This Sunday, John Cena will face off against Daniel “Brian Danielson” Bryan for the WWE Championship in what’s shaping up to be a story very similar to when Punk beat Cena for the title at Money in the Bank in 2011. Punk himself will be facing Brock Lesnar, and Alberto Del Rio will defend his World Heavyweight Title against Christian, which is odd because I don’t think the two of them have spoken to each other since Christian returned. Also, Dolph Ziggler will be in a mixed tag team match, and we should all just forget that he was the world champion a couple of months ago. Oh, and Bray Wyatt will face Kane in the fourth Inferno Match ever.
But nevermind all that, because if you want to talk about crazy nonsense in pro wrestling, you have to watch TNA Impact. Where Smackdown is WWE’s “B” show, TNA is kind of like the “B” promotion. Impact is somewhat notorious for being, in a word, terrible. It’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be in 2010, for example, when Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff had assumed (on-screen) control.
We join Impact for one of its free pay-per-views (most of TNA’s pay-per-views are aired as normal episodes of Impact, presumably because they need the ratings), Hardcore Justice. And it’s not much of a pay-per-view, since those are usually three hours long and this show is only two. Anyway, the card contains two Bound for Glory series matches and the Steel Cage match for the TNA World Heavyweight Title between current champ Chris Sabin and Bully Ray (a.k.a. Buh Buh Ray Dudley, but WWE owns the “Dudley” name).
The BFG series is one of those things that I actually like about Impact more than WWE shows, namely that we’re at least pretending there’s some measure of reason to the title picture. The series features 10 wrestlers trying to collect points by winning (7 for a pinfall, 10 for submission, 5 for countout win, 2 for a draw, 3 for winning by disqualification, and -10 for being disqualified), with the leader by October 20th being given a shot at the world title at the Bound for Glory pay-per-view. The two matches tonight are a ladder and tables match each for 20 points.
That ladder match is first on the card, featuring Kazarian, AJ Styles, Austin Aries, and Jeff Hardy. Yes, Jeff Hardy still works here, even after that time he showed up to a pay-per-view main event hopped up on god knows what and was forcibly pinned in about ten seconds for the world title. You probably don’t know who these guys are if you generally just follow WWE (though you might remember Hardy), and I’ll tell you right now that this match isn’t all that good of an introduction to them, which is a pity because these guys are all very good (except Hardy).
AJ Styles is currently a villain, but he doesn’t really do anything different when he’s a heel, apart from that one time he stabbed a man in the eye with a pen, but that was years ago. Mostly now he just stares at the camera with a blank look on his face. Damn good wrestler, though. Aries is a crowd favorite but was never really a babyface, and Kazarian is part of the heel team Bad Influence with “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels, leaving Hardy as the match’s only babyface.
The match begins with Kaz immediately bailing out of the ring to go get a ladder, but when he returns he finds that the other three men won’t let him get back in the ring with it. Aries jumps out and throws Kaz off of the ramp (the ramp to the ring is elevated in Impact, looks like around four feet so it’s a decent fall) while AJ and Hardy fight in the ring. The camera cuts back and forth between the pairs a few times, and it can be hard to tell what’s going on at any given moment.
Early on Hardy does a headscissors takedown on Aries to throw him outside the ring, and as I watched this totally unconvincing move play out, I can’t seem to recall a single successful headscissors takedown on Impact. It always winds up looking really fake, and yes, it is fake, but that’s not the point.
This match is, on the whole, bland. There’s nothing you haven’t seen in ladder matches before, and no one did anything that was even all that iconic of themselves. The most hardcore thing to happen was Aries powerbombing Hardy off a ladder, which was pretty cool, and would have been cooler if AJ and Kaz weren’t standing on an adjacent ladder, distracting you from what Aries was doing. At one point AJ had Aries in position for the Styles Clash, but Kaz walked over to him and used a reverse STO to take both men down (though heel announcer Taz neglected to comment that this is fellow heel Mr. Anderson’s signature move, the Mic Check). Near the end of the match, Kaz’s allies Christopher Daniels and Bobby Roode come to the ring. Daniels carefully sets his omnipresent appletini on the ramp and tries to get in the ring, distracting the living daylights out of the referee, who doesn’t notice Roode entering the ring from the other side and pulling Hardy off the ladder for a moment. When no one is watching, Kaz grabs the appletini and throws it in Hardy’s face before grabbing the 20 points. It didn’t look like the drink came anywhere near Hardy’s face, but I guess it’s not easy to throw a liquid up in the air with much accuracy. Kazarian wins!
