The Best And Worst Of TNA Impact Wrestling 12/20/12: Baby We Were Born To Wear Zubaz

Well hello again, precious internet darlings! Just a few words before we dive into the column this week.

• I’m going to warn everyone here and now that there is a tl;dr soapbox diatribe buried in the report. I don’t plan on doing something this lengthy on the subject again, but I feel that With Leather has a wonderful community of intelligent readers, and if anyone can have an open and honest dialogue about things we should and should not accept when it comes to professional wrestling, it’s you.

Last week’s column got an overwhelmingly positive response, and I can’t thank you guys enough for the comments and support. It means more than I can say, and I hope we can keep this going. I’m having a heck of a lot of fun writing about the most un-fun wrestling show on television, and you guys are a big part of that.

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This week on Impact, Kazarian and Christopher Daniels give us the best Christmas present we could ask for, Jeff Hardy makes some memories, and I give Taz the worst I promised myself I would never take the time to write. Round 2, FIGHT! Doodoo doodoo doodoo doodoo doo doo doo!

Best: Austin Aries doesn’t wheel his own luggage around

Because of course he doesn’t.

Best: Aces & Eights have the second best theme music in TNA, and I will shoot fight anyone who disagrees

There’s something really cool and kind of menacing about this theme song that makes me want to see what Aces & Eights are going to do when they come to the ring. I know whatever they do will probably suck, and have the unfortunate involvement of D.O.C. and his Ballpeen Hammer of Doom (it’s got a +4 against aging wrestlers!), but slap an FBI badge on me and call me Mulder, because I want to believe.

And before anyone asks, the best theme song in TNA belongs to RVD, because if every wrestler had a song that shouted their name, nicknames, catch phrases, and a ridiculously comprehensive listing of their signature and finishing moves, the world would be a better place, and we’d never have to listen to Mickie James sing again.

Worst: Kurt Angle has a pack, and it’s sadder than the alternate ending of Brazil

Speaking of things that make me want to get on the Aces & Eights train, ladies and gentleman, Kurt Angle’s back up plan!

Suspension of disbelief is a core concept of wrestling we all embrace. However, I find it really hard to believe that two guys who are better off living in Angle’s erotic friend fiction than getting into a ring alongside Samoa Joe are going to keep four guys who just want to get drunk, watch ladies do their best awkward Jamie Lee Curtis-True Lies striptease to their slowass theme song, and legitimately injure people, from interfering.

Samoa Joe once held greatness in his hands, but let’s face it: he doesn’t care anymore, and neither can I. Here we have a guy who could go toe to toe (or TOE TO JOE, AMIRITE?) with Kenta Kobashi who is so good he makes me want to puke, and pulled off one of the best matches you could ever hope for. He was a top guy at the storied height of Ring of Honor, and will always be lauded as one of the best Samoan wrestlers period, let alone one who isn’t part of the dynastic Anoa’i family.

But just as time makes you bolder, and children get older, Joe is getting older too. If he consistently put on the kind of matches he had against Austin Aries a few months ago instead of schlumping out, spitting at a camera and threatening to murder people, I would have a much better reaction than ‘lol Samoa Joe’ whenever I see him. He’s been phoning it in for a long time, and while I don’t anticipate getting another five-star match out of him anytime soon (or ever again), it would be nice to have more of a reason to like him than “he used to be good.” Kurt Angle and his Frankenstein’s Monster walk generally bums me out pretty hard, but the devolution of Samoa Joe into an angry, slobbering shell of what he once was is the saddest.

Worst: D.O.C. will never let Aries take his Kevin Nash Impression title away again.

Worst: Brooke Hogan deliberates, pt. 1

What’s the best way to determine a #1 contender? Is it a tournament? A battle royal? Chikarametrics? Anything involving actual wrestling? Haha, of course not. It’s Brooke Hogan, and she is here to pick a challenger and make you feel sad and stuff. Be it Velvet Sky’s WWE ’12 CAW hair or her claim that she’s never gotten a fair shot at the title despite only being back for two weeks and at one point holding the belt for nearly a month, this segment was going to get a worst anyways.

Brooke Hogan’s flawless reasoning for eliminating ODB from the title hunt is that she is already one half of the tag team champions, and hasn’t been wrestling enough singles matches to take away from her own title defense possibilities. PSYCHE! It’s because she has a husband with a foot injury, and should be home nursing him back to health instead of doing her job of Professional Wrestler because “family first.”

