The Best And Worst Of TNA Impact Wrestling 1/2/14: I Went To Japan And All I Got Was This Lousy Haircut

Hello friends! Do you realize we haven’t seen each other since last year? I know, right? We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. But first things first:

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This week on Impact: Who’s cooler than cool? EC3. It’s EC3, guys. Why are you even guessing at anyone else.

Worst: The holidays sucked and I missed writing about some real great stuff on Impact, or Best: Oh man, you will not believe the stuff we didn’t have to watch this month

Here’s what you’ve missed on Impact:

Rockstar Spud has been promoted to Dixie Carter’s Chief of Staff, went on a weird xenophobic trip to Georgia, broke into AJ Styles house to steal back the world title, found a mounted deer head and guitar just lying around because AJ Styles is relatable to the common man, but was stopped and returned empty handed. He’s now a sycophantic scumbag in a bowtie who has Dixie Carter’s theme song as his default ringtone, texts like Eddie Kingston, and somehow became incredible.

Bully Ray now wanders around in the hoodie and sunglasses AJ Styles presumably left behind because I guess the Brotherhood of the Traveling Hoodie is a real thing now, and AJ got to go to Japan and kiss a dude in a boat so now Bully Ray gets to wear it and be sad and maybe go visit his grandma about it. He’s trying to be ominous and creepy and the destroyer of worlds, but Bray Wyatt already exists, and as far as I know was never uncomfortably abusive towards a kind-of ex-girlfriend, and is smart enough to know that likening your fake feelings on your fake wrestling show to being raped isn’t a thing you say…ever.

Jeff Hardy got fed up with the politics and fighting and lost his smile (and his ability to travel outside of the US), and vowed to return when the sun shines on this dark kingdom because someone looked at Jeff Hardy and said yup, let’s let that guy talk. The creatures were sad, he took off his shirt, and I guess we’ll see you when we’re back from the hellscape that is the TNA UK tapings.

The Feast or Fired briefcases were revealed. Gunner got a title shot and some tense looks from James Storm, Xema Ion got an X-Division title shot, EC3 got the tag title shot, and Chavo was fired. Merry Christmas, Danielle!

Norv and Dewey did not win any briefcases, but also did not get fired, so I don’t have to reduce the Impact Zone to char and cinder. And they’re best friends now, so…

Sting really, really likes wearing stuff with photorealistic lightning. He’s also still kind of a sad old cartoon man whose senility has given him the selective memory to be mad at this new concept of unearned privilege in professional wrestling, and therefore hates Ethan Carter III, and keeps showing up like the world’s worst Renge without the fun of a powerful motor or, I don’t know, any fun at all. But it’s cool, because EC3 beat him.

Oh, yeah, by the way, EC3 pinned Sting.

James Storm is all mad at Gunner for beating him to the World Title Shot Briefcase during the Feast or Fired match, Gunner’s mad at James Storm for not letting him wear his hat or something, and now they’re broken up and don’t get to braid each other’s beards. I even heard that James Storm changed Gunner’s label in his phone from “Beer Gunny” to “Jerkface McVikingdick.”

Dixie Carter is still the best, and I genuinely missed her segments these last couple of weeks. It’s good to be back in Dixieland.

Austin Aries is your new X Division Champion so we can set up a storyline where Velvet Sky is a near-subhuman plot device and Chris Sabin gets to treat her real bad, because no one on this show understands how to write for or interact with real human females in any capacity. Austin Aries is at his most banal, but does look like a pug who is constantly startled by loud noises throughout the match, so that’s a fun thing.

Oh, and Magnus is your new World Heavyweight Champion.

Confused? You won’t be after this episode of…

Uh…I mean Impact.

Best: Breakin’ with Bobby “Boogaloo Shrimp” Roode

One of the upsides of coming back to the show after so long is that you can really evaluate where a character is at in terms of how much interest they can keep over time. While I was moderately surprised to find myself looking forward to a number of things, I can’t say this was one of them.

Here we are, back to Kurt Angle and Bobby Roode. They’re still mad at each other. No one knows how to be a real man. Kurt Angle says that 2013 was the worst year of his wrestling career, because we’re supposed to forget 2009, I guess.

