– Brandon here. Regular columnist Danielle Matheson is on vacation this week and headed to New England to enjoy some Chikara, so I’m filling in. I apologize in advance.
– Share the column and I won’t swerve you when I become an evil GM. I think they award that job via social media shares these days.
Please click through for the Best and Worst of Impact Wrestling for July 17, 2014.
Best: The Manhattan Center Is A Beautiful Place To Run A Wrestling Show, Or
Best: TIME FOR MORE STINKIN’ PLAYPEN RINGS, BROTHER
Two things immediately differentiate this from your normal episodes of Impact:
1. It takes place in the Manhattan Center, which is a legitimately beautiful place to run professional wrestling. It housed the very first episode of Monday Night Raw. It was ECW’s home away from home, hosted One Night Stand in 2005 and made John Cena’s “some a y’all like me, some a y’all don’t, that’s okay” a thing he had to say every week. Recently I watched Okada, Tanahashi, Nakamura and the rest of the visiting New Japan stars compete for Ring Of Honor there. It makes things feel important, whether they are or not. The building’s got a couple of different rooms and they’re all nice to look at. It also houses a bunch of dudes who absolutely cannot let go of what they thought and liked 15 years ago, and for better or worse, that makes for an interesting night.
2. It’s the return of the six-sided ring, the same one Hulk Hogan said was a “stinkin’ playpen” when he showed up four years ago and promised to change things for the better. Tonight, different guys are putting the six-sided ring back. Because they’re promising to change things for the better. In four years when Batista shows up as the new Director Of Pro Graps Marketing Or Whatever and brings back the four-sider, we’ll see how either of those plans worked.
A supplemental Worst to the announce team for going on and on about how the six-sided ring is TNA going “back to its roots.” You guys were around for two years before that was a thing.
Worst: “Do You Guys Remember ECW? BECAUSE WE DO.”
The show starts off with Kurt Angle staring into the camera with history’s glassiest eyes, announcing that tonight is the start of something new and different, and how you can feel it in the air. That’s immediately followed by Taz — complete with thorough, endless “that’s my broadcast partner Taz” explanation from Mike Tenay — who announces that tonight is the start of something new and different, and how you can feel it in the air. TNA right now is just like ECW back then! That’s immediately followed by Bully Ray and Tommy Dreamer (in Twitter pants), and they announce that tonight is the start of something new and different and you can feel it in the air.
Guys, I know you’re tired of the way people generally wank when they reference TNA, and I know you’re proud to feel like you’ve turned some kind of corner and are rushing headlong into game-changing success, but you probably don’t need to have four guys declare it in three back-to-back segments. Especially when one of those segments is about how important the word “wrestling” is. Is that why you guys are taking 20 minutes to talk instead of wrestle? Furthermore, who better to declare the oncoming of a bright, fresh future than a 45-year old, a 46-year old and two 43-year olds.
Also, you know what the original ECW was about? Celebrating the old guys over the young to maintain a weathered, aging status quo from 14 years ago, right?
Best: EC3 Is F*cking Glorious
If you’re one of those “why do you guys jizz so hard over EC3???” commenters, watch that video. That is why. That exact thing. Also, him referring to New York as “the Big Crapple” and making full “DUH DURRRR” noises at a crowd full of retrograde wrestling fans.
When I was asked to cover this week’s Impact report, I feared the worst. I thought it’d be nothing but me going UGH YOU GUYS I HAVE TO EXPLAIN THIS THING I HATE IN 10 PARAGRAPHS three times per page, but you know what? Aside from some misguided nostalgia and pandering to a type of wrestling fan I’m not, I dug this episode. The major reason why is because it DID end up featuring a lot of wrestling, and hell, I will watch and find a way to enjoy two hours of people wrestling no matter what.
The problem I have with most modern wrestling shows is how packed to the wall they are with bullshit. You’ll get a three minute match followed by four minutes of Adam Rose shilling Popplers to Big Show while he’s dressed as Father Christmas or whatever. You’ll get a 15 minute tag match that ends with the referee arbitrarily declaring it a No Contest because they’ve done with the time-killing wrestling part and can move on to the post-match stuff, which is all anybody cares about. TNA’s usually the butt-worst at that. It’s these constant chatty backstage moments filmed like they’re deleted scenes from Cloverfield and then 20 minutes of guys who weren’t popular in WWE 8 years ago arguing about who gets to be the Executive Vice President of what.
