We haven’t talked about iMPACT Wrestling in a couple weeks, but it has indeed been an eventful month of May for TNA. While an issue outside of the ring like the “sexual harassment” issue involving Austin Aries and Christy Hemme may have put a black eye on things for a moment, what’s been going on inside the arena continues to be compelling and for the better part, a pretty good alternative to WWE programming. Some fans may be tired of the Aces & 8s angle because of it’s longevity, but I shake my head every time I think about that. What is wrong with a long term storyline? The undercard has developed programs as well, which is something I’ve noticed many WWE fans complaining about in WWE. Complaining about the same company that they praise so much while almost or actually completely denouncing everything that TNA does. I don’t get it. This is supposed to be about suspending disbelief and I truly think when that’s done, fans who somehow have a “TNA block” in their brains would be able to enjoy the product in part at least, if not as a whole. I have nothing against WWE, but the winners of all wars get to tell history the way they want to. That’s just the way it is. But that doesn’t make it right. Take the whole “Outlaw” tag that’s been given to the last remaining talents from the Attitude Era or before. One side tells you that HHH and Undertaker are the “last Outlaws”, when a guy like Chris Jericho is unquestionably one of those “Outlaws”. Not only is he obviously still around, but is still capable of competing at a high level. He continues to do so and makes those he wrestles better to this very day. Then you take a good look at TNA and while way too many people have called the company WWE-lite or another WCW…occupied by alleged WWE rejects. This notion should be regarded as a joke at best. A disrespectful one. There are many Outlaws left in this business that can still get the job done. Many are in TNA and several still appear on the Indy circuit on a regular basis. Good or bad, you can say what you want about creative, but the efforts of the athletes should always be respected. This topic gives me material for an entire column, so for now let’s talk about last night episode of iMPACT.
iMPACT Wrestling Live! (Tampa, FL.)
Although the distance is a hop, skip, and jump from the company’s former base in Orlando, last night saw TNA’s debut event in the city of Tampa. Of course it was fitting that the GM Hulk Hogan opened the show in the place that he’s made his East Coast hometown, but it was a rather uneasy homecoming for the man in charge. That specific topic would become a main focal point in this opening segment. The fact that HH is GM and he’s running the show…jack. For fans that follow, it’s ironic that Hogan was now trying to talk Sting into doing something he felt was right. Sting says he has to carry this weight…or burden with Hogan…and I think that’s exactly what’s going to end of happening when it’s all said and done. Sting’s burden for blindly “assisting” in Bully Ray’s rise will be the reality of not being able to challenge for the World title again…especially for as long as the reign of Aces & 8s continues. As for Brooke, it’s obvious she’s conflicted. She showed that in the ring when her estranged husband expressed his true feelings for her. I think she further showed it in the backstage segment that followed where she chased Bully down to question what he said to her.
Suicide def. Petey Williams and Joey Ryan (X Division Qualifier @Slammiversary)
Suicide’s return to TNA was a much-hyped and anticipated one, and the performance didn’t seem to disappoint the Live crowd or fans weighing in online. A few nice spots in this match. The springboard from the apron by Petey into a Codebreaker-like move was nice, as was Ryan’s counter-move that led to an innovative pump handle over-head suplex. A sequence one better came when Suicide attempted to punish Ryan in a leg grapevine. Williams interfering only to be momentarily caught in an abdominal stretch was good. Williams getting free and breaking into a tilt-a-whirl and taking Suicide down in a side Russian leg sweep…ultimately delivering the torque to Ryan’s knee in Suicide’s leg grapevine was just nicely done. Period. Suicide, to his credit, uncorked a nice combination chicken wing/sit-out gutbuster on Ryan to secure the victory and advance to the Ultimate X match for the title at Slammiversary. I think the Triple Threat format has restored some of the original excitement of the X Division. But what happened to the ref cam? Kenny King continues to impress on the mic by the way. Good stories being told on commentary and in the ring.
I didn’t understand the reason for Chris Sabin going to James Storm’s locker room to offer his services as a partner at Slammiversary. For the exact reason Storm gave him. You already have a match at the pay-per-view, and it a championship match no less. Who would either trade that in for a tag match, or opt to compete twice in one night…not knowing if the tag match might go on first…therefor compromising your all important title bout? Anyone else could have been put in this spot to wet the appetite for what was to come later involving the Cowboy’s decision.
I liked the point Wes Brisco made about the Gut Check Tournament and him not being in it. He comes from Gut Check and in his right mind thinks he should be included. Just like it makes sense why he’s not in the tourney, which he would be told verbally before the night was out. It’s obvious that TNA wouldn’t reward any Aces & 8s member for anything, including competing in a marathon to determine the best of the farm system. So there is no tournament match this week due to Alex Silva being taken out by Aces & 8s in the parking lot, and then they jump on the other “rookie” (Sam Sharp)…bringing out Magnus to defend the youngster. After informing us that he trained at Harley Race’s training camp with Sharp, we get the eventual match between Mag and Wes. Mag gets the win via DQ after DOC and Bischoff interfere. This was all to bring about the return of Samoa Joe, who hasn’t been seen for the better part of a month following an Aces attack. Joe was reluctant to be back in association with his former partner prior to his run in with the rogue biker gang, but it seems things have changed in light of the assault.