Apparently two weeks ago, Kurt Angle was arrested for driving under the influence (again) and entered rehab. Here’s hoping he can get better; he’s nowhere near the wrestler he once was, but he’s still awesome, after having endured years of injuries that would have crippled or killed other men. Godspeed, Kurt. But this does leave a hole in the newly-reformed (again) Main Event Mafia, a group Sting formed after losing to Bully Ray for the world title because Sting is an idiot and didn’t predict that Bully would call his gang of thugs to help him out in a No Holds Barred Match (after Bully won the title from Hardy by calling his gang of thugs to help him out in a Steel Cage match last year). The new MEM consists of Sting, Kurt Angle, Magnus, former Ring of Honor star Samoa Joe, and former MMA fighter “Rampage” Jackson, who has not yet had a match and may not actually know how to wrestle.
This show was supposed to feature a 5-on-5 tag match between the Main Event Mafia and the remaining five men of Aces & Eights. There had been eight guys in A&8, but D-Lo Brown and Doc (formerly Festus/Luke Gallows in WWE) were released as cost-cutting measures, leaving Ken “Mr.” Anderson (formerly Mr. Kennedy in WWE), Devon (Dudley), Wes Briscoe, Garrett Bischoff (son of WCW promoter Eric Bischoff), and Knux (formerly Mike Knox, and still no one of consequence). Now that Angle is out, the Mafia needs a fifth man for the match. However, the match stipulation is such that whoever is pinned has to leave TNA. Does this mean that if the Mafia recruits someone just to be their fifth, and he gets pinned, he has to leave even though he’s not part of the Mafia? This possibility isn’t addressed, and something tells me no one actually thought of it.
Anyway, A&8 hits the ring and Anderson taunts the Mafia about being able to end the career one of the greats. Magnus gets his own mic and says basically nothing with a British accent. A&8 beats up the Mafia and we are told that Tito Ortiz got to the arena just a little while ago.
Up next is the night’s only Hardcore rules match, for the Knockouts title between Gail Kim, ODB, and champion Mickie James. It’s an okay match, in that no one screws anything up very badly, and ODB pins Gail after an F5 type of move onto a chair. It’s better than most WWE Divas’ matches, but just a little while ago we had two amazing Knockouts matches between Gail Kim and Taryn Terrell, one a Ladder match and the other a quite violent Last Woman Standing match. There is a fun bit in this match wherein ODB removes one of her three bras and uses it as a garrotte. I guess that’s something you won’t see on WWE shows, at least not since Bryan was fired for strangling a crew member with a purse strap (both apparently got better).
Backstage, Sting tells the Mafia that he’s going to go ask Austin Aries to help them, even though Magnus and Joe hate the guy. After a commercial, Sting appeals to Aries’ hatred of Bully Ray to get him to help the Mafia. I wasn’t aware that Aries hated Bully. I can’t recall him ever mentioning it, or a time that Bully attacked Aries any more than anyone else. And besides, Aries lost the title to Jeff Hardy, who eventually lost it to Bully. There’s not really much of a reason for Aries to do anything here.
In fact, earlier, Magnus had remarked that it would be difficult to find another wrestler willing to join the fight against A&8. Well, if Aries’ hatred of the gang is a result of them beating up everyone indiscriminately when they debuted last year, when no one knew who was leading them, then you could ask almost anyone for help. Why not ask James Storm, who was leading the series for a while before Hardy won enough special matches to take the lead? Bully tried to convince people that Storm was the one leading A&8 for a while, and thanks to that distraction, Storm might feel he was robbed of his world title shot at Aries. Since the guy Sting asks refuses anyway, why not have the segment make sense and give Storm a brief spot on a show he’s not on?
Meh. After another commercial, we see Bobby Roode backstage talking about how if he wins the upcoming Tables match, that 20 points will propel him to second place in the series with 27 points, in between Magnus (39) and Samoa Joe (26).
After another commercial, Rampage, Joe, and Magnus say they don’t trust Aries, and Sting comes in to tell them Aries refused. Rampage says he has an idea, and asks Joe to come back him up, so they leave.
After another commercial, we get a clip of Rampage and Joe heading to the ring and saying they’re going to call someone out.
After another commercial goddamn it I’m about to beat myself to death with the remote, we see Bully talking on the phone to his on-screen wife, Brooke Hogan (Hulk’s daughter) (really). He promises to win back his title, and refers to himself with one of the most unerotic nicknames I have ever heard, “Calfzilla.” Not the most, but it’s up there. This is new, because ever since Bully revealed he was the leader of A&8 after screwing Hardy out of the title, Brooke and Bully have been at odds, in segments that are usually as uncomfortable to watch as they are stupid.