The best part is Bobby Roode’s full on, foot-stamping hissy fit, and even better, the fact that he is obviously completely amused with it. I know Jimmy Fallon ruined genuine organic responses to humour for everyone, but that tiny little crack was enough to make this segment…almost bearable. Stay golden, Pony Boy.

Worst: Time after time

One of the biggest criticisms you can lay on Impact, and justifiably so, is that their shows, while they may be entertaining for the moment, are fleeting. Matches and feuds built up into something that is utterly forgettable. The matches can be good, but are you thinking about them two, three weeks, a month later? Don’t get me wrong, we’re getting there, but it seems that the same cycle of people are running around stuck in the same trap wrestling virtually the same matches and hurling virtually the same insults over and over and over. One of Impact’s greatest defenses is that they have a talented roster, which…gets a little old and easier to argue as time goes by, and that they don’t know what to do with them. Realistically, if you’re pumping up the same guys to the same level for months at a time, and they’re only left to fight amongst themselves, what are you really supposed to do with them at the end of the day? If everyone’s stats are maxed out to 100 at the beginning, and the import placed on everyone’s storylines is virtually the same but with zero connections, you’re basically playing 52-card pickup very time you book a show (but only taking Samoa Joe out of the deck half of the time).

Like I said, we’re getting there. But this is one of those holdovers that make it seem like the show is run by two very different groups of people who don’t talk to one another at all. Did the writers get mad at each other one day and made a line down the middle of the room with scotch tape? The right side gets the misogyny and death threats and coffee maker, the other has to go out for coffee but gets to write intricate plot details and engaging characters that interact with each other in meaningful ways? And did the person at the helm of Bad Influence cross over because it was raining, and running down the street to Starbucks just seemed too much?

And in the time it took to read both of these paragraphs, do you even remember why sad-he’s-not-a-robot-Kurt Angle got so mad that it looked like he was chewing sunflower seeds to stave off an inevitable stroke?

Worst: Oh, hey, speaking of

So hey, Gail Kim and Sexy Sweetums Cosplay Bodyguard are still challenging people. And heeey, Madison Rayne is back. And heeey…maybe they’ll get to wrestle ODB, or…um…tag together against each other, or…yeah. First verse, same as the first.

Four card pick-up is the shittiest game ever.

Worst: More like the Ex-Division, amirite?

As I mentioned, Austin Aries is your reigning X-Division champ. As seen here, Sabin pulled Velvet Sky up onto the apron, was surprised to still find her there a few seconds later, and now it’s her fault that he got rolled up and lost the belt. As such, there are two stipulations for this match: Sabin will challenge for the belt, and if he doesn’t win, he’ll break up with Velvet Sky.

Lovely, huh?

This causes two thing two happen: Sky distracts Aries so that Sabin can low-blow him and win the belt, and we get the first instance of me side-eying my television in disbelief during the show.

Go back and watch the video of Brooke and Bully Ray. That is the perfect example of how not to handle a female character. She’s supposed to tell him off, earn our respect for standing up to him, listen to the Greatest Love of All on repeat during leg day and we’re supposed to buy into the kind of problematic faux-empowerment that comes along with it. But then that’s not enough – she also has to be a conniving golddigger who was just with him to make a name for herself (by no longer being a semi-popular singles wrestler, muting herself, and standing in the background for a while). The whole promo is a mess, but it is made extremely clear that she is Bully Ray’s property, she is worthless to him, but he has ultimate control over her, and has no problem physically exerting that power. That’s…a real thing that’s happening.

Now we have female relationship #2: Chris Sabin coerces Velvet Sky into doing things she doesn’t want to do by exerting himself emotionally and psychologically over her, blaming her when his own plans go awry, and then when she succeeds, takes the credit for himself and again, negates her worth entirely.

Can we…can we just not with this? The false-empowerment abuse angle, if it even gets to that point without being nipped in the bud, is my least favourite female-driven angle, right up alongside intergender or inter-style matches where women earn the respect of their competitors. While male wrestlers starting out with their stats maxed out is a creative issue, a woman’s value settings inherently start at zero, and this is a problem with a capital P.

