The year 2014 was a difficult time for TNA. For much of the year a sense of dread hung over the company, only exasperated by the departure of the likes of A.J. Styles and Sting as well as the toxic atmosphere of those Bethlehem TV tapings. Despite a creative rebound in the second half of the year, the shows from March to June were some of the most consistently bad episodes in the history of the show, which is quite the statement considering the lows iMPACT! has hit in the past decade. One could be forgiven for believing that TNA was on its last legs.
But here we are in 2015 with TNA relaunching on Destination America. A smaller channel sure, but it keeps the doors open. It gives TNA one more chance to get things right. To deliver on that potential they’ve had for the longest of times. We’ve heard the usual promises that this is going to be different. Things are going to change. We’ve heard all this from TNA before (this is the company that built a “Wrestling Matters” campaign around remarkably little wrestling (and had Eric Bischoff beating The Young Bucks and Abyss win the X-Division title on the show that launched that slogan). Actions will speak louder than words — and TNA need to act.
So let’s get into this week’s show. Did TNA make strides toward improving and finally learn from the mistakes that resulted in iMPACT! being cancelled? In short, no. No they didn’t.
Impact Wrestling on Destination America
Wednesday, January 7
Manhattan Center – New York, New York
Show opened with a neat video package showing all the wrestlers waking up and preparing for the show. This led to the entire roster meeting face to face outside the Manhattan Centre before starting a giant brawl. I have no idea why they were fighting. What beef did Spud have with Robbie E? It’s like they thought “Let’s start things hot with a big brawl” without ever asking themselves the question “Why are they brawling?” Or maybe they’re just paying tribute to all the brawls in TNA’s past. A silly number on iMPACT!’s, especially in the first two years of the show, ended in indiscriminate brawling.
Angle came out and was confronted by MVP. Angle’s big announcement was as expected his resignation as Director of Wrestling Operation and return to active competition. His last act in charge was to make him vs. MVP right now in a Street Fight. Angle’s big return is an unannounced match. Nobody tuned into this show or bought tickets to see Angle wrestle. Why? Because nobody knew it was happening until right now. And it’s a Street Fight no less. Typical short run thinking by TNA.
Kurt Angle vs. MVP: They opened with Angle and MVP exchanging holds before Angle began unloading with three German’s. MVP caught a Kneebar and began working over Angle’s knee, wrapping it around the post and hitting it with a chair. Angle briefly locked on an Ankle Lock which MVP transitioned into a head and arm choke. Angle reversed back into an Ankle Lock but couldn’t put MVP away. MVP missed a boot in the corner and Angle hit the Olympic Slam for the win. Decent match, tough to tell exactly how Angle looked in this match but he looked sharp enough. Of course Angle matches these days should be saved as special attractions against the likes of Aries, Lashley and EC3 instead of being thrown out willy-nilly on TV. **1/4
They threw to Mike Tenay who announced he’d be hosting Unlocked starting Saturday, January 17. They then aired a brief Tenay interview with Storm. I’ve always considered Storm a very good, very natural promo. He always seems comfortable talking. But his Revolution act feels extremely forced. It feels like he’s acting.
TNA Tag Team Championship – James Storm & Abyss (c) vs. The American Wolves: The Hardys came out right before the match. They made no reference to them being No. 1 contenders. The Wolves threw Storm onto Abyss on the floor before hitting four straight stereo suicide dives. Abyss chokeslammed Davey on the apron and the Revolution took over. Edwards got the hot tag and The Wolves ran wild. They got a nearfall on a Backcracker/Foot Stomp combo and The Revolution got a nearfall on a Slingshot DDT. Davey went for a Handspring Elbow but Abyss caught him on his shoulder and hit the Shock Treatment. Manik and Sanada (who are both wasted with this group) tried to interfere but The Hardys cut them off. Jeff accidentally hit Edwards, resulting in Edwards eating a Last Call for the Revolution to retain. Good little match, fun stuff and what you’d expect from a Wolves sprint. **1/2
Jeremy Borash was in the ring talking about how special it was to be on Destination America before he was interrupted by EC3. EC3 bragged about being great and being undefeated for 15 months. EC3 called out Spud. Spud came crawling out followed by Tyrus. Tyrus carried Spud to the ring after dumping him on the floor. EC3 threatened to scalp Spud before JB intervened. JB slapped EC3 before getting dropped by Tyrus and they shaved JB’s hair instead while Spud was forced to watch. All credit to JB for being willing to go along with this and EC3 is still a real standout. They’ve made Spud look a little too much like a geek recently though. Good angle.
X-Division Championship – Low Ki © vs. Austin Aries: They showed a highlight video about the X-Division before the match, which was predominantly clips of wrestlers who aren’t with the company anymore until they focused on Low Ki. Why is Aries still doing X-Division stuff? He moved out of the X-Division long ago yet they constantly drop him back in there because they have no idea what else to do with him. He’s talented enough to hang the company on. Leave the X-Division for other guys. The arena is very dark by the way. The crowd is lively but you can’t see them.
