Impact vs. Austin Aries. In fact, if I were to give the main event any EH, it would again be the fact that it happens too soon, with no actual knowledge of how Drake vs. Aries will go.
But also, fingers crossed for Moose being “Mr. Impact Wrestling” this year, y’all.
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?)