Just a quick note, this is Zac Soto, and I'm filling in for the always great Marc "Fozzy" B.. You may know me from the Heel Honor Roll column, which usually appears in this place, but for today is taking a break so that I can be the heel in my own life and watch Impact this week. With that in mind, away we go!
Segment 1 - Promo by Main Event Mafia/Chris Sabin/Bully Ray/Attorney from Hades
A brief aside: I'm not a regular TNA viewer. Nowhere was this more apparent to me than when Sting, sans face paint and looking every bit of 54 years of age, walked down to the ring in a suit. They might as well bill him as Steve Borden.
In any event we get a recap of last week's action, during which Chris Sabin upset Bully Ray to win the championship with a clever bit of "Chekov's Hammer" work that would have seemed more satisfying had Mike Tenay not insisted on telling us about the "unparalleled heart and courage" that it took for Chris Sabin to hit his opponent in the head with a hammer. This is something that announcers should learn sooner rather than later: The television audience isn't dumb. We can figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are, and we don't need for all of their actions to fit into the extremes of those two paradigms. Chris Sabin is a decent guy, a strong competitor, and he doled out some vigilante justice to an opponent who had already shown he refused to play by the rules. Why is that not good enough? Why make him Saint Chris of the Fake Hammer?
Anyway, Sabin sets up a champion-vs-champion match for next week, when he's interrupted by Bully Ray who brings out an anonymous man in a suit and asks the most hilarious "Do you know who this is?" ever, because no, we don't all keep up with who legally represents whom. And then HOLY SHIT THIS GUY'S VOICE. Apparently Bully Ray is represented by Monstroso from "The Venture Bros.". This guy sounds like every kidnapper's phone call ever. What follows is your standard attorney talk that includes threats to "Rock your world", following the Supreme Court precedent of World Rockers v. Bro. Sabin has until the end of the show to return the belt to Bully Ray or the lawyer will…um…lawyer? That was unclear. Anyway, this was a solid little promo, and I'm a sucker for a ticking clock gimmick in any TV show, so let's see where this goes.
Segment 2 - Ultimate X Match for X- Division Championship - Sonjay Dutt vs. Manik (yuck to that name) vs. Greg Marasciulo
Excited to see one of the matches that makes TNA uniquely TNA. The first thing that jumps out about this is just how out of place Greg Marasciulo (formerly Trent Baretta for a cup of coffee in WWE) feels here. He's the Buzz Killington of this match; every time Manik (ugh) or Sonjay Dutt pick up a little steam flying around the ring, here comes Greg to slow things down because WHOA LET'S NOT HAVE TOO MUCH FUN HERE GUYS. To their credit, though, Dutt and Manik (seriously?) are game to keep things moving, at least until he is knocked Street Fighter dizzy outside of the ring, leaving Dutt and Marasciulo to battle their way to the top of the steel structure, over the belt for some reason, where they play at a potential Super-Superplex, only to have Manik (woof) sneak in and become my hero by applying video game logic to grab the belt while his other two opponents are busy dicking around with each other. All in all, not a bad match, but again, I can't shake the feeling that Greg Marasciulo just wasn't meant for this sort of thing, and that if we'd just gone with one more speedster, this could have been much more interesting.
Segment 3 - Bound for Glory Series Match - Hernandez vs. Mr. Anderson
For the life of me I can't remember why Ken Anderson used to be a thing, and watching him in his full on mid life crisis costume, I'm even more confused. On the other side of the ring, we have Hernandez, a self proclaimed "Supermex" with an emblem of the state of Texas on his tights. I mean, I don't think that clothes make the man, but they certainly do make the men in this match seem that much more ridiculous. A relatively stale back and forth series of strikes and chinlocks leads to what I assume is an unintentionally hilarious spot of Hernandez walking all the way to the entrance, then running to the ring and launching himself over the ropes just to miss Anderson, followed by a Mic Check from Anderson for the pin. I swear I'm not trying to be negative here, but Mr. Anderson feels like the very worst of what TNA can do; an ex-WWE guy who wasn't a big enough deal to carry that company being asked to carry this company.
Segment 4 - Backstage with Eric Young and Joseph Park
This opens with Joseph Park and Eric Young talking backstage about Joseph Park's "insane transformation" when he sees blood. This is a great study in the dichotomy between actual funny and athlete funny. Eric Young is athlete funny, in the vein of Shaq and Brian Wilson. This is when an athlete references things that have been funny in the past, and gets credit for being funny for doing so, even when they don't actually, you know, say or do anything funny. Joseph Park, by contrast, is actually funny. He's actually shooting for a character that makes sense, and is making jokes based on that real character really reacting to real things. When he does his "shocked and appalled" face watching himself go nuts, it's endearing and silly, because the contrast between this timid man and the carnage he created in the ring is funny. When Eric Young talks about fake porn that we can't see on the iPad and calls himself "basically a scientist", my eyes roll back so hard I can see my brain, because he's pandering to the lowest kind of sensibilities. This comes back to wrestling writers thinking wrestling viewers are dumb. If you want to grow the business and the fan base, give us thoughtful storytelling and comedy that doesn't look like a bad "Blue Collar Comedy Hour" sketch, so people can't just go "Hee Haw Pro Wrestling" and make wanking motions. In short, more Joseph Park, less Eric Young.