Last night? A lot of wrestling. I can dig it.
The opening tag is Bully Ray and Tommy Dreamer defending the Ancient New York Art of Hardcore Wrestling by taking on Ethan Carter III and his plucky young anti-hardcore partner … uh, Rhino. It’s nothing revolutionary. It’s just a bunch of guys who know what works in front of a crowd like this doing it. Poor Tommy Dreamer moves around like he’s Bruno Sammartino — current Bruno Sammartino — but everybody else still has a skip in their step, so it’s fine. I don’t think Rhino’s ever changed. We’ll catch up with Rhino in 80 years and he’ll be the exact same guy in a sleeveless shirt making growl faces.
The finish is Rockstar Spud in HISTORY’S ORANGEST SUIT interfering, allowing EC3 to use the distraction roll-up he learned working somewhere else to get the three. Watching them drag his smiling ass up the ramp by his arms made the entire thing worthwhile. And hey, guess what? The finish to this match plays into a payoff tease at the END of the show. It’s like they’re writing these things in advance for once!
Best: My Two Favorite Penis-Themed Wrestlers
A lot of wrestlers have had gimmicks about how they’re penises — the Johnsons, the Dicks, the Ding Dongs … I mean, I think that’s what was going on with the Ding Dongs — but my two favorite penis-themed wrestlers ever are the subtle ones: Rhino and MVP.
Rhino’s easy to explain. Paul Heyman designed him as a phallic pro wrestler. He’s cylindrical and girthy. He’s CONSTANTLY FILLED WITH MASCULINE RAGE. He’s just this little screaming guy who runs straight at you and spears you. In ECW he was always obliterating women. If you were a woman, Rhino would show up and scream about how he’s gonna f*ck your bloody gashes and then “penetrate” you with a spear. If that wasn’t enough, he’d piledrive you, which is literally him putting your head in his crotch and jumping up and down. He’s the physical manifestation of an uncontrollable, awful hard-on.
As for MVP, let me put it this way: the man emerged from the slit at the end of a long tube, sometimes wearing white, while his entrance theme announces “I’M COMING!” Put it together. Him showing up last night in a white suit reminded me of it. MVP and Rhino should team up and call themselves “Climax.”
Worst: The Confrontational Compliments Of The Cowboy James Storm
James Storm is sitting backstage and Seiya Senada walks by, so Storm paws him in the stomach and gets like one inch from his face to cut one of the weirdest, most dangerously complimentary promos ever. I’ll paraphrase:
“Senada. Heh, you lucky ain’t ya boy? You know what else you are? You’re smart. You’re driven. You’re strong. You’re fast. You’re disciplined. That’s what I like about you. HEH HEH HEH HEH! You wanna say something, huh? Your people are disciplined. You’ve got great hair. You’re handsome. I’d kiss ya if that wasn’t socially unacceptable for folk like me. You got nice clothes. I like yer clothes. Yer clothes don’t have crosses on it like literally everything I own! I like yer shoes. Look real comfortable. HEH HEH. Yer real good at wrestling. I like how you wrestle. You win a lot of matches. AND THAT’S WHY YOU’RE A LOSER. YOU SHOULD TURN ON YOUR MENTOR. BYE.”
They should’ve done a Little Children pan over to Wildcat Chris Harris furiously jacking it and hissing like a snake in the background.
Best: X-Division Gauntlet Match
It’s important sometimes for me to take a step back and realize that if a wrestling show is making its audience happy (and not in the scoff scoff indignant kind of fandom way … legitimately happy), it is accomplishing its goals.
