Over a decade ago I was walking through Manhattan with my wife and a few friends. I don’t remember where we were in the city, but I do remember walking past a large storefront that was illuminated by a pulsating strobe light. Standing right in the doorway was a man with his hair in pigtails, wearing a Stevie Richards-esque belly t-shirt and clown make-up. He was holding a microphone in one hand and a large stick in the other. As people passed by he chanted “Native American Opera House!” while some strange combination of tribal drumming and techno loudly played in the background. The whole thing gave off a Buffalo Bill meets Michael Gira vibe, and was more disturbing than amusing. Despite this, the man managed to lore several dozen people into the building with his unique form of mescaline fueled street marketing.
Contrast this with TNA who came to New York City for three nights of national television tapings at the end of last month. With the shows billed as something of a re-boot for the brand, TNA went all in with a media and advertising blitz, including major television appearances from some of their top stars. Looking to get lapsed fans interested in the product again, the company decided to bring back the six-sided ring, using a public poll as the rationale for the decision. On top of this the company brought in several big name nostalgia acts — many of whom have had success drawing for non-televised independents — in an effort to sellout the buildings and give the shows a major league, special, feel. Despite all of this, tonight’s show from the first night of the three night taping schedule failed to sellout. Though the second and third nights did sellout (allegedly) at the last minute, the fact is that Ring of Honor ran the larger room in the same building with a similarly based novelty show just a month before and sold out in advance. Worse than that, the company blew a ton of money on these tapings, and has another round of tapings in the same building coming up in a few weeks.
Would TNA have been better off bringing back Don West, dressing him in some BWO gear and standing him outside of a storefront, instructing him to shriek at passerbys while Angels of Light played in the background? Probably not. After all, they did manage to sellout the place on the second and third shows, and while the seedy aesthetic of the Native American Opera House had a niche value to it, I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing that would appeal to TNA production value fetishists like Joe Lanza. Still, the company could have flown in their biggest drawing card Kevin Von Erich – who drew more than the combined houses of these shows for TNA’s Slammiversary show, and recently drew double what this show did for an indie card in Galveston – and possibly sold the place out.
Instead these tapings promise to be an odd lot, designed to cater to ex-ECW faithful and fans of 2002 era Northeast indies. Basically these shows are supposed to be a series of one off car crashes, which amazingly would be an upgrade for TNA if they can pull it off.
Show starts with the usual video package.
The show starts with Kurt Angle in the upper deck announcing the return of the six-sided ring. This is a heavily edited version of the speech he gave live where he basically ran down a list of departed talent, acknowledging TNA’s various fuck ups in the process. It’s funny I mentioned Don West in my introduction, because Angle sort of came across like West here, albeit a less intimidating looking version.
From here we get another “from the balcony” segment, this one featuring Tazz. Tazz gives exactly the promo you would expect. TNA is just like ECW was! I’m Tazz and I’m tough! Fifteen-plus year old catch phrases! Orange lighting! This did get over huge with the crowd, but…
This immediately flows into a segment with Bully Ray and Tommy Dreamer who basically did the same thing Tazz did. To be fair Bully was on point talking about his desire to beat up a middle aged woman which is the promotions big storyline and got over huge with this crowd. Still there was absolutely no reason to do the Tazz segment if you were going to send Dreamer out there to pander to the ECW faithful, using many of the same references and hooks. This did lead to Ethan Carter III and Rhino coming out, and he’s a guy I normally really like, but I thought this segment hurt him in the sense that his “cocky, nominally anti-hardcore guy, who is mouthpiece for Rhino” act is a really poor mans version of Steve Corino. In most cases I would have liked his cheesy comebacks, trolling of the crowd, et., but this show had been all about ECW nostalgia up to this point, so I couldn’t help but think “this guy is no Steve Corino” every time he opened his mouth. The segment ended in classic TNA fashion with Tommy Dreamer saying one change the business needs is less talk and more wrestling before triggering a fight that immediately led to a commercial. So we got ten minutes of talking, a guy tells as the wrestling business needs more wrestling, and then they go straight to break as soon as the wrestling starts. I thought this was a re-boot?
