Howdy, folks! I hope you’re ready for the first actual for real TNA pay-per-view review! I know I am certainly pretending to be! First things first:
– If you somehow stumbled onto this Best and Worst alone, and aren’t reading The Best and Worst of Impact Wrestling each week, you should! Spoiler alert: A lot of it is me convincing you that EC3 and Rockstar Spud are geniuses.
– Be sure to share, like, tumbl, tweet, and comment lots on this report.
So what happened this weekend in Tokyo? Probably lots of stuff, but also TNA!
Best: Korakuen Hall
While there were a number of things that made me side-eye this event, there were a lot of things that TNA got right. Korakuen Hall is one of them. Korakuen Hall is a Very Big Deal when it comes to both puro resu and the history of wrestling in general. It’s a legend in Japan, having hosted every Japanese wrestling promotion, existing or defunct, in it’s 52-year history. It’s the kind of thing that makes people like me geek out over, and makes TNA look like they actually put some kind of foresight into making something look cool. Cool is subjective, but I don’t care how much of a jaded negative Nancy you are – this is cool.
Not only is it great for me, but you can tell it makes a big difference with a lot of the performers as well. Some have worked Korakeun before, and some of them are here for the first time. Either way, there’s an undeniable sense of excitement that this building imposes on people, and it’s a brilliant tone to set for your pay-per-view.
Best: These video packages, though
I always say that I wish Impact were as exiting as these over-the-top dramatic video promos, with their super serious Mr. Movie Phone voice overs and shock cuts and string accompaniment. Like, they’re so good. How are they so good at this one specific thing and kinda balls at everything else? But I’m pumped. I’ve already seen the pay-per-view and the opening video package for the main event got me hype all over again. Never stop these, please.
This match is…whatever. It’s fine, I guess. Manik’s wrestling didn’t magically improve by spending 15 hours on a plane, but Tanaka does a good job of keeping up the momentum and giving us a passable opening to the show. What’s hilarious – beyond Manik being billed at a cool Danny Briere-esque 204 – is Manik’s backstory being brought back up. So is Minoru Tanaka one of the guys who was simultaneously feeding him rice and beating him with a kendo stick, or what?
Before we were supposed to feel bad for him because he had to sleep outside of the Impact Zone in the rain because he and his family were homeless. Then he was given the opportunity to play Suicide, despite the fact that Suicide debuted two years before Manik’s human begged for a TNA job. And now we’re playing up some glorious history this kid has had in Japan? How much of his real careeer are we bringing into this now? His PWG appearances, or asking to be let out of his ROH contract because it was holding him back? All while presumably disappointing his fake family that he’s been busting his ass in TNA to provide food and shelter for? Which is it? Are we marveling at the career of a selfish jerk, or feeling sorry for the sad career of a selfish jerk? And if hes part of the revolution, what is he revolting against? The place that gave him a job to keep him and his “family” from being “homeless?” When I say that the Suicide reveal was maybe one of the worst things TNA has ever done, I’m dead serious. They still haven’t found a way to completely make him fit into the kayfabe world they established.
Also super worsts to his stupid bodysuit hood that he has to keep flicking behind himself and readjusting because oh my god why is everything you’re involved in so awful and ill-conceived.
Best: EC3 vs. Ryota Hama
EC3 is selfish, coddled, shredded-all-to-hell jerkface. Ryota Hama is a former sumo wrestler-turned-pro wrestler who weighs in at almost 500 pounds. EC3 is touted as being undefeated (if we don’t count DQ losses I guess?), so what could this one percenter do against his literal biggest competition yet? It’s the unstoppable force of entitlement meeting the immovable cross-promotional object. And it’s awesome.
