“TNA is fucked.”
That was the message I received on Sunday evening from an indie promoter I occasionally correspond with. My initial thought was that he had been screwed on a talent booking, or more positively that he was simply passing along a profane endorsement of the TNA Impact reviews I’ve been doing for this site. In fact he would go on to give me the details of a recent interaction he had with two different TNA employees, interactions that led him to believe that the relationship between TNA and Spike was coming to an end. After confirming things with several other parties, I let the proprietors of this site know what I was hearing. Hours later the details I transmitted to Rich and Joe were made public when TMZ reported that Spike would not be renewing Impact. From there the story has become more muddled with one camp of reporters arguing that negotiations between TNA and Spike are still ongoing, and the other more or less holding steady to the original story that Impact will not be renewed by Spike, or at the very least will have to settle for exceptionally unfavorable terms that may sink the promotional financially. Friday evening I will record a new episode of The Wrestling Culture Podcast with my co-host and partner in crime Dave Musgrave where I will discuss the Impact/Spike situation in greater detail, outlining what it was that I heard, when I heard it and looking at how the story has continued to develop over the course of the last few days.
Having said all of that, this week’s Impact is not just any other Impact. Where last weeks show was a fairly overt ECW tribute show, this weeks is the yearly Destination X event. Previously a pay-per-view, the show is now a concept edition of Impact ostensibly built around the talent of TNA’s X-Division. More specifically, the last couple of years Destination X has seen the X-Division champion forfeit his title to get a shot at the TNA World Heavyweight championship, a trend that continues on this show with Bobby Lashley defending the World Title against Austin Aries. Also announced on last weeks episode was a World Tag Team Title match between the American Wolves and the reunited Hardy Boys. And of course some matches will take place featuring other X-Division talent who are looking to claim the now vacated belt.
As with most episodes of Impact, this show was taped approximately fifteen years ago, and anyone who cares to know is probably already aware of the winners and losers of the big matches. Still this is a rare TNA show where the big matches were reasonably well built to, and where one would assume that the matches themselves would be the focus of the show. While this would normally be grounds for cautious optimism, this is the same promotion that was incapable of correctly booking a car crash spotfest a few weeks ago, and the show is effectively just another reboot/”one off” show from a promotion that desperately needs to be building around an episodic format if it has any hope of securing a new television contract.
The show opens with a brief promo from Austin Aries, who is standing in the ring. He says tonight he will invoke Option C and win the TNA World Championship again. This flows directly into a video package highlighting the two big title matches on the show.
This is Destination X so naturally the first actual segment on the show is Dixie Carter coming to the ring with the icon Rockstar Spud, Ethan Carter III, Rhino, Gene Snisky and Ezekial Jackson to cut a lengthy promo. The piped in boos for this are HHH-on-Smackdown level ridiculous. Dixie refers to ECW as E-C-Dub throughout this promo which is just painful. I can not believe they are actually doing an angle where Dixie Carter is feuding with YouTube shooters, but that level of trolling is so weak and uninteresting that’s basically what they are doing. At one point she notes that the “E-C-Dub” they all chant for was a promotion that was abandoned by their heroes and went out of business, an accurate but unintentionally hilarious observation given the events of this week. Dixie puts over Ethan Carter as the new star and Ethan cuts a promo introducing Big Zeke and Snisky, while officially challenging Team 3D and Tommy Dreamer to one final match. The execution of his promo was pretty good, especially the Sandlot-like delivery of “forever” that he closed with, but the idea of opening a show allegedly built around fast paced, big spot wrestling, with a Dixie Carter promo built around attacking historically irrelevant, third tier promotions, with mentally deranged cult followings….well let’s just say I wouldn’t have gone there if I was TNA.
Backstage they show Homicide, Brian Cage and Low Ki warming up, with Mike Tenay talking about how all three men have been invited to be involved in qualifiers building to a match that will crown a new X-Division champion.
The Hardy Boys v. The American Wolves: This is one of those matches where if you came in wanting to love it you probably would, and if you are a fan of the Wolves you’ll probably think it’s pretty great, but I come in to every hyped match with a “prove to me this is great” attitude and I can’t stand the Wolves so I thought this was merely good. For some reason they insisted on doing an early Davey in peril segment, which is really unwise because Davey’s selling is so over the top that you can’t take it seriously. Having said that from that point forward the match ranged from decent to really good, with the possible exception of the finish which took to long to develop. I thought this was an especially impressive performance from The Hardys who worked in a lot of their staple spots, but in a way where they all felt like big moments, and not just a means to a pop. The “Air Hardy” Jeff hit over the ropes looked great, and the idea of Jeff wiping out leaving Matt to fend for himself was a cool way to protect all parties and add some depth to the match. The near falls were all well timed, and even I bit on the the one that saw both Wolves hit double stomps off the top onto Matt. Again I could have lived without Davey’s odd posturing on the slow developing big finish, but at least the spot looked good, and the match was not built around Wolves offense which was a huge plus. Matt Hardy continues his run of really strong performances in 2014, as he worked the bulk of this for his team, and having a match with the Wolves that I legitimately enjoy is not easy. This was almost certainly the best Impact match I’ve seen since I started doing these reviews.