Best: ODB’S graceful exit

Because seriously Brooke, kiss my ass.

Best: Kenny King and Joey Ryan – Let them entertain you

Yet again, Kenny King is a welcome breather from what we have to slog through this week. I love watching wrestlers who look like they’re having fun, and outside of Christopher Daniels/Kazarian shenanigans, is there anyone who looks happier to be there than King? This kid is infectious, and not in the way you’d suspect from someone on the Impact roster. His excitement gets me excited, plain and simple. From the greasy finish last week, assessing his situation this week and literally peacing out, to him taunting RVD from the ramp after he gets Carbon Footprinted by Matt Morgan in his Tanning Mom costume, it’s all great. Given the opportunity, King could be not the charismatic heel we want, but the charismatic heel we need.

I really didn’t hate this match, which left me more than a little surprised given the involvement of Matt Morgan. Morgan’s the kind of wrestler you think would be strong and imposing because he’s got muscles and is crazy tall, but he ends up being less of an Undertaker-type big man, and more of an El Gigante – all limbs and no skill. However, what Morgan lacks in…everything…is more than made up for by Joey Ryan.

He may not be the best technical wrestler, but his commitment to perpetuating sleaze makes a gimmick-girl like me swoon a little. Little things he does during this match more than make up for his Pantone 157-coloured albatross of a tag partner. He’s not just holding onto the tag rope, waiting patiently and occasionally straining to get a tag, he’s engaged in the match, shouting for Morgan to hit harder and making fun of Kenny King when Morgan does. If Kenny King is the happiest to be there, Joey Ryan is the most excited to hurt you, and show off his junk while doing so. It’s going to suck when his gimmick dries up and we all end up hating him because Impact doesn’t often let us have nice things, but until then I’m going to bask in his greasy glow and buy into whatever he’s selling.

Worst: Taz, you stumpy homophobic jerk, get off of my television

I had never planned to write a Worst for Taz, because the bottom line is it would be a rehash of how poor he is on commentary every single week, and the fact that he is consistently terrible is more than a given. This week he turned his stumbling, bumbling, crummy persona up to 11 so that we would all be fully aware that any dude who likes another dude in any way is LOL GAY and that is both HILARIOUS and GROSS.

I’m going to make it very clear that this is a constant thing in professional (take your pick) and independent wrestling (PWG, Eddie Kingston using a gay slur against Tim Donst in AIW, RCW, default insults in ROH) that I am 100% fed up with. We are ten days away from it being 20 goddamn 13, and the use of homophobic and misogynistic attitudes should not be a conversation we should need to have. And yet here we are.

Be it fans or professional wrestling companies, I think we can all agree that the height of professional wrestling popularity came and went with the Attitude Era, both financially and in general public notoriety. Without turning this into a missive on the problematic nostalgia for this period of time, it seems like WWE is in a constant struggle to try to get back to that by peppering their PG United States of Cena with all of the dumb, edgy things (crotch chops, the Rock’s insults) that should be left in the past. TNA, as much as they are in the shadow of the bigger, more financially stable company, adopts an alternative take, trying to be more of an ECW alternative to the shiny, mostly family friendly type of programming WWE provides. There’s blood, literal T ‘n’ A, death threats, and an angrier tone to the fake violence. These aren’t the things that attract me to TNA, and while a good portion of their fanbase might dig it, TNA has proven itself to be the most successful when they leave that behind and showcase the best possible wrestling they can from both their male and female roster. TNA has always had an opportunity to net the fans fed up with whatever other companies are doing, and usually squanders it for ECW/WWE refugee wrestlers close to/past their prime, and naughty crotch-centric camera angles.

There is a reason that Knockouts can outdraw the men, and it’s not Velvet Sky’s internal aviary. If that were the case, their ratings would be sky high (pun definitely intended). TNA’s X-Division, much like the WCW Cruiserweights, has always been a fantastic opportunity to showcase smaller, more agile wrestlers who don’t fit the stereotypical norm of a musclebound professional wrestler. They have repeatedly proven that they can put on exciting matches and pay-per-views showcasing different International styles (lucha libre, puroresu) that some may not be familiar with, without resorting to racist USA vs. The Rest angles. Sure, TNA may never be as progressive as I want it to be, but you can’t set a bar for yourself and expect fans not to hold you accountable when you don’t live up to it.