If you watch enough women’s wrestling, you’ll notice that these three tropes are the most common. One girl is a strong and a tough competitor, and may not look like the average “pretty and popular” diva, and she doesn’t think that someone who looks more conventionally attractive can hang. At best (and I use the term very lightly) they end with a mutual respect, at worst, one is made out to be jealous of the other. It is significantly more troublesome with most intergender matches. The male participant gets his comeuppance for being cockstrong, and mocking the idea that a woman could compete, but it’s still a false empowerment that ultimately accomplishes nothing. Her stats are reset at the beginning of the next match, lather, rinse, repeat.

If scenarios wherein a woman fights to earn what she should have started out with in the first place are this precarious, angles that either hint at or flat-out flaunt abuse are significantly more dangerous, and hold no value in wrestling, nay, society, today. First impressions are key, and when the first thing someone is told is that a human being is less than, that impression stays. It would be great to live in an entirely progressive fandom where women aren’t referred to as bitches and c-nts by merely existing within their gender, but again – we start out at zero. Whether a wrestler or a fan, it has been ingrained into the minds of most that we are a lesser. Opinions hold no weight, strength is relative, bitches can’t be trusted. Women are dumb sexual props, or conniving plot devices who should never be believed, especially if they dared to be in a relationship with someone. Sluts and bitches and literal trains of hos. A character who shows any amount of genuine empowerment is still brought down by those ideas and angles that came before them. Once a hoeski, forever a hoeski.

Angles like this are a grim reminder of how what some view as over-sensitivity is a very real culture of fear that polices the daily lives of any woman. Before those of you itching to jump right into the comment section to cry that it’s just entertainment get right in it, consider this: Brooke Tessmacher can be a Knockouts champ. She can be physically strong, and in a political position of power. She can be anything she wants to be. One solid grip on her arm causes all of that to come crashing down in an instant, because in that moment of fear and helplessness, everything is reset, and her value, again, is zero. It’s the subtle fear that lingers in the back of any woman’s mind because it’s what we’ve been taught. Always keep an eye on your drink. Don’t shortcut through alleys at night. Be alert when walking by yourself, day or night. Don’t go to that concert/wrestling show/convention by yourself. Don’t even dream of traveling by yourself. All of these things – what’s presented on screen, what we’re told to keep us safe, and what we’re told to put us down – all of these things are connected.

If you’ve never been in that position, don’t jump to defend the glorification of it. Really and truly think about the bolstering effect it has on those who don’t consider anything wrong with it, but especially stop to think about the damaging effect it has on those who live it every single day.

The side of the room with the coffeemaker didn’t.

They’re the worst.

Worst: Ooo, creepy dudes. They’re so hot right now.

What do you get when you combine a dude who used to wrestle in board shorts who watched American Psycho one too many times and was deeply affected by it, Bray Wyatt’s pants, and half of a Dexter costume from 2007?

Yeah. I’m really not sure either.

Best: Ohh, my everything

What I am sure of, however, is just how much I adore Norv Fernum, and how valuable he is to the show. Now, I’m not just saying that because he elicited the first and only instance of me using heart emojis without irony in a public forum, but rather because it goes back to what I was talking about at the beginning of the show. And I hate to use this word, but…guys: Jobbers are important.

When you have say, twenty guys who wrestle on television but three divisions, you can’t have every single one at the top of their class. Layered storytelling is as important layering a card. A quote-unquote mid-card storyline can have just as much compelling storytelling as something that occupies a main event timeslot. Most of the time, it does, because television mains are usually pretty boring. But everything in between counts. Samuel Shaw making his first appearance except that one a while ago we’re disregarding because nicknames I guess can’t just wander out and face Kurt Angle. Or Chris Sabin. Or even Kazarian or Joseph Park.

Norv and Dewey helped tell us who Ethan Carter III was, and now they can do the same thing for someone else. They also get to be best friends and have personalities of their own. They are important, functioning cogs in the only part of the machine that seems to be working. Left side of the room let me love you and also buy you a soy latte.