Ethan Carter III/Rhino v. Tommy Dreamer/Bully Ray: This match was joined in progress on the back side of a commercial. I like Rhino more than most, but after watching the recent Wrestle-1 show I really wish this had been ECIII and Spud as they are an outstanding team and could do some really fun stuff in a setting like this against Bully and Dreamer. Spud did eventually make it to ringside wearing a bright orange suit causing a distraction to set up a brief heat section. The work in this match was basic, but not bad for the most part though Dreamer’s offense looked pretty rough. I admire Tommy as a guy who still works really hard, but he looked like he was struggling with really standard stuff here. Spud ended up causing the distraction that led to the roll up pin for the heels, a finish that didn’t look very good.
They showed a backstage clip from earlier in the day of Lashley and Jeff Hardy arriving and used this opportunity for the hard sell of the main event between the two.
Backstage Kurt Angle tells Austin Aries he is going to be in an 8-man X-Division gauntlet match. Aries says some might say Kurt is stacking the deck against him, but he sees it as a challenge and the final step before he invokes Option C at Destination X to get a World Title shot. Kurt Angle looks at his ass as he walks away and says “one tough kid.” Angle’s new gimmick of perverted old man, that checks out the talent and says inappropriate things might be building to something. I’m not sure how much mileage you can get out of Kurt Angle demanding sexual favors from Eric Young in exchange for a title shot, but it seems like a real possibility. At the very least there may be a tie-in with the Samuel Shaw/Gunner storyline worth pursuing.
Back from commercial we get another segment with James Storm confronting Sanada backstage. He ran down Sanada’s skill set, and warned him again that listening to his “mentor” the Great Muta won’t get him anywhere. As I noted last week this is probably sound business advice that Sanada should take to heart.
X-Division Gauntlet: This started off with Austin Aries and Eddie Edwards. Mike Tenay tells us this will be an over the top rope elimination match until the final two guys are in the ring. What a stupid stipulation as the entire point of the match is to get a bunch of spotty guys in the ring and let them run through a bunch of crazy shit, ideally including dives to the floor which are effectively banned here because of the gimmick. A clock starts going off and we see that guys are coming in every minute or so. This may have been explained in more detail, but I try to tune out TNA commentary because it’s so terrible there is no way I could keep doing these if I paid it any real attention. Manik is next in and continues his gimmick of hitting a few nice spots a match. Davey Richards is up next and they do some spots built around him and Eddie working as a unit. DJ Z is the fifth guy in, but both he and Manik are eliminated on an other the top rana spot right before a commercial break. By the time we come back Tiger Uno and Crazy Steve are in the ring. I was really hoping they would do a spot with someone crashing into Steve’s balloons, instead there was some shitty comedy from Steve, followed by a string of unimpressive looking eliminations leading to Sanada – who of course was the last guy in – and Aries having their one fall singles match at the tail end of the gauntlet. Up this point this has been a complete disaster, horribly exposing TNA as a company incapable of booking even a simple car crash spotfest. Aries and Sanada did work hard for a few minutes, hitting some nice spots, building a couple of nice near falls, and delivering with a strong finish off the Aries corner dropkick/brainbuster combo, but when this was over all I could think was “this company is even worse than I thought.” Every tenth rate indie in the country knows how to put together a match involving a bunch of flippy guys, doing crazy highspots and begging for “this is awesome” chants, and TNA can’t even do that in belly of the beast from which that style was spawned. This match is absolute proof that TNA is the worst wrestling company of all time.
Backstage Bobby Roode and Eric Young are talking about there troubles over the last year with MVP and preparing for their match with Kenny King and MVP.
Sanada is greeted backstage by James Storm who calls Sanada a loser and then beats him up. He calls Muta fraud and walks away. I think this was supposed to be spoof of a Japanese dojo ritual, so I guess I should be happy they didn’t show Sanada scrubbing Storm’s balls with a loofah. Still this was the weakest of the segments involving these two.
They show Dixie Carter walking into the building then cut to commercial.
Back from break they plug the next round of New York tapings, show clips of Bully putting people through tables and promote the Jeff Hardy v. Bobby Lashley main event.
Backstage Jeff Hardy is interviewed by the faceless cameraman who says he listened to Kurt Angle and retired Willow. Normally being mentored by an Olympic Gold Medalist would not be a bad choice for a recovering drug addict, but I’m not sure Angle is the guy you want to be listening to if you are Jeff Hardy. Still we should all be happy that Willow is dead for the time being.