Back in the ring, Rampage calls out Ortiz (beat still, my heart), who appears to have ripped off Anderson’s shirt design (the front says “Wrestling is Real” and in small letters is “Punishment,” whereas Anderson’s has “Pro wrestling is real” on the front and “People are fake” on the back). Apparently they have a match together in November. I know this because it’s repeated around five times during this exchange. Rampage asks Ortiz to start his TNA career off right and help out the Mafia. Bully interrupts (though the wrong music plays when he does) and threatens Ortiz to stay out of his way. When Ortiz tries to charge Bully, Joe and Rampage hold him back. Why?
More than halfway through is our third match, a Tables match for 20 BFG points.
Recap of Ramapage’s rambling, and we don’t get to see Joe’s entrance. There’s a neat moment where Roode screams “Oh god!” right before an atomic drop, you don’t usually hear wrestlers yell or scream audibly, it adds to the realism if done right. At one point Joe places the ring bell on Roode’s groin and then rings it; I’m going to assume that hurts, but I can’t be sure. There was one really confusing moment where Magnus and Joe were slouching in opposite corners, Roode and Anderson go to whip them at each other, but Magnus reverses the whip and Joe clotheslines Roode, but the camera cut away right as Magnus was countering the whip, so I thought Joe had clotheslined Magnus and was wondering why the announce team weren’t commenting on that suddenly fractured alliance. Kazarian and Daniels come out to help, and while Kaz goes after Joe, Daniels passes Roode the appletini, which goes into Magnus’ face, letting Roode powerbomb him through the table for the win. This was my favorite match of the night, despite the predictable finish. You say more double-teaming in this match, mostly from Magnus and Joe, which makes sense, but Roode is such a good wrestler that his brief team-ups with Anderson work very well. My remaining question is where Daniels gets these drinks on short notice. What if the arena he’s in doesn’t have a bar? Does he leave before he has a match, rush to the closest bar, ask the bartender to put the drink in his personal glass (I mean, he couldn’t just leave with the glass, right?), then get back to the arena without spilling it and never actually sipping it until he has to get to the ring? Or does he make them ahead of time and store them in a minifridge and only take them out when he has to wrestle or speak on camera? These are the things that keep me awake at night.
Apparently next week, Impact will still be in “Hardcore Justice” mode, as there will be a Street Fight between Christopher Daniels, “SuperMex” Hernandez, Jay Bradley, and Joseph Park (a.k.a. Abyss). The ads for Knockouts merchandise always trick me into thinking they’re ads for local strip clubs. The next PPV, No Surrender, will also be aired for free on Spike, which is good for me, but a bad sign for the company financially; they must really need the ratings.
Bully and Anderson are arguing backstage. Bully blames Anderson for his recent losses to Sabin. Naturally, Anderson informs him that they were only following Bully’s orders to help him out. Anderson actually comes off as very reasonable here.
The main event tonight is the Cage Match for the World Heavyweight Title. Bully comes out to the correct music and graphics this time. I notice Sabin is billed as from Detroit again, when I could swear that a month ago he was from Hell, Michigan. The rules are clarified: pins, submissions, and escaping from the cage wins the match. Back in the day, escape was the only way to win a cage match, so it is nice that they let us know how it’s being done now. At one point Sabin whips Bully with his leather cut (since he’s still wearing a shirt, I don’t think it hurt very much). Once again, they totally screw up a headscissors takedown off the turnbuckle. Bully knocks Sabin into the ref, causing him to miss Sabin’s pin after a missile dropkick. Sabin leaves the cage, but Anderson throws him back in. Rampage and Ortiz take out Anderson, but then Ortiz knocks Rampage out with a hammer and Bully BullyBombs Sabin for the pin and the title. Ortiz comes into the cage and celebrates with Taz and Bully.
All in all, this match was okay. It didn’t really suck like their first title match, and it wasn’t as good as their last tag match (which wasn’t very good anyway). I’m not sure why these guys can’t seem to have a really good match. Sabin is an excellent wrestler, and while he recently came back from injury, he was doing fine until now. Granted, he was working with the smaller and faster X Division wrestlers like Sonjay Dutt and Manik (formerly “Suicide”). Still, a year ago, before all this Aces and Eights crap, Bully was having good matches with AJ, Aries, and Storm. If they were the ones carrying him through those matches, then ever letting him be a singles competitor was a mistake. Though maybe they know that and are trying to hide it with the gang, but if that’s the plan, it’s not working.
That’s all for this week’s Impact, on Monday I’ll post my two cents on Summer Slam, which does promise to be a much better show, and not just because there won’t be thirty minutes of commercials.