X-Division wrestling has never been for me. It’s the fakest kind of wrestling. There’s no sincerity to it. It’s just guys going OKAY NOW THIS MOVE! NOW I’M GONNA BACKPACK STUNNER YOU FOR SOME REASON. NOW WE’RE SUPERKICKING. SEND HELP. Keep in mind that that is a perfectly cromulent form of wrestling … it’s the Americanization of lucha libre’s “super hero” wrestlers who do not always necessarily sell in the way we expect puroresu stars or even WWE guys to sell. The motion and the excitement are the important thing, and the stories they choose to tell exist INSIDE of that, where looking legitimately hurt or in trouble is wholly unimportant.
That said, this was the perfect expression of the X-Division style, where a guy being there at the beginning and still there at the end feels like a big accomplishment, even though the entire thing’s eight minutes long and all he had to do to survive was stop running. It’s like a sampler platter of exciting wrestling … you’ve got your ROH guys like Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards rushing in to do kicks and other kinds of kicks. You’ve got Crazzy Steve showing up to run in circles and spray people with silly string. You’ve got DJ Z getting into contrived multi-man spots before he’s even gotten into the ring. Senada and Aries are there to anchor it in that aforementioned sense of accomplishment, so once everybody’s gotten an “ohh!” moment, they’re the ones trading holds to end it.
I also really liked the finish, with Aries simply building up a ton of momentum, unleashing it and hitting several big moves in a row to end it. They could’ve extended it another five (to 30) minutes, ROH style, by having Senada kick out, but it wasn’t necessary. It was an exciting, emphatic way to end a match that only exists to be temporarily exciting. Two weeks from now you won’t remember a second of it, but you might chant “this is awesome” while it’s happening.
Worst: This One Fan They Keep Cutting To For Reactions
Taped TNA shows are always edited to shit, resulting in two recurring things:
1. Mike Tenay seeming to be able to react to/know what’s happening without it actually having to happen, and
2. Picking out specific fans and going back to them for reactions throughout the show.
Last night’s show kept focusing on this guy, and yo, he might be a really cool and nice guy in real life, but he looks like Ring Of Honor made him in a lab. Ginger beard, glasses (fine so far) (shut up), Austin Aries t-shirt, FEDORA. He claps by punching an open hand. HE HAS SOME EXTREMELY INTERESTING THOUGHTS ON THIS “FEMALE THOR” HE’S HEARD SO MUCH ABOUT.
Worst: Eric Young And Bobby Roode Have A Conversation On The Deck Of J.J. Abrams’ Starship Enterprise
I have been in the Manhattan Center and no part of it is lit like this. Is DJ Z having a rave backstage?
Worst: The Foaling Contest Is Set For One Fall
STOP SAYING FOALING.
Best: MVP On Crutches
If there’s one thing TNA truly seemed to to better this week, it was in the clear differentiation between heels and faces.
On Impact, everybody’s terrible. There are rarely any characters you can identify with and cheer for based on their actions. The faces are all guys you remember liking somewhere else first and Eric Young, who you like because he’s funny and has a beard. The heels are EVERYBODY. People lie, cheat, call each other names, manipulate the system, become obsessed with power, form factions, destroy factions, on and on. You can’t just turn on TNA and mute it and say “this is the good guy, this is the bad guy.” If you unmute it, Tenay will tell you every three seconds to make sure you know.
Last night was really great at showing heels and faces. The next match on the show was Bobby Roode and Eric Young against Kenny King and MVP. MVP is on crutches saying he’s got a torn meniscus, and Kenny King is rambling about how he could beat both of his opponents by himself anyway. Young and Roode show up and it’s clear VERY QUICKLY that MVP is full of shit. He’s hiding on the apron because he doesn’t want to fight, waiting until his opponents are down and vulnerable to tag in, then tagging out the second they recover. Tenay’s beating it to death, but it’s there, and that’s something. The finish, when things bubble up to the surface, is MVP just saying f*ck it and attacking them with his crutches. You can’t do what I do all the time in WWE and say “no, the bad guys are right.” They aren’t, and they shouldn’t be.
Best: The Great Muta Is On Next Week’s Show
Maybe I should review next week, too.