As a former amateur wrestler in Jr. High and High School, I stand firmly behind the fight to save Olympic Wrestling. It’s an absolute atrocity that this is even an issue. I don’t have to defend the sport of wrestling and what it’s represented throughout all mankind. The legacy speaks for itself and this whole thing is a circus act by the IOC. They knew opposition would come from this outrageous decision. Not only did they do it anyway, they are dragging out the reversal of their foolish actions…further diminishing their reputation in my opinion. It was good to see Kurt Angle attend the exhibition matches at Grand Central Station in New York City last week. An event held between the USA, Iran, and Russia teams as a display and message to the IOC. He is truly an ambassador to the sport, and there should be more Superstars from the pro wrestling business standing up to join this fight.
The motorcycle arrival of AJ Styles was clearly a nice touch to begin teasing one of the major angles of the night…AJ’s big decision of who’s side he’s on. I’m still a fan of the new, darker AJ, but I agree with those that don’t want to see too many similarities between today’s conflict and what we saw Sting encounter in 1996 and 97. I think it will be interesting to see how the angle AJ is on is twisted to make it new and up-to-date with this current situation.
Kurt Angle and Mr. Anderson are always going to give you a good match and you saw another one last night. They’ve had a good rivalry in TNA and that provided a great backdrop for the match before adding in the invasion conflict. In the end, it was AJ Styles wasting no time to enter the arena, ultimately distracting Angle by hamming it up with Taz at ringside…allowing Anderson to deliver a low blow on the way to a school boy victory. Seeds were planted here for events to come later on.
The backstage spy cam spoke with Gail Kim and the Knockouts pioneer was being exactly who she is. Talking trash and letting it be known that it’s all about her…until the ambush attack came from Taryn Terrell, who she’ll face 1-on-1 at Slammiversary. While I love the attitude that Gail Kim expresses, it is often accompanied with accumulating multiple enemies. While the then Knockouts Champion Velvet Sky nursed an injury inflicted by the Korean sensation, Taryn had her own score to settle, and she made sure she got her a nice piece in Tampa.
What happened next can only be classified as the “James Storm Tag Team Partner Sweepstakes”. We already saw Chris Sabin foolishly attempt to join the Cowboy, now it was time to find out who he would actually choose. Only we had to wait for quite some time as a parade of interruptions ensued before we got to the meat and potatoes. With the tag champs, Chavo & Hernandez on commentary, we first witnessed Aries & Roode interrupt, and then Bad Influence. What followed was a campaign by Robbie E. and the returning Shark Boy to be the partner, but to no avail. It would be the sudden emergence of Gunner and the subsequent demolishing of Shark Boy and Robbie E. that would impress James Storm enough to make a decision.
Like I said earlier, stories are being told in TNA, and not only at the main event level. Not only are stories being told, some are overlapping and anyone paying attention sees that here. An attack by Gail Kim on Velvet Sky ultimately determined the outcome of her title defense this week against Mickie James. The story doesn’t end here though. We all know Mickie’s volatile and sometimes unstable tendencies. That history dates back to her WWE debut, and we saw some of that surface last night. Friendships aside, Mickie flat out asked Velvet if she really wanted to do this, and even double checked given their past of competing against each other with injuries in play. Nothing wrong with Velvet wanting to be a fighting champion, but the writing was on the wall at that point. If she didn’t protect that knee it was curtains for her and that’s exactly what happened. Watch Mickie’s eyes towards the end as she zeroed in on her third Knockouts Championship.
I think this whole thing with AJ Styles has been well thought out and is trying to be executed to the best of TNA’s ability. As I said, I think it’s dangerous to draw too many similarities to what we saw with Sting in 96-97 who felt dejected by his faithful fans and employers alike whom he’d always been loyal to. I discussed this with fans on The Elite Pro Wrestling Forum on Facebook (@TheEPWF) during the Live broadcast and agree with those that think AJ Styles will be the guy to ultimately bring Aces & 8s to their knees and expel the “poison” from TNA. I also have always felt AJ has his own ax to grind after the turmoil he found himself in last year, and that’s what’s the real story when it comes to the “Phenomenal One”. He has his own issues that caused him to leave and the rise of Aces & 8s occurred in the midst of it all. AJ has to right the personal wrongs against his personal legacy…most of which was inflicted by Bad Influence, and also extinguish the threat that Aces & 8s has become. The story was solid in the way it’s been told over time and throughout this week’s show leading to the big reveal at the end…which left more questions than answers. ALWAYS a good thing. Bully Ray was great telling the story and projecting the strength of his club and that he’s truly in charge. Which is true. I like where things are now and am very interested to see how things progress toward Bound For Glory. Slammiversary is going to play a very big role in getting us to BFG, but we have to make it through June 2nd first. One thing that should be clear is that it will take other key players to assist in the giant take down. Of course Hulk Hogan although it’s still unclear what his overall role in this will be. But I’m talking about guys like Sting, and the eventual returns of Jeff Hardy and Abyss. What will happen when all hands are back on deck? There’s only one week left before Slammiversary and everyone watching, craving for some answers are almost sure to get some at TNA’s marquee event. Thanks for reading!!!
**PROGRAMMING NOTE: iMPACT Wrestling RETURNS to it’s normal time slot of 9ET/8c NEXT WEEK on SpikeTV**
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