The Best And Worst Of Impact Wrestling 1/19/16: Champagne Wishes And Siamese Dreams

Hey, guys! Apologies for the lateness of the column. Sometimes accessing shows totally legally when you don’t get them in your country is tedious work!

Before you dive in, get caught up on what happened last week here. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here, With Spandex here, and Uproxx here. While you’re doing that, share the column around so that everyone can see the what topical ’90s reference we shoehorned in this week. We even have buttons that do the work for you:

This week on Impact Wrestling: Zero people fight zero babies, but there’s still some stuff worth watching. Promise.

Worst: Matt Hardy Believes In Himself, So Now Jeff Does, Too

Jeff Hardy comes out to have a chat about how great his brother is, and give him an unnecessarily long pep talk about his match against EC3 later on in the evening. Sadly, I feel like this already has the opposite effect of Jeff’s opening segment last week.

Matt and Jeff have a shared history, though their careers have admittedly taken incredibly divergent paths at times. Last week, Jeff made Ethan Carter III stand toe to toe with him as on a level playing field when there are still a considerable amount of people who see EC3 as a guy who can’t wrestle (he can) (he’s very good). Here we have him in the ring with Matt for almost ten minutes, but when he says that he believes in him and tries to put him over as being better than Jeff himself, it doesn’t work. It’s really easy to go with the “yeah, because it’s Matt Hardy, dummy” line of thinking, and that’s fair because…y’know, Matt Hardy, but I think in this case it’s more so a failure of the build. We’ll get a little more in depth on that later, though. All I know is Matt’s out here standing next to a dude who painted fake eyes on his real eyes on purpose wearing three quarters of a shirt in the weirdest way possible and he STILL comes off as cool and tough as the very last copy of Michael Keaton in Multiplicity.

Oh, Honey: Tyrus

Tyrus wants a match against Jeff Hardy, and sets it up thusly:

You made fun of me. You said I couldn’t read. That I was stupid. NOBODY makes me stupid!

…oh, honey.

jeff hardy

Best: Jeff Hardy Is Still Doing The Eye Thing

Before we get into his match, we need backtrack and remind everyone that Jeff Hardy closing his eyes and blindly feeling around to high-five people is one of my absolute favorite things. It will never not make me smile. You can do anything you want to in the whole world and you go ahead put fake eyes on your real eyes but pretend those fake eyes are real? Bless you, you weirdo.

Worst: Jeff Hardy vs. Tyrus

I want to Best this, because in the context of this episode everything is Capital Letter Fine. At one point Jeff slips off the top rope in pretty spectacular fashion, but then Tyrus immediately turns it around and works Hardy’s previously injured knee for the rest of the match. Tyrus looks like a big mean monster, and Jeff’s injury allows him to look like he should lose, but without making him look like the weaker wrestler overall. The wipeout isn’t what Worsts this, though. If it was legit, whatever, not a big deal, those ropes are tight as heck and wrestling’s hard. If it was on purpose, the onus falls on Tyrus for being out of place for a planned spot, but again, the match still works as a whole. I don’t even mind Hardy suddenly feeling good enough to distribute his weight onto his injured leg so he can give Tyrus a stunner. What doesn’t work for me is how it ties into the past two episodes.

Two weeks ago, it was hammered into us that Jeff Hardy has to start at the absolute bottom. A week ago he wrestled a guy who thinks he’s a spirit dragon who doesn’t even have entrance music. The logical progression is for Hardy to have these fun, throwaway matches until he starts climbing up through at least the mid-card guys. Jeff Hardy’s Excellent Adventure through the Impact Wrestling roster could be used in so many ways: you can make X Division stars look great, you can introduce new people, you can generate interest in wrestlers who don’t have a solid feud right now, and you can even bring back a guy like Norv Fernum (do that one). Just thinking about it actually gets me really pumped to watch Jeff Hardy each week to see who his opponent will be, y’know? When’s the last time that even happened? This week he’s wrestling Tyrus, a guy we know isn’t super great in the ring, but earned himself a world title shot and who, in this moment, needs to look like the biggest, baddest, ball-swingingest motherf*cker in the place. Putting Tyrus against the legend he has a heated personal history with who is ALSO related to the guy feuding with his boss makes so much sense. Having that same guy be the person who’s only supposed to wrestle shitty dudes creates a really unfortunate cognitive dissonance. Thinking beyond the context and story of a single episode is important!

The Saddest Worst: Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong

I feel like I want to give this a best, I really do. If I did, it would be a Best with a lot of caveats, so it doesn’t really seem fair. As women’s wrestling progresses around them, the Knockouts seem to be moving further and further backwards into all of the negative things we associate with a ~certain type of women’s wrestling, but in this case they’re doing it with the people who really helped set the Knockouts apart. Gail Kim and Kong worked so well together, and have had some incredible matches, but that time has passed. When the ‘revolutionary’ thing you do becomes the standard, a pale imitation of the original just doesn’t cut it.

I used to take a lot of flak for not being satisfied with Samoa Joe’s performance, because outside of a very small handful of matches, it was him just going through the motions but still getting high praise because people remembered the Joe that he used to be. This would stop people from paying attention and thinking critically about the Joe that was in front of them. Now he’s in NXT having baller matches, is in incredible shape, and actually looks like a guy who’s gonna kill you instead of maybe cuddle you gently in the center of the ring for five minutes. If Impact is going to play through this feud, it needs to be more than a bunch of forearms and Rebel on the outside doing her best Laganja Estranja impression. However…

Best: Gail Kim

She sure is trying her best out there, huh. Kim carries the bulk of the match, and has the most standout spots for sure. There are times where it seems like she’s slowly wading through the match, waiting for everyone else to catch up to her. There’s a spot at the end where Jade goes up to the top to interfere, and Kim grabs her and just launches her into Kong, who’s already been laid out in the ring. It’s fast and well-executed, and really makes me want a throwdown, knockout, banger of a match with Jade and Kim maxing out their skills. At this point, she’s probably the only one who’s going to rise to Kim’s level, right? And I definitely want that before Impact decides it’s a great idea to pair the two Asians together in a tag team called ‘Siamese Dream.’ Don’t think that’s not scribbled in Billy Corgan’s dream journal.