Segment 5 - Knockouts Championship Match - Gail Kim vs. Mickie James
Oh…sup Mickie James…with a secondary sup Gail Kim? Seriously, this was very, very good. Instead of the usual slow motion cruiserweight match that WWE has trained us to think makes for a "good" women's wrestling match, we got two women just straight up putting boots and fists to each other for a good portion of the match. This serves two purposes, both of which are important to wrestling in general and women's wrestling in particular. First, it makes the match seem real, as if these two people really want to fight each other and beat each other up, as opposed to just doing a violent looking ballet dance and waiting for each other to be in their spots. Second, it makes those moments of flair, the moves that do have a uniquely agile or feminine quality, that much more interesting. That Octopus Submission that Gail Kim slapped on Mickie James? Better because Mickie James had spent so much of the match straight picking up and wailing on her, letting Gail Kim look like a savvy fighter when she locked it in as a counter. Mickie James hitting a beautiful neckbreaker? Instead of every WWE divas neckbreaker, which looks like a bad dance move, it looked like an intelligent response to Gail Kim bum rushing her. Even the predictable heel slap to the face Gail Kim gave to ODB post-match made more sense because of the psychology of Gail Kim having tried, and failed, to use the ropes for a leveraged pin so many times. Yes to this. Yes to all of this.
However, a big fat NO to Brooke Hogan. WOW she is every bit as bad as everyone says. From the voice that can't properly convey emotion to the face that…well…can't properly convey emotion, it's just the worst. Seriously, in addition to the same breaking of the "show don't tell" rule I discussed earlier, Brooke is just straight up horrible at telling, so what we have is a quasi (VERY quasi) celebrity on TV ruining my wrestling because…well, that's just it. What tangible benefit does she bring to this show? Sigh…and I was in such a good mood.
We go backstage to Hulk Hogan and Dixie Carter talking backstage about some sort of truly difficult decision they have to make. I mean, of course. Did you HEAR the voice on that attorney? Nobody wants a piece of a man who has clearly gone through puberty five times.
Segment 6 - Bound for Glory Series - Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe
Two more individuals that are foundational pieces of TNA, and this time I can honestly say that I get it. Whatever else you want to say about Samoa Joe, the man conveys that sense of urgency with his strikes that made the previous Knockouts match so good, except, you know, he's a mass of angry hoss instead of a female wrestler. Daniels, to his credit, is a game heel storyteller in the ring. He took plenty of punishment, and put up a fight that was the right mix of pathetic and admirable to convey the powerhouse they wanted Samoe Joe to look like. The result made the finish (your standard "distraction" heel finish) make sense within the story they were telling. Bonus points to Daniels needing two BMEs to finish Joe off, both because it made Joe look that much tougher (something that could also be done by having him win, but I digress), and because that first BME was decidedly not very "best".
I never understood the "WRESTLER X is backstage...and he's…WALKING!" jokes until now. Wow there is a lot of backstage pacing.
Segment 7 - Bound for Glory Series - AJ Styles vs. Jeff Hardy
We start backstage with Steve Borden (who looks like he could be a lawyer himself) talking to Kurt Angle about…well, mostly cliches about sticking together, getting on the same page, and taking Bully Ray out. Efficient usage is clearly not the hallmark of TNA backstage segments.
Anyway, we're off to the ring where we get troubled teen from the wrong side of the tracks AJ Styles needs a haircut. Next to the ring is Jeff Hardy, who does brooding so much better than Styles even without the all-black-everything ensemble and age-inappropriate bowl cut. That thing I said about Ken Anderson being TNA doing ex-WWE poorly? Jeff Hardy sometimes gets roped into that conversation, and that's not fair. First, Hardy was, for a time, a legit superstar in the WWE (remember, he went over Triple H clean and was both World Heavyweight and WWE champ). Second, Hardy is eager to please in a way that Anderson just isn't, or at least is terrible at expressing. Yes, the standard Hardy spots have remained the same for over a decade, but dammit, he's doing them because the fans love them, and because he seems to love doing them well, and there's just enough new stuff (to go along with genuinely good selling) to make his work fun. No, he's not the best wrestler out there, but he's trying, and I give points for that.
As for the match, it was…slow, and that feels like a product of what they're doing with AJ Styles as a character. Styles is a high flyer, and he's not really big enough to do anything else with the kind of expertise he brings to that style of wrestling. So when he's deliberately playing the heel anchor to Jeff Hardy, it feels unreal, like we're just waiting for Hardy to get his turn to do fun things while Styles unconvincingly grounds and pounds him for a breather. This sounds overly negative, and there were certainly moments where this thing got going, but it always came back, even at the finish, to Styles dragging Hardy down instead of playing against his style. It's a thin line, but it's an important one, and when you miss it, the results aren't pretty. Also, no-sells on handshakes are the lamest kind of tweener heel moves.
Segment 8 - Hulk Hogan speaks!
The segment opens with Bully Ray coming out, and I could not be more bummed that his attorney, Lucifer the Prince of the Abyss, is not with him. Bully Ray goes over the expected talking points of how he was "wronged" by Sabin's actions, and that he will sue TNA if the title is not returned to him. Part of me hopes this sets precedent and all wrestling television has at least one segment of courtroom procedural work. Can't be worse than "Law & Order: Trial by Jury". Out comes Sabin, who refuses to return the belt. Then, in response to Bully's demands, out comes Hulk Hogan himself. Hulk Hogan says that he's read Bully's contract, and then proves that CONTRACTS ARE FOR PUSSIES by tearing that thing down the middle, because FISTS AND MUSCLES! However, what follows is Hulk Hogan basically crafting a verbal contract for a steel cage match in three weeks between Bully Ray and Chris Sabin. We'll see if I see you there,TNA (PLEASE COME BACK MARC SO THAT I DO NOT HAVE TO SEE THEM THERE).
All in all, this was a pleasant enough visit to the world of TNA, but I can't say that there's enough going on here, particularly at the top of the card, to keep me interested. Still, a great women's wrestling match is a great women's wrestling match, so I can't overlook that.