The Best And Worst Of Impact Wrestling 4/17/14: Lions And Tigers and Bros, Oh My!

Hey special friends! Let’s kick this long weekend into high gear, or at the very least a solid neutral, and talk about wrestling! But first:

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– This week at The Mandible Claw, Brandon and I talked about…a whole bunch of stuff. Everyone loves stuff, right?

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This week on Impact: I make it through the whole report without making a joke about someone’s monster balls.

Worst: Transitional Champion is real hard to chant I guess

Eric young’s Wikipedia page reads like the saddest testament to just how bad TNA could get. From his paranoia gimmick that involved yet another “funeral” and a play on the Katie Vick storyline to now, he’s been “fired” because of Larry Zbysko, feuded with Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and X-Pac, the Nasty Boys, became a super hero, then moved on to what is referred to as his “mentally challenged” persona. That was a whole can of worms in and of itself (let’s pair off the bisexual with the guy who has brain damage lololol). His sudden recovery from mentally-unhinged guy stalking Scott Baio to pretty okay husband to ODB/Knockouts Tag Title holder was never really explained, so we’re either to believe that you have to be mentally deficient to marry someone like ODB, or it was just another thing that fell by the wayside. I guess he recovered on his own? Transferred it to Abyss/Joseph Park when he didn’t wipe the toilet seat? And what is this Eric Young now?

Now, I’m not going to say that everything Eric Young has done has been throwaway garbage. Most of it, yeah, but attacking D-Lo while he was buying gas station tampons still amuses me (despite the inference that all black people look the same and mental illness is hilarious), World Elite proved that he could at least be competent on the microphone, and he was precious and adorable with ODB. I can understand this championship as a thank you for putting up with all of the storylines and time spent around X-Pac, but man, Koko B. Ware got to be in the hall of fame, but they didn’t put the belt on him, you know?

If you watch the entirety of this segment, the obvious idea presented is that Eric Young is Daniel Bryan. The idea on any level is laughable at best, but bear with me. Watching Eric Young parade around as the champion of the people, because this belt is for them, blah blah whatever, it just feels like the whole thing was translated from WWE by a little kid. You know when you talk to a little kid about, say, their favourite movie, and they distill everything down to basic plot points, hacky catchphrases made to be repeated ad nauseam, and jokes about bodily functions? That’s exactly what this is. Do it for the people? Check. Paper Champion rhetoric that doesn’t really make sense, but people keep saying it over and over? Check. Puke/crap remarks? Check. Coincidentally, I think we’ve just cracked the John Cena promo creation code.

If you’re going to do a Law & Order-style ripped from the headlines episode, at least do something to make sure that we know that any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Best, kinda: Dixie Carter

That said, I went back and forth on how I felt about Dixie’s response. Is it hilarious that she wants to claim intellectual property rights over a bearded wrestler appearing on television? I think it kind of is. The idea that everything that is fashionable in wrestling because she thought of it first is a nice touch to her delusional rich boss mentality.

The rest, however, is problematic. Practically begging to get on Eric Young’s good side while he has the belt? Why? That seems ultimately pointless. Telling him he’s going to get a makeover? Trailblazing. There’s a thin line between the enjoyable ridiculousness of the over-the-top out-of-touch mean lady boss we know and love, and falling into the trap the other person in the ring has, and laughably, blatantly just acting out some ideas from the guy they pay to watch Raw and take notes. I assume his name is Joey, and he’ll be 8 years old in 16 sleeps!

Worst: Bully Ray, do you know who you are?

Does TNA not have yearly performance reviews? As I pointed out last week, it seems to me that at any point in time, they could justifiably release Bully Ray for being the worst employee maybe ever. That said, Bully Ray comes out to defend Eric Young, telling him how much he likes and respects him. Remember that time he and his biker friends respectfully duct taped his wife to the ring and attacked him with a hammer? Remember the time Bully Ray turned on his own brother, got a bunch of his friends fired, and sent Knux to Floodland USA to his sad dad? I think the lesson is here that unless you are Rick and you own a strip club, you probably don’t want to be liked and respected by Bully Ray.

Worst: Knockouts Street Fight

The only good thing I can say about this match is that they did not refer to it as a Street Walker Fight.

Best: EC3, Life Coach

Spud and Ethan Carter III aren’t in a handicap match, they’re handicappers. EC3 ended the career of Kurt Angle, Spud is going to end Willow’s career because HE’S A LION, and they’re both going to end my career because friendship feelings.

Worst: MVP and Austin Aries

Maybe my biggest gripe against MVP is that I have carpal tunnel, and it is getting hella aggravated by all of the wanking motions I am making at this segment.

Worst: Tag Team Rut

Robbie E and Not Robbie T have been doing whatever they can to get out of defending their titles. That’s fair – I don’t like being anywhere near Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards, and I don’t even have to wrestle them. It plays to the best of the Bromans comedy abilities, but at the same time serves to portray the Wolves as serious in-ring threats. Or at least it should.