Best: Jessie Godderz, Utility Player

Beer Money calls out Bram and Eric Young, but end up getting Eli Drake and Jessie Godderz instead. It’s a throwaway tag match I’d forget instantly regardless of whether or not I’m still recovering from a head injury, but I really want to take a second to shout out Jessie on this. Commentary pointing out the Jessie has taken on the speaking pattern of Eli Drake is about the only worthwhile thing they have to say, but it’s also interesting when you think of it in the grander scheme of who Jessie is and what he can do. We know he’s not the guy who’s gonna be making waves in a main event anytime soon, but he’s just so gosh darn serviceable. He’s the perfect empty vessel. Back in the halcyon days of the Bromans, he similarly took on some of Robbie E’s personality, but thankfully it was the charismatic part that came with Robbie’s undeniable comedic timing. When you combine that with Jessie’s efforts in the ring — not sheer, gifted talent, but a dude making a genuine effort — it was a wholly likable package. Jessie’s stretching himself a bit, and I dunno if the way Eli Drake speaks is a thing you want to emulate in front of people, but it shows that adaptability is his strongest suit. Allegiances shuffle around so much in Impact, and a guy who looks like he wants to be there and can mold himself to fit any situation is a solid asset.

Also, he comes with a cape. I am still very much in love with this cape.

Worst: What If They Just Kissed Instead

Kurt Angle is sure that he’s the greatest wrestler of all-time, but he’s not sure he can beat Bobby Lashley, which is why he wants to beat Bobby Lashley. This is a very small part of a lot of talking and even more awkward staring. This is also where Impact gets so cringe-worthy that you start peeking through your fingers and shouting at the screen like you would at someone making very poor choices in a horror movie. Why are you leaning in, Bobby? The music is playing why you still leaning in, Bobby? Don’t go up those stairs when the front door is right there, Bobby! Are you gonna kiss him don’t get that close if you’re not gonna kiss him! Would be 1,000% more into this feud if Lashley would have ended this with a gentle peck on Angle’s forehead.

Worst: Speaking Of Awkward

Hahahahahahaha wut

Worst: Live From Fete Music

I really wish that Impact would start posting longer clips, especially when they’re trying to get over someone like Mike Bennett. Here’s the thing: Impact Wrestling is pretty much its own developmental. Transitioning someone from the indies directly to television means that you’re gonna see them learning to wrestle on television on television. Ring of Honor may be televised, but it’s still not as structured as an Impact or WWE production can and should be. If you watch someone like EC3, or even look at Sami Callihan now that he’s been through the developmental system and is back on the independent circuit, they have this really great awareness of where the camera is, and always keeping themselves in the focus of whatever they’re doing. Bennett is working through transitional growing pains, so where Maria is great at somehow being constantly active despite doing literally nothing, you can see all of his rough edges. And he’s so gassed after a squash.

Pepper Parks is perfect in the role of someone who is talented but will still make Bennett look like a million bucks, but there’s no shine on Impact’s shiniest new toy. As such it feels like a match you’d have on any East Coast independent show. You fully expect to see someone like Papadon run in at the end so he and Parks can continue a token Bald Guy Wrestler feud because who knows if the company will have enough money to bring in Bennett and Maria at the next show? Not exactly the feeling you want for a guy you just positioned to go against the top wrestler in your company.

Also quick shout to to Pepper Parks for having the most “sassy background girl in an Archie comic” name in all of professional wrestling. “Who’s the new girl at Riverdale High with the quippy attitude and flirty brunette bob? Why that’s Midge’s cousin, Pepper Parks!”

Best, But Also The Biggest Worst: Matt Hardy, TNA World Heavyweight Champion

Okay. So first the good. We can get really mad when things seem obvious, and sometimes when we do we take away from the story being told and the work done to foreshadow events. The little things that have been leading up to Tyrus turning on EC3 just like everyone else in his life has turned on him are great. It’s consistent with his character, and calls back to both Spud and Dixie turning on him. It’s another layer of depth to EC3’s character, and I’m into it. If we remove the disconnect in Jeff Hardy’s arc, what Tyrus did at the top of the show made him look big and tough enough to try to take out EC3. It services every character when you let him be the distraction instead the finishing blow: EC3 still looks the strongest, because he won the belt clean and also he’s your top guy. Tyrus is still a subordinate, but it services how he got his title shot. Matt Hardy is now the one taking advantage of Tyrus’s feelings, but he’s still the one who is ultimately cheating and acting like a real piece of shit. Within this episode, the story works.

That said, oh boy. This sure was a long journey in a lot of scattered directions to get Matt Hardy from maligned hero to shitheel villain. HE gave up the belt, lost his shot at the belt, got another title shot he realistically didn’t deserve, and then cheated to win. Ehhhhhhh okay sure. If you say it out loud and don’t actually watch any of it executed, I guess it’s fine. And on the bright side, at least we’ll get to keep seeing EC3 win title belts? Yeah. Yeah! That’s the brightest side of all.

Best: The Totally Not Fake Hammer Returns

Well, I guess if you couldn’t get Doc Gallows this is the next best Aces & Eights return, right?