They show a promo and video package with Low Ki where he says he’s accomplished everything he wants to accomplish and then goes on to put over the X-Division. This was a pretty well done segment, which led to a brief backstage face off between Samoa Joe and Low Ki.
Low Ki v. Manik v. DJ Z: This was basically what it needed to be. I’m never going to love matches like this, but there were several impressive spots in it and it had the feel of the X-Division days of yore. Manik and Low Ki doing a super abbreviated version of the old Amazing Red/Low Ki Kung Fu sequence was a nice throwback, and though lots of the stuff in this looked really staged, it kept the right pace for a match of this sort. Low Ki has looked really good in his two appearance so far both in terms of his bumping, timing and execution of big spots. Both Low Ki and DJ Z took big bumps to the floor and this did build to a decent finish with Low Ki going over. You could argue that a show with this many double stomps on it less than an hour in is almost a caricature of “OFFENSE!”-heavy wrestling, but the X-Division has always been a caricature of “OFFENSE!”-heavy wrestling.
Back from the break James Storm is in the ring cutting a promo talking about his role in Sanada’s turn on The Great Muta. There was a brief hiccup in my cable during this segment so I didn’t hear all of what he said, but when things came back I saw Storm standing next to Sanada with a domineering look on his face, so it’s clear they are running with the idea of Storm as the abusive guy in the dojo looking to take advantage of the young boy before he makes him a real man. I would prefer they stick with Storm giving Sanada sound advice on the corrupt practices of veteran talent that double as promoters, and the hostage taking mechanisms they employee with their more youthful proteges, but I am not necessarily opposed to Storm and Sanada vignettes built around torturous stretching, physical abuse and sexual sadism as long as it’s done tastefully.
Sanada v. Brian Cage v. Crazy Steve: This wasn’t very good. Cage did a couple of fun power spots, including a combo Samoan Drop/fallaway slam thing and a really nice delayed superplex, but it honestly felt like a waste of his talents. I don’t hate Steve but he looks really out of place in these matches, and if you are going to have the balloons right there I feel like you have to use them. Not saying I want to see Steve doing balloon animals mid-match (though if TNA goes out of business that skill could really make him attractive to Chikara), but maybe do something where he takes helium hits as part of a hulk up routine, or fills the balloons with sort of biological toxin that incapacitates his opponents. Anyhow, Sanada won this, but didn’t look terribly impressive in victory. I expect clips of Storm spanking him with a metal spatula on next weeks show.
Backstage they show Team 3D and Tommy Dreamer who briefly note that they are going to come to the ring and give their answer to the challenge ECIII laid down earlier.
Backstage they show Bobby Roode and Austin Aries having a conversation. Roode talks about how Aries beat him two years ago at Destination X for the title. Roode admits that Aries beating him wasn’t a fluke. Roode as the backslapping babyface is an odd choice, though this segment served it’s purpose.
Team 3D and Tommy Dreamer come to the ring for a promo. These guys got a huge reaction, and while I hated the idea of another segment like this on your X-Division themed show, I have to admit it worked pretty well. Dreamer gave a typical Dreamer promo, talking about how he’s an old dog with one last war in him and how all the guys in the back are just like all the guys that made ECW great. He wanted to fight ECIII and the gang tonight, but ECIII came out and said they are ready for battle, but not til next week. Bully took the mic and cut a promo where he said they wanted to do it tonight and then noted he could start a riot right then if he wanted to. I love the idea of Spike TV executives sitting backstage listening to the biggest creative influence on the active roster advocating wholesale destruction of the facility and senseless fan violence. Bully then said since ECIII set the time, he would set the terms and announced the match would be an “Eight Man Weapons Extreme Hardcore War.” He then guaranteed that next week Dixie would be going through a table. I can’t say I have any real desire to see Rhino and D-Von exchange trashcan shots, but this segment did succeed at making next weeks match up feel like a big deal, and that’s something TNA is not particularly good at most of the time.