Blending comedy with technical wrestling takes a finessed approach that requires both parties to be on the same page. When executed properly, it’s the kind of thing that makes something like Chikara magical, and when it’s not, it’s Santino doing…anything. The problem with the lather, rinse, repeat feud of the Bromans and the Wolves is that their styles are so drastically different, but we don’t really see any noticeable attempt to harmonize said styles. I’ve written before how the Wolves failures to engage in the ring come from too much speed, and not enough depth or gravitas in a match. The moves are essentially meaningless (for further reading, please consult every episode of ROH TV). Taking two guys whose flaws in that area are so evident, coupling that with their severe lack of personality, and THEN putting them into an incongruous bout against two average wrestlers with above average comedic timing does not a good match make. I know that asking this of them is like asking an unsalted stick of butter to show some versatility, but you’d think with the amount they have wrestled each other in the short period of time the Wolves have been in TNA, someone would have said hey, bro, stop trying to chop me and just work with me a little.

It’s a give and take that’s just not there, and the story becomes less about contrasting styles, or Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards being big scary Otherkin or whatever, and more about highlighting their utter dysfunction.

Worst: Um…

Did…did Willow just say that Rock Star Spud reminds him of dirty burgers?

Best: Spud and EC3, because of course they are

Because of course they are. Contending with Willow and his WIPPITY WOO VELVET PANTY PIES THAT ARE AS SMOOTH AND SOFT AS HIS SOUL WHEN IT DANCES IN THE BLACKEST RAIN EEEAHAHAAH is, in theory, one of those things at which I should furrow my brow, then give up on to google gifs of baby goats doin’ cute goat stuff to make myself feel better, but the criticism I can give to the Wolves/Bromans doesn’t apply here. It’s a serious match with three ridiculous personalities that has enough humour to maintain the integrity of their personalities, but also enough actual wrestling that it’s not just Willow jumping around with his umbrella trying to be the mall-gothiest Mary Poppins to ever goth or Poppins.

Had 16-year-old Danielle had a dance crew, it would 100% have been named Pop & Goth.

Worst: But seriously

Running a concurrent angle about a guy who went through the indies, was crapped on by WWE, and came back from it to prove he’s best in the world at what he’s good at with Eric Young instead of EC3? Come on. Mind you, it’s a storyline they shouldn’t be running anyways, and interrupts everything that EC3 has built, but come the f*ck on. He’s spinning the ball on his finger! Just take it!

(and also his friend too while you’re at it okay please and thank you forever)

Worster worst: Hurty Kurty

Impact Wrestling: Where life begins at 40.

Alternate jokes considered for his return:

– I heard that Kurt Angle’s favourite XTC song is Life Begins at the Hobble
– Kurt Angle and Willow to form tag team, plan to call themselves Hobble Goblin
– Kurt Angle to star in upcoming docudrama The Hobble: An Unexpectedly Long Journey To Get To The Ring

Best/Worst: Sanada vs. Tigre Uno And My Existential Crisis

A guest entry from Brandon:

On paper, this is the best part of the show. It’s probably the best part of the show OFF paper, too, but bear with me.

On paper, you’ve got exactly what I want from TNA’s X-Division. It’s a match between international stars. One of them is a tiger-themed guy from Mexico. The other is a young Japanese star tasked by THE GREAT FREAKING MUTA to bring honor to himself and his country by proving the worth of Japanese professional wrestling to an American audience. This guy’s got the X-Division championship, his “passport to the United States,” and he’s defending it in a Best of 3 series. The tiger guy took him by surprise with a crazy splash from the top rope to even the series at 1-1, and now we’re going into match 3 with tons on the line. This is beautiful.

The problem, like most of Impact’s problems in my brain, comes in the translation. Instead of spending time to truly focus on the story told in that paragraph, you’re rushing them through everything and filling most of the match shilling Willow and your live shows. Big moves happen and Tenay soullessly says things like “look at the agility of Tigre Uno” like he’s reading a takeout menu. “Look, they’ve got sesame bean curd.” Kenny King’s on commentary talking about Samoa Joe and MVP. Taz is doing everything he can to not yell ME SO SOLLY on a live mic. It’s over in like two minutes. You’ve got a best of three series between international stars for your second most prestigious title and it’s over in TWO MINUTES. You could do all three falls in 10 minutes. All three falls in half the time it takes any authority figure to talk in the ring. Everybody moves on and the match is instantly forgotten, because of course they went 1-1, and of course we’re doing match 3 in the best of three.

The distressful thing is how badly I want to love this, and how obviously it’s a 15-minute WCW Nitro story crammed into a 3-minute package. That’s just it. It’s Juventud Guerrera vs. Super Calo or whatever without any time spent allowing it to sink in or be understood. The announce team’s talking about Hollywood Hogan and what the nWo’s gonna do tonight, but with 12 fewer minutes. So everything’s insanely detached and ADD. Nothing matters. You forget it when it’s over. That sucks. I’m okay doing that with a Mr. Anderson match, but these guys can be GOOD. Extreme Tiger kinda blows (why does he have spiders on his pants if he’s a tiger?) and Sanada’s not exactly Okada, but they’re here to prove themselves, right? Why are they getting Divas time restraints to prove themselves? Isn’t wrestling like this the thing that “sets you apart” and makes you an “alternative?”

