The Best And Worst Of Impact Wrestling 2/2/16: You Can’t Just Buy Yourself A Throne

Hey, guys! As you may have noticed, we skipped last week. Sometimes writing with a concussion is very stressful, so we’re just gonna get caught up as we go along.

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This Week on Impact Wrestling: Kurt Angle gets his 4,347th title shot, a bunch of hardcore dudes go to hardcore war, and it takes a miracle to get Mike Bennett to stop saying ‘miracle.’

Worst: No EC3, No Peace

I’m not sure if this is an intentional thing or not, but everything happening here has a crazy “Powerball winner sells ’97 Honda Civic, buys own throne” kinda vibe to it. On the one hand, I want to think yes, this is the opposite of EC3’s American blue-blood legacy whose impeccable tailoring came over on the Mayflower. Like, if EC3 was not-so-conservatively crushin’ puss at Young Republicans soirees, Matt Hardy was definitely the pizza-faced kid who worked at Blockbuster while wearing bondage pants and trying to sell you on how subversive and cool Brodie from Mallrats is. We know Matt Hardy’s history with bondage pants, let’s not act like there’s no truth to that. There’s a really interesting social dynamic that I wish we were still really digging into: the Hardys’ humble beginnings and informal training that would eventually lead to real life legend status vs. the bought and paid for entitlement of the guy rich kid with the established family name trying to achieve greatness. EC3 could make the crowd chant ‘NEW…MONEY!’ at Matt and Reby, then pointedly raise an eyebrow over a 18-year-old Macallan instead of chugging a beer. They’ve touched on this theme and it’s almost there, but instead we have to build to a shambolic gimmick match and another Kurt Angle world title shot.

Oh yeah, that’s real. That’s damn real. See, last week Eric Young piledrove (Piledrived? Piledrivened?) Jeff Hardy through a table before he could have a title match against his brother, and now EY wants his shot at the gold. This brings out Kurt Angle to say that Matt Hardy has disrespected the title, and he talked to a TNA official and now he has a title shot. I know we’re supposed to be gargling Kurt’s Angles now that we’re saying auf wiedersehen goodnight to his career and all, but damn, let’s have some pretense of control over this main event picture. You set Jeff Hardy up to ‘start at the bottom’ and then he’s getting title shots. You have Eric Young come out and go apoplectic around the edges of a salient point, and then instead of working through that, you bring out recently canonized Kurt Angle to stick his dick in the batter. And that’s not even the end of it!

We then get Beer Money, followed by the new stable Decay (more on them later), who are then attacked by the Wolves. That’s TWELVE PEOPLE in one opening segment. Now, it all turns into a chaotic punch-’em-up like the end of the go-home Raw before the Royal Rumble to lead into that multi-man, but it’s….it’s too much guys.

Worst: The Pleasure Principle

The match is a throwaway set-up to Raquel coming out to ‘distract’ Lashley so O’Shea can suckerpunch him. It’s not even worth a Blair Waldorf joke about Bobby Lashley’s newfound obsession with headbands to be honest. I have to say though, the outfits to start off the match are great. It’s like they just escaped from prison and had to ditch their orange jumpsuits, but there weren’t enough clothes hanging on the line in someone’s backyard, so they had to Who’s the Boss it and split ’em. Shout out to every person who also vividly remembers that one specific episode, and I guess Bobby Lashley for being Angela.

Raquel continues to definitely be a person who wasn’t Tough Enough as she says some more things about pleasure and pain, and then does this:

Oh dear.

Speaking of Twitter, Raquel sent this out prior to the show:

I know everything is pre-taped, but the least New Tits on the Block could do is watch the show when it airs. You met him two weeks ago. If she’s not gonna watch the show, whoever is sending out the social media mandates should? Maybe? I don’t know. Is anyone watching? Is anyone in control over what’s happening? WHO’S FLYING THIS THING??

Minor Best: Literally

Aidan O’Shea looks like Viper from Little Giants all grown up. I really wish this was his actual character on the show, and now that you’ve seen it I’m pretty sure you do, too.

Worst: Hardcore War

Hoo boy. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with explaining what this is before we get to all of the reasons it didn’t work for me. Hardcore War is a hardcore (duh) gauntlet match wherein a new opponent enters every 50 seconds. The match can’t be won until the last entrant has arrived, so everyone just has to beat the shit out of each other with trash cans or whatever until then. This match is long, there’s a lot going on, and┬ábecause┬áthere’s no disqualifications, everyone ends up scattered both in and out of the ring. It’s hard to follow, and near impossible to really sink your teeth into. It’s no DQ, you should totally be able to do that.