Backstage Joe and Angle are shown shaking hands in a dark corner of the locker room. The camera man says to Angle “Kurt that looks like an intense conversation you had with Joe,” to which Angle replies with a massive grin on his face “yes it was. Let’s just say Destination X is about to have no limits.” I know they have been building to Angle as an active sex deviant, rather than a passive one, but I’m not sure the payoff to that should be Angle shooting a punishment BBW scene with Samoa Joe. Not saying there isn’t a market for it, but it feels like a real waste of Joe’s talents, and their are more interesting “targets” for Angle to hone in on.
Backstage ECIII is rallying the troops and says next week the war will end one way or another.
The Beautiful People cut a boring promo backstage and said next week they would make an announcement worthy of Destination X. What’s interesting about this is that next week is not Destination X. Will The Beautiful People be doing a reverse New Breed gimmick?
Samoa Joe comes to the ring and cut a very spirited promo. Joe said Angle added some more turnbuckles and brought in the talent people wanted to see, but you can’t have a meaningful X-Division without him. This was the best promo I’ve seen out of Joe in a long time.
Samoa Joe v. Tigre Uno v. Homicide: Of course they went to a commercial after an early Homicide dive which had the crowd going crazy, but this is a taped show, so I don’t think we lost much of the match. In many ways this was similar to the first of the X-Division qualifiers, as it had the pace and energy of an older X-Division match. The big difference here is that where that match really only got Low Ki over, I thought everyone came out of this looking good. Each person got to hit some big spots and have their moment in the sun, and I also thought they did a good job of isolating into pairs at the right moments so that the match had a more traditional structure to it. It’s also notable that Joe and Homicide had a face off after pairing up to take out Uno, which got a huge pop and was a nice moment that wouldn’t have meant as much in any other building. Joe hit some really big bombs in this and ended up winning after hitting a muscle buster on Homicide. Solid match.
They show a brief video package of the Abyss and Bram feud, followed by a ridiculous Abyss promo where he sang the lyrics of “My Girl” while challenging Bram to a Monster’s Ball match next week. So we had an ECW tribute show last week, the X-Division themed show this week, and a “guys hitting each other with props” themed show next week.
They showed another video package covering Austin Aries and his history with Destination X.
Back from break they show the highlights of the three X-Division qualifiers and announce that next weeks show will have Joe v. Low Ki v. Sanada for the X-Division title.
Austin Aries v. Bobby Lashley: Overall I thought this was a good match that suffered from a crowd that never really seemed to believe Aries could win and execution that was just a bit off at key moments. The early offensive attack in this with Aries kicking at the legs and even trying to get a flash Last Chancery locked in was a smart idea, but I’m not sure it worked because Lashley is such a weird wrestler. He’s obviously a powerhouse of a guy, and he has some nice spots, but he really has a strange way of reacting to every piece of offense he takes. It’s not even bad necessarily, it is just an odd combination of robotic and overly emotive, which sounds impossible but he manages to do it. The end result was that the opening of this match was smartly worked but didn’t necessarily look all that good, until Aries got caught with a huge overhead belly-to-belly suplex on the floor right before a commercial break. Back from the break Lashley worked some power spots in control, but used a bearhug as a base which I actually liked as a pretty obvious middle finger to the entire idea of an X-Division guy trying to play with the big dogs. Aries big comeback was really well done, especially because they had Lashley cut him off at one point with a powerslam, leading to a counter of a spear attempt into a Last Chancery which was a good idea even if it didn’t completely come off. They did some pretty good stuff with Lashley on the ropes down the stretch, including a good near fall for an Aries brainbuster, though I did think that the ring positioning on a lot of the final Aries run was off. This did have a really good finish though with Aries going for his dive after Lashley rolled to the floor to escape the 450, only to crash into the steel in the process to set up the in ring spear and clean pin. I liked this about as much as the Tag Title Match, possibly a bit better though this had less heat.
The show closed with a teaser for next weeks show with TNA literally telling the viewers that Dixie Carter is going through a table next week, including a last image of “#ITHAPPENS” flashing on the screen.
Leave it to TNA to have by far their best Impact in months (if not of the entire year) the same week that the promotion appears to have lost their television partner. I am still not sold on the idea of these weekly themed shows, but I can’t deny that they have done a good job building to and promoting the big matches on each one. This show managed to deliver with some good promos and some good matches. The tag champs came out looking like big stars for beating a legendary team and the World Champ continued his run of winning in clean, decisive ways against top challengers. Joe and Low Ki both looked good in their matches, and while Sanada looked weak, the Storm/Sanada pairing has potential to be either really fun, or an entertaining trainwreck. With the payoff to the Dixie v. Bully feud coming next week – a match that was very well promoted on this show – this reset actually looks like a real reset. Of course this is TNA and it’s likely I will be shaking my head at the end of next weeks show, but credit where it’s due. They did a good job this week, even if it likely is too little, too late.