Standard feeling out process to start the match. Some fun back and forth. Aries hit a dropkick out of a head scissors and then they exchanged chops before Low Ki hit a dropkick of his own. Aries went for the Heat Seeking Missile but got caught with a kick. Low Ki took over for a while before missing a kick and got nailed with the Heat Seeking Missile. There were multiple instances throughout the show of the censors bleeping crowd chants with poor language. Aries hit a top rope dropkick followed by a corner dropkick. Low Ki countered a Brainbuster into a Dragon Sleeper but Aries reached the ropes. Both men battled on top for a while but Aries got the better of it, hit a Brainbuster and won the X-Division title for the sixth time. ***
Knockouts Battle Royal – Angelina Love vs. Velvet Sky vs. Gail Kim vs. Havok vs. Madison Rayne vs. Rebel vs. Taryn Terrell: DJ Z introduced Robbie E (following his stint on The Amazing Race) who claimed to have kicked Brooke to the curve and was pleased with now being with Velvet. They debuted a new Knockouts title. I preferred the old white one. Taz and Matthews bantered about not being able to say the word belt. Rebel was first out after she ate a Botox Injection. Havok dumped out Madison. Taryn eliminated Angelina. Brooke, who wasn’t in the match, ran out and attacked Robbie at ringside. Gail and Taryn then eliminated Velvet. Final three are Havok, Kim and Terrell. Gail hurricanrana’d Havok over the top and Terrell knocked them both to the ring for the win. *
Havok attacked Taryn after the match. Lights went out and Awesome Kong appeared in front of Havok. Crowd popped big for Kong as Havok backed down. At least we have Kong crushing people (Velvet first, please) and Gail Kim/Awesome Kong matches to look forward to in the next few months.
TNA World Heavyweight Championship – Bobby Lashley vs. Bobby Roode: The show long angle was the tease of dissension between Lashley and MVP. Lashley hit a delayed vertical for two. Roode went for a few early Crossface attempts but Lashley reached the ropes each time. Crowd aren’t as hot for this as the same building was for Roode/Lashley 1. Roode hit a slingshot Crossbody and they brawled around ringside for a while. Masked men appeared backstage with MVP.
Roode fired up but Lashley cut him off and Lashley took over with a bearhug. Roode finally made a comeback punctuated by a Blockbuster for two. Roode hit a Spinebuster for another two. Lashley hit a Running Powerslam for a two of his own. Roode hit a sunset flip Running Sitout Powerbomb for a nearfall. Lashley hit a Roode Bomb for two before missing a Spear only for Roode to hit a Spear of his own for two. MVP, Kenny King and his masked men then entered. Roode locked on a Crossface but Lashley powered out. Lashley kicked out of a Roode Bomb before Roode transitioned to another Crossface.
MVP and company took out the referee. Angle ran out but MVP took him out. The masked men revealed themselves as Low Ki and Samoa Joe. Why were they masked? They walked out and took off their masks willingly. What a silly, contrived way to set up a “reveal”. EY ran out to make the save but SWERVE, he hit Roode with a chair. This is stupid. Lashley hit the Spear to win the title. Even before the nonsense this wasn’t as good as their previous matches. ***
Of all the things they do on their big debut on Destination America, they decide to book their main event to invoke memories of TNA worst qualities: title runs that end before they get started, title changes that are an afterthought, turns that come out of nowhere (for no reason), pointless swerves for the sake of shocking people, big title matches ending in interference after loads of nonsense. It’s the worst of TNA — the kind of things that drive people away from the brand. All of it was present here, on their big relaunch where things are supposed to be different.
Let’s start with the positives. The show was full of energy, buoyed (and at some times carried) by an enthusiastic and engaged crowd in spite of their number. The wrestling on the show was for the most part good; TNA still has a roster that can deliver the goods if creative get out of their way. Up until the utter stupidity that was the main event the show was mostly a decent, if a little forgettable, show. The opening video was something different and I thought Matthews and Taz on announcing were good.
However, this show was no different than shows in the past. In fact TNA’s 2014 can be broadly broken into a terrible first half of the year and a pretty decent second half of the year. This show was closer to former than the latter. It borders on parody to the degree that you’d believe they’re self-aware but they’re not. It’s these kinds of shows (and particularly main events) that result in TNA being unable to attract 1,000 people to their show in a city of 8.5 million. It’s the reason they don’t run PPV’s anymore because this kind of stuff drove away their paying consumers. It’s the reason they are no longer on Spike TV.
The pacing, iMPACT!’s fatal flaw for a long while now, was still too fast. Moving from segment to segment without any time for anything to settle in. Title matches booked out of nowhere with title changes that don’t have any impact. Those in charge of this company entirely lack vision. They constantly present television with a look to the immediate short term without any regard for the long run. No idea where they’re going to be in six months, how they’re going to get there and who’s going to help take them there. It’s just the same tired, recycled ideas over and over again.
Instead of taking a more grounded approach establishing wrestlers and titles as the core the company revolves around we have already devolved to TNA’s most tired trope. The heel stable. No ground has been tread more often in the history of the company with Sports Entertainment Extreme, The Kings of Wrestling, Planet Jarrett, Christian’s Coalition, the Main Event Mafia, World Elite, Immortal, Aces and 8s, and even MVP’s group the first time around. The same thing over and over and over again with the exact same result. They just steadfastly refuse to learn from their mistakes.
Look, I root for TNA. I know not many do these days, but I do. I’m not even entirely sure why, I’m pretty sure it’s Stockholm Syndrome at this stage. I really let myself get excited for what they were going to present on this show. I really wanted this show to be great, to create a buzz around the product, to begin the process of rebuilding the company from the ground up. I thought at the very least they’d spend a few months trying to do better before falling back to their old ways but we didn’t even get that. Instead of taking a long hard look at themselves following the cancellation of iMPACT! by Spike they seem to have doubled down on their previous approach with an extra dollop of “reality” elements. Nobody is going to get over like this. This isn’t going to entice anybody to pay for a ticket, or watch a PPV, or call their cable provider to add Destination America to their package. And as a result TNA will suffer the exact same fate as they did on Spike TV. Without a serious overhaul it’s inevitable.