Let’s break down some of the lowlights:

The Decay are a newly formed stable featuring Abyss, Crazzy Steve, and Rosemary — known to those outside of this context as Canadian independent wrestler Courtney Rush. Without going into her feud with Cherry Bomb that led her to the current Heath Ledger Joker-meets-Anime character you can’t quite identify gimmick, just understand that’s she’s crazy with a capital Z(ed). They took the tag title belts from the Wolves last week, and are probably wondering why you’re so serious. While it’s still too early to call just how effective they are, they make it clear that Josh Matthews really isn’t. Steve carries a baseball bat with a chain on it because ┬»_(Ńâä)_/┬». This prompts Matthews to say the Decay “probably has a closet full of craz(z)y weapons they’ve made over the years, just waiting to unleash them.” Well…like maybe? We already know the background of TNA stalwart Abyss, and we know Steve was a messed up clown from Mike Knox’s dad’s circus. Rosemary is the only one we don’t know, but instead of giving us a clear link to who she is or even what Steve would be doing with Abyss, we get…that. They don’t even refer to her by name on commentary even though her name and Twitter account have been all over Impact Wrestling social media.

Again, I know these things are pre-taped, but it’s gotta be someone’s job to make a plan for this, right?

James Storm makes a big production of hauling out a full beer keg, but then when he sets it down it’s clearly empty. If you can’t lift it, how is hitting it with a chair made of metal just barely thicker than what you wrap a baked potato in gonna slam that keg into his baby Brams? A keg of beer weighs 160┬ápounds when it’s full. They do this spot TWICE. This episode is making me feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

Eddie Edwards comes out during a commercial break, and the match ends when a whole bunch of the participants fight to the ramp and then just leave. They just leave! Crazy pills!

Worst: Hardcore As Normcore

The biggest problem with something called ‘Hardcore War’ is that hardcore wrestling in TNA doesn’t and probably can’t exist anymore. Bram and Abyss had like 78 monster balls matches during their feud, but every one of the was just gently rubbing Janice into each other’s tummies and then maybe bleeding a little in the vicinity of a ladder. While not every hardcore match is going to be a full-on FMW exploding fiery bloodfest, the basic story of any hardcore match is that all of these usually illegal things — weapons, moves, whathaveyou — have consequences. A little bit of blood doesn’t make a hardcore match. Getting hit with a cookie pan doesn’t make a hardcore match. The thrill of a good hardcore match lies in the danger, real or perceived. We know there’s no danger from that hockey stick Bobby Roode, or that stop sign someone left under the ring for no discernible reason. It’s just mayhem and whiffing on kendo stick shots so you don’t actually hit someone in the head because concussions aren’t funcussions.

I’m not begging for a time when we’re throwing people through flaming tables and gouging out pieces of them for real, but at some point you’ve gotta give up the ghost of New Jack and expend a little more effort in defining what exactly defines someone — or something — as hardcore.

drew galloway tyrus

Worst? I guess? Sure?: Tyrus v. Drew Galloway

Hahaha okay, Best for having a giant blue dick on your gear, Dino Boy. I think I’ve been laughing at this for twenty minutes.

But really, a show with this many worsts makes me feel bad. It really does. I don’t want to worst all of these. TNA is weirdly my jam, and I don’t want to be negative about people I like. Drew Galloway is the tallest man in the world and can be really entertaining, but that disappears when we have in the the ring with Tyrus. What should be a boss of a hoss match ends up feeling very constrained. Galloway has to take these teeny little Austin Aries stutter steps in order to get thrown into the turnbuckle. His clothesline from the top rope feels like he’s take a step off of the bottom rung of a ladder and falling gently. The match is interrupted by Mike Bennett, who’s still trying to find his footing. I dunno, have you tried saying miracle more? I would try saying miracle more, dude.

But no, seriously, this is my face every time Mike Bennett works miracle into a sentence:

Best, With A Caveat: Tigre Uno vs. Trevor Lee

It’s not gonna set the world on fire, but I’m alright with hashtag QUAD GOALS Trevor Lee winning the X-Division belt. He’s young, he’s a new(ish) face, and he can be really great in time. The downside is the “in time” part. He has a fundamental understanding of how to make great pro wrestling happen, but wrestling on television requires some tweaks. When you watch him throwing everything he has in someplace like CWF Mid-Atlantic, or PWG, it’s fine because he’s throwing everything he has. Television exposes all of the places someone like him needs to tighten up. When he tries to grab Tigre Uno, he looks like he’s doing more of a kitty impression than the wrestling cat, just pawing at batting at the air and hoping he finds himself in a lock-up. When he comes in with strikes and kicks there’s force and determination, but you can see where a measure of control would elevate them to look devastating, instead of making you cringe over your whole body because you think he might for real murder him. If he finds that balance, he could be a baller long-term champion.