A lot of the reason I hate the David vs. Goliath trope in wrestling is that it’s always the same. Plucky pint-sized underdog has to find a way to be faster and smarter than his lumbering dumb opponent. Lots of diving between the larger opponents leg and running circles around the ring. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen pretty much all of them. the problem with those is that it adds an air of disbelief when that smaller wrestler faces off against anyone, even when they’ve moved out of that type of match are are expecting to be treated as equal to their opponent. What I like about this is the story that’s subtly being told, but unfortunately should have been told outright.
When EC3 started out, he was wrestling chumps. Norv Fernum was like a tiny baby bird you wanted to wrap in a blanket and put under a heat lamp, not watched get headlock-driven into the mat (though I also did want to see that thing). His opponents got tougher, and as he was forced to level up with each wrestler placed in his path. He beat Sting. He hurt Kurt. He put Bully Ray through a table, and asserted his dominance over guys like Rhino. Now he’s gone from this guy to this guy:
I love it. Not explaining why EC3 is suddenly in a boss fight aside, this is one of the many reasons I love watching EC3 matches. There’s a levity to them that’s so desperately needed; a levity that makes those original matches against Norv and Dewey some of my favourite in TNA history. EC3 is brilliant and getting heat and being this cold, calculating douchebag, but he can still be all of those things and remain entertaining. Hama does his best to squish EC3 like someone pounding their fist down on a tube of toothpaste. This match even makes me forgive the Stinkface, when I am 100% Down With Stinkfaces 2014. EC3 stays the heel by nailing Hama right in the HamSlams when the referee wasn’t looking. That lets him hit the One Percenter, and remain “undefeated.”
Worst: But why is this happening? Why…is any of it happening?
What this matchup is lacking is what a lot of them are: reasons for them to be happening. Where’s the statement from Kurt Angle gleefully revealing who EC3’s opponent will be? Why is Manik wrestling Minoru Tanaka? Where is the logic in Sakamoto wrestling MVP? Why is Sakamoto getting booed so much? Who the f-ck is Kaz Hayashi to people who presumably only watch Impact every week? If you’re doing a cross-promotional PPV, there should be some kind of effort put into introducing these wrestlers and establishing who they are, and their relevance to Wrestle-1. Giving me a brief history lesson in puro is great of I’m watching an episode of Mike Tenay Remembers: Jumbo Tsuruta, but that show doesn’t exist, and I’d like context for the wrestling matches you’re getting paid to call, thanks.
Best: Samoa Joe vs. Low Ki vs. Kaz Hayashi
This is the best Samoa Joe match in actual years. I wasn’t expected to be into this match anywhere as good as it was, but it was a lot of fun. The first time I watched this match I did so without English commentary so right then and there my expectations were already exceeded. It made me remember the match for the chops and that Samoa Joe double clothesline and the double STF and all of the things that made it enjoyable, instead of being “the match where Tazz said areola three times.” A lot of the times when you get these multi-man X-Division matches, the two-person-in, one-person-out set ups don’t make a lot of sense, but this one was paced really well. If one person got too focused on a single opponent, they were caught in their mistake. If one looked like they were going to gain a victory, the odd man out would stop him. At no point did it feel like three guys waiting to take their turns to rush in, hit a series of moves, and then get out again to the point where I sincerely hope Davey Richards is sitting at home going “oh shit, is that how that works?”
Super Best: Samoa Joe
THIS is what happens when Samoa Joe actually shows up. My biggest gripe with Joe is that he’s constantly resting on his laurels, like when Tyra Banks gets mad on America’s Next Top Model for girls relying on pretty. You can’t just be a pretty face and have it translate to being a good model, just like you can’t just expect that threatening to murder people and then cuddling with them on the ground when you’re trying your best not to bump is going to translate to a good match. Look how happy he is. You can be a tough guy and still smile every once in a while. If you keep saying that your favourite thing in the world is hurting people, why don’t you look like you love hurting people
Joe’s gotta stop being the guy who wrestled Kobashi and then got stuck on a second-tier wrestling show with a dick on his face, and be this guy. Be that guy who wrestled f-cking Kobashi. Be the guy who is beloved by people because of things he did outside of the company, and give people who have only seen him in this one love him just as much. Yeah, it sucks that no one Samoan outside of the Anoa’i family is gonna make a career in WWE, so why not make them eat it by being the best you can be? Because right now, if you’ve only watched Joe in a TNA ring, he’s not gonna kill you. He might try to lie down on the ground with you a while, or give the weather instead of the news when he’s talking to you, but he’s sure as hell not impressing anyone by being a grumpy guts sad sack who hates everything and doesn’t want to be there. Spoiler alert: you don’t look tough, you look like one of those dudes who’s taking spots away from other people who want it.