Take your time, TNA. If every time you do a story somebody can say “lol you ripped off WWE,” and your only defenders are guys who say “everybody rips off everybody, TNA did it first, WWE stole their ideas,” that’s not ideal. You want to do things that make people say “I’ve never seen that before,” or “I really enjoyed watching that,” or “this is a thing I prefer based on its own merits.” Creating comments section arguments is not how you make money. You make money by observing your own strengths, spotlighting them and backing the hell away from your weaknesses.

Here are 8,000 more words about how a good little 2 minute match made me reflect on Impact Wrestling’s entire life.

Worst: Crotchmandar, I choose you!

When choosing what to wear in the ring, make sure that nothing placed near your junk looks like eyes from a distance. No one wants to look like they skullf*cked a Pokemon and wore it’s corpse to wrestle in. And if they do, fire them and call the police.

Best: Sorry about your damn t-shirt

Speaking of design flaws, let’s take a moment to appreciate that James Storm’s newest shirt, while much simpler than the usual “UFC shirt mated with a Gregorian text then nine months later a Gunner shirt was born” aesthetic, only says SORRY on the front of it in the most boring font possible. This causes him to walk around like the most apologetic sad sack since…wait, Kurt Angle came back earlier tonight, right? Yeah. Since that.

Worst: That damn numbers game

Gunner and Bobby Roode had a table match that is a thing that definitely happened and involved tables, and James Storm ran out to interfere because he just can’t abide Bobby Roode not shoot murdering Gunner with a jagged hunk of table. This brought out Bully Ray to assist the incapacitated Gunner, because he’s the best at tables and (hopefully) thinks Bobby Roode’s big boy wrestling panties look dumb. Roode and Storm scramble to get out of the ring and run to the back, because they are cowardly heels who are sorry but also not sorry about not being sorry (if shirt canon serves me correctly), but it brings back around the problem that kept cropping up during the Aces & Eights (and fives and sevens and twos).

Gunner is totally out of it, unable to fight back. Bully Ray is a big dude, but also just one. Singular. A Guy. Why are they running from him when they outnumber him? Is it that people really don’t want to be around Bully Ray? Have we finally cracked the code of the numbers game? Did someone finally realize that a dude who sits on a motorcycle in the parking lot but doesn’t ride it, forces all of his friends to wear matching clothes, is abusive to all of his significant others, wants to kill babies with fire, and spends all of his spare time and money on strippers is maybe a guy that you don’t want to be anywhere near?

Worst: Monster’s Bore, a Less Than Spec-Tack-ular Match

At this point, TNA has been around for ten years. The Monster’s Ball match is something synonymous with TNA, specifically Abyss. Initially, the idea behind the match was that participants would be sequestered for 24 hours with no interaction, no food, water, or light. Kinda like hanging out with Willow, I assume. Over the years bits and pieces of it have been given up, the stipulations less stringent or removed completely, everything watered down until it’s just a televised hardcore match. Abyss pulls out the same spots – Janice, tacks, trashcans, what have you, and it’s really not worth watching. Ultimately, that’s the metaphor for Impact, right? The same guy whose been there forever doing the same thing over and over until it’s just a shell of when it was new and fresh and entertaining.

It’s a surprisingly exciting time to be a wrestling fan. There’s a seeming changing of the guard in WWE, Chikara is coming back, there are more and more avenues to watch independent wrestling, Okada exists…there’s no shortage of fun, good wrestling. And then there’s Impact.

I love (love) EC3 and Spud, obviously, and the X-Division has two guys turning out as good of matches as they can with clipped wings, but then…Kurt Angle’s back. MVP. Bobby Lashley. The Beautiful People. The more everything around them tries to progress and move forward, the more they have buck the trend and go back in time. It’s not original. It’s not progressive. It’s certainly not benefitting anyone but me and my dumb Kurt Angle jokes.

It’s also really frustrating to remain objective. I’ve been watching Impact for far longer than what could be considered healthy, and with the same recycled matches and pairings, you fall into having the same opinion over and over each week. There are only so many ways I can say Gunner sucks. Samoa Joe just doesn’t care. Tenay and Tazz are horrible and should be replaced forever. Sitting and pretending that these are two people I’ve never seen before, trying to disconnect from everything that came before doesn’t even work. It’s stale, and anything new that comes in like a breath of fresh air is quickly shuffled off, or has the plug pulled on it because whomever is in charge is so desperately afraid of change, and of joining us here in 2014 with our scary future phones and twitters and television you can pause and rewind.

Come on, guys. The future’s pretty fun. There’s a whole program that will let you put different Willow filters on pictures of your dinner, and also good goddamn wrestling. Join us, won’t you?