Worst: An Okay Knockouts Match Ruined By Stipulations, A Finish And The Worst Crowd Ever
First things first, this is a NO DISQUALIFICATION, NO COUNT-OUTS MATCH! If you weren’t aware, Mike Tenay is somehow speaking fast enough to tell you multiple times per second. He’s crawling in your ear and saying it like the Micro Machines guy. NO DISQUALIFICATION NO COUNT-OUTS MATCH! The weird thing though is that it didn’t have to be either of those things. The only reason they made it “no count-outs” is so they could do the Northern Lights Suplex spot on the floor, which is the dumbest way to respond to an inverted DDT on the floor because you are basically inverted DDT’ing yourself into the floor doing a Northern Lights Suplex. No disqualification makes even less sense, because all they did was scream and kick each other in the stomach.
Second things first, does Brittany gain anything from losing this match? Is that the end of her story? Do we get Madison Rayne against Gail Kim again? Is that the Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston of the Knockouts Division?
Third things first, holy shit this crowd. There’s probably a reason ECW didn’t run a bunch of women’s matches here, because Paul Heyman looked at the crowd and went “yeah, there’s no way these people can see a woman and handle it well.”
Worst: The Worst Guy In The Room
For example, this asshole. See the guy in the white tank top with his hands cupped around his mouth? Jump to 1:25 in the video and keep your eyes on him. He’s chanting “WE WANT MUFF! WE WANT MUFF!”
Nobody joins in with him, but a few of his friends chuckle and show their gums and a good time is had by all. You should note that all of his friends are guys. You should also note that only people who call it a “muff” are 70s porno producers and guys who’ve never seen one in real life.
Is it funny to anyone else that the champion during the latest low-rent ECW revival is the guy who was the champion of the LAST one?
Bobby Lashley vs. Jeff Hardy was (unexpectedly) a ton of fun, because of a lot of the stuff I’ve already talked about. It was clearly face vs. heel, so we didn’t have to worry about who to cheer for. Jeff Hardy gave an explanation for why he gave up Willow so easily — he’d become Willow to deal with the darkness in TNA, but now that the light’s shining through again he can be himself — and did what Jeff Hardy does best.
Hardy’s primary style and story has always been that he’s a daredevil, and if he connects with his big moves he’s gonna win … but he’s also driven to continually top himself, so if he gets an opportunity to Swanton Bomb somebody off the top of the cage instead of climbing down to win the match, he’s Swantonning them off the cage. If he’s got the heavyweight champion where he wants him and can stay on him to win the match OR try to Swanton him from the top to the outside onto steel steps, guess which one he’s gonna do?
Hardy loses here because of that very thing. He’s obsessed with daredevil glory, and it costs him. Lashley recovers, runs through him with a spear and retains the championship. Good stuff.
Quick supplemental Worst to the replay of Hardy’s dive onto the steps, though. Maybe don’t show us in slow motion how phony those things were. Do most steel steps have a thin, loose layer on top of them? Not those 5,000 pound ones Cena lifts, I bet!
Best: Brother Devon’s Back! Please Forget That Whole Motorcycle Club Thing!
Good old TNA, where you can be fired in a match and show up a few months later like nothing happened.
I appreciate TNA amping up how much Dixie deserves comeuppance as they approach it. She’s going through the table, we all know that, but if she was still just a sassy Southern Aunt I might have a problem with it. Instead, she’s ignoring everyone’s advice and doing what every great heel does … refusing to accept victory. Every time she escapes an attack, she purposely puts herself back into the line of fire to see if she can do it again. She’s flying too close to the sun, or whatever. At some point you’ve gotta just say “shit Dixie, if you want to get put through a table that badly, go for it.”
And maybe it’s time for Dixie The Character to hit the bricks. I like her as much as Danielle does (okay, maybe not as much as Danielle does), but spectacular talent like EC3 and Rockstar Spud can’t really go anywhere else with her. She’s obviously not gonna get put into a different story and her character’s kinda extraneous, especially now that Kurt Angle and MVP are dueling former/current authority figures, so let her go out in a Blaze Of Glory for the benefit of We Want Muff Guy and move forward with your wrestling stuff.
If Dixie comes back in a few months as part of a biker gang, I’m all in.