Also I’m gonna need to know where Helms got that jacket because it’s either the best or worst thing I’ve ever seen and I won’t know until a version of it is in my possession.

Not A Worst, But A Conundrum: Oh, TNA

This episode — the Hardcore War and X-Division matches specifically —┬áhighlighted the difficult line TNA has to walk. Whether we like them or not, the bar for televised wrestling is set by WWE. The audience at the Sands, however, doesn’t know how to play the role of the WWE Universe. We complain when people chant WHAT — and rightfully so, those people are the drizzling shits — but for years they’ve all been trained to hit their cues. When to clap, when to chant, when to to respond and how. As such, even when you have WWE visiting smaller venues for say, a SmackDown taping, when you have that many people responding in kind the reaction still feels big. TNA has to please the crowd in front of them, but in doing so the home audience gets lost.

Look at the way Gail Kim had to play to the crowd during her singles match against Kong a few weeks back. Last week, Jeff Hardy practically held the audience’s hand trying to get through the segment and make them look like they were having any reaction whatsoever to their brand new World Heavyweight Champion. When workers have to visibly goad the audience into playing their part on TV, it takes the home viewer out of the scenario because they’re not there to play along. Chanting and responding in a live crowd can be fun! Sitting on your couch watching Davey Richards Popeye-squint at the audience and beg them to clap harder than Jeb Bush? How fun could that possibly be?

NXT proved that rookie (to WWE audiences, at least) wrestlers, with the right storylines and consistency/depth of character can engage fans. However, it’s easy to take risks when you’re doing so under the umbrella of an existing multi-million dollar wrestling company on your own company-owned network. As I mentioned before, TNA is its own developmental, so when they bring in someone who is an ROH favorite or has a cult following on the indie scene, they have to work extra hard to give those people clout and make them seem like a big deal to people who don’t watch wrestling that isn’t on television. Just because a small percentage of the internet is losing their shit doesn’t mean the guy with a Jeff Gordon tattoo in the audience next to his kid in neon Jeff Hardy sleeves is gonna be like WHOA I LOVE THE GUY WITH AIRPLANE BOOTS MORE FLIPPIDY DOOS PLEASE. When Mike Bennett showed up, the home audience was instructed to google him, and the live crowd got somehow less than that. Pardon my French, but what the effing heck?

Conversely, the people they’re bringing in need to know television fundamentals and how to perform. Know where their mark is. Don’t traverse the whole of the ring to make your exit, Reby. Don’t play to all four (six?) sides when you have that hard cam. Be aware of still being in the shot when you’re not the focus. There’s a give and take with the live audience, but you’re taping television, not “wrestling and someone might buy a DVD of it later,” you know?

Despite the idea that I somehow hate TNA and I’m just a hater or whatever, I really want this show to be great. Watching a full episode is frustrating because you can see these little bits of hope here and there, and you know they have the pieces of the puzzle to make it work. The problem is right now when they put them all together they’ve got sky pieces in the grass, grass pieces in the water, and the covered bridge looks like Crazzy Steve’s face. It’s maddening. EC3 took time to get to where he is (though lol he started out perfect, oops there’s the bias you guys are looking for), but the consistency of character stayed the same. The same with Spud. Joseph Park! All of these characters work or worked in such a way that anything they do now is a layer to their character, and not a swerve or a thing you do and then take ten video packages to explain. It’s a fluid progression. If people are switching around and suddenly Eric Young loves them but now he hates them but now he loves them again and also wears a vest, nobody’s gonna care.

Making good television should be the number one mandate, and right now any actual wrestling gets lost in the shuffle. We can say ‘less old stars and more new ones!’ until we’re blue in the face, but it isn’t that simple. There’s nothing fresh or exciting about someone like Trevor Lee, if only because we’re not given the cues to think so. Nobody’s gonna react to Shane Helms because…okay, well that one is self-evident. It doesn’t require scrapping an entire roster (though you could make a fair case for doing so with the Knockouts), but just…some effort, man. We put in the work every week in watching, and it’s not even our job. Well…it’s my job. But you know what I mean.

Anyways, Kurt Angle wrestled Matt Hardy and lost because Reby kinda touched his foot, so…actually yeah, maybe few less old stars.

That was a lot of not being delighted, so let’s just go ahead and watch Ethan Carter III make words with his mouth for our hearts:

Oh yeah, that’s way better.