Worst: American Viking vs. Beer Money

That was a weird thing to type. But yeah, Beer Money! They boys are back together! They hate each other, but now they have to unite against a common enemy of muddy motivations!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, you know a match is bad when they only show 35 seconds of it on their YouTube channel.

Best: But wait a second…

I just now realized that Kurt Angle and Gunner are the Wooly Willy before and after, and I may need to rethink my stance on them teaming together.

Official opinion: upgraded from tepid to delighted!

Worst: Gunner

Uh, Gunner…is the talk we have to have about how you don’t actually know what The Superkick of the Cowboy James Storm is known for?

You were a terrible friend.

Worst: A real SCUMbag

Remember the time that douchewad covered the tubbiest dude in the company with lighter fluid at the pivotal ending of his powerful main event faction?

At least Steve Corino had the presence of mind to be real nice to the lawyer who could get him his job back, instead of trying to set the only one in the company on fire.

Look, I am actively reminiscing about something that happened recently in Ring of Honor. That is how bad this is. Don’t make me do that. This isn’t going to lead to Prince Nana being delightfully concerned that Corino is going to wear a banana-ass yellow jacket on television instead of, you know, the time he tried to burn Kevin Steen to death. This is not going good places.

Don’t do what ROH TV does.*

*except employ Robert Evans, Veda Scott, and ACH. Everyone should do those things.

Best: Joseph Park

It’s just really nice to see him, even if he is shrouded in a towel of excess sweat and sadness.

Also, check out this commission I got from Chris Sims for Christmas, as drawn by Kyle Starks:

Friendship-based everything!

Best: Speaking of things I’ve missed

Oh, sup EC3. I heard you beat Sting. Thanks for being delightful, and also making me enjoy a segment where Sting speaks.

PS. lol forever at you nerds who think I only like Ethan Carter III because of how he looks. Just because he has muscles I don’t even know how to google, and I have zero understanding of fitness, doesn’t mean that’s why he gets bests. Realistically, if I were going to only write about talented wrestlers I also thought were attractive, this would be the Best and Best of Tim Donst, featuring such classics as That thing he did with his legs in that one video, Gym Shorts: The Unsung Heroes of Wrestling, More like Lucha De ApuesDON’T, and then this gif.

Haha, you knuckleheads getting all weird at the idea that a lady might have opinions AND attractions at the same time. You know which side of the room you get to sit on.

Best: Magnus is crowning, but who cares because Rockstar Spud and EC3 what are you even doing

Winning my heart is what. Oh jeepers. Let’s review:

1) Ethan Carter III on that Channing Tatum suspender sh-t is the gift that keeps on giving. American icons, tbh.
2) If you guessed that Rockstar Spud wiping schmutz off of EC3s face was the TNA Turning Point in my acceptance, nay open-armed embrace of non-wrestling Spud, you are absolutely right. Three for you, loyal reader.
3) Rockstar Spud’s exuberance and inability to keep still? Oh, babylove.

Magnus still hasn’t won me over, because Magnus is made of Melba Toast held together with flour paste, but this still gets a best because everyone around him is just so good. Dixie Carter’s developing comedic timing is a trip. They all have their own defined personalities and interpersonal relationships, but together they’re able to layer them into one cohesive motivation.

The clueless yet powerhungry horndog president picks her champion out of a catalogue based on looks (she’s shootin’ on ya, folks!),and is building her perfect ideal while everything under the surface is going to hell. EC3’s visible resentment borne of his own sense of entitlement, bolstered by a legitimate victory over the thorny legend who will not leave him be. Rockstar Spud, clapping and smiling.

It’s a weirdo dysfunctional family that I miss when they’re not around, and more importantly, that I will tune in each week to watch. They’re entertaining. They’re always moving things forward. It is good television, and it occasionally comes with good wrestling (pretty much always if you take Magnus out of the picture). If Magnus goes full high-camp smarm this could be one of the best things TNA has ever done. It already pretty much is.

So maybe let’s fire that other half of the room, and leave the bullshit behind in 2013, k?

Pretty please?