In the ring MVP and Kenny King cut a promo. MVP is in his wrestling gear but on crutches. Kenny King says he could beat both Young and Roode by himself. MVP says he will wrestle the match on a half leg but only under protest.
MVP/Kenny King v. Eric Young/Bobby Roode: This match was actually pretty good, but really illustrated the flaws in the booking of TNA. MVP is a guy with a legit leg injury, yet the babyface director of operations has booked him to perform in this match. This is the same babyface GM who routinely sexually harasses and objectifies the people he is in charge of, and who stands idly by while a large man named Bully vows to cripple and maim a middle aged woman, who is not an active in ring talent (hopefully Brandon Stroud will write a column about this soon). I understand the ethics of wrestling are different than the ethics of the real world but this is ridiculous. Anyhow this match was built around two things – MVP’s injured wheel and Eric Young getting his arm worked over. I thought they did some smart spots built around MVP milking his injury as a means to avoid confrontation, and I thought the arm work on Eric – while simple – was effective and a smart way to build the match. Bobby Roode’s hot tag was also solid, and Kenny King ate his offense well. This ended with MVP and Kenny King getting DQ’ed after they used the crutches to beat down EY and Roode, which I thought was a just and rational response to the power abuses of the Angle regime.
Madison Rayne v. Brittany: This was a No DQ match. This got plenty of time to not be any good. To be fair I didn’t hate this, but it felt really early in the feud to be a No DQ match, and they did little with the stipulation. Madison did hit a dive off the apron, and there was a Northern Lights Suplex on the floor with the bridge which I was amused by, but this didn’t get over live and didn’t get over with me.
Backstage Dixie Carter is interviewed by phantom cameraman. Dixie compares Bully to multiple dog breeds and then tells the cameraman not to ask anymore stupid questions.
Backstage Kurt Angle shows up in the middle of an Austin Aries promo and applauds his efforts in the gauntlet match. He tells him he has a week to think about whether or not he will keep the championship or invoke Option C for his World Title match. Then he slaps Aries right breast. Angle is escalating.
Bobby Lashley v. Jeff Hardy: I’m not sure this was actually a good match, but it did succeed in making Bobby Lashley look strong, and Jeff Hardy look nuts. Jeff took two crazy bumps in this, a face first crash into the ring steps, and a completely insane swanton onto the steps during the matches stretch run. The build was here for this to be a really good bout, but there were a few really clumsy moments that took me out of it a bit. Lashley surviving Jeff’s big offense did feel like a big deal though, and I really liked that they went with a clean, decisive finish. I’m still not sure Lashley is the guy to build around, but as long as they keep working him opposite guys who will destroy themselves to make him look good it isn’t the worst idea.
Backstage there is a confrontation between Dixie Carter and Kurt Angle. Dixie says she is going to the ring.
Back from break they briefly show MVP, Kenny King and Bobby Lashley celebrating his victory backstage.
In the ring Rockstar Spud gives Dixie Carter a wonderful introduction. Dixie comes to the ring linked arm and arm with both Rhino and Ethan Carter III. She cuts a long, boring promo about the fans having no class, Bully Ray being a joke, et. This promo was painful, went on way too long, and is the sort of thing that normally would have had me reaching for the remote. Since I have to watch this garbage I made it through her promo. Bully and Dreamer ended up hitting the ring with a table and teased putting Dixie through it but ECIII made the save. Dixie was carried out through the crowd by Atlas Security and the heroic Spud and then D-Von’s music hit. He showed up to a middling response at first, but the crowd did get behind him once they isolated ECIII in the ring and put him through a table to close the show.
The positives: Lashley is being booked the way a dominant champion should be, the show had a couple of decent matches and the crowd was hotter here than it usually is. The negatives: basically everything else. The ten minute ECW stroke fest at the beginning was embarrassing. Kurt Angle’s is a terrible actor and awful babyface authority figure. Putting a guy with MVP’s injury in a match is stupid. The X Division match should have been impossible to screw up and yet they found a way to do it. The women’s match wasn’t any good. The show was watchable, but there was nothing on it that would compare favorably to Russell Means starring in a Manhattan storefront production of The Barber of Seville. I’m not sure if there was a cover charge for the Native American Opera House, but it seems like a safer bet than TNA either way.