Just…make an effort, man. When you do, you’re kinda great. When you don’t, it makes me not want to put the effort into paying you any mind at all.
Worster Worst: Submission Improbable
Anyways, all that said, this match finally made me realize why I hate Samoa Joe in the X-Division. Never doing more than going through the motions aside, one of the biggest selling points of Joe being in the X Division of old was that he was this husky guy who was still fast and could kick your face off and do all of this stuff that his body type should keep him from doing because his body, like the X-Division, knows NO LIMITS. But he doesn’t do that anymore. He shuffles and schlumps around, and then he’ll put you in a submission and woo, great. If what sets the X Division apart is that it’s this dynamic, exciting, fast-paced group of guys, constantly interrupting that flow to put someone into a submission hold is less tough guy gonna choke you out, more thinking about baseball while you’re trying to swing all night. This match gets you so amped up right from the beginning, and then the finish just feels so anti-climatic. Like you took a handful of sleeping pills and they all kicked in at the exact same moment.
Worst: Tommy Dreamer
Have you been injured in an auto accident? Don’t wait, call 1-800-DREAMER to get the settlement you deserve!
Worst: Tazz and Tenay
This is a really fun match if, again, you don’t listen to the English commentary. I get that Tazz is going to be as dodderingly racist as that great-uncle you wish your family would stop inviting to Thanksgiving, but both Tenay and Tazz are pretty bad here. Why is Tenay giving us this big history lesson on NJPW and AJPW if he doesn’t know how to call a Tiger Feint Kick? Literally who gives a shit that Pantera is also a band HAR HAR when this is the perfect time to actually be doing your job, explaining who these guys are, and *gasp* calling the match? Look, all I’m saying is that if this were real life, we’d stop talking about how lonely the holidays must be for Tazz and start looking into putting him into an assisted care facility.
Best: Novus (Jiro Kuroshio and Yusuke Kodama) vs. Andy Wu and El Hijo del Pantera
It’s a bit by-the-numbers, but it’s so much fun. If you want to showcase a different style, but also take what people love about the X Division and highlight it to the best of these fellow’s ability, the match is perfect. If I was used to nothing but Mr. Anderson matches and the glassy-eyed stares of Kurt Angle, my mind would be effing blown right now.
Also, they have their own kitty and a guy who wrestles in a suit jacket and another guy whose trunks have a speech bubble coming from his b-hole that says “Hi!!”
Worst: Nobody at this restaurant cares about your legacy
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held in Tokyo prior to the PPV. My favourite thing about the whole affair it looks like Tommy Dreamer just got drunk and started yelling at a fancy restaurant patrons about how great ECW was and nobody gave a shit. That…could also entirely be the case.
Best: THIS GUY
This guy got so excited for Bully Ray that he ran down the stairs just to pose next to him. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty psyched for that dude.
Worst: Tommy Dreamer and Abyss vs. Team 3D
Look. I’m sure this was fun for these guys. I’m sure they all went in the back and hugged and got a little misty and the circle-jerk we’ve been watching for the past few months finally reached MAXIMUM TUG. That’s nice for them What’s not nice is actually sitting through this match. It’s so slow, it’s boring, and it’s so goddamn sad.