If TNA can step outside of its traditional approach when it comes to these two things, I certainly don’t see why we can’t enjoy an entertaining wrestling match without the insinuation that Todd Keneley is joined at the choda with Joey Ryan (and that it’s a bad thing), or that Christopher Daniels is only sitting on Santa’s lap because he wants to be anally penetrated (jeez, really Taz?). I’m pretty sure that if anyone watching is legitimately offended by a commentator saying something positive about a wrestler, or someone sitting in Santa’s lap (again, really?), they’re probably all too easily scandalized by half-naked men grappling with each other to be watching in the first place.

If Kurt Angle wants to see his Brischoff dreams come true, great. If Todd and Joey Ryan want to kayfabe smoosh themselves up against each other out of mutual respect and adoration, there’s nothing wrong with that. If Christopher Daniels has a Santa fetish…you know what, whatever. I’m not here to judge. But none of these things are legitimate parts of the story being told in either the tag match or the Santa segment, and in no way does Taz’s assessment of GAY GAY GAY HOMOSEXUAL GAY add to the story of the King-RVD feud, or that Kazarian and Daniels enjoy using elaborate prop-filled segments to make fun of AJ Styles and send me into fits of delight.

The argument has been made that when companies, TNA in particular, embrace any kind of prejudicial tone they are playing up to their fans. As a fan of both Impact and not being a crappy human being, I’m more than a little offended by that. Denying that these people don’t exist would be foolish, because I think we’ve all been made to feel uncomfortable by one ignorant fan or another at some point in time, but again, it is almost 20 goddamn 13. If we can speak out about racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ sentiments in anything else in life, why do we have to give wrestling a pass because some guys just want to see boobs, and Taz thinks boys who like boys are gross, and that’s the way it’s always been? How is a wrestling company going to survive if it chooses to play up to this demographic instead of embracing the idea that good wrestling is for everyone, and trying to prove all of the stereotypes that keep people from watching wrestling wrong? How many of you, when telling someone you like wrestling, has a great sentimental story about being a kid and loving Macho Man, or Hulk Hogan, or Bret Hart? If people can outgrow wrestling, why can’t wrestling outgrow it’s previously held mindsets and try to bring those people back? If you’re a wrestling-loving parent, do you want your kids growing up with the idea that girls are less than human sex objects, people from different countries are worthless and evil, and gays are to be mocked and shamed? Or do you want them to appreciate the skill of a well-spoken promo, the art of a well-crafted gimmick, or the beauty of a Northern Lights Suplex?

The Wrestling Community as a whole may not agree on everything, but the bottom line is that we’re all here for wrestling, and I fully believe that a focus on that instead of disappointing, outdated notions of sex and race would benefit everyone, no matter our political or cultural views.

Sorry to get all soap-boxy on you good folks, but my alternate for this worst was “F-ck you, Taz” and an animated gif of me running headfirst into a brick wall.

Best: Hulk Hogan may ruin Impact, but he just made that person’s life

I’ve seen firsthand how the smarkiest, coolest wrestling fans can turn into giddy fanboys around Hulk Hogan. He may not know how to involve himself effectively in a television broadcast anymore, but the fact remains that he was the face of not one but two companies for a very long time, and always a perennial fan favourite. I may not agree with his role on Impact pretty much ever, but this is a man who genuinely knows how to treat fans, and the fact that he is still so well loved remains a testament to how legends to a little kid get to stay legends when those kids grow up.

Worst: Hogan has been around forever, might be suffering from dementia

Hogan claims that he’s been around to see the company grow from teeny tiny to FULL FLEDGED MONSTER, BROTHER.

2012 gave us Aces & Eights, forgotten storylines, terrible ratings and buy-rates, and Brooke Hogan. Not everything that happened this year was bad, but Hogan is delusional if he thinks the company is in some kind of golden age that tops everything else it’s ever done. It’s lost some of its best wrestlers, replaced them with people who probably shouldn’t be wrestling in the worst indie company you can think of, and regressed to glorifying the most socially unacceptable of opinions. I’m sorry, brother, but no. Just…no.