Nobody comes out of this match looking great. They hit each other with some things, and Tommy Dreamer goes through a comically undersized Japanese table. Abyss just kinda mopes around and waits to get hit with stuff. Literally. At one point he’s down on all fours for what seems like an eternity, patiently waiting to take a chair shot to the back.
I dunno, guys. It just kinda makes you wonder whether this was a thank you, or a huge ego being fellated. You get to talk about how great you are for a while, get to hear other people talk about how great you are for a while, have your last match on your own terms with who you want, and have your real-life girlfriend come to Japan to see it all and have a match that makes no sense that she in no way earned, kayfabe or otherwise. It doesn’t feel like a fun way to go out, just more of an obvious display of narcissism. Even if that’s totally misunderstanding the situation, it just seems like if you were going out on your own terms, you’d wanna go out on something cool and memorable, not sauntering around waiting to get hit by stuff.
If ever there was a death knell for ECW alumni in modern-day wrestling, that match has gotta be it, right?
Hilarious Best: Velvet Sky
Glad you remembered to pack your Serious Eyebrows, VelVel.
Worst: Tazz & Tenay and how they think joshi legends wrestle
Please never let Tazz and Tenay talk about joshi ever again ever. Sincerely, literally every person who had to put up with them during this match.
Super Best: Havok defeats Velvet Sky…
…WITH A BEAR HUG Y’ALL. Oh, this makes me happy. Ohhhh, this makes me so happy. Bless poor Havok for doing her best to (sometimes physically!) carry Velet Sky to a decent match, but bless her even harder for turning the Bear Hug into a Deadly Maneuver™. If they’re done right, and put over right, they’re the best. I already liked Bear Hugs well enough, but Gordon Solie sold me on them forever the first time I heard him actually call one in a match. I know I talked about this actual eons ago, but I’ll say it again: explaining what Bear Hugs do is a for real game changer. See, they way Solie would explain it is that by gripping your opponent so tightly, you force the air out of their lungs. If you force the air out of the lungs you don’t get the right supply of oxygen into the bloodstream. It prevents lactic acid from burning off, and if it doesn’t burn off heavy fatigue sets in, wearing your opponent out completely. Are you swooning? ‘Cuz I’m swooning a little.
F-ck yeah Bear Hugs, f-ck yeah Gordon Solie, and f-ck you modern day television commentators for being so legitimately terrible at your jobs.
Best: The Great Muta is still a million times cooler than you or I will ever be
Super Best: Double Mist
Extra Best for Muta adorably wiping his mouth off on Tajiri’s hair while they kinda hugged oh god what has wrestling turned me into oh wait I don’t care too happy hahaha!
Best, though: The Great Muta and Tajiri vs. James Storm and The Great Sanada
The match raises more questions than it answers, especially with Muta and Tajiri the victory, but I also don’t really care? It’s my job and I should, but at the same time I got so into the build for this match I watched the whole thing with my chin resting in my hands making heart eyes at the screen, pausing only to clap with delight and maybe also screencap Sanada after he misted Tajiri the first time because oh jeepers lady thoughts. Muta being like “oh, you wanna use my nickname and my moves and my mist and my facepaint? Well I’m going to use them all against you and make you regret ever thinking of stealing them, kid” is THE BEST.
It could have been a little faster, it could have had a good five minute chunk cut completely out of it, but I had such a genuinely great time watching it. You know, until Team 3D showed up to save Muta from post-match ~shenanigans because they’re so good and respectful and considerate.
All of that said, it makes me kinda bummed that I have to go back to the reality of Actual Impact Wrestling. Unless nights 3 and 4 of the Bethlehem tapings went super bonkers, who knows when I’m going to be this invested in a match, nay, multiple matches on a TNA show that don’t involve Spud or EC3 or Havok? It really is a shame that they taped so many shows around this live PPV, because this show is a really great lesson for what works and what doesn’t on Impact, and pinpoints a lot of little tiny improvements they could make that could turn the whole show around.
Or they could just fire Tazz into the sun and work on that other stuff later. Whichever.