Worst: Six hulking dudes are chased off by one angry dude

So you’re telling me that big bad Aces & Eights, guys fueled by anger, an unshakeable gang mentality, and the cast-off wardrobe of Sons of Anarchy seasons 1 through 4 are afraid of a guy who runs like John Cena with a boner? Bully Ray is arguably in the best shape of his life, and I wouldn’t want to tussle with him, but you are six guys with a bat, a hammer, and a combined wrestling experience of at least 30+ years who have a deal saying Impact security can’t interfere with you being there. I’m gonna pull my best Howard the Duck face and say really? Really? There’s no way you can overpower Bully Ray and a man pushing 60 who can barely drag himself into the ring? Reallllly?

Worst: Hey Bully, maybe you should reconsider those blade jobs

Just because Ric Flair is gone and you’re about 75 pints of blood short of your Blood on TV quotient doesn’t mean Bully should keep blading himself. I’m personally not a fan of blading in the first place, but jeez. Is there anyone who thinks this looks okay?

Worst: Who ya talkin’ to, Jeff?

I hope Jeff Hardy pins up glamour shots of his opponents, talks to them to get himself ready for his matches, then takes them home to put into a Martha Stewart-inspired scrapbook he keeps in his hope chest, alongside a memory quilt Terri Runnels made from her old tube tops, and empty manic panic containers from 2001.

Worst: Brooke Hogan Deliberates, pt. 2

After Mickie James and Velvet Sky express a mutual respect and understanding for one another, Brooke eliminates Tessmacher because of the tension between the other two ladies. Obviously. As an aside, why are they outside now? What on earth were they doing after ODB left the room that they split up? Forming search parties for Madison Rayne and Gail Kim? Scratch that. Gail Kim is recently wed, and as we all know, family first!

Best, worst, and WTF is wrong with you, Taz: The Santa Segment, or, Jingle bells, Batman smells, former WTTCotW let me love you

Okay guys. I have been waiting with baited breath all week to find out what Kazarian got Christopher Daniels for Christmas, and in what extravagant and magical manner he would present said gift. The first part of this segment does not disappoint. I don’t think I’ve been this amused since Ken Anderson dressed up as Sting and wrestled Great Muta Eric Young. I watched this entire segment with my hands clasped to my chest and literal chibi-sparkle eyes. Daniels and Kazarian are Bests personified. Like the Buttprintgate of last week, so much happened in this segment that filled me with joy and warmed the cold bitter wrestling-related cockles of my heart. I would have done a Lightning Round Best and Worst, but you really need to watch it for yourselves. This is basically the best Christmas present TNA could have given me.

True to form, though, we can’t have nice things. Between Taz’s multiple homophobic utterances and blind hatred of Santa Claus, to James Storm coming to “save” us from this “mockery of Christmas,” these two tried their darndest to ruin this entire thing.

Because of Beer Money #2’s shenanigans, WE NEVER FIND OUT WHAT KAZARIAN GOT CHRISTOPHER DANIELS FOR CHRISTMAS. Ugh. Worst x 1 million.

As an aside, Kazarian calling the audience “assgoblins” further proves my theory that TNA is secretly all about butt stuff. I cannot make this (butt)stuff up, people.

Worst: Brooke Hogan’s Final Decision

Best: Tara vs. Mickie James

It’s not the greatest Knockouts match, but it’s by and large not the worst. Jessie interfered when he needed to and I didn’t mind him being at ringside. Tara manhandled the crap out of Mickie James and looked like a believable, hard to beat champion. Mickie James put up enough of a fight that I want to see her challenge for the title again. The counter into a crucifix pin attempt was a nice little combo, and while James isn’t the cleanest when it comes to her execution, she’s a serviceable wrestler who can do justice to Tara’s more powerful style. It’s the best match we’ve seen in a while, and I can only hope it goes onwards and upwards from here.

Worst: Sting is back, and his pussy tastes like Five Hour Energy Drink

Between Jeff Hardy’s expository inner monologues and the shared stock footage, I fully expect an Aces & Eights flashback of D.O.C. getting dry humped on a pinball machine by Masked Aces Member #2 in the new year while Taz’s head literally explodes. I’m gonna go ahead and give that a pre-report Best.

From everyone here in my living room, I want to extend the warmest holiday wishes (including belated ones to all of our Hanukkah-inclined readers), as well as the most non-denominational happy thoughts to those who will take them. May your presents be good, your nog extra noggy (or extra vegan if you’re Brandon), and all of your Zubaz as loud and proud as it can